Why I consider Matrix.org’s Abuse team abusive

23. April 2022

I’ve been running a Matrix homeserver for a few years now. It’s an interesting technology and the spirit of free open-source messaging (and more!) drew me in. Plus: There are some very nice and interesting people to be virtually met in Matrix!

Matrix.org, Matrix’s home, run their own homeserver, of course. In order to deal with spam, harassment, etc. Matrix.org not only gave themselves a Code of Conduct (CoC) but also an abuse team.

This Abuse team, though, is something I for one consider harmful and in frequent violation of the CoC they’re charged with supporting. Trying to discuss this leads to being told to email abuse@matrix.org because disussion is regularly squashed in public rooms.

This went so far that a certain member of the Abuse team told us, fellow Matrix homeserver operators, “Enough – this conversation is over.” (I call that “Deliberate intimidation“, something their CoC uses as an example for harassment…) in a public room for inter-homeserver coordination. This was especially annoying as we were discussing policy matters, including misconduct…

The next action of the Abuse team was to add their Mjolnir instance (a moderation tool) to the room to be able to enforce this authoritarian approach. This immediately caused the ban of several homeserver operators and, thus, was completely contrary to what we were trying to do – to talk to each other and coordinate.

This was the first violation of their own CoC I personally witnessed: “Be friendly and patient.

Of course, this action was also quite the opposite of being “welcoming”, “considerate”, “respectful” or “careful in the words that we choose” or trying “to understand why we disagree” – all major bullet points in Matrix.org’s CoC.

We founded alternative rooms not under the jurisdiction of said Abuse team. (Where, by the way, we invited a Matrix.org representative – the very one who acted so abusively.)

Shortly afterwards, while my own Mjolnir instance was still following Matrix.org’s banlists (which I was asked not to publicly disclose which I will refrain from here but it does make one wonder about transparency…), I was contacted by a fellow homeserver operator who was confused why he was unable to invite me into one of the rooms originating on his server.

Lo and behold, when I checked my banlists, I found his homeserver in there – without any explanation or reason given whatsoever. This turned out not to be a singular occurence because when I worriedly checked other bans I found similar entries without any stated reasons.

Attempts to discuss this are usually countered by “Administrator” (@abuse:matrix.org), an anonymous account of the Abuse team so that while others communicate openly, they can remain hidden in obscurity. Again, transparency looks quite differently to me.

That was the moment I made my Mjolnir instance stop following Matrix.org’s banlist because (at least seemingly) arbitrary bans, intimidation, suppression of discussions about protecting Matrix users and other harmful, abusive behaviour is something I definitely don’t want to condone or support.

We homeserver operators (other than Matrix.org’s team) also created our own shared banlist in which we actually document the reasons for bans.

Yesterday, I was kindly notified that my Mjolnir instance had been banned by Matrix.org:

Administrator banned Moderation Bot: <no reason supplied>

An attempt to ask about that was again harshly blocked by the Abuse team which is the reason I’m writing this here on my own platform where they cannot censor, harass or ban me.

As you can see and verify yourself, again no reason was supplied. It seems to have been a case of just not liking the username (“spambot” – which might not have been the smartest choice for a name but the bot is meant to deal with spam so…).

I consider this behaviour – discrimination due to the username – abusive and in stark violation of Matrix.org’s own CoC.

I wasn’t even contacted (my homeserver supports MSC1929 and states quite clearly how to reach me) – neither before nor after the fact. It is only due to the kindness of a third-party that I even know about this.

This, again, differs drastically from what the rest of us does – if and when we put bans in place, we let people know about it (and, of course, delist those who fixed the reason for the ban).

If this was a singular occurrence, I wouldn’t even have mentioned it but this kind of behaviour of Matrix.org’s Abuse team not only hurts their reputation but that of the Matrix ecosystem as a whole.

Just today three entire servers were banned by Matrix.org – for reasons unknown. There isn’t any clear process either. They simply “shoot” and – usually – don’t ask question or even tell you.

If the largest “apple” is rotten, it can spoil the barrel and that’s just the opposite of what I wish for Matrix and, of course, Matrix.org.

What I would like to see now is a fresh start for the Abuse team with actual transparency, a fair process and proper moderation.

Will that happen? Most unlikely. First of all, this blog doesn’t have much reach (and I’m mostly a reader and blog about books). Secondly, Matrix.org would have to see a problem which they likely never will. Despite all that, it was worth my time writing this down.

And I hope for a bright future for Matrix because most people in the community, the idea and the implementation are great!

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