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Bluesky sends some users personalized apologies after racism controversy

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Bluesky, which has been embattled with moderation issues since its launch earlier this year, appeared to apologize for failing to protect Black users and other marginalized groups on the platform. 

In emails responding to users who sent feedback regarding the platform’s failure to moderate racist content, Bluesky’s customer support outlined steps to address user concerns. The emails, which users shared on Bluesky, appear to be tailored to each individual user’s feedback. 

Bluesky did not confirm that it sent apology emails to users who submitted complaints, nor did it respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment about why the company apologized in private emails, but not in public statements. 

“Seems like each respondent is writing their own unique email, which is very weird because their information isn’t quite consistent,” journalist Erin Biba wrote in a post. “Also the language here is a lot stronger (it seems to me) than their public announcements.” 

In the latest misstep, the platform failed to prevent users from using racial slurs in their account handles, drawing criticism from Bluesky users who were already frustrated with the rampant racism and anti-Blackness on the site. The backlash culminated in a “posting strike,” in which many users refused to engage with the platform until it established guardrails to flag slurs and other offensive terms in account usernames. The sitewide protest followed weeks of discontent from Bluesky users, who have been pushing the platform to crack down on hate speech and other violent threats against marginalized groups. 

Bluesky was also under fire for removing numerous racist, ableist and transphobic slurs from its list of flagged words in a contentious update following the backlash. 

The company then announced updates to its terms of service and community guidelines, which stated that Bluesky does not allow conduct that “targets people based on their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation.” It did not respond to comments questioning whether the company would hire human staff to its trust and safety team, rather than rely on automated moderation. 

In a follow-up thread, Bluesky denounced racism and harassment on the platform, and vowed to prioritize moderation. The platform didn’t issue a public apology to Black users and other marginalized communities — another sore point for many users. 

But in the emails responding to user feedback, Bluesky customer support explicitly apologized for the recent controversies on the platform. Users posted about receiving the emails throughout this week. Each email, however, contained different language and followed different templates. 

In an email sent to user Monica Rose, Bluesky customer support wrote that they “sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the presence of a user with a racist username on Bluesky.” The email stated that Bluesky’s moderation team is “actively investigating the reported user and their username,” and promised to take “appropriate action” to address the situation. The email, as Monica Rose pointed out, came about 10 days late — well after Bluesky publicly addressed the usernames with racial slurs. 

The emails, as Biba noted in her post, contain inconsistent statements about Bluesky’s next steps. In the one she received, Bluesky customer support wrote that the company is “actively considering the formation of a dedicated trust and safety team.” 

“This team will be responsible for implementing measures to prevent the use of offensive language, including slurs, and ensuring a safer space for all users,” the email Biba received said. 

Other emails took a firmer stance, and stated that Bluesky is establishing — not actively considering — a trust and safety team. 

“We hear your demand loud and clear. We are in the process of building a dedicated Trust and Safety team to protect the experiences of marginalized users and ensure a safe environment for all on our network,” Bluesky customer support wrote in an email to user voraciousviolet.

The email also stated that the platform will update its content filters, as well as develop “educational resources to raise awareness about the impact of racism and discrimination.” 

The steps outlined in that email differ from the one sent to writer Joshua Friedman, which explicitly apologized for “any impression that Bluesky has been perceived as hostile or indifferent to Black people and other minorities.” In the email Friedman received, Bluesky customer support didn’t mention a trust and safety team. Instead, the email vowed to implement “immediate and long-term solutions to combat racism, offensive behavior, and any forms of discrimination on Bluesky” by strengthening moderation efforts. 

“We recognize the importance of diverse perspectives in shaping our platform. We are actively working on fostering greater diversity within our management team to ensure a better understanding of the needs and concerns of all our users,” the email sent to Friedman said. “We are committed to listening and engaging with our community, especially Black people, journalists, artists, academics, and other marginalized groups.” 

The email sent to voraciousviolet also directly mentioned software engineer aliafonzy, also known as Aveta, who has been vocal about the anti-Blackness and hate speech on Bluesky. The email states that Bluesky is “committed to issuing an apology to all affected users,” including Aveta, for “any harm caused” by the company’s “failure to implement adequate safety measures.” 

Aveta, who declined to comment out of fear of further harassment on the platform, expressed skepticism. In a Bluesky post on Tuesday, she said Bluesky has not directly apologized to her. 

“But it’s a step in the right direction, I’ll give it that,” she posted.

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