How to handle Code of Conduct violations?

To answer cvaneseltine’s original question: I think the “light hand” isn’t serving anybody well, and I would prefer to see a “firmer hand.” Specifically, in the deleted thread, I gave a concrete list of ideas short of banning that I’d like to see used much more often. Stuff like:

  • Keeping a count of the number of formal warnings a user has received
  • Temporary suspensions
  • Moving posts to another thread
  • Deleting posts

And, yes, the banhammer should fall more often, too, but normally after enumerated formal warnings.

[Note: the last post I saw before hitting submit on this was cvaneseltine’s most recent above. On preview, I agree with dfabulich.]

The issue–as many many people have said, in this thread and elsewhere–is that this forum is an unpleasant place for a lot of people. That the reasons that it is an unpleasant place appear to be the same as the reasons that largely-unmoderated places on the internet become unpleasant places; because women (and people of color and trans folk and etc.) who post can expect to get a disproportionate amount of crap piled on them. (I don’t think it should be necessary to say this, but maybe it is: there are plenty of men who’ve posted on here with at least as harsh a tone as Lucea did without getting the kind of attack she got. It’s not her tone.)

Shouldn’t the question be, What can we do to make this forum a better place? The current light moderation doesn’t seem to be cutting it. And I would guess that it’s not helpful that pretty much any discussion of racism or sexism, no matter how “civilly” or “respectfully” the topic is introduced, is guaranteed to get a lot of dismissive responses along the lines of “[obviously racist/sexist thing] isn’t [racist/sexist], why do you make such a big deal out of everything you ninny.” I’m not talking reasoned debate about the premises, either, but the sort of thing that makes it impossible to have a discussion–any discussion–about the issue. [Bringing up specifics would be a violation of the ground rules for this thread, but it has happened; PM me if you really want me to point you to an example.] Drawing a distinction between derailing and debate here would call for some judgment on the part of the mods, but we need to be able to count on the mods to exercise judgment.

Maybe that goes to the question of whether the CoC should be changed rather than how it should be enforced. About enforcement: The current behind-the-scenes system does sometimes have the feel of Twitter reporting (as I’ve seen it described), where you send in a report, the mods make a decision, and if they disagree with you there’s basically no recourse. You’re not even supposed to discuss it in public. That seems bad. I think vaporware’s suggestion of publicly noting when someone has been reprimanded for a post is at minimum a good thing to do. And I do think that moderators need to be more proactive–I realize that I’m calling on people who aren’t me to do more work.

Overall I think more needs to be done to stop crap-piles before they start. Yes, this will strike some people as heavy-handed. But there is already an alternative forum for discussing interactive fiction without any of that sort of moderation. And if that forum isn’t a place you want to spend your time… well, why is that?

We started from a standpoint of wanting to support “righteous anger,” but we ended up with rules that can be evenly applied (as much as any social rule can be applied).

  1. We don’t allow rudeness (like telling another participant to “fuck off”), but normally we just edit the post and warn the user, unless the user refuses to learn, in which case we’ll start temporarily suspending the user (for increasingly long periods if they refuse to be polite).

  2. We forbid expressions of hatred, and as a result we forbid extreme/intense expressions of anger (which are indistinguishable from hatred), but allow other non-rude expressions of anger.

Our rules don’t ultimately call for identifying righteous/non-righteous anger, which we knew would be very difficult in many cases.

Godwin time, though if you’ve been on Twitter lately this is less straw-mannish than it used to be: What if someone reacted to a game about the Holocaust with “But here’s my reason for thinking that the Holocaust never happened”? Should we proceed to have a discussion about the evidence that the Holocaust happened? Would banning that person and cutting off that discussion be just a question of protecting people who can’t cope with having their worldview challenged?

If you’re answering “no,” then what about responding to a discussion of a game that deals with a woman facing sexist harassment by saying “Actually, I don’t think women face that kind of harassment”? If your answer is “yes” to this one, what’s the difference between those cases? Is there a line to be drawn short of literal Nazism? What if someone responds to LASH with the Bill O’Reilly line that the slaves that built the White House were well-fed?

I think that the moderators should be sensible about when someone is derailing a discussion about social justice issues, and that they should at the least be empowered to say “If you’re going to deny the basic premises of the discussion, start a new thread.” And that it’s probably better just not to have those discussions. If this forum isn’t a safe space for denying that sexism and racism are a big deal, well, there are forums that are.

Ignore them, call them an idiot, or link to supporting evidence depending on how much effort you’re willing to put into the discussion. Suppressing their speech or banning them gives them ammunition that there’s a conspiracy to suppress the truth. It’s better to let them have their say and then counter it by having your better-supported and more convincing say. There’s a saying encapsulating this point of view: “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” I do think that it would be reasonable to fork the discussion off into another thread if it’s derailing the current one.

Same answer.

However, I don’t see these sorts of things happening. I see people reinterpreting reasonable topics of discussion (e.g., should people pay for the crimes of their ancestors? do the ends justify the means?) as strawman positions such as “racism doesn’t exist” and “women aren’t people” and then pointing to them as evidence that racism and sexism are rampant and that the forum is “unsafe”. On the topic of “safety”, I’m deeply concerned about the trend of equating speech which makes one feel attacked with physical violence, because, once that premise is accepted, violence is justified as a response to disagreeable speech.

Likewise, others may also want to discuss that game, but not in an environment where someone might come in to assert that everyone who gave it a low rating is racist or complain about police being allowed to march in pride parades. And their preferences are no less legitimate than yours. Luckily, it’s easy enough to declare that stuff off-topic if it’s not relevant to the game.

If it is relevant to the game, well, it’s hard to see how you can have a fruitful discussion without it. There’s no point in discussing an allegorical work if the only acceptable responses are between “I agree, good point, A+” and “I couldn’t agree more, really made me think, A++++++”.

A thousand times this.

  1. Derailing discussions have a chilling effect; if people know that bringing up the reality of white supremacy or misogyny will bring the racists or misogynists out of the woodwork to “argue the premise”, it makes people decidedly not want to have those discussions. Once again: Free speech for whom? For productive discussions or for “arguing the premise” of whether or not women are people?

  2. I can’t believe this has to be said but: Banning people who express fascistic views from a web forum is not in any way shape or form on some kind of slippery slope towards killing people who express fascistic views.

Also, simplistic straw men about complicated issues like reparations (“should people pay for the crimes of their ancestors”) are precisely the kind of derailing that drives people off.

  1. It’s really demonstrative of a lack of imagination to think that the only “acceptable” positions to take on Screw You, Bear Dad are “10/10” and “9/10” because if you agree with the basic (obvious) premise that white supremacy and police violence exist, therefore that is the end to all discussion about the artistic merit of the piece and how it treats the issue.

I think there is considerable evidence against your point of view here, starting with the implication that Holocaust deniers would be responsive to evidence and that not banning them would make any difference to their world view. (OT, but the quote about sunlight also doesn’t mean what you’re taking it to mean; it was about making public facts that had not been previously made public, not about airing or refuting noxious views.)

And social media that have allowed Holocaust deniers and other forms of neo-Nazis to have their say freely have not notably found them to have been driven off or drowned out by the power of superior arguments.

Same answer.

I haven’t seen either of the things you discuss. I have seen people responding to examples of obvious racism, with lots of supporting evidence that it is indeed racist, with total dismissal and a refusal to engage, personally insulting the people who point out the racism. I’m also curious as to why you’re putting the world “unsafe” in quotes; the only previous use of the word “safe” in this thread was from me, taking about how I think the forum shouldn’t be a safe space for sexism and racism.

This seems like a giant pile of straw. Who has said or implied that violence is justified as a response to disagreeable speech on the forum?

But the example that we started talking about, Holocaust denial, literally is unsafe for me. Something around 40% of Jews alive at the time were killed, by people who would have killed me and my entire family if we had been alive and they could have done so; and the Holocaust deniers are saying that the people who actually did this were not as bad as generally thought. If someone denied the Holocaust to me in person, I would feel that there was a pretty decent chance that I was going to get attacked soon, and I would try to leave as soon as possible rather than engaging with this person’s arguments. It’s not like Holocaust denial isn’t usually accompanied by extreme anti-semitism. Yet, of course, I am not saying that I would be justified in responding to Holocaust denial with violence. What an odd thing to say.

(And, you know, you could say something similar about the speech that kicked this most recent discussion off, if it had been delivered in person. It’s not as though women don’t sometimes get physically attacked by the men who are angrily ranting at them. Again, that’s not to say that it would be justified to respond to this speech with violence, and I don’t see how anyone could see it that way.)

But anyway: If you think that even Holocaust denial (which is not only as offensive as possible but objectively factually wrong) is something that must be met with more speech rather than moderation, it’s pretty clear that you’ll only be comfortable discussing social issues on an unmoderated forum. Fortunately, there is an unmoderated forum where you can discuss social issues and IF. It’s not this one.

Well, dfabulich has a forum of his own, too, and I’ve found the trading of opposing views interesting. And I think there are a lot of practical issues: if someone wishes to post on 2 or more of the 3 forums, they should have a chance to feel comfortable doing so, and they have the chance to see what the differences are.

My preferences: I worry about things becoming too balkanized & I’d like there to be minimal friction or “he/she said on forum X” stuff. Some people will be some places, some will be others. But given that stuff on other forums has been brought into play, the mods/CoC writers need to make a choice on that. And I think it’s a realistic case for those wishing to post on other forums to at least have a general idea of how that affects any posts here.

The point of arguing with extremists isn’t to change their minds; it’s to convince other people who are observing the conversation.

I’m not quoting a specific person from this thread. I’m referring to the supposedly unsafe spaces against which safe spaces are contrasted. I put the word in quotes to reflect that I don’t believe in the definition of safety embodied by the use of the word in this context. Think of the quotes as a shorthand for “so-called” or “supposedly”.

I’d rather be exposed to offensive or factually wrong speech and have the option to filter or rebut it than to set up an arbiter of what’s good speech and what’s bad speech. Today’s arbiter might be sensible, but what about next year’s or next decade’s? It’s a power that shouldn’t be granted, as it will inevitably be abused.

These arguments are more powerful in the context of government action than private forum moderation, but consider that such policies normalize a censorship culture over a free speech culture and that increasingly more of our “public square” exists as privately-owned social media sites and forums. A person who has been banned from twitter and facebook can host their own site or go stand on the sidewalk with a sign, but their reach has been drastically reduced and, at least to a degree, they have been silenced.

what bystanders? who, exactly, needs convincing that the holocaust happened? More to the point, why should people (and, invariably, mostly marginalized people) be compelled to participate in some bullshit pageant where we try to prove to an imaginary audience that the bigots are wrong?

and again, ever louder this time: Free speech for whom? Because the constant derailing, harassment, insinuations, and denialism are in effect silencing people. People who, unlike the sealion brigade, have valuable things to say.

this is exactly what we want. there are people here who do not contribute things of value, do not seem like they will offer value, and also engage in routine trolling and abuse. we want them to be silent here. let them host their own site, stand on the sidewalk with a sign, whatever, but take this place away from them, for the good of all of us. this isn’t a “first they came for,” thing, and if one’s idea of a “first they came for” snowclone is “first they came for the trolls,” well, seems like that’s pretty indicative of a profoundly warped worldview.

let them say whatever they want on the sidewalk, or on intfic – that’s the entire point of intfic, to contain the bile of people who think being asked to respect people’s self-definition is somehow hateful or oppressive. i have no ability or desire to see intfic burn. but this is, or has become, a very toxic space, and it’s one that’s chasing immensely talented people off, and probably out of the community as well. if y’all want this to remain a viciously unpleasant anti-hugbox, fine, but all that’s gonna do is cause the forward-looking contingent of the community to leave this place behind and start one that isn’t so consistently painful and stupid to be a part of.

All of these holocaust deniers about whom you’re concerned weren’t born that way. The people who they were before they bought into it.

For everyone, without exception.

not everyone has free speech here. there is a large contingent of people who feel too uncomfortable and too attacked on a consistent basis to feel comfortable posting at all, much less on more controversial topics. you might think you’re saying that everyone should have free speech, but all you’re doing is saying that the speech of the same three people who constantly derail threads to say whatever they want is more important than that of the people who are too nervous to speak at all. that’s not egalitarian, it’s not equal, it’s not fair, and you should know full well that “free speech for everyone” is one of the weakest, emptiest arguments one can muster.

Why are you asking people to take responsibility for other people’s emotions?

because this is the basic, essential nature of empathy and it’s an integral part of being a kind person

are you seriously asking me “why do i have to care about other people?” because that seems like a cruel, bad-faith question, doubly so given that the deliberate purpose of this thread is to figure out how to make intfiction a better-moderated, more comfortable place for everyone, not just people with 1000+ posts.

This thread was started by an administrator asking for feedback from forum regulars, so I’m offering my feedback as a forum regular.

I’ve been reading and posting here for years. My own forum might have different rules, but on I abide by the same Code of Conduct as everyone else, and I’m happy to offer feedback on how this forum can accomplish what it’s setting out to do.

Also, as aschultz pointed out, Intfic isn’t the only alternative to this forum. If someone wants to discuss a social allegory in IF without the risk that someone will disagree with the game’s message, there are already places for that. I don’t think this forum needs to be converted into another one.


Consider the space where speech is “free without exception,” which in effect means free for straight white dudes.

The people who wanna have productive discussions without having their experiences, reality, and identity constantly called into question? They don’t get free speech, they get nonstop sealioning. The people who wanna express something without being harrassed? They don’t get free speech.

People who treat free speech as some airy abstract that essentially consists of “nobody can stop me from saying things” don’t actually understand or care about freedom of speech at all. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? If I exercise free speech but nobody listens because someone derails the conversation into “arguing the premise” of whether or not women are people, do I have freedom of speech at all? Free discourse has to be nurtured and cared for by supplying spaces where it can actually flourish - and yeah, that will mean pulling out some weeds so that the garden can grow. And that will entail deciding what weeds are.

Because, if you don’t decide what weeds are, it will be decided for you. The most vicious and selfish plants will thrive, choking the life out of everything else. Ordinarily, those plants are the ones regarded as weeds. But you have refused to make that assignment. Flowers are free to grow in your garden of weeds. But they won’t.

“For everyone without exception” doesn’t exist. Speech is not consequence-free; if it was, it wouldn’t matter whether it’s free. Speech can be used to silence and attack - and, in doing so, to harm someone else’s access to free discourse. In online spaces, I’ve long observed that discourse is subject to a Gresham’s dynamic: bad discourse drives out good. Bad users drive out good ones. Every time someone exercises their “right” to “argue the premise” that white supremacy is real, they’re signaling to people of color: your concerns will not be taken seriously; you’re not welcome here; and I will push back against attempts at discussing your experiences.

And then, of course, in the traditional pattern of abusers everywhere, people on the receiving end of this are punished no matter how they react.

If you argue back against bigotry, you have to perform the fucked-up dance of arguing against bigots without calling them out as bigots - as that would be a “personal attack” apparently; you have to perform civility and submit to tone policing, lest you be deemed to have lost the argument by getting angry.

If you don’t argue back, the bigotry is implicitly accepted and will only grow bolder and louder, and pretty soon you might as well be on reddit.

If you leave, you will be branded as oversensitive, weak; blamed, essentially, for not wanting to submit to the abusive song-and-dance of “arguing the premise.”

And then, when you are cowed, or exhausted, or gone, or banned, the old white dudes will pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves on safeguarding “free speech” while sitting on the bones of discourses that they killed. Unmoderated 4chan boards have “free speech without exception,” except, of course, the ideological policing of viewpoints in them is the most vicious there is anywhere on the internet, and the reality is that speech is least free there; because it is a garden where only the most vicious weeds grow.

OK, so, actual suggestions:

  • No vague “Multiple people have violated the Code of Conduct here. Do not talk about this going forward.” warnings. Be clear about what was a problem and why. Uninvolved people are not going to hunt through five pages of posts in an administrative forum just to find out what exactly was wrong; what they are going to take away is what is in the thread, and what they will probably take away is “both sides are wrong,” regardless of whether this was the moderator’s intention. This is particularly a problem for threads that are likely to be read by non-regulars. Keep in mind how a person just stumbling onto the thread, via Google or wherever, might interpret it.

  • While well-intentioned, the suggestion that people just “not reply” to violations is, quite frankly, horrifying. Not replying to violations doesn’t make them go away. It isolates people. It tells them that whatever violations happen, they can do nothing about, nor can they expect anyone else to do it. In this way it’s worse than saying “shut up and take it”; it’s saying “shut up and take it, and I’ll make sure nobody is going to help you.” Again, keep in mind what a reader might think. They will see a comment that no one has any objection to. (This was my biggest problem with the comp gag rule, incidentally. But in this case it’s like the gag rule extends to everyone, except of course whoever made the offending post in the first place.)

  • Warnings in private messages are also tacit acceptances. A reader won’t see whether people have been warned. And while it is nice to think people might listen to them and change their behavior, warnings are in reality more likely to cause them to escalate it.

  • As far as people responding to threads elsewhere – if people decide the Code of Conduct is too restrictive for whatever they want to say in a discussion they are participating in, and they say it in another trafficked public forum, that doesn’t exonerate them from having said it, and it is unrealistic to expect it to go unread. I don’t, obviously, think this dynamic is good for discussion. Nor do I think “I want to say nasty things and the Code of Conduct won’t let me!” is equivalent to “For my personal safety, I do not want to post on a forum with connections to GG” (source: page 8 and on,

I’m 100% for tight moderation. Warnings, limited time bans, unlimited bans and everything. But the forum should be more open too: we should be able to see if the post was edited (by author or mod) or deleted by moderator.

That said, the Code of Conduct is almost irrelevant here. This thread, as many before it, was derailed and transformed into a different discussion.

So I propose A Rule Against Derailment:

Let me demonstrate with some examples.

In this case, [2] expresses her opinion that’s poorly related to the original subject, and [3] moves on to discuss the author’s personality, thereby making it difficult to discuss H. Both [2] and [3] are not breaking the CoC because they are participating in a civil discussion, respect others and certainly don’t use any offensive language.

Despite the fact that [2] is discussing a person and her opinion may offend some users, it’s still related to the subject H. Therefore, it’s still possible for the later posters to discuss H. After [3], however, it’s much harder to return the discussion to the original track.

In this case, an opinion [2] extends beyond supplied in [1] the question, provoking a debate about the identity of the original and impeding the topic discussion.

That’s a tough call because [2] is, again, poorly related. It provokes [3] that’s not relevant to the topic of H. So [2] should probably get its own thread.

Edit: Sorry for derailing the discussion. :slight_smile: