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Discussion, Civility. Moderation, and Moderation


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#1 OFFLINE   Cluttermagnet

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 09:36 AM

I was disappointed to see a thread disappear from the Cooler in the past day or so. I don't remember the exact title, but it was one of those "Yay Obama" sort of threads, right after the election. I remember Tushman giving a rather moving first hand account of the mood in the Chicago park as the new President- Elect gave his victory speech. Tushman edited his text so as to make it reasonably non inflammatory (non political). Soon, Lewmur weighed in with contrary comments making clear his great displeasure with the outcome of the election- specifically, the politics of the winner as he sees them. Then Jeber chimed in with reminders about acceptable posting in the Cooler. Hilarity ensued. At some point, which point I regretfully missed, some Mod pulled the entire thread. Of course I don't know which comments exactly ended up making the thread unacceptable. But I miss it, especially on grounds of suppression of speech.We had a similarly heated time in the Cooler in 2004 in the few weeks leading up to the election, and immediately thereafter. Passions in 2008 are running about the same, I imagine; there has simply been a complete role reversal where the other 'side' gets to be bitter now for 4 or 8 years. Been there, done that. I know exactly how it feels. No, really.Well, that was a painful time for me, 2004, because of the birth and subsequent quick death of a Politics sub-forum in the Cooler. I came darned near to leaving Scot's Forums at that time. And the reason I nearly left was not because of any particular comments from the other 'side' which I might have experienced as hurtful. Oh, there were some painful, ill considered comments, all right. I felt at the time like those on the 'winning' side sometimes had too strong a need to 'rub it in'. I found them to be quite ungracious at times. But that's not why I nearly quit this forum. I nearly quit because I felt 'jerked around' by the brief existence of the on again/ off again Political forum, and even more so because of the suppression of speech which ensued. But I didn't envy the position the moderators found themselves in, mind you.Let's be clear- this is, and always has been, Scot's venue- to run any way he sees fit. Scot's site has helped a lot of folks over the years it has existed. For a goodly time, it was my primary online 'home' and I had a lot of great times in here, the Cooler being my primary hangout. I took a several month hiatus in November '04 and eventually I came back to give it another try. The help forums continued to be helpful, but the Cooler, once a vibrant and fascinating place, was now effectively dead. Simply moribund. The place reminded me of the closing scene in the psycho ward in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Pleasant 'elevator music', bright cheerful lighting, crisp, white uniforms on the staff, patients in the ward oblivious to what had just happened. One thread with cute witticisms and another featuring "three words", some sort of linguistic torture thing which is long on 'novelty' and cuteness and short on depth of communication (near nonexistent). Yeah, moribund. (Siiiighhhhh!) I realized the Cooler had gone strange on me and so instead, I turned to the Linux forum and began learning my way into that excellent OS. But I really missed the Cooler. You see, there are a lot of great, interesting, caring folks who inhabit the Forums, and I had really so much enjoyed chatting with them and getting to know them- all of them, even the dreaded 'other side'. Because we're most of us Americans, we're all of us good world citizens, and we're quite a friendly and welcoming bunch overall, I'd say. That's something you tend to want to hang onto.Rumor had it, as I inquired discretely over the past 4 years, that the Mods don't want to 'baby sit' in the Cooler, and would apparently prefer that it be non- controversial 'pablum' ('mush') than to be a meaningfully frank and open communications medium- because the latter represents more of a moderation workload, for one thing. I really wish that offending posts could be yanked, rather than entire threads. The latter really bothers me. I'd really like to see that questionable thread restored to the Cooler, perhaps minus any truly 'over the top', objectionable comments. (I did not personally find the "marxist" comment objectionable- rather, in its context, I find it entirely understandable) I believe the airing of emotion in this manner serves a positive good (within some bounds). Has the Forums, especially the Cooler, really become that thin- skinned and impatient? I believe there is room for disagreement among friends, up to a point. The challenge is to define that point. But in a society used to the comforts of freedom, suppression of speech is not experienced at all happily. Personally, I'd rather have the possibility of things occasionally boiling over, as opposed to a dumbed down, moribund sort of venue where folks are really afraid to say anything very 'real' or meaningful, for fear of censure or ostracization. Well, just my opinion, mind you, but this is once again stabbing at my heart. So, what kind of a group are we? Have we got some spirit and vitality and tough hides, or are we rather more of a bunch of 'boring geek' softies?I have a couple of questions for you guys- both members and mods. Do you want only non- controversial fluff in here? Are we just boring geeks? Or are we big enough and strong enough  for some lively debate at times? Second question- is the Cooler strong enough to allow comments like these to stand, or will my post suffer the same fate as the 'political' thread which was yanked? Not criticizing, mind you- I'm just trying to figure out where we stand, and whether Clutter still fits here. :hmm: (Clutter makes wrinkled, pained expression with mouth and places left hand over heart)

Quote

I'm feeling a little vaklempt. Give me a minute. Discuss among yourselves. I'll suggest a topic: "Is the Cooler Fragile or Robust" There, talk among yourselves, discuss...(Thanks Mike Meyers, Saturday Night Live)
  :)  :rolleyes:  :hysterical:

Edited by Cluttermagnet, 08 November 2008 - 09:53 AM.

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#2 OFFLINE   Scot

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 12:31 PM

If it's easier for everyone, I'm happy to take the blame for making the decisions to support the actions of our forum admins in whisking away threads that are degenerating into flame fests.

But let me be very direct with everyone here: YOU are responsible for what you post on these forums. There are *plenty* of places on the Internet that would completely welcome your left-leaning or right-leaning political views.

To be frank, I'm really disappointed too that people who are otherwise nothing but helpful and courteous rapidly get out of hand when emotionally-charged, non-computer-oriented issues are discussed here. If we could do so as adults, without leveling charges at one another, without branding candidates as "Marxist" or other similar hyperbolic epithets, I would love nothing more than to be the host of mature discussion on non-computer topics. We attempted this with the Politics forum in 2004 and failed miserably. The result was that we lost several great members, we were divided in two, and the only thing that actually kept me from pulling the plug on the whole mess was the fact that our admins decided to pull the plug on the problem instead.

This community has proved itself unwilling or unable to curb its invective against one another when it goes off-topic.

Clutter, I mourn that loss of passionate but polite interchange too. I would love nothing better than to make that a reality. I'd love to see us discuss automobile technology, global warming, and many other issues that are very near and dear to my heart.

No one of us has the right to decide that he or she is 100% right about non-factual issues. None of us has a crystal ball; none of us can read another's mind or has omniscience. For us to discuss such things as adults -- without applying labels, jingoism, inserting barbs, and heading down the path toward flame wars -- we must first respect one another's opinions.

Like it or not, that is one of the underlying tenets of these forums. It's not a tenet that I personally insisted upon from the start. It was something that the founding members of these forums agreed to in discussions that date back 5 years. We have done our best to uphold that code here all along. And we will continue to do so.

I hate -- as Clutter does, and I'm sure many others do as well -- the necessity to pull down threads that get out of hand. But we have learned that that is the only tool that works. Leave traded barbs and invective up for all to see and it's like a cancer that continues to replicate. If you close a thread but leave it visible, someone just starts a new thread. The only way to halt the progression is to pull the entire thread from public view.Is this censorship? Yes, I suppose it is. We're not trying to control what people say, we're only trying to prevent the escalation of name-calling, hate, and infighting among members. It's not really what you say or what your opinions are that concerns us, it's how you say it and the degree with which you allow yourself to lose control.

In an ideal world, managers of forums would never remove any posts. Many do just that, in fact. But at those places, the warm, friendly, helpful spirit and tone are utterly lost. That's what the charter of Scot's Newsletter Forums has been from the start -- to preserve that kind of feeling. It's pretty much impossible to find on the Internet any more, but I can tell you that when it was mostly academics and government personnel who frequented the Internet some 15-20 years ago, that was the feeling the fledgling Internet had.

There's some **** to pay whenever we have an eruption of hateful exchanges between members at SNF, and every time we remove a thread we lose a little piece of the soul of the place. But, on the other hand, it would have gotten completely out of control long ago if we hadn't done it. I can guarantee you that SNF could have been a huge forums at one time had I let it grow in that direction and set it free to the wolves. But I didn't and I'm glad I didn't.

So, yes, I will take the blame. But I hope this long message gives you a glimmer of why we've done what we've done. People who run forums have precious few tools to control and shape the environment. Until they have something better, they will continue to be very imperfect worlds that force compromise. We have chosen our course.

-- Scot
Scot Finnie, Editor-in-Chief, Computerworld.com




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