Moderation note

Some of you may have noticed that a new thread was posted this morning, in the ongoing saga of Conrad Cook v. World.

I deleted the thread and banned Conrad from the forum. The ban is meant to be temporary, and with any luck he will rejoin us in a few days and we can all move on. In the meantime you can catch up with him on

I believe this marks the second time a real user has been banned. It is not a happy milestone for me. At the same time it felt like the right call, and as a moderator on a forum with no hard and fast rules, all I have to rely on is my judgment.

Deleting the thread may have been a mistake. I did it because the content was virtually unchanged from the previous posts on that topic, and contained the same objectionable elements that had resulted in the thread locks. I did it because I specifically asked Conrad not to start another thread, and told him that it would be deleted if he did.

As a rule, if a spammer starts a new thread, I delete the entire thread. I always feel bad if I remove a response from a real person this way, but frequently they quote the spam post and its links, and obviously that is just as problematic as the original content.

Here are the things that will get you banned, as I understand them today:

  • Spamming
  • Writing obscenities in 72 pt font
  • Death threats and blackmail

If you feel strongly that this list is incomplete, or conversely that it stifles your creative expression, I am happy to discuss it. As always, if you have an issue with the moderation policies or specific decisions, you should feel free to PM Merk. I am just as much a guest here as anyone else.

I’ve said this elsewhere, but since you’ve asked for commentary, I’d like to request that take a harder line toward trolls. I’d like to be the sort of place where uncivil discourse is deleted, and troll users are secretly banned.

In my personal opinion, has already crossed the line into an “unsafe place.”

I feel like “unsafe” is a good word to describe a situation where a few people in control have license to censor discussion based on ill-defined criteria like “civility” and “trolling.”

What do you mean by “unsafe,” exactly? If you’re referring to general issues of civility, it seems to me that the flame levels on the forum are still generally rather low, especially compared to other parts of the internet. If you have something more specific in mind, that might be a concern. (You can PM me if there’s something you don’t want to talk about in open forum, though obviously I have no Special Powers so there might not be any point in doing so.)

As this debate works itself out, I find myself becoming more comfortable with a more restrictive level of moderation.

Having said that, I don’t mind a higher level of hostility on the “General and Off-Topic” forum than in the actual content-oriented areas.

Well said. Let’s go pro-active on the trolls and ban those who make a point of causing trouble and acting like idiots simply to antagonise other people. Yes, Pudlo. I’m looking at you here.

I am sympathetic to the request. Many others have urged a similar policy and I agree with your concerns and respect your intentions.

However, I am really not the right choice for that job. I don’t like locking threads or banning people or wielding any of the other moderator powers. But if the community finds someone else to handle those duties and Merk approves it, I obviously won’t fight it.

Heartily seconded.

I think that the level of moderation has been fairly close to right, myself. I use the Foe feature liberally, and it’s not difficult to work out which topics to ignore.

I’m definitely pro-light touch. This board is quite civil, both by general standards and by that of the internet in general. Ben has dealt with the recent issues in a calm and moderate fashion, and more generally the board is kept clean of spam. I don’t see as there’s anything wrong. I don’t think the positing atmosphere would be improved if a pro-active threat of banning was hanging over people’s heads.

Where do I apply for the job? Why I? Because if morality ever becomes an olympic sport, I’ll win not only the gold in honesty but also the silver in modesty. Actually, the fact that I’m willing to settle for the silver means that I’ll probably get the gold anyway. Modesty as an olympic sport is kind of funny that way.

You can PM Merk and make your case to him. It’s really more of a formality; I expect he’ll be so impressed by your medal that he offers you the job right away.

Agreed. The trolls have been fairly civil about not going anywhere near the development advice subfora.

In general, I think the moderation line should be between “attacks on works” and “attacks on people,” with general racism, sexism, and assorted other bigotry in the latter category. The former are certainly juvenile, but (especially when limited to works that have received plenty of critical acclaim) less harmful, and frequently hard to distinguish from earnest reviews and therefore hard for moderators to make judgment calls on; the latter are inexcusable.

I second the pro-light touch. What we had here was an anomaly - and I think the reaction to that distasteful anomaly was prompt, quick, and fair. What we usually have - on the negative side, naturally - is people being obnoxious, disrespectful, immature. Normally these people are either ignored or someone finds in their negativity something from which to raise a constructive discussion (and if all else fails, we can always count on the Ghalevs of the world to respond appropriately and, IMO, wittily, or failing that at least just being funny).

As a method, it does mean a messier forum on the short run. It also means a more open atmosphere in the long run.

The forum has done well so far. It’s even caused Pudlo to post in a more entertaining manner, and somehow his insults here seem to be blunter (probably because there’s plenty of people here who don’t want to see a repeat of Usenet and are ready to jump on him like a ton of bricks at the slightest provocation. He still provokes, but… well, just see the response to his pathethic attemp to rehash his Blue Lacuna thrashing).

I don’t enjoy people being negative, insulting, obnoxious, and all that. But I like censorship less. Rather than driving people away, I’d prefer - if at all possible - to give them the chance to understand what they’re doing and be better. And if they don’t fit, to give them the chance not to let the door hit them on the way out.

[size=200]Oh FU-[/size]

[size=71](er, FUCK).[/size]

I’d like to see “attacks on people” moderated as well, but I’m admittedly much less breezy than most when it comes to this sort of thing. I’m a big fan of moderation (in moderation, of course) :slight_smile:


I can understand that point of view, though it’s not one I share.

But, as I say, this is just my personal opinion, and my personal opinion is that whenever I post here, I’m risking exposing myself to really hostile responses from a vocal minority of chronic trolls. For me, that usually means that it’s not worth it for me to post here.

I’m mostly not the one getting flamed, because I try to avoid participating here, and I try to be really careful when I do participate, but just watching other people getting flamed is enough to dissuade me from participating more actively.

The attitude of the community seems to be that trolls are just something you have to endure. Afterward, for example, seems to hold the view that giving people the power to censor trolls would be worse than enduring the trolls. I dislike censorship, too, so I can understand that point of view. I think the majority of the posters here will agree with him, that if you can’t stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen.

However, I think that’s because the IF community has a survivor bias. People who won’t put up with chronic trolls are unwilling to put up with the IF community. Anyone still left in the community is therefore willing to put up with chronic trolls. (Perhaps that’s the sort of trained helplessness you get when you grow up on Usenet.)

But, if you ask me, can do better than that. Secret bans are distasteful, but they really work; they broaden participation and they elevate discourse.

For now, I think I’m not alone in avoiding the kitchen.

If you cannot cope with polemics, you do not deserve the right to post here.

When choosing between feelings and polemics, I always choose polemics. Pure feeling is Hitler; pure polemic is Plato. While both are ugly, Plato is less so. Yes, I do hurt people’s feelings, but so does Darwin. If you think that The Origin of Species ought to be banned because it hurts people’s feelings, you’re not ready for adulthood. Hurt feelings are the aches of growth.

That’s the policy of this particular forum. I don’t think it’s actually the attitude of the community. I think the community contains a variety of attitudes on the matter.

In fairness, the subject of censorship is in no way relevant to the moderation of a webforum. Just as the declaration “visitors to my apartment aren’t allowed to smoke in my home” does not restrict anyone’s right to be a smoker, “members of my moderated forum are not allowed to troll on my board” does not restrict anyone’s right to expression. In both cases, it’s about respect for the house rules. Smokers may still smoke on their own porch. Assholes may still spew bile on their own blogs. Etc. Moderation - even very strict moderation - isn’t a form of censorship.

I’d personally prefer stricter house-rules. I think it would be a nicer house, and I’d be more engaged with it. But, bottom line, it ain’t my house, so I have no say. And I like the house well enough as it is that I’m sticking around.