The Internet is – at least in my experience – becoming an increasingly hostile place. Furthermore, in light of everything that’s happened in the skeptic community of late, there are so many potential triggers for anger and hostility. We all need to take responsibility for minimising pointless conflict, so that moderation can be light, and so that (ideally) nobody needs to have their speech limited.
Free speech is an important value. But it’s not the only one – a community is created by the discussions it has, and also by the manner in which members comport themselves. People won’t contribute freely in a hostile atmosphere. So let’s try to remember and practice some basic principles, like the principle of charity and the burden of proof.
Despite the best intentions of the majority (and even the best intentions of those who end up being disruptive), it seems unavoidable that action will at some point need to be taken against people who derail conversations or create a hostile environment which chills speech and debate. The problem is always to address situations like that in ways that don’t appear personal or capricious.
So, in an attempt to maximise the possibility of having constructive conversations in the comment threads here, please note that the following sorts of things are unwelcome on this site:
- Abusive and/or ad-hominem comment.
- A persistent misidentification of the idea of “skepticism” so as to mean “everything is a conspiracy”, “Monsanto want to kill us”, “Elvis never died” and so forth.
- Derailing of conversations into argument around topics that are tangential (or unrelated) to the post in question. So, if you regularly turn unrelated conversations into ones about economic systems, racism, sexism, environmentalism, etc., expect to be told off, and eventually banned.
What we should all do in response to unwelcome behaviour of that sort:
- Try to persuade the person of the inappropriateness of what they are saying (or how they are saying it). The community should ideally be self-regulating.
- If someone is vexing you, but not in such a way that appears to violate these principles, try to ignore them instead of inflaming the conversation.
- Please, don’t carry grudges from other threads or groups to this page.
- Try to be respectful towards people, even while expressing profound disrespect for their ideas.
- When your views are disrespected, try not to assume that the person doing the disrespecting is attacking you as a person (including “as a person of x sort”, where x is race, sex, belief-system and so forth).
- Some of us will occasionally fail in our attempts to be civil. If you’re insulted once in a while, that’s okay. If you call someone an idiot every now and then, don’t panic. Yes, we shouldn’t do so. And yes, members of the community might come down on you in response if you’re doing the insulting. But don’t expect to be banned, or to be able to call for a ban for occasional slights like these. We all make mistakes, and much of what we get offended by on the Internet is more trivial than we realise at the time.