I’ve been getting a little exasperated lately — Pharyngula is a relatively lawless place, which is good for getting combative, aggressive discussions going, but not so good when discussions spin off into frustratingly ingrown fussing and howling and pointless boundary-pushing. This is my party, I’ll have you know, and there have been way too many times when I have not been enjoying it.
So I’m changing a few things. There will be new rules. There will be new means of enforcement. The Dungeon is back (bwahahahahaha!). There will be new policies for specific kinds of threads. There will be a few clarifying name changes.
I will be restarting TET and TZT under new names.
TET will become [Lounge]. It is still the same: an open thread, talk about what you want, but I’m going to be specific: it is a safe space. Discussion and polite disagreement are allowed, but you will respect all the commenters, damn you. No personal attacks allowed at all. If you’re feeling angry at someone in the thread, back off and leave: there is no shortage of rage threads on Pharyngula, but this one isn’t it. These threads will be heavily moderated…which means that if you break any of the rules, they will be promptly and strongly enforced.
TZT will become [Thunderdome]. Like it says: open brawling permitted and encouraged. Say what you want, be as vicious and personal as you want, make people bleed metaphorically. Vent here. This thread will be unmoderated; the only restraint will be the unmitigated attacks of other participants in the thread. That means I’ll look the other way at behavior that goes on here, but do be warned: I may eventually decide that you’re too nasty to be allowed to wander elsewhere on the site, and may be condemned to Thunderdome and only Thunderdome forever. And confinement to the Thunderdome is often a preliminary step before being tossed into the Dungeon.
Normal threads will be moderated by the rules listed below.
The Absolute Law
I AM THE BOSS, and don’t you forget it. I have sole and absolute power here; I can ban you, I can destroy your comments, I can shut down whole threads. I am a being of caprice; I don’t have to justify anything I do. So when I tell you to stop doing something, stop. Don’t argue with me. You don’t like that I banned your friend? Tough. Don’t complain to me. I will do as I will to make this place the kind of party I want to attend, and that’s all that matters.
This law supercedes all other rules.
The Rules of Restraint
Threats. Threats of any kind of physical violence are forbidden. Threats of harrassment are forbidden. Implicit threats made by revealing commenters identity, address, email address, or place of work are absolutely forbidden. Arguments are confined to words only, right here, and not in the physical world. Violations of this rule will get you placed in the Dungeon.
Identity. We all know that anonymity can be abused, and that some people will turn into total assholes when unconstrained by accountability. Total anonymity is forbidden. However, I encourage and will protect pseudonyms, as long as you maintain a constant identity. Your online persona is accountable for your actions; I expect you to cultivate that identity, and maintain a recognizable and consistent pseudonym. One pseudonym; sockpuppetry will get you sent to the Dungeon. Stealing someone else’s pseudonym will also get you endungeoned.
No splash damage. I have no problem with insults (except, not in the Lounge!), and encourage everyone to use vigorous and creative language. Except…I insist that you be precise and focused. Stilettos, not shotguns. There are classes of insults that rely on broad spectrum stereotypes to be insulting: racist, sexist, ableist, ageist slurs don’t just hit your target, they hit everyone in that group. So when you slam Joe Schmoe for being “old”, you’re also slamming me, and we old people get tetchy and cranky about that sort of thing.
No motormouths. Look at your own pattern of behavior. If you find yourself taking up 20% or more of a thread; if every other comment is from you; if you find yourself making 3, 4, 5 comments in a row…you’re a boring ass. Shut up for a while. Let other people speak. Stop babbling, step back, write a longer comment offline, and think about it before you post it. Motormouths are either dangerously obsessed or are practicing a form of online harassment, and I will shut them down.
Transparency. Avoid speaking in code, as some people have been doing. A little rot13 to hide movie spoilers is fine, but scribbling away cryptically in a way that forces me to go to a specific website to decode what you’re saying makes my job of moderating comments harder, and also, keep in mind that a hundred thousand people visit this site every day. Most of them already ignore the comments, and the majority of the few that do delve deeper are going to just give up at the sight of nonsense strings. You really aren’t helping to make the discussions accessible. \
The Rules of Charity
Everyone gets three chances. If a new person shows up, give them three comments to make a case before you unlimber the artillery. I don’t care how stupid their arguments are, try the gentle art of persuasion first before you switch to the flamethrower of rhetorical annihilation. This one is tough to enforce because once the rule is broken, the victim is a crumbling pile of ash and nothing can be undone, so please try to give the new chewtoys a little break on your own. Think of it as a strategy for luring them deeper into the lair, if nothing else.
Reset. One persistent problem here is that the regulars develop a history, and at times, it is utterly stultifying. You don’t let grudges go, you resurrect long-dead arguments, you start citing passages from year-old comment threads. Stop it. It inhibits people from changing, and it poisons every discussion with ancient irritations that most people don’t know anything about. Every time I start a new thread, pretend I asked you to look into a little red light, and poof, everything is reset. Treat each comment as an argument unto itself. Linking to old comments to demonstrate the perfidy of a commenter, rather than linking to evidence to refute the commenter’s claims, will be regarded as an abuse of the principle of charity. I am aware that this rule could be abused by repetitious jackholes who make the same claims in every thread and then run away from your answers, but let me do the enforcement.
Point of clarification: Of course you aren’t going to forget everything: a known creationist should be remembered as a known creationist on a new thread. But you can try to approach their arguments from a new angle, and let go of acrimony from any previous thread.
Here’s something new: I’m appointing certain people to be monitors. They don’t get any special powers or privileges, except that I’ve created a special email filter so that if they write to me with a message that contains the word “alert” in the subject line, I’ll be much, much more likely to notice their complaint and will check out the problem. If you’re not a monitor and you see someone running amok on the threads, just make a comment that asks a monitor to send up a signal flare — this will improve the chances that it will come to my attention. If a monitor sends me a message, they should also leave a comment that I will be on my way as soon as possible.
Sometimes a thread gets terribly derailed by one offending jerk, and then it turns into a tangle of recrimination and finger-pointing. If you see that the bat-signal has been lit, calm down, and wait for the banhammer to come crashing down. You don’t need to rage about it endlessly.
I’m implementing three levels of punishment.
Confinement to Thunderdome. Unruly and uncivilized individuals will be told they are only allowed to comment in the Thunderdome thread. Enforcement is voluntary; I don’t have a means in the software to restrict them. However, leaving the Thunderdome to taint other threads will result in instant Dungeon confinement. (Unfortunately, this usually means this punishment leads to endungeonment, because these individuals tend to have poor impulse control.)
Auto-moderation. These miscreants will have their names entered in the software graylist. What that means is that all of their comments will be automatically placed in the moderation queue, and won’t appear on the site until I’ve reviewed and approved them. That means it may be 24 hours or more before they get approved, because I am a lazy moderator. If I see that the comments improve and no longer demand my attention, I may remove the individual from auto-moderation.
Banning to the Dungeon. The Dungeon is my list of banned and blocked individuals. There is no reprieve. They simply don’t get to comment here, ever again.
In case you ever want to cite the laws at people, here are the handy-dandy formatted links to copy-paste as needed.
<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#boss”>The Boss</a>
<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#splashdamage”>Splash Damage</a>
<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#three”>Three Chances</a>