What The “Facebook for Knitting” Can Teach Other Social Platforms About Banning White Supremacy
Over the weekend, a niche knitting site declared a bold commitment to eliminating white supremacy in its membership. We break down the key questions associated with this move.
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There’s talking about removing white supremacists from social platforms, and then there’s actively reducing their impact to your community. Ravelry, the knitting and craft community that numbers eight million strong, is getting a great deal of media coverage for their moves toward the latter.
Here, we break down the essential details of their ban on support for white supremacy and the Trump Administration, how violators will be impacted, and why it makes complete sense for a community of craftspeople to take this stand.
So what is Ravelry?
Ravelry is a knitting and yarn arts community, founded in 2007 to help those who sought community and care through crafting to unite. Washington Post called them a “behemoth of all things soothingly created with needlework,” while Gizmodo calls them “Facebook for knitters.”
How did this ban come about?
The Ravelry team was inspired to enact this ban by the moderators of RPG.net, who enacted a similar ban in October 2018. In that site’s announcement, they note that the tenets of white supremacy and its supporters “are so wholly incompatible with our values that formal political neutrality is not tenable. We can be welcoming to (for example) persons of every ethnicity who want to talk about games, or we can allow support for open white supremacy. Not both.”
In Ravelry’s announcement, they echo the sentiments of their predecessor in such a ban: “we cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.”
So, is this a ban on Republicans or conservative members?
It is not, and Ravelry’s notes on their policy state this unequivocally in a number of places. As they explain their position and the impetus for the ban, they draw a clear distinction. “We are definitely not banning conservative politics,” the announcement says. “Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.”
Further, in their policy notes, they seek to preempt a few actions that might serve as conflations between conservatism and support of this particular administration. First, they warn users against “weaponiz[ing] this policy by entrapping people who support Trump into voicing their support.” And second, they emphasize “antagonizing conservative members for their unstated positions is not acceptable.” In stating these caveats and community standards, Ravelry makes a distinction between party line divides and ideological differences that violate their goal of creating a welcoming and affirming space for crafters of all walks of life.
What happens if a member violates this new policy?
In many ways, the ban is not unlike one that could be enacted on a broader social media platform. It “cuts across all aspects of the site including forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and anything else” the member might have posted or shared on the site. Any posts that violate the policy will either be returned to drafts or made invisible, the latter method of which evokes thoughts of Pinterest’s ban on anti-vaccination “pins” and information.
What feels like a departure from the standard ban consequences, however, is access to data. “Project data would be saved and delivered to the user if they violated the new terms, and anyone permanently banned could still access patterns they have purchased,” the Washington Post’s Alex Horton reported.
Can a social platform really do this?
Legally, yes. Ravelry writes, “users are still free to support the Trump regime privately, but Ravelry will no longer host any public discussion that endorses the president.” And they’re wholly within their rights to do so, as the Washington Post ardently points out:
Ravelry, a private company doesn’t have to allow supporters of the Trump regime to post […] hateful messages supporting repugnant racism, gaslighting about rape, and the torture of immigrants.
From a logistical perspective, the answer could be less clear. However, with the commitment of the founders and moderators made clear, it’s easy to see how this effort could succeed in a forum that values equity and justice for all of its users. For this reason, their pronouncement seems to ring truer than similar efforts voiced by bigger sites (beholden to ad revenue and user traffic) with less incentive to remove offenders.
What impact will this have on the site, really?
While it is admittedly only one account, TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu reported on the story as a longtime knitter, 11 year member of Ravelry, and a woman of color. In her outstanding piece about the ban and why it connects so deeply to the roots of knitting as a pastime and community, she writes:
At a time when all the biggest social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are constantly prevaricating about their role in enabling the spread of racism, hate speech and harassment, it is extraordinarily brave and meaningful for these much smaller—but still influential—sites to take a stance that unequivocally calls out the link between the Trump administration and white supremacy.
My personal connection to the knitting community is not as strong, but I do have friends who identify as queer, as women of color, and as members of other marginalized communities, who have applauded this choice and the determination of the founders to see it through in ways other sites simply haven’t.
As Shu went on to share, “Ravelry has the potential to launch important conversations about the role (and responsibilities) that online communities and their moderators have in shaping public discourse, starting with specific groups and spreading further.” Should smaller forums have success in quelling the rise of this group of users, it could create pressure for larger forums and platforms to truly, meaningfully follow suit.
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