We recently posted a reminder on our official Fosstodon account that Toots on Fosstodon should be in English. We knew that this post would frustrate many of you, and we sincerely apologise. We thought long and hard about our decision, and it was the best we could come up with to protect our members from harassment and keep the Fosstodon team from being overwhelmed.

We decided to write this blog post in order give you the rationale behind our decision. For context, here is the post from Fosstodon:

The Problem

So why did this come up in the first place? Well, we were noticing that the instance was getting more and more popular, and the growth seemed to be happening at an exponential rate.

With this growth came more posts using non-English languages. Unfortunately — despite being spread over three continents — the team at Fosstodon are all native English speakers. This meant we had to use online translation tools to read toots not in English to make sure they abide by our Code of Conduct.

Now you may be thinking "why do you even need to do that? If there's a problem, people will report the post." That may be true in concept, but the reality is that very few people actually report posts — most people simply opt to block something they don't want to see instead. Even if people were willing to step up and report inappropriate toots, we might not even have any members that speak a particular language, so there would potentially be no one who could submit a report in the first place.

As a result, if we do not translate non-English toots, there's a risk that hateful or otherwise egregiously inappropriate Toots could be posted on Fosstodon without us even knowing. If someone then comes across that post on the Federated Timeline, there could be a perception that Fosstodon is full of trolls etc. We do not want that reputation as it simply isn't true.

Yes, this is an edge-case scenario that may never happen, but it's in our nature to think about edge-cases! Plus, as Fosstodon grows, it gets more difficult to keep on top of this kind of thing, so it gets more likely to happen. We needed to come up with a way of getting around this problem…

The Solution

The Fosstodon team is constantly discussing important subjects including strategies for growing Fosstodon, reports made by the community, and problems like this.

After a lot of discussion, we narrowed the potential solutions down to a few options:

  1. We allow other languages and simply shoulder the burden of translating toots.
  2. We look to expand the team and add moderators who speak a variety of languages.
  3. We only allow Toots in English.

Option 1 - Translate Toots

This simply wasn't feasible. At the time, we had approximately 600 users and this was already becoming a big job. We had to copy the Toot, paste it in to an online translator, try and decipher what was actually being said from a potentially poor translation, decide if the Toot is ok, and finally take action if warranted.

This process only takes around 5 minutes per Toot, but we were already seeing 10–15 non-English Toots every day. That's over an hour every day translating and checking toots. We now have a little over 1000 members, so we would need to dedicate over 90 minutes a day doing this.

The team are all volunteers. We created Fosstodon because we wanted a place for people who are interested in FOSS to communicate and collaborate. If we're spending over an hour a day translating Toots, that's an hour that we can't spend interacting with our other members, or working on reports that have come in, or working on strategies for growing Fosstodon.

We all have full-time jobs too, and families, and friends, and other projects we work on. So manually translating Toots was not a sustainable solution.

Option 2 - Hire More Mods

This was our first plan. The majority of the toots we were seeing were German and Spanish, and we knew we had native speakers who would be willing to help moderate those toots. GREAT! We thought.

Then it dawned on us — the instance is growing, and fast. What happens when we start seeing Japanese posts? Or Italian? Or French? Or Russian? Or any other language you can think of?

Well, we'd either need to find a native speaker who can help moderate, which becomes less and less likely as more languages are introduced, or we're back to square one; translating Toots and taking action as needed.

Neither option is viable long-term.

Option 3 - Go English Only

This was the only solution we were left with. It's not perfect, and yes we pissed off a number of our members. But we knew that most, if not all, of our members spoke English. If they didn't, they wouldn't have been able to understand 90% of what was posted on Fosstodon; and if that was the case, why would they have joined in the first place?

So with that, we decided to make the difficult decision to go English only on Fosstodon.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to this rule. All we really ask is the initial Toot is posted be in English. By default, people don't see replies in their local timelines. If you end up speaking German in DM, or in replies, so what? As long as that conversation doesn't breach our CoC we're all good.

If a conversation does take a turn for the worse, hopefully it will be reported by one of the parties involved, or by someone who has seen the reply thread. We can then take action on an ad-hoc basis, rather than spending vast amounts of time every single night going through these posts.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this rather long post will help to explain the rationale behind making our decision to go English only. We know it's not perfect, but life rarely is. We hope you guys understand why we have done this, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comments below, or contact one of the team on Fosstodon.

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