On Tuesday, January 1, a number of prominent actors in Ethereum have taken to social media to call out Aragon for perceived censorship in violation of Aragon's manifesto.
The debate was prompted when, a few days ago, a pseudonymous redditor, eddavisDFS, posted to a number of forums, including aragon.chat – the Aragon network's native forum – and Aragon's subreddit, to criticize the Aragon team for including Meltem Demirors as a speaker at the upcoming AraCon* conference, to be held in Berlin at the end of January.
EddavisDFS argued that Demirors should be disinvited from AraCon because of her self-identification as a Bitcoin maximalist, for contributing to Ethereum FUD, for unethical investor practices, and for "helping attack Ethereum through Coindesk and ETC."
EddavisDFS' criticism prompted a back and forth with John Light, AraCon organizer and subreddit moderator, wherein Light provided Aragon's justification for including Demirors as a speaker at the conference. Light stated that Aragon doesn't "have to agree with everything a speaker has ever said to want them to speak at our conference," and that Meltem has "interesting things to say about DAOs and governance."
EddavisDFS was not satisfied with this response, and continued posting across various forums. EddavisDFS felt that Light's responses did not address their central criticism: that Demiror's behavior was in violation of Aragon's manifesto, and that she should therefore not be invited to speak at the conference. One of these posts, made by EddavisDFS to the Aragon subreddit, was deleted by Light. The deleted post is pictured below.
Members of the Aragon team responded to acknowledge that eddavisDFS' post had been deleted but claimed that doing so was in line with Aragon's code of conduct and not in violation of the Aragon manifesto. Light cited the Aragon Community Code of Conduct to state that the redditor's post had been in violation of "multiple rules," including:
Light later followed up to emphasize his failed attempts to engage with eddavisDFS.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, eddavisDFS was as unsatisfied with Light's defense of the post deletion as they were with Light's defense of Demirors as an AraCon speaker, prompting them to begin posting across platforms – this time to accuse Aragon of censorship.
The criticism has not gone unnoticed. Scott Lewis, the co-founder of Concourse Open Community and principal at FlatBush Capital, and Evan Van Ness, creator of Week in Ethereum, and others, have been using
Aragon co-founders Jorge Izquierdo and Luis Cuende published responses to the debate on Twitter, siding with Light, against eddavisDFS and their defenders on the subject of alleged censorship, also citing the code of conduct.
To a significant extent, whether or not Light's choice to delete eddavisDFS' post was censorship depends on how you define censorship. Case in point, in response to eddavisDFS' criticisms, Light (not uncontroversially) posted a link to a comic to differentiate between free speech violations and getting banned from an internet community. (EddavisDFS was not banned.) The comic, and by extension Light, argues that the two are fundamentally different because the former necessarily involves violence (or threat of violence), whereas the latter only involves "people listening think[ing] you're an asshole, and … showing you the door."
The debate touches on an evergreen conversation from within and without the Ethereum community: What are the ethical implications of social media platforms moderating user content, and to what extent should this be allowed or encouraged? In recent weeks, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr have all received a significant amount of flack for their moderation policies. Justifications for content moderation on these platforms include to protect child welfare, to prevent human trafficking, to prevent violence, to prevent foreign attacks on democracy, and other similarly humanitarian reasons.
While most people would agree that murder and pedophilia are bad, critics argue that these moderation policies are antithetical to freedom of speech and have serious unintended consequences. For this reason (among others), one promise dear to many Ethereum proponents' hearts is the possibility of decentralized social media platforms that would allow communities to define and enforce rules at the discretion of the community members, rather than an external, centralized entity.
Aragon, while not specifically a decentralized social media platform, does purport to be working toward community governance, including community moderation of its online forums. While not there yet, it aims to govern the network as transparently and democratically as possible and to operate according to the Aragon manifesto and code of conduct.
In accordance to the Aragon governance model, if anyone believes that Aragon's code of conduct and manifesto are in conflict, or if anyone believes that either document should be amended, those individuals are encouraged to submit an Aragon Governance Proposal for community vote.
This system may work well for community members like Lewis, who spoke up to suggest that Aragon network rewrite its code of conduct to be more specific.
However, that doesn't address eddavisDFS' initial concern: that the inclusion of Demirors as a speaker in the conference stands in contradiction to the Aragon manifesto. In the future, Aragon plans to have a decentralized court system in case a community member believes any members of Aragon One, or anyone else, is not behaving in accordance to the manifesto. But until that happens, it's up to the folks of Aragon One to choose whether or not to heed community criticism.
*Disclosure: I will be a moderator at one of AraCon's panels.