When we began as the Slacktiverse, we continued the moderation policy run by Fred Clark, which is to say that The Board Administration Team (TBAT) only removed from the board comments that were obvious spam. This was the policy decided upon based on community discussion.
After a year and some months, however, this policy has become unsustainable. Controversial articles attracted a more vicious species of troll; TBAT members have come in for unexpectedly high levels of personal harassment. The community hasn't seen the worst of this, because in line with agreements reached in later discussions it was also agreed that we'd remove obvious trolls and bullies. To give you some idea of what we're dealing with, we've gathered a sample, which can be read here. (Trigger Warning: Almost everything that can trigger including profanity, rape, misogyny, violence, homophobia, racism and more)
We have to read and decide what to do about all of this. We have to read all posts, no matter how vile. Even more wearing, from our point of view, are the less obviously disgusting posts that simply aggress on us to a relentless degree, secure in the knowledge that we can neither identify the harasser nor walk away from the board. There is, for instance, a recurring pattern that is getting us all down:
- TBAT member makes a comment during a discussion thread that reader X takes exception to. (Very often on some feminist issue.) X goes after the TBAT, not with civil disagreement but with a personal attack, very often focused not on the subject under discussion but on attacking the TBAT for considering herself entitled to make observations or have confidence in her opinion
- TBAT responds, often with exasperation, having seen this too many times before.
- X escalates attack to the point where it violates community standards.
- X finds himself (and it is almost always a 'he') in the spam trap, as he would no matter who his post was directed against. TBAT reads his abusive comment, discusses policy and decides that we're not called upon to publish standard-breaking posts of any kind, and the fact that this one is directed against us doesn't make it an abuse of authority to stick to that.
- X decides this is a personal vendetta between himself and TBAT, considers any attacks on the TBAT a blow for justice against illegitimate authority, and delivers a series of impassioned, personal and vindictive tirades, usually for several days.
- These comments wind up in the spam trap, generally because they've gone well past the level of abuse we'd expect anyone to take. We have to take it, though, because we have to read the spam trap, and then we have to discuss what to do about it. Stuck with a policy of 'avoid censorship as much as possible', we have to waste our lives reading all these insults and debating what to do this time. Freed from community scrutiny and well aware that we have to take time combing and pondering over the spam trap, X lets rip.
We never wished to abuse authority, and we constructed policy entirely in line with that wish. The upshot is that our lack of authority is being used to abuse us.
We cannot carry on like this.
When we started out, we preferred the hands-off policy and hoped the community would police itself. However, what has since emerged is that there is a reason why most moderated sites have rules about attacking the mods. It's not because the mods want to be dictators of their little kingdom; it's simply because being a moderator attracts a lot more personal abuse than being a community members, and it attracts a heaped measure of it if you happen to be female.
We can't do this any more. A moderation policy that suited a male, non-commenting blogger is simply unworkable for female community leaders. We have had enough, and we gather from comments that quite a few community members have had enough too.
We are proposing some rule changes.
The fine-tuning of the changes is up for discussion, but the need for new rules is not. We have to be clear about this: if we cannot get some new policies to protect ourselves, we are quitting. All of us. We do not say this to threaten or manipulate; we say it because we cannot live like this. We will cease to run the site, return the address to Fred Clark, and call it a day.
We tried the hands-off policy. It has failed. This site either continues with a different policy, or it cannot continue at all.
So what we suggest is this: a 'yellow card/red card' policy. For those unfamiliar with soccer: getting 'carded' is a referee's penalty for fouling. Two yellow cards equal one red card; one red card equals a ban. We suggest the following applications, but this can be discussed:
- Not using appropriate and specific trigger warnings after being asked to by any member of the community = yellow card.
Exception: if a trigger warning is requested that other community members consider frivolous or manipulative, they should raise it for discussion. TBAT will make a final ruling.
- Hate speech, including victim blaming and offensive slurs = yellow card.
- Excessive discourtesy to someone based on disagreeing with their opinion = a warning. Continuing in the excessive discourtesy after being warned once = a yellow card.
- Sockpuppeting = yellow card
- Giving TBAT grief about their rulings = yellow card. If people feel they have been unfairly carded, they should send a private e-mail to TBAT explaining why. If this e-mail is courteous, it will be considered; if it is discourteous, it will get another yellow card and the sender will, consequently, be on at least two yellow cards and find themselves banned. If people feel a third party has been unfairly carded, they should likewise send TBAT a private e-mail; again, it will get a yellow card if it is rude but be considered seriously if it contains good points.
- Threats or violently abusive language = red card.
- Deliberately attempting to trigger people, including deliberately graphic or mocking trigger warnings = red card.
- Using anonymizing and redirect services without explanation and a consistent name/email address = red card. After this has happened, a notification will be posted on the relevant thread explaining the banning and linking to this policy page. If the person who has received the red card was using the redirect ISP company because they weren't aware of the policy, they can contact TBAT to explain their situation and set up a system for using one.
It has been a problem for some time that certain posters have been using anonymizing and redirect services to conceal their identities. For those not familiar with the term, these are companies/services that bounce a post or comment around different countries before letting it appear, with the result that it is almost impossible to identify where it originally came from. This is a useful and necessary service for political dissidents and whistleblowers trying to preserve free speech in the face of violent threats; unfortunately, it is also a tactic beloved of cyber-bullies.
For some months now, for instance, the atheist roundtable has been delayed, largely because of the regular threats and harassment that began on an earlier post and have never stopped. Likewise, harassers of TBAT almost universally favour using such companies. Because such people are using redirect services, we have no way of:
- Knowing how many people are threatening and harassing us
- Reliably preventing them from appearing and continuing to bully the community or individual members thereof at any time
Basically, we have some cyber-bullies who have fixed either on the whole community or on particular members of it, and because they are using redirect ISP companies, they can cause us a lot of stress and trouble at no risk to themselves. And we are fed up with it.
What we suggest is this: nobody is to use an anonymizing or redirect service unless they have genuine reason to fear that there would be serious consequences to being identified. We have posters, for instance, who are being stalked in real life or who have reason to fear physical violence if their religious views, sexual orientation or other personal qualities were known to their neighbours, and it's natural and fair that they should have the right to protect their identities. People who simply want to insult other people in complete comfort are another matter, and we see no reason why we should indulge their cowardice and spite.
Someone who has a good reason to anonymize/redirect their posts should contact TBAT to explain their need for anonymity, and should thenceforth use a consistent pseudonym so we know who they are. If it looked as if they were at risk of being identified, they would be free to change their pseudonym; they just need to notify us. We would guarantee complete confidentiality in such cases; should the membership of TBAT change, we would not disclose the details to any new members without the express permission of the poster concerned.
We believe it will make it easier, not harder, to have free speech on the board when the cyber-bullies are not silencing people.
So that's one policy change: no using anonymizing or redirect services without a good reason, and 'I want to harass people in a consequence-free environment' is not considered a good reason. Others can be discussed in the thread.
Please do NOT use this thread as yet another excuse to harass members of TBAT. As per our new resolution to live a more bearable life: policy suggestions are welcome, personal attacks will be deleted. And if you really cannot distinguish between the two or discuss issues here without insulting people, then you are one of the people who is ruining it for everyone else and this discussion is about how to reduce your impact, not how to benefit you. Enough is enough.
The Slacktiverse is a community blog. Content reflects the individual opinions of the contributors. We welcome disagreement in the comment threads, and invite anyone who wishes to present an alternative interpretation of a situation to write and submit a post.