During the conversation on inclusion and representation that primary started on Instagram and grew to other platforms. Enter the Ravelry decision to ban support of the Trump administration directly drawing a line between the administration’s policies and white supremacy. Ravelry’s policy change was an extension of their policy on hate speech established ten years ago, which I support.
I’ve been a Raveler since 2007 and I have a mildly active Yarnworker forum. Ravelry as been around for twenty years and has over 8 million users.I’ve had professional acquaintances with the team that owns and manages it and watched them navigate a new kind of community model within what was tradition—print publishing, local community groups and shops, and conferences. It is a private site that grew into part of the yarn establishment.
This new kind of platform allowed people to connect from all over the globe around the thing they love, primarily knitting, but also any other fiber arts activity that involved yarn, such as weaving and spinning. It is not the only one of its kind, but it is the biggest and one that serves as a primary portal to knitting patterns by indie designers and establishment publishers alike. It is a business that is based on conversation while yarning.
The site is run by owners and staff that have a point of view. They have openly rallied for the candidate of their choice, spoken out on issues of inclusion, diversity, and civil rights since their inception. Ravelry as a business has always welcomed political discussion on their forums and does not shy away from tough conversations. It is baked into their DNA. With each election cycle, the conversation would get heated and messy, but the volunteers moderators did their job according to their own forum guidelines. Each forum could say if politics were allowed, and for the most part, folks heeded these community guidelines, very much like any other forum, chatroom, or group on social platforms. It is possible that you could be active on Ravelry for years and never see any of these politically-based conversations.
In the context of the last few national election cycles in the U.S. and this larger conversation on inclusion and representation in the yarn world, some truly troubling behavior emerged on this platform. I only saw a tiny fraction of it and I’m not privy to all the details and not sure I need to know all of them to support their decision. My understanding is in the name of the Trump administration policies, supporters were using blatant hate speech and doxxing individuals by making their private information pubic, and no amount of banning or blocking seemed to stop it. This is a part of a very vocal, active group of individuals and organizations that has been emboldened under the current administration and a growing trend. (I realize this is an old link, but I check the source data and it is still a growing trend.) It became impossible for volunteer moderators to keep the peace and so Ravelry made their decision to change their policies. Banning “politics” just won’t work, it would undermine their entire model and the community they have built. I’m not sure how they are actually going to implement their new policy, but there it is. You know where they stand.
Ravelry is private company and well within their right to decide the rules of conduct on their site. Businesses use their dollars, policies, and public statements all the time to define their values and political alliances. Sometimes you have to dig to find it, but it is there. It’s perfectly legal to create business models that align with one’s political values. Consumers make choices on how they will interact with the businesses based on their visible politics and policies. In the U.S., Federal law protects us against discrimination on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical disability, not political persuasion. That is part of our American DNA, we can challenge all leaders within our system of governing laws. How you create guidelines on businesses that involve conversation in today’s world is very much a work in progress. Facebook and Twitter haven’t figured it out and as publicly traded companies they have different statutes they have to follow.
It is also a decision in which Ravelry isn’t bearing all of the risk. BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and immigrant community members who started a valid conversation on bias in the yarn community are bearing a substantial brunt along with, I hope, some of the benefit. I’ve found insights and thought provoking questions to reflect on at Unfinished Object, a collective of diverse voices who ask the tough questions. They aren’t designed to make me feel better, that’s not their job, but they do make me think.