Patrick and I were delighted to have Jay Allen invite us to be panel participants at this year’s South-by-Southwest conference, but there’s no way we can make it to the convention. Here’s a little bit of what I would have said on Liz Lawley’s panel on “Spammers, Trolls and Stalkers: The Pandora’s Box of Community.” The text I’m responding to is taken from Jay Allen’s letter.
“Spam, Trolls, Stalkers: The Pandora’s Box of community” The ease with which people from all over the world can come together and create a virtual community is one of the most powerful gifts of the internet. Sites which facilitate community—from Slashdot and Metafilter to the single-author blog with comments enabled—do so first by making communication easy. Unfortunately, this also opens the gates to undesirable parasites who, at best, don’t care about your creation or, at worst, want to destroy it.Yup. All points touch within the internet, and getting online just gets easier and easier. It’s an inescapable truth that for some people, the most interesting way to participate in online discourse is to kick holes in the conversation. Others—many of them young, but some, alas, old enough to know better—have a sense of entitlement that leads them to believe that their having an opinion means the rest of us are obliged to listen to it. Still others plainly get off on verbally abusing others, and seek out conversations that will offer them opportunities to do so. And so on and so forth: the whole online bestiary.
Must all good things come to an end due to the network effect and the shadow of anonymity? In this panel, we’ll discuss all of the things that exposure and user-submitted content might bring and how to mitigate its effect on your site’s health and growth.Some things I know about moderating conversations in virtual space:
1. There can be no ongoing discourse without some degree of moderation, if only to kill off the hardcore trolls. It takes rather more moderation than that to create a complex, nuanced, civil discourse. If you want that to happen, you have to give of yourself. Providing the space but not tending the conversation is like expecting that your front yard will automatically turn itself into a garden.
2. Once you have a well-established online conversation space, with enough regulars to explain the local mores to newcomers, they’ll do a lot of the policing themselves.
3. You own the space. You host the conversation. You don’t own the community. Respect their needs. For instance, if you’re going away for a while, don’t shut down your comment area. Give them an open thread to play with, so they’ll still be there when you get back.
4. Message persistence rewards people who write good comments.
5. Over-specific rules are an invitation to people who get off on gaming the system.
6. Civil speech and impassioned speech are not opposed and mutually exclusive sets. Being interesting trumps any amount of conventional politeness.
7. Things to cherish: Your regulars. A sense of community. Real expertise. Genuine engagement with the subject under discussion. Outstanding performances. Helping others. Cooperation in maintenance of a good conversation. Taking the time to teach newbies the ropes.
All these things should be rewarded with your attention and praise. And if you get a particularly good comment, consider adding it to the original post.
8. Grant more lenience to participants who are only part-time jerks, as long as they’re valuable the rest of the time.
9. If you judge that a post is offensive, upsetting, or just plain unpleasant, it’s important to get rid of it, or at least make it hard to read. Do it as quickly as possible. There’s no more useless advice than to tell people to just ignore such things. We can’t. We automatically read what falls under our eyes.
10. Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they’ll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.
11. You can’t automate intelligence. In theory, systems like Slashdot’s ought to work better than they do. Maintaining a conversation is a task for human beings.
12. Disemvowelling works. Consider it.13. If someone you’ve disemvowelled comes back and behaves, forgive and forget their earlier gaffes. You’re acting in the service of civility, not abstract justice.
Let me know ASAP as this panel is a bit last minute (for program printing) and I need to move quickly to find the right people.How’s that for fast, Jay? The panel hasn’t even started yet.