Roam Research - "negative" users purged from the Roam subreddit

I disagree. Censorship is not just a problem on a large, broad, or institutional scale.
A differentiating line has to be drawn between censoring concerns and criticism uttered in otherwise civilized discussions and moderating or containing excessive disturbances of communication like spamming, trolling, hating, or flaming.

There is also a difference between your Facebook example and the Roam-reddit situation. Without any knowledge of what the person has said and only having the perspective of yours, I’d say that this person was flaming and seeking fights in a disrespectful way and your block was therefore rightful.
I occasionally browsed through the Roam subreddit before I personally settled on Obsidian. I never would have put a post on there in the same bucket as your flaming Facebook acquaintance. I never got the impression that the communication among users of that subreddit was disturbed. On the contrary. Those critical posts helped me to get a better understanding of Roam and allowed me to evaluate it.

Prescribing what your users have to think and are allowed to say especially if expressed in a civilized manner and deleting everything else is censorship.
Yes, on a small scale, but that doesn’t change a dime.

I know the context of the quote. I like Heinlein especially for his more or less hidden criticism of politics, societal forms and norms, ideologies, philosophies, and ethics. It is astonishing that this particular book is 70 years old and is more applicable than ever if you think of the almost uncanny parallels to Musk and Mars.

This is what the quote has nothing to do with. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s not even related to the mere religious and questionable discussion of diet choices these days. The “steak” is just the means to convey the message with words chosen 70 years ago. If you want, you could also replace it with “asparagus” and its meaning wouldn’t change. Yet, that is not the quote.

The few words of that line are picked craftily:
By using this metaphor he is criticizing that some institution that beliefs to be in the right or intentionally follows their own agenda makes an independent majority (adults) bow against their will, nature and better knowledge (food choice) by enforced bans and prohibition in ways that are actually harmful to the masses in the long run (consequential malnutrition). This happens under the pretense to accommodate a minority (babies), and at first glance, it appears to be the smallest denominator for all, which makes the taken measures seem beneficial and the legitimizes the means. However all this is based on a fallacy (skim milk helps babies grow, therefore it must be good for adults too). It is more so a correlation, not a causation. Babies are simply—due to the lack of teeth and underdeveloped digestive track—physically incapable and left without much (food) choice and opinion. Their scope of perception is also very limited. Ultimately, despite the seeming rightfulness, the minority would actually be worse off due to the resulting scarcity. If the majority follows suit without a question they give up their sovereignty in a liberal society and accept the unrightful, infantilizing policing by the institution, which only pursues their own goals, whatever they might be.

Since I first read the quote in his book many years ago it stuck with me. Even in the book, it seems out of place and because of that catches your attention. It appears out of nowhere but leaves one thinking.

Of course, it is exaggerated. Yet, it perfectly summarizes a problem that couldn’t be more contemporary in times of “cancel culture”, the questionable things going on in China, and private companies influencing world politics or undermining your privacy with or without the help of trained AI.

To me tolerating this on the small scale will lead to accepting it on a large scale, which is why I am opposing.


A lot of the removed posts are available here:

Threads are wide ranging, which is typical of Reddit.

Looking (fairly superficially) through those posts, I see nothing remarkable about them as user forum comments. Their removal does leave an impression that critical or questioning opinions are not wanted in Roam discussions.

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What is the difference? How are we defining censorship (bad) vs. moderation (good)? Is censorship simply the word we use to describe moderation gone wrong?

The strict definition of censorship is that it can only be done by a person or organization with the power to shut down discussion completely–not just move it elsewhere. Most often this is applied to governments, who have the power to impose control through violence or threats of violence. A person who denounced the Communist Party in China, or 20th Century USSR, will see their denunciations erased, and if they are persistent enough, they’ll land in a prison camp. That’s censorship.

Using this definition, Twitter does not have the power to censor speech. Anybody who’s been kicked off Twitter can just go to Facebook.

Recently, we’re seeing the general public realize that this traditional definition of censorship is limited. Sure, Twitter is a private entity and can do what it wants–but somebody kicked off of Twitter loses access to millions of people who might be on Twitter but not elsewhere. And Facebook has literally orders of magnitude more power than Twitter.

This is not a new argument. In the 1960s-80s (roughly), in the US, the major US, radio, and newspaper networks were dominated by a few big businesses, and were regulated through laws such as the Fairness Doctrine. They didn’t set the conversation, but they set the AGENDA for the conversation.

Frankly seems like panic caused by pressure from Obsidian.


…and logseq, Athens, Notion, Craft, etc.

One thing I liked about the banned posts were their mentions of alternatives to Roam.
In fact, lists 80+ alternatives.

So, perhaps a little “deck chair rearrangement” is going on.


The thread mentioned by @JohnAtl is a pretty good example of the kind of discussions lead in this subreddit in the last few years. I rarely saw spamming, flaming, hate, or trolling. Not even moderation would be necessary in most cases.

It is mostly frequented by users of the software for which the makers ask up to $500 for a 5-year plan.—Which is quite a commitment. As far as I got it, that subreddit is also offered as one of their tolerated official communication channels, besides their Slack. (Official as opposing to a “fan-forum”, where mods usually aren’t employees of the company.) Having this and providing moderators is an invitation to have a conversation, which the users attempted to have.

Let’s look at other examples:

  • Bear: Bear also runs an official subreddit, where users are invited to get in touch with the developers. Regularly users ask about the promised updates and web version and also criticize the slow development pace.
  • Day One: They offer an in-app support chat. Today they asked for feedback via an in-app pop-up. Another form of an invitation to a discussion, just not public.
  • Obsidian: Open Discourse forum, where users and devs engage actively. It is incentivized to engage in the community via plugins or financially supporting the team just to earn a badge in the forum and get earlier access to betas. Again all open invitations.
  • Things: You rarely get a reply on social media besides “thanks, we took note”. The company is pretty closed off and doesn’t facilitate discussion about their product.
  • Flexibits: Feels even more closed off than Things. No communication channel was offered besides support mails.

This is a question of discussion culture and Roam undoubtedly encouraged public engagement as a growth hack.

This has to be seen in context.

My point is that it is difficult or almost impossible to move the discussion elsewhere as a user if a public and official communication platform has been offered in the past. Especially for niche products.

For a niche product like Roam, banning users and forbidding certain discussion topics on their official discussion forum is censorship. A user can’t just move the discussion to the real world, because the relevancy of that niche product is not sufficient enough to easily be able to find someone on the same level of knowledge to even talk to.
Your only option would be to open up a “fan forum” and hope for others to join, but I’m certain you’ll only get a fraction of the users to join. If at all, since new users that are willing to engage would still end up in the official channel.

Regarding your definition:
The definition of censorship is changing. Sure, an (authoritarian) state, as one extreme, can pass laws that attempt to entirely ban discussions about certain topics based on their institutional agenda. That would be the classic example. Yet that is not the only form of censorship anymore. These days this happens more discretely in the western world by implicit censorship. It’s a slow process of establishing taboos or topics of guilt that shouldn’t be talked about instead of a direct ban.
The instrument of choice is fear of the implications and hassle to be targeted by “cancel culture” or losing your “face”—Especially since everyone is a small public persona these days. This is done by utilizing the imbalance of a small majority fighting loudly for their beliefs and the masses that often haven’t a fully formed opinion and are unsure whether speaking up is the right thing to do.
But all that is a different topic.

Just a matter of curiosity - would Reddit allow the creation of a /r/RoamResearchUnofficial? Or would they go after that for a trademark issue?

Because the difficulty in taking discussion elsewhere is seemingly at least somewhat reduced by the ability of users to create their own subreddits.

I am inclined to want to save the word “censorship” for situations where the stakes are higher than participating in a forum for a very niche software product.

I am uncomfortable with the phrase “cancel culture,” but sure let’s go ahead and use it anyway. We’ve seen examples of people losing their jobs, their careers, and getting death threats over unpopular statements or casual remarks they made, often taken out of context many years later. Likewise for the people who are cowed into silence by fear of just that kind of thing happening. That, to me, is censorship–or close enough to censorship that I can live with using the word.

This may be my last comment on this particular topic, because I feel like I’ve said everything I’ve had to say, and because the conversation has moved in a direction that’s off-topic for MPU, and because it does appear to me that the developers of Roam Reserch have in fact done a bad job of moderation here. I do appreciate your participating in the discussion and giving me things to think about.

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I see and follow your point. I don’t use the term lightly. The problem is that the more it is tolerated on a micro scale, the more it will be accepted if censorship happens on a macro scale.
To me that risk weighs more than using a seemingly “too big” word for a too small problem.

Same. And likewise thank you. I always like to better understand an opposing view. :slightly_smiling_face:


I think that as long as the “official one” exists with moderators that are employees it will be shut down. At the latest when the first complaints from Roam come in.

I am not sure whether using the term “Roam” in the channel name could be covered by journalistic use. You could potentially use it in the name of a website or forum reporting on it, but it has to be clear that it is unaffiliated.

ResearchRoamers Not affiliated to Roam Research. But we talk about PKM topics :joy:

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Based on what I’ve read about the team at Roam and their company culture, this really doesn’t surprise me. Probably the main reason I’ve never even tried Roam. But, I do believe you should be able to make your own rules in your own sub. Just think there are better ways to handle these things…

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Roam team has even a guy who just showed up on Reddit calling himself the Pope (chosen by RoamCult) and saying he will be in charge of their reddit channel. I’ve never seen something like this before.

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It looks like they’re trying to embrace the “Roam cult” thing and take it in a humorous direction, while doing some damage control. But I don’t think they’re succeeding.

The whole point of the complaints is that the people don’t want dictatorial control. Creating an office based on a religious position that is - literally - considered by the members of that religion to be the voice of God on Earth is…well…perhaps counterproductive? :slight_smile:

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Decline and Fall of the Roaman Empire