• Blocking, banning, and blacklisting (Part 2)

    Only tyrants require dungeons

    In a previous post I shared a few concerns about how mass-blocking on Twitter may lead to less speech, less intellectual diversity, less productive disagreement, and therefore less skepticism in practice. Today, I’d like to share my concerns about banning people from comment-enabled blogs and other relatively public forums.

    Firstly, a concession. Banning may be necessary to further the goals of a given site, and this may be true even when that site is intended to maximize interaction and minimize moderation. I don’t know of any atheist or skeptic blogs which welcome Dennis Markuze, for example. If the site is intended as a ‘safe space’ wherein everyone assents to a certain set of propositions, then banning may be necessary to maintain the integrity of the space. For example, I would fully expect to be banned by a site intended solely to foster discussions between single Muslims, or gay Christians, or agnostic anarchists, for I am none of these things. I used to moderate a forum intended solely for Oklahoma Atheists, and at the time I’d have been pretty much unsympathetic to anyone who became ‘born again’ and moved to Texas.

    Farewell, Atheism Plus forums!

    Given that banning is sometimes necessary, we also have to admit that it can be unnecessary, especially when it it the result of arbitrary and capricious moderation, personal beefs, or irrational discrimination. If, for example, I was running a forum dedicated to open discussion of American politics, it would be arbitrary for me to exclude discussions about the efficacy and morality of the Drug War. If I was running a blog generally about skepticism, it would be arbitrary for me to disallow discussions about any topics which are amenable to the process of scientific or methodological skepticism. If I was modding at JREFF, it would be entirely improper for me to ban someone merely because I’ve had nasty run-ins with them elsewhere.

    Given that too much banning will probably have the unfortunate effects as too much blocking, how then do we strike a proper balance? I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to propose a few ideas for consideration:

    1) No drama from other spaces – This is similar to the ‘Reset rule’ from Pharyngula, except that I really mean it. I will not assume that because someone acts a certain way at the pub or the football, that they are going to act the same way at a symposium or a funeral. Most people manage to adjust their sense of decorum to the environment in which they find themselves at the time, and therefore people should be judged on how well they comport themselves in any given situation.

    2) No guilt by association – Each individual should be judged by their own actions, nothing more nor less. If I hear that you’ve been posting at some truly horrible place like Stormfront, I’m going to at least check to see whether you were trolling them or otherwise trying to make them think. If you’ve been posting in a very lightly moderated space like www.Twitter.com or www.SlymePit.com, I’m not going to judge you by the people you interact with but rather by your own words in those interactions.

    3) No single-strike rules – Everyone deserves a warning, a reminder of the ground rules, and a second chance to live up them. Maybe even a third, if they are conciliatory about it. Except on Facebook, of course, because some cyberspaces should be treated more like living rooms than public greens. If you cannot behave in my living room, then just GTFO.

    4) No banning for disagreement per se – No matter how ridiculous your ideas are, I’ll try to tell you why I think you’re wrong. Even if you’re a racist going on about succession, or a creationist going on about your holy writ, I’ll give it a go so long as you can be polite about it.

    5) No double-standards – Cyberspaces such as Atheism Plus and Pharyngula are famous for having one set of standards for the in-group and a vastly more stringent set of rules for noobs and outsiders. This is counterproductive for anyone who wants to avert groupthink in favor of genuine skepticism.

    6) No pile-ons – Probably the most disgusting thing I’ve seen on the internet is the attempted enforcement of prevailing group norms by piling on and abusing newbies until they lose their shit and get banned. This is a ridiculous school-ground tactic, completely unfit for skeptics who claim to love truth above all.

    Those are just a few suggestions to level the field of ideas. Your thoughts?



    Category: AdminBlog RulesSecularism

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.
    • Until the strawmen get torn down, many (maybe most) efforts to reconcile the blacklisting will be ineffective. As just one example, Atheism+ operates under this paradigm that outsiders, especially critics (regardless of the argument or extent of disagreement), are villains of the worst kind. Through the lens of such communities, outsiders are excluded by default.

      • ool0n

        Well as a poster on the A+ forum I can say that critics of all types of A+ are mostly sources of amusement for me since their criticism is usually very poorly thought out. As in the case of a recent foaming post which consisted of saying you cannot argue with them! Just Ignore or ridicule! Give up and move on! Very funny to me… Not “villainous”, at all.

        I could even say the same as you for A+ detractors, especially given posts like Al Stefanellis that compares A+ to McCarthyism and the moderation to the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects ischemgeek to ban them! When the IP thumb screws come out they are shocked I tell ya 🙂

        So I’d imagine there are extremes on all sides… I’d personally invite any of A+’s detractors to come over and post, if they follow the rules and actually try and join in they’ll be fine. Just don’t flit between A+ and another forum mocking then back again while trying to look reasonable on the A+ forum. As pro-fence sitters Damion and I can tell you it chaffs after a while and you either fall or get pushed to one side or the other.

      • Chas Stewart

        So if I post at A+ will they have a problem with me if I post my criticisms of them at JREFF or the Slymepit?

        Also, it’s very difficult to post at A+. I call myself a very deferential dude but posting in innocuous ways that don’t overstep their outlines of expression is extremely stressful. You basically can’t post on controversial topics and those happen to be the most interesting subjects of life.

      • ool0n

        Err I dunno, do you hang out with people at a club in real life then talk about what terrible assholes they are when you are at work? Seems to me that socialising with one group of people in a community then laughing about them in your other communitie(s) would be a shit move?

        I’m sure you can go there and meet the people find out what they believe and what A+ is about then post criticisms of their *ideas*… Not sure if you meant that rather than *them*, but it was definitely telling!

        You can post on any and all controversial subjects… If someone says you are being an asshole then stop. Pop to the mod thread and ask what you did wrong. Really not hard, you won’t get banned unless you double down. You may not even get why people objected, you may even get why people objected. Who knows unless you try.

      • Chas Stewart

        But I can’t criticize them there. At least I don’t think so. I might try your method and see what happens.

        What’s telling is that the people of A+ are so wedded to their “ideas” that criticizing those ideas is besmirching them personally. But yes it was a slip.

    • Zardoz

      The fact that people actually care about Twitter always amazes me. That is until I remember that people still like and use Facebook despite how badly it has treated it’s user base. People are weird.

      Commenters on blogs are going to get what they want or move on. I have to think that a large number of posters like echo chambers and when there is demand, supply is not far away. You can apply the rules you listed to your blog but it will self-select your readership or at least those who comment. Some people are uncomfortable about having their opinions challenged and they won’t post here.

      • My ideal space is one in which people generally expect to have their opinions vigorously challenged without having their character attacked for holding those ideas in the first place. I hope to attract readers and commenters who desire challenging yet civil debate.

    • ool0n

      How do you justify your facebook rule? Why can one of the ban-happy FTBullies not treat their blog as their front room as well? Seems they would be perfectly justified to me but they’d get a lot of “push back” for it…

      “No double-standards – Cyberspaces such as Atheism Plus and Pharyngula are famous for having one set of standards for the in-group and a vastly more stringent set of rules for noobs and outsiders.”

      –> And when Matt Dillahunty was not treated as in-group or celebrity but straight out banned for not following the rules all hell broke loose! So A+ is also “famous” for doing exactly what you propose as well… Funny that.
      –> Going back to the “living room” analogy how would you treat your best mate for getting drunk and throwing up on the carpet compared to me turning up uninvited and doing the same? I think its impractical to expect social animals to not behave in this way, we are not cold unemotional vulcans so someone with some good will built up will be able to spend that by being an arse. A newbie being as much of an arse, not so much. Its part of building a community, so it will naturally happen that way in any forum on the internet.

      • How do you justify your facebook rule? Why can one of the ban-happy FTBullies not treat their blog as their front room as well? Seems they would be perfectly justified to me but they’d get a lot of “push back” for it…

        Some internet spaces are intended to be friendly spaces for socialising and others are intended to be idea spaces for open discussion. I’d like to make it clear that I respect this distinction and I’m addressing this post only to the management of the latter sorts of spaces.

    • Clayton Flesher

      The last rule seems highly problematic. What looks like piling on to the person being disagreed with can be someone trying to clarify someone else’s point, or trying to make an argument that hasn’t been presented yet.

      My experience is that when someone says something truly outrageous on a forum that gets decently high traffic, responses can come so quickly that a couple of epically long posts taking down an argument point-by-point will inevitably come at the end of a string of shorter, less thought-out responses.

      • Of course, if it was truly outrageous enough, it should meet with immediate sanction but that’s not what I was talking about. I was referring to violations of prevailing group norms which don’t otherwise violate the ground rules of the space, for example, an atheist who isn’t a skeptic and promotes psychic woo in a freethought forum.

        The trick as a moderator in such cases is not to encourage pile-ons by participating in the abuse or rewarding it with a ban.

      • Chas Stewart

        I get this and some highly trafficked forums are susceptible to this but when I moderate our forum, I try to jump in during those deluge of comments and explain that commenting just to state how opposed you are to the original statement and declare your alliance with the rest of the outraged has an increasingly negative on the person with the minority opinion. And, that we should let them respond to the criticisms already laid out for the OP. This doesn’t mean that I delete any further dog-piling but my hope is that the original poster understands that their opinion is not fundamentally opposed to and that they are allowed to further explore this argument. Maybe that doesn’t entirely work but at least the dog-piling isn’t institutionalized and that freedom of expression is sanctioned.