Mastodon Governance

Tagline: Codes of conduct are great, being able to change them is even better.

Most reasonable Mastodon instances, at least those that haven’t been defederated from basically everyone, have vaguely-similar and fairly reasonable codes of conduct. Examples include,, or

Of course, a code of conduct implies moderators who exercise reasonable judgement to enforce it. Once again, most of these servers seem to have a reasonable moderator team and, as far as I know, a record of reasonable decisions.


To be clear: if you are have an account on one of these systems, and you have a disagreement with the moderators, my prior assumption is that the moderators are in the right. If anyone goes off and annoys the moderator teams of any of the servers I mentioned, I will be upset.

This is a rant. After this positive prelude about codes of conducts and moderation, there needs to come the issue.

The issue is governance. Who gets to say “the code of conduct on does not protect me?”

In some sense, with apologies to the bard, you can, or so can anyone. But will it change when you say so?

Only if the BDFL agrees.

This is a distinct advantage of hachyderm over the others I mentioned. The others don’t even tell you who has to agree.

Is it a coalition of the moderators? Is it the owner?

If the server is owned by a company, as, for example, is, then the answer is at least somewhat clear. Somewhere between the board of directors and the owners of the company, the buck has to stop.

Is the owner allowed to unilaterally change the CoC? Sell the server and all of its assets? Probably, in most cases.

The only instance I know that has put a decent amount of thought into it is In their wiki they have bylaws and stuff. This makes the change process legible.

I have some confidence that if I joined as a member, and wanted to change the code of conduct, I could submit a proposal. Even more importantly, if someone submitted a bad-faith proposal to, say, remove “racism” from the Code of conduct, I could put in a “Block” vote to make it almost impossible to pass.

I will note that I think it is not perfect. The fiscal partnership seems a bit more loosy-goosy than I would like. I do like that the process of ending the fiscal relationship is clearly outlined.

This makes a “winner by default” rather than an example of best practices. A “winner by default” is still an impressive achievement!

What I want is not to have a “winner by default”. I think the right way to accomplish it is not to add governance to mastodon, but mastodon to governance.

Serious non-profits should consider setting up an instance which allows, at least, members in good standing to open an account on. Ideally, the non-profit already has some code of conduct for its social spaces that it could apply.