October 19, 2006

Flagging Comments

Flagging Comments

We’ve had quite a few requests — particularly from the community on our meta thread — to monitor the comment threads, or at least to do so a lot more actively than we do now. We’ve been remiss here, but we’ve made a promise on this site to provide an atmosphere that allows you to talk to us and each other and we intend to keep it.

We have to, actually. It’s fundamental to the production of this show. So far we’ve been acting like Catholic parents, a little harried with our massive brood and jumping in to punish everyone when it gets too loud.

We’re going to start acting like bouncers. Discussion and disagreement are welcome. Opinions that don’t match those of our host are welcome. Intimidation, name calling and tendentious aggression are not.

For a complete list of rules, see our commenting guidelines.

So to make this process as clean as possible, we ask all of you to email flag radioopensource org (only turn it into an email address) if a discussion gets out of hand. Just send us a link to the offending comment and we’ll make a decision. (To point us to a specific comment, click on the date at the top of that comment. A link will appear in the URL field of your browser.) We may not have time to reply to every email, but we promise we’ll act on them.

If we decide that a comment violates the letter or the spirit of the commenting guidelines, we’ll delete it and replace it with a link to the commenting guidelines.

Notice how I keep linking to the commenting guidelines?

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  • Potter

    People can absolutely agree or disagree with each other with respect.

    Thanks, this is long overdue. I can’t defend myself against personal attack without making things worse. So if this happens, my advice to myself and to other posters is to not wait and not let the adrenalin start flowing before you flag ROS. Let’s take them up on it.

    Also I would appreciate it if you would return the offending post to it’s owner. I’d like to have mine back. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what was said and therefore to know why it was a violation. This is also about retraining.

  • Old Nick

    “Discussion and disagreement are welcome. Opinions that don’t match those of our host are welcome. Intimidation, name calling and tendentious aggression are not.”

    Beautiful! Thank you, Brendan and Greta!

  • Potter

    Hurley- I have complained not here but email to ROS and on the meta discussion as the post were too disturbing to scroll by and they disrupted and turned folks off. And I am not willing to have my face slapped and turn the other cheek. I understand your point about learning and I think if the posts were “returned to sender” after deleted it would be instructive. This avoids having to respond to the offender and have a heated escalation. It’s too facile to say “well control yourself” to everyone. Perhaps you have other suggestions.

    I do appreciate your posts.

  • i’m a sampler in the comment threads, but here is my 2 cents:

    1) responding to someone who is being childish is problematic because it feeds the fire

    2) not responding is problematic because it shows that one can act out with no consequences

    3) so a third party needs to jump in quickly to quench the fire

    4) that third party doesn’t always have to be the producers, consider scoop, which allows reader moderation like slashdot

    5) these problems crop up as a forum becomes popular

  • jdyer

    People, please spare us the lectures and the invectives.

    Calling a poster “childish” is as offensive as calling him or her by some harsher epithet.

    It would be best if posters just addressed the issues without commenting on the poster with contrary views at all.

    However, personally I have no problem with personal critiques as long as they are on topic. However, since the power that be here have ruled such comments out of bound, I will abide by the rules.

    My only suggestion is that monitors should not allow posters to post off topic comments.

    If we are talking about a certain issue let’s nor drag in extraneous matters by way of spurious comparisons.

  • one thing, a good thing about USENET was the kill file. the only problem is that the threads can become disjointed sometimes since you aren’t seeing what people are responding too.

  • Ben

    Thank you Brendan & ROS. Long overdue.

    Two questions: 1) what happened to graceland? I really enjoyed that replacement text. It was great. 2) I’m curious what yours and anyone else’s thoughts are about a sandbox for heated discussions to spin out and slow down into? I’m thinking of something like the runaway truck ramps in the mountains on the highways. Or is vaporization just a better policy?

    Cheers -b

  • Wasn’t this already being done? I recall having seen comments replaced with the ‘guidelines’ in the past as well.

  • Potter

    Razib- this is exactly what I posted on the meta discussion. The choices are 1) not to post ( this avoids all problems and I bet many do) 2) to respond with the hope that the offender will get the message that it will hurt back and quit it, but that risks escalation and spoiling a thread 3) not to respond and allow the intractable behavior to continue and get even bolder sensing weakness 4) have an authority with delete power alerted and on the scene to make a decision asap nipping offenses in the bud.

    As well- violators that refuse to conform should be suspended.

  • Potter

    As well, no alteration of usernames. It’s disrespectful ( as well as childish).

  • potter, i’m with you. like i said, i sample these threads but of late i’ve been noting a new strain of nastiness. i’ll be honest, i’ve lost control now and then and been snippy in the past, but i hope i haven’t been habitually selfish about this. anyway, onward and upward, lest a tragedy of the common ensue.

  • jdyer

    I have heard all of this before, here.

    It’s just the same old, same old stuff.

    Feel free to suspend me, but don’t talk about freedom of the blogger sphere if you suspend posters for offering contrary views forcefully.

  • Potter

    One person’s freedom to “offer views forcefully” can tread on another person’s freedom to not have to endure personal attack.

  • Old Nick

    Let’s cut to the quick: “Forcefulness” equals “intimidation” and “tendentious aggression”.

    Attempting to “excuse” it only worsens the transgression.

    Moreover, and more vitally: when any one of us is insulted or bullied by a serial offender, all the rest of us take offense.

    We don’t and won’t accept the “excuse” tendered above.

  • Old Nick

    Two amendments to my post above:

    When any one of us is insulted, bullied, or belittled by a serial offender, all the rest of us take offense. It’s a product of empathy, which seems a virtue all but missing in our usual offender.

    And though the shameless “excuse” tendered above is quite unacceptable, an apology, I dare say, wouldn’t be.

  • jdyer

    If one can’t stand the heat they should stay out of the kitchen.

  • jdyer

    President Truman said:

    “If one can’t stand the heat they should stay out of the kitchen.”

    My parents voted for him and I would have too had I been alive then, ha!

    So, what are we to do with people who can’t stand irony, or sarcasm, or have no sense of humor?

  • Old Nick

    Allison taught me that sarcasm doesn’t translate well on the threads. More often than intended, it’s toxic, not funny. Destructive, not comradely.

    I resisted her wisdom for a while…

    …but she was right.

    And I don’t mind admitting my bad judgment.

    Mea Culpa!

  • Ben

    From what I have seen elsewhere, everyone is still somewhat civil on ROS. There’s much worse behavior out there and the high standard ROS tries to maintain is good and keeps a lot of folks here. There should be dynamic exchanges, not just casual agreement. Unedited emotionally motivated behavior shouldn’t be exercised at the expense of the show or the larger audience, or tolerated. Don’t be plainly derisive, or too fragile – it’s just unfriendly. With election season blooming, it’s open season elsewhere to pick fights and they are painfully easy to find. Thanks again to ROS for tightening up a bit, and to all you above for the input across the boards.

  • Potter

    “If one can’t stand the heat they should stay out of the kitchen.”

    The right amount of heat will help cook you a great meal. If the place is on fire, a fireman is needed and everyone leaves or gets burned/suffocated .

    This is not any one poster’s kitchen. Harry Truman was referring to the responsibilities of the office. I can’t imagine he would allow people into his office that were abusive. Critical yes, abusive no.

    “So, what are we to do with people who can’t stand irony, or sarcasm, or have no sense of humor?”

    Understand common definitions and boundaries, don’t invent your own which favor you.

    If someone ( I) says for instance “Israel should apologize to Palestinians for injustices” and this sets you off, makes you see red, you need to exercise some personal control over your own anger and turn it down to a disagreement and not torch the chef and the kitchen ( or YOU get out of the kitchen) to allow another’s freedom of thought and expression. Otherwise we have bullying, even to the point of following a person around the threads to intimidate at every such thought you disagree with and keeping a mental file on that person.

    Where is the goodwill, the benefit of doubt? How do you then make YOUR point when the kitchen is on fire, if you have a valid one?

    You are free to “forcefully argue” SHORT of personal attack and insult. The guidelines say argue the idea, the issue. If you respond by calling that person an “anti-semite” “ignoramous”, whatever, that’s a personal attack and you should know the difference.

    Know the difference.

    It’s decidedly out of bounds, no SCOTUS ruling required.

  • jdyer

    We are just getting the same old comments by the same old posters.

    Time to retire.

  • fiddlesticks

    [This comment has been deleted because it failed to follow the commenting guidelines – Brendan]

  • I welcome greater moderation and hope it brings with it many insightful posters looking for a less combative space.

    Potter, thanks for that glowing explanation.

    Brendan, could you quit with the parent-child analogy. Maybe it’s said in jest on your part, but the inherent power relationship it implies counters a relationship of mutual respect it seems we are trying to foster here.

    “Time to retire.”

    Yes, jdyer. That or follow the rules.

  • fiddlesticks

    Hey sidewalker do you want real discussions or people holding hands in agreement and singing Kumbaya?

    This is the lefty way, the fidelista way!

    Brendan is right, the lefty way is to pay heed to the great leader, father , or uncle Joe, or dear Papa Fidel.

    Fidel: be faithful to me or else.

  • Old Nick

    “This is not any one poster’s kitchen.” — Potter, at 7:40 Am, Oct.20th.

    Right on!

    Thank you for making the point (and doing it with humor).

  • Brendan

    There seems to be a misperception here that we fear disagreement or argument. For the record, we encourage both. It’s not hard to draw a line between disagreement and venom, between argument and assault. For the record:

    “I don’t agree with your contention that government shouldn’t be in the business of providing for the poor” is acceptable.

    “Righties like you always say the dumbest things” is not.

    The problem with an online environment is that people who in real-life conversation would obey standard rules of order — don’t shout, don’t lecture, don’t cut people off, don’t call names, don’t condescend — completely forget themselves. There’s a reason we obey these rules in real life; they allow us among family members, in Congress or on the bus to have conversations, discussions and even arguments that get somewhere.

    There is nothing kumbayah about rules of order. They are conservative, even Burkean. Society is built on small habits of courtesy that we uphold because they allow us to go about commerce and life; this is as true in an online discussion as it is sitting next to a stranger at a bar.

  • Brendan

    Sidewalker makes a fair point when he asks me to drop the parent-child analogy. This forum is my responsibility, but there’s no reason to be paternal about it.

    fiddlesticks, I’m not sure I agree with your assumptions about communists and paternalism. You mention Joe and Fidel, but certainly Adolf and Benito created cults of personality too, no? Certainly no ideology has a monopoly on paternalism.

    And I would avoid making any assumptions about my political leanings, or those of anyone else on the thread. I would describe myself, politically, as a disgusted Republican, but I shouldn’t have to tell you that; there’s nothing I’ve ever written on this blog that could lead you to believe that I’m a communist. (Is anyone on this blog a communist? If so, raise your hand.) Take a look at the commenting guidelines, where we ask commenters to engage arguments, not motivations. If you try to guess someone’s motivations, you’ll almost always be wrong, and you’ll often be offensive.

  • “There is nothing kumbayah about rules of order. They are conservative, even Burkean. ”

    yes. my thoughts exactly as a “man of the right” 🙂

  • hurley

    Ironic that my post, after all the vitriol that preceeded it on the Anna P. thread and elswhere, which it was in part an answer to, was the one to provoke this kinder, gentler draconianism, replete with censorship and “bouncers” (unfortunate image). You might have stepped in earlier, if that’s what you’re of a mind to do, before Potter had to put up with what she put up with. You’ll notice that most of my posts have been in defence of someone — you at ROS included — or in advocacy of someone or something. You’ll also notice that jdyer’s response to my message was considerably more measured, in its way, than yours. It was essentially, basta, let’s talk about literature. I know next to nothing about the blogosphere, but from what I’ve seen here, a certain self-correcting ecology seems to establish itself. Jdyer, say, makes a provactive statement, at which point someone steps in, confronts him, and the conversation then moves on to something else. I appreciate Potter’s point as much as I do her posts, but shutting people down with the touch of a button — by bouncers, no less — isn’t something I’m comfortable with. (Maybe you should do a show on Popper’s Paradox of Freedon in the Internet age.) Why not bring people along by example, instead?

    In any case, better than bouncers might be for everyone to bear this in mind:

    Who is wise? He who can learn from every man.

    Who is mighty? he who can control his passions.

    Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot.

    Who is honorable? He who honors mankind.

    — Ben-Soma (in the Mishnah)

  • Old Nick

    hurley, I appreciate your posts – all of them, and I always have – and especially lately. I dearly appreciated your spirited defense of Potter and others (me too). So please forgive me this quibble:

    I’ve no problem with having my own posts whacked by Brendan and Greta if it cleans up the tone enough to entice back to ROS the many bylines who’ve gone MIA since July.

    Think of it this way: if regenerating the much more vibrant community ROS hosted only a few months back necessitates periodic purges of toxic posts, it’s not too steep a price.

    In fact, I’d call it a damn good bargain.

    Respectfully and appreciatively yours,

    oN 🙂

  • hurley

    I should add that I have the quote from the Mishnah second-hand, from a peculiar book I’m reading called The Japanese and the Jews, a “comparative study” in the Nihonist tradition by a mysterious Japanese-born Jew. I can’t recommend it, yet, as anything but an oddity, but it might be of some obscure interest to you, jdyer, given your grasp and interests. If you’re interested I’ll let you know what I make of it.

  • “was the one to provoke this kinder, gentler draconianism, replete with censorship and “bouncers” (unfortunate image)”

    censorship is often good. not everyone contributes in good faith with the same attempt at reasoned discourse. there is a reason that SLASHDOT has reader moderation. there is a reason that many blogs require registration. spending too much time on enforcing the community spirit eventually saps the primary point of discussion as everyone becomes focused on “meta” issues.

    but people can disagree as to the nature and intent of online communities. i run two weblogs myself and have had to deal with racists and violent leftists showing up. you don’t teach these people by example, their aim is to destroy, plain and simple. as a forum becomes popular aggressive moderation becomes necessary. when humans lived in small bands and even villages legal fiat was unnecessary as people could take care of their own problems (and remember, some of this involved shunning, expulsion and even communal sanction of murder). but once communities became too large explicit rules enforced by arbiters became a necessity to maintain civil order.

    you can’t let one (or more) individual dictate the temperature of the communal kitchen.

  • Brendan

    Hurley, this latest gentle draconianism was not, in fact, prompted by your post, so I wouldn’t feel personally addressed. You’re right, we should have instituted this before several threads got out of hand.

    But I disagree that these threads are self-correcting. We’ve tried for a long time now to leave these threads alone, under the same assumption — that people are reasonable and will work things out — but have been proven almost consistently incorrect in this assumption. I think that many rules of courtesy that we naturally follow when talking to each other — monitoring facial expressions and body language — are impossible when we talk online. We get much angrier much faster, and do wildly rude things most of us would never consider in real life.

    I’d love to lead by example, but we’ve tried it — as have several regular commenters — and it didn’t work the way we’d hoped. I had a long conversation about this with Jim Leff, who runs the wildly successful Chowhound forum, and he told me that he’s ruthless about those who don’t follow his clearly stated rules. The consequence is that his forums are among the more helpful on the Internet; nobody’s afraid to post because, though they get argued with (which, face it, everyone loves) they don’t get insulted or shouted down (which nobody loves).

    We noticed a marked decline in volume of posters on those threads that become the most acrimonious. If you know for sure that one bad actor is patrolling a thread — shouting down, misrepresenting and insulting anyone who disagrees — wouldn’t you stay away? Why would it be worth your time to step in and get yelled at in turn?

  • Old Nick

    Bravo, Brendan.

    On the delicate issue of censorship, I’m philosophically aligned with hurley, but pragmatically aligned with Brendan, et. al.

    Here’s how I’d try to describe my feelings, by reworking razib’s words:

    “Censorship of insult, bullying, and belittling is regrettable, but a necessary evil that serves a higher good.”

    It should be employed but rarely. ROS ought implement it only when complaints arrive in the ‘flag’ inbox, and, even then, before deciding the issue, take into account the history of the exchange in question and the known behavioral histories of the contributor(s) in question.

    Besides, if any deleted post carried idea-content that contributed to the substance of the conversation, the contributor can post it again with the offensive language and/or tone edited out!

    If such self-editorial activity is too difficult for the offender to conceive of and then enact…well, maybe we’re better off without him.

  • Potter

    Nick, that’s another reason why I would like my offending post back.

    Razib: you don’t teach these people by example, their aim is to destroy, plain and simple. as a forum becomes popular aggressive moderation becomes necessary. when humans lived in small bands and even villages legal fiat was unnecessary as people could take care of their own problems (and remember, some of this involved shunning, expulsion and even communal sanction of murder). but once communities became too large explicit rules enforced by arbiters became a necessity to maintain civil order

    It’s true. I know how painful shunning can be too. I agree with this assessment when I would actually prefer a good fight. I am capable of it- just as stubborn and just as mean as the next person. And I learn a lot in the process from a good fight.

    There is such a thing as a basically respectful heated civil discussion tough but I am not sure that can happen either on a single thread that is to be shared. If you allow personal attack the dynamic changes, the chemistry changes. The thread gets hijacked. It’s selfish and inconsiderate to everyone else. The only ones that may gain are the ones emotionally involved if there is a good outcome. Often there is not. Where there is no good will there definitely is no good outcome.

    On that poor Anna Politkovskaya thread there was no room for anything else even after that fabulous post of Georgian’s sharing the letter from Russia. That post was drowned out, buried by working out extraneous and really personal issues, nobody really getting anywhere. And yet that post from Georgian may have been the best of the 70. Who will read through that thread far to find it? How many who come or came to the site prompted by an interest in the topic ( like Georgian) would come back to a ROS Wild West?

  • rc21

    Censorship should be avoided at all costs. Having said that I can understand the people who run the sight wanting to keep people from feeling bullied and attacked.

    If it were up to me I would make it clear that threats of violence or attacks on ones mental stability could and may be censored. But I would never censor ones political thoughts or his/her thoughts on any other subject, no matter how outlandish they may seem. That goes for both the right and left side of the political spectrum. I have no problem with posts I read on this sight that I find illogical and silly. but I would not want them censored.

    You guys run the sight, and do all the hard work keeping it going. So it is your decision.It’s a tough call to make. Good luck.

  • I will chime in and say two things: 1) I have not been participating on the threads because of the lack of civility. I don’t want to spend my time defending civility, I want civil discourse.

    2) I administer an online forum that is an extension of a real life community. I have never had to ban anyone in real life. Acceptable behaviors are learned via tone and body language. And the desire to maintain connection self-motivates everybody. In the forum, I ban people regularly. I’m quick and ruthless. Some rules only have to be broken once. Others I might give three chances. I’ve never had to ban anyone who is a member of the real life community. Virtual participants are the only ones who exhibit no self-control or mutual respect and who can make the threads unbearable in a flash. When it happens they are banned and all posts are removed. This is not about the right to free speech. People can speak what they want. Somewhere else. People who offend would be ushered right out of a group meeting, so why do we allow them to poison the well online?

    Brendan, I welcome the more proactive moderating. Its a tedious job, but it’s worth it. While you may have a few dissenting voices, I’m pretty sure there is a vast majority of support. Good luck.

  • Brendan

    rc21, no comments will be deleted for the substantive nature of their content. The problem is not not that people are disagreeing about politics, but that they’re doing so in an often hostile and unproductive manner. But there will be no political censorship, and no censorship of things illogical or silly. We’ll let the rest of you hash out all the illogical and silly stuff.

  • peggy sue

    Brendan, Thank you yes, this is all good and we’ve been waiting for it, I agree with sidewalker I’d prefer to have you as an emercency respondant than my Dad. You asked all us Communists to raise our hands? OK – though, its not very practical to be a communist in the USA these days. I’m registered as a Green, but in my heart of hearts I’m right there with Tina Mondotti and Che.

    I’ve worked in very hot kitchens and have found it helpful to go stand in the walk-in freezer to cool off once in a while. Vitrolic threads are not only unpleasant but they are boring. I hope you will be vigilant and ruthless. It’s not censorship. It’s editorial responsibility.

    As for the song Kumbaya. As I was being led into jail with a group of fellow Earth First!ers the jailer happened to comment “All right you guys, just don’t start singing Kumbaya, OK?” Naturally I started singing Kumbaya but my commrades would’t have it. They groaned and threw things at me. Months later when I was in a cell by myself and was suppose to be let out that day in my inpatience I suddenly discovered that the stainless steel jail table made an awesome steel drum. I started wailing on that table and singing Kumbaya like I was Jose Feliciano at Woodstock. It was the most incredible musical experience I’ve ever had. I love that song.

  • That should be Tina Modotti (not Mondotti)

  • filmdude

    I’m surprised that the show, so far, seems to have completely sidestepped the identity of sexual orientation. We have a president who’s used homophobia, more particularly fear of extending the right of marriage to gay and lesbian families, to incite hate. The language — and the vitriol — with which our president and his party has incited Americans to fear the imagined evil effects of gay marriage closely mirrors the way the Nazis used Jew-hating to unify the German electorate. And, after the president announced the proposed Amendment to the Constitution, which was destined to fail, butwhich was also designed to serve as a rallying-point to that portion of the electorate who could be rallied around the issue, people who supported that amendment against gay marriage made sure to rally people of color (in forums like CSPAN) who would speak out against gays – so that supporters of gay rights who claimed solidarity with the history of American Civil Rights would appear to be misguided and wrong-headed. I do think that a huge portion of the electorate right now identifies as anti-gay marriage or pro-gay marriage. And even some voters who don’t particularly care either way about gay marriage are offended — or heartened — by so much energy directed against the idea of gay families and gay unions.

  • manning120

    I used to edit a hard-copy philosophical journal. Once two members got into an extended discussion of whether Einstein based his special theory on the Michelson-Morely experiment. Each writer considered himself an expert. Their comments about each other’s articles were freighted with words like “idiotic” and “naive,” and sentences like, “Mr. X’s letter itself establishes that the author has only a confused and at most rudimentary understanding of the views of Einstein.” I hesitated to simply discard the contributions because the authors were intelligent and their points deserved attention. I asked the authors to tone their writing down, but they didn’t. So I printed the articles with all the “flaming” elided, substituting three periods (and non-flaming bracketed language where necessary). I advised all members of the policy and said anyone could have a copy of the unexpurgated version upon request. No one, not even the offending contributors, complained about this. No one asked to see the original versions. I thought the articles as published were quite interesting and informative. The only downside was the time it took to carry out the redactions, but I found it more amusing than tedious. Perhaps something like that could be done here. Making the unredacted versions available should reassure everyone that the editor’s judgment can be reviewed.

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