Accountability on Avalanche (Part 1): Community and Detectives
Written by Chef Goose
This is part 1 of a series of articles. It was initially meant as a single article, but became too long. The following articles will be: Accountability on Avalanche (Part 2): Builders and Avalabs and What Goose Learned the Hard Way.
With decentralization comes self-policing. There is no central authority that will warn you about unethical individuals. It isn’t Avalabs’ responsibility to decide who should and shouldn’t operate on Avalanche. Thus, it is up to you to learn how to stay informed. In aspects where you don’t have the time or knowledge — because lets face it, blockchains are new and complex — You need to identify the actors who you can trust.
These past few weeks have been high on emotions, and I’ve seen people comment that people need to “get it out of their system”. But that doesn’t address the core of the problem — the community doesn’t seem to know how to approach situations where projects they care for are questioned or accused of unethical behaviour.
The objective of this article is to outline my opinion on community accountability. Why is it important? What is your role in it? What is the role of so-called “detectives”?
I’ve taken care to avoid mentioning any projects or people, as the objective of this article is not to put the spotlight anyone. The objective is to discuss how I think we, as a community, should approach keeping people accountable in the future.
This article addresses the following points:
- Why should the community care?
- How should the community act and react?
- Who’s doing the looking?
- Who’s watching the watchmen?
- Final thoughts
Why should the community care?
Avalanche is currently at an important crossroad. It’s a bear market, builders are building, and we now need to figure out how we will manage to attract new community members and, most importantly, keep them here. When people come to Avalanche, either as new to crypto or migrating from another blockchain, they need to see that the community is, 1) receptive to new people, and 2) serious about the quality of its ecosystem. That’s how Avalanche will get to the next level. Bad actors need to be consistently pushed out or forced to reform, so that the focus can be on honest builders. Taking this responsibility seriously also pushes further the idea of decentralization — taking ownership of our own ecosystem.
The community should care because what they voice their opinion on, either in favour or against something, is what will set a standard of acceptability for the future.
If a project you care for does something unethical, and you and other community members let it slide because you are emotionally and/or financially invested, you’ve just widened what can be seen as acceptable in the Avalanche ecosystem. And at first, it may seem like small things, insignificant almost, but each small thing pushes the barrier of acceptability further, until it is wide to a point where you aren’t comfortable anymore. And at that point, it’s hard to pull it back inwards.
I’m disappointed whenever people tell me to just pay attention to rugs, instead of smaller infractions. Of course I want to look into rugs — they’re unfortunate events that cause loss for many. But here’s the thing with rugs: Usually, once a rug has happened, it’s too late. Only on rare occasions can there be an actual follow-up to a rug. What you should instead focus on are the precursors of rugs — all the signs of people trying to take advantage of the community for their own personal gain. Yes, it may seem like small things at times, but I don’t want to let that standard of acceptability get too wide.
How should the community act and react?
Before anyone calls anyone out, you need to be the first barrier of accountability. You, the community, need to make sure that promises are kept. And if they aren’t, there should be an explanation. To be clear — Builders are human. They can have setbacks, they can make mistakes. And you should be conscious of that. But you shouldn’t accept being misled or lied to by builders.
When I talk about the community holding projects accountable, it is as simple as making sure that, when they say they are doing a giveaway, that they actually send the prizes. It’s small things, but if they’re willing to cheat on that, what else are they willing to cheat on? And any honest project will never hesitate to present proof of fulfilling a promise.
Now, say that first barrier is broken, and you’ve got this detective presenting information you didn’t see coming, accusing a project you appreciate of unethical behaviour. Of course, your immediate response is going to be disbelief — Maybe even frustration. They wouldn’t do that — you love this project.
The first step is figuring out if the information is credible. Do they have evidence? Is there another possible explanation for the information? And most importantly, you need to differentiate between what is opinion, and what is a fact.
What are adequate responses to a false accusation, and a correct one?
Option A: The information is incorrect or incomplete
Unless there is clear, transparent bad faith, you should initially assume that the person has good intentions — they may just not have approached it properly or may have misinterpreted information. People are still figuring out how to properly navigate blockchain communities, and should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Your objective in that interaction should not be to “win” the discussion. It should be to lead the person into understanding what they did wrong. Ask clear questions.
- “Do you have any evidence of XYZ?”
- “Did you contact the team/person to get an explanation?”
- “How did you get XYZ information?”
If the detective refuses to answer, gives vague responses, or makes excuses for themselves, you can start assuming either bad intentions or being more concerned with tarnishing their image than with the truth.
Option B: The information is correct
The facts they presented are correct and backed with evidence. Now what? Are you supposed to abandon the project? Are you no longer allowed to like the people involved? Of course that’s not the case. I’ll say it again — we are human. We are allowed to make mistakes and grow. You can disagree with something that someone did, and still support them. What’s the caveat? They need show that they are conscious of the mistake.
In your response to the information, you need to be careful, again, separating facts from opinions. Too often, I’ve seen people addressing the topic by denying the facts presented to them. That doesn’t help progress anything.
You need to, as objectively as possible, ask yourself:
- Why did the person/project do this?
- What are the potential consequences of this information?
- If a project I wasn’t associated with did this, what would I think?
It is entirely possible that you aren’t bothered by the information presented to you. The person posting can’t impose their feelings on the topic onto you. You, however, have the responsibility of asking yourself whether this ripples into anything else. If the person/project did this, could they do anything else? Are you satisfied with the explanation they gave (if they gave one at all)?
The biggest hurdle I’ve had to come to terms with is that what I believe should be taken seriously isn’t what others do. On a few occasions, I’ve reported on something that I found significant — flabbergasting even. And the reaction I got was indifference or even excuses. I’ve learned that my responsibility in such occasions are:
- Make sure people are aware of the situation
- Make sure people understand the consequences of the situation
- Answer questions regarding the situation
After that, I have no control over how people feel about it, and it is not my responsibility to post and repost the same news until people care. Once I know it is out there, I need to move on. These detectives should see what they do as presenting information, not as attempting to convince the community.
Who’s doing the looking?
For starters, I want to address terminology. In this article, since it is the commonly used term, I’m calling the group of people looking into projects “detectives”, but I don’t associate with that term and believe it applies to very few people.
ZachXBT is, to me, the best example of a blockchain detective, because he approaches it as a detective. I admire what he does, but what he does requires keeping a distance from community events, spaces, and opinions. I’ve been told on many occasions that if I want to be Avalanche’s ZachXBT, I need to be more careful on the opinions I share and should limit my participation in the community. I don’t want to be ZachXBT, and I don’t think anyone on Avalanche can currently compare to him. I don’t know of a single person or entity in the Avalanche community who can claim to be unbiased. Myself included. I’ve not hidden my likes and dislikes toward certain projects. And although I fully intend to call out unethical behaviour from any project, I am likely to have blind spots.
If I were asked to categorize what I do, I’d compare it to investigative journalism, not to detective work. Journalists look at what is happening in the community and report on it, they spread information that the general public does not have the knowledge or time to gather.
But should these journalists or detectives be the only ones looking? No. The community has eyes as well, and they need to use them. Journalists can’t see everything. Some of the best leads I got were from people messaging me and telling me to look into something. Just because you don’t know how to look into it, doesn’t mean you can’t spot something fishy and ask someone to look into it.
I love hockey, but I’m a horrible hockey player. I watch enough hockey that I can tell when someone isn’t NHL-level. You might not know how to use SnowTrace, but you interact enough in the community to know when something isn’t right and needs looking into.
Who’s watching the watchmen?
Having dug into projects in the past, I have started to build a reputation — Depending on who you are, that reputation is either good or bad. Some assign bad intentions to my actions, without evidence. On the other hand, I’ve seen some automatically take anything I say for truth, which isn’t any better for the long-term health of the community.
Can the community assume that those who consistently call out ethical fallings are trustworthy? The short answer is, no. Nobody should be above presenting evidence for their claims, and nobody should believe that their opinion is superior the the community’s.
As these detectives are looking into projects, who is making sure that the conclusions they come to are accurate and justified? That responsibility falls onto you, the community.
To be clear, the community can’t constantly double-check what these people do. The reason that these detectives can perform is that they have skills or time that the rest of the community don’t. So, how can the community make sure that they can trust what they are saying?
By putting emphasis on the methods they use to research and present information.
When a detective posts findings, the community can’t double-check, but they can make sure that:
- The findings are backed by evidence, not just “gut-feeling” or “bad vibes”
- The subject of the findings is made aware of the accusations and if offered a chance to respond
- The detective is open on their methods of obtaining the information
If a detective is unwilling to uphold those standards, their information shouldn’t be considered trustworthy. Whether you agree ot not with the information they present, you should always make sure that those three standards are upheld, for the long-term health of the Avalanche ecosystem.
I believe I’ve shown that I’m still learning how to approach difficult topics, and I’m always looking for ways to adapt my methods. Here are a few realizations I’ve made along the way:
- I’ve started distancing myself from the “detective” characterization. It has implications that I’m not interested in. I want to approach the space moreso as an educator, which is why I intend to continue making videos showing people how to use SnowTrace and will try to finds other ways to help members integrate the ecosystem.
- I’ve come to accept my own biases. I’m human and I have emotions, despite some of you thinking otherwise. The important part is that I need to take the steps to prevent those biases from clouding my judgement. I need to keep looking into projects even if I have a positive bias for them, and I need to give the benefit of the doubt to projects, even if I have a negative bias toward them.
- One of my most important realizations is related to giving positive feedback. When I give management training, I tell people that to have an effective back-and-forth with their staff, 80% of the feedback they give needs to be positive in nature, reinforcing. It’ll make that 20% constructive criticism standout so much more. I’ve realized that I need to apply the same philosophy to my Twitter interactions. At first, most of what I posted was negative in nature, pointing out breaches of ethics. However, it quickly became clear that people would only perceive me as a “fudder”, who should be paid no attention to. Now, instead, I try to be generally positive and encouraging, or just try to have regular interactions with people. It allows me to, 1) Enjoy the Avalanche ecosystem which I genuinely enjoy, and 2) Show people that, when I do call something out, it isn’t an everyday occurence that should be swept aside.
- Finally, I need to get less involved in Twitter drama. But that’s difficult. Maybe I’ll manage, someday, to avoid clicking on that “reply” button.
Next article: Accountability on Avalanche (Part 2): Builders and Avalabs
For more from Chef Goose, follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/0xChefGoose