Not quite comfortable with moderation

Teresa over at Making Light has a long post and now a certificate (notably posted over at PZ’s site just now) about how we should all feel free to moderate whoever the hell we want whenever the hell we want.

Now she certainly sounds like a reasonable person and the analogy of a host at a party maintaining some sort of enjoyable environment for the guests and the responsibility of the guests to defer, somewhat, to the host is a good one. I get it.

But something in me still is uncomfortable with it. It is a big, fat license for people to “moderate out” those things that make them uncomfortable. The all-powerful blogger can pick and choose who has a voice and who does not.

You see, I don’t trust people to handle severe criticism well. We all tend to take things personally. We are all convinced of our own good intentions but suspicious of the intentions of our adversaries. This is human nature.

We are all capable of ignoring the assholes. I skip far more blog comments than I read. I’m not convinced I need help choosing which comments to read. While there are obviously trolls and assholes out there, there are also a lot of thin-skinned people, both bloggers and commenters, who get way too emotionally connected to these debates.

I’d personally rather wade through comment noise than miss perhaps provocative posts that made someone uncomfortable. We’re grownups.

I’m not saying that moderation is always bad, but I think our guiding principles should be first about commenting respectfully and secondarily, if at all, encouraging bloggers to delete comments.

Not quite comfortable with moderation

2 thoughts on “Not quite comfortable with moderation

  1. Thank you for your very thorough comment.

    Yes, I probably did misunderstand you a bit. The certificate, to me, looked like a “moderate whoever the hell we want whenever the hell we want” type of thing. I guess I was wrong about that.

    So I agree with you. Really, I do. But even with all of the well-reasoned logic behind it all, something in me is still uncomfortable. That’s what I was trying to express, this vague feeling of discomfort when we encourage people to moderate.

    I’m not a “part-time troll” and I’m not forever getting “thin skinned responses”. But I have seen people get offended by things not intended to offend. I have been soundly berated for my ideas when I was earnestly trying to be polite and engaging. I think some blogs are run by egotists (me, perhaps, among them) who get peeved when someone pees on their parade. I think if you are choosing to publish your opinions on the intertubes, you should be ready and willing to get your parade peed on a bit.

    As a bit of an example, PZ recently described himself as “…uncompromising, unkind, unpitying, opinionated, and dismissive of nonsense. I bite. I make small children cry…”

    The debate can be unkind at times. I deplore the notion of people moderating comments because they can’t handle it.

    I’ll repeat, I agree with you. I would just prefer that we err on the side of un-moderating. I have yet to delete a comment on this blog that wasn’t spam. I hope I never do.

    The disemvowel idea is very clever.

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  2. Teresa over at Making Light has a long post and now a certificate (notably posted over at PZ’s site just now) about how we should all feel free to moderate whoever the hell we want whenever the hell we want.

    No. I never said anything of the sort. Some time back I posted a short and fairly clear set of observations and principles concerning moderation. It’s linked from my recent post. As for the certificate, what it specifies is that the moderator can undertake a carefully graduated series of actions in response to a specified list of harmful internet types.

    Now she certainly sounds like a reasonable person and the analogy of a host at a party maintaining some sort of enjoyable environment for the guests and the responsibility of the guests to defer, somewhat, to the host is a good one. I get it.But something in me still is uncomfortable with it. It is a big, fat license for people to “moderate out” those things that make them uncomfortable.

    No. The point is to moderate out vandals and idiots who make it impossible to have a thoughtful, intricate conversation.It’s a common misconception that comments get suppressed because their challenging and/or novel content makes others uncomfortable. I can tell you right now that that almost never happens. If we limit the category to “commenters who think that that’s the reason their comments get suppressed,” we get even closer to it never happening — not in middle-to-lefty and intelligent general-interest blogs, at any rate.The people who do damage to conversations don’t do it with their ideas. The do it with their behavior. They demand center stage when their writing and ideas aren’t interesting enough to command it. They demand that others pay attention to their comments and ideas, and grant them maximum latitude and minimal accountability, when they’ve barely made the acquaintance of the group. They don’t engage. They’re not interested in others’ ideas and comments. They’re carelessly rude, dismissive, reductive, and self-righteous in their dealings with others, but thin-skinned and quick to take offense at others’ treatment of them. In short, they’re not really interested in the conversation. They just want the conversation to be interested in them.I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. These guys are a well-defined online type with a very distinctive profile. Now I’ll add one more characteristic to that profile: when they get kicked out, they invariably believe that it’s because people can’t cope with their magically powerful opinions.It’s not, of course. They get kicked out because they’re conversation-killers. I can’t recall a single one of the many I’ve met whose opinions rose above the commonplace and unremarkable. As I’ve said to them, over and over and over again, “No, you don’t understand — it’s completely personal. This has nothing to do with your ideas. You’re getting kicked out because you’re a jerk.”

    The all-powerful blogger can pick and choose who has a voice and who does not.

    Yup. Deal with it. That’s not a fight you’re going to win.If you want to have a voice, you have two options. One is to start your own weblog and see who comes to the party. The other is to learn to play well with others, so that you can take part in the ongoing discourse on other weblogs.I don’t suppress a lot of comments or commenters, and my conscience isn’t bothered by the ones I do. First, as I said earlier, jerks and trolls seldom say anything that’s even moderately interesting. Second, by coarsening and flattening the conversation, making it unpleasant, and turning everything into arguments about them and their opinions, they make it impossible for complex, responsive, context-dependent, genuinely interactive discussions to take place. The number of trolls and jerks I suppress is a small fraction of the number of people who’d be driven from my threads by the sheer nastiness they generate.

    You see, I don’t trust people to handle severe criticism well.

    If that interaction always misfires for you, then you’re the one at fault, and you’re doing something wrong.I say that in a spirit of diagnosis, not blame. It’s a general principle. If no one laughs at your jokes, your jokes aren’t funny. If no one can tell when you’re being sarcastic or ironic, you don’t have enough control of tone to handle those modes. And if no one wants to listen to your criticism, you aren’t generating enough natural credibility within the group to support your opinions.I’m making no judgements. I have no idea what kind of opinions you cherish. What I’m telling you is that that’s how online conversation works.

    We all tend to take things personally.

    If everyone you deal with ‘takes things too personally,’ you need to learn to curb your tongue. It’s really not that hard to convey opinions without setting people’s backs up, but the small amount of work and mindfulness required is not negotiable.

    We are all convinced of our own good intentions but suspicious of the intentions of our adversaries. This is human nature.We are all capable of ignoring the assholes.

    Not true. We automatically read what falls under our eyes. If it’s rude, false, hurtful, or deliberately provoking, it’ll upset everyone who reads it every time they read it. That’s why a comment that meets those specs has to either be deleted or made unreadable, because otherwise it’ll deliver a dose of unpleasantness to the other readers every time they go past it.On my own weblog, I remove the letters A, E, I, O, and U from offending material. The text can still be read with some difficulty, but it can’t be read automatically.

    I skip far more blog comments than I read.

    Given that you’re admitting that you don’t read all the comments in a conversation, why do you think you have a right to have your own comments read?

    I’m not convinced I need help choosing which comments to read.

    If you’re commenting on my weblog but you’re not reading the other people’s comments there, and you get into arguments, odds are you’ll eventually be censured for rudeness and failure to engage. The latter is by far the greater sin at Making Light. We’re there to talk to each other. Others are welcome to join that conversation, but we’re not there to be their one-to-many audience.

    While there are obviously trolls and assholes out there, there are also a lot of thin-skinned people, both bloggers and commenters, who get way too emotionally connected to these debates.

    Does it ever occur to you that if you’re forever getting “thin-skinned responses” to your comments, odds are you’re at least a part-time troll?If you don’t respect other commenters’ emotional commitments to their own words and opinions, why should anyone give a damn what you think or feel? For that matter, why should they read you at all? Without commitment, opinions are arbitrary, and what’s arbitrar is meaningless.

    I’d personally rather wade through comment noise than miss perhaps provocative posts that made someone uncomfortable. We’re grownups.

    Valuing provocation for its own sake is not the measure of a grownup. What it’s characteristic of is adolescence.There are inherently upsetting ideas out there. The people who argue them honestly tend to also have lots of other ideas and opinions that aren’t especially upsetting. They’re interested in truth, not provocation value, and on the way to finding truth they’ve found ideas which they think are valid, but which also happen to be upsetting. Those are the people and ideas that deserve an extra measure of our tolerance and attention.

    I’m not saying that moderation is always bad, but I think our guiding principles should be first about commenting respectfully and secondarily, if at all, encouraging bloggers to delete comments.

    Silly. That’s where the emphasis already falls. Go back and re-read.

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