UPDATE: Eugen Rochko responded publicly about this and indirectly confirmed what was said here, see update at the end.
I know, clickbait title right? Sadly no. When we say Nazi here we dont just mean your garden variety racist, as bad as that is, but your swastika wielding, genocide wanting, literal Nazi. But lets take a step back for a moment and start from the begining. Its been a long road with many twists and turns, its a very damning accusation, and its important we lay out all the details, show the proof, and give you all the information for you to decide for yourself.
I am the founder of one of the oldest instances (servers) on the Mastodon network, QOTO. It is almost 5 years old and we have been building this network along side Eugen Rochko since the begining. There has been a fair bit of drama and while Eugen Rochko has been more or less consistent in stamping out hate speech and prejudice this seems to be limited to when its popular rather than when its right. But this isnt the story of Eugen, in many ways its the story of QOTO and the impact Eugen has played in the network and towards our little corner of it.
The begining, the exodus
QOTO was founded in July of 2018 out of a need to create a STEM oriented instance that respected and protected the safety of its userbase, in particular that of the LGBTQ+ community. At its founding the network was much simpler than it was today, only a handful of instances and moderation was simplistic.
QOTO only had a dozen or so users at the time and one morning in July of 2019 when I woke up I noticed we were getting hundreds of new users a day. I had no idea what had changed, excited I started asking around to see why we were so popular. As it turns out there was a fracturing throughout the network underway and QOTO was slowly becoming a focal point. To my shock it turned out that GAB, a social media network filled with hatred, racism, sexism, and all forms of prejudice, had decided to enter the Mastodon network. When this happened instance owners around the network took a hardline approach that divided the network down the middle. On one side instance owners decided to start forcing its users to not be able to see Gab content and blocked them from even seeing instances that did not likewise follow suit, users couldnt follow anyone, even from well behaved instances, if those users were allowed to see Gab at all. On the other side many servers allowed the content unrestricted. To further compound the issue the instances that allowed the content generally had little to no moderation policies themselves, so hate speech ran rampant on those servers. Meanwhile the servers that did block the content tended to be very draconian and were blocking users for very trivial reasons and “dog whistles” and it became a witch hunt. The reason QOTO became a focal point at this time is because we were one of the only servers that allowed our users to choose what content they wanted to block, and made our blocklist optional, but at the same time had a zero tolerance stance for hate speech and prejudice. It became a haven for the LGBTQ+ community that wanted the freedom to choose for themselves what instances make the cut or not.
I think it’s important I back up as much as I can with the evidence here, therefore, you can view our strong protections for the LGBTQ+ in QOTO’s Terms of Service here: https://qoto.org/about/more. Below are some excerpts from that link. For the sake of transparency it is important for me to point out in the early days when we were smaller these protections weren’t as clearly stated and were added as we grew and the issue needed to be more clearly addressed; however, we have always had a strong emphesis on engaging in respectful discourse and have had a heavy hand when it comes to banning those who engaged in hate speech.
All cultures welcome
Hate speech and harassment strictly forbidden.
hate-based speech such as sexist, racist, or homophobic speech will not be tolerated, be kind to each other.
QOTO aims to provide a community where our users do not fear being punished for their personal opinions. We do not allow people to disseminate ideologies that are abusive or violent towards others. Demonstrating support for or defending ideologies known to be violent or hateful is a bannable offense. This includes, but is not limited to: racial supremacy, anti-LGBTQ or anti-cis-gender/anti-straight, pro-genocide, child abuse or child pornography, etc. While we recognize questions and conversation regarding these topics are essential for a STEM community, in general, doing so in bad faith will result in immediate expulsion.
What will get you banned: … Hate-based racism, sexism, and other hateful speech…
As our numbers quickly grew into the thousands the issue of what to do about Gab and our stance on censorship came under scrutiny. We had to decide officially where we stand and what rules we wanted to make. Since our community at the time was largely made up of the very victims affected by everything going on we felt it best to hold a private discussion to decide how we could best protect the interests of our LGBTQ+ community. We had weeks of discussion and debate around the issue, but there was a strong consensus in the end. You see, there were some very bad actors on the Gab network, people like Milo Yiannopoulos, who had a habit of doxxing and making calls to violence against people in the trans community. Him and people like him were at the center of the debate. As it turns out the overwhelming majority of the LGBTQ+ that had migrated to our server did so because it was one of the few places left they could monitor these bad-actor accounts. They would keep a close eye for attempts at doxxing or calls to violence and then quickly disseminate that to their communities and warn the parties at risk. This was critical for ensuring the safety of the lives of many in our community. We still weren’t sure what to do so we discussed alternative ways to monitor these accounts, each of which were shot down for various reasons. I will summarize some of the alternatives we considered and why the community ultimately rejected it below.
Open an account on Gab for monitoring - This was immediately rejected as it would expose the victims emails, ip addresses, and usage patterns to the admins of Gab who were not trusted.
Use RSS feeds - This wouldn’t give access to follower-only posts and were not always enabled on many accounts
Use a VPN - VPNs only work when you remember to use it. If a user forgot, even once, to turn on their VPN then their IP would get exposed, a risk they weren’t willing to take.
Needless to say we didn’t have any good solutions that were in the best interest of our community. In the end we made a very controversial decision. We decided to let people have access to view these accounts but with very strict policies against anyone who would show any support for the hateful content. If anyone was shown to encourage or support the hate coming from these sites they would be immediately met with a ban and we encouraged all new users to import a block list that would block these servers outright, at their discretion.
Unfortunately this caused a lot of backlash. Many instance admins were bitter over losing such a huge chunk of their user base to us, particularly when they perceived their own actions as justice rather than oppressive. Many of the instance admins started misinformation and hate campaigns against QOTO and there was a lot of backlash and QOTO even got on a few block lists as a result. But since the safety of the lives of our LGBTQ+ community were a point we refused to compromise on our stance remained absolute.
Later we even took it one step further. You see in Mastodon when you follow an account this alerts the account that you are following them. This was a big concern since it might expose our LGBTQ+ members who were monitoring accounts and fear for their privacy was at stake. As a result we implemented a unique feature only present at QOTO called subscriptions. It effectively allowed our users to follow an account without alerting the account they were being followed. It was privacy-respecting, however, specifically designed so it only allowed you to see posts a user made as a public post. Any posts that were restricted to follower-only or private could not be seen with a subscribe, you still needed to do a follow for that. Despite the privacy-respecting aspect of the feature the hate and disinformation campaign against QOTO continued by a handful of bitter instance admins. They lied and made announcements about our feature as privacy-violating and claimed, erroneously, that it bypassed security and let users view follower-only content, which of course it didn’t. The divide grew even larger, and as it did our following grew even larger too.
Acceptance on the joinmastodon directory
Despite the divide across the network we still have a huge LGBTQ+ community and a large following in the thousands by this point. We therefore applied to join the joinmastodon.org directory, the official directory of Mastodon maintained by Eugen himself. The criteria for getting on this directory are listed clearly and since we qualified, and because of the applause of our supporters, we eventually made it to the list.
As a specialty instance that caters specifically to the STEM community this was a crucial milestone for us. It increased our influx of new users substantially and allowed us to reach a level of healthy growth. Due to our popularity Eugen generally defended the attacks against us from instance admins still bitter of the earlier exodus. This was looking good for QOTO and the fediverse.
Enter snow, the Nazi
By this point in the story QOTO had grown to tens of thousands in size and was in fact one of the largest specialty instances in the entire network. Aside from a handful of bitter instance owners our reputation was excellent and we were highly recommended by our peers. We were consistently seeing hundreds of new users a day and we were growing steadily.
In stepped a new user, a software engineer who went by the moniker Snow. At first he seemed unsuspecting and we had no reason to worry about him, but things quickly went downhill. Snow started posting content largely targeted at transgendered individuals criticising the choice to be trans as unhealthy. He quickly was met with opposition from our community and shortly after his hate speech began he found himself blocked from our community. He tried opening alt accounts and to protest the ban but we weren’t having any of it, he wasn’t welcome back.
Shortly after Snow was booted he tried to join a few other communities to use as a platform to discredit QOTO, some of which were somewhat accepting of hate speech but ultimately he was banned from all of them. Furious and determined Snow started his own instance called wintermute, his profile littered with actual swastikas and Nazi insignia, he called for genocide against trans people and other horrific acts. Sadly he even managed to gain a following at his server of similar minded Nazis.
Snow ultimately used this to his advantage and began coordinating an attack on QOTO whose effects linger to this day. He publicly posted from his main account a call to arms for his followers to flood fake accounts on QOTO and the fediverse at large. Their tactic was to post hate speech on QOTO, then immediately report it across several of the progressive instances around the fediverse in an attempt to make us seem like a pro-nazi forum. While the original post is no longer online as the server has since been taken down you can see a screenshot of this and a related post below.
Of course QOTO quickly deleted and suspended any accounts posting such content. But because their alts reported it immediately those reports still showed up on hundreds of other servers coming to the attention of their admins. Not only did he coordinate this attack by reporting the content across many servers around the fediverse but he also reported it to several block lists for further visibility. Below is a screenshot of him attempting to report it to the Fediblock block list. The link in the below screenshots originally went to the posts I showed above. Luckily he didn’t manage to succeed with Fediblock but he did manage to get us on quite a few block lists as a result.
Needless to say the previously small number of instance admins that still had an issue with QOTO used this as fuel for the fire. They spread the news of the reports in an attempt to defame QOTO and because the reports were so widespread it worked. QOTO quickly started showing up on numerous block lists around the fediverse. Needless to say it is hard to fight against a misinformation campaign, lies spread faster than truth.
Picking up the pieces
As the admin of QOTO I was left trying to figure out some way to counter the disinformation that had spread. Like most disinformation campaigns it took on a life of its own. People saw the lies, bought them, and their gut reaction was to hate us without ever bothering to check the facts. Once someone hates you it is very hard to reason with them, the lies compound, gossip ripples, and soon everyone swears they have a cousin who was the victim of an attack. Of course anyone who spent even a moment looking through QOTOs timeline would see we are a place where acceptance and concern for the LGBTQ+ community remains our top priority. We retained a loyal band of supporters, but our enemies were growing no matter how much goodwill we tried to spread.
In an attempt to remedy the situation I decided to reach out to key members in the community and explain the situation. I found a seemingly innocuous website on the internet that listed all the instances that blocked QOTO. I went down the list and started reading the about pages looking to see what administrators had contact information and welcomed people reaching out to them. Of the servers that blocked us about 20% of them explicitly had contact information and welcomed others reaching out about administrative matters. So I started emailing them one by one and tried my best to politely and respectfully explain what had happened in the hopes we could reconcile.
Unfortunately this backfired, many of these administrators had made up their mind before ever hearing our side of it. They used my friendly efforts to reach out and mend things as an attack, going so far as to call it harassment simply for contacting them at all. To add insult to injury it just so happened that the tool used to generate the list that ultimately made its way to the website was written by a member of KiwiFarms, a vile and hateful community. The website itself didn’t have any indication of this in the domain name and at the time I was unaware of this fact. Nonetheless this information was used to further defame us, as if we are somehow responsible for the tool a website author happened to use. Regardless of this a new campaign of misinformation and lies spread to try to attack us for emailing them and now the claim is centered around harassment.
For the sake of openness and providing all the evidence the full content of the letter I sent to the administrators mentioned above is included below:
Hi, I noticed you had QOTO blocked, I figured this might be a mistake as there has, for some time, been attempts to lie about our policies by some users we blocked for hate speech and sadly some of the community followed along.
Snow, some years back, was blocked for hate speech and he began a campaign against us spoofing various users claiming we accept hate speech on our instance and other outright lies. At one point he even attempted to create accounts on QOTO that posted hate speech and despite getting suspended shortly after, by doing so in the middle of the night, some of it was noticed for the short time it was up.
My guess is some of this misinformation made its way to you and you, understandably, may have blocked our instance.
We also had some similar trouble many years ago where the LGBTQ community was being attacked and they fled, en masse to our server (which is how our server became so popular early on). This caused several people to attack us in a similar manner spreading quite a few lies as well.
For more information detailing that incident please see this post, it also explains our subscribe feature, which is privacy-respecting and provides the same level of access as using an RSS reader to follow an account: https://qoto.org/@freemo/109319817943835261
I urge you to actually review our timeline and see for yourself, hate speech, harassment, misinformation, etc has never been tolerated in our instance and still is not.
To recap some of the misinformation:
1) We have very strict and aggressively enforced policies against hate speech in all forms, you wont find any on our timeline and if you do and report it you will find it is usually acted on with a suspension very quickly.
2) Our subscribe feature is privacy respecting and was specifically implemented to protect the physical safety of our LGBTQ community during their mass exodus to QOTO in the early years. Similarly, for their protection and at their request, is why we only silence servers and do not suspend them (see the post I linked above for the details on this).
3) harassment and other issues are also strictly enforced on our server.
If you wish to discuss this further please feel free to reach out to me either by email or by reaching out to me at @email@example.com
Eugen caves to Nazi’s campaign
This leads us to Eugen Rochko’s role in all this. Up until this point while QOTO was still popular with the majority of the instances he had defended his position to keep us on the joinmastodon official directory of instances. However with the misinformation spread by Snow and the hate this ultimately generated directly and indirectly from this incident he decided to delist us from the official directory over at joinmastodon.org. He did this knowing full well what happened with Snow, he knew Snow’s efforts were to get us suspended, delisted, and blocked and knowing this was all the agenda of a Nazi and his cohorts he still decided to cave to popular pressure rather than to do what was right and set the record straight and stand by the LGBTQ+ communities safety above popularity. This is a shameful and outright disgusting act on his part. I believe it is fueled largely by the increased visibility Mastodon has had lately as people are migrating en masse from twitter to the network. He cared more about appearances than the actual safety of the lives of the LGBTQ+ community and this is disheartening to say the least.
I had reached out to Eugen and explained the situation in detail. There has also been a huge outpouring of people on both Twitter and Mastodon trying to contact him and get him to see reason. Other than a short email response he has completely refused to even engage in the conversation at all.
There are several concerning consequences of this decision, particularly the silence that accompanies it.
It sends the message that as long as a Nazi or other bad actor can generate enough support his demands will be appeased.
It lends credibility to the Nazi’s claims, giving the impression to others QOTO was delisted because the claims against it were true.
It significantly reduces our influx of new users. As a specialty instance it is not easy to find new users as it would b e for a generalist instance.
it no longer shows up when trying to connect using the official mastodon app which relies on that list as part of its search. This causes people to have a hard time connecting even if they are already here.
He was aware of the incident with the group of Nazis, he knew their agenda, and in the end he supported the Nazi’s agenda to get us banned and delisted because it was the popular thing to do. Nothing more, nothing less. In his own words in the one reply he managed to muster about this incident “I will take a listing down if it risks endangering the reputation of Mastodon”. A man who cares more about Mastodon’s “reputation” than he does about the physical safety of the LGBTQ+ community has no business being in charge.
Update: Eugen indirectly verifies content of this article
See Eugen’s response here, which I will comment on: https://mastodon.social/@Gargron/109402824022874888
Here is a link to all the changes that occured to our ToC over the last 6 months. As can clearly be seen the only changes made were stronger protections for the LGBTQ and replacing the phrase “free speech” with “Academic Freedom”.
Which means the only perceived changes he could mean are either greater protections to LGBTQ groups or he is caving to the misinformation spread by Snow.
I already mentioned in the article the emails he refers to, which were sent only to admins with email addresses that welcomed administrative contact. They servered the purpose of alerting them as to Snow’s disinformation and an attempt to set the record straight. They were sent, by hand, to a very limited number of admins.
Seems quite clear, even by Eugen’s own admission that what I said in this post is completely factual afterall. He did, cave to the misinformation spread by a Nazi.
In case the link to Eugen’s response is taken down here is a screenshot: