How to handle Code of Conduct violations?

Starting a new thread (prior one has been removed because of personal attacks).

Right now, the moderators generally take a light hand with CoC-related moderation. When we see Code of Conduct violations, we usually ask people to stop (via PM), and then stepping into the thread if the problem involves more than one person. We avoid deleting posts except in the most extreme situations. (This is not a formal policy; we do handle situations on a case by case basis. But it is the most common approach.)

The question: Is this an appropriate way to handle Code of Conduct violations? And if not, what do you (as a forum regular) think should we be doing instead?

Please keep your examples hypothetical. I will be deleting all posts that discuss the past behavior of specific people.

Well, is there any way to tag a thread yellow or orange or red or whatever to say, ok, if you’re not peacemaking, you may wish to avoid it? It would be nice to differentiate between good lively conversation and trickier stuff where you can’t delete a post. So if a thread has one CoC violation it might turn yellow, etc. Don’t know if that’s practical or doable with the current forum technology.

Fine, here are some concrete solutions I believe are necessary:

Posts need to be treated with a notion of context and kindness and not just robotically removed based on a surface-level reading of what is a “personal attack.” Yes, this requires taking a stand on some basic issues, such as “women are people” and “misgendering trans folks is wrong.” It requires treating “fuck off” differently depending on whether it’s a legitimate expression of anger by someone who’s been attacked (either personally or in terms of their identity).

“Personal attacks” is a poor standard to apply; a lot of hateful forum posting in general is “impersonal.” Harmful speech (misogynistic, body-shaming, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etcetera) has to be specifically called out in a code of conduct and removed, and the perpetrators banned. Again, this requires you to take a stand on what constitutes harmful speech.

People who are consistently disruptive and assaultive have to be handled even if they haven’t crossed some explicit discursive line. If someone derails every thread they’re involved in to talk about their pet issue, that is a problem, and has to be handled in some way.

People who use a forum as the public face of a much nastier online persona have to be handled somehow. It doesn’t make sense to have someone in here making supposedly reasoned posts while elsewhere they’re attacking and belittling the people they’re interacting with.

Harmful users everywhere have shown total ability and willingness to skirt rigid rules in order to hurt people or further hateful viewpoints. Simply deleting posts when the words “fuck you” crop up won’t cut it, I’m afraid.

A much longer explanation of this reasoning.

I think deleting inflammatory comments would be appropriate. It’s often the very fact that these comments remain public that causes arguments to develop. The Code of Conduct covers everything pretty well right now, in my opinion, and I would trust the moderators to enforce it more frequently.

I also agree with this part: “When you see bad behavior, don’t reply. It encourages the bad behavior by acknowledging it, consumes your energy, and wastes everyone’s time.”

Banning someone should be a last resort after multiple warnings. People ought to have the chance to understand what’s happening and change their behavior if what they’re doing is inappropriate.

It’s important that contentious issues aren’t taken off the table too. I feel like interactive fiction is at its best when it’s exploring complex subjects, like howling dogs and The Baron, and discussing those will naturally lead to debates and conflicting viewpoints. I’d consider that healthy, and it’s different than people having personal arguments. But again, I’d trust the moderators to use their judgment.

It might be helpful to tag the posts you’re PMing people about (“user was warned for this post” or something), so people reading the thread won’t think violations are being ignored.

IMO, it would undermine the purpose of a Code of Conduct to selectively enforce it such that some people are held to higher or lower standards of civility. At that point, it’s no longer conduct being regulated; it’s identity and conformity. If it turns out a significant share of posters are unable to express themselves on certain subjects without resorting to insults and abuse, perhaps it’s best to avoid (or even ban) those subjects.

Sequitur brings up several different issues; I’d like to address just one of them here.

I think, if I’m interpreting Sequitur correctly, that he would agree with me that directly telling a person to “fuck off” is technically “rude,” but Sequitur argues that in some cases rudeness is justified.

One topic that we’ve really struggled with on the CoG forum is the expression of what we’ve called “righteous anger.” How, if at all, can someone express a justifiable grievance in a forum that requires “civil” behavior? Are we acting as “tone police” when we require civil language?

I started a separate thread about this on the Discourse Meta site, “Does civilized discourse entail tone policing?” which I think was a very interesting discussion, revolving around the CoC which Choice of Games and this forum both use. … cing/50039

(I recommend that the moderators and Sequitur read it; it’s really quite good.)

In our case, we had a person belonging to a historically oppressed group expressing views like these about a group of people who has historically oppressed them (group “X”, where you could imagine it was referring to white people, men, or straight people):

  1. “In your last post, you did Y, which denigrates me. X people do that to me all the time”
  2. “I hate it when X people do Y to me”
  3. “X people are terrible because they do Y over and over again and show no sign of stopping”

We identified this as righteous anger, especially in case #1, where they were specifically calling out behavior that actually does denigrate them, and, in the same breath, tarring an entire group of people with that behavior.

Our CoC forbids “disrespecting any group of people” (including racism, sexism, transphobia, and other kids of bias), but I also have every reason to believe that the poster is absolutely right that X people denigrate them all the time. We would be picking sides (and we would be picking the wrong side) if we said, “you can’t say that X people are constantly oppressing you” when it’s absolutely true.

At CoG, we decided that we can allow for non-rude expressions of righteous anger but forbid expressions of hatred, e.g. “I hate X people because they oppress/oppressed me in the following ways: X, Y, and Z.” Hatred, we decided, is never righteous.

The gotcha is that “excessive” anger is indistinguishable from hatred, even if the anger is righteous. So there are limits on how anger can be expressed on our forum, even when it is righteous.

For example, we were clear that we wanted to uniformly forbid rude language targeted at individuals or identity groups, even when it was an expression of righteous anger.

But that doesn’t mean that we just delete any post that says “fuck you.” Usually we’ll edit rude posts to remove rude language if the rest of the post has a good point to make.

Neither is it acceptable to say “both sides have violated the CoC” when someone’s being attacked. As I said in the now-deleted “Take Take” thread, we are explicit that breaking the “don’t defend yourself or others” rule is inherently less bad than directly offending. We do take firm action against offenders, including temporary suspensions.

re: dfabulich

I mean, I should be clear - nobody is obligated to let a “fuck you” pass without comment even if it is on some level justifiable. The approach I’m really suggesting is more along the lines of taking someone aside and saying “hey, what this person said to you is bad and we’re handling it, we don’t blame you for reacting to something that we know hurts you, but next time we’d prefer it if you took it to us instead of attacking someone like that.” But that only works and is valid if the original harmful comment is handled, of course. It’s not so much that the rudeness is justified (I think justification is orthogonal to the issue, really) but rather that it’s really important not to punish someone for having an emotional reaction to something that is genuinely hurtful or harmful, even in cases where that reaction is not particularly productive.

I am wondering if there is punishment for if someone talks about any (potential) violations off-site, say in a blog post or something. Obviously, that sort of thing can get rude quickly, but…I’d like to be here, and I’d like to be on intfic as well. That might not be popular, but there you go. Will my posts on intfic or my blog of general disappointment or even “I like it better at (not or maybe just the neat feature X” at put me at risk of greater punishment for a CoC (not that I intend to,) or result in a loss of trust/ignoring if I report anything?

Maybe this is stupid talk and I’m more worried than I should be. But if we want to tamp down our bigger concerns on-forum, they need to come out somewhere, and my daily journal is only usually enough.

I’m in favor of the moderators deleting posts like we’ve seen. These kinds of posts kill discussion and make people leave this place. I’m also in favor of letting the mods adjust what they delete depending on context: what someone writes in a post talking about their own work can be treated differently than irrelevant comments to that work.

pretty sure if points like furkle’s and sequitur’s were taken more seriously around here, every woman i’ve personally spoken to with an interest in IF wouldn’t tell me to avoid this place like the plague

I think this is actually a really good point. I honestly believe there are forums that benefit from lesser or even zero moderation, but this one is designed to foster a particular niche art form, and right now many people participating in the threads would prefer to discourage public personal arguments. The Code of Conduct as it stands really does address most of these issues. It’s simply enforced more laxly than its own words suggest it could be.

Another thing is that this forum is pretty close-knit so the moderators aren’t sitting on high handing down judgments. They’re open to addressing people’s concerns and you can always send private messages if you think a thread’s heading sideways. Having that channel for communication is something I personally appreciate a lot.

I absolutely agree with this. I don’t want to feel like basic questions of empathy and understanding toward historically marginalized groups have to be traversed before I can talk about my thoughts on Texture. (And I have thoughts on Texture.) I don’t think increased moderator presence, deployed thoughtfully, will lead to feeling like judgments coming down from on high or a stifled discourse; I actually think it might foster more discussion.

I gotta say, I’m starting to see the value of this “don’t defend yourself” rule. It’s saved me so much typing already.

If you want to ensure that people talk about IF and not about [insert controversial off-topic subject here], I think a more appropriate and effective solution would be to simply ban discussion of those other topics.

Banning only one viewpoint still leaves the door open for those discussions, including being exposed to the forbidden viewpoint under the guise of critiquing it. As annoying as off-topic debates can be, they’re even more annoying when you know exactly how the thread will progress because there’s only one way it’s allowed to progress.

[edit: typo]

How in the world are you going to ban discussion of social issues when we’re here to discuss writing?

If one’s identity is strongly tied to denying racism, mistreating LBGQT people, or in refusing to examine the gendered beliefs about people that they’ve almost certainly inherited from Western society’s long history of sexism, then maybe that identity needs to be called into question.

None of this requires believing anything more basic than “all people deserve to be respected for who they say they are”, as best as I can tell.

I think the CoC has done a pretty good job via this line:

A small improvement might be to include a (non-comprehensive) list of -isms to watch for.

I didn’t say it’d be easy, but banning all discussion of those issues wouldn’t be significantly harder than only banning half the discussion.

“I wanna talk about IF and not about [off-topic controversy]” implies banning all of it: a thread in which everyone reassures each other that they’re on the right side of the issue is still about the controversy, not about IF.

Maybe so, but I don’t think that’s what this forum is here for. There are many, many other places on the internet where people can go to be chastised and/or chastise others for having the wrong beliefs on non-IF topics.

The point of this discussion is to find out if the community wants the moderation team to change the way we are enforcing the Code of Conduct.

If there is a general call to change the Code of Conduct, we can discuss that too. But I think we should start by discussing whether the current moderation policies, as described in the first post, are an acceptable way to enforce the CoC we currently have.

It’s obvious that emotions are running very high right now. To maintain civil discussion in this thread, we have removed 14 posts so far that are personal attacks, accusations, or out-of-context responses to attacks and accusations.

Please remember that, by using these forums, you have agreed to follow the Code of Conduct. If you are unwilling to follow the CoC, there are other places to discuss interactive fiction, and this is not the place for you.

  1. Most productive and enlightening conversations, even on complex and difficult topics (especially on complex and difficult topics) are not “debates” with two sides squaring off trying to prove who’s right.
  2. Most people who want to have productive and enlightening conversations about complex and difficult topics want to get into nuance and share complex viewpoints, not re-litigate the question of whether women are people or whether white supremacy is real.
  3. Racists and misogynists are not a “side” to a debate. They’re spoilers who drag the discourse back down to their own level, thus preventing anyone else from having a discussion. There are dozens of complex social issues that can come up in discussions of any work of fiction, but those discussions can’t happen if they are inevitably being shot right back to debating whether or not women should shut up about equal pay or whether or not hiring nothing but white people is a bad thing.

“Debate” over questions of basic decency is not furthering discussion, it’s wasting everyone’s time. And it is particularly unfair to marginalized people who are frequently asked to prove, again and again, that their experiences and identities are valid. “Banning controversial topics” is nonsensical; the question of whether or not women are people or racism exists should not be treated as “controversial,” and people taking the wrong side on that debate are not “one side”, they’re spoilers poisoning the discourse and the space for everyone else who might be having valuable conversations that aren’t about scoring points against the SJWs.

Banning those topics is if anything incredibly myopic and harmful because it effectively enshrines a white, male, affluent, first world, able-bodied, straight view of the world - because that is the implicit societal default. And therefore people who don’t fit that mold can’t talk about their experiences without invoking “controversy” or “bringing politics into it.” If we want valuable conversations to happen in this space, people have to be able to share experiences without them being immediately and inevitably denied or minimized.

RE: The current code of conduct: Actually enforcing it would be a good start but it is very inadequate in a lot of ways, and I don’t think a discussion of enforcement can be usefully separated from a discussion of policy.

If the thesis underlying a work of IF is the assertion of a social position, then how can we discuss it fruitfully without being free to reject the thesis that it presents? It sounds like you want to have “discussions” about IF works while legislating that we have to have ideologically correct reactions to these works. What’s the point? Either ban discussion about these topics fully (which, as you say, is impractical) or allow free discussion, despite that discussion potentially causing offense to people who can’t cope with having their worldview challenged.

Or maybe people want to discuss that work (and the underlying reality of whatever structural oppression it’s discussing) without it devolving into a pointless debate about whether racism is real.

Screw You, Bear Dad (to use a recent example) has some allegorical content that relates to the treatment of Black Americans by police and it’s really interesting to talk about, but fucked if I want to in an environment where someone might come in to deny that racism exists or complain about BLM protesters. “How can we discuss racism fruitfully without being free to assert that racism isn’t real” is a fundamentally absurd assertion. How can we fruitfully discuss racism if the conversation is going to be derailed by white supremacists and their sympathizers?

I hope it’s not too off topic to provide a quote from Martin Amis here. … ng-and-the

The thing is that these discussions do make me uncomfortable, and uncomfortable discussions help us as people. And I can avoid them if I want to by heading to the technical subforums. But I feel like the mirror is being forced on me if I’d like to look around.

This does not address any of the concrete policy of the CoC. But I hope people understand how it feels to have it thrust on you, and why moderation and the CoC and the steps some people want to take about tightening the CoC and enforcing more heavily seem drastic to me. I don’t want this sort of thing on myself or on anyone else with reasonably sane views, even if they might be prickly or unpopular. I think people who play the contrarian card in bad faith will get tripped up soon enough.