New commenting rules


What are they?

The ongoing meltdown in Thunderdome and the departure of Chris tell me we’ve got something that needs to be fixed. I don’t quite know how to fix everything, so let’s crowdsource it — you people leave comments here telling me what rules you think might work to get the knifey-bitey-smashy atmosphere to lighten up a little. Just a little.

Comments

  1. Pteryxx says

    addendum – *it might be an interesting meta-experiment, as is my asking Nerd to back off in the first place. Nothing personal meant by it, Nerd.

  2. says

    Skimble mentioned a “more harmonious space”. The responses:

    This is not a “harmonious space”.

    and

    Who is trying for a totally harmonious and boring space?

    This in a thread that’s about doing something about meltdowns and good people leaving the community. Why misread Skimble in this way? It kind of sounds like defensiveness to me. It’s pretty clear that stridency and passion are basic values here and that you don’t want total peace and harmony. Yet you have a sort of conflict that you don’t want. Why not address that rather than making a misleading interpretation of what Skimble said?

    My take is that it’s not combat with trolls that creates the sort of conflict you’re trying to fix. It seems that a lot of people feel that (reflexive?) combativeness with people who are not yet known to be here in bad faith is at least part of the problem. Reading Skimble in the way you did muddies the water and makes a discussion of the real issue harder.

    So I disagree with Skimble about trolls, but it’s frustrating that the more difficult issues don’t get attention.

  3. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    Query: why is “harmonious” being equated to “boring”?

  4. Nick Gotts says

    It seems that a lot of people feel that (reflexive?) combativeness with people who are not yet known to be here in bad faith is at least part of the problem. – Asher Kay

    I’m not convinced that’s so (I mean, that it is a significant part of the problem, or even that a lot of people – other than trolls – think so). I think it’s quite rare that a non-troll newbie gets savaged. The most recent problems were the result of rifts between people who have been commenting (or in Chris Clarke’s case, posting) for some time – and in the other case, the rift was imported from a private space off-blog.

  5. smhll says

    On the other hand, there are problems with NOT ignoring trolls, too. Lashing out against a troll just gives them what they wanted. Using a rational argument against them won’t have any really beneficial effects and the resulting argument derails the actual conversation that was ongoing.

    I’m a bit slow getting caught up and PZ already posted.

    My belated and redundant opinion is the I agree that the topical diversions offered by trolls tend to be derailing.

    However, I do not believe that using rational argument against trolls won’t have “any really beneficial effects.” Please look beyond the scope of the troll xerself. A coherent argument against a common misconception educationally benefits many lurkers who share the misconception, and can help strengthen the argumentative “hand” of any lurker/participant here who will encounter this misconception in the future.

    I don’t think it’s always true that lashing out against a troll gives them what they want. Supposition as to what the troll wants and whether even withering lack of appreciation is gratifying for them. (People are complex. Your argument oversimplifies to an extent that makes it untrue some of the time.)

    Not arguing with you. Just disagreeing on some of the points.

  6. says

    I think it’s quite rare that a non-troll newbie gets savaged. The most recent problems were the result of rifts between people who have been commenting (or in Chris Clarke’s case, posting) for some time

    You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. It’s easy enough to actually find out why I left.

    I couldn’t ask my non-Horde friends to comment on my posts here in good conscience out of fear they’d get rhetorically savaged. My one friend that did so, Rob Grigjanis, who has since proven his worth as a commenter, went through stupid hazing from the regulars even after he’d apologized for an infelicitous phrasing, then apologized for reacting combatively when he was challenged, then had me step in to say “Rob is not a troll, people, I know him,” and then had PZ step in to tell the regulars to cut it the fuck out.

    People are already rewriting history here. People are gleefully adopting the Desert Tortoises With Boltcutters pledge as a credo but ignoring the whole rather prominent thing about being kind rather than civil.

    It kind of makes me want to puke.

    I left because the rampant, casual shitheadedness in comments here which people laud for making this a “safe space” makes it a safe space only for those who are capable of dishing out casual shitheadedness without regret.

    If that’s okay with those who remain, then fine. But do not erase my fucking words — or worse, USE them — to justify the continuation of the status quo here. Because that’s just fucking lying.

  7. says

    Chris:

    People are gleefully adopting the Desert Tortoises With Boltcutters pledge as a credo but ignoring the whole rather prominent thing about being kind rather than civil.

    Yeah, that’s getting missed in huge way. It’s the one thing I’m steadily working on in my case, to take a deep breath, and be as fair and kind as possible. Hard work for me, temper is much easier.

  8. says

    @Nick Gotts #504

    I think it’s quite rare that a non-troll newbie gets savaged. The most recent problems were the result of rifts between people who have been commenting (or in Chris Clarke’s case, posting) for some time

    Okay – I don’t have hard numbers, and maybe I’m relying too much on my direct experience. I also have a problem with expressing myself too indirectly sometimes, so when I’m misread, part of the blame is my own.

    It seems like there’s a common thread, though, between what happened with Chris Clarke (at least in the thread about depression that I was reading) and what happens with new commenters. It’s difficult to pin down, but it seems like there’s: 1) a rush to apply more extreme views and labels to the commenter than is warranted by what they actually expressed; and 2) a lack of the sort of leeway/requests for clarification that are commonly given in discussions.

    Both of these are mentioned in the commenting rules under “Recommended Attitudes”. I think the question is how to create incentives for taking those attitudes, if that’s possible.

  9. Nick Gotts says

    Chris Clarke@506,

    Apologies – I had read the comment you link to, but clearly much of its content hadn’t stayed with me. I still don’t agree with you about the extent of that problem though.

  10. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    I think it is important to remember that while Pharyngula is a rude blog, it is not (nor should it be, IMO) a mean blog.

    Some people seem to miss the distinction between the two and stray across the line.

  11. says

    Nick:

    Apologies

    Accepted.

    I still don’t agree with you about the extent of that problem though.

    You might have a different perspective if you’d spent a year riding herd on comments here. It’s a self-selecting process: the people that get through the hazing and stay are fine with the climate. Those that don’t may not be. You might check out the comments on my recent post about the Pharyngula wiki: there are a lot of people saying they no longer comment here bnecause of the climate.

    Some of them I conversed with when the site was at Pharyngula.org. We’re talkiing some tenure here.

    It’s understandable that people might be defensive when a flaw in a social group they identify wiith are brought to their attention. You can see examples of the dynamic in CFI and JREF pretty handily. Piegasm’s comment in this very thread is just the most egregious example of the (Sorry, Anthony K. but) tribalism (with apologies to actual tribal people) that says if you aren’t perfectly okay with how things are here then you’re one of them:

    The people to whom this place is unattractive are those who carry around a lot of bigoted, wrongheaded ideas about how the world works and dislike seeing people called down sharply for expressing those views.

    You honestly don’t need a “turned out not to be a troll, oops” scorecard to see how that kind of smug and spurious exclusivity can actually cause harm to people. The Horde makes much of its concern for the marginalized. It (as a collective) may not intend to continue to marginalize people who are wonderful, progressive, creative, and conflict-averse.

    But what’s that thing people say around here about intent?

  12. Anthony K says

    It (as a collective) may not intend to continue to marginalize people who are wonderful, progressive, creative, and conflict-averse.

    Emphasis mine. One of the reasons I keep harping on more moderation (besides the fact that I’m a feminazi Stalinist who gets a boner every time a libertarian gets thrown in the Gulag/has their comment deleted) is that when you leave trolls to be handled by the regulars, it’s hardly surprising when regulars get trigger-happy, burned out, and mean. People who feel besieged act besieged.

    And when trolls don’t all come wearing identifiable hats, there’s bound to be spillover on non-trolls, the genuinely curious but naive, and those with a different ethos. It goes the other way, too. Moderators can spot morphers and socks by their IPs; regular commenters can’t. And the conflict-averse, on whichever side, tend to get run over roughshod.

    But that’s obviously just my view. I hope this crowd-sourcing idea of PZ’s garners some good solutions, and even though I see some henhouse-guarding (to use Chas’ parlance), I think I’ve seen some good self-reflection. I’ve been trying to use this discussion for that sort of thing (which is why I’ve been relatively quiet these past few days).

  13. Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001 says

    I think much of the issue – not all, but a lot – is that Pharyngula gets a lot of trolls JAQing off. So we’re a bit jaded and are prone to jumping to the conclusion that someone asking an questionably-worded question or otherwise using imperfect language is such a troll.

    Many times, that conclusion is the correct one. But many times, it is the wrong one.

    Obviously, we don’t want to give the trolls too much ground – but maybe we should let the trolls actually establish themselves as such before we bring out the flamethrowers? Some trolls do that in their first comment, at which point we should fire away. But many don’t.

    If someone isn’t a troll, then “here’s the answer you’re looking for, but please use [term] instead of [term]. Also read [linkdump] for more information” has a decent chance of working. Someone ignoring that information is usually enough proof that they are, in fact, a troll.

    Like I said before: we’re rude. We’re profane. We use naughty words.

    But we shouldn’t be mean. We should’t be cruel. And while we shouldn’t tolerate steaming piles of horseshit, we shouldn’t respond to imperfection by screaming bloody murder.

  14. says

    Anthony K:

    People who feel besieged act besieged.

    Yes, and this is a massive problem here, it’s certainly one for me. While having actual moderators here is problematic, the changes to how the monitors respond, and having a direct means of contacting us is working well, and improvements are still being discussed.

  15. Nick Gotts says

    You might check out the comments on my recent post about the Pharyngula wiki: there are a lot of people saying they no longer comment here bnecause of the climate. – Chris Clarke

    Well no, having read that thread, I don’t think there are really that many: somewhere between 6 and 10, I reckon, depending on how strict I am about the criteria. There are a lot saying they’re sorry you’re going (as am I) and they understand why, but most of those are people I still see commenting.

  16. says

    Nick:

    Well no, having read that thread, I don’t think there are really that many: somewhere between 6 and 10, I reckon, depending on how strict I am about the criteria.

    I haven’t been keeping track or anything, but in the 7 years I’ve been reading Pharyngula, we’ve lost a lot of valuable voices. I think it’s fair to say that we lost a hefty amount of them because of changes in the commentariat vibe.

    Some people have said they left because it’s just not fun anymore, and I think some of that can be put down to us becoming more aware that there are some things you shouldn’t joke about and all, but I think along with becoming more serious, we have all gotten too ferocious as well, and the tendency to leap first needs to be reigned back.

  17. Nick Gotts says

    Caine,

    Some people have said they left because it’s just not fun anymore, and I think some of that can be put down to us becoming more aware that there are some things you shouldn’t joke about and all

    There has been a change in focus, and some people just haven’t liked that, for a mixture of reasons, some perfectly fine and some not; but I think a turnover of commenters is inevitable, and we’ve gained a lot of good people too.

    but I think along with becoming more serious, we have all gotten too ferocious as well, and the tendency to leap first needs to be reigned back.

    Well, when I first appeared, I was savaged by Glen Davidson, who completely misinterpreted what I was saying – perhaps with some justification, but he wouldn’t lay off even when I had clarified! (I was arguing that the mind is not simply a function of the brain, and he thought I was positing a soul, whereas what I was actually arguing was that the rest of the body and the external world are also part of the mind’s “hardware”). So that tendency isn’t new. I agree it’s increased, but mostly as a defensive reaction to the extremely high level of misogynist trolling. Yes, there are some occasions when it’s too rapid (and incidentally, I think you over-reacted somewhat to Philip Cohen on the “Homogamy” thread), but I certainly don’t think it’s the main problem.

  18. Walton says

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been here a long time (since 2008), and am in a very unusual position as a commenter, because I started out as a conservative who came here to criticize PZ. I changed a great deal in the subsequent three years, and Pharyngula was one of the most profound influences in that change – not so much the blog as the community and the commenters. This place is important to me. I made many of my current friends here. And I appreciate many things about the culture, including the ability to speak bluntly, to say “fuck” when one feels like it, and to call something “bullshit” when it is.

    But I think it is true – and I speak from considerable experience, both as a participant and an observer – that the rhetorical savaging sometimes goes too far. I’ve been involved in several blowups here in the last few years, some of which hurt a great deal at the time. I’ve observed many others which didn’t involve me. Many of them involved people who had been friends, were friends, or went on to become friends. Sometimes cutting people some slack is good. Not always. But sometimes. And I take partial responsibility for the way things are, because I have yelled at people and hounded people on several occasions myself. But I think that we do need to pull back a little from “rhetorical piranha tank” mode, as a community.

  19. Anthony K says

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been here a long time (since 2008), and am in a very unusual position as a commenter, because I started out as a conservative who came here to criticize PZ.

    Funny thing, that: I know I savaged Walton terribly when he first arrived (and I’m not in the least proud of that), but now he’s probably one commenter whose comments I stop and read twice.

    In general: if Walton says a thing, it’s worth reading and thinking on.

  20. says

    Nick:

    (and incidentally, I think you over-reacted somewhat to Philip Cohen on the “Homogamy” thread)

    Yes, I think I did too, which is why I shut my mouth and decided to listen.

  21. says

    @Esteleth

    I think much of the issue – not all, but a lot – is that Pharyngula gets a lot of trolls JAQing off.

    You also get a lot of non-trolls JAQing off. One of the first things I learned here is the effect that treating something like an “interesting problem” has on people who actually have to deal with that problem every day of their lives. It was the kind but firm comments that opened my eyes. I understand that that’s not the same for everyone.

    Another idea… There are certain threads that are way more likely to be besieged than others, and it’s never hard to guess which ones it’s going to be from reading the OP. Maybe it makes sense to lay down a couple of explicit commenting rules at the end of such posts (e.g, “say what Jane Doe shouldn’t have done = immediate ban”). Or maybe that would just cause trolls to be more creative with their wording.

    Anyway, I hope some of the moderation changes help with the besiegement problem.

  22. says

    Anthony K:

    he’s probably one commenter whose comments I stop and read twice.

    Yes, same here. I find Walton’s comments to be of great value, and I always learn from them, which is a gift.

  23. says

    I don’t feel a teensy bit of sorrow for any meanness I may have thrown at Walton when he was libertarian, or when he repeated libertarian talking points. I feel no more, or less, pride over that. He learned, and that’s great. I am not going to be nice to asshattery on an off chance that my being nice might make them grow to be better. And I’m not a mind reader who can know in advance that a given libertarian actually will have that potential, nor am I prescient enough to know they will *act* on that potential.

    And I haven’t exactly been indiscriminately vicious. Granted, I’m also not really around much now. I concur that things need to tone down. I consciously avoided commenting on the straw that broke Chris’ back because I could not formulate a properly nice way to object. (Hindsight of course, would have me have at least said “Uh, y’all are going way the fuck too far given that we know Chris is a generally decent dude”). I don’t know. But just because Walton was JAQing off in the past doesn’t mean we should expect kindness to all people JAQing off. Ngh. But then, saying that sounds like a defense of the status quo, which also needs to change. Fuck it, shutting up again.

  24. Anthony K says

    I don’t feel a teensy bit of sorrow for any meanness I may have thrown at Walton when he was libertarian, or when he repeated libertarian talking points.

    I tend to feel bad when I’ve been mean, mostly because experience has taught me that I’m extremely good at being mean, so I should really be somewhat over cautious about it.

  25. John Morales says

    [meta]

    There’s this idea that all regular commenters (aka “the Horde”) consider themselves part of the community, but that’s only true for certain values of ‘community'; I see much conflation of the attitude and beliefs of “the Horde” as an entity with that of its constituents.

    (Beware the fallacy of division)

    Chris Clarke @506:

    I left because the rampant, casual shitheadedness in comments here which people laud for making this a “safe space” makes it a safe space only for those who are capable of dishing out casual shitheadedness without regret.

    Chris Clarke @15:

    My leaving is not, as some have suggested, about “my health,” or “feeling unsafe” or “hurt.” It’s that I was becoming a worse person for exposure to the comments here. And I made things worse as a result. And I’m unwilling to continue to do so.

    I make that to be two different reasons.

    (I note that I find it hard to believe someone actually has left when they’re still posting comments here)

  26. says

    John Morales:

    I make that to be two different reasons.

    I thought smart people didn’t make stupid arguments.

    (I note that I find it hard to believe someone actually has left when they’re still posting comments here)

    When people grossly misrepresent what I took pains to say, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to respond.

    More personally? You made it very clear from the moment PZ announced my coming on board here that you wanted me not to be posting here. Now that you’ve gotten what you wanted, a little graciousness would be an uncharacteristic mark of class on your part.

  27. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Chris, I haven’t really been paying attention to these threads, but I was glad to have you, I’m sorry to see you go, and I think that kindness over civility rather than just anything over civility was a great approach.

  28. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Chris Clarke @529:

    I thought smart people didn’t make stupid arguments.

    To what argument do you refer, and why is it stupid?

    More personally? You made it very clear from the moment PZ announced my coming on board here that you wanted me not to be posting here. Now that you’ve gotten what you wanted, a little graciousness would be an uncharacteristic mark of class on your part.

    You misperceived my intent, then; I’ve never had a problem with you posting here and I’ve never expressed any desire for your departure.

    I don’t dislike you in the least, Chris, though I did find your moderation policy a bit heavy-handed.

    (And, unlike your experience, I consider my participation here has made (and is making) me a better person)

  29. says

    Morales: SHUT UP NOW. If it were possible to trade you for a Chris Clarke, I would without hesitation. If you’re going to keep this crap up, you’re going to persuade me that the comments here are better off without you even if I get nothing in trade.

    You might want to contemplate the kind of person I ask to participate here vs. some of the kinds that just show up because I leave the door open.

  30. says

    Besides the examples Chris made, I’ll also point out that a personal friend of mine and a professional zebrafish geneticists and developmental biologist, Don Kane, showed up here and got chewed out for “not knowing” genetics. I considered that a serious low point here. He’s a working research scientist in genetics, for bog’s sake, and people scorned him as some kind of clueless newb.

  31. Walton says

    Rutee,

    I don’t feel a teensy bit of sorrow for any meanness I may have thrown at Walton when he was libertarian, or when he repeated libertarian talking points. I feel no more, or less, pride over that. He learned, and that’s great. I am not going to be nice to asshattery on an off chance that my being nice might make them grow to be better.

    Oh, I wouldn’t expect or want anyone to feel any regret about that. I was a clueless douche in those days, and being yelled at from time to time didn’t do me any particular harm. That wasn’t really what I was talking about.

  32. Nick Gotts says

    You also get a lot of non-trolls JAQing off. One of the first things I learned here is the effect that treating something like an “interesting problem” has on people who actually have to deal with that problem every day of their lives. It was the kind but firm comments that opened my eyes. I understand that that’s not the same for everyone. – Asher Kay

    Good point. But as someone stuffed to bursting point with privilege, I certainly don’t feel I can even advise people who have to deal with such problems daily that they could try “kind but firm” first!

    As for Walton, I do feel (and have expressed) regret at how long it took me to notice that his attitude had changed.

    For clarity, I certainly wouldn’t mind if “we pull back a little from “rhetorical piranha tank” mode, as a community” as Walton says. I think I’ve done so a little myself since reverting to my meatspace name, though others might differ. But I don’t think it’s the main problem, we have had a number of people saying it’s the instant smackdown of perceived bigotry that makes this a safe space for them, and once again, the “Stunned silence” thread demonstrated that many people do feel it is such a space.

  33. says

    Nick:

    But I don’t think it’s the main problem, we have had a number of people saying it’s the instant smackdown of perceived bigotry that makes this a safe space for them

    That’s true, however, there’s a big difference between honest ignorance and open bigotry. I think we do tend to lose people because there’s an assumption of bad faith. Pharyngula has a very steep learning curve, and I do think it’s unfair to expect new people to be immediately up to speed. We won’t suffer if we cut new people some slack.

    As for the Stunned Silence thread, there were several different problems within it, which highlighted just how much it was not a safe space for a number of people because of certain directions the conversations took, and there were also some serious fuck ups on my part, and a few others, in erasing trans*people and intersex people, and so on. I think it’s fair to say that no one space can offer everything, and that yes, there is always room for improvement.

  34. says

    I’d have to concur with the savaging being a little too high. I know it’s not my blog, and I’ve already made the suggestion to bring the Lounge / Thunderdome dynamic to every thread, which I think would go a long way to clearing up the anger.

    We’re dug in after years of people coming through this place showing mean-spirited bigotry, and it’s clearly affecting how we communicate. I almost completely have drawn back to the Lounge because the rancor in the common threads is – to borrow a terminology – harshing my vibe.

    It’s not just the trolls, but it’s also some of the commenters. The three-post rule, though not a hard limit, needs to be strictly enforced.

    Maybe an additional suggestion: put 101-style links in the bottom of the blog post. If someone comes in spouting a 101-style question, direct them to those links. If they continue to press for answers they’ve already received, then ask again.

    @Nick Gotts:

    the “Stunned silence” thread demonstrated that many people do feel it is such a space.

    I’d like to direct your recollection to Elyse’s post in that thread, as well as Cyrano the 2nd.

    Also Crip Dyke more recently in Thunderdome.

    We’re not as safe a space as we can be.

  35. says

    Kevin:

    We’re not as safe a space as we can be.

    No, however, as I noted, it’s not possible to be a safe space according to every person’s definition. That’s something which will have to be dealt with on an individual thread basis, and requires as much sensitivity as possible.

  36. says

    But as someone stuffed to bursting point with privilege, I certainly don’t feel I can even advise people who have to deal with such problems daily that they could try “kind but firm” first!

    In the middle of a discussion where it’s happening, I wouldn’t think of eberharding anyone. It felt like talking about it was worthwhile in a thread that was specifically looking for different perspectives.

  37. Dhorvath, OM says

    Caine,

    it’s not possible to be a safe space according to every person’s definition.

    Indeed. This bears repeating.
    ___

    Kevin,

    I almost completely have drawn back to the Lounge because the rancor in the common threads is – to borrow a terminology – harshing my vibe.

    And I feel completely out of my skin going into the lounge any longer. We have different needs.

  38. says

    Several feminists have pointed me to this Joanna Russ essay in recent weeks. I think it’s useful for thinking about our desire for safe space and the means we use to achieve it. It’s probably not accidental that personal rancor has skyrocketed among longtime members of this explicitly feminist community (including, but not limited to, arguments I’ve been involved in) precisely at a time when we are confronting rape and sexual harassment by prominent members of our community and efforts to blacklist controversial feminists from participation in atheist events.

    We obey the Feminine Imperative sometimes, even when we don’t know we are doing so.