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Bluesky is facing community backlash after letting users register accounts with racial slurs
July 19, 2023

Bluesky is facing community backlash after letting users register accounts with racial slurs

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The decentralized Twitter alternative is experiencing a major fallout.

After Elon Musk acquired Twitter, brought back many previously banned far-right users, and removed moderation policies, many users sought out an alternative.

And some found that alternative in Bluesky. Or so they thought.

Over the past week, Bluesky users have been protesting on the platform after a number of accounts using racial slurs in their usernames were discovered. The most prominent example of this was a user whose Bluesky handle was the n-word. In addition, the Bluesky community found that this was happening because the platform failed to block the ability for users to register such names. 

According to the Bluesky team, they initially received reports about the account on Wednesday and removed it within 40 minutes. The team also said it patched the code that allowed these handles to be created within that timeframe as well.

Bluesky also provided MediaDownloader with a statement, similar to the one that was posted on the platform’s official Bluesky account.

‘On Wednesday, users reported an account that had a slur as its handle. This handle was absolutely in violation of our community guidelines, and it was our mistake that allowed it to be created. Forty minutes after it was reported, our moderation team saw the report and took the account down. The code that allowed this to occur was patched the same evening, and the next day, we continued to work on a more comprehensive technical solution that uses a combination of banned words and human review upon account creation. We’re continuing to invest in moderation and support systems that scale with the number of people in the app to ensure a fast response time to future incidents.’

However, for Bluesky users, this puts a spotlight on a larger issue on the platform. 

Ominous clouds loom

MediaDownloader spoke to Bluesky users via private messages and over the phone, as well as reviewed a number of public posts from members of the community. For many, the fact that these handles were allowed to be registered wasn’t the main issue. Many are aware that the platform will experience growing pains and mistakes will be made. The bigger issue was the response. And many, especially Bluesky’s Black users are feeling betrayed, especially when considering that some have spent time building the platform up in hopes that it would be different from Musk’s Twitter.

The public statement from Bluesky came early Saturday morning, long after the accounts were discovered. For days, the Bluesky user base demanded a response from the team concerning the broader policy and user safety issues. Furthermore, since the ability to create such usernames was patched, many Bluesky users were hoping for an apology, which they say was lacking from Bluesky’s statement.

‘​​They fixed the technology issue but not the people issue,’ one prominent Bluesky user shared with MediaDownloader. The user, who asked for their identity be withheld from the piece, explained that the company seems to be lacking when it comes to human moderation, trust and safety policies, and communication.

‘What’s disappointing is the response is how ‘Bluesky is in beta’ when beta is the perfect time for feedback,’ one user explained.

Some users shared that while Bluesky has been responsive to many of various communities’ concerns, they are slower to respond when it comes to issues of anti-Blackness on the platform. The platform has struggled to respond to previous instances involving hate speech and harassment after a wave of newly registered users joined the invite-only platform in April. One user explained to MediaDownloader that Bluesky ‘drags their feet’ when it comes to racism on the platform.

‘I want Bluesky to win,’ the prominent Bluesky community member told MediaDownloader. ‘Apologize and we move on.’

Blue skies ahead?

While Bluesky has remained silent on this request, one Bluesky team member, protocol engineer Bryan Newbold, has personally offered his regrets and has received praise from the community.

‘I have made decisions, and made mistakes,’ Newbold posted on Bluesky. ‘Those have caused harm to real people, including Black folks, including really great+knowledgeable Black folks who supported Bluesky. I’m sorry. feel pretty bad about it. it sucks. re/earning their trust, and everybody else’s trust, will be hard.’

Bluesky, a ‘decentralized’ microblogging alternative, quickly became the cream of the Twitter replacement crop. The platform seemingly provided marginalized users on other websites with a safer place to post and interact. While people of color and transgender users still make up a tiny overall percent of Bluesky’s user base, many have found a prominent voice on the platform and have already become an important part of the various bustling communities on Bluesky.

The temporary invite-only nature of Bluesky has certainly helped make it more welcoming for many users, as trolls, bigots, and bad actors are usually isolated by the broader Bluesky community through mass blocking, muting, and reporting. But, many Bluesky users see that the effectiveness of this method is short-lived as Bluesky grows, which is why these early moments, how they’re dealt with, and how the team responds, are so important to the platform’s users.

As the prominent Bluesky user put it, ‘Just say ‘sorry.”


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