Moderation at TSZ, part 1

Gathering my thoughts on moderation at TSZ, I found that I really have two OPs to write: one discussing the effects of rules and moderation at TSZ, and another exploring why the moderation — particularly the Guano-related stuff — has those effects. The second topic is by far the more interesting, but it’s the first topic that has the most practical import, so I’ll address it now.

In a nutshell: We’ve already experimented with different levels of moderation at TSZ, and the results are in. Less moderation works better.

Some preliminaries:

This is Lizzie’s blog, so of course any decisions regarding rules and moderation are hers alone to make.

None of us are absolutists about free speech or moderation, as far as I can tell. We all seem to agree that some moderation is necessary — to get rid of spammers or to prevent pseudonymous commenters from being outed, for example. The disputes are over the degree, not the fact, of moderation.

The optimal level of moderation may shift over time as a blog and its commentariat evolve. There is no single guaranteed-for-all-time optimal moderation scheme, and no comprehensive “moderation theory” for deciding ahead of time which scheme is most likely to succeed. Experimentation is essential.

With the preliminaries out of the way, the argument is quite simple, and I’ve already expressed it on another thread:

The ultimate test for any moderation scheme is how well it works in reality, with the actual commenters and the actual moderators. We’ve already run many such (informal) experiments at TSZ, and the results seem clear to me: Changes in the direction of more moderation have backfired, and changes in the direction of less moderation have made TSZ run more smoothly and with more on-topic, substantive discussion.

For all our disagreements, Alan and I both think that the experiment we tried in Lizzie’s absence was a success. If you recall, the policy during that time was to move comments to Guano only upon request (of the “injured” party originally, though that was broadened for some reason to include third parties).

Since that experiment worked so well, and since attempts at increased moderation (like the Wine Cellar, to use a recent example) have failed, why not take the lesson to heart and eliminate moderation altogether, except in the extreme cases where we all agree it’s necessary (spam/porn/outing etc.)?

It fits with the ethos here at TSZ, it minimizes the workload for the moderators, and it eliminates the reason for the numerous and lengthy moderation discussions we have here at TSZ, again and again.

Seems like a worthwhile experiment, doesn’t it?

94 thoughts on “Moderation at TSZ, part 1

  1. hotshoe,

    I’m personally willing to take the chance that mocking beliefs has these kinds of benefits, as compared to the chance that it backfires and creates more resistance where a “slowly, slowly” soft-toned approach might work better. I don’t think I have the judgement to know in advance which will actually work better with any given person. I just think the odds are reasonable that mockery will work well enough, on average, that I rule it in not rule it out.

    Yes, and I do much the same thing. I think it’s also good that some people take the softer approach, for as you say, we don’t often know in advance which approach will yield better results with a particular person or group.

    My beef with the “accommodationists” is not that they take a softer approach; it’s that they often compromise themselves, in my opinion, by trying to minimize conflicts between religion and science that are actually quite significant.

  2. stcordova,

    You get treated at TSZ better than at UD where there is obvious censorship & hiding by IDists. That is, even when you are gaming them.

  3. keiths:

    We just tried that. It was called the “W(h)ine Cellar”, and it didn’t work.

    hotshoe:

    Define “didn’t work”.

    Define “didn’t work” without regard to your personal perception one way or the other.

    It created far more disruption than the “offenses” it was supposed to address, and it quickly became apparent that moderator decisions about what constituted “whining” and “bickering”, versus legitimate complaints, would be even more subjective and more controversial than decisions about what to send to Guano.

  4. Steve Schaffner: Yup. I’d be willing to bet that he thought Harris’s ridicule was directed at a caricature of his beliefs, or was simply irrelevant to them.

    My experience is profoundly different from yours. Almost invariably, when my beliefs have been mocked my impression was that the other party was misrepresenting those beliefs, usually in a ham-handed way. The net result was to convince me that they were incapable of nuance and too hostile for me to want to be around. And when I have found my beliefs changing in response to social pressure, I’ve realized that it was not because I’d been provoked to deeper thought, but because as a social being I’m inclined to make my beliefs conform to those around me. This makes me deeply suspicious of attempts to use social pressure to impose belief. (In my experience, mockery is largely directed not at beliefs, but at an audience; without an approving audience, it loses most of its effectiveness.)

    I generally agree with you. Many people don’t like even being gently teased, and it’s pretty rare that it has much effect in the altering beliefs dept. But I can think of some movies that I think have been effective. I mean, take Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds which tweaked bullying-type frats and jocks. I think that genre of films contributed to a sea-change in attitudes. It almost became impossible to be a protagonist and blonde. In the case of religion, I think of Black Robe, which, while not a comedy, makes both North American Indians and French missionaries seem completely nuts.

    So while parody does indeed rely on the audience attitude, sometimes (if admittedly rarely) one can contribute to changing the other a smidge.

  5. walto: I generally agree with you.Many people don’t like even being gently teased, and it’s pretty rare that it has much effect in the altering beliefs dept.But I can think of some movies that I think have been effective.I mean, take Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds which tweaked bullying-type frats and jocks.I think that genre of films contributed to a sea-change in attitudes.It almost became impossible to be a protagonist and blonde.In the case of religion, I think of Black Robe, which, while not a comedy, makes bothNorth American Indians and French missionaries seem completely nuts.

    So while parody does indeed rely on the audience attitude, sometimes (if admittedly rarely) one can contribute to changing the other a smidge.

    Oh sure, go ahead and gently qualify my sweeping generalization.

  6. In the spirit of compromise that I am so well known for here at TSZ I offer the following suggestion that no one will like.

    Allow thread authors to semi-moderate their own threads by permitting them to add comments to posts which they think are off topic or violate the principles of the site.

    I do not favor any mechanism that allows the majority to suppress the minority, such as voting posts up or down. That just adds another layer on top of what is already in place for people to complain about.

    If you like my posts please say so. If not then just STFU.

  7. Mung,

    Allow thread authors to semi-moderate their own threads by permitting them to add comments to posts which they think are off topic or violate the principles of the site.

    Ugh. The loudspeaker in the ceiling is one of UD’s worst features.

  8. Mung,

    Just post them at UD and you can control them there and we can mock them here. It’ll save us mirroring content already on TSZ?

  9. keiths:
    keiths:

    DNA_Jock:

    You’re complaining in this very thread, about “whining” and “whingeing”, “adolescent entitlement” and “unseemly” behavior, and the USA vs Europe.But of course your complaints are always strictly substantive, right?

    No, I am not. I am criticizing whining and whingeing behaviors, pointing out that they are unseemly.
    Complaining: “he was mean to me, punish him”
    Criticizing: “That was an idiotic thing you wrote”
    Now, I understand that you might have read into my criticisms an implied complaint, i.e. “There’s too much whining around here, I don`t like it” I’m honestly not sure whether that inference is accurate : sometimes the whiners sadden me, but more often I just find them funny. But my kids have grown out of that stage, so it’s not the automatic source of annoyance it once was…
    And of course I always think that my criticisms are substantive: “if I didn`t, I wouldn’t make them.”
    It’s just a piece of advice. Stop acting like an adolescent. You are welcome to view it as a “facile and self-serving” complaint, if you wish.

    The flame-wars aren’t “incessant”. The flare-ups generally die out pretty quickly, but the moderation discussions go on and on and on.

    Well between Guano and comments on “Shoveling Guano” that could be moved to Guano, the flames seem alive and well. But you would know better than I
    😉

    Like I wrote

    Your. Mileage. May. Vary.

  10. So it’s settled then. The loudspeaker in the ceiling will be allowed. Red font is a “nice to have” but not a necessity.

    I think I’ll start work on my next OP right now.

    walto, what you say appears to be directed at the person and not the post. Perhaps a simple “It Sucks!” That’s sufficiently vague.

  11. DNA_Jock,

    It sure sounds like a complaint to me:

    But act like adults and quit the whingeing.

    Perhaps your mileage varied.

    Well between Guano and comments on “Shoveling Guano” that could be moved to Guano, the flames seem alive and well.

    Rule-violating comments aren’t all “flames”, and the flames we do have are vastly outnumbered by the comments on moderation.

  12. Steve,

    I’d be willing to bet that he thought Harris’s ridicule was directed at a caricature of his beliefs, or was simply irrelevant to them.

    Well, Wolpe’s response wasn’t that he’d been misrepresented, but rather that Harris’s analogy didn’t apply since Elvis and Russell’s teapot were physical entities, unlike the immaterial soul. His objection doesn’t fly, though, because the existence of an immaterial soul, as conceived by most theists, is in fact testable — and the evidence is overwhelmingly against it.

    My experience is profoundly different from yours. Almost invariably, when my beliefs have been mocked my impression was that the other party was misrepresenting those beliefs, usually in a ham-handed way. The net result was to convince me that they were incapable of nuance and too hostile for me to want to be around.

    That seems to be more of a complaint about inaccuracy than about mockery per se. What about situations in which your interlocutor didn’t misrepresent you?

    And when I have found my beliefs changing in response to social pressure, I’ve realized that it was not because I’d been provoked to deeper thought, but because as a social being I’m inclined to make my beliefs conform to those around me. This makes me deeply suspicious of attempts to use social pressure to impose belief.

    Why not take the approach of changing your beliefs only after you’ve thought things through and believe that a change is intellectually warranted?

    (In my experience, mockery is largely directed not at beliefs, but at an audience; without an approving audience, it loses most of its effectiveness.)

    I don’t see a contradiction. Person A mocks person B’s beliefs in front of an audience Z. This motivates B to look for a response. If B finds one, he presents it. Otherwise — and ideally — he thinks about it until he either finds a viable response, or concludes that he can’t find one and proceeds to change his beliefs.

    If someone presented a criticism of your beliefs, but did so mockingly, would you refuse to consider the criticism?

    Refuting ineffective criticism — especially ineffective mocking criticism — can be very satisfying. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy sparring with walto.

    And while people may be reluctant to openly acknowledge effective mocking criticism (because of the loss of face it incurs), I’ve noticed that they do often take the criticism into account, reformulating their positions to forestall similar criticism the next time around.

  13. petrushka,

    A whole bunch of my posts have simply disappeared. They aren’t in guano.

    I checked the dashboard and there are no comments pending and none trapped in the spam queue. There are three comments in Trash, two from Creodont2 and one from Sal (!) which is a taunting comment directed at Patrick. Not sure what that last one is doing there. I wonder if Sal deleted it.

    Did your comments show up in a thread and then disappear, or did they just never show up in the first place?

  14. They were on Sal’s thread and did show up. I Sal was calling Larry Moran stupid, and I challenged him to take his argument to Larry’s site. One post could be described as including mockery, but two others were straightforward challenges.

  15. OK, I’m going to try to get this straight. Two comments I thought were gone are not gone. I really thought they were gone. There was one that include mocking. I would not complain if it was guanoed. I don’t see it anywhere. Earlier this evening I couldn’t find any of the three, but I am using a phone. If one is in trash I did not put it there, pretty sure of that.

  16. Well, I did not move it or delete it.

    I remind all posters of OPs that they should not moderate their own threads (I thought we had made that impossible, perhaps it still is possible), and that we do not delete posts at all (apart from the narrow range of redactions specified in the rules, and even then, we don’t delete the post, just specific content, and if that’s the whole post, then the post itself remains, with the word in place of the redacted material.

  17. petrushka:
    A whole bunch of my posts have simply disappeared. They aren’t in guano.

    [This would be better addressed in moderation issues but short of time]

    On checking TSZ earlier (late last night after being out most of the day and evening) on my phone, I was concerned to see this and temporarily reassigned Sal’s membership to “subscriber” pending clarification. I see that “bunch of comments” is now one comment, which is still of concern. I’ll PM Sal and look forward to his response. Authors have the technical ability to edit and delete posts in their own threads but should not have the capability to permanently delete material moved to the trash folder.

    I see Lizzie has reiterated that the technical capability to edit or delete comments in threads they author must not be used. It is there because WordPress mixes up the capability to publish with the capabilities to edit and delete and to correct it would require a major re-write of the CSS which I’m certainly not competent to do and the risk of breaking the site is too great.

    ETA

    There may be a solution to the Author capabilities problem. Here

  18. keiths,

    Allow thread authors to semi-moderate their own threads by permitting them to add comments to posts which they think are off topic or violate the principles of the site.

    Ugh. The loudspeaker in the ceiling is one of UD’s worst features.

    Agreed. There is nothing that can be said by marking up a comment that can’t be said in a separate comment. It’s pure posturing and rudeness.

  19. Patrick: There is nothing that can be said by marking up a comment that can’t be said in a separate comment.

    Exactly!

    ETA There’s a few things I’d like to address in the OP and comments above but RL intervenes. Tomorrow is a holiday (Bastille Day) and going to be too hot to work outside so will catch up then if I don’t get chance to comment later today.

  20. Oops! That reminds me I promised to comment on some points above. From Keiths’s OP:

    We all seem to agree that some moderation is necessary…

    And I would hope we would agree that the response to a rule-breaking comment being a move to “guano” rather than being deleted (except for spam, porn, and “outing” info) is hardly a threat to free speech. There is a record of the comment and any member is free to resubmit the non-rule-breaking content of “guano’d” comment. I’d also point out the idea is to encourage an environment where members with a minority view can join a discussion without being incinerated in a Pharyngula-style flame attack.

    Changes in the direction of more moderation have backfired, and changes in the direction of less moderation have made TSZ run more smoothly and with more on-topic, substantive discussion.

    I much don’t agree here. The rules didn’t change during Lizzie’s absence, just the implementation. I suggested trying a “moderate-on-request” idea as I didn’t have time to keep up with monitoring all comments. It was a way to help ensure that rule-breaking comments weren’t missed and it morphed into a way to save work, so it was successful for me.

    For all our disagreements, Alan and I both think that the experiment we tried in Lizzie’s absence was a success.

    See above. Without defining a goal or objective, it is hard to conclude whether a policy is successful. Quoting Lizzie (again 🙂 )

    My motivation for starting the site has been the experience of trying to discuss religion, politics, evolution, the Mind/Brain problem, creationism, ethics, exit polls, probability, intelligent design, and many other topics in venues where positions are strongly held and feelings run high. In most venues, one view dominates, and there is a kind of “resident prior” about the integrity, intelligence and motivation of those who differ from the majority view.

    So I see Lizzie as trying to enable free and open discussion without allowing those discussions to degenerate into shouting matches. I agree with this objective and see Lizzie’s moderation policy as a pretty good way to maintain an open yet civilized environment for discussion.

  21. From the OP

    …attempts at increased moderation (like the Wine Cellar, to use a recent example) have failed…

    I have to take issue here. The idea of the “wine cellar” was to have a thread where the rules (good faith, address the post not the person etc) would be relaxed. Perhaps the choice of name was a little pejorative but other than that, I don’t see what the problem was.

    …why not take the lesson to heart and eliminate moderation altogether, except in the extreme cases where we all agree it’s necessary (spam/porn/outing etc.)?

    There’s still “noyau” for uninhibited discussion. If it doesn’t prove popular then it suggests most here would prefer not to indulge in flame wars.

  22. Rules aside, flame wars are boring and scroll worthy. Someone is always wrong on the internet. I am only interested if the most recent posts are maintaining something wrong.

  23. Elizabeth:
    Where’s the carrot?

    I liked that carrot, which really startled me when I found it in a regular old supermarket bag of carrots. But while it looked like a guy with a big schnoz and no eyes to me–you know, funny–others seem to have found it….suggestive…and consequently difficult to look at. (I originally wrote “hard” there, but then, you know, thought it might be better to go with “difficult.”)

    So I retired him/her/it.

    ETA: I wonder if this post will result in Richard and keiths snapping damp towels at each other again….

  24. No no. I’m not buying that. I’m still waiting for promised improvements on your “arnie” post. That must be like a year now.

    FWIW, I’m familiar with those kinds of promises from living with my wife a long time. Can’t just let things slide and hope for the best. Have to nudgie.

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