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March 4, 2010

John Scalzi and I mouth off about managing community
Posted by Teresa at 06:53 PM * 392 comments

A few weeks back, Ron Hogan did a conference-call interview with me and John Scalzi about online community. His transcribed and edited version of the conversation has now gone up on the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) & The Center for Association Leadership’s website.

Some previous occasions on which I or my esteemed co-bloggers have talked about this stuff:

January 27, 2005: Virtual panel participation.
October 1, 2006: The Science of Sheep.
April 17, 2007: Moderation isn’t rocket science.
May 05, 2007: CBS surrenders to racist commenters.
May 22, 2007, by Jim Macdonald: Fanfiction, Monetized.
May 23, 2007: FanLib wholly exploded.
July 20, 2007: Flamer Bingo.
November 18, 2007, by Jim Macdonald: The MySpace Suicide.
November 19, 2007: “It’s the apocalypse.” “Again?”
February 21, 2008, by Abi Sutherland: Curating Conversations.
July 25, 2008, by Jim Macdonald: Time Notices Comments.
November 29, 2009: Latin obscenities meet comment-order preferences.

I’ll add more to the list as I think of them.

Comments on John Scalzi and I mouth off about managing community:
#1 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 09:27 PM:

Quite an interesting conversation. How much more was there? Will the unedited version get published (and would you like it to?)?

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 09:30 PM:

Tom, I honestly don't remember; but if you or anyone else wants to play interviewer, I can generate more of the same.

#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 09:42 PM:

I always welcome a chance to sit down and interview you, T.

#4 ::: Ron Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 10:33 PM:

My recollection is that what made the cut was about 85% of the conversation. I was really happy with how it turned out -- and lucky to be talking with people who really knew the subject cold!

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 11:42 PM:

Ron, thank you for a great conversation. I could happily have gone on for another hour.

#6 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2010, 11:45 PM:

Great interview. It kind of confirms some of what i've always felt a good site has - a strong sense of someone watching over and a guiding hand.

#7 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 01:14 AM:

I remember seeing Tom interview Teresa at Denvention. Both Tom and Teresa are so interesting that I'd be happy to hear either of them speak at length on a topic that interests them; hearing them in conversation is still better.

#8 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 05:29 AM:

Good interview! I'd love to see the edita, too.

Are you familiar with the recent Dawkinsite forum meltdown? It's a lovely chewy set of events. I think my favourite part is the way everyone treats Dawkins like a mediaeval king (possibly Richard II).

#9 ::: Lisa Junker ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 07:52 AM:

Teresa, as one of the editors of Associations Now, thank you so much for being a part of that interview! The article is a great read, and I think what you, Ron, and John had to say will really benefit our readers, especially those who work in their association's online communities.

(And for those who are interested in seeing the full transcript of the interview, let me check with the editor who worked with it directly to see if there's significant additional material that ended up on the cutting room floor. If Teresa, Ron, and John are comfortable with me doing so, I'd certainly be happy to email the full transcript to those who would be interested.)

#10 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 07:54 AM:

Sam #8 - kings and queens and forums - I think that once a forum gets beyond a certain size, all the owner/ founder needs is a role like that of an idealised medieval king - defend the forum against attacks, act as a final arbiter in disputes, and as a figurehead for those who want to look up to in some way. Actual regular participation doesn't do any of this any good.
Of course unlike in feudal times, forum denizens can easily leave if the ruler turns out to be unjust, and they don't usually have the option of a revolt and hair cut.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 09:38 AM:

Sam @8:

I'd say thanks for the pointer, but I'm hitting my head on my desk right at the moment. That's quite a train wreck.

It's worth noting that Dawkins takes a better run at addressing the matter here. I still think he's not really grasped how much the community grew beyond his intentions, and what consequent real, human damage this episode has done. Also, he seems to think the new structure can be run without moderators*.

I will watch this one with interest.

-----
* Those proposed threads won't vet themselves. And what volunteer would risk being treated the way the previous ones were?†
† Me? Identifying with community moderators? Perish the thought.

#12 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 10:40 AM:

"It's the apocalypse" should probably point to the actual thread, rather than to Teresa's comment on BoingBoing that is quoted at the top of it.

#13 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 10:43 AM:

I would be willing to bet that the same skill set and many of the same criteria also apply to the people who have hosted salons throughout the ages. (Of course, blogs don't have to provide snacks and bathroom facilities....)

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 12:23 PM:

Lila #13: Except the salonnière invited her guests. Many of us are here by chance, having stumbled on this place, or by invitation or suggestion from other guests.

#15 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 01:06 PM:

It seems like everyone's talking about comment moderation lately. There's an interesting rant about newspaper sites' unwillingness to moderate their comments sections by M. LeBlanc at BitchPhD

Sadly, a commenter to that post points out that the sites have an incentive to *encourage* nasty behavior, because it increases page views.

My optimistic side looks forward to widespread realization that some page views are more valuable to advertisers than others, causing the bottom to fall out of the market for ads on comment cesspool pages; my pessimistic side fears that people who like rolling around in cesspools (and creating them) may be just as valuable to advertisers as more civilized types, if not more.

#16 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 01:34 PM:

Things sure have changed over the years (the 25th anniversary of the start of the SMOF-BBS was this past January).

#17 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 01:57 PM:

Sam Kelly @8 -- a very interesting site on the second clickthrough, showing the moderators' side. And the discussion gets to the point of who owns the site, but not something more interesting: who owns community? It's true that there are clear owners of a site, but the ownership of the community is a bit less clear, and would make a very interesting sociological study. While this site could vanish in a moment, a (probably smaller) portion of the community would still interact in other spaces, in part because the commenters here have shown enough ownership of the community to start setting up alternative venues in case of various outages. I hope nothing causes a FAIL here in any near time; I know there are backup systems if it does.

Jeremy Leader @15 -- it's easy to measure the page views. It's hard to measure their quality. And it's easy to sell what's easily measured as "scientific". Community isn't about what's easily measured -- the history of how I, Libertine came to be written back in the 50s shows that very well. Short form: Jean Shepherd had a radio show late at night. It didn't have high ratings. He suggested people go out and buy a non-existent book. When the Ballantines each heard someone asking for it separately on the same day, they commissioned it Quick Like Bunnies, and got it published. It sold enough to make it worth their while, and established that Shepherd had a good bit of marketing power. It's mentioned in his Wikipedia article under "Radio Career".

#18 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 02:06 PM:

guthrie @10: I take your point, but I wasn't thinking of the "ultimate arbiter" role so much as the way that people tend to believe the best of a king (==authority root) they never hear from. In the case of Richard II, for instance, it was his evil counsellors that people were getting annoyed at, and he was the one who was going to set everything right for them.

And regarding leaving... that's one of the other parts of the train wreck there. People have left, set up a half-dozen competing successor kingdoms, the community are fragmenting or time-sharing or both... and I doubt anyone's having any fun over it, anywhere.

Jeremy@15: One related point I heard recently - contributors to the Guardian's "Comment is Free" section get paid (partly) according to the number of comments that get posted to their articles. Given the unfortunate nature of some of the commenters there that's rather problematic.

#19 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 02:16 PM:

Jeremy Leader, #15: "Sadly, a commenter to that post points out that the sites have an incentive to *encourage* nasty behavior, because it increases page views."

Isn't this what bad papers have been doing all along? The technology has changed, but not the content or the strategy.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 02:21 PM:

As alluded to by Tom Whitmore:

If there is a technical failure on Making Light, go to my (otherwise sadly neglected) blog, http://www.sunpig.com/abi. If Making Light goes down, I tend to open up a thread or two there to keep the discussion going. Patrick, Teresa, Jim and Avram all have keys to the back end.

Obviously, if there is an interpersonal failure, we'll be so busy throwing custard pies and screaming imprecations in dead languages at each other that you guys will have to take yourselves to some other venue on your own. That is not, however, in the plan or on the horizon.

#21 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 02:36 PM:

abi @20 if there is an interpersonal failure, we'll be so busy throwing custard pies and screaming imprecations in dead languages at each other that you guys will have to take yourselves to some other venue on your own

In the highly unlikely event, someone sell tickets? Please?

#22 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 02:51 PM:

Nicely done, Teresa and Scalzi. TNH, I've long been a fan of your clear-eyed and practical--yet empathetic, humanitarian, and gentle-- understanding and passion for online community.

Sam Kelly @ #8 - I'd missed the meltdown on the Dawkins forums. Wow. I feel terrible for that community. It sounds as if they've been managing to exist and to police themselves without anyone apparently knowing or caring, and with what sounds like inept, uncommunicative, and sometimes downright hostile technical support (and make no mistake, regular server housekeeping is nearly as crucial as good moderation, lest your corrupted databases start creating exactly the problems described by Peter Harrison.

A couple of years ago, when the page loads for the AW forums started regularly exceeding a million a month and I started making noises about pruning old threads, I was unprepared for the resistance I met from the community at the very idea. They wanted ALL those old threads, not just the informative ones about writing, but also that silly thread that spawned when so-an-so had a birthday, and posted that goofy baby picture, or the impromptu poetry jam where so-an-so the sports column writer actually jumped in and played, too.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been so surprised. People were deeply invested in the community, had celebrated birthdays, mourned passings, held each other's hands through bouts with cancer, watched fellow community members fall in love and marry, seen babies born and watched teenagers graduate and go off to college. The archives of the forum provided a photo-album and scrapbook of all that life.

Places like the Fluorosphere and AW have spoiled me terribly, I suspect because a vibrant community embodies sprezzatura; hosting such a lovely ongoing party looks effortless, while in fact, is anything but.

Some time ago, I investigated the forums attached to a high-profile writer's website, only to discover that he'd hired a company to run the forums and provide moderation. As a result, they're only turned on (and can only be posted to) between 9 am and 4 pm, East coast time, Monday through Friday. That, alone, is positively community-hostile, but it gets even worse. Just trying to register was a nightmare. After being stuck in a moderation queue for weeks waiting for manual approval, and sending multiple unanswered emails to their forum-support contact, my registration was finally approved.

The overzealous moderators refuse to let any of the people registered for the board actually discuss the writer's books with any specific details or quotations, apparently for fear of copyright infringement. Literally months after I'd first registered, I got a stern emailed warning with a threat of banning, for the content of my introductory post (required) because I was too specific about a book. The post had been hung up in the moderation queue all that time between, awaiting approval--but by then, I'd gone away never to return. I'm unusually patient. Usually only the most determined would-be member is going to come back after even a day or so.

That writer is actually paying someone to carefully, methodically, and systematically kill any semblance of community that might threaten to spring up, and that's a damn shame. Weirdly, and even though I know it's not entirely fair, my experience with that message board subtly altered the associations I have for the writer himself and even for his books, because I can't unlearn the very unpleasant experience I had there. So seeing his name on a book or hearing someone mention the website immediately connects in my memory to that aversion.

That's one of the places where the intersection between audience and community gets very tricky indeed.

#23 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 02:54 PM:

So-and-so, not "so-an-so"

*head-smack*

I swear I previewed and tweaked that last post about five times.

#24 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 03:03 PM:

There are so many threads of commonality among the posters of ML that even without having any problems here posters do interact with each other in different venues and blogs. That inclues the Tor site too, as one example, though that doesn't host a 'general' topic where free for all comments can be posted -- nor should it, since it is focused on SF/F. But if it wanted to, it could, I suppose. Though, judging by the discussion forums at sites like Asimov's, such an opportunity could rapidly becomes acrimonious and belligerant, and there is more than enough of this heat no light everywhere else.

Love, c.

#25 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 05:07 PM:

Interesting interview. I do wish, however, that instead of Teresa and John Scalzi they had picked one of the two and then gone with a moderator from a successful online community with a more relaxed moderation style. TNH and Scalzi have similar philosophies about moderation (even if the details differ) but that philosophy is not the only way to run a successful community, nor is it necessarily the best one depending, of course, on what your goal is and what kind of community you hope to end up with.

#26 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 07:00 PM:

Something that you see here but not in most places is moderation along the lines of "this discussion looks as though it might be about to get regrettable; can please we not go there". Of course, that takes a lot more work, and probably also relies on more community respect, than waiting for things to go wrong before kicking ass and taking vowels.

#27 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 07:53 PM:

David T. Bilek @ 25 ...
Interesting interview. I do wish, however, that instead of Teresa and John Scalzi they had picked one of the two and then gone with a moderator from a successful online community with a more relaxed moderation style.

I'd be very curious to see your examples of 'a successful online community with a more relaxed moderation style'.

On my part, I've moderated a variety of online communities over time -- but none of any particularly large size (no more than a thousand-or-so folk, I'd think), which made it much easier to have a fairly laissez-faire attitude[0] towards moderation. I don't think that my moderation tactics would scale particularly well to a purely online community of any size

[0] I did, however, end up banning the odd person, and nudging conversations at times.

#28 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2010, 08:57 PM:

Xeger @27

I suspect by "more relaxed" David T. Bilek @25 might be referring to other methodologies--the "flagging" or "voting" systems used by Craig's List forums or MeFi, for instance.

These systems can work quite well. MeFi also has a certain level of sophistication re: online communication and the 'net that makes it very different from most blogs or forums. CL discussion boards with tight communities are also much smaller in terms of readership than ML or MeFi--and can be essentially fiefdoms controlled by a few.

Large boards like AW with forums/discussions are a very different situation again; AW has around 40 volunteer moderators, with mods of particular sub forums having a great deal of autonomy about how they run their sub-forums. Even so, there's a an awful lot of dependence in all those communities--just as at ML--on members being engaged and active in shaping the community and the conversation.

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 03:22 AM:

David T. Bilek @25:

I agree that it would have been a different, and interesting, interview had they chosen two moderators whose style differed more, or who used more technological solutions to the problems of moderation. (The slashdot and mefi flagging/voting things aren't something you can do in any discussion context, unlike basic conversational moderation.)

It's also indisputable that there is no One True Way of moderation. It varies by moderator, by site, by thread, by day and time of day. Human interactions are squishy and weird like that.

I'm not sure I'd have used the word "gentler", though. I've seen some pretty harsh stuff from peer-rating based places. Absent an example of a universally gentle moderation regime, I'm not sure I'm going to wear the idea that the way we do things on Making Light is ungentle.

(BoingBoing is rather a special case; restarting the comments there required Teresa to build a community culture on the equivalent of polluted ground. There were people who wanted that to fail, who would have counted it a feather in their cap to force it to shut down again. That requires a different approach than what we could call greenfield development.)

I think Lisa @28 has the right of it in the broad sense. All of these moderation regimes work because of the engagement and participation of the community members. Obviously, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because people who can't take a given moderation regime tend to leave.

But my criterion for a successful moderator would be someone who, using whatever methods they use, creates a space where people feel safe enough to both have fun and tell whatever truths they need to tell. Because we come to so many of these places for the entertainment value, but then when we're in need or despair or grief, we need to be able to rely on them, too.

We part company again here:

depending, of course, on what your goal is and what kind of community you hope to end up with.

There are wildly differing sites all over the internet that meet my criterion, created by wildly different moderation styles. I'm somewhat unconvinced that the majority of them were built by using a particular moderation style to achieve a particular type of community outcome. Because of the dependence on community participation (which is inherently variable depending on who is in the community), I think it's more dynamic and organic than that.

#30 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 04:34 AM:

Lisa #28: You got it, I was specifically thinking of (say) Jessamyn West's very different style of moderation. I realize that there is some history with the kind folks at Metafilter, but regardless of which style of community floats your boat one cannot argue that it isn't a successful community with a very different feel to the moderation.

abi: I definitely agree that it is not possible to tailor your community via moderation style. People are not robots. However, a newsgroup is different from a moderated newsgroup, which is different from Making Light, which is different from 4chan, which is different from Boing Boing, which is different from Metafilter. While I don't think that the various levels of success and contrasting styles of community which make up those places can be assigned a 1-to-1 correspondence with the very different (or, in some case, non-existent) moderation, I certainly think one can identify trends and correlations. At the most simplistic and obvious, the looser your moderation the more rowdy and rambunctious the group will tend to be. Yeah, that's a trivial example but it does show that one can realistically draw at least some conclusions.

As I said, I thought it was a good interview so I'm not criticizing it exactly, just wishing my own preferred styles of moderation had actually been represented. TNH and John Scalzi are very good at a certain type of moderation but it is only one end of a spectrum, and the interview makes it seem like it's at least the best way to do it, if not the only way.

In my fantasy dream con, I would have a panel on moderating online communities with Jessamyn West, John Scalzi, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and One Player To Be Named Later.

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 05:15 AM:

David @30:

I realize that there is some history with the kind folks at Metafilter, but regardless of which style of community floats your boat one cannot argue that it isn't a successful community with a very different feel to the moderation.

Yea, verily and amen.

The "history with the kind folks at Metafilter" has mostly been, from my view, people from there coming here to tell us that we're doin it rong. I've found that vexatious at times, but I've certainly never had a reciprocal disrespect for them.

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 08:36 AM:

Abi @ 31... we're doin it rong

You wraaaaaannnng?

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 08:52 AM:

It seems to me that criticizing something, whether a site or a story, because I had expectations that were never the author's intentions is not a valid basis for said criticism. Meanwhile, if the author's intentions and my expectations were in sync, that's another situation.

#34 ::: Someone other than Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 09:05 AM:

MacAllister @22

Places like the Fluorosphere and AW have spoiled me terribly, I suspect because a vibrant community embodies sprezzatura; hosting such a lovely ongoing party looks effortless, while in fact, is anything but.

I know what you mean, and I agree with you, but I can't help but feel that using that word in the context of online communities leads to unfortunate associations.

-Not Fit to Tie TNH's shoes.

#35 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 09:37 AM:

Jeremy @#15:
It seems like everyone's talking about comment moderation lately. There's an interesting rant about newspaper sites' unwillingness to moderate their comments sections by M. LeBlanc at BitchPhD.
Sadly, a commenter to that post points out that the sites have an incentive to *encourage* nasty behavior, because it increases page views.

I served on a jury recently; potential jurors were asked whether they read the newspaper online; if so, whether they read the comments section; and if not, why not. A good many people (myself included) said that they skipped the comments because they were nasty and mean-spirited. (There's an interesting side-issue here about newspaper comments on crime stories poisoning the jury pool, but that can wait for later.)

#36 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:14 AM:

Actually moderating newspaper comment threads would require the newspaper to pay somebody for the work, since I can't imagine anybody doing that particular job out of nothing but the kindness of their heart.

(So far as I can tell, there's nothing that'll convince a person of the utter depravity of humankind faster than reading newspaper comment threads. I used to think that the Letters to the Editor page of the Union Leader was the nadir of sanity and good will, but compared to its various online equivalents it seems like an oasis of literate civility.)

#37 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:47 AM:

@27

I'd be very curious to see your examples of 'a successful online community with a more relaxed moderation style'.

one very successful online community with very, very little moderation is the Pharyngula blog. It can get pretty rough over there sometimes, with hyperbolic cursing (although that's quieted down somewhat). They don't suffer fools (fundamentalists of any religion, creationists) at all much less gladly, but there is a very real and strong sense of community among it's regular posters.

Another highly successful online community (with much higher tone) is the Copyeditor's Off-topic email list (CEL-O). CEL-O is mostly self-moderated, although there are moderators there who work with a gentle and frequently invisible hand.

at both places, people have banded together to provide very real (sometimes financial) support to some of the members in need.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:05 AM:

becca @37:
They don't suffer fools (fundamentalists of any religion, creationists) at all much less gladly, but there is a very real and strong sense of community among it's regular posters.

One of my biggest challenges here, and (I suspect) one of the biggest moderation challenges anywhere, is integrating outsiders who don't share the group's perspective. My perception is that l that I fail at least as often as I succeed. Clichés about "groupthink" exist because of an underlying truth: every community's charism includes a definition of what constitutes Acceptable and Unacceptable views. We're tribal beings by nature. Keeping a wide door is hard work, because it cuts against that grain.

This is not a disagreeement that Pharyngula is a lively and worthwhile community. It's simply a summary and abstraction of the strengths and weaknesses of that particular combination of moderation and sitegeist.

#39 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:11 AM:

@3 abi

The "history with the kind folks at Metafilter" has mostly been, from my view, people from there coming here to tell us that we're doin it rong. I've found that vexatious at times, but I've certainly never had a reciprocal disrespect for them.

You absolutely won't see Matt Haughey doing that.

#40 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:23 AM:

I think a lot of people miss the distinction between comment threads as a kind of add-on to the main writers' content, comment threads as a communications medium that supports the existence of a community, and the community that may come into existence and live there. The best comment threads support a kind of community, and over time, the community may become more valuable in many ways than the formal content of the site. (It's kind-of interesting to look at the comment threads of Ta-Nehisi Coates vs Megan McArdle. For whatever reason, Megan's comment threads, while not awful, haven't grown a community as interesting and alive as Ta-Nehisi's. A lot more of the value of reading TNC's blog is the comments than it is for Megan's blog.)

And that leads to an interesting problem. How do you build an administrative and financial structure that supports a community? ML has a great community. Teresa and Patrick own the site. But nobody can own a community. Is there some way to make it financially viable to grow good online communities? If so, that might be something newspapers or other media companies would want to learn to do. If not, if the comment threads are an expense (moderation, support, interpersonal drama, maybe even occasional legal issues) that provides little or no revenue for the folks running them, even with healthy communities living there, then we probably won't see too many such healthy communities. Most sites won't have a set of moderators of anything like the quality of the mods here willing to work for free to maintain the community, won't have the underlying personal and professional relationships supporting the place, etc.

I've seen a fair number of online communities implode, and some very nice ones close up because the moderator just didn't want to bear the burden of maintaining it any longer. We have lots of examples of social networking sites wanting to build up online communities so they can sell them to advertisers, or otherwise monetize them. Those sites tend to treat the communities as their property, often damaging or destroying their communities as a result.

I wonder if there's some better way to do this, to make maintenance of a community pay more of its own way. And I wonder even more how hard it would be do do this in a way that didn't lock out new communities being born. (Who's going to pay to join an online community with very few members? How does it start up?) And is there a way to prevent the community being treated as a salable thing by its managers, or the owners of the servers on which the community lives?

#41 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:57 AM:

FWIW, the LA Times has two different comment setups.
One is for what they consider to be blogs, where you have to be over 13 and have an e-mail address.
The other is for comments on articles, where they also want to know the year you were born and your sex. (I can understand wanting to know the year, but 'scuse me, Times, you don't have a need to know anything more personal than that.)
Both claim to be moderated, but I can't tell any difference in content between the two policies, and the rejected comments must be legally hazardous, judging by the ones that appear.

#42 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 12:23 PM:

And on the topic of different moderation models: there *are* still unmoderated Usenet groups. I'm on some (rasf* and others). I wouldn't call any of these "unwounded", but they carry on and are community sites for the people who remain.

#43 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 12:24 PM:

Someone other than Chris W @34 - Heh. I refuse to abandon a perfectly lovely word, elegant in both sound and specificity, because Lee Siegel used it to play sockpuppet.

Albatross @40

I wonder if there's some better way to do this, to make maintenance of a community pay more of its own way. And I wonder even more how hard it would be do do this in a way that didn't lock out new communities being born. (Who's going to pay to join an online community with very few members? How does it start up?) And is there a way to prevent the community being treated as a salable thing by its managers, or the owners of the servers on which the community lives?"

You've hit on one of the key sets of questions around online communities, IMO. Very weird stuff starts happening when people start talking about making money with communities - hence, I think, that cynical use of the term "online community" to mean "captive audience" or "returning visitor traffic" or "salable resource."

There are a couple of things to consider: Humans tend towards community when we assemble. Healthy communities not only are generally self-policing, but also tend toward self-sustaining, with the assistance of a manager. That manager mostly just needs to listen, be of good-will, and be willing to take crap sometimes for the good of the collective. The real rewards of a community tend to be less tangible than money.

A really shocking number of human beings are not only willing to exploit their communities for profit and/or ego, and see absolutely nothing wrong with doing so. I personally see either of those motives as being anti-social in general.

#44 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 01:11 PM:

Odd how that boston.com article doesn't seem to "get" why Siegel's sockpuppetry was not only unethical, but pathetic. (or perhaps bathetic?)


#45 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 01:20 PM:

WRT newspapers' online comments: Joe and I write a perfectly innocent garden column for the San Francisco Chronicle. I made the mistake of reading some of the online comments it attracted, on SFGate one night.

(Our editor forwards any actual letters, whether paper or email.)

I shall never, never, nevernever do that again.

#46 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 01:49 PM:

ab: One of my biggest challenges here, and (I suspect) one of the biggest moderation challenges anywhere, is integrating outsiders who don't share the group's perspective.

abi: Interestingly, you've nailed one of my primary criticisms of this sort of more active moderation; I do think that active, robust, and obvious (which is the whole point of disemvowelling, for example) moderation is very difficult to do without tending towards insularity and groupthink.

I understand that this is in many ways a reaction to the unmoderated nature of (most of) Usenet, where quieter, less confrontational people could be drowned out or hounded. Like the example of the Rabid Libertarian Attack Weasels on RASFW, who drove some very nice people away because the RLAW simply would. not. shut. up. about their hobby horse.

So I'm not unsympathetic.

Andrew: And on the topic of different moderation models: there *are* still unmoderated Usenet groups.

After my ISP dropped Usenet, I've popped back into RASFW on occasion to see if I should get one of those monthly fee news feeds. But every time I do I don't actually see any discussion of SF. I mean, RASFW has always had a lot of politics threads but there was also always on-topic discussion at the same time. But I just don't see the latter any more.

I still haven't found a good replacement for discussion of written SF.

#47 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 02:05 PM:

David T Bilek @ 46... I'm not unsympathetic

That may not be your intention, but you come across as a bit condescending.

#48 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 03:03 PM:

albatross @ 40: I wonder if there's some better way to do this, to make maintenance of a community pay more of its own way.

I think that maintenance of real communities does pay its own way, if you have a mind to maintain communities, but not in money. That's the real sticking point, isn't it. People form communities because of, among other things, shared interests, not because you want to sell something to them. It might be that people form communities around certain products, books, TV shows, and so on that they like, but you can't run that process backwards.

For a company that chases money to the exclusion of all else, I wouldn't think there's any way they'd see forming a real community as anything other than a money sink. They try instead to ape the form (blogs and message boards), and trust in all this quality, free content that is supposed to be floating around the internet.

Think of it, perhaps, as the difference between a socially-minded person opening the door to their home to people who share various interests of theirs or are otherwise interesting, and someone else setting up a shack with an old coffee maker on some nearby land and hoping to attract people so that they can sell things to them.

#49 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 03:48 PM:

"[A]ctive, robust, and obvious ... moderation is very difficult to do without tending towards insularity and groupthink"

Yes, we're all about the insularity and groupthink here. Hi ho.

Except maybe not. The most recent person around here to get a post disemvowelled by Abi was...Xopher. Before that, I can't even remember, because in fact, very little disemvowelling happens on Making Light.

Indeed, I actually think we go out of our way to discourage groupthink and soften the human tendency to pile on. Abi is particularly conscientious about this, which is why I'm not thrilled to see David Bilek lobbing this kind of imputation at her.

We are not going to play the game in which some people get to demand that we disprove the assertion that we fuck pigs, no matter how calmly the assertion is made or what reasonable language it's suspended in. It's an unpleasant game.

#50 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 03:56 PM:

(I'm reminded that the last time we had a regular leave ML in anger, it was because Abi wouldn't toss out someone who'd had conflicts with the community long ago, and who had come back and was being perfectly reasonable. That's the "insularity and groupthink" of our moderators.)

#51 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 04:33 PM:

MacAllister @43:

As well you should. I simply have the misfortune of never having encountered the term before reading about the Siegel affair. As such I can't read the term in this context without immediately being reminded of Siegel's performance, which embodies its opposite in about as perfect a manner as anything ever could.

David Harmon @44:

I agree. I chose the article mostly because, of the top five or so google results for "lee siegel sprezzatura" it was the only one from an established source that gave a good summary of the facts. At least it's not as bad one of the other blog posts that tried to say that this was because publications like TNR hadn't really decided where blog comments fit on a spectrum between private conversation and published work. As if Siegel's behavior would have been appropriate in either context.

In fact, now that I look again at some of what Siegel wrote in l'Affaire Sprezzatura, I have to say that while it would have been less unethical for him to write these things under his own name, it would have been no less embarrassing. I suppose on a certain level you have to give Siegel credit for at least understanding enough to try to distance such ugly and self-serving sentiments from his good name.

David Bilek @46:

I do think that active, robust, and obvious (which is the whole point of disemvowelling, for example) moderation is very difficult to do without tending towards insularity and groupthink.

But this seems like one of those areas where either end of the spectrum gives the same result. To draw an example from upthread, I don't think the Pharyngula comments are any less group-thinkish than Making Light, despite PZ being much less proactive at warning potential trolls and nipping their behavior in the bud.

The Pharyngula comments can be great fun for those of us who share many of PZ's views, but I would never go there for a reasoned and considered encounter between people of opposing views on the questions of science and religion that take up most of the blog.

Heavily moderated forums produce communities dominated by those that conform closely to the principles espoused and enforced by the moderators (whether those principles consist of positions on issues or simply standards of behavior and modes of discussion deemed acceptable.) Unmoderated forums produce communities dominated by the loudest shouters and the thickest skins.

I suspect that both produce groupthink and discourage dissent in equal measure. And personally, I would rather be disemvowelled with a carefully worded note and sent to lick my wounds in private than be dragged into an endless shouting match.

#52 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 05:06 PM:

@46 David T. Bilek

interestingly, you've nailed one of my primary criticisms of this sort of more active moderation; I do think that active, robust, and obvious (which is the whole point of disemvowelling, for example) moderation is very difficult to do without tending towards insularity and groupthink.

You've got a vague referent there with "this sort," so I"m not clear if the "this" refers to ML. If you at all think that ML is "heavily moderated, I assure you, it isn't. It is in fact just the opposite.

I say this not only as a reader of ML, but as someone who moderated UseNet private servers for a university and was responsible for moderating discussion sections for hundreds of undergraduate classes and internal corporate message boards for business to business customers;

In that context ML seems almost unmoderated. In the corporate instance my charge included modding any posts that were "negative." It was the most useless, and sanitized communication imaginable. I lasted about six months because I felt it was obstructive. In the class of academic discussions, we often had to split off, or ruthlessly constrain the conversation not only to avoid personal attack but to keep the conversation pedagogically viable.

And, not directed to anyone specifically, I note that it is not really sensible to comment about the extent of moderation anywhere unless you are privy to the off-screen/behind the screen conversations.

There's a lot we never ever see, nor should we.

#53 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 05:34 PM:

Sam Kelly #18 - do you have anything more on people being paid by how many comments their article gets? I can't find anything by my searching, and it could so easily be an urban myth.

On Kings, James the IV of Scotland managed to stay popular partly because he did actually travel incognito sometimes, mingling with the poor people and creating myths about his sudden appearance as the king and donations of money etc which were recorded for ages. Of course some of it is propaganda, but if a king is not heard of for too long they become ignored and lose any sort of power they may have had.

#54 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 05:38 PM:

David T. Bilek @46: Interestingly, you've nailed one of my primary criticisms of this sort of more active moderation; I do think that active, robust, and obvious (which is the whole point of disemvowelling, for example) moderation is very difficult to do without tending towards insularity and groupthink.

It really does depend what is moderated. On ML, in my opinion/experience, views are not moderated - which makes it hard to "tend towards insularity and groupthink". On occasion, sidetracking towards particular topics is expressely forbidden - the key word there is sidetracking. Otherwise, it's abusive language/behaviour which is moderated. Not ideas, not opinion, just keeping the conversation civilised. Personally, I find it hard to see how that's "insular" or "groupthink."

#55 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 06:14 PM:

abi, #38: IME (here and elseNet), "groupthink" is a term most commonly flung around by someone who has come into a group with the specific intent of causing disruption -- whether for fun, or because they think we need to be "educated", or for whatever other reason -- and found himself* either thoroughly refuted or roundly ignored/mocked. It's code for "Why can't You People just admit that I'm right?"

Real-life communities develop the same sort of group gestalt, for pretty much the same reasons; it's normal for people to be drawn to other people with whom they tend to agree on the basic principles of opinion. Note: this does NOT mean that everybody agrees with everybody else about everything! But it does mean that there are some root principles which are generally accepted, and it also means that where individuals disagree, they respect each others' right to have differing opinions. Newcomers who disagree on the root principles generally self-select out of a RL community because they don't feel comfortable there. Online, that self-selection process doesn't happen as often or as easily; some people appear to believe that they can change the root principles of a group single-handedly by sheer force of will and/or repetition. When that fails to work, the accusations of "groupthink" will start.

* I've seen female examples of this trope too, but they are outnumbered at least 10-to-1 by male ones.

#56 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 06:18 PM:

I'd say ultimately, moderation can't be rules-driven, because it's all about the human qualities: judgement, integrity, self-control....

My views on "moderation style" can be inferred by the fact that these days I stay the heck away from Pharyngula's comment sections (it was once one of my favorite blogs :-( ) and hang out here.

#57 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 06:36 PM:

guthrie @53: Personal communication from a CiF contributor, I'm afraid, so no citable source. I trust them implicitly, but I'm not assuming that that carries through.

#58 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 07:19 PM:

pnh #49:Indeed, I actually think we go out of our way to discourage groupthink and soften the human tendency to pile on. Abi is particularly conscientious about this, which is why I'm not thrilled to see David Bilek lobbing this kind of imputation at her.

Yes, I am lobbing imputations at abi by agreeing with her about the inherent difficulties of active moderation. Which she spells out in comment #38, where she states:

"One of my biggest challenges here, and (I suspect) one of the biggest moderation challenges anywhere, is integrating outsiders who don't share the group's perspective. My perception is that l that I fail at least as often as I succeed. Clichés about "groupthink" exist because of an underlying truth: every community's charism includes a definition of what constitutes Acceptable and Unacceptable views. We're tribal beings by nature. Keeping a wide door is hard work, because it cuts against that grain."

It's more than a bit offensive to accuse me of "lobbing imputations" at abi by simply agreeing with her as to what we both seem to believe is one of the primary difficulties one must overcome with active moderation of a group where many insiders have similar perspectives. I hope you're not actually trying to draw a big distinction between abi saying "these issues are what I struggle with" and me saying "these are the issue with..." as that's the only significant difference I can see, and it strikes me as mostly one of semantics.

We are not going to play the game in which some people get to demand that we disprove the assertion that we fuck pigs, no matter how calmly the assertion is made or what reasonable language it's suspended in. It's an unpleasant game.

Yes, because having a rational, polite, and (one hopes) constructive conversation about moderation is very analogous to saying that someone fucks pigs, even politely. I have no idea what the issue is; talking about something is not a game. Particularly when it is exactly the topic of the post in which the conversation is occuring. It shouldn't be unpleasant, although it is hard to avoid that when you jump in with analogies involving telling people to fuck pigs. However politely. In fact, the only unpleasant comment I have seen is yours.

Lisa #52: In that context ML seems almost unmoderated.

In that context, sure. But you're choosing the context by comparing it to extremely heavily moderated things like corporate or educational forums. I'm looking at unmoderated Usenet newsgroups, or relatively lightly moderated web. I would put Making Light or Whatever in the middle of the pack between those two extremes.

So "heavily" moderated was probably the wrong adjective to use. Certainly it is very visibly and actively moderated. Disemvowelling and so on. I'll happily replace "heavily" with visibly and actively; I did not mean the word "heavily" as a criticism there, just shorthand for something else. So it was a bad choice of words.

dcb #54: It really does depend what is moderated. On ML, in my opinion/experience, views are not moderated

This is a difficult distinction to maintain over time. It's easy in theory to say one will only moderate sidetracks or abuse but contrary views are welcome. In practice it takes constant effort, as I think the quote from abi which I include above implies. For example, were I to have made a post similar to Patrick's above, I would probably stand a decent chance at disemvowelling. Would that be moderation based on style, or on substance? It's a difficult line to straddle.

I think you might underestimate the work and constant self-assessment required. Which, again, abi talks about in her post.
.....

Lastly, I would like to point out again that I didn't bring up "groupthink". I was replying to abi, in a comment in which she mentioned "groupthink". I would not have used the word otherwise as it tends to be inflammatory, but I hardly think it is fair to assert that I'm insulting anyone when it isn't even my word in the first place.

#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 08:08 PM:

David Bilek @58:

Only one thing, because it's just shy of 2am where I am.

You are not agreeing with me. You are taking my honest statement of the challenges that moderators face and casting them as failures. That's your whole thesis in this thread, and I walked right into it by being open about the places where moderation isn't easy.

So. Since I'm the one on the dissection table (and the mod most active in the threads), why don't you go through my (view all by) and tell me what I'm doing wrong? Give me stats and links on how excessive my moderation is. Be sure to read the contexts, and tell me how I could have done better. I'm sure all the participants in the discussions will be happy to join in the analysis.

Alternatively, perhaps you could try a less carping tone in this discussion.

#60 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 08:39 PM:

abi @ 59... I'm sure all the participants in the discussions will be happy to join in the analysis.

We definitely will, for we are of the Body.

#61 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 08:44 PM:

In my own very personal experience, I heartily dislike flagging and ratings systems like we see on comments threads for newspapers, Amazon, YouTube, Craigslist and so on -- the comments threads there are a good deal less civil, more insular, and much, much more inclined to "groupthink."

Because I manage a largish community, I spend a great deal of time lurking and watching other communities. Typically, if there's not active and visible moderation, it's my observation that those systems develop a variety of dysfunction and neuroses. Again and again I see stagnation of ideas, dwindling populations, and all too often an ugly dynamic where an established cadre of long-time users runs off charismatic newcomers for apparently no better reason than "this is a charismatic newcomer! Danger! Threat to status quo!"--rather than any understanding and appreciation for the infusion of new ideas and interaction.

#62 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 08:50 PM:

David Bilek @58, while it's true that Abi used the word "groupthink" before you did, you've left out a bit of context. I'll restore it:

Abi @38: Clichés about "groupthink" exist because of an underlying truth: every community's charism includes a definition of what constitutes Acceptable and Unacceptable views.

David T Bilek @46: I do think that active, robust, and obvious (which is the whole point of disemvowelling, for example) moderation is very difficult to do without tending towards insularity and groupthink.

See what's going on there? Abi used the word as a signifier of an accusation she rejects. Notice how she puts scare-quotes around it, and further distances herself from it by describing it as a cliché (a term which implies that its users are pulling a ready-made accusation off a rack, rather than tailoring an argument to the actual discussion at hand).

Note also that she said nothing about a community's commonality of viewpoint existing because of a particular moderation style. She said "every community", not just moderated communities. I remember people accusing rec.arts.sf.fandom regulars of subscribing to groupthink, even though that was an unmoderated newgroup, in the anarchic wilds of Usenet.

You, on the other hand, are not only using the term as if you endorse it, but are drawing a causal link from obvious moderations to groupthink. Furthermore, what Abi said @59 ("You are taking my honest statement of the challenges that moderators face and casting them as failures.") is spot-on. You're miscasting something she said in order to continue an argument that you've been having with her and Teresa since 2008, if not earlier.

#63 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 09:14 PM:

Wow, people sure do get all riled up around here when someone trots out the g-word. heh.

#64 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 09:15 PM:

"For example, were I to have made a post similar to Patrick's above, I would probably stand a decent chance at disemvowelling. Would that be moderation based on style, or on substance?"

I'm not sure your first sentence is correct, but there's a third basis you're not mentioning here: namely, that Patrick is one of the hosts here, and that you are not.

Which is not to say that the hosts here get a free pass on whatever they do. But one thing that the interview up top makes clear (and that I know John Scalzi has specifically said a number of times) is that the owners and moderators of a group do wield a strong influence in inclining their communities in various directions, not just by what they decree, but by how they themselves participate in the discussion.

I may not always agree with the hosts here, or with John Scalzi, but generally speaking they show respect for folks with different opinions, so I'm generally comfortable participating in these communities. I find the tone of Pharyngula's host rather different, so I have no interest in participating in that community, though other folks might still be attracted there.

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 09:22 PM:

David Bilek @25, 30, 46, if Metafilter is such a great community, why are the people who love it so bleeping insecure about it?

Let me be more specific: what was it about the way I moderated Boing Boing that got MeFi's knickers in such a twist? I haven't said much about it, because oh-for-pete's-sake and all, but the sheer amount of hot air expended on the subject has not escaped my notice. They were at it again just last week -- including Language Hat, who I'd have sworn was smarter than that -- moaning on about how terrible my moderation style is.

(I do wish they'd figure out that I had nothing to do with how the Violet Blue mess was handled. Xeni initially got that ball rolling, but thereafter it was pretty much David Pescovitz calling the shots. I just got stuck with cleanup.)

You've been rude since you entered this thread. What you're calling "insularity and groupthink" is the sound of Making Light's commentariat collectively responding in a polite and restrained fashion to someone who keeps stepping on his own, er, input device.

Did you notice Lisa Spangenberg's dry comments about how Making Light's moderation isn't all that heavy-handed? She was trying to be kind to you. She's not the only one who's done that.

You've been especially rude to Abi, for which you have no excuse.

I'm not going to ban you. But as of this moment, you are limited to specific, concrete, nitty-gritty discussions of how moderation actually works. That should make a pleasant change, given that you have yet to say anything on the subject. If you stray onto any other topic, the digression will lose its vowels.

Your earlier comments are going to lose some vowels as well. Don't pretend you're surprised about that. Please don't pretend it's happening because your ideas are somehow threatening to our worldview. They aren't a threat. They aren't new. They aren't particularly interesting. They're just badly expressed.

#66 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 09:35 PM:

Avram, good comment. If I'd known you were writing it while I was writing mine, I'd have skipped most of what I said.

I do want to limit David Bilek to actual discussion of the subject he claims to be discussing. He's been doing his usual routine in this thread: making unpleasant claims and characterizations about us, the Making Light community, and the way we do things, while never once coming to grips with what we do, the reasons we do it that way, and why and how it does or doesn't work.

(It's more of that dreadful heavy-handed ML moderation: requiring him to discuss his announced subject.)

#67 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:00 PM:

@66 Teresa Nielsen Hayden

I do want to limit David Bilek to actual discussion of the subject he claims to be discussing.

In looking at discussions about the Richard Dawkins forum closure linked here and elsewhere (http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/58706/sec_id/58706 which seems hopelessly naive and uniformed to me, and privileged) I'm increasingly frustrated by comments that are, like Mr. Bilek's, so vague and absent of context as to render them meaningless.

Here's what I know, with some specificity:

There are variables about size of community in terms of active posting /commenting members , age of the community in terms of time online and live, nature of the underlying software / CMS (Blog? CMS? Discussion forum with finely grained controls? Cruder hosting software for a discussion forum? Niche? Popular /pop culture or technical of academic?) that affect the kind of conversation and participants.

I know, for instance, that Absolute Write has very different standards in the different sub-forums, standards determined by individual mods and their constituencies.

I don't think disemvoweling would work there. We've talked about it, and while we're not ruling it out, we've taken other routes.

Disemvoweling does work in large university class discussion forums with 700 students, and, in some cases, I've used it for very specific pedagogical reasons. For one thing, it means that the person's idiocy is there, in their own words and undeniable, but it's not inflicted on the innocent who neither want nor need to see it.

I've noticed that the "flagging" and anonymity and "points" system used at Craig's List can serve to create an astonishingly insular, and incestuous community, where the community shrinks from attrition, but which deliberately turns away potential new members with overtly hostile and rehearsed responses.

I see that Kur5in.org, once flourishing, is languishing now. I note that Matt Haughey has deliberately taken steps to keep MeFi a small and manageable community with barriers to keep casual posters and trolls at bay, but that there's an awful lot of machismo posturing and not a lot of conversation in the threads--much more of one, and less of the other, than when I joined eight years ago.

I am also noticing an increasing tendency for people who are not moderators at sites opining about how and what and why a post or comment is modded--and, in absence of actual data (or without looking at the data, as Theodore Dalyrmple does in the article linked above assume they know all the details without out actually reading the evidence), quite willing to assume that they know what happened.

I don't know what any of these mean in the aggregate, but I am seeing lots of repeated patterns.

What I do know is that community prospers when the community members are empowered and have what they need/want and that genuine conversation (rather than one-to-many) requires a safe and open arena in order to flourish.

#68 ::: waraw ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:30 PM:

"I do wish they'd figure out that I had nothing to do with how the Violet Blue mess was handled. Xeni initially got that ball rolling, but thereafter it was pretty much David Pescovitz calling the shots. I just got stuck with cleanup."

Prhps t ws th whl "sh dmnstrbly ld" clm y fld t dmnstrt, r th "w cld sy rlly bd stff bt hr f w wntd t", r th cmplt nblty r rfsl t ndrstnd th mprtnc f th cr ss, r th rrgnt nslts y tnd t hrl t ths wh dsgr wth y (thn nd nw). Y r bvsly flly wr f hw nsty y wr bng t th tm, bcs vryn ntcd whn y dtd yr cmmnts. Y chs th rl nt f Mdrtr, bt nflmmrtr.

#69 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:37 PM:

I recognize that name from BB.

#70 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:39 PM:

@68 waraw

Wow, that's just precious. You came here just to drop that ?

And anonymously too. Aren't you a delicate forest creature. You're perfectly happy to throw stones from an safe anonymous handle.

#71 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:42 PM:

Patrick 49: The most recent person around here to get a post disemvowelled by Abi was...Xopher.

*hangs head in shame*

Clearly I'm still an outsider here. O woe! Woe is me! *tiny violins play*

Quiz question:"waraw" hasn't commented here before, at least under hir current email address. Is s/he a sockpuppet, someone who obsessively googles for mentions of Violet Blue in order to pounce on the opportunity to wag a finger at Teresa, or just someone who innocently used a different email address this time?

Enquiring minds want to know.

#72 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:52 PM:

Waraw, you're wrong on all counts. You're also cherishing a two-year-old sense of incoherent rage that, frankly, has nothing to do with me.

Dismiss, dismiss, dismiss.

You can't expect me to sort out what you're actually angry about when you've never bothered to do so yourself.

#73 ::: waraw ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 10:59 PM:

'm bvsly nt wrng n ll cnts, snc y'r stll n th rrgnt nslt kck.

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:01 PM:

Inflammerator?

What is this?
A Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic-book?

#75 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:05 PM:

Groupthink (or maybe orthodoxy would be a better word) is an emergent property of communities. Part of what makes communities work is that combination of enough like-mindedness on issues to have a conversation, with disagreement within some range that allows for interesting discussion, and with enough shared values that people can feel safe and comfortable and accepted.

I don't think moderation can ever eliminate that property. It's possible for moderation to either increase or decrease the power of some aspect of the shared worldview/orthodoxy of the community. For example, if the moderators disemvowel or delete posts with certain ideas because they're just too offensive to everyone to even discuss, that's an example of the moderators narrowing the range of allowed discussion, enforcing the group's shared beliefs. If the moderators push back on the tendency to pile onto someone disagreeing with the group's shared beliefs, they can decrease the power of those shared beliefs to silence other viewpoints. It's also possible for moderators to enforce some other set of beliefs than what the community holds, as with some of those heavily-censored fora that Lisa was discussing above. (I think that usually damages the community to some extent.)

There's an obvious correspondence to real-world policing here, but I think it's probably a mistake to make too much of it. The nature of online interaction is just too different. (For example, community-standards-based censorship has a vastly different feel when any one person can be a member of dozens of different communities, and can join a new one at very low cost.)

#76 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:07 PM:

@73 waraw

I'm obviously not wrong on all counts, since you're still on the arrogant insult kick.

Dude, you come into someone's living room, don't introduce yourself, kick over a chair, verbally piss on the furniture, and call your hostess arrogant for objecting?

That strikes me as arrogant and egotistical.

You don't even attempt to enter into the conversation.

Privileged much?

#77 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:32 PM:

Lisa #67:

I am also noticing an increasing tendency for people who are not moderators at sites opining about how and what and why a post or comment is modded--and, in absence of actual data (or without looking at the data, as Theodore Dalyrmple does in the article linked above assume they know all the details without out actually reading the evidence), quite willing to assume that they know what happened.

Lacking access to insider information, though, that's all we can do, right? I mean, I judge the moderation here and at many other sites based (necessarily) on what I can observe, not on whatever behind-the-scenes stuff might go on. And I judge the quality of my boss, and the management of companies with whom I have to deal, and the quality of government provided by elected officials in the same way. I simply can't know all the behind-the-scenes stuff, so I judge based on observable stuff. How do things seem to be going? Do I observe the range of topics being massively narrowed by moderators deleting posts and banning people, or threatening to? Does the moderation make sense to me? Etc.

That's an error-prone process, but it's all we can do. That's one reason why I like very visible moderation--warnings in the open, disemvoweling instead of deleting, etc. That gives me more information to see what's happening, and to judge what I think of it. That probably makes the moderators' job somewhat harder, but it also lets the community see what's going on. It makes it clear what the rules are, and leaves them open to discussion. (The analogy here to policemen who don't want to be filmed by the public is too obvious not to make.)

There was a poster awhile back who was banned by abi. She was very clear about why she was doing it, she gave him a very clear warning, and View All By made it easy to see what was going on with his previous posts. Similarly, other people on the thread commented about it (and they were upset by the whole thing), and she clarified further what was going on.

She could have simply banned him and deleted all his posts silently. Or warned him over email and then, from our perspective, banned him abruptly with no warning. Same effect, same basic moderator action, but it would have had a very different feel.

#78 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:35 PM:

"So, Chris, what do you think of waraw's performance so far?"

"Well, honestly, it's been disappointing. He's been burning through his compulsories without showing much flare, but I think he can still get a respectable score from the judges with an extra show of creativity.

He came in strong with an insult to the host combined with an obscure hobbyhorse, but the follow up was lackluster, with an uninspired "I know you are but what am I?" Still, what he lacks in length and eloquence he makes up for in concentrated, incoherent rage. He still has the flounce, the "return just to say" and the reflounce left in his compulsories, so I'd say he still has a shot in this competition."

"Ok, we'll come back to the 24-hour Threadjack, here at the 2010 Winter TrOlympics at nielsenhayden.com, but first, some words from our sponsors"

#79 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2010, 11:56 PM:

@77 albatross

I judge the moderation here and at many other sites based (necessarily) on what I can observe, not on whatever behind-the-scenes stuff might go on. And I judge the quality of my boss, and the management of companies with whom I have to deal, and the quality of government provided by elected officials in the same way. I simply can't know all the behind-the-scenes stuff, so I judge based on observable stuff. How do things seem to be going? Do I observe the range of topics being massively narrowed by moderators deleting posts and banning people, or threatening to? Does the moderation make sense to me? Etc.

Exactly. That's part of the point I'm trying to make. Things like public warnings, and disemvowelling are visible to the community. You see those happen. An engaged community member can use View All By (or Post history, etc) to see if someone has a history, and what it's like (are they always trolls? Is this a hobby horse? Are they a drive-by troll?)

Those public actions tell you something about the values of the moderators. At the same time, moderators have to protect user privacy, even if the users don't return the courtesy.

Personally, when I see a robust "moderation trail" I'm willing to have some faith and trust that the moderator has the good of the community as a primary goal.

I'm more inclined to trust moderators with visible trails, and real names, for instance, than someone performing the moderator equivalent of "the lurkers support me in email."

Admittedly, the fact that I know PNH, and TNH or Cory or Scalzi makes me trust them more than an anonymous coward, but someone with an online history, even though I haven't met them, like Abi, who I've "read" for years but have not met, is also more likely to be trusted than someone who is anonymous or semi-anonymous, or who has a history of being a PITA, or someone I've caught using a sock puppet.

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 12:00 AM:

Chris W., I think he did himself in with his disappointing performance in the uptake speed trials.

#81 ::: waraw ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 12:00 AM:

Y sk wht y dd t mk ppl ngry, prfss nt t ndrstnd. gv spcfc xmpls. Y dsmvwl nd rdcl. Sty clssy!

#82 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 12:03 AM:

I win! I was running a bet with myself that "stay classy" would be deployed at some point.

I think there must be some context I'm unaware of in which it's a devastating insult, because these doofs keep using it with an air of having clinched the argument.

#83 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 12:47 AM:

Lisa, I've had repeated arguments with people who think moderators are supposed to be semi-invisible facilitators who take no part in the conversation or community. I've wondered where they've gotten that idea, since few forums use that method, and the ones where it's used tend not to work very well.

My current theory is that they've gotten that idea from the mundane style of panel discussion where the panelists are stars and the moderator is just a faceless traffic cop. That is: there's no deep theory to it. They're just confused.

Transparency, a robust moderation trail, and being part of the community are all important. We're back to sitegeist here. People have to know why things happen, be able to trace the causality and infer principles, and understand who's doing it and why. I also think that if you have a busy site, it's important to have visible evidence that this conversation is both open and safe. Ongoing civility will do that. When civility temporarily breaks down, moderators should show up. And when there's been a failure of civility, the disemvowelled remains of a comment are a large, clear indication of the kinds of bad behavior that won't be tolerated.

I've been criticized for disemvowelling comments on the grounds that it makes the site look unfriendly. I completely disagree. People want to have amiable conversations. Disemvowelling is a visible sign that it's safe for them to do so.

#84 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 12:48 AM:

Reading about the meltdown of the Dawkins website gave me a strong sense of deja vu: I think I've seen 2 other disasters like that in the last 3 years alone. Having the technical and organizational heads of a site run over the moderation seems to be a common failure mode. I'm sure there are also failures where the moderators break the community, though I can't think of a specific example just now.

The common thread, ISTM, is that the people with the power to control a site can lose touch with the community the site supports, and try to make changes that result in the community being less viable on that site. I agree with several previous commenters who think that community evolves organically in the environment of the site, that it can't be directed from above; losing sight of that, thinking that the community can be created and maintained solely by the techs or the moderators, or by fiat from the owners, is bound to cause the community to be badly damaged or to break.

But while the site and the community are not synonymous, they are tightly coupled. Does anyone else know of a case where a community, broken from above, succesfully reconstituted itself elsewhere?

#85 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 12:58 AM:

@83 Teresa Nielsen Hayden

I've been criticized for disemvowelling comments on the grounds that it makes the site look unfriendly. I completely disagree. People want to have amiable conversations. Disemvowelling is a visible sign that it's safe for them to do so.

You know why they object, right? Of course you do Bob.

There are two reasons; they got caught being idiotic, and don't like it, or (and this is really a sub-species of the prior state of being idiotic) they suffer from golden words syndrome.

The whining about disemvowelling being mocking, or "disrespectful" is an attempt to weasel away from The WELL's "own your own words."

#86 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 01:00 AM:

I keep meaning to post about my Troll Bingo wiki. In it, "groupthink" is listed under "self-valorization":

"There must be some supernatural explanation for everyone disagreeing with me at once."

#87 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 01:25 AM:

Teresa@82:

"Stay classy" is not a devastating insult. It's a "You're being a jerk, but I don't want to sound angry when I say it." With an added connotation of moral superiority, because it's consciously unanswerable.

I say equivalent things. So, if I may venture, do you and many other regulars around here. The idiom varies, of course. The mentions of bingo cards and troll-scoring are all in the same category.

#88 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 01:29 AM:

Chris W. #78: "Ok, we'll come back to the 24-hour Threadjack, here at the 2010 Winter TrOlympics at nielsenhayden.com, but first, some words from our sponsors"

I've used that Design Pattern before, back during the 1980's BBS Flame Wars, but in my case, it was a game of Jeopardy. "I'll take 'Venal Slackwits' for 200, Alex".

#89 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 06:04 AM:

Sam Kelly wrote above that: "One related point I heard recently - contributors to the Guardian's "Comment is Free" section get paid (partly) according to the number of comments that get posted to their articles."

I'm sure you heard it but it's completely untrue. I edit a section of that site, and would fight any suggestion like that tooth and nail. Indeed I try to avoid long thrashes and pieces which will predictably produce them.

We could and should learn a great deal about moderation from Teresa.

#90 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 09:25 AM:

Teresa @ 80

I've always thought that a glacially slow uptake speed was an essential for good trolling. Indeed, most of the really impressive trolls are usually of the sort who couldn't find a clue if it staged a Hollywood production number on their back porch, complete with 15-piece orchestra of ClueTones, 25 high-kicking Cluettes and a tap-dancing elephant named ClueBo.

But I agree that waraw has been a disappointment on every front. If all he can manage is a one-line flounce, he clearly doesn't have the unique combination of characteristics necessary for a truly impressive troll. Lee Siegel he ain't.

@83:

I suppose the invisible, neutral and impartial facilitator model might work if the mod involved were extraordinarily dedicated to the idea of the community (or to the art of moderation) and didn't need any actual participation to stoke that dedication, but here in the real world, managers of all sorts work best when they have close relationships with those they manage and some real personal attachment to the outcome of their labors.

Earl @88

I wish I could even claim independent invention of the form, but the truth is that my inspiration was Teresa's handling of this boing boing thread combined with watching too much olympics.

#91 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 10:30 AM:

Chris W--they wouldn't buy a clue even if at the end of the production number someone dressed in a bell boy uniform (hotel) rolling a cart up with a large dial phone on it, shoving it toward him and going, "Here's your white courtesy clue phone, sir! Courtesy Clue Phone! Call for Courtesy Clue Phone!"

#92 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 10:41 AM:

They were at it again just last week -- including Language Hat, who I'd have sworn was smarter than that -- moaning on about how terrible my moderation style is.

I was touched by this, and wanted to emphasize that I admire Teresa greatly as person, writer, blogger, and general lover of language, and I hope she's noticed that I keep trying to dampen the over-the-top outrage at MeFi (with little success, alas). She and I have different views on moderation, but I would qualify anything I have to say on that topic with a fervent admission that I myself would make a lousy moderator of a group blog and would never try it. It's hard enough for me to deal with the occasional hard cases at my own tiny corner of blogdom. I don't care for the way BoingBoing has developed, but I've always loved Making Light and respected its informed and politely contentious commenters. Pax, y'all.

#93 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 10:41 AM:

ChrisW @90:
managers of all sorts work best when they have close relationships with those they manage and some real personal attachment to the outcome of their labors.

Well, that's half of it. The other half is that people trust folks they know, not mods who appear out of invisible anonymity to smite trolls and then vanish again. I think, I hope, that the fact that I'm a known quantity on Making Light means that people can approach me when they're in doubt about what I've done with my moderator hat on.

Frankly, invisible moderators creep me out. They feel like secret police. As a commenter, I want a good sense of who's judging my work before I put too much energy into a site, just in case they're invisible-but-psychotic.

#94 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 11:11 AM:

Abi @93:

I was trying to get at that with my mention of close relationships, though in rereading my post it seems obvious to anyone not inside my head that I was only approaching this from the mod's point of view.

So, thank you for expanding and clarifying for me, probably in a more clear and eloquent way than I could have.

In regards to your point about invisible mods reminding you of secret police, I think that a lot of the appeal of this style of moderation is in a perception of impartiality. The idea is that you shouldn't be afraid of the mods because they are like judges or umpires, robotically applying a set of rules without any other considerations.

It's a question of impartiality (and the all-important appearance thereof) vs. transparency and openness. I tend to believe that there's no such thing as true impartiality, and the closest approximation is achieved when those with power have to justify themselves to the community, but that is more of a philosophical and political stance than something I would try to advance as a universal truth.

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 11:14 AM:

abi @ 93... my moderator hat

Is this your moderator hat?

#96 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 11:24 AM:

Andrew Brown @89: Interesting - thanks for the correction.

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 11:28 AM:

Earl, #63: It's a good thing that I had read this comment before I saw that. You can't always count on that sort of serendipity.

#98 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2010, 12:43 PM:

Lee @ 97, I've known for a long time that the practical application of my sense of humor is not universally acclaimed; I'm not good enough at it for it to be my day job. However, I won't indulge in risk aversion by retreating to the Hermitage of the Lurker; it's a dank and desolate place. I'll take my lumps as occasion provides, and hope for the best.

#99 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 03:32 AM:

I was all LOL when I read the phrase "a more relaxed moderation style" deployed in contrast to Making Light back in #25. Although it's possible ML moderation ought not be called "relaxed" because of the high-quality attention paid to the task, I'd propose the similar word gentle as a satisfactory descriptor.

I myself am not a gentle moderator, and the comment community that's coalesced around my blog has suffered somewhat for it. I've commented here before that "I moderate ruthlessly and with many silent deletions, so that my site remains a place I can, metaphorically speaking, stand to live in, or at least to visit, every day." I simply haven't discovered the skill of doing it a better way, given the moderating challenges I've got. And so, notwithstanding frequent exceptions that I treasure, the discussion often seems to lag in consequence.

So I have enormous respect for the moderating skill and expertise on display here, and the deftness with which it is typically deployed. It feels relaxed even when it isn't, and it works astonishingly well, as measured by the "oodles of delightful conversation facilitated" metric.

I say this despite having once experienced the the vivid sensation of having Teresa classify me with the forces of trollery, under difficult battlefield conditions. It was long ago, and far away, in a conflict that's still claiming vowel casualties. Which I mention only to establish that I'm not wearing my Teresa-fanboy hat when I smite my forehead in the general direction of "wrw" and emote "dude, let it go already!" at him.

#100 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:40 AM:

tnh #65: what was it about the way I moderated Boing Boing that got MeFi's knickers in such a twist?

Hy, nw, mkng m dfnd vrythng sm rndm prsn sys n nthr wbst s n dffrnt thn f trd t mk y dfnd vrythng smn sys n Bng Bng, r rc.rts.sf.wrttn. Tht sd, bcs y skd 'll try t nswr th qstn s lng s vryn rcgnzs tht 'm nt gng t tk rspnsblty fr vrythng smn ls sys ny mr thn y'r rspnsbl fr vrythng ppl n ML sy.

Different people objected, obviously, to different things. So I'll note three. First, a lot of people dislike disemvoweling on principal. Ls s smply wrng whn sh ssrts tht dslkng dsmvwlng s bcs f dsr t scp yr wn wrds. 'm nt gng t clm tht cn't pssbly b tr f sm ppl, bt thr r crtnly mny thghtfl ppl wh dslk t fr prfctly lgtmt rsns nd thnk t dsmss ll f thm n sch mnnr s... mstkn.

If anyone doesn't understand the actual reasons why some people object to disemvoweling simply on principal, I can go into it, but dn't wnt t wst my tm f t's jst gng t b dsmssd ff-hnddly s Ls sms t d.

Secondly, nd ths ws bg n, y nd n f th prmry prtcpnts n th whl krflffl sd sm qt nsty thngs n th cmmnts nd thn y, n yr cpcty s ffcl Bng Bng mdrtr, wnt bck ltr nd slntly xcsd th nstnss frm yr wn cmmnts. r smn ls dd, bt s ld mdrtr t's stll ndr yr rbrc. vry grt mny ppl t MF fnd tht t b xtrmly trblsm.

Third and lastly, t th tn nd ggrssvnss f yr cmmnts whl mdrtng. Yr cmmnt #65 s prfct xmpl. You're accusing me of all kinds of rudeness and duplicity since I entered the thread, for example, except that my very first comment was, in totality:

"Interesting interview. I do wish, however, that instead of Teresa and John Scalzi they had picked one of the two and then gone with a moderator from a successful online community with a more relaxed moderation style. TNH and Scalzi have similar philosophies about moderation (even if the details differ) but that philosophy is not the only way to run a successful community, nor is it necessarily the best one depending, of course, on what your goal is and what kind of community you hope to end up with."

That's just not rude unless "rude" is defined so broadly that everything which isn't pure and total praise is rude. So, many people objected (and object) to what seems to them to be a tendency to read things you disagree with in as negative a light as humanly possible, and to moderate as though that reading is the case.

As I said, I am not responsible for other people's viewpoints and have tried to give a few examples of things I think are broadly representative but not, of course, universal. Some wld dsgr wth th frst pnt n prtclr s ( wld stmt) szbl mnrty thnks dsmvwlng s prfctly fn vn f thy r fn wth t nt bng sd s wll. Bt my mprssn s tht th mjrty wld gr wth ll thr f ths pnts. Personally, I'm ambivalent about disemvoweling. thnk t's fn fr sm typs f cmmnts bt wld nt wrk t ll fr lt f thrs. Whch dbt s vry cntrvrsl pnn. Th thr tw pnts wld gr wth, lthgh dmttdly my nt b th mst dsntrstd bsrvr n rgrd t th thrd pnt.

Did you notice Lisa Spangenberg's dry comments about how Making Light's moderation isn't all that heavy-handed?

In point of fact not only did I notice it, I responded directly to her about it in comment #58 in which sd tht hw "hvy" mdrtn s dpnds n wht y'r cmprng t t bt tht, yh, "hvy" ws nt th bst wrd. nt tht Ls sd "hvy-hndd", nt . sd "hvy" whch dsn't hv th sm ngtv cnnttn s hvy-hndd. n ny cs, yh, 'v lrdy rspndd t t.

But as of this moment, you are limited to specific, concrete, nitty-gritty discussions of how moderation actually works.

I don't actually know what this means. In this thread? On the whole site?

Your earlier comments are going to lose some vowels as well.

Not that I'm encouraging you to disemvowel me, obviously, but am I missing something because I don't see it? I mean, I don't think I've said anything worthy of disemvowel so I'm glad, I'm just wondering if I'm missing something.

They aren't a threat.

That's good, since they aren't intended as such and I'm not sure why anyone would think that they are.

I would ask, once again, not to be bopped for everything people have said in other places, most of which I am in no way responsible for.

#101 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:53 AM:

Oops. I don't know why that double posted.

If you do mess with my vowels maybe you could mess with the ones in "principal" which, obviously and embarrassingly, should be "principle".

#102 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 08:08 AM:

David Bilek #102: The double-posting is a long-time hazard of the ML server. Too bad it chose that comment to duplicate....

[retreats to blast shelter]

#103 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 11:51 AM:

David T. Bilek:

@ 30 you describe TNH's and John Scalzi's style of moderation as "only one end of a spectrum"; the implication is that theirs is extremely and in your opinion excessively strong moderation - alongside your stated preference for no/very light moderation this makes your later statement that because you used "heavy" rather than "heavy-handed" you were not being negative a little disingenuous.

Overall, you've stated that moderation which is "active and visible" tends to lead to "insularity and groupthink". Your post @ 58 repeatedly implies (doesn't state, but implies) that because active moderation isn't easy, it is likely to be done badly and to the detriment of the online community to which it is applied. abi @59 objects to this; so do several commentators here. Not surprisingly: people who read/comment here a lot tend to feel (in my opinion, as indicated by posts on this and other threads, and the range of subject matters covered) that the level and type of moderation on ML makes for an interesting and relaxed site where diverse views can be expressed and some very difficult topics can be discussed.

@ 30 you wrote: "At the most simplistic and obvious, the looser your moderation the more rowdy and rambunctious the group will tend to be." Taken together with your stated preference for looser moderation, do I take it that you actively prefer a "more rowdy and rambunctious" group? Do you think that "rowdy and rambunctious" means it won't be insular and will avoid "groupthink"? That it necessarily leads to a "better" level of conversation?

Re. disemvowling, you state that a lot of people dislike disemvowling "on principle" and that "there are many thoughtful people who dislike it for perfectly legitimate reasons". Could you give some of those reasons, please?

#104 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 12:16 PM:

I'm not likely to adopt disemvoweling myself, because it provides such a juicy opening for bickering about the moderation rather than about the topic at hand. I think the principles behind it are perfectly reasonable and it works just fine here, but I run communities that are a) commercial and b) composed of widely disparate types of people, and it's been my experience in general that public discussion of moderation decisions really benefits no one in that particular context.

I tend to second David Bilek's original sentiment that the interview in question would have been enhanced by adding another participant, but I would instead suggest that it would be cool to see someone who ran a different kind of site - a forum rather than a blog, or a community based around a commercial product, or something else. I think the differences in moderation style that he's talking about are much more driven by that than by any personal choices people are making here.

I actually think that's where some of the weird Metafilter reaction comes from. That site is build with completely different tools and with a completely different purpose than Making Light, and their management choices reflect those decisions. People who are accustomed to that come here, think "Oh hey we're discussing an interesting link just like on Metafilter" and are subsequently completely baffled when they get called out for tromping all over local customs.

#105 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 12:16 PM:

David: I spent entirely too much time last night re-reading a couple of archived threads on the topic of moderation, and one thing immediately leaped out at me: you have yet to post anything about that topic which was not either (1) an assertion that ML is DOIN IT RONG or (2) a defense of your having posted same.

Yours is not the One True Way, nor is it necessarily even a better say, and coming back over and over again to claim that it is does you no credit whatsoever. That you can do it without descending into outright verbal abuse doesn't change what is starting to look like a consistent pattern of attempts-to-disrupt. See my comment upthread about people who fling around the term "groupthink".

I will also note that I didn't see even a single comment of yours in those threads which had lost its vowels. If ML were as "subject to insularity and groupthink" as you claim, I am quite sure that your repeated and contentious challenges would be among the first things to have gone. The fact that Teresa is now talking about disemvowelling some of your comments in this thread suggests to me that she's probably sick and tired of bashing her head against this particular brick wall YET AGAIN.

Color me Not Impressed.

#106 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 12:23 PM:

Teresa, I think the Got it in one thread merits inclusion in your top-post.

#107 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 01:15 PM:

Language Hat! Long time no.

The trouble with "the whole Boing Boing ethos" thing is that we had all these thousands of readers who'd spent years being sure they knew what the Boing Boing ethos was, but had never compared notes about it with their fellow readers. The Boingers couldn't help them with that, because they'd never sorted it out either.

My working theory is that the low-level sense of slight, inexplicable dissonance this produced was what gave Boing Boing's comment threads their hair-trigger tendency to morph into pile-ons. Other factors may have been in play. What I know is that I've never seen another forum that was anywhere near as prone to meltdowns as Boing Boing was for a while there.

That was a problem. Boing Boing was too big and too prominent for us to just let pile-ons run their course. It's an energy-rich environment. You might get a brief squall, but you also might get the equivalent of an F3 to F5 tornado. The pathologies of a full-scale pile-on do serious damage. They're efficient little engines for generating intense, incoherent anger and entire new hierarchies of misunderstanding. I'm tempted to point to Waraw as one of their characteristic results, but I don't know enough about the rest of his life to say what is and isn't an aberration. Say, rather, that one of the results you get from unchecked pile-ons is people who resemble Waraw. They remember that they were terribly angry, and they remember some of the memes that were floating alongside them in the torrent, but it's hard for them to reconstruct and analyze what happened once they're outside that altered mindstate.

Frequently, what saved us was a site characteristic of Boing Boing's I normally classify as a major structural problem. Boing Boing turns over its front page so fast, and its internal site navigation is so awkward, that it shakes off its own conversations before they can reach their natural ends.

From my first set of site specs, long before comments reopened, to the day I left, I was trying to get Boing Boing to add a couple of small sidebar features like Making Light's "recent comments" list that links to much longer lists. One would have been for entries, the other for comments.

Boing Boing's comment threads often lasted long enough for us to have to demonstrate what not to do, but they didn't run long enough for readers to repeatedly come back to them, interact with each other, and get a sense of what kind of behaviors are good. Even so, we were starting to get flickers of good emergent behavior, but it couldn't take hold as strongly as it might have. The opportunity's still there.

One odd note: that early tendency to generate pile-ons I mentioned was most marked when the subject was Boing Boing or the Boingers themselves. I found that one of the best ways to interrupt it and get people talking about Boing Boing without melting down was to have them write verse. Here, watch a thread that's been strugging to escape Internet Affective Disorder cases and other sour downers suddenly launch itself into the air. All it took was an animated pom line, a chunk of Lorem Ipsum, and the observation that, all other things being equal, the person who comments in rhymed verse generally wins.

Having them write verse at each other restored Boing Boing's basic transaction, which is to have someone step into the center of the circle and say "Look! I've got something cool to show you!" Suddenly they were reenacting Boing Boing, instead of standing outside it and wondering whether they were getting it right. And when they did that, the dissonance went away.

#108 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 01:39 PM:

David Bilek, I said "specific, concrete, nitty-gritty discussions of how moderation actually works," not "more of your vague BS."

Hy, nw, mkng m dfnd vrythng sm rndm prsn sys n nthr wbst s n dffrnt thn f trd t mk y dfnd vrythng smn sys n Bng Bng, r rc.rts.sf.wrttn. Tht sd, bcs y skd 'll try t nswr th qstn s lng s vryn rcgnzs tht 'm nt gng t tk rspnsblty fr vrythng smn ls sys ny mr thn y'r rspnsbl fr vrythng ppl n ML sy.

Different people objected, obviously, to different things. So I'll note three. First, a lot of people dislike disemvoweling on principal. Ls s smply wrng whn sh ssrts tht dslkng dsmvwlng s bcs f dsr t scp yr wn wrds. 'm nt gng t clm tht cn't pssbly b tr f sm ppl, bt thr r crtnly mny thghtfl ppl wh dslk t fr prfctly lgtmt rsns nd thnk t dsmss ll f thm n sch mnnr s... mstkn.

What's missing here: which people, what principles, why those people value those principles, and how this works out in terms of real moderation.
If anyone doesn't understand the actual reasons why some people object to disemvoweling simply on principal, I can go into it, but dn't wnt t wst my tm f t's jst gng t b dsmssd ff-hnddly s Ls sms t d.
But you didn't.
Secondly, nd ths ws bg n, y nd n f th prmry prtcpnts n th whl krflffl sd sm qt nsty thngs n th cmmnts nd thn y, n yr cpcty s ffcl Bng Bng mdrtr, wnt bck ltr nd slntly xcsd th nstnss frm yr wn cmmnts. r smn ls dd, bt s ld mdrtr t's stll ndr yr rbrc. vry grt mny ppl t MF fnd tht t b xtrmly trblsm.
Secondly, that's not a discussion of moderation. It's another one of your vaporous accusations. Since you don't actually know anything, I assume their purpose is to fish for information you can use to manufacture more accusations. Not that it matters; the point is that you're still not discussing moderation and how it works.
Third and lastly, many people objected t th tn nd ggrssvnss f yr cmmnts whl mdrtng. Yr cmmnt #65 s prfct xmpl.
Ah, it's those unspecified "many people" again, with their unspecified objections, and their absence of any concrete discussion of moderation and how it works.

I'm starting to think that phrases like "some people" and "many people" are code for "David Bilek."

You're accusing me of all kinds of rudeness and duplicity since I entered the thread, for example, except that my very first comment was, in totality:
"Interesting interview. I do wish, however, that instead of Teresa and John Scalzi they had picked one of the two and then ...."
Coming in and saying you wish they'd done a different interview? Rude. I could have given it a more generous interpretation if you hadn't gone on to behave very badly, and make it clear that you were acting in bad faith. That colored my later interpretation of your initial actions. Which is not inappropriate.
That's just not rude unless "rude" is defined so broadly that everything which isn't pure and total praise is rude.
Tsk. What utter hogwash. You've been a real jerk on Making Light, and you know it. Protesting that your first paragraph of your first comment wasn't all that rude is mere disingenuousness. Or possibly a remarkable depth of stupidity; but I'll be charitable and go with disingenuousness.
So, many people objected (and object) to what seems to them to be a tendency to read things you disagree with in as negative a light as humanly possible, and to moderate as though that reading is the case.
Translation: you object to being told that you're not being a very nice person, and that you're making an idiot of yourself.
As I said, I am not responsible for other people's viewpoints
I should think not, since we haven't heard any from you.
and have tried to give a few examples of things I think are broadly representative but not, of course, universal.
You've given no examples at all. I'm beginning to doubt you're capable of talking about moderation.
Some people wld dsgr wth th frst pnt n prtclr s ( wld stmt) szbl mnrty thnks dsmvwlng s prfctly fn vn f thy r fn wth t nt bng sd s wll. Bt my mprssn s tht th mjrty wld gr wth ll thr f ths pnts.
Some people, blah blah blah. And do the lurkers support you in email?
Personally, I'm ambivalent about disemvoweling. thnk t's fn fr sm typs f cmmnts bt wld nt wrk t ll fr lt f thrs. Whch dbt s vry cntrvrsl pnn. Th thr tw pnts wld gr wth, lthgh dmttdly my nt b th mst dsntrstd bsrvr n rgrd t th thrd pnt
Yes, we already know you don’t like it. You still haven't explained why and how.
Did you notice Lisa Spangenberg's dry comments about how Making Light's moderation isn't all that heavy-handed?
In point of fact not only did I notice it, I responded directly to her about it in comment #58 in which sd tht hw "hvy" mdrtn s dpnds n wht y'r cmprng t t bt tht, yh, "hvy" ws nt th bst wrd. nt tht Ls sd "hvy-hndd", nt . sd "hvy" whch dsn't hv th sm ngtv cnnttn s hvy-hndd. n ny cs, yh, 'v lrdy rspndd t t.
Comment #58, in which you were hostile and defensive, and quibbled (ineptly) about wording, without once noticing what she was trying to tell you.
But as of this moment, you are limited to specific, concrete, nitty-gritty discussions of how moderation actually works.
I don't actually know what this means. In this thread? On the whole site?
You aren't currently posting in any other threads.
Your earlier comments are going to lose some vowels as well.
Not that I'm encouraging you to disemvowel me, obviously, but am I missing something because I don't see it? I mean, I don't think I've said anything worthy of disemvowel so I'm glad, I'm just wondering if I'm missing something.
I haven't gotten around to it yet. Your foot shall slide in due time.
They aren't a threat.
That's good, since they aren't intended as such and I'm not sure why anyone would think that they are.
As long as you understand that.
I would ask, once again, not to be bopped for everything people have said in other places, most of which I am in no way responsible for.
Your wish is granted. I won't credit your comments with any connection to other people's opinions.

#109 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 02:08 PM:

Lee, it's an arguable inclusion, but right now I don't have the fortitude to stick a siphon down into that swamp.

#110 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 02:27 PM:

David @100

Yet again, you're misrepresenting what other people have said, and reframing their words to dishonestly bolster your own position. Do you really, truly think no one else in this thread can read? Or are you not actually reading for any purpose but how to twist the discussion to your own agenda?

And why on earth would anyone bother continuing a discussion with you if you're just going to completely reinvent other people's discussion points? You've done it so many times in this thread alone that I'm unsure if you're being disingenuous, dishonest, or just careless. I am certain, however, that it's sort of weird. You've sort of bizarrely attempted to write scripts for Abi, Teresa, and now Lisa with this technique. I'll admit that I find it curious how you used an altogether tone and set of responses for Patrick and Avram, but that's off-topic and I'm not going to pursue the train of thought.

Lisa did not, in fact, "[assert] that disliking disemvoweling is because of a desire to escape your own words." She said:

You know why they object, right? Of course you do Bob.

There are two reasons; they got caught being idiotic, and don't like it, or (and this is really a sub-species of the prior state of being idiotic) they suffer from golden words syndrome.
The whining about disemvowelling being mocking, or "disrespectful" is an attempt to weasel away from The WELL's "own your own words."
I'm not Lisa and I don't play her on TV, but it seems to me she's asserting an altogether more complex and nuanced set of motivations than what you're reframing in your straw man allusion to her post.

Based on being a member of this community for several years, and following the discussion of disemvowelling over several different venues for most of those years, I read Lisa's post as suggesting that objection to moderation in general and disemvowelling specifically is due to a weird sense of entitlement combined with the zealous belief in one's own rightness. The double whammy effect of disemvowelling is because having a post treated that way means those words are not only pointed out specifically as being uncivil and objectionable by community standards, but not worth answering at all -- and if you happen to be someone who takes herself oh-so-seriously and at the same time you refuse to or are incapable of reading what you've actually written, rather than what you think you've written--you are likely to react immediately, incoherently, and with furious certainty that you've been done wrong. That resistance and anger, of course, requires no admission of any responsibility on your own part for behaving like an ass in the first place.

I see people make the same objections they make about disemvowelling when a post is edited in their absence to redact offensive language or other specific content. I brace myself for the "how DARE your mod touch MY words without my express permission and authorization!" emails whenever it happens, because there is very much a kind of poster or commenter who believes that he is exempt from community standards. In fact, prides himself on flaunting those community standards and expects to get away with it.

#111 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 03:33 PM:

The thing that looks to me not at all gentle about some of the moderation here is the gleeful mocking. Particularly directed at those who have been determined to be trolls.

But possibly people aren't even in agreement as to what "gentle" vs. "rough" moderation is like (or even what the terms for the different directions are). I can see good arguments both ways: deleting a message is more / less rough than mocking the poster. Even that banning a poster is more or less rough than mocking them. Particularly given the high quality of the mocking deployed by ML moderators when they so choose.

ML isn't my absolutely ideal site, and I'm not currently working on nominating Teresa in particular for sainthood (upside for her: no martyrdom!). But it works pretty darned well, a lot of interesting things happen here, and it has gone on for long enough that it's pretty clearly not just a fluke.

#112 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 04:03 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 111... it's pretty clearly not just a fluke

We're good at sardine things out.

#113 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 04:31 PM:

@112: Spreading the good old oil, as it were!

I certainly didn't intend to carp about it.

But I'm sure we'll eel our way out of this somehow.

I'm just not coming up with any way to work "Coelacanth" into this. Darn.

#114 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 04:36 PM:

DDB @113:

I keep wanting to do something with a picture of a fish coming out of a hole in a roof saying COELACANTH IS WATCHING YOU MASTURBATE.

But that's really for the hymn thread, isn't it?

#115 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 04:39 PM:

abi@114: That's not bad; especially given the inherent difficulty level of the maneuver!

(Ceiling rather than roof, right?)

#116 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 04:42 PM:

DDB @115:

Well, the roof of the room. I didn't want to give the joke away two words early, you know.

#117 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 04:43 PM:

abi @ 114... that's really for the hymn thread

...where the manta prays?

#118 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 04:48 PM:

albatross @ 75: "It's possible for moderation to either increase or decrease the power of some aspect of the shared worldview/orthodoxy of the community. For example, if the moderators disemvowel or delete posts with certain ideas because they're just too offensive to everyone to even discuss, that's an example of the moderators narrowing the range of allowed discussion, enforcing the group's shared beliefs."

On the other hand, I can recall at least a couple of times here on ML when topics were declared off limits in order to preserve a heterogeneity of belief: if the discussion had been allowed to go forward, one side or the other would have been driven away. Saying "we're not discussing this, period" was the only way to keep both sides under the same roof. In at least some cases, more intervention results in greater variety of opinion and expression. A battlefield is not a garden, I suppose.

#119 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:01 PM:

heresiarch, #118: "I can recall at least a couple of times here on ML when topics were declared off limits in order to preserve a heterogeneity of belief: if the discussion had been allowed to go forward, one side or the other would have been driven away. Saying 'we're not discussing this, period' was the only way to keep both sides under the same roof. In at least some cases, more intervention results in greater variety of opinion and expression."

Exactly. Right.

It's not something we do every day, but we do it when to not do it would lead to the kind of fracture in which we lose people that we value.

Everybody doesn't have to agree about everything everywhere. Also: every site doesn't have to be an arena for sorting out every controversy.

#120 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:03 PM:

Abi@114: I'm suddenly reminded of this shirt. Not quite a coelacanth, so maybe my craft is floundering.

#121 ::: Joseph M. ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:16 PM:

Can I take a moment to thank the moderators and contributors for making this a community that I enjoy existing on the edge of? Heck, I'd even thank the lurkers (both those that support me, and those that do not) for making this place possible.*

To return to the original topic: one of the things that I think makes disemvoweling so contentious is the way it is permanent. Rather than vanishing someone who behaves inappropriately, the behavior is stored and accessible if they ever return. This is challenging, I believe, for those who view mistakes (of any variety) as failures; they are reminded of their disciplining every time they view the thread in question.

I am also somewhat confused by the argument that community-moderated areas are somehow special. It seems to me that one of two things will happen: either the community will only lightly moderate, in which case you get the trolling and related behavior that comes with that--or you get a small subset of self-appointed users who keep things under control...thereby turning themselves into moderators. And ratings-based moderating requires that I like the same things as the rest of the voters, otherwise it does me no good--which seems to me is hardly the way to encourage different opinions.

*: A brief aside, but one related to community, and therefore I believe appropriate. I have been hanging out around Making Light for a number of years, although my contributions have been, shall we say, limited (11 comments, if I believe my View All By). Even so, I feel that I am a part of this community; more precisely, this place feels like home on the internet--a fun place to read smart things and be treated respectfully if you want to participate.

#122 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:23 PM:

Teresa (in #108) refers to David Bilek "fish[ing] for information" in order to use it to "manufacture more accusations."

This may look like a harsh thing to say, but I don't think it is. It's pretty much exactly what Bilek did to Abi. She volunteered a self-criticism and he turned it back at her as an indictment of her approach. And he later defended himself by claiming that he meant it innocently, that he was "agreeing" with her.

This is the kind of bad faith that pretty much completely turns me off. Teresa may be speaking somewhat sharply to Bilek. But nobody should mistake which one of us is more annoyed with him. I have no interest in further exchanges with the guy.

There are worse things in the world than getting visibly angry or emotional. Deadly nastiness that's delivered in a measured and reasonable tone can do much more damage -- to its targets and to the health of the overall conversation.

#123 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:37 PM:

This may look like a harsh thing to say, but I don't think it is. It's pretty much exactly what Bilek did to Abi. She volunteered a self-criticism and he turned it back at her as an indictment of her approach. And he later defended himself by claiming that he meant it innocently, that he was "agreeing" with her.

Bilek in this thread, is being passive-aggressive in the extreme. He indulges himself with passive aggressive accusations, and never supplies specifics. He's not interested in honest conversation, and is astonishingly transparent in his attempts to play the victim. You'll note the increasing length of his responses, and that his responses are far longer than the posts he is ostensibly replying to. That's more than a little suggestive, and worth noticing as a rhetorical marker.

I think Abi in particular, as well as Teresa and Patrick, are astonishingly forbearing.

#124 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 05:40 PM:

Patrick@108: that sort of thing is relatively invisible to me. I haven't looked carefully in this case; since I've already been told people see it there, I'd probably find it too. The hint is at least frequently enough. So I don't think of the people who see that offense as crazy or overly sensitive. But I still don't naturally see it myself very often.

Hence it doesn't so much bother me.

This makes this part of the process look fairly scary; I can imagine myself being treated that way, for stuff I thought was relatively mild.

I was feeling the same way in the early stages of the fight with the epubs guy. On what I saw as substantive discussion, I was largely on his side, and I saw him being run off with the full billy goat's gruff treatment.

This triggers that fear of the people you thought were your friends suddenly turning on you. Which is possibly rather too easy in fannish geek types. But there it is.

I'm not suggesting anybody behave differently, or that anybody is doing anything wrong. Just trying to lay out some of my feelings -- because two threads of them just came together to be mostly the same thing, making it big enough to describe for once.

Rationally, I strongly suspect that without having the same negative reaction to the bad behaviors in question, I'm aware of them enough to avoid committing them myself much. And so long as that remains true, the actual risk is fairly low.

Still scary.

#125 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 06:04 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet: This makes this part of the process look fairly scary; I can imagine myself being treated that way, for stuff I thought was relatively mild. ... This triggers that fear of the people you thought were your friends suddenly turning on you.

I sympathize -- but note that all of the moderators here generally do take pains to explain exactly what an offender did wrong. Indeed, I'd say the willingness to accept a "good-faith" rebuke (that is, not the trollish "you all suck" stuff) is a basic part of the social standard here.

#126 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 06:05 PM:

heresiarch @ 118 and PNH @ 119:

Of course, that technique (like all moderation techniques) is not without cost. If applied too often, it tends to warp the community as well.

I'm thinking specifically of the time I spent on the Clockwork Storybook (nee Fabletown) boards. There, the powers that be decided that they had no interest in hosting conversations on any controversial topics. It certainly saved the mods a lot of work and made for a polite board, but all the relationships I had on that board felt somehow flimsy because I felt like talking about anything I was really interested in or felt passionate about was verboten. And when disagreement did rear it's ugly head, I think that people took it a lot more personally and it got a lot uglier than it needed to because there was no model for respectful disagreement.

Joseph M. @121:

Amen. I have an order of magnitude more posts than you do, but still probably 2 orders fewer than the real regulars. I've never met any of the principals but almost 10 years after I first followed a link from Neil Gaiman's blog here it's the only site that is still a daily must-visit.

And I suspect that if I were to construct a tree showing which web sites I had discovered via links from which sites, I don't think I'd find more than a handful web sites that I visit regularly that wouldn't track back here.

Of course this is part of what makes moderation so difficult. I can't help but feel like I own a little corner of the site, even though the people who primarily responsible for creating and sustaining the site wouldn't know me from Adam and don't owe me anything

#127 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 06:29 PM:

David@125: Sure, but if I can't see it it wouldn't always help. However, the rational part acknowledges the relevance of that.

Luckily, the irrational part has known P&T in person for some time now, has interacted with Avram online since before ML existed, and has met Avram and Jim in person at least once. We've managed well enough so far, we'll probably continue. (Nothing against abi, but I don't recall knowing her online before here, and I don't believe I've met her in person).

#128 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 07:02 PM:

PNH @ 119: "Everybody doesn't have to agree about everything everywhere."

And thank goodness! That would be terribly boring.

@ 122: "There are worse things in the world than getting visibly angry or emotional."

Maybe it's just me and the things I've been mulling over as of late, but this strikes me as profoundly insightful. I will meditate on this.

Chris W. @ 126: "If applied too often, it tends to warp the community as well."

To be sure. Declaring things off-limits should only be done when, as Patrick says, not doing so risks driving away people the community wants to keep.

#129 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 07:37 PM:

I want to jump in to agree with Patrick@122: There are worse things in the world than getting visibly angry or emotional. Deadly nastiness that's delivered in a measured and reasonable tone can do much more damage -- to its targets and to the health of the overall conversation.

This has become a very important thing for me in recent years. The fact is that some things should hurt, should make us angry and sad, and should strike chords of passion and delight, and make us glad and giddy and fascinated and awed, and all that stuff. The exaltation of detached reasonableness as the best thing all the time seems to me increasingly like a very potent tool for maintaining lots of kinds of privilege against social challenge, and simultaneously a very potent tool for enforcing an emotional feebleness that leaves people open to manipulation precisely because they aren't comfortable with whole multiple dimensions of actual human life.

We are feeling beings as much as we're thinking ones. Vitality requires both. We need to let each other know what we feel about they say - and we need to know what we feel ourselves, too. We should expect people to have pride and doubt and fervor and all that stuff, and welcome it in any discussion that deals with humans living lives. It isn't a "get out of reason free" card, but reason needs to exist alongside and in cooperation with all of that stuff too.

#130 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 09:32 PM:

It's not part of the moderation style per se, but another feature that makes Making Light work the way it does is the "view all by". It's another part of the "own your words" principle.

#131 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 09:36 PM:

DDB @111, mockery relieves the tension of being embarrassed for them. Sometimes it's anger or irritation, but embarrassment is the big one.

I've always figured mockery is kinder. One of the more reliable indications that I'm exasperated with someone is that I tell them they're embarrassing themselves. It's a thinly disguised plea for them to stop.

#133 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2010, 11:51 PM:

Yes, all that.

#134 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 12:54 AM:

Teresa #108 :

You've asked me "what was it about the way I moderated Boing Boing that got MeFi's knickers in such a twist" but when I provided some of the reasons, you disemvowled them and then said I hadn't given any examples.

What specifics are you looking for? Are
you asking me to point to specifics comments by other people in which they say the things I posted? I'm not sure how else to "prove" that I'm not just making things up.

He indulges himself with passive aggressive accusations, and never supplies specifics. He's not interested in honest conversation, and is astonishingly transparent in his attempts to play the victim.

Come on. What specifics are you looking for? I'm absolutely happy to provide them. Teresa asked for some with regard to Boing Boing moderation; I provided them. About 2/3 of it was disemvoweled. How do I provided these specifics such that they are allowed to stand? An HREF to some comments along the lines of what I'm summarizing? Just say so, and I can do that.

But, okay, concrete example! My posts are being disemvoweled of absolutely anything not immediately and directly involved in a sentence about concrete examples of moderation, even me disavowing things other people have said with which I disagree. And yet there are many, many, many posts just above saying nasty things, which are left to stand. That's the sort of moderation that I, and others, find objectionable. People are allowed to say very aggressive things, but because they are "insiders", those things stand. I can't reply in any fashion because I'm an "outsider". That's what I was calling insularity, encouraged by the active moderating style which is not applied equally.

Sure, it's human nature to unconsciously read your friend's words in a positive light while your subconscious doesn't grant such to others, but to me part of encouraging welcoming communities is to actively try to limit that impulse, not to encourage it. That's the "piling on" thing that Patrick refers to in #49, where he says that you guys actively try to discourage "piling on". Except that I would submit, again, in a concrete example that disemvoweling my posts while allowing (for example) #105, #108, #122, #123 to stand fully is exactly what some people, including myself, object to and, yes, actually encourages piling-on and an insider-outsider mentality rather than a welcoming community.

Lisa #123You'll note the increasing length of his responses, and that his responses are far longer than the posts he is ostensibly replying to. That's more than a little suggestive, and worth noticing as a rhetorical marker.

Here's another concrete example. It's a little ironic, but the very fact that I cannot respond to #123 is exactly what you're asking for; a very concrete example of what I, and others, see as objectionable. Others may talk about me as much as they want, but I cannot reply, which is another example of encouraging dog-piles.

The type of moderating style I find preferable, to give a concrete example, would involve trying to maintain relatively equal standards and rules. If one person is not allowed to reply to accusations or to rudeness, other people would not be allowed to be rude or accusatory towards that person. It's a kind of bullying.

#135 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:11 AM:

Dave @134:
Because I am the Lucy Pevensie of the moderation team*, let me explain how, precisely, you have lost our trust to the extent that we feel we must constrain what you are allowed to say, while Lisa, Avram, Patrick, Teresa, Lee, and indeed anyone who first unto this threads a stranger has come has no such restriction.

You're not being treated in a particular fashion because you're an outsider. You're being treated in this fashion because, due to the sort of rhetorical dishonesty that Avram noted in comment 62, we do not trust your summaries or vague assertions to reflect objective reality. You're letting your thesis color your facts more than is tolerable in rational discussion. So now we don't trust your unsupported assertions. Give us specifics, or stop wasting time and energy that we could use rewriting hymns.

Example of a specific comment:

In this comment, Abi bans Dave, based on her warning here.

I found her warning dismissive; note how she says that demonstrating how his comments fit the pattern is "not worth the effort." It would have been more respectful if she had spelled the matter out.

Note the key elements:
1. Link to a specific comment.
2. Describe what in the comment you feel was incorrect or unfair. People will follow the link, and may disagree with your interpretation.
3. Explain how it could or should have been done better.

Alternatively, feel free to run a statistical analysis on my (view all by), identifying which comments have a moderatorial bent, determining a proportion, and arguing whether or not that is excessive by comparison to, say, an equivalent analysis of Jessamyn's work. Show your figures, link to your sources, avoid generalities and abstractions.

obHeisenberg, it's probably not wise to perform this analysis on interactions you have had with the community. You really are too close to the matter to judge.

(This, of course, is work, and not as sweet as coming here, twisting my words to fit your thesis, and then bringing the consequent martyr's palm back to Metafilter to display to the admiring multitudes.)

-----
* Always blundering about where no one else would go, landing the wiser members of the family in every flavor of danger from war with the White Witch to an attack by a crazed bear. I hope, though, that I get the upsides too, such as the healing cordial and the chance to see Aslan from time to time. But that is, as they say, another story.

#136 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 08:12 AM:

abi #135:
1. Link to a specific comment.
2. Describe what in the comment you feel was incorrect or unfair. People will follow the link, and may disagree with your interpretation.
3. Explain how it could or should have been done better.

If you mean comments here on ML where I felt the moderation was being handled unfairly, I did so above but I'll try again more clearly. If you mean links to comments on BB back in June or July of 2008 that a bunch of other people felt were badly moderated, well, there were a huge number of contentious threads. A lot of the initial comments were removed completely (rather than disemvoweled), so no links to those can possibly be provided even if I knew which ones in particular other people based their opinions on. But in any case, TNH's question to me in #65 was not asking that, it was asking what "people on Metafilter's" gripes are, and I can provide supporting links for what I said by linking to those comments, which I will do.

So, I've said that many people there are less than fond of disemvoweling in general and how it is sometimes targetted in particular. Here are a number of comments showing that is the case, from a bunch of different people including mods:

Comment #1. This is from an old thread here, but it is a comment by one of the mods so obviously relevant.
Comment #2 re: disemvoweling.
A comment about how selectively altering a post (by only disemvoweling part) is problematic.
A comment where someone claims that disemvoweling is used simply to silence disagreement. NOTE: THIS IS NOT ME.

These were just the first few I googled up. They range from the thoughtful and polite to the, um, not so thoughtful and impolite. I could make a very long list of examples, but can we at least agree that I am not making up the fact that one of the issues is that a lot of people dislike disemvoweling? Spamming links would be annoying and rude.

My second point in the answer was that some people didn't like how moderator comments were excised or edited.

Here is one such.

I hope just one example here is sufficient since this did not appear to be a topic that it is desirable to go on about much. But that concrete example shows I did not make up this concern.

The third point I mentioned was about people's concerns with the general tenor and combative nature of some of the moderation.

Here is a long comment about it. Note: This is also not me, and I did not say these things.
Here are two comments in a row from the old thread making the same point about the belligerent nature of the moderation.

Again, I could list as many more as required but I don't think anything is served by doing so, is it? What I've listed should show that my summaries were accurate and that accusations I'm just making things up are baseless. Significant groups of people do feel the way I said they feel, and I hope that providing the links can put to rest the idea that I'm just posting my own opinion when attempting to answer TNH's question in #65.
****
In terms of my own comments, if you want specific examples, I would put forward the idea that disemvoweling my comment #100 while leaving intact all of comments #108, #122, and #123 among others, while flatly stating that any response to those or future attacks on my character, abilities, and so on will be disemvoweled. Allowing multiple people to attack somebody while forbidding them to respond is essentially a legitimization of dog-piling. So, I've fulfilled points #1 and #2 of your criteria. In terms of point #3, that's simple enough. It seems to me that dog-piling should be discouraged. If someone is prohibited from responding, everyone else should be prohibited from attacking.

#137 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 08:41 AM:

Chris W., Adam, don't disclaim your own sense of ownership. It's real, and it's characteristic of healthy online communities. Legally this is our site, and historically this is my weblog, but without the readers and the community, what would that matter? Making Light has always had a notice posted at its door that says "Our readers are the best thing about this weblog. If you’re not reading the comments, you’re missing half the fun." I'll add that "half" is a low estimate.

I just went back and re-read my original post on moderation, Virtual panel participation, from January 2005. I'm surprised at how little I have to add to it, though I could go on explicating it for half of forever:

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.

What would I add? Maybe this:
14. Nevertheless, the full history of someone's participation on a site is the ultimate user profile.

15. Leave your comment threads open. It rewards commenters who keep thinking about the conversation.

16. Comment threads should have their earliest comments at the top and their latest comments at the bottom.

17. In a multipart forum, it should always be easier to respond to an existing conversation than to start a new one. To the best of your ability, make it easy for your readers to find and identify the existing conversations.

18. Internal site navigation is important. Give it historical persistence. Preserve detail. Make it as easy as possible for your readers to find and re-find the things they think are important.

19. Give each individual comment its own link.

#138 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 09:56 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden #137: I'm surprised at how little I have to add to it, though I could go on explicating it for half of forever...

Or at least, book length? <hint, hint>

#139 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:12 AM:

David Bilek, the amount of attention you've gotten from Abi has been a manifestation of grace, not justice.

...

Let me try to explain one last time why you've been losing the basic trust and respect we try to extend to everyone who comes here.

Last night, as I'm sure you noticed, Making Light went down without warning. It's back up this morning, but reality is still obviously unstable. Comments are disappearing and sometimes reappearing. There's a new entry at the top of the front page explaining this, and warning readers to keep copies of any comments they post until we can confirm that conditions have stabilized.

Patrick has lost comments. So has Abi. So have a lot of other people.

You haven't said anything about it. Instead, you've gone over to MetaFilter and (writing as "Justinian") posted this:

Oh, by the way. For the record: Over in the thread about this on ML I did not ignore the requests for links to specific comments and such. Abi's last comment and my last two (fairly lengthy) comments containing said links have been removed-without-comment. Not disemvoweled, just removed. Leaving a rather different picture of the events.

So, yeah. Not so much with the defending of ML from now on.

There are three main lies in that. The lesser two are that (1.) you provided concrete, specific examples of moderation you disagree with (in fact, you admitted that you hadn't); and (2.) you've been defending Making Light. The big lie is that the disappearance of two of your comments and one of Abi's is evidence of our egregious bad behavior and fundamental untrustworthiness.

Let me hand this back to you, because I don't want to keep it: the egregious bad behavior and fundamental untrustworthiness belong to you.

By the way, at least one of your vanished comments has reappeared. It's the one in which you admit that you don't understand what we mean by "specifics," and ask for a further explanation. It's one of the reasons I said you were lying (as opposed to being mistaken) when you said on MetaFilter that you'd provided the specifics we requested. The other reason is in your earlier remarks, where you said "I could give details, but." That is: you know what details are, and you know you're not providing them.

It's also fairly pathetic of you to object to ML's practice of disemvowelling comments, as opposed to deleting them, and then scream and wail about your comments supposedly being deleted. Note: that's a separate offense from claiming that two of your comments and one of Abi's had been removed for malign and dishonest reasons, when it's obvious that we're having technical problems.

I'm starting to think that the only reason you came here was to try to provoke us into mistreating you, so that you could go back to MetaFilter and make big talk about how you were oppressed. I think you're not a very interesting person, and that this is your way of trying to puff yourself up and seem more interesting so that you can attract the attention you can't get by more legitimate means.

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:17 AM:

abi @ 135... I am the Lucy Pevensie of the moderation team

Not Lucy van Pelt?

#141 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:35 AM:

Bilek's willingness to instantly impute that his comments were deliberately removed, and to report this back to a MetaFilter thread full of people trashing Teresa, kind of calls into question his portrayal of himself as a reasonable, dispassionate guy whose patience has been sadly tried.

Indeed, it supports the hypothesis that's been mine from early on in this conversation: that this is a guy who's been cultivating a grudge for a long time, and who came over here for the express purpose of exercising it. The so-sad-that-I-can-no-longer-defend-you routine is as phony as the day is long.

As Abi pointed out early in this thread, we don't go pissing all over the comment threads on sites that are managed differently from ours, nor do we fill threads over here with demonizing invective about other sites' moderators. I don't know what the hell is wrong with these people, but I can't imagine that their mothers brought them up to behave this way.

#142 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:40 AM:

I'd like to suggest taking a lesson from Star Trek's "Who Mourns for Adonais?" That's the one where the awesome beings faded away because we stopped paying attention to them.

#143 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:51 AM:

Serge, #142: Yeah, that always works. As President Kerry will be the first to tell you.

#144 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:20 AM:

Patrick @ 143... True, but it does work some times. Well, it was just a suggestion, to be taken as such because frankly I'm fucking tired of Blilek.

#145 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Serge, #142: Sorry, but I'm with Patrick on this one. What you're suggesting is a variation on "ignore the bullies and they'll stop picking on you," and I know you understand how well that works.

Patrick, #141: Looking at Bilek's View All By indicates that he's been a participant-in-good-faith in a number of other threads, but becomes unfailingly obnoxious when the topic turns to moderation. This suggests (to me, at least) that he's not so much "a guy who's been cultivating a grudge for a long time, and who came over here for the express purpose of exercising it" as a guy who has a really nasty bee in his bonnet about one particular topic, and who can't resist the opportunity to troll on that one issue.

Of course, that opinion is based solely on the posting history I can see. If there are other factors going on here that I don't know about, I could be way off.

#146 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:49 AM:

David T. Bilek: Any answers to the specific questions I asked @103?

Jeremy Preacher @ 104: That's an interesting point about different sites and their expectations. I was a lurker on ML for several months before I first posted (in a discussion about abortion, no less), so I knew what was and was not considered acceptable behaviour.

118 ::: heresiarch @ 118, PNH @ 119: I'd never thought about it [declaring a topic off limits in order to preserve heterogeneity] quite that way before, but yes, a good point.

Joseph M. @121: this place feels like home on the internet--a fun place to read smart things and be treated respectfully if you want to participate Yes, that's why, having stumbled across the site (can't remember how), I lurked, then started posting. Since graduating from university I've missed this sort of community. I like being part of it, even if I can't write poetry and rarely manage to think up puns. I've read, and been part of, quite impassioned conversations - which have nevertheless remained civilised (admittedly sometimes through judicious application of verse, cats or hamsters to turn the heat down), as well as finding out about some interesting things and being exposed to various puns/comments/verse/cartoons making me smile, chuckle or laugh out loud on a fairly frequent basis.

#147 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 12:17 PM:

Lee @ 145... Not quite. I'd compare him not to a bully but to a yappy little dog. Mind you, that's kind of insulting to my own yappy little dog, whom I also call the Blondster.

#148 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 12:31 PM:

There are three main lies in that. The lesser two are that (1.) you provided concrete, specific examples of moderation you disagree with

Well, no, I did provide quite a few specific examples. In post #136. Which your site apparently ate last night since now your post appears at #136. It was, in fact, rather long.

3 and (2.) you've been defending Making Light.

You obviously read quickly to have read through all 5000+ of my comments to make that determination. So I'll just provide one example. Somebody was slagging you off in rather vivid terms. To which I replied:

What the hell, [name redacted]? [...] All of that said, TNH is a great editor and has forgotten more about editing in general, science fiction in particular, and the craft of writing than you or I could possibly know. She's also, by all accounts, a great person. Yes, her online persona (as well as PNHs) can be irritating, arrogant, and combative. It's been that way for at least the nearly twenty years I've been aware of it, since the RASFF days in the early 90s. I hardly think that we at Metafilter are in much of a position to cast aspersions based on a combative online persona. Well, I'm sure nobody could ever say that I have ever in any way been combative, arrogant, or irritating. Of course. But the rest of you, I mean.

Uh, this got a little muddled. The point is you're being a jerk about someone who doesn't deserve it. And I say that as someone who think her moderation style is the polar opposite of what I believe makes for a vibrant, diverse online community. So I would advise that you should stop digging.

Yes, I mentioned in there that I dislike your moderation style. In the context of a rather spirited defense. But, yes, clearly I must be lying and went back in time to post that.

Lastly, I've repeatedly asked you to stop treating me as some sort of representative of another website. You're not doing anyone any favors by continuing to do so.

#149 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 12:38 PM:

dcb, at #103 you asked "Do you think that "rowdy and rambunctious" means it won't be insular and will avoid "groupthink"? That it necessarily leads to a "better" level of conversation?"

I'm not David Bilek, but this is a topic near and dear to both my heart and my wallet, so please forgive me for wanting to discuss it.

In my experience, lightly-moderated communities tend to be even more insular than an actively-moderated community. What tends to happen is that a few strong personalities will dominate the conversation, various hangers-on will support them, and that in-crowd will determine which newbie gets to stay and which will get hounded until they leave. In a large group, the population may fracture into several such in-groups, depending on how the venue can support multiple simultaneous subcultures. (Forum software handles this marvelously - blogs, not so much.)

I think the comparison to Metafilter is worse than useless. It's a completely different kind of site, and the moderation is run on completely different principles. It's actually a very tightly moderated site - I read Metatalk out of professional interest, and the mods there spend a great deal of time formulating, testing, analyzing, and modifying policy, and defending in detail the choices they make to an interested and usually comparatively non-hostile audience. It's fascinating. It's not remotely "lightly-moderated" - they just have a different set of rules of discourse than ML does. Trying to claim one site or the other is moderating incorrectly without actually discussing what those rules are is kind of missing the point, I think. It's not unreasonable to prefer one set over the other, but for a user, it really is purely preference.

I think one of the difficulties outsiders have when looking at the moderation style on Making Light is that because our hosts are personal friends with a goodly chunk of the regulars, and the moderation style overall is public and tends towards mocking, it can, in contentious and personal threads like these, closely resemble the unmoderated forum I described above. If you read any threads other than these that discuss our hosts directly, it is immediately obvious that this is not the case - but I think this thread is a very poor example of the overall awesomeness of this site.

(For those of you following the Metafilter thread, it should be entirely obvious what my handle is there. I ask, of your courtesy, that you respect my desire to keep the two names separate in Google results. It won't cost me my job or anything, but I've made a fair few posts on Ask Metafilter on personal or NSFW topics and I'd like to keep that separate.)

#150 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 12:52 PM:

dcb #146: Any answers to the specific questions I asked @103?

Ok

@ 30 you wrote: "At the most simplistic and obvious, the looser your moderation the more rowdy and rambunctious the group will tend to be." Taken together with your stated preference for looser moderation, do I take it that you actively prefer a "more rowdy and rambunctious" group?

No, that was an example. I don't object to a rowdy and rambunctious crowd by any means, but it is only preferable in the sense that as community size grows, the more aggressive the moderation has to be to keep a group from being a bit rambunctious now and then, and I'd count that increasingly aggressive moderation as a negative. So it would be more accurate to say that I actively prefer the types of moderation that lead to such a community. If that makes sense.

Re. disemvowling, you state that a lot of people dislike disemvowling "on principle" and that "there are many thoughtful people who dislike it for perfectly legitimate reasons". Could you give some of those reasons, please?

I wrote quite a long comment detailing exactly this elsewhere. I would likely have to edit it significantly to avoid disemvoweling since Lisa ("medievalist") and I were engaging in a bit of a full and frank exchange of views. Plus, I do not want to start copying and pasting more and more stuff between sites as that won't end well for anybody and is, in general, not cool. You can undoubtedly find the long version if you want, but...

REALLY REALLY SHORT VERSION:
1) editing other people's words is on much shakier ethical ground than simply removing them and inserting a [comment removed] placeholder or whatever.
2) Disemvoweling promotes unhealthy dynamics between mods and the community.
3) The stated reasons for using disemvoweling appear to be an ex post facto rationalization given the evidence of how it started, as a way to ridicule an admittedly odious troll or two.
4) Even if that isn't the case, there are other ways to achieve the same thing as disemvoweling (removing comments from casual view but still allowing them to be read if desired) which are just as easy and don't involve mangling other people's words.
5) Disemvoweling only parts of posts leads essentially to selective editing where the tone and even content of a comment can be distorted.
6) Disemvoweling too often is used not for gentle correction but for public ridicule.

As I said, feel free to find the long version. I'm not going to cut and paste back and forth, it's not healthy.

#151 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 01:19 PM:

David Blilek #150: If you've written a long comment elsewhere, why not put a link to it here?

While I think I understand (and somewhat share) your feelings behind #1 and #5, I think you're mistaken. Part of the appeal of disemvoweling is its public transparency. It says "your hosts object to *this*", not just for you to see, but for others to see, if they want to. The purpose isn't primarily ridicule, but education, by example, of what the standards are at that particular moment in that particular context. As Teresa mentioned, one advantage of such highly context-dependent examples, instead of long lists of very detailed abstract rules, is that they pose much less temptation to the sorts of people who enjoy gaming the rules.

If the moderators simply edited a comment, without notice to readers that it wasn't the commenter's original text, that would cause the distortion you fear in your point #5. Disemvoweling part of a post tells me that the moderators objected to that part and think it could be damaging to the conversation, but I can still figure out the original commenter's words if I care to.

When I say that the purpose of disemvoweling isn't primarily ridicule, I base that on my belief that the moderators here are capable of much more interesting and amusing forms of ridicule. I think disemvoweling would have been abandoned as boring after the first or 2nd instance if ridicule were the goal.

#152 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 01:33 PM:

@150: you may well be right that disemvowelling was essentially a serendipitous discovery, rather than something developed deliberately in pursuit of the specific effects it produces.

So what?

But, stepping back to go through the list:

1. Disemvoweling is not, in my view, a case of "editing" their words. It is equivalent to, for example, ROT13ing them, except that reading the result is both easier and harder (nobody needs tools to do it, but it requires some effort).

2. That's an assertion of effect, with no supporting evidence. And there's a fairly strong agreement here that it contributes to a GOOD relationship between moderators and community. To argue against it, I suggest evidence and arguments, rather than pure assertion.

3. Was what got me hooked into replying, see above.

4. This has actual content. Rather than just asserting the existence of alternatives, you cite examples. However, it all hangs on the "mangling their words" concept, which seems to weigh much more heavily for you than it does for me in the case of disemvoweling.

5. Obfuscation vs. removal makes a big difference in this case. And disemvoweling leaves the mass of the obfuscated text quite visible, so you have a good idea what degree of change is made if you don't read it. Certainly it could be deployed capriciously and destructively, but so can sarcasm, or really any other rhetorical approach. And the moderators here are knowledgeable word people, I'm not too worried they will make big editing errors very often. Basically, you're arguing that things can go wrong with this approach, which is certainly true; it's just not unique to this approach. To convince me, you'll need to show that things *DO* go wrong reasonably often. So far, not convinced.

6. I've posted recently about my discomfort with the use of ridicule in moderation here. However, there's no question that "gentle correction" is not the goal by the time things have reached disemvoweling (which, remember, is the last, not the first, resort here). Gentle correction is a long time in the past by then.

#153 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 01:45 PM:

David @150:

I'd count that increasingly aggressive moderation as a negative.

Of course you are entitled to choose to value a minimum of moderation as a positive good in itself, but I don't think that's a value you'd find much agreement with around here. Coming here and decrying active moderation as an evil in itself is a bit like walking into a conversation about homosexuality and declaring that gays are bad because the Bible tells you so.

Trying to have a conversation about the nitty-gritty of moderation with people who don't value the same things as you do when it comes to online community demands a lot of introspection and careful analysis of what people are actually saying and what their premises really are, you can't just take their statements and plug them into your worldview.

The conversation:

Abi: "Integrating outsiders is one of the hardest things for a moderator to do.
David: "That's the problem with active moderation, it causes groupthink and makes it hard to bring in outsiders."

reads rather like:

Gay Person: "The hardest thing about romantic life is breaking up with someone you care about."
Evangelical: "That's why you shouldn't be gay. It only leads to heartache."

or even:

Evangelical: "Sometimes it's hard to understand why God allows so much suffering in the world."
Atheist: "That's why you shouldn't believe in God. We atheists never have trouble with the suffering in the world."

It shows a complete lack of understanding of the other's world view, not to mention a failure of introspection as to the flaws of one's own world view.

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 01:49 PM:

Chris W @ 153... "(...) We atheists never have trouble with the suffering in the world."

Oh, but we do.

#155 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Serge:

Of course we do.

I was just trying to make my straw-atheist especially clueless. When portraying different groups, I usually find consciously attempting to portray the group I belong to in a slightly worse light to be a salutary corrective to the natural tendency to make them appear better.

#156 ::: Anonymous for the Nonce ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 01:58 PM:

I've always figured mockery is kinder.

Kinder than what? Mockery is, by nature, hurtful, and intentionally so. It treats the target with open condescension, saying clearly "you don't deserve better". What place does mockery have in a space dedicated to civilized discussion? Mockery and condescension from trolls appear to be considered unacceptable behavior here. (The Flamer Bingo thread attests to this.) Shouldn't they be considered equally unacceptable for non-trolls as well?

Moreover, if lurkers of ML see "unpopular" opinions (however "unpopular" is defined) being responded to with mockery and derision, why would they take the risk of posting such opinions themselves and thereby becoming the target of such mockery? If ML means to be open and inclusive, mockery has no business being used at all.

(I hesitated for quite a while before posting this, because, frankly, I dreaded becoming exactly the target I described. The compromise was to post it, but to do so anonymously. If criticizing the behavior of a host doesn't count as expressing an "unpopular opinion", I don't know what would.)

#157 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:03 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @124: Still scary.

DD-B, thank you for speaking up here. I've been having much the same reaction: the behaviors David Bilek is being called out for are ones to which I am persistently blind, and I've been puzzling over what the fuss is about, as I can't see it myself. Nice to know I'm not the only one in the confusion zone.

I suspect that Bilek's language could be deconstructed using the Sleight of Mouth patterns, which I also find remarkably difficult to track.

Sometimes being a Functional Human Being is just more than I can manage.

#158 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:16 PM:

anon@156: Yes, I was rather startled by the concept that it was kinder.

However, there are phases of troll defense where kindness is not a particular priority.

I don't think the issue is largely "unpopular opinions"; it is methods of interaction that are widely seen as damaging, not opinions. Note the mention in this thread of cutting off discussion on a topic specifically to preserve a diversity of opinions; when it has become apparent that if discussion proceeds on an issue, it will end with driving some people into the wilderness.

#159 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Anonymous@156: If ML means to be open and inclusive, mockery has no business being used at all.

Some opinions, and some modes of expression, have no business being used at all, either. This is what mockery does: it says "that's not worthy of respect; it is not a view that any informed, civilized, moral person should express, nor a way that any such person should deliver it."

One of the very most common failure modes of any potential community is an inability to ever lay a foundation, and to get some givens given. What a community wishes to accept is up to its defining members - original and later - but the fact is that a community can't exist at all if it has to keep establishing A, and A again, and A again again, because some people really don't want A and refuse to accept its presence but also refuse to grant that A is part of this community and therefore they should take the wish for not-A to another community.

(Which might include a lot of the same people. That's true for me when it comes to roleplaying games - I follow a few different communities with very different, even outright incompatible, foci and methods, in which many of the same people contribute, because each different array of features is valuable in its place.)

It's essential to a community's collective chance to ever develop a shared way of living/thinking/acting that it be free to exclude some stuff as simply not worth respecting there and then. (Just as it's the duty of each participant to approach boundary drawing with clues.) We have a responsibility to use mockery well, but we have a responsibility also to protect our shared spaces and allow them to be anything but exactly the same fight over fundamentals that every hypothetical community begins as.

#160 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:26 PM:

David Bilek @136:

Unfortunately, your comment here went straight from Limbo to the moderation queue because of the quantity of links in it. (That rule hits all of us, including moderators.) I should have checked it earlier, seeing as how I asked you to put links in, but I was at work.

Sadly, the content doesn't really add to the discussion. All of your examples are about Metafilter people not liking disemvoweling. That's not what I was asking for. I know that many people at Metafilter don't like disemvoweling. I don't love everything that their site does either, but I don't go over there and tell them that a bunch of people at Making Light think they're doin it rong.

What I wanted to hear in 135 was your opinion about moderation on Making Light, not anyone else's. The example I gave was about you selecting an incident here and telling us what you thought about it. That way, we can have a discussion, where you own and defend what you've said.

What you're doing now? It's tattling. Tale-bearing. Gossip. Passing on others' negative opinions, so that you can disown anything that doesn't stick. It's not really that much better than when you tried to claim that I was the one who said that moderation led to groupthink; they're just both ways to find someone else to take the blame for your views.

And that's just wrong.

How about being willing to own your own ideas?

#161 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:30 PM:

Nota bene, omnes:

Reference numbers between 136 and this comment are going to be wrong for a while, until I have a chance to sort them out. Which will be after my aikido lesson.

#162 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:38 PM:

David Dyer-Bennett, and Anon too, I offer a bit of advice adapted from what I've learned about living with depression, mine and others: when it comes to social interactions and you know you're missing something, look at the people you trust and trust them. Our hosts tell people when people are maybe being problems, and you've seen that - you know what it looks like. And even when the pattern is hard to make out, you know that they'd tell you the way they tell others. If they're not telling you that kind of thing, you're not being a problem.

This is hard, because it is an act of trust. But then trust is what this kind of thing is about.

#163 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:43 PM:

Chris W @ 155... I was just trying to make my straw-atheist especially clueless

...and baleful?
Ow!
That thresher hurt.
:-)

#164 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:45 PM:

Just to cap off a thought I've been articulating in bis and pieces:

Debating fundamentals is a thing communities do. In particular it's a thing online communities do. But it's just one of the things they do, and it's really easy for it to swallow up all available time, space, and attention, at the expense of absolutely everything else.

Communities thrive when they have just plain living going on in them. But living requires having fundamentals to stand on, and shelter underneath, and look out through. Communities are more than debating societies, and debating societies are less than communities.

#165 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:47 PM:

One of the toughest things to learn when functioning in an inherently hierarchical social structure is who you can, and who you can't, have a peer relationship with.

You can't have a peer relationship with a moderator in the moderated space.

Much of Mr. Bilek's commentary reads to me as someone objecting to this on principle without necessarily having articulated the issue to himself with sufficient specificity that he is aware that his principles are getting entangled with necessity. (No matter how the moderation is done, if you've got a moderator in whatever fora, it's not a socially flat environment.)

I have certainly known people who find the tradition of courtesy -- which is to treat your equals as your superiors and your inferiors as your equals, within the scope of courteous and countenanced interactions -- in an hierarchical context really annoying, because it presents to them as fake. ("would you like to do the dishes?" as a domestic request gets into this; there are cultural traditions where that's a polite request, there are cultural traditions where that's an order, and not particularly the polite form thereof, and there are cultural traditions where that's an honest-to-Tiwaz question. People from the diverse traditions may find it exceptionally difficult to communicate clearly without having made the effort to identify to themselves precisely how they hear the language being used.)

In the specific case of mockery, it's one of the few available semi-efficacious social tools for discountenancing in a text medium. I'm not fond of it, but this is generally a context in which efficacy is in short supply and I can understand why it would be considered acceptable for that purpose.

I'd also note that this is not, on the whole, a group of people with naturally good social skills, any robust expectation of welcome, nor a common expectation of normative conduct. This is not a set of characteristics which simplify issues related to the health and maintenance of a social community.

#166 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:54 PM:

You can't have a peer relationship with a moderator in the moderated space.

That's largely true; at least, as a broad absolute, it's true.

Still, in many conversations, it does not in fact cross my mind to worry that Patrick will take offense and ban me. Practically speaking, the fact that he's a moderator and I'm not really hasn't affected my behavior or even my thinking in those conversations.

Also, when I find myself wondering if his (or whoever's) moderatorial status matters -- the question needs to be asked, am I skating close to boundaries? And then, SHOULD I be skating close to boundaries on this issue? Of course, it would be more useful if those wonders would come up in discussions with non-moderators; luckily they do to some significant extent (no, I haven't saved the drafts I revised or deleted here).

#167 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 02:59 PM:

DD-B @116 --

Nor would I suggest you should be constantly thinking about the inherent hierarchy, any more than one should constantly be considering "who was host and who was guest?".

It's simply a structural issue that the hierarchy is there.

#168 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:02 PM:

Graydon: You can't have a peer relationship with a moderator in the moderated space.

Yes. This. Either one accepts the moderator's authority or one doesn't. Maybe the specific rules, or even the specific moderating style, don't matter as much as this first principle.

#169 ::: Joseph M. ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:05 PM:

David Bilek@150: I feel that the points you listed either are assertions, rather than facts, or relate to moderation in general rather than disemvoweling in particular.

[I was going to go point-by-point here, but I am generally comfortable with what David D-B. did @151, so I'll defer to him on this issue.]

I have been involved in online communities where the moderators practiced deletion of posts. I found it difficult to trust some of those mods, if only because it could be very hard to tell what was going on behind the scenes: no way to be sure what was said before it was wiped out.

Which may point to a bigger issue: I left those communities because I didn't trust the moderators. I've skipped getting involved with some voting-moderated communities because I don't trust large groups of people on the internet to be consistently right about what I want to see. Frankly, if I don't trust the people with the tool, I don't care what the tool is for moderating--which may be what rubs me the wrong way about your arguments in this thread. You seem to be consistently claiming that using the wrong tool can ruin communities, regardless of who is using it, and that using the right tool will bring about great communities, again regardless of who uses it. A tool is never any better than the people who wield it.

#170 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:06 PM:

It's possible to have an excellent, firmly moderated blog community which covers fraught topics without using mockery as a tool of control: Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic is an example.

To my mind, a big piece of mockery is that it privileges the mocker's emotions while treating the mockee's natural reactions to being mocked as further proof on inferiority.

#171 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:20 PM:

Anonymous for the nonce, either you haven't been reading Making Light for long, or you're pursuing a tendentious argument.

1. All mockery is not created equal, and "you don't deserve better" is hardly its default meaning. Mockery comes in a full range of shades, from gentle pastel spoofing to color-saturated remarks about your mother. This is true everywhere, not just on Making Light.

2. "Mockery has no place in an open forum" is a very silly opinion. I urge you to rethink it, because trying to explain or defend it is going to be more difficult than you perhaps imagine.

3. We don't maintain a system of popular and unpopular ideas here. We do have the normal human aversion to bad logic, counterfactual assertions, tedious attempts to game the argument, and bad manners. Especially bad manners.

4. We tend to mock people, not ideas, and we generally do it only after they've repeatedly demonstrated their impermeability to help, kindness, explanations, and warnings.

5. Expressing opinions is a fairly safe activity here. However, saying stuff like "I hesitated for quite a while before posting this, because, frankly, I dreaded becoming exactly the target I described" is a good way to get the people around you to shout "Bingo!"

6. Are you acquainted with a guy named David Bilek? You sound a lot like him.

#172 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:23 PM:

David Bilek @ 150: Thank you for your reply.

I have to say I don't agree with the reasons you give - but thank you for giving them. I basically agree with D D-B's responses (so I won't repeat them), but in particular, I don't consider disemvoweling to be "editing other people's words" (merely making them harder to read), so I don't agree with the several points leading on from that - but that's okay, people are allowed to disagree with one another. I can see that disemvoweling (or any other form of managing comments which are considered to be unhealthy for the community) -could- be considered to "promote[s] unhealthy dynamics between mods and the community", but I don't think it necessarily does so. Regarding your point 6, my experience here on ML is that it's generally used after other when someone fails to respond to other suggestions to moderate their tone.

Having found and read some recent threads at Metafilter, including the one you mention, as well as e.g. the one touched off by ML's "Rowling’s being sued for plagiarism again", I have to say that while Teresa and Patrick are a bit touchy on this subject, really, anyone who's been subjected to the ridicule and the nasty, vile and downright vitriolic invective that some people have been spewing over there would be touchy, yes, unless they had the hide of a rhinocerous and the soul of a saint.

It was interesting to see that some people posting at Metafilter have given reasons why they -do- like disemvoweling - such as the fact that it leaves the post up, and allows it to be read if you really want to read it, and the fact that it -is- conspicuous, therefore holding moderators accountable. There are obviously a number of people who do and a number of people who don't like it - fair enough; it's obviously an area on which people have differing opinions.

However, I didn't notice you acknowledging, over there, the fact that your comment regarding your posts -here- being deleted were a little - hasty?

#173 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:31 PM:

Jacque #156: I know what you mean, though I do have some non-analytic resources. Certainly, I can't read off Bilek's tactics from the text, like Teresa can. But over the years, I've developed a fair bit of intuition, and I find that my "creepy feelings" make a pretty good troll-spotter.

By Bilek's second or third post -- say #s 30 & 46, I was starting to get a sense of "there's no there, there" -- that is, his comments didn't seem to have enough substance to fill their verbiage. Of course, I was also seeing other people's feathers ruffling, and their comments gave me more hints about what he was up to. Then #58 set my "troll alarm" screeching -- apparently for Our Hosts too, as most of the mods promptly laid into him. (Jim is presumably "having a life" out in meatspace. ;-) )

By #100 I could recognize "more of the same", even if I wasn't sure just what it was... and after Teresa had challenged him to show specifics, he was conspicuously producing nothing of the sort. At that point, I settled back to watch the fireworks.

#174 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:35 PM:

Incidentally, when I posted #173, I got an "Internal Server Error" with "additional" 404. Fortunately, I checked in another tab to find that the post had, in fact, gone through.

#175 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:41 PM:

David Harmon @174: me too after my post @172.

#176 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 03:49 PM:

Graydon, I feel the difference is one of role, not peer/nonpeer. Who is the more honorable, the host or the guest? Power is 95% responsibility and 11% ambiguity, and none of us are always and forever in the same role.

#177 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 04:00 PM:

TNH @176 --

"Role" is contextual, which is why I was careful to say in the moderated space.

In the moderated space, I'd argue that the non-peer nature of interactions with moderators in inherent and definitional. (Much as one can have a gentle and non-ranty boss mostly interested in building collaboration; they're still the boss, and it's in the nature of a mistake to forget that. Or, perhaps better, for an open source project, the maintainer is the maintainer and there's not really anything you can do about that.)

The observation is not meant to be accusatory; it's just an observation about structural dynamics that there isn't really any getting away from.

#178 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 04:05 PM:

Bruce Baugh @162: [W]hen it comes to social interactions and you know you're missing something, look at the people you trust and trust them.

Oh, Bruce. This is very good. I think I'm going to tear it off and tuck it in my mental wallet for general use...

#179 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 04:16 PM:

Everyone wants to be a moderator because they can wear Moderator Hats!

(Intent here merely to amuse -- and to seize any excuse to revel in This Sort of Hat.

Love, c.

#180 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 04:33 PM:

Constance @179: I'm trying to visualize either Patrick or Jim in either of the above. Flippers or clown shoes, do you think?

#181 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 04:36 PM:

My moderator hat (from the latter days of the SMOF-BBS) was a SRV Bolero from Texas Hatters. It was a simpler time back then....

#182 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 04:43 PM:

Bruce @159 said something extraordinary, that I'd like very much to revisit with a specific example from my own experience. To quote the relevant passage:

One of the very most common failure modes of any potential community is an inability to ever lay a foundation, and to get some givens given. What a community wishes to accept is up to its defining members - original and later - but the fact is that a community can't exist at all if it has to keep establishing A, and A again, and A again again, because some people really don't want A and refuse to accept its presence but also refuse to grant that A is part of this community and therefore they should take the wish for not-A to another community.

This was one of those observations that I found myself nodding emphatically in agreement with, when reading; I think that I realize I sort of already know, and very much agree with, but hadn't articulated for myself nearly so elegantly -- and in fact, I've just recently seen this played out.

The GLBT locals on the AW message boards recently approached me to explain that whenever there was a thread that touched on queer-interest topics, a cadre of other locals descended on the thread and utterly choked off conversation with the same resistant "But why do we have to talk about this here? Why do you feel you have to have gay characters? Why is it even important, especially if it's a secondary character?" set of objections to the thread's existence.

I'd resisted building a specifically GLBT room for years, for a variety of reasons that, oversimplified, amount to resisting ghettoization of the subject matter, encouraging participation of a diverse community in discussion of topics as Good, and not wanting to confuse the more conservative mods who might well be relieved to just boot tricky threads into the "Gay Room" and not have to deal with them at all.

The problem was, it wasn't working. It wasn't working precisely because of that dynamic that Bruce Baugh articulated: there weren't the necessary shared groundrules to engage subject matter. The community as a whole just wasn't close enough to the same philosophical understanding.

So what we did was compromise. We built a quiltbag room for the members of the community who did share a similar foundation of philosophy, and stickied guidelines to make it abundantly clear that the specific set of disruptive questions weren't welcome inside that room. On the rest of the board, queer-interest topics are expected to still sort of struggle along, as they come up--because I suspect those frustrating sorts of going-in-circles conversations are part of how communities manage to come to terms with conversations they're uncomfortable having or even observing.

The interesting thing to me? I got immediate and hostile pushback from the members with a long-term and specific track-record of descending on glbt-topic threads to disrupt, derail, and stifle. That suggested to me that I'd misjudged those members, and in fact, they knew full well that they were disrupting conversation, and that they were doing so in deliberate and concerted fashion.

It's a sticky problem, making space for communities within communities, and managing the social dynamics that sometimes can be downright oppositional and hostile.

#183 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 04:59 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 181: Ooh, that's a nice hat. Mine looked something like that when it was new (it's more battered and bent now). When talking with the guy at the hat store, I said, "I want something that's a little riverboat gambler, a little Argentinian gaucho, and very little 10-gallon-Stetson." He looked thoughtful for about three seconds, then pointed up towards a back corner of the store and said "That one." Sure enough...

#184 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:07 PM:

MacAllister @182 -- fascinating, and a very direct example. Thank you!

#185 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:12 PM:

There are a couple of allegations about disemvowelment that I think it might be useful to clear up, here.

Disemvowelment is synonymous with, correlates with, or is inextricably linked with mockery.

I've performed two disemvowelments in the very recent past.

The first one was our dear Xopher, on a very bad day. I dare anyone to find the message I posted about it mocking, or an invitation to mockery.

The second was just cleaning up some unpleasantness. I could have deleted it, I suppose, but I thought I'd actually leave a trace of it attached to that IP address, lest someone think it was mere spam.

Right around that time, we also had a thread in which mockery was certainly present. The person being mocked was certainly being nasty. Indeed, we deliberately decided not to disemvowel him; that would have spared him the shame of having his comment stand for the ages.

Deletion is better than disemvowelment for removing a comment from the discourse.

There was an incident in the run-up to the election that taught me that this is not always the case. There was a very nasty allegation floating around about one of the candidates, and it cropped up on Making Light.

It was not a good idea to have it on the site. It was bad for us to discuss it, nice ammunition for people saying we were being the Mean Kids of the election, and in many ways, just not a thing to have in the conversation.

I actually deleted a subthread that discussed it, and explained why in a post, but did not repeat the allegation. So then it cropped up again. The only way that I got rid of it was to disemvowel one comment containing it (which I chose purely for the clear expression, not because of the person who posted it), then say, basically, "See that comment there? That's what we're not talking about."

Can't do that with deletion.

#186 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:17 PM:

Tom @184

The stuff that goes on inside communities is endlessly interesting to me, too -- and I'm still not convinced that the kludge of a solution we used in that case is going to work. My hope is that, given a safe space to grow inside a fold of the larger community space, we can sort of terraform the rest of the community, and influence the development of a new community norm.

#187 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:20 PM:

Abi #185 - you certainly can do that with deletion. "I've deleted a bunch of comments about topic x. That topic is off-limits in this thread." Pretty much the exact same actions.

I think it's important to distinguish between deletion and silent deletion, which gets people's knickers in a righteous twist pretty consistently, in my experience. Disemvowelment has some advantages over the former and vice versa; both of them are preferred over the latter.

#188 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:25 PM:

Jeremy Preacher, #187: "You certainly can do that with deletion. 'I've deleted a bunch of comments about topic x. That topic is off-limits in this thread.' Pretty much the exact same actions."

No, it's not the "exact same," because in your example, the moderator is asking everyone to buy the moderator's characterization of the deprecated writing.

You have a point if you want to say that one can do something similar with deletion, but similarity is not identity, and there are times when the difference between the two techniques is going to make a significant difference.

#189 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:30 PM:

Patrick #188 - point taken. That's actually a much, much less authoritarian position than I'm accustomed to taking. Of course, I manage communities with pretty radically different priorities, in general. (That's actually why I like this kind of discussion so much - it highlights where my own unconscious assumptions are.)

#190 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:31 PM:

Jeremy Preacher @187:

What PNH said above, plus:

I did not want the words in the clear on the site at all. Not even in a comment I had posted. I could have ROT-13'd it or something, but more people here read disemvowelment than ROT-13.

#191 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:45 PM:

abi @ 190 -- I wonder how many people have trained themselves to read ROT-13 fluently? It shouldn't take that long....

#192 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:50 PM:

Tom @191:
I wonder how many people have trained themselves to read ROT-13 fluently?

I was pretty good at it when I did a lot of geocaching. (All the hints were in ROT-13. That became less of an obstacle over time, to the point where I had to fold the paper so I didn't have time to start decoding as a background task.)

#193 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 05:51 PM:

Jacque, you're welcome. It's a lesson I learned through a lot of my own suffering, and through others'. This is the cycle:

Person A has friends they know to be wise and perceptive. They see how these friends deal with mutual friends in others, including saying things like "yes, there's a problem here even though B doesn't see it". Years of this builds up a verifiable history. Then they come to A and say "you've got a problem and you don't see it".

Depression, stress, and grief can all make one think "no, they're seeing it less clearly than I am". This is where it's important to step back and think "but I know they see clearly, I've agreed with them again and again, and I know that what they see in me makes unclear seeing in others who have it...so maybe the problem really is on my end and not theirs". It's not easy; it's just vitally necessary sometimes.

#194 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 07:31 PM:

Tom Whitmore #191: I wonder how many people have trained themselves to read ROT-13 fluently? It shouldn't take that long....

Google indexes ROT-13'd and disemvoweled words just as ubiquitously as anything else, by the way. It's all grist for the SEO mill.

#195 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 07:32 PM:

#160: Sadly, the content doesn't really add to the discussion. All of your examples are about Metafilter people not liking disemvoweling. That's not what I was asking for.

I... it's exactly what TNH asked for in post #65. "Let me be more specific: what was it about the way I moderated Boing Boing that got MeFi's knickers in such a twist?". I tried to answer that with a general summary. A whole bunch of folks accused me of not using any specifics and just making up the summaries. So I gave specific examples, and now you're saying that it was not kosher. How am I supposed to take the fact that I'm asked a direct question, criticized for not using specific examples in my answers and making up my response, and then criticized again for posting specific examples in response to that criticism?

It was an answer to a direct and unambiguous question.

Nancy #170: To my mind, a big piece of mockery is that it privileges the mocker's emotions while treating the mockee's natural reactions to being mocked as further proof on inferiority.

I believe this to be undeniably true.

Teresa #171: Are you acquainted with a guy named David Bilek? You sound a lot like him.

Because if there's one thing I've shown, it's that I'm unwilling to post under my own name? Come on.

dcb #172: anyone who's been subjected to the ridicule and the nasty, vile and downright vitriolic invective that some people have been spewing over there would be touchy, yes

Which was why I quite clearly denied any responsibility for other people's words and said I did not want to be taken as some sort of representative for what other people have said in other places. And then that disclaimer, in post #100, was redacted.

abi: Since you've asked for examples of moderation here at ML that seem problematic, there is a perfect one-comment example. I was acknowledging that people have said nasty things and disassociating myself from them, as I am not responsible for their words nor do words elsewhere that didn't even come from me have anything to do with me, here. And then that was disemvoweled. That decision did nothing to further communication. Why would my trying to distance myself from nasty stuff other people have said not be left to stand? A lot of people aren't going to bother parsing the disemvoweled material, so instead of a comment where the very first thing I do is try to distance myself from other's people's nastiness, we're left with a comment where the opposite appears to be true because many people will assume that what got disemvoweled was the nastiness rather than a disavowal of it.

Does that not count as the kind of example you're looking for?

abi: #185: I've performed two disemvowelments in the very recent past.

Er, my post #100 was heavily disemvoweled, as I reference above. Or does that just mean that you didn't disemvowel it? I'm not sure who exactly does the disemvoweling matters, though; Something is either moderated or it isn't.

#196 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 07:56 PM:

This is separate since it seems more like a constructive discussion and I didn't want it to get buried in the last post.

DD-B #152 (and Abi #172):

1. Disemvoweling is not, in my view, a case of "editing" their words.

Abi says something similar in 172. Obviously a difference in view on this point is going to lead to a lot of different conclusions later on. I think it is trivially true that disemvoweling is obviously an editing; you're removing letters. So I guess the issue is whether that editing is trivial in nature or not.

All I can say is it seems clear to me that, while only true in a minority of cases, disemvoweling can sometimes be used in such a way that it's little different than more clear-cut forms of changing other's words. An example would be what I listed in my last post, where my disavowng other's people nastiness was disemvoweled which I believe clearly had the result of effectively changing my words.

2. That's an assertion of effect, with no supporting evidence.

Here is a link to Wikipedia's citation of a case study of online communication which makes the same claim, and in fact does so specifically with regard to the whole fiasco over at BB. The study appears to be behind a registration firewall now, but it is available. I do realize that, as with another site featuring prominently in this thread, there is history with wikipedia here, but I don't believe that is relevant to this citation.

I'm sure you likely still disagree, but that counts as evidence, yes?

#5 [...]To convince me, you'll need to show that things *DO* go wrong reasonably often.

I would point to this very thread as an example of things going wrong. Obviously others would disagree, but I don't think it's an absurd position for me to take.

Graydon #165: You can't have a peer relationship with a moderator in the moderated space.

I actually mostly disagree with this. It can't ever been exactly equal but there are degrees. And the closer to a "peer" relationship members enjoy with the mods, the better in my opinion.

As an analogy, claiming you can never have a peer relationship with a moderator in a moderated space seems like claiming that pros and fans must always be very different things at conventions.

Sure, the for-profit cons like Dragon*Con, Comic*Con, etc, keep a big divide there. One could look at that divide and come to the conclusion that pros and fans could never enjoy a less hierarchical relationship. Except that at many conventions focused on written SF, the distinction between fans and pros is much less important. The pros often are fans.

I think you're looking at the moderation equivalent of media SF conventions with a huge gulf and ruling out the possibility of the moderation equivalent of fans and pros mingling freely at written SF conventions.

(Oh, and dcb again: It would be easy for me to provide a link to my longer comment on issues people have with disemvoweling but I don't think it's a good idea. First, we're try to ratchet back the cross-site pollination and second, because of the context of a back-and-forth with Lisa S. it is a bit testy at times, and it seems like the heat level is actually declining so I'd rather not ratchet it back up. Teresa posted sufficient information to find it earlier in this thread but, again, the context where it appears is important).

#197 ::: Obs ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 08:24 PM:

As a bystander, I do find it a bit strange that you object to being labelled as a representative for MetaFilter, yet you fetch all your arguments from there, and you also go back over there to complain about your missing posts. Do you ever, even for a second, ask yourself what your actions might look like from the "outside"?

(After all, pretty much everyone in this thread seems to have tried to tell you that there's something wrong with your approach. I'd be rather worried if that happened to me, to be honest.)

#198 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 08:27 PM:

#180 ::: Jacque

Hangs head in shame, for honestly? I was thinking only of Abi and Teresa when thinking of hats. And, of course, myself most of all (who isn't a mod nor do I play one on television), thinking that wearing a hat like that is the only real compensation one receives from moderation.

I could find hats for Jim and Patrick too, though.

Love, C.

#199 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 08:36 PM:

#181 ::: Earl Cooley III

That is a great hat!

#182 ::: MacAllister

Those message board disrupters are the same sort of people, perhaps, who feel they have the right to disrupt the funerals of gay and lesbian soldiers?

Love, C.

#200 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 08:46 PM:

Constance #198: Don't forget Avram.

#201 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 08:47 PM:

Constance @199, Those message board disrupters are the same sort of people, perhaps, who feel they have the right to disrupt the funerals of gay and lesbian soldiers?

Honestly, I don't think they are of the same mindset. Without going into the kind of detail that would compromise user-privacy, demographically speaking they tend to be over 55, conservative, straight, white, and self-identify as Christians. Mostly, the impression that I got from backchannel communications wasn't that "Teh Gays are all doomed to HELL" so much as a sort of aggrieved "y'know, decent people don't talk about this sort of thing, it's just unseemly and makes me terribly uncomfortable" and here's the tricky part -- I understand (mostly) where they're coming from with that. I don't plan to subject the other roughly 25,000 registered members to that specific set of cultural mores. But there's some diplomacy that needs to be performed between the factions, then, for the sake of respecting radically differing sets of values.

#202 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 09:22 PM:

MacAllister @201

I suspect they're the same people who say things like "I don't mind gays, but why do they always have to flaunt their sexuality?" Where flaunting their sexuality means holding hands with their partner or even just mentioning the fact that they are gay. I remember as a young teen just figuring out what I thought about these things. I asked my father what he thought about it. He said all the right things about how we should respect other people and let them do whatever they want in the bedroom, but he felt that he had to preface it with his disgust at the physical acts he associated with it.

And the tricky thing is that a lot of these people are, like my father, really decent types who do mean what they say. It's just that they still think of homosexuality exclusively in terms of the homo-sex, so saying "Have you met my partner?" reads as "Have you met the man who bangs me in the ass every night?" to them.

It can be rather difficult to make them realize that the problem with is them, not with the gays, and that the solution is to educate themselves to change their own associations with homosexuality, rather than just sweeping something that makes them uncomfortable under the rug.

(I'm happy to say that my father, having spent more time in the intervening decade around gay people in his church as well as gay friends of my sister's no longer feels he needs to preface his support for their rights.)

#203 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 09:30 PM:

#197 As a bystander, I do find it a bit strange that you object to being labelled as a representative for MetaFilter, yet you fetch all your arguments from there

I assume, then, that you missed the part where TNH specifically asked me what issues people there had with the fiasco at BB. Because the one post where I did just that was a response to a direct question. I also assume you haven't actually read posts #150, #195, or #196. Because I have no idea how you came to that conclusion otherwise.

#204 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 09:35 PM:

Chris W @202
Yes! Exactly so. And like your father, if there's some room and some time and some assistance, there can be real change in attitude. It's not easy, though. Neither do I believe that expelling decent people from the community who happen to have a single particular sticking point is beneficial in either the short or the long run.

But I am, essentially, guessing.

I'm gambling, and I'm gambling with a large community that hosts several smaller communities of real life people who care very deeply about the people they interact with on a frequent basis, albeit online.

That keeps me up nights, sometimes.

#205 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 09:46 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 122: "There are worse things in the world than getting visibly angry or emotional."

When I first read this, I simultaneously thought "Yes, that's quite true" and "What! Angry words are the surest way to ruin a conversation!" Clearly, I needed to think things through a bit.

What's going on, I think, is that "Avoid angry words" is a very good rule of thumb that I've unconsciously mistaken for a hard-and-fast rule. It's undeniably true that getting angry has a strong tendency to degrade the quality of communication--anger precludes trust, forgiveness, and graciousness, without which communication becomes quite difficult. Anger leads to lashing out, lashing out makes everyone angry, and then no one is listening, because why listen when understanding your opponent's position is tantamount to losing? All of this makes "Try to avoid getting angry" into perfectly sound advice.

But the degree of emotional detachment can't become the measure of the quality of a conversation. Because the inverse isn't true--anger may encourage miscommunication, but civility doesn't prevent it. Because sometimes we should be angry. Because, as Bruce Baugh says, we're feeling beings as much as we are thinking ones. Pretending otherwise may sometimes be useful but not always, and creating a cultural norm that we ought to pretend to be so at all times substantially degrades our understanding of ourselves and others.

#206 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 09:58 PM:

MacAllister @ 182: "The problem was, it wasn't working. It wasn't working precisely because of that dynamic that Bruce Baugh articulated: there weren't the necessary shared groundrules to engage subject matter. The community as a whole just wasn't close enough to the same philosophical understanding."

This is a chronic problem on feminist blogs--people are constantly popping up out of the blue to say things like "but women just LIKE to take care of babies, it's genetic isn't it?" and after the tenth or eleven billionth explanation of basic, foundational feminist principles it gets really hard to tell (or care about) the difference between the honestly clueless and the ones who are trolling. As Bruce Baugh notes, you can't move forward if you're constantly having to explain basic principles over and over again. But given that the avowed purpose of these blogs is to spread the feminist word, how can you in good conscience brush them all aside? The feminist blogosphere responded to this problem by creating a blog dedicated to running through all the basic questions and answers, so that other blogs could, you know, actually get somewhere instead of treading the same "wait, what's the patriarchy?" water over and again. I'm not sure if that would work for your situation, but it seemed worth mentioning.

#207 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:06 PM:

#200 ::: Fragano Ledgister

Moderator Hats.

Avram, Jim and Patrick -- check!

Love, C.

#208 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:12 PM:

Constance @ 179 ...
(Intent here merely to amuse -- and to seize any excuse to revel in This Sort of Hat.

Utterly out of place in this thread, but I've finally admitted that I might have a wee[0] bit of a hat problem...

[0] I'm somewhere north of 40 'real' hats, and haven't tried to track down the tennis caps or winter hats at all...

#209 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:24 PM:

heresiarch #205: Also, sometimes anger is part of the communication, a signal to the effect of "this isn't just playing with words for me, this is important."

#210 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 10:28 PM:

heresiarch #206: also, I note the blog you link has one of Teresa's "moderator licenses".

#211 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:00 PM:

heresiarch, #205: It's quite possible to be visibly angry without being discourteous. I see examples of that regularly right here. There's a difference between being angry and being verbally abusive, and the latter is what should be avoided.

#212 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:02 PM:

MacAllister, fascinating reading, and best wishes from here on it. Sounds like you're running into something you may want to talk about explicitly with posters there, a thing that I only ever thought about as a distinct thing after reading about a lot of kinds of privilege and bias:

The idea that I, Generic Poster, am entitled by right to post in any discussion that interests me. And further, if there's a discussion that doesn't interest me but touches on something that does, I am entitled by right to keep tugging it over to what I want it to be.

Few of us ever put it so bluntly, and would tend to agree right off when it's stated that way that of course we aren't. But this is privilege in action: a crucial element in privilege, in any situation of unequal power, is what those on the powerful side don't have to stop and think about, because the matrix of relationships will back them up. Thus able-bodied people tend to think that of course they can chime in on discussions of disabled life, the politics of disability relief and so on; guys feel free to comment on matters of women's lives; straight and cis-gendered folks can calmly speculate about queer and trans-gendered lives; and on and on. It's all just topics of discussion, right?

Well, not right. And it is very uncomfortable for most of us to have to stop, and consciously tell ourselves that we do not have the right to use the matter of others' lives as fodder for random conversation in all situations, that sometimes our duty as decent people is to shut up and listen or shut up and just leave it alone this time. I still haven't figured out how to communicate this in a way that doesn't end up annoying a bunch of people who need to hear it, and saying "yeah, I found it annoying until I really internalized the lesson" doesn't help much.

#213 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:07 PM:

xeger @ 208... What kind of hat problem might you have? Me, I have a sort-of Andy Capp cap although I've been considering getting an Allan Quartermain hat.

#214 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:15 PM:

Lee: There's a difference between being angry and being verbally abusive, and the latter is what should be avoided. I admit that I'm tilting further and further away from worrying about discourtesy in a wide range of cases, when the fundamental message is "Stop poking at me and my life like that." People doing the poking in the first place need to realize that they are in fact inflicting hurt on others, and it seems like sometimes - a lot of times - a polite, temperate little answer really fails to convey that. They read it and think it's just more stuff to disagree about, not a call to them to lay off that right now.

The way to reduce occasions for sharpness, therefore, is to build up a wider awareness in community members about what may well constitute hurt for others, and an agreement not to go there. The alternative is to leave an unsuspected fraction of the community hurting a lot more than the rest ever guess.

#215 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:19 PM:

Serge, is your lack of hat the problem, or do you feel that your desire for the hat is the problem, or that having it would be a problem?

:)

#216 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:32 PM:

Bruce @212 Yep. We have, in fact, had several of those conversations both privately and in public.

The long and the short of it was a couple of posters who said they'd post what they pleased and who was I to stop 'em as long as they were civil and polite? I responded that I'd simply ban them without further discussion, if they insisted on attempting to impose their sensibilities on this one, little, clearly-defined space -- because to do so was, by definition, neither polite nor civil.

There were some hard feelings.

#217 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:34 PM:

Ugh, MacAllister. Sympathy on that.

#218 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:41 PM:

216
I think you were correct on that one. They were behaving like trolls, and deserved being treated as such.

#219 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:55 PM:

PJ @218
Exactly - and I very much thought the same.

But it raises an interesting modding problem, doesn't it? Lisa, Abi, and TNH briefly touched on hobbyhorses, those topics that make a community member just plain lose their better judgment, whenever the hobbyhorse issue comes up.

It also raises the ambiguity around when is a troll a troll, as opposed to when is an otherwise valuable member of the community trolling.

#220 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2010, 11:57 PM:

Bruce Baugh @ 215... No bad coiffe. I was just thinking of acquiring a wide-brimmed hat because of the summer's soon-to-come increased solar exposure.

#221 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 12:35 AM:

MacAllister 182, 201, 204: If you can't just say that "why do you have to flaunt it" comments are unacceptable, then you could do the reverse: give the GLBT people free rein to make "eww, flaunting your sexuality!" comments every time a heterosexual mentions a spouse, or their children, or a pregnancy, or birth control, or says they've been to a wedding, or comments on the attractiveness of a member of the opposite sex. If I were part of that community I would try to target the people who've derailed GLBT conversations in the past, and do that to them every time they mention anything that might state or imply that they're heterosexual. And if someone were clueless enough to ask why, I'd just say "y'know, decent people don't talk about this sort of thing, it's just unseemly and makes me terribly uncomfortable" and move on.

Except that I wouldn't be part of a community where that's an issue. Even if I tried.

But then "conservative, straight, white, and self-identify as Christians" is a group of people I'm unlikely to have much in common with. No one of those is a problem by itself, but that group of traits tends to come with a lot of other ones that would drive me away in short order. Not that that community is likely to regret making a leftist, gay, white guy who self-identifies as Pagan feel unwelcome.

But since I wrote the above you've posted 216, which clearly states that you've dealt with the issue, and in my view correctly. Kudos.

#222 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 01:05 AM:

Serge @ 213 ...
xeger @ 208... What kind of hat problem might you have? Me, I have a sort-of Andy Capp cap although I've been considering getting an Allan Quartermain hat.

Well... perhaps the best demonstration ... as of late 2008 (the most recent list I've found, which is missing a number of hats, and is somewhat compressed here, for the sake of not chewing up too much space):

- black Dior knotted - black-and-silver small - rust small - cream small - black noir w/ veil - black school - straw w/ yellow flower - cream floppy felt w/ black edge - black velveteen winter hat - green/green weave hat - black top hat w/ bees - burgandy fedora - black felt hat w/ blue feather - black winter hat (velveteen) - large black/grey straw (lilliput) - small(er) black straw (lilliput) - black velvet/red flower evening hat (lilliput) - red felt w/ veil - black ladies tophat (beaver felt) (fleur de paris) - grey straw ladies tophat (fleur de paris) - 1920s panama hat (straw) - resistol black fedora(ish) (beaver felt) - garden straw hat - straw boater hat - pith helmet - purple-and-black hat w/ bells (velour) - grey fabric fedora(ish) - multicoloured cat-in-a-hat hat (velour) - black w/ velvet band (felt) - blue felt - black felt w/ feather- small red felt w/ veil, poof - rust dotted felt- large floppy fine italian straw (needs flower) - new caledonian straw - 1960s red felt - small white straw /w veil - grey winter tweed (tilly) - canvas boating hat (tilly) -

#223 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 01:19 AM:

David Bilek:

Until you take some ownership of the ways that you distorted my words way up there, I'm afraid I'm not going to spend the effort continuing the discussion. I've run out of patience with you, because you were lying about me, about that most intimate part of me online, the content of my thoughts and words. Furthermore, you did it about something where I was being painfully honest. Even I have my limits to how long I will suspend my annoyance about something like that.

I think enough people, from moderators to bystanders, have given you perspectives on why you're so stunningly ineffective in this thread. But you know, I'm a sucker for lost causes. So let me try a set of descriptors as to why it's gone so wrong.

  1. You're obsessed with a thesis, to the point of being willing to miscast others' words, but to prove it you have to back-form contrafactually.
    The thesis I'm getting from you is "Heavy moderation is required for a less rough and tumble site. Making Light is less rough and tumble than Metafilter. Therefore it must have heavy moderation. I do not need to prove this." [Insert tentitious argumentation and miscasting of words, plus flaw 2, bringing down moderatorial ire as the tone of the thread descends] "Look! See? Heavy moderation!"
  2. You're being an ally with no principals
    You know about allies, right? It's a conversational role in a lot of very painful discussions between people who are in a minority and those in a majority. It's when people from the majority explain the position of the minority to their fellows. It can be tremendously useful and hugely damaging (sometimes in the same conversation), because allies aren't able to make peace, forgive, or reconcile.
    There are two problems here. The first one is that, based on previous discussions, the first time I saw your name, I did not think, "Here is one of Us, come to explain what those weird people Over There are doing." I thought, "Here comes the MeFi crowd again."
    The other problem, of course, is that the explicitly MeFi crowd didn't come over. They stayed in their own site. So you're left trying to explain their criticisms to us, and we're waiting for the point. Why are you bringing this up? I thought it might be that you, specifically, wanted to talk about your views, specifically, about Making Light, specifically, or I'd have stopped putting so much energy into the discussion long since.
    I know it can be hard to believe, since they spend so much energy on us, but most of the people here don't care what MetaFilter thinks. Given the history of MeFi people coming over here to tell us we're all wrong, that's the healthiest state for us to be in. The alternative is probably the kind of irritated thread that's been going on over there. Which, despite your best efforts, we don't appear to be interested in having. Yay us.
  3. A symotomatic description, which Lisa touched on: you keep making this thread all about your behavior, not your content.
    You know I live in the Netherlands, right? The politics here are deeply complex and interesting, but one of the most interesting (possibly in the Chinese sense) things going on right now is the emergence of a real-life troll, Geert Wilders.
    Every time I watch a political debate with Wilders, I see how hard it is for the other politicians to tear themselves away from answering his assertions (which begin with things like, "I'm the only one who dares to say...") and get back to discussing Dutch politics outside of his narrow constraints.
    Now, I'm not saying that you're anything like Wilders. But you made the discussion all about you, for a while. I see that it's flowing elsewhere now. I suspect you're only going to get more conversational attention when you make discussable assertions.

Don't put the effort into telling me I have your behavior here all wrong; as I say, I don't think it's worth my time, considering. I'm sure if my symptomatic analysis is wrong, the other commenters in the thread will tell me so, and how. Your perspective is completely distorted by the fact that you see your actions from the inside. Listen to what the people outside your head are saying about what you're doing.

#224 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 01:26 AM:

I've been following this discussion here and at Whatever, where I occassionally comment under this set of initials, and at Metafilter, where I lurk but have yet to send in my five bucks, and waiting for someone to point out that the accusations of group-think which get made against all three of those moderated sites* are at odds with observable behavior. The most rigid and aggressively policed group-think I've seen lately are at two places with very little formal moderation: Fandom Secrets on Live Journal and Unfunny Business at Journelfen. Jeremy Preacher touches on this at 149, but I think it needs to be emphasized: in unmoderated comment threads, the loudest voices eventually drown out opposition from reasonable opponents. What's left are the people who agree with the loud voices, and the adrenaline junkies looking for a sure fight.

*I read Metatalk, too, obviously.

#225 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 01:36 AM:

Xopher @221 - It's not a community that's entirely comfortable with the fact that a marxist agnostic dyke owns the servers and software licenses, either.

Heh.

But they're stuck with me.

#226 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:12 AM:

abi #223: I don't want to address all of your post now since it is quite late, but I wanted to make one point since it seems important:

So you're left trying to explain their criticisms to us, and we're waiting for the point. Why are you bringing this up?

I find myself a big flustered because I feel like I've addressed this repeatedly and several people are completely ignoring my answer. I didn't bring it up. Teresa specifically asked me about those criticisms in #65. Here is the second sentence of that comment:

Let me be more specific: what was it about the way I moderated Boing Boing that got MeFi's knickers in such a twist?

I don't know how I can be any clearer. I "brought it up" because the only way to attempt to answer TNH's question about Mefi's criticisms is by discussing those criticisms. And when lambasted for not being specific enough, I tried to be more specific even to the point of providing links to examples. You keep saying things like my perspective is distorted... and that may be true as that happens when people get defensive. But I have to believe that's a two-way street because I simply can't get anyone to acknowledge the very words I keep quoting back, that I have for much of the thread been attempting to answer a direct and specific question. I don't mean acknowledge in a "yeah, you're right" sense, but just the easier and more passive sense of at least not asking me why I brought up people on Mefi's criticisms after I've repeatedly quoted the reason: I was asked by tnh, who's thread this is.

It's true that she almost certainly wouldn't have asked that if it was clear how this thread would go. I certainly would have begged off trying to answer it. But that doesn't change the fact that it happened.

#227 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:44 AM:

The metafilter digression started earlier than that, David. Right about comment 30, by you, or perhaps Lisa's comment at 28 footnoting your 25.

Own your content.

#228 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:26 AM:

David Bilek @ 195: I’m sorry if it looked like I was suggesting -you- were the one spewing the bile: I wasn't (thus the "which some people"). But it's obvious from the threads I read that, not only on those threads but also on others, and other sites, for - what, about three years now - various people have been being snarky (e.g. the puerile posting of self-disemvoweled words simply because the header topic was a story Teresa had posted here, and which was nothing to do with moderation) and downright nasty about Teresa. I noticed that several people at Metafilter tried to tell people they'd had enough of that, but were ignored (and the moderators indicated that the viler posts were inappropriate, and were also ignored: how lovely). Even if she and Patrick try to let it all just run off them, that sort of thing would try the patience of the proverbial saint - and thereby perhaps make them touchy about criticism on the subject (whoever the criticism came from, but perhaps more if coming from someone from a community where such criticism has been flowing freely - tarred by the same brush and so on, which may be unfair, but is human). My feeling about this is: ML is their "living room", which they allow us to come talk in. This is a topic they've taken a lot of flak on. It behooves us guests to tread lightly*.

MacAllister: Thank you for sharing your example.

David Bilek again: I think it is trivially true that disemvoweling is obviously an editing; you're removing letters. So I guess the issue is whether that editing is trivial in nature or not. No, we're (at least I am, and I think others are) saying that it isn't editing, it's keeeping the same words, in the same order, but making them harder to read. More like ROT-13 would be if nobody had bothered to provide those sites for rapid decoding.

Re. your link to Wikipedia, I followed the link @ 14 (which appeared to be what you were linking to). It quoted Vi*let Blu* as saying that she didn't like disemvoweling, and gave the columnist's opinion that it was "Not quite censorship, but not exactly unfettered commentary, either." I'm afraid I don't see how that proves your point 2 from @150. Or have I missed something?

Separate point to nobody in particular: I've been thinking about the disemvowelment and mocking thing. There are times when, IMO, mockery -is- an appropriate reason for disemvoweling: when someone comes into a thread for the purpose of posting inflammatory comments in order to get other people upset and angry and to enjoy that - then disemvowling can turn hateful words into incoherent sputters - deflating to the ego of the one who had hoped to get people all upset and then sit back to watch the spectacle.

*Punsters feel free to jump in here.

#229 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:34 AM:

abi @ 222... Yay us.

Yay us.
Yay us.
Yay us!

#230 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:37 AM:

Why do I find myself thinking of the first line uttered by Max von Sydow in Flash Gordon? Why do I find myself wanting to be someone who works for the movie version of Robert de Niro, aside from Natasha Fatale?

#231 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:39 AM:

xeger @ 223... I see. It's the same problem that Imelda Marcos had, except that you put yours on you head.

#232 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 08:33 AM:

dcb, I think David's point in calling it "trivially true" that disemvowelling is editing is that the mods are taking a comment and changing it by removing the vowels. I read "trivially true" as meaning "true in a trivial sense," just as it's true that humans are the only animals who identify each other by hairstyles, but no one thinks that's truly relevant to what makes humans importantly unique among animals.

It seems like a red herring, but it's relevant to the discussion, because it allows deceitful people to be technically truthful when they claim their words were altered without their consent. Since no one here is saying those people are right or deserve to be taken seriously, I think that topic has been adequately addressed, and we should focus on other issues.

For example, do people have a right not to have their sacred, golden words altered when they comment on someone else's blog? I say no. I think if the mods or blog owners want to correct grammar and spelling, or even substitute less offensive words (some sites do that automatically!), they have that right. It's altering people's content and changing what they seem to be saying that are at issue here.

David thinks (again, if I'm reading him correctly) that disemvowelling does that. I think that's fairly absurd, since the text is still there but hard to read, but I think that the issue of whether disemvowelling is technically editing is a red herring at this point.

#233 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 08:56 AM:

Serge @ 231 ...
xeger @ 223... I see. It's the same problem that Imelda Marcos had, except that you put yours on you head.

It would be rather hard to walk about with hats on my feet, although I'm sure that wearing shoes on my head would be considered a fashion statement.

#234 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 09:10 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 193: From your lips to my ex partner's ears..may she hear what you said, and hear it with all her heart.

We keep saying it to her, and she keeps resisting any consideration of therapy, but she is clearly not well.

#235 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 10:07 AM:

So I've spent the evening thinking about Patrick's response at #188 and why, while it is a perfectly reasonable response, it startled me so much.

I have always treated moderation as an essentially one-to-one transaction. It's done for the good of the many, but if I remove a given post, I'll post a notice about it for the benefit of all, but further discussion with take place in private between me and the poster.

Patrick's suggestion that one might want to leave the record of the poster's words up for all to see presupposes a public debate about the moderation decision. I've not had much luck having that debate - I find it tends to derail the actual conversation, usually for good.

I'm curious, though, if y'all see those conversations as ultimately worth the derails. I can definitely see the virtue in having the community actively hash out policy, but it seems to me like routine stuff should just get handled without the debate. (This question is tangential to the deletion-vs-disemvoweling debate, I think. You could as easily disemvowel and leave a note directing the poster to contact the mods via a private channel as delete the post and do the same.)

I'd like to clarify that I'm in no way suggesting that Making Light should change its policies - if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I'm just curious what the mods and the users here think of the subject, since most of y'all seem to have experience in a number of different online communities.

(Incidentally, I am getting the feeling that I'm much more interested in this thread of the discussion than most of the other commenters. I'm happy to give it a rest if y'all prefer.)

#236 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 10:13 AM:

xeger @ 233... While I've never worn shoes on my noggin, nor have I ever hatted my feet, there was a time not long ago when I went to the office and realized I was wearing shoes from two different pairs.

Yes, I am sleep-deprived. Why do you ask?

#237 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:11 AM:

David@196: I think it is trivially true that disemvoweling is obviously an editing; you're removing letters. So I guess the issue is whether that editing is trivial in nature or not.

Letters, yes. Words, no. Disemvoweling is much more like ROT13 or turning the post into a "captcha" image or something than it is like changing the words: afterward, readers will find the same words there as before, they'll just have to work harder to find them.

You could get a similar effect by changing the font to, oh, let's say Magnificat, too (not usefully on the web, since most people don't have it installed).

The Wikipedia link (outgoing; your link gets me to the references section) goes to a blank page for me right now (no NoScript error, so not being blocked by NoScript); so it doesn't count as evidence yet to me. That's not your fault of course; theirs, or the Times, or the Internet, or something local to me most likely. Also it was not previously submitted, so it didn't count as evidence previously.

Since that is so basic to your position (if I'm understanding what's important to you in this discussion), it's a bit troublesome (or suspicious) that it's this late in the discussion before the first evidence is displayed.

#238 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:12 AM:

Jeremy Preacher @ 245: Patrick's suggestion that one might want to leave the record of the poster's words up for all to see presupposes a public debate about the moderation decision

Not necessarily a public debate, but allowing people to see, clearly, why the moderation decision was taken, i.e. what is considered unacceptable, without, as Patrick indicates, having to simply accept the moderator's word that the deleted post was, indeed unacceptable.

Xopher @ 232: I read "trivially true" as meaning "true in a trivial sense," Accepted; my feeling was that he was trying to move from "well it's true in a trivial sense" to "therefore it's de facto true in a meaning sense" - which I don't agree with. I'm objecting to using the technical to "prove" the substantial.

And he still hasn't retracted/apologised, at Metafilter, for his statement, at Metafilter, about being deleted from ML, despite having the fact of the server problem pointed out. Goodwill would suggest such an acknowledegment owould be appropriate, but maybe that's not so over there: I don't know, I don't usually follow Metafilter.

#239 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:14 AM:

I'm having trouble believing this. The following tweet from mark_a_mortan just showed up in my queue:

I see we have another round of @jessamyn and @joshmillard politely showing they're better mods than @tnielsenhayden in a thread about her.
Seriously. No kidding. He really said that.

I keep waiting for these guys to figure out what a bizarre obsession this is.

#240 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:19 AM:

As for whether disemvowelling is changing a comment in a substantive way: there was a discussion about this a year or so back. I seem to recall that the consensus was that it isn't.

#241 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:25 AM:

dcb @238 - sure, in theory. In practice the reaction seems to be much less "I am enlightened!" and much more a mix of either continuing to engage with the disemvoweled post or the poster contending the decision (both of which this thread illustrates.) What I'm asking is this - are those kinds of responses desired by the mods and/or the community? Because they do seem to be pretty consistent.

#242 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Xopher #221: "or says they've been to a wedding,"

I believe that this is, in a growing number of places, no longer an exclusively heterosexual privilege. Not that merely attending one (as opposed to tying the knot) ever was. I'd suggest removing it from a list of items used to flaunt heterosexuality.

#243 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:36 AM:

Jeremy Preacher @235:

We've discussed public vs private moderator action recently; my comment on it is here. That focused on controlling pileons. Visible, transparent action reassures the community that the matter is being handled, and reduces the amount to which those of our community who work as white blood cells feel they need to rush to address the incident.

But there is more to it than that, of course. Visible, public action demonstrates how the norms and customs of the community are applied; they are genuine worked examples. Visible action plus the availability of the original sources also allows the community to judge the moderator's fairness.

If I were to explain, briefly, why we do moderator actions in public, I'd use a British saying: It is important that justice is not only done, but is also seen to be done.

I'm curious, though, if y'all see those conversations as ultimately worth the derails.

Yes, absolutely.

#244 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:39 AM:

Jeremy Preacher @241:

They don't always turn into this kind of extended thrash. In many ways, this has happened because I gave David Bilek too much rope instead of being blunter earlier.

#245 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:44 AM:

Also, I really want to jump up and down and point to what Bruce Baugh @193 said:

Depression, stress, and grief can all make one think "no, they're seeing it less clearly than I am". This is where it's important to step back and think "but I know they see clearly, I've agreed with them again and again, and I know that what they see in me makes unclear seeing in others who have it...so maybe the problem really is on my end and not theirs". It's not easy; it's just vitally necessary sometimes.

It is hard, hard, hard to doubt the very processing system you're using to do the doubting, if you see what I mean. Learning to take one's judgement lightly is painful and difficult. Learning not to kick yourself for running on compromised systems is even more effort. I struggle with it every winter.

I don't have anything useful to add, really. I just wanted to see it said again.

#246 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:48 AM:

Abi @244 - no, certainly. This thread is an atypical example of a lot of things, I think.

I think I should probably clarify that I'm not really pro-deletion - my rubric looks a lot more like this (warning, entertainingly inappropriate language) although where Sanya talks about "editing posts" I would suggest she means "redacting posts". I've seen her work, and she would just remove the offensive bits with a note. But again, she's talking about forum software, which has very different tools than blogs - locking a forum thread is a comparatively minor intrusion.

(I will also confess it took me much longer than most folks here to become convinced that David Bilek was closer to the troll side than the innocently Doin It Rong side. I can't decide to be happy that y'all's noses have once again been proved accurate, or disappointed that what might have been a useful discussion was turned so sour.)

#247 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:55 AM:

I don't think blunt would have made any differerence. David Bilek's got a significant disconnect between language and meaning.

#248 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:56 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 242 -- I've been to several non-heterosexual weddings. A month ago, I was honoured to attend a wedding of three women and one man. (I assume that it lacks somewhat of formal legal standing, but the intentions and emotions of the participants were ringing loudly.) So no, not exclusively a matter of heterosexual privilege.

#249 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 12:03 PM:

I think Dave at 196 has an important point wrt disemvowelling. Disemvoweling a whole post
seems like a better substitute for deletion (because
the moderators' actions are visible). Disemvowelling specific words seems like a gentler form of converting damn to d--n. But selective disemvowelling within a post has a very different feel, to me. Much more
like editing than like deletion or rot13ing.

I have rarely seen that done on ml, and I think that's a good
thing. If we're to own our words, they ought to be entirely
ours. Disvowelling specific sentences or paragraphs rather radically changes how someone elses post is read.

#250 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 12:28 PM:

Joel Polowin @#248:

I was honoured to attend a wedding of three women and one man.

Well, that could be a heterosexual marriage...a proper biblical one, even!

#251 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 12:38 PM:

Something of a diversion from Bilek, but certainly relevant to community and moderation:

These two articles discuss how cooperation is supported by the ability to punish defectors. Of course, online the "punishments" are mostly social responses, including mockery, but even so, the issue of "antisocial punishment" (from the articles, hereafter ASP) raises it's toothy head early and often.

In a moderated forum like ML, only the moderators have the power to deliver true "smitings" -- deletion, disemvowelment, or banning. Thus the ASPers are limited to those social techniques (and here at ML, can be themselves smacked down for abuse of same). Where postings can be voted in or out of visibility, the ASPers have more-or-less free reign, and take their toll on the community.

#252 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 12:39 PM:

abi @ 244... too much rope

Would that make you Jimmy Stewart to Farley Granger & John Dall?

#253 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 01:14 PM:

This is one of my all-time favorite bits of advice:

Get bored more easily than you get offended.

Seriously, it saves a lot of trouble. I've looked at Metafilter several times over the years, found it awkward and uncongenial, and so...I don't go there, and if friends want to call my attention to something there, I ask them to cut and paste just the relevant part when that's feasible. I got to feeling that a bunch of rolegaming forums were taking more out of me than they gave back, so...I stopped posting, and then stopped reading.

The related thing is:

Tell me what you like, and what you like about it.

I've said many a time that this is a big part of why I'm so fond of Ebert's film reviewing - his discussion helps me know what to look for, and how to understand the merits of what I see. Likewise when, to get out a favorite example of mine, I saw a documentary about abstract artists back in college. The narrator explained that Willem de Kooning often mixed his palette to suit a particular real-life scene and then did abstracts with that palette. I'd noticed that there was something I liked in his work, despite not generally getting much from abstract paintings, but had no idea what. Now I did, and that in turn opened up other art to me because I had a new kind of thing to look for.

In the case of moderation, the kind of thing I'm looking for is pretty simple: show me particularly scintillating moments, and tell me about how your community works. Tell me of help given in times of need, and delights shared in times of triumph, and of friendly support for views evolving a little or a lot over years and decades. And then be cool if I still decide it's not a style I like.

This doesn't seem hard to me. Some things do, like the layered self-confidence and self-doubt I talked about above. This? No.

#254 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 02:01 PM:

Anonymous for the Nonce @ 156: "(I hesitated for quite a while before posting this, because, frankly, I dreaded becoming exactly the target I described. The compromise was to post it, but to do so anonymously. If criticizing the behavior of a host doesn't count as expressing an "unpopular opinion", I don't know what would.)"

I'm wondering if you're aware of how exactly this comes across? It's very much like coming to a dinner party in a flak jacket and saying, "But it's your fault that I don't feel safe here." Quite aside from the truth content of the assertion, the form of it is quite insulting--and, I would think, quite hurtful.

I say this as someone who takes quite seriously the issue you raised. I'll get to it in just a moment.

Bruce Baugh @ 159: "This is what mockery does: it says "that's not worthy of respect; it is not a view that any informed, civilized, moral person should express, nor a way that any such person should deliver it.""

I think mockery's a bit more complicated than that--at its best it's what you describe, but at its worst it's precisely what AFTN says it is.

To understand mockery, you have to remember that it's really fun. Without that, it's hard to understand how mockery functions socially. The funness of it is precisely what makes it so important when dealing with trolls, and also what makes it so prone to abuse. Fun is hard to come by when dealing with trolls--it's mostly a horrible mix of self-doubt, psychological dissonance, mistrust, and hurt. Mockery can make it tolerable and even enjoyable, and if you can take a griefer's entry into the conversation as an opportunity for joy then that's not something I'd pass up.

On the other hand, the enjoyability of mockery can make it addictive. Insults are often easier and more enjoyable than actually engaging in conversation, and just ripping into someone can be a real rush. Conversation requires vulnerability: you have to be willing to accept the possibility that you might be wrong. (I think that a whole lot of trolling is born a single instant, when it first begins to dawn on someone that they're wrong and they are confronted with the choice between accepting that fact and the shame and embarassment that it entails, or indulging their egotistical urge and blaming other people's failure to understand on everyone else's stupidity.)

So how can you tell when you're mocking someone who richly deserves it and when you're falling back on mockery just because you want to? I think "listen to your friends" is good advice, but then that's the same dynamic that makes two trolls in concert such a toxic mess. Then there's the fact that making you doubt yourself and your own motivations is the exact goal of a lot of trolling. I don't have an answer: it's just hard.

There's another issue that's very important to think about when discussing mockery, and that's the question of audience: are you really talking to the person you're addressing, or are you talking to everyone else who's going to read that post? Generally with mockery you're writing off the person you're actually addressing: mockery within the context of adversarial argument is so rarely successful as to be negligible. The person being mocked isn't being treated as someone worth conversing with anymore. I think that's something that rubs a lot of people (in other words: me) the wrong way, but that doesn't mean that there isn't communication going on. Rather, it is as Bruce says a way of communicating to everyone else what is and is not acceptable.

That changes the question a bit: it becomes "will mocking this person enforce a community standard that we want to enforce?" and "is mockery the best way to communicate to the community what this person did wrong?"* The answers to these questions aren't always yes. This is particularly true if there really are lurkers who, if not supporting the offending party exactly, at least think her arguments are worth taking seriously. In those cases, it's important to explicitly lay out what she did wrong before starting with the mockery--otherwise it can look an awful lot like the mockery is being used to shut up a legitimate position.

So, there are a lot of ways that mockery can fail as a conversational tool. It can be used self-indulgently, as a substitute for good argument, and it can be used inappropriately, when the assumptions underlying its use are ambiguous. All hat doesn't mean it doesn't have legitimate uses as well, though.

*also, potentially "does this person really warrant this mockery or am I just seizing on a convenient individual to make an example of?"

#255 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 02:16 PM:

abi @ 244: "In many ways, this has happened because I gave David Bilek too much rope instead of being blunter earlier."

I've noticed that in a couple of these recent thrashes, you've placed a lot of the blame for them on yourself. I hope you don't take these failures too much to heart--when you give people the benefit of the doubt, sometimes you will be wrong. That doesn't mean you were wrong to give them the benefit of the doubt however. Your generosity of spirit and willingness to extend kindness to those who may not deserve it are part of what make you such a valuable presence on Making Light. I'd think it a loss if you concluded that those qualities were weaknesses and not strengths.

#256 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 02:20 PM:

Heresiarch, that was a really outstanding discussion of the tradeoffs in mocking and not mocking. Thanks muchly; I am in very strong agreement.

#257 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 02:26 PM:

Heresiarch@254: That's quite a good treatise on mockery in enforcement of community norms.

#258 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 02:31 PM:

Abi... What Heresiarch said @ 255.

#259 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:08 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @#124: Rationally, I strongly suspect that without having the same negative reaction to the bad behaviors in question, I'm aware of them enough to avoid committing them myself much.

You're very direct when arguing, from what I've seen (I only know you from ML and around LJ, although I encountered you at 4th Street 2008 without realizing it). You don't attempt to manipulate conversations and you say what you think with care and clarity, so you're not generally misunderstood.

What tends to get people in the hottest water around here is arguing in bad faith, or creating that impression by employing the common rhetorical devices of people who argue in bad faith. I don't think you're likely to do that, even accidentally.

#260 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:26 PM:

DDB can be frustratingly stubborn (unlike anyone else we hang out with), but he's straightforward about it.

#261 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:33 PM:

I'm a very infrequent poster - but a fairly intensive lurker - here, and I don't know whether this is a good place to weigh in with my first substantive comment.

(To get some idea of where I'm coming from - when someone posted that they were a lurker who felt like they were a part of the community, my immediate - but almost immediately suppressed response was to post 'This lurker supports you, but not in email')

But here goes.

1. I'm finding it hard to take seriously the idea that the moderation style on ML supports 'groupthink' - and incidentally, I agree that that's a horribly pejorative term - at least in part because there's a thread going on in parallel with this one, in which people with an enormously diverse range of attitudes to religion are having a fairly astonishing conversation about religion. And this doesn't seem that unusual for this placde, though it is unusual on the internet as a whole. (On this, FWIW and despite my nym - and also despite a slightly sharp exchange I once had with Avram over the ontological argument - I tend to the staunchly atheistic;

2, I think that is fairly inevitable that in any community there is likely to end up bein g a consensus about some things. Round here, one of the things that there seems to be a consensus among the regulars about is that ML is a pretty awesome thing. That's probably good - there'd be something very odd about hanging out here and putting a lot of energy into the conversations that happen here if one didn't think that. (FWIW, though i rarely comment, this goes for me: given the amount of energy I put into following things here itg woukd be euther pathological or the sign of a diminished life if I didn't like what was going on here)

3. People who think that are likely to think that the things that go towards making that possible are very good. That includdes the style of molderation. (There may be - and I think there are nuances in people's views, which means there's still something to be learned from talking about them.)

4. Most of 1-3 is a long-winded preface to what I most want to say which is that I feel I've learnt a great deal - both about how conversation on the internet works, and about communication more generally - from reading - and in particular watching the development of the conversations in thne threads about moderation. ( I think the first one I read, when it was posted was 'curating conversations')

And I think its made me a better communicator, which has had some sort of beneficial impact both on my professional life and on how I do my job - which if I do it well, involves a fgair amount of enabling conversation.

So, first of all - thank-you for having these conversations in public. And secondly, to Jeremy Preacher: it's easy to judge the effect of moderating decisions by looking at their immediate effect on the conversation -its the most obvious thing to judge by. But it's perhaps misleading. They have other less obviously and immediately visible effects as well.

5. (This is, I now realise, way too long for a single comment)

Having said all that: I do think there is one way in which it is more than trivially true that disemvowelling is a form of editing. Even if it doesn't change a person's words, it can change the tone and context of some of what they say. I don't think it would work if it didn't.

Here's an analogy: Imagine turning part of a person's post into ALL CAPS. This would change the tone of the capitalised part, by drawing attention to it, It would also disrupt its relation s with other parts of the post. Disemvowelling has the reverse effect. One skips over part of the post, and this can affect the force of the rest of what is said.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this. (Usually. Like any good tool I'm sure it could be misused. And I think that good moderation probably requires judicious use of differnet tools in different contexts)I think it's ok for site-owners to edit what's on their site. (One reason why this is so: they bear some responsibility for propagating these words)But I think it is, nonetheless, a form of editing.

6. This is way too long. I'm sorry. I didn't realise quite how much I wanted to say, until I was more than halfway through.


#262 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:35 PM:

@244 abi
In many ways, this has happened because I gave David Bilek too much rope instead of being blunter earlier.

You're in no way responsible for his issues. Don't let him manipulate you into claiming any responsibility.

I'm pretty good at spotting certain kinds of pattern in text, and have been extensively trained in terms of spotting others.

But as I often note in the context of Absolute Write, just because I tend to have a good record of spotting problem members early, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be given a more than adequate chance to prove me wrong.

And the times they have proven me wrong, more than make up for the idjits. I'd much rather be wrong than right--but more patient and forbearing souls like you make all the difference in the world.

#263 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:37 PM:

heresiarch @255 (and Serge @258):

Why, thank you very much indeed for the compliment!

I tend to say, on the matter of tolerance and trust in moderation, that I am stronger on repentance than on resolution of amendment. I do think it's worth erring on the side of questioning myself (within the limits of my stress levels) rather than being overconfident. But I'm not sure I'm really capable of being much more hard-hearted, not sustainably.

I do appreciate the feedback when I get the balance right. I'll try not to worry excessively.

#264 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:45 PM:

David Harmon:
Moderators don't have the exclusive power to punish, they have the exclusive power to control what does and doesn't
appear on the site. Ridicule often stings more
than a silent deletion, but you don't need to be a moderator for that.

#265 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:48 PM:

abi, 263: There's a reason we all sang unsurprised hosannas when you got the keys to this place.

#266 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:48 PM:

Mods: if you feel my over-long comment at 261 is getting in the way of a more interesting conversation , please zap it. (Having pressed post I can see how it might do.)

Also, Abi: what Heresiarch and Serge just said.

Especially since a) as said above, I feel I've learnt a great deal from watching you moderate and b) as we've seen in this thread - I can see that doing it and talking about it doesn't always come without costs to the moderator.

#267 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:54 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 261: well, I first posted in the middle of an abortion discussion - nothing like jumping straight in with both feet, is there? Welcome.

As for length: the worst is when one spends ages composing a fantastic, precise and detailed reply, posts - then finds someone else has managed to say the same thing (only better) in just a few words*.

And I think your point 5 re. disemvoweling changing emphasis is an interesting and valid addition to the discussion.

* and with fewer typos.

#268 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 03:59 PM:

Abi #263: Kindly refer back to Bruce Baugh #162 -- and remember you've got folks backing you! If your co-moderators aren't griping about you falling down on the job, I wouldn't worry too much about your own performance.

My own opinion is that "how much rope" to give an uncertain case, should be based mostly on how much time and attention you have to spare for them.

#269 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:00 PM:

dcb@267: Thank you.

And:

'Fewer typos'. Indeed: probably not hard where my posts are concerned. I think I have the reverse of the gift some copy-editors and proof-readers have of having these things jump out at them.

#270 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:06 PM:

albatross #264: Which is exactly why I distinguished "smiting" (enforcing their will upon the local "fabric of reality") from social punishments (including mockery).

#271 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:13 PM:

praisegod barebones @266:

Really don't worry about comment length. It's an interesting and worthwhile contribution to the conversation.

as we've seen in this thread - I can see that doing it and talking about it doesn't always come without costs to the moderator.

It's true. But I get so much more of a buzz out of watching a conversation humming along delightfully than I do the drag of fighting to make something work that just won't. Apart from one or two bad moments during the election, it has always been thus for me, even before I got a chance to work backstage.

And I have always loved your username.

#272 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:18 PM:

Mary@250:

It was neither biblical nor (simply) heterosexual.

THe legal status was ... complicated, but worked out carefully by the parties' lawyer.

#273 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Also out of place in this thread, but I can't resist responding to xeger @ #208 with photographic evidence of a similar problem.

#274 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:33 PM:

Abi @ 271: Thank you.

As for the username: I chose it for what I imagine - perhaps erroneously - his political principles to have been, rather than his religious ones.

More on moderation: One thing I've noticed in this thread - perhaps less in others on the same topic- is that most of the emphasis seems to have been on discussing different forms of negative reinforcement.

That strikes me as very one-sided. Moderation is partly about teaching, and positive reinforcement teaches more effectively than negative (or so the education gurus seem to think)

In practice, this seems to be one thing that ML is very strong on. But I think it also puts a slightly different light on the question of how 'visible' moderation should be. It's harder to encourage invisibly than rebuke invisibly. And invisible encouragement might be less effective than visible encouragement.

#275 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:34 PM:

@261, @271--

i too have always admired praisegood's pseud. even more so when i learned that he was a real person!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praisegod_Barebones

though it's a shame you didn't opt for his full christening name:

Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone

now *that* would be an awesome pseud. a little hard to fit into the name field, maybe.

i've been staying out of this thread (reading but not writing) because it is pretty much consistently not-fun, and i only come here for fun.

but reading this thread does drive home to me that the fun i come here for, depends on some not-fun work being done by others. like, for instance, moderators.

so: thank you, moderators!

not for this thread, but for the many, many threads that are nothing like this one, and are made possible by your attention to the issues raised in this thread.

#276 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:39 PM:

Noting and adding my "me too" to the brief aside by Joseph M. oh so long ago at @121 - he articulates exactly how I feel about ML.

I'm currently on extended sabbatical/LOA/hiatus? from moderating at Absolute Write. I still love that community, and Mac has done a wonderful job. Her comments here make me a bit nostalgic.

Looking back at my last months of moderating at AW, I think it's fair to suggest that moderating a political forum on a writing board during *that* election cycle while my son was in Iraq...well, let's just say -- not really good for my soul. My point here is that even in the best of times moderating is a hard job, so kudos to Abi, James, TNH & PNH (I think I'm missing someone...) for the great job they do here.

Now I will go back to my usual 6 or 7 months of lurking.

#277 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:41 PM:

275;'Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebones'

I've always thought that a kid with that name would probably have been able to get away with a lot of misbehaviour at school, simply because of how hard they would have been to rebuke. (Cf Ogden Nash on being a gnu)

#278 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 04:56 PM:

Fragano 242: I believe that [a wedding] is, in a growing number of places, no longer an exclusively heterosexual privilege. Not that merely attending one (as opposed to tying the knot) ever was. I'd suggest removing it from a list of items used to flaunt heterosexuality.

Fair enough. If they say they've attended a wedding in any of the 45 states that still do not have marriage equality, and neither of the couple is a member of the Coquille Tribe, they're celebrating heterosexuality, and that's icky.

I remember seeing a gay, African American comedian on TV...he said "No, I don't wanna go to your damn wedding! Do you suppose that before Civil Rights, white folks called up their black friends and said 'Hey, wanna come watch me vote?'"

Please note also that I was proposing a kind of satire, not a serious ongoing policy.

heresiarch 255: This is the kind of post that makes me wish I were a crowd so I could leap to my feet and give a prolonged standing ovation. It's kinda pathetic with just one body, somehow. But: hear, hear!

#279 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:02 PM:

Dawno @276: so kudos to Abi, James, TNH & PNH (I think I'm missing someone...)

That's just your way of saying I should post more often, right?

#280 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:08 PM:

Avram: absolutely! Unless you are, in fact, chopped liver, which I respectfully contend you are not.

#281 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:15 PM:

And Avram!! I'm so sorry (and ashamed - will lurk for 8 months now)

#282 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:17 PM:

albatross @264:
Ridicule often stings more than a silent deletion, but you don't need to be a moderator for that.

<tone=deeply and sincerely non-threatening, just noting for the record>No, but you need the moderators' consent.</tone>

#283 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:19 PM:

kid bitzer (#275): Once again, I find myself marveling that something I unconsciously assumed Sir Terry Pratchett had made up from whole cloth is, in fact, based on historical precedent. (In this case, Omnian names.)

At least I already knew about the "raise the roads, then roof over the sidewalks" trick from having lived in Western Washington.

#284 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:21 PM:

Xopher @278:

Fair enough. If they say they've attended a wedding in any of the 45 states that still do not have marriage equality, and neither of the couple is a member of the Coquille Tribe, they're celebrating heterosexuality, and that's icky.

That's a bit much, I think. I live in California, and am in a still-legally-recognized same-sex marriage from when they were legal in 2008. Some heterosexual friends of mine who came to the wedding are now getting married themselves; should I refuse to attend, on the grounds that to do so would be somehow "celebrating heterosexuality?" Of course I'd prefer it if they were getting married in a jurisdiction with marriage equality (and so, I think, would they), but I think that attending, as opposed to actually getting married in a non-equal state, is not necessarily a heteronormative act. I'm not celebrating "heterosexuality"; I'm celebrating my friends, specific people I care about who through no fault of their own happen to be heterosexual.

#285 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:21 PM:

Dawno @ 281... Begone!

#286 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:26 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 269: I wasn't getting at you re. typos (just to clarify), merely making a general observation. My own typos usually jump out at me just after I've hit the "post" button. Even when I've checked it on preview.

"positive reinforcement teaches more effectively than negative": well, it does with animals. In my own experience, it works better on me as well. You're right that this discussion has been about the use of negative reinforcement - probably because that's easier to criticise. And it could come across that that's the main form of moderation on ML, while really (as anyone who posts or lurks here much knows), most of the time on ML it's (crossing threads a little here) "slow to chide and swift to bless." I suppose with posiitve reinforcement there can be problems when what one person thinks is sincere praise is what another person considers patronising, but I can't think of anything else.

And I'd going to add my voice to the chorus expressing appreciation of all the moderators here for making sure ML is, and remains, a great place to hang out.

#287 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:39 PM:

praisegod barebones @274:
One thing I've noticed in this thread - perhaps less in others on the same topic- is that most of the emphasis seems to have been on discussing different forms of negative reinforcement.

This is a very good point.

The main thing that I think we do on the positive side is to point out particularly good comments, places where people are on a roll, and general neatness. I still treasure specific examples where this has really mattered to me (this thread is going on that list, too).

(And kid bitzer, this is the online expression of great delight. I was there. I heard the snort.)

And by "we" who do this, I don't just mean the mods. This community, and most communities, run on praise as well as common beliefs and shared purpose. I can no more supply the former than I can the latter; they come from the interactions among us all.

#288 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:40 PM:

Serge @285:

Oh, no no no! Dawno's penance is to post more often.

#289 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Bruce Baugh, David Dyer-Bennet: Good! I'm glad it was useful. Long posts always make me worry that I'm rambling on excessively.

abi @ 263: "I do think it's worth erring on the side of questioning myself (within the limits of my stress levels) rather than being overconfident."

That's certainly true. However, doubt is a bottomless well--you can drink it all your life and not reach its end. So I'm glad to hear you're keeping a healthy balance. =)

praisegod barebones @ 266: "if you feel my over-long comment at 261 is getting in the way of a more interesting conversation , please zap it."

Silly praisegod; your comment @ 261 is interesting conversation!

---

I'd also like to say that I think the single most enlightening explanation of why David Bilek got the reception he did was provided by Bruce Baugh @ 159: "the fact is that a community can't exist at all if it has to keep establishing A, and A again, and A again again, because some people really don't want A and refuse to accept its presence but also refuse to grant that A is part of this community." Disemvowelment has been an accepted part of ML for what, eight years now? Teresa's moderation style have been hashed out how many times? To enter a discussion on ML and take issue with disemvowelment is like showing up at someone's house party and disparaging (again) the redecoration they completed a decade ago. Disemvowelment in particular and TNH's moderation in general is part of our shared foundation, and making us defend those same things over and over really is a kind of trolling.

#290 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 05:54 PM:

You're right, abi.

Dawno... Beback! Delurk! Get cracking!

#291 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:03 PM:

Oh no!!! Avram, please tell Dawno her 8-month lurk should be backdated to 8 months ago!

#292 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:16 PM:

heresiarch, #289: Disemvowelment in particular and TNH's moderation in general is part of our shared foundation, and making us defend those same things over and over really is a kind of trolling.

Yes. And to this I will add: it DOESN'T BLOODY MATTER what MeFi does, or what BoingBoing does, or what Pharyngula does, or what Slacktivist does, or what AW does, or indeed what moderation style any other web-based community employs, when we are here at ML. The moderation style employed here works well for this community, and what isn't broken doesn't need fixing.

In a real-life social group, I suspect that Bilek would have self-selected himself outta here a long time ago, because he is in such fundamental disagreement with the rest of the group about one of its root principles. As I said way back up in #55, that process doesn't always work so smoothly in an online social environment.

#293 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:22 PM:

heresiarch @289 Disemvowelment in particular and TNH's moderation in general is part of our shared foundation, and making us defend those same things over and over really is a kind of trolling.

This.

#294 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:28 PM:

abi @ 288: Serge @285: Oh, no no no! Dawno's penance is to post more often.

Yes please, more with the Dawno, lots!

(Had no idea that's why you disappeared at AW, Dawno. My Gods. I imagine the scars were deep and required much healing balm.)

#295 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:35 PM:

Constance @198: :poke: :poke: <grin!>

#296 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:44 PM:

heresiarch @287 said: To enter a discussion on ML and take issue with disemvowelment is like showing up at someone's house party and disparaging (again) the redecoration they completed a decade ago.

I'd also say that one of the marks of a civilized person is to politely adapt to the preferences of one's host when one visits -- in *this* house one leaves one's shoes at the door, in *that* house one must be prepared to be sat on by cats, in *yet another* house one will be offered tea but not coffee. And the civilized host, like our hosts here, bends a certain amount for guests who drop by frequently -- *this* guest gets nervous around pet rodents so we hide them in the spare room (but we don't get rid of them), *that* guest can't drink red wine so we keep a supply of white on hand (but we still drink red ourselves). It's a dance. The thoughtful guest doesn't bring a tuba and a doberman and try to make everyone oompah to their tune and dance with their dog.

#297 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:47 PM:

OK, let me make this clear. I was proposing "hetero is icky" as a specific, satirical strategy for dealing with people who have attacked people for posting GLBT content, and who take the position that any discussion of homosexuality is just plain distasteful.

I don't think there's anything wrong with heterosexuality. I don't think people who attend straight weddings are celebrating heterosexuality in an offensive or distasteful way.

I've said most of that before. I thought it was clear what I was doing from the very beginning. I'm starting to get seriously irritated by people acting as if I were perfectly serious and espousing my actual beliefs.

Further comments on this topic will be ignored—unless I lose my godsdamned temper.

#298 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 06:47 PM:

praisegod barebones #274: One thing I've noticed in this thread - perhaps less in others on the same topic- is that most of the emphasis seems to have been on discussing different forms of negative reinforcement.

I'd say that's simply because the negative side is the part that Some People want, and think they can get away with, attacking. If they tried to rant about how the mods give too many compliments, they'd get laughed out of the room right off. But nobody likes being on the receiving end of a correction, so they figure that's a "hook" they can use to pry people apart, and disrupt the forum long term.

Also, the people who push these arguments are trolls -- specifically, "concern trolls". Someone here once defined concern trolling as the attempt to trick you out of a winning position. That's exactly why they're trying to do, when they come here with their UrDoinItRong schtick. They want to undermine the social structures that make our forum successful, because that's the only way they can control it.¹ Fortunately, such trolls are usually limited to "cargo cult" tactics, leading to such diversions as "troll bingo". (If they had a real understanding of the community, they'd be able to to win far greater social rewards by actually participating!)

¹ You can provide your own analogies to the neocon movement, inter alia.

#299 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:22 PM:

Xopher @297, I'm sorry that I contributed to upsetting you. I actually think that pointing out when people demonstrate they're heterosexual is a useful strategy to employ with regard to those who complain about "flaunting" sexuality, but that's neither here nor there -- I was focusing on a side issue.

#300 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:31 PM:

me #298 "...*what* they're trying to do...", <grumble>

#301 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:47 PM:

Janet Croft @ 296: The thoughtful guest doesn't bring a tuba and a doberman and try to make everyone oompah to their tune and dance with their dog.

Generally not, though now that it's come up, it sounds an awful lot like a party I'd like to attend.

#302 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:48 PM:

Xopher #278: It was fortunate that I wasn't drinking anything when I read that line.

#303 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 07:56 PM:

What heresiarch @255 said.

#304 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 08:04 PM:

abi @263: But I'm not sure I'm really capable of being much more hard-hearted, not sustainably.

Speaking from experience: That's a good thing.

#305 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 08:16 PM:

Avram @279: That's just your way of saying I should post more often, right?

Yes. (I forgot about you, too.)

#306 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 08:16 PM:

abi @288, Serge @290, Xopher @291, you are all too kind. I will try to overcome my Making Light shyness and post more.

Nicole, it was quite a stressful time but I chose to take a quiet little leave after the election and my son's safe return home and keep all my bridges there un-burnt...as tempting as it would have been to tell a few of the PC&E'rs what I really thought of them on my way out...thank goodness for Twitter, Face Book, Live Journal, ML so I can at least keep up with some of my favorite people (you included!).

I know this is off topic, but if you'll forgive - For anyone who is a 'good thoughts/prayers/mojo' sort, my son is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan sometime this summer. He's a sergeant now and will have a squad. He will put his life on the line for them. I was nervous before, I'm terrified now and he's got months left before he goes.

#307 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 08:16 PM:

James @#272: I didn't think it actually was biblical or primarily heterosexual, just that the numerical description doesn't necessarily preclude it being such.

I imagine the women in your friends' marriage are having more fun than Leah, Rachel, and Bilhah ever did...depending on one's interpretation, anyway.

#308 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 08:32 PM:

And Zilpah, Leah's maid.

#309 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 09:13 PM:

Abi @ 223: Listen to what the people outside your head are saying about what you're doing.

I don't think it's anyone's problem in this thread, but some people have trouble telling the difference.

#310 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2010, 11:49 PM:

Janet Croft @ 296 ...
I'd also say that one of the marks of a civilized person is to politely adapt to the preferences of one's host when one visits -- in *this* house one leaves one's shoes at the door, in *that* house one must be prepared to be sat on by cats, in *yet another* house one will be offered tea but not coffee. And the civilized host, like our hosts here, bends a certain amount for guests who drop by frequently -- *this* guest gets nervous around pet rodents so we hide them in the spare room (but we don't get rid of them), *that* guest can't drink red wine so we keep a supply of white on hand (but we still drink red ourselves). It's a dance. The thoughtful guest doesn't bring a tuba and a doberman and try to make everyone oompah to their tune and dance with their dog.

Dear Janet .. you have just utterly made my day (and I shall have to resist the temptation to go bouncing around the house exclaiming "OOMPAH-PAH, OOMPAH-PAH, WOOF!!!"[0]

[0] Nope, not punchy, not one bit I aren't!

#311 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 12:18 AM:

Dawno, consider the good thought train well and truly on the tracks and rolling your way.

#312 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 12:48 AM:

Janet Croft @ 296... The thoughtful guest doesn't bring a tuba and a doberman

We don't? Would one or the other be ok?

#313 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 01:25 AM:

The tuba and the doberman
were walking close at hand
They wished like anyone to be
Included in the band
If somebody invited us, they said, it would be grand.

#314 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 01:30 AM:

Dawno @305:

I'll say a word where words are said. And if you want someplace to talk about it, we're here.

#315 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 01:33 AM:

And Janet Croft @296, that was laugh out loud and startle the husband territory.

#316 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 01:55 AM:

Dawno @ 305... My good thoughts to your son.

#317 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 02:18 AM:

Thank you,so much, Nicole, abi and Serge.

#318 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 03:04 AM:

Count me as another infrequent poster who enjoys sticking around in large part because of the moderation policies. I've never felt that if I wanted to speak up to disagree or say something potentially uncomfortable (which I have) I'd have to get into a verbal fistfight to be heard at all.

This is one of the most civil places I've found online and I've learned a lot because of it. Thank you Teresa, Patrick, Avram, Jim, and Abi, and thank you regulars and regular lurkers, too.

#319 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 03:46 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 137: I was thinking about this list late last night and noting that you do include the positive reinforcement aspects: and talk about those before the negative. And (point 12) include forgiveness if someone who has required the stick decides to behave.

That you've built a culture (ML) in which this works*, in which not only you and the other moderators do this [positive reinforcement] but also regular posters, that you have indeed built up a community full of the "Things to cherish" you list at point 7, and which allows difficult topics to be discussed, speaks volumes for your moderation skills.

* Which makes how many threads worth of evidence that your style of moderation works?

#320 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 07:13 AM:

Abi, #287: "(And kid bitzer, this is the online expression of great delight. I was there. I heard the snort.)"

I wonder if kid bitzer has noticed the popup that now happens when you roll your mouse over the Making Light masthead on the front page? Not the line of Anglo-Saxon that pops up off the Mike Ford quote, but the actual words "Making Light".

#321 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 07:40 AM:

See now, I just got some examples of the kind of positive reinforcement ML does so well -- guffaws, IMMDs, and spontaneous verse -- and it made me all glowy and ready to face giving a three-hour workshop on copyright and interlibrary loan. That's what it's all about! (but I will have to be careful not to think about the lonely tuba and doberman wishing for a party invite during the particularly dry stretches and burst out into giggles.)

#322 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 07:55 AM:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
The tuba
That was in
The icebox

And which
You were probably
Saving
For your doberman

Forgive me
I was hungry
So I ate it
Because for that is what I am doing.

#323 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 08:00 AM:

ajay @322:

(dies)

#324 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 08:08 AM:

Is it rude
To bring a poodle
That blows a bugle
With an attitude?

#325 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 08:16 AM:

#320--

wow! i had not noticed (i never even think to look for roll-over text).

well--i am delighted to have helped "john clarke" achieve the immortality he deserves.

and i will say that the positive feedback here--both from moderators and other posters--is very heart-warming, and only too encouraging.

some of us superannuated class-clowns still are willing to do anything for attention. and i have that personality-flaw in common with the most disruptive troll--we both want to be noticed.

part of the trick of teaching is to trying to induce a cycle where attention-seekers get what they seek, as a reward for doing what you want (enriching class-participation) instead of getting what they seek for doing what you don't want. that's how you turn the class clown into a contributing voice.

moderating is harder in that the clowns are older and fixed in their ways--wayward children can sometimes be redeemed, wayward adults seldom.

but i suspect some of the same dynamic applies. you can say "i saw you throw that spitball!", and sometimes you have to. but you're probably wiser to wait for the smart-alacrity, and say "that actually raises a good point; let's think about that for a second."

#326 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 08:16 AM:

Dawno, good thoughts for you and for your son (an it be his own will).

ajay: I join abi in death.

#327 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 08:38 AM:

I've been thinking a bit more about the newspaper comments problem, which I'm suspecting involves bigger challenges than one finds in most online forums (including this one).

A lot of successful online forums thrive by having a particular focus that sets implicit ground rules for the discussion, helps keep it from going off-track, and makes people who are attracted to that focus invested in preserving it.

The focus can be topical or cultural. Here, I think a lot of the focus is cultural: the hosts and the major participants put a high value on creativity, humor, and the inclusive sensibilities of fandom. That's, for instance, a lot of what's helping make the "hymns" discussion mentioned upthread work: yes, it's a thread about religion, but one that focuses on creativity and personal experiences rather than on preaching . There's been at least one explicit intervention to send it back in that direction when one subthread started sounding too preachy.

The focus of ML both keeps it on track and also helps its audience self-select. Lots of participants really like the particular cultural focus here. I'm sure lots of other people also visit briefly and then leave, not because of any problem with the tone or moderation style, but because the particular focus of this group isn't as interesting to them as something else would be. And that's fine.

I think John Scalzi's place is a bit more diverse in terms of cultural sensibilities, because of the mix of audiences he writes for. But I also notice there that he keeps a tighter topical rein on threads. He's quicker, I think, than the moderators here are to step in and say "we're not talking about that here" when a thread starts to drift in a potentially contentious direction that wasn't the point of whatever he wrote at the top of the thread. (And after that warning, further divergence is backed up with publicly noted deletion.) And that seems to work for him.

Even Boing Boing, which posed some particularly tough moderation challenges our hosts have discussed above, at least has some topical focus-- you can get a general idea pretty quickly about that kinds of stories and viewpoints that tend to be featured on the site, and self-select based on whether you find that mix interesting. And I suspect that helps maintain some coherence and investment in the community (though you clearly also need some strong moderatorial oversight as well).

Most American daily newspapers, on the other hand, have marketed themselves as being all things to all people, especially as the number of dailies has shrunk. But I have yet to see a successful large online community run as "all things to all people". It can work at the hyperlocal level, where you don't have major problems of scale, and where participants have a clear sense that they're talking to their neighbors. But that's not what you get with a metropolitan daily.

So I think that if major newspapers want to have worthwhile, attractive commenting communities, they're not only going to have to moderate effectively, but they also will need to make some more focused choices about the kinds of conversations they will encourage, and the kinds of conversations that they will direct elsewhere.

#328 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 09:02 AM:

@322, 323, 326--

dear teecher, i think ajay is being very rude and show-offish by saying funnier things than me.

it's alright i think for people to notice someone when they are truley witty like myslef for instance but ajay
just wants attention which is very low behaviour and especially when he gets more than i do.

someone should tell him to stop saying things i wish i had and
before i was going to say them also which is rude. and childish.

he did that again with that poem that he wrote and i didn't like it and i could have written it
cleverer only he did. please ignore him he's a very naughty boy.

#329 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 09:02 AM:

ajay and Serge -- not fair to kill me when I have to be serious, serious I tell you, for the rest of the day! Beacuse for that is what I am doing!

#330 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 09:21 AM:

praisegod barebones @261 - "It's easy to judge the effect of moderating decisions by looking at their immediate effect on the conversation -its the most obvious thing to judge by. But it's perhaps misleading. They have other less obviously and immediately visible effects as well."

Totally true. That's what makes this kind of conversation so interesting! Ultimately, I think which moderation technique one uses is far less important than on whom or what you use it. I do not believe than any given person is able to become a productive member of any online community, no matter how good the moderation - so choosing who to encourage and who to discourage is really key.

But that's something that can't really be taught, outside of recognizing trolls. It's also very much a situation where there's no right or wrong answer. So I spend a lot of time lurking and participating in different kinds of communities to try to grok that side of it, and discussing the nitty-gritty stuff in detail instead.

#331 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 09:38 AM:

Jeremy Preacher @ 330 ...
But that's something that can't really be taught, outside of recognizing trolls. It's also very much a situation where there's no right or wrong answer. So I spend a lot of time lurking and participating in different kinds of communities to try to grok that side of it, and discussing the nitty-gritty stuff in detail instead.

The first community I can reasonably say that I moderated (to the extent that anything about the group could be said to be moderate) eventually settled down around the "party in the living room"[0] metaphor -- with folk being asked to take things out onto the porch now and again, or sometimes stomping out the door for a round-or-three around the block.

As the responsible party, I ended up being the proverbial 900 pound gorilla -- but very seldom had to say "Guys -- take it outside" once the basic parameters had been established. Unsurprisingly, guns and politics (which are completely off topic) have been the most common things to come up, with florid personal disagreements coming in a close second. These days folk tend to be self-correcting, which is much better than a pile-on, or my having to grouch :)

[0] "Would you do this in a party in my/your living room?" worked very well with the group in question, but largely because there was an existing frame of reference for the type of parties in question.

#332 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 09:52 AM:

xeger @331, The living room metaphor seems to work really well for smaller, privately-run communities. My problem with it is that I can't use it - I run communities built around commercial products (video games, lately.) Our community members are our customers, so it's just not the same dynamic.

#333 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 10:27 AM:

Serge @ 324; kid bitzer @ 325: My eyes noticed "clown" and "cycle" just after poodle and bugle. Now I'm stuck with the image of a black poodle, dressed in a clown suit, riding a cycle while blowing a bugle.

Thanks a lot, guys!

#334 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 11:15 AM:

Thanks be to the person who invoked dogs and tubas -- now that blasted "oom-pah-pah" song from Oliver! has turned into an earworm...

"There's a little ditty they're singing in the city.."

#335 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Lori, that has one of the best key-changes in all of music in my opinion.

#336 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Xopher, I like the song -- unfortunately Radio Central Nervous System has latched onto the chorus alone and is looping it. I'm trying to decide if playing the entire song on the Ipod would banish this...

Agree on the key-change -- I like the one in The Music Man in "Good Night, My Someone" too.

#337 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 01:53 PM:

Late to the party as usual, but ... since my mutual meltdown with language hat lo these many years ago, I've gotten quite enamored of MeFi and honestly, there must be a lot that goes on there I never see, because I don't see them talking about BoingBoing ever. Let alone carping about ML's moderation style.

Also, I'd like to say that ML's self-referentiality factor is again quite nicely in play, what with a thread about moderation being itself a target of moderation. That sort of Hofstadterian thing seems to happen an awful lot around here.

#338 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 02:29 PM:

Michael Roberts @337, you must be reading the wrong threads :) It's not a common topic of discussion, and it't not a sitewide thing, but every time anyone mentions Teresa, Cory, BoingBoing, or Making Light, the same six or eight people trot out the same tired rants. (It's not top-down at all, near as I can tell - Jessamyn guest-blogged on BoingBoing last month, even.)

#339 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 02:31 PM:

Michael Roberts @#337: I don't see them talking about BoingBoing ever.

A quick google tells me they do, enough that a whole thread has been established recently for that purpose.

#340 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 02:37 PM:

Since they'd been inadvertently left out of the previous Hats for Moderators, here are hats for Avram, Jim and Patrick, though the choice is theirs, of course.

They are here.

Love, C.

#341 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 02:55 PM:

abi @ 287: "The main thing that I think we do on the positive side is to point out particularly good comments, places where people are on a roll, and general neatness. I still treasure specific examples where this has really mattered to me (this thread is going on that list, too)."

Oh yes. I have my own list. I would say that that's pretty much why I stuck around here. (Lending credence to kid bitzer's observation @ 325 that "part of the trick of teaching is to trying to induce a cycle where attention-seekers get what they seek, as a reward for doing what you want (enriching class-participation) instead of getting what they seek for doing what you don't want." I can haz paws-itive rein-furz-ement?)

Xopher @ 297: "OK, let me make this clear. I was proposing "hetero is icky" as a specific, satirical strategy for dealing with people who have attacked people for posting GLBT content, and who take the position that any discussion of homosexuality is just plain distasteful."

I was with you, FWIW.

#342 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 03:11 PM:

Constance @ 340: Ooo! I like the hats! And I'm not even a hat-wearer, usually (except to keep the sun out my eyes when running, and a riding hat etc.)

#343 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 03:48 PM:

From memory: I think Temple Grandin said that positive reinforcement is generally the better strategy, but negative is the only thing she knows of for controlling hunting behavior.

If so, could trolling be considered as a sort of hunting behavior?


#344 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 04:18 PM:

#342 ::: dcb

I didn't use to be either. But living and / or spending so much time in places where the sun is serious business, I came to value a good hat or cap, particularly the real Panama.

Love, C.

#345 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Constance #340: Thank you! Although I do already have a perfectly good hat.

#346 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 04:48 PM:

I should note (this wasn't clear) I'm not trying to say MeFi doesn't have BoingBoing-obsessives, just that it's not so endemic that I see it, even though I spend a lot of time there.

Although yeah, come to think of it, I have seen anti-Cory Doctorow remarks.

#347 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 05:06 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 343: You can control hunting behaviour with positive reinforcement, if you're there, but it requires a round-about method. First you use positive reinforcement to train a behaviour which is incompatible with hunting behaviour, such as "sit", or "down" (lie down). If you train this well enough, then it's possible to derail the hunting behaviour (or other unwanted behaviour) as it starts by giving the "sit" or "down" signal. Done properly, this results in the chasing dog coming to a sudden stop as it responds to the signal.

Come to think of it, that's sort of what Teresa was doing by encouraging people to use verse, in order to derail imminent meltdown at Boing Boing (as described in her post @107).

But for persistent trolls, I don't think that would work (they're not going to hand around long enough for you to do the initial training)

Constance @ 344: By "not a hat wearer" I didn't mean practical hats. That's different. But my mother is a hat person; she wouldn't dream of going to synagogue, or to a wedding, without wearing a hat. She has lots of "dressy" hats. I have none (and on the couple of occasions I've been to an Orthodox synagogue since I got married, I've had to borrow one).

#348 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 06:13 PM:

#347 ::: dcb:

Back on usenet, I sometimes improved the behavior of people who were insulting and obnoxious but not trolls by stubbornly only replying to the content in their posts.

However, they were just people with some bad habits-- they didn't have disruption as a primary motivation.

#349 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 07:15 PM:

Xopher: I join you and abi in the ajay-induced death, abetted by choking on roast squash I was unwise enough to put in my mouth while reading.

Can we be zombies together?

#350 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 07:31 PM:

Key changes: I am very fond of the key change in Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer." I do not pretend to have sophisticated taste, mind you.

#351 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 07:56 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little #349: Can we be zombies together?

Lurch For The Cure!

(Warning: That's about half way through the storyline... There's fan-art a couple weeks ahead in the archive.)

#352 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 08:00 PM:

I think I'll go write a CivilWar+zombie epic.
Already got the title:

"Braintree County"
#353 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 08:11 PM:

Nicole, that key change is one of the great pleasures of performing "Livin' On A Prayer" in Rock Band. Along with everyone knowing where to come in for the backup parts, even though that edition of Rock Band doesn't support it, unlike Beatles Rock Band.

I just read today that Green Day Rock Band is going to support two vocal lines, and I'm thrilled!

#354 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 09:18 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little, #350: Curse you, you just made me buy Slippery When Wet from iTunes.

#355 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 09:22 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, #345, I have one like that in straw -- keeps the sun out of my eyes.

#356 ::: broundy ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2010, 11:48 PM:

Dave Harmon @350 (Warning: That's about half way through the storyline... There's fan-art a couple weeks ahead in the archive.)

And there's also even fan-art from me a few more weeks ahead (not a Lurch for the Cure piece, though - it's Tip in a Project Runway dress).

#357 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 12:17 AM:

I'm still chuckling over ajay's bit upthread.

#358 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 10:35 AM:

PNH @354 - Yes! I win!

Rikibeth @353 - OMG. I was, in fact, thinking of Rock Band when I made that comment. Except "And that's why I don't mind everyone else making me do the vocals on it in Rock Band, that and the way I can show off at the end by sliding up a 5th after the last scored note ends" seemed sorta wordy, so I erased it and hit submit. Yay Rock Band! (475385316412 on the Wii for RB, in case anyone is collecting Friend Codes. Hee.)

Non-Beatles RB songs are going to start doing extra vocal lines? And Green Day will pioneer this--John's gonna love that! He's such a fan. But will it work with Wii RB 2? Seems like there'd have to be a change to the Band "Sign-Up" screen such that a fifth slot opened up.

Speaking of key changes in Rock Band: "Bad Reputation" on the guitar is a pleasure. They actually simulate moving the bar chords up a fret.

#359 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 11:39 AM:

Nicole, "Bad Reputation" is one of the few Rock Band guitar parts where I actually break out the Stratocaster Swagger!

We've only got it for PS2 right now, and haven't been able to afford duplicating it for Wii yet. I may poke you for that friend code when we do!

#360 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 11:51 AM:

Nicole @ 358 -- Argle. Brain glitch. In the last few days, I've encountered several references to NPH's performance at the Oscars. Now I'm imagining PNH as Dr. Horrible.

#361 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 11:59 AM:

Joel Polowin @360:

It's a good thing I died way up there at comment 323, because otherwise my brain would have melted just then.

#362 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 03:21 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 348: I've never tried to be a moderator and don't want to be, but from observation, I agree; if you've got someone who is angry/being obnoxious for some reason but doesn't have thread-disruption as their primary purpose, it may be possible to turn them around. However, if disruption is their sole purpose...

#363 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 08:48 PM:

Joel, that could work. If someone would perhaps take delivery of an appropriate pair of goggles...?

#364 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2010, 10:54 PM:

In a real-life social group, I suspect that Bilek would have self-selected himself outta here a long time ago, because he is in such fundamental disagreement with the rest of the group about one of its root principles. As I said way back up in #55, that process doesn't always work so smoothly in an online social environment.

First, I do have a given name. I realize there are a bunch of "Davids", though, so no biggie. But to your point; I already have mostly self-selected myself out of Making Light and into various other online communities. You'll notice my posting history gets sparser and sparser. And that understates it as my e-mail address has changed a couple time (and I assume that's what it sorts by?). Which is a little odd because quite a sizable number of the commenters here were regularly found on RASFF and RASFW during a time period when I was a regular there as well, and there never seemed to be much of a problem. So, obviously, there's some factor besides just the personalities involved. I think someone upthread likely nailed it with the "living room" analogy. Usenet wasn't like that. The places I spend most of my conversational online time these days are not like that. It appears that isn't an accident. So, yeah.

In any case, I didn't disappear in some sort of hit-and-run; it just feels like abi and I are talking in circles at this point even though the tone has, thankfully, cooled down some. So keeping at it might not do much except serve to reinforce (what I see as) mistaken impressions, and there's not much to be gained in that.

But a couple quick answers to tangential things which don't strike me as being fraught with conversational peril:

dcb #228, Xopher #232, DD-B #237 re: whether removing only vowels changes the text in any meaningful way.

#261 addressed this pretty well at the end of the comment. Basically, yeah, something can leave something (mostly) decipherable while still changing it in some way. praisegod barebones made the case for one way this is true; I think there are one or two other ways but it's probably best just to point to his comment and nod.

also dcb #228: Re. your link to Wikipedia

I think DDB mentioned this already, but one of the references at the bottom is to a case study in online communication. However, the link appears to be currently borked so, um, yeah. Not sure it particularly matters at this point in any case but, yeah, the link did have a relevant point.

#365 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 02:41 AM:

David Bilek @364:

So, in the spirit of tidying up loose ends, are you going to clear up the allegation in the Metafilter thread that we deleted your comments? It would be the graceful and honest thing to do.

I'd note for the record that you are welcome to come back and post on Making Light. I think you'll find that any comments you are tempted to make on the subject of moderation and Metafilter will be given fairly short shrift; it's clear that we have our views, you have yours, and we're not going to agree.

But if anyone takes this disagreement with you as cause for wider incivility, I for one will be most displeased with them.

#366 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 05:36 PM:

That's an argument -- and I think a good one -- that disemvoweling part but not all of a post is a bad idea. It doesn't address disemvoweling when applied impartially to the whole thing.

(I'm with DDB there: doing that is not changing the person's words, it's just making them harder to read.)

#367 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 05:56 PM:

David, I disagree. When only part of a post is offensive, it's important to make it absolutely clear to the poster which part was. Moreover, the rest of the post might be useful to the conversation.

#368 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 06:47 PM:

Xopher, I agree. And, hopefully, it also educates other posters regarding what is and is not offensive.

Also, I've been thinking that if disemvowelling is reducing emphasis (sort of the opposite of putting something in BOLD CAPS, then, well, that's generally the idea isn't it? - reduce emphasis, take out the heat, diminish the chance of rapid replies and escalation? Particularly if inciting heated replies is the intent (and sadly we know that is sometimes the intent).

#369 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 08:02 PM:

I admit to wondering if the censorship cries would be muted if instead of dsmvwlng the offending lines were changed to PsYcHo ChIcKeN, wHiCh MiGhT bE aN eVeN mOrE eFfEcTiVe WaY tO aLlOw ThE oFfEnSiVe MaTeRiAl To Be ByPaSsEd By ThOsE wHo DoNt WaNt To ReAd It...

#370 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 09:58 PM:

David Goldfarb @ 366: "That's an argument -- and I think a good one -- that disemvoweling part but not all of a post is a bad idea."

I can see a way that it could be misused, but I can also see ways in which it could be put to legitimate use. I'm not sure our terminology is fine enough to parse that distinction.

#371 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2010, 10:22 PM:

heresiarch, how about abusus non tollit usum?

#372 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:20 AM:

abi #365: So, in the spirit of tidying up loose ends, are you going to clear up the allegation in the Metafilter thread that we deleted your comments? It would be the graceful and honest thing to do.

Yeah, probably, once I chill a little more because you are correct it would be the honest thing to do. Obviously the wonky server ate them temporarily rather than any kind of deletion (though I do wish more emphasis were placed on the difference between errors and falsehoods, but that's a general thing not specific to this). I'll admit I found it difficult to bring myself to do it earlier because no-one even acknowledged any of the provably false factual claims made about various things relating to my past comments or whatever, nor has anyone asked for those claims to be retracted, which seemed like a bit of a double standard. Would a perfect person care about that under the circumstances? Probably not. Given that I'm not a perfect person, I found I did care about it, perhaps more than deserved; it seems a dumber place to make a stand when clearheaded. As things often do.

David Goldfarb #366: That's an argument -- and I think a good one -- that disemvoweling part but not all of a post is a bad idea. It doesn't address disemvoweling when applied impartially to the whole thing.

True, that argument pertains mostly to selective application. Other arguments apply to disemvoweling in general but obviously I'm not exactly keen on jumping immediately back into a conversation that just degenerated faster than you can say "oops", so we'll have to disagree. Talking instead about partial-vs-complete disevowelment seemed a decent way to answer a few people who asked me questions but without risking further offense. Since no-one is likely to start following me around everywhere I go disemvoweling me, nor am I likely to suddenly be granted the power to universally moderate everyone else's words, that we'll apparently continue to disagree about the general case doesn't seem like a giant tragedy in the big scheme of things.

#373 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 04:34 AM:

A general principle of mine, which I hinted at a little in comment 185, is that disemvowelment is nothing more than a tool.

As such, it can be used to inflict horrendous damage on content and on the people who care about that content. Of course it can. So can deletion, mockery, restatement, LOLcats and poetry.

But it can also minimize the damage that a single person can do to a living conversation, heal the hurt and insulted, preserve the flow, cool tempers, slow fires, keep the peace.

It all depends how it's used. And that's not a simple rule-based judgment, partial-disemvowlement bad, complete good or anything. The same class of action means different things, and makes different impacts, in different contexts.

#374 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 07:46 AM:

At the risk of playing an unwanted tuba solo (accompanied by the gentle barking of Dobermen), and of dragging David Bilek back into a line of conversation that he's indicated - with some reason - he'd like to let go, there's something that's been rattling around my head since I posted 274 on Wednesday that

'Moderation is partly about teaching'

It struck me almost as soon as I'd posted it that that was - potentially - a contentious and controversial thing to say. (And then I thought, that that was no reason not to post it, because if people disagreed they could and would say so)

Thinking about that some more it struck me that I could think of two very different models for comment moderation. I've ended up thinking of them 'moderation as education' and 'moderatiuon as refereeing' (in the sporting rather than the academic sense.)The idea is that the (implicit - perhaps not articulated) aim of moderation as refereeing is mostly to stop fights breaking out, or at least getting out of control whereas the aim of moderation as education is to improve (or at least preserve)the quality of the conversation in a given space.


I think that both abi and teresa both act with a model of moderation as education (fairly explicitly in both cases). (I'm less sure abolut the other mods here, since they talk about it less). That's something I feel very comfortable with - at least here - for a number of reasons. But I can imagine contexts where I wouldn't feel so comfortable with that.

One reason why I think this is worth mentioning is that it has a bearing on something that's been discussed a lot in this conext at ML - namely the moderation of newspaper comment threads. I suspect that a lot of traditional media types would resist a model of moderation as education becuase it would breach what they see as an important principle of separation between news and comment.)

I'd also say that I offer this as diagnostic, rather than justificatory. I don't hold much .f a brief for moderation as refereeing. But I think it's something one could coherently favour. (I don't think anyone has disputed this, I should say.)


#375 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 08:09 AM:

Praisegod, that seems like a genuinely useful insight and distinction to me. Both sides of the distinction are worthwhile: education and refereeing both matter, and a healthy community needs both, and in practice they'll often mix together, but it's worth thinking about each as its own thing, too. I like that kind of thing.

#376 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 08:56 AM:

Didn't someone refer to "curating conversations" a while back? ISTM that 'moderation as education' fits well under that model.

I want to raise something else, too. I know I don't have the ear that some others here have (just as I don't have a very subtle musical ear, compared to people who can actually tune instruments and stuff). But David Bilek doesn't seem like a bad person to me. I don't get that troll vibe.

I don't agree with much, if anything, that he's said on this topic. But I just don't feel like he's a complete discardable troll.

#377 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 09:10 AM:

Xopher @376:
But David Bilek doesn't seem like a bad person to me. I don't get that troll vibe.[...] I don't agree with much, if anything, that he's said on this topic. But I just don't feel like he's a complete discardable troll.

Absolutely. Thus did I invite him to comment on Making Light in future, though not, perhaps, on this topic.

Even leaving aside the fact that I reject the notion that a given vexatious person is a troll, as opposed to someone who is trolling for whatever reason, I would not say that David has been bad-intentioned. I have been vexed at his style of argument, but not thought him actively malicious. Overall, it's been an unfortunate way of discussing a complex topic, in many ways that it's not really worth going into all over again.

It's also, if I may gently say this, not a very fruitful thing to do to discuss the intents and impacts of other people in the conversation (or, indeed, out of the conversation, barring public figures). It often occurs in the heat of debate or moderation, but in the calm aftermath of the matter, it's generally best to speak to the people in question rather than about them.

#378 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 09:47 AM:

praisegod barebones @ 374... playing an unwanted tuba solo (accompanied by the gentle barking of Dobermen)

I'll go fetch the 76 trombones.

#379 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 10:08 AM:

well, you remember edith piaf's vision of romantic suavity, right?

quand il me prend dans ses bras,
il me parle en tuba,
je vois la vie en rose!

and she oughta know, being french and everything.

#380 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 10:29 AM:

@kid bitzer #379

Puns of that caliber, even in French, are difficult to forgive.

#381 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 10:58 AM:

bless me, father, for i have punned.

#382 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 11:38 AM:

And when Edith finds that her boyfriend is fooling around with someone else, she exclaimed:

"Il me trompe!"

#383 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:02 PM:

right; though if it's no big thing, then she'd call it a mere "trompette".

just like if you flout the rules, but with a really, really tiny flout, then it's called a "piccodillo".

#384 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 12:17 PM:

pico-dillo, no?

#385 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 01:10 PM:

abi 377: It's also, if I may gently say this, not a very fruitful thing to do to discuss the intents and impacts of other people in the conversation (or, indeed, out of the conversation, barring public figures). It often occurs in the heat of debate or moderation, but in the calm aftermath of the matter, it's generally best to speak to the people in question rather than about them.

Yes, you are wise.

David Bilek: I hope all the flak you've taken over this particular issue will not drive you away from Making Light entirely. While I don't agree with you about ML-style moderation, I don't think that makes you a bad person, and I hope you continue to comment here.

#386 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 01:28 PM:

abi:

I think selective disemvowelment is a tool which is prone to accidental misuse, as the instruction about what sorts of conversations are worthwhile also alters the record of what was said, in ways that do affect the
way the post is read. (Add in a dollop of misunderstanding, and things can go badly wrong.). In a community like ml, where we rely on view all by and proudly own our words, that doesn't seem like a desirable effect.

I understand this is shades of gray. Selective deletion of
posts in a thread can have an even bigger distorting effect, but it's hard to imagine useful moderatin without deleting spam and obvious trollery.

#387 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 02:31 PM:

albatross @386:
With apologies to Xopher for continuing to bring it up, this is a selective disemvowelment that I stand by.

I didn't want to disemvowel the entire comment. I simply wanted to trim off a branch that ventured somewhere where it shouldn't.

#388 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 02:44 PM:

Xopher @ 371: "heresiarch, how about abusus non tollit usum?"

*googles* What a great phrase! I ask you, how is it that people two thousand years gone can still anticipate my thoughts?

Still, while it's a great summary of the problem it doesn't explain how to tell the difference between abuse and legitimate use, which is what I think we need. How can you tell when disemvoweling is distorting the text and when it is being applied in a fair way?

David Bilek @ 372: "(though I do wish more emphasis were placed on the difference between errors and falsehoods, but that's a general thing not specific to this)"

I think you drifted from error into falsehood when you assumed that the only possible explanation for your mysteriously vanished comments was moderator malfeasance and then held that up as a symbol for the general untrustworthiness of ML. It's a bit too far on too narrow a limb to be simple error.

praisegod barebones @ 374: "Thinking about that some more it struck me that I could think of two very different models for comment moderation. I've ended up thinking of them 'moderation as education' and 'moderatiuon as refereeing' (in the sporting rather than the academic sense.)"

Seconding Bruce Baugh--that is a very useful distinction. The former assumes a cooperative model, and the second an adversarial. The potential for miscommunication abounds.

#389 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 02:54 PM:

@384--

if your little flute is just a little flat, then it's just a pico-low. otherwise, it's a piccolo.

of course, if it's orders of magnitude flatter than that, then it's just a giga-low.

if i think about this stuff with any frequency, my head hertz.

#390 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 03:49 PM:

heresiarch @388

Unlike simple deletion of parts of posts, which is the practice on a forum that I help moderate, disemvowelling does leave a record of exactly what was done, and to what. So anyone and everyone is able to look at the text after the fact and say "yes, that's fair" or "umm, that's kind of a grey area" or "I strongly disagree with that!"

If the text was simply gone, the reader would simply have to trust the moderator without question and without evidence.

And that's how you tell the difference between abuse and legitimate use: by the reaction of the reader base and the other moderators to the disemvowelling.

Note that on the Compuserve Forum (yes, Compuserve still exists) where I moderate, the moderators had to actively lobby management to make sure that all edits to all posts were noted. Management had originally set it up so that if moderators edited messages, it was completely silent and invisible. We wanted to be held responsible for our edits. Disemvowellment holds moderators even more responsible for edits, in that a sufficiently motivated reader can discover what was edited out, and make up his or her own mind about the choice to do so.

Sorry if I'm a bit incoherent; I've got a lovely Spring headache. Darned damp.

#391 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Cally @ #390, the accounting term for what you're describing: audit trail.

#392 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2010, 06:07 PM:

kid bitzer @ 389: "if i think about this stuff with any frequency, my head hertz."

(Waves, functionally, in agreement.)

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