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The new Farcaster channel moderation system is exactly what we need

Why I'm extremely optimistic about Farcaster decentralized channels

Farcaster recently embarked on the first step towards decentralized channels, and this move has caused a lot of consternation and confusion. Multiple channel hosts are gone, the ability to hide casts is gone, the ability to ban users is gone. On first glance it looks like a major regression. It seems like none of the tools we have relied upon to moderate channels are available anymore. However, I think that's a misunderstanding of the new system. In brief, the new system provides two feeds, "Recent" and "Main," where "Recent" is an unmoderated algorithmic feed and "Main" is a curated selection of the content in "Recent." And the tools available for curation are already quite powerful, and will only improve over the coming weeks and months.

The new system represents an approach to moderation that has never been tried at scale on a social media site, and I believe it has the potential to become a defining feature of Farcaster. To explain this argument, let me quickly discuss the alternatives to channels that are currently available on other sites. The closest equivalents are probably on one extreme hashtags on sites such as Twitter/X, Instagram, or TikTok, and on the other subreddits on Reddit. Farcaster channels live somewhere in between, but also are very different.

Let's first consider hashtags. The defining feature of hashtags is that anybody can add any hashtag to their posts and thus insert their content into the hashtag's feed. This encourages spamming. The raw feed of any popular hashtag would be completely unusable. So social media sites engage in extensive filtering and algorithmic curation. They tend to elevate the most engaging content and suppress anything that appears spammy, inappropriate, or otherwise bad for their business metrics. Importantly, there is no human curation. Hashtags don't have individual moderators that can tweak the feed or the filtering criteria. And there is typically no filtering for on-topic posts. If engaging but otherwise off-topic material starts getting pushed into a particular hashtag the hashtag quickly becomes useless. More generally, what a social media site considers to be engaging or spam or good/bad for their metrics may not be aligned with what the site's users would actually like to see under the given hashtag. Consequently, to the site's user, hashtags often don't deliver the value they promise.

Now let's consider Reddit. It attempts to combat the problems of spam and off-topic posts via a combination of up/down voting, human moderators, and automated moderation tools. If you have posted to Reddit, you know the first hurdle is to make it past the automated filters. Your post may be too long or too short or contain the wrong keywords etc. and get rejected outright. And once you're past this filtering stage, your post may yet get deleted by a human moderator because it's a duplicate or off-topic or just not what the moderator wants to see. And once you're past this gauntlet, your post needs to receive many more upvotes than downvotes to be visible in the main feed of the subreddit you're posting to.

In theory, the extensive amount of filtering that Reddit applies should result in a very high-quality feed. But in practice there are obvious problems. First is the hivemind combined with the ability to brigade the voting. It happens frequently on Reddit that constructive and perfectly valid posts or comments get downvoted because they don't align with the preferred perspective of the subreddit or because there is a coordinated attempt to suppress this particular viewpoint. Second is the emphasis on human moderation via removal of undesirable content. Reddit mods have massive power to remove content but almost none to bring content to the fore. So their entire mindset is being shaped into acting like the thought police. They spend the majority of their time engaging with the less desirable content and thinking about what should be removed rather than what should be amplified. This dynamic, I believe, selects for a certain type of person who likes to tell other people what not to do. If you enjoy finding interesting stuff but don't enjoy policing people's behavior you're not going to have fun as a Reddit mod.

So how is moderation going to work in Farcaster channels? First, we need to acknowledge that many strategies employed by centralized platforms don't work in a decentralized system. Most importantly among those are banning and hiding. In a decentralized system, anybody can write any content into a channel. You could ban users or hide casts in a particular client, such as Warpcast, but this would have no effect in other clients. In fact, I frequently use Supercast to find casts hidden by Warpcast. The more people use alternative clients, the less what Warpcast does in terms of moderation matters, so we need a different approach if we want channels and channel moderation to be a feature of the entire Farcaster ecosystem and not just a Warpcast-specific feature.

The strategy that does work, however, is to specifically tag the casts that are the most interesting and display those in a separate feed. That's what the main feed does in Warpcast, and other clients can emulate this strategy and provide a very similar curated feed to their users. In this setup, the job of the moderators is not to flag the bad content but instead to elevate the good content, i.e. to curate. Of all the casts sent into a channel, which are the ones that deserve the most attention, that subscribers to the channel should see first? It will be the moderators' job to find those casts. Channel hosts and moderating teams can come up with a variety of strategies to do this curation task, and different strategies may work for different channels or topic areas or teams. We will see over time what the best practices are. How exactly this works on a technical level is beyond the scope of this article, but rest assured that the system is very flexible and powerful and chances are whatever moderation strategy you would like to employ will be possible.

The main reason why I am so excited about the new approach is that I believe manual curation is an important strategy that has been lacking in social media. Curators can develop a specific vision of what kind of experience they want to create and then distill that vision in their moderation approach and channel. This will ensure that each channel will have its own unique culture and content mix. Sure, some will be terrible, but others will be really interesting and way better than any automated system would deliver. Voting systems (like on Reddit) and algorithmic curation (like on X/Instagram/Threads/...) tend to lead to regression to the mean and result in relatively uniform, boring feeds. Manual curation has the potential to create the opposite.

Some people will complain that the new system puts too much power into the hands of the curators, who may be gatekeeping or overly opinionated or simply ruining a channel with their personal curation choices. But there is an important counteracting force: Anybody can create a channel. If you don't like how a channel on a given topic is curated you can set up a competing channel and moderate differently. I believe opinionated is good, because high quality content is always opinionated. And, if a channel gets moderation entirely wrong it'll lose out over time to another channel that gets it right. The channels that consistently provide the most interesting main feed will grow the fastest.

If you want to learn more about the technical aspects of how the new moderation system works and is implemented, I encourage you to watch this GM Farcaster episode from May 28, 2024:

I also plan to write a follow-up post that will explain how the new system works from the perspective of a channel host and how to set up and use the new moderation tools, and specifically automod.

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#farcaster#moderation#channels#social media
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