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In Defense of Self-Hosted Competition, and How Noted.lol Threatened to Dox Us 5 min read
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In Defense of Self-Hosted Competition, and How Noted.lol Threatened to Dox Us

A response to online harassment and its presence in the self-hosted community

By Ethan Sholly

Update: We're committed to the feedback of the self-hosted community, and it has overwhelmingly been that you're not interested in these types of interactions. As a result, we've removed it from the communities it was originally shared with but will leave it posted to our site for transparency purposes.

While we still believe in holding bad faith actors accountable for their actions, we'll continue focusing on the types of content you're asking for.


Note: The content below outlines events that transpired over the course of the past week. Our response to these activities has been delayed as we've spent time consulting with outside counsel to understand our rights, notifying our employers of bad faith actors on the internet who may attempt to contact them regarding our extracurricular activities, and scrubbing the site of personally identifiable information.


Introduction

We at selfh.st/ed are firm proponents in the tenets of the self-hosted community that encourage users to develop content not beholden to corporate interests. Unfortunately, this often results in competing products as users are given the freedom to pursue their own interests. The Awesome-Selfhosted list of self-hosted software alternatives is proof of this.

Given this, we were surprised with the backlash we received from a few outspoken members of the community when we launched our publication early last week. Despite the similarities between our site and others (we still firmly believe that no blog has a unique claim to self-hosted content, optional dark themes, and weekly newsletters), we weren't expecting some of the reactions from a community that typically embraces alternatives as a core principle.

After engaging with a few of the users providing the negative feedback, we discovered that many of the reactions were linked to the self-hosted content publisher Noted.lol. Throughout the course of the week we had several encounters with their team that left us feeling threatened, harassed, and intimidated. We believe their intentions undermined the spirit of self-hosted content and as a result have chosen to make our interactions with them public to discourage others in the community from doing the same to other aspiring content creators.

Overview of Events

selfh.st/ed's first interaction with Noted.lol came in the form of a reddit comment on our inaugural post, where its founder accused selfh.st/ed of having a suspicious appearance and – although it has since been removed via edit – speculated that our contributors were somehow linked to their publication and attempting to sabotage their efforts. The founder continued the comment chain (which has also since been deleted) with repeated requests to reveal the names of the contributors affiliated with selfh.st/ed. We declined.

These events prompted us to remove any references to Noted from our site's 'About' page as we no longer felt comfortable advocating for the publication after such an unusual interaction.

As we continued posting content throughout the week, we received occasional e-mails, site comments, and reddit comments harassing our staff and their assumed intentions – almost all of which referenced Noted.lol in some manner.

These interactions culminated on Friday after posting our weekly recap of industry news and community spotlights. We received several hateful comments on our own site – many of them containing obscene language and almost all of them referencing Noted.lol, which finally prompted us to disable the commenting system entirely until we could establish a moderation scheme that allowed us to respond in a timelier manner.

Two comments of note were from a user named "Sarah", which will be relevant in just a bit.

A few hours after disabling the comments on our site and attempting to address concerns in the posted reddit thread, we received the following e-mail from a user whose name appeared in our staff inbox as "selfhoster":

Sarah's e-mail has been blurred for privacy purposes

Despite being signed by someone named "Sarah", we immediately noted the profile photo automatically imported by Google as the one used by the creator of Noted.lol:

We've blurred the personally identifiable portion of Sarah's e-mail in the screenshot above. The second blurred portion is a reference to my full-time employer, which can be found online through a search of my full name.

After noting the profile photo, we responded to the e-mail with a request to connect in an attempt to address their concerns. We also attached a screenshot of our view of the e-mail to let them know the jig was up.

It didn't work. They doubled down and responded again as "Sarah", but this time from a different e-mail address and with more substantial threats beyond just letting us know they had collected information about our personal lives:

We aren't entirely sure what prompted the comment about e-mail spoofing. We had simply responded to an e-mail from a user named "selfhoster" and received a response back from another user named "Sarah". The matching subject line confirms "Sarah" had also received our response to "selfhoster", which led us to suspect Noted.lol and "Sarah" were connected and behind some of the other comments we had received.

A quick cross-reference of Sarah's e-mail address verified it also belonged to the user named "Sarah" in the screenshots from our own comment section above. We were able to confirm this as our site requires e-mail registration before allowing users to post comments.

It was at this point we made the decision to reach out to the Noted.lol staff through official channels to smooth things out until we could figure out a path forward that didn't leave us feeling threatened. After reaching out through the Noted.lol contact form, we were contacted by a person identifying as Jeremy who admitted one of their contributors had sent the threatening e-mails:

The hate mail directed to our inboxes and reddit account stopped around the time the e-mail exchange with Jeremy began.

Since then, the radio silence has allowed us to gather our thoughts, consult with outside counsel on the implications of such blatant harassment, scrub any personal information that might make us or our families targets of further online harassment, and create new accounts across the self-hosted communities we frequent.

What's next?

Despite the backlash received from those in the community who might be intimated by our efforts, we have no intention of backing down from posting the content we've worked so hard to create.

Our analytics software captured over 3,000 unique visitors to our site during its inaugural week, many of whom were also interested enough to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. It's clear that there's still a desire for new types of self-hosted content in this community.

We've been transparent in our own interactions with the community that we're committed to the feedback provided. If we're doing something that's violating the principles of self-hosted content, we want to hear about it. Otherwise, we appreciate the support throughout our launch last week and look forward to providing fresh content and cultivating a space that invites others to do the same as well.

Thanks, and happy selfh.st/ing!

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