[Note: This is the previous forum moderation FAQ. It will be updated with some details about the new automated moderation policies.]
Forum Moderation - General Practices
The guiding principle behind this forum is that everyone is welcome here. This is meant to be a space where people feel welcome and participation is encouraged. But with this open philosophy, there also seems to be some confusion about what is and what is not allowed here (Hint: This is not 4chan). So let me explain my approach to moderating, which I'd like everyone to understand when participating.
The main thing to know about my moderation policy is that I'd prefer to NOT moderate the forum. I just don't have the time or patience to arbitrate the inevitable conflicts that arise when humans get on the internet. I'd much prefer, if possible, for people to work out their differences on their own (and yeah, I still believe in unicorns, too!).
In general, I consider my role here as a facilitator – providing a platform for others to play around in. Secondary to that is my role as a moderator. At least, that's how I envision it. If nothing else, it's a simple matter of sleep: I like to get some. But even if I had more time to actively moderate forum discussions, doing so is not something I've ever wanted. Personally, I'm much more interested in experimenting with technology and software than in policing conversations or exercising my awesome forum powers.
Now, with all that said, I realize that by opening up this forum to the masses, I've made myself the inevitable sole moderator here, whether or not I wanted it. I realize that I can't avoid moderating entirely. No matter how well-intentioned a forum, some comments/users will require intervention, at least once in awhile.
So, given that I'd prefer to not moderate, but knowing that I must moderate every now and then, here's what I consider generally allowed or not:
- Strongly held opinions
- Fights and flame wars
- Bullying or harassment
- Threats or hate speech
- Spam, fraud, or deception
- Anything illegal
- Anything else I consider bad for the forum (yeah, I own the place. )
- Making me regret ever hosting this forum
So, how will I decide if something crosses the line?
Mainly, it comes down to my mood. Luckily, my mood swings are not nearly as bad as they used to be! Also, it comes down to whether I consider a comment as something that encourages or discourages forum participation. If I think a post discourages others from participating here (like those items on my "not allowed" list, which can quickly sour entire threads), then I'm much more likely to intervene. Btw, for those paying attention, this is what's called circular logic. I'm a master at it!
Lastly, let me just reiterate my hope that everyone can manage their discussions here with maturity and respect for one another. I don't want to, nor can I possibly, keep watch over every thread. So, I'll rely on the rest of you to let me know if anything gets out of hand. If anyone believes that a particular post crosses the line, please flag it. Although there's no guarantee that I'll agree and actually intervene, this is really the best way to make sure I've at least read or scrutinized a post (when someone flags it for my attention).
Mod Actions: Edits, Deletions, & Bans
Please note that when flags start piling up and I need to intervene, I'm much more likely to just wholesale delete, rather than edit, comments. Sorry, but I just don't have the time to micro-manage conversations. If a post generates too many complaints, and if I determine intervention is needed, the entire post and associated conversation will be deleted. Users whose forum activity routinely generates complaints will be banned. But don't worry, if that happens, surely a sad trombone will play somewhere – the sound of my faith in humanity dying.
Appeals and Recourse
There are none. Also, I should make clear that I won't publicly discuss specific moderator actions. I refuse to get pulled into endless debates regarding whether an action was justified or not, or how the world is a cold, unfair place. Basically, if I moderate a post or thread, it's considered final (regardless of whether it's justified! ). Luckily, as many have noticed, I'm normally very tolerant of "lively" discussions and, even for commentary that I disagree with or find "disagreeable", I'm still usually reluctant to intervene. My goal and hope continues to be a self-moderating forum, requiring as little enforcement as possible.
I'm pretty tolerant of strong language, but please avoid "profanities" in thread titles. These end up in URLs that are indexed by Google et. al (thus spreading beyond what you probably intended). I'd like to avoid getting this forum categorized/filtered by search engines as adult-only or NSFW, so please keep the titles clean.
Other than that, I don't intend to police the language of the forums except for complaints of abusive language. For example: profanity that is pointless (e.g. expletive laden diatribes) or pointed (e.g. profanity directed at a particular person or persons).
Basically, if you must use "colorful" language, please do so responsibly:
- Keep it out of titles
- Keep it meaningful
- Keep it harmless
Multiple Forum Accounts
In case anyone is thinking about creating (or is currently operating) multiple forum accounts, please be aware that I have little tolerance for sock puppetry. Any user who I suspect of engaging in this type of activity (posting from multiple usernames) will be banned.
With that said, anyone can choose to abandon, close, or deactivate their account/username and start another. Anonymity or pseudonymity is perfectly fine here, but what is not allowed is using multiple usernames simultaneously. I have no problem if anyone wishes to be forgotten or wants to establish a clean slate username. Send any such requests (for account closure, deletion, or replacement username) to me directly and I'd be happy to oblige.
Suspensions, Bans, and Reporting Posts
Let me clarify how I moderate (or not) the forum.
I act in response to reported/flagged posts. If you see anything that is a problem, please just flag it. Do not respond or engage in problem threads. That only makes the situation worse and makes my job more difficult (and may get you flagged as well).
Forum users who generate many flags from many users will be suspended and/or banned. I prefer to give everyone a second or even third chance (e.g. temporary suspensions), but will permanently ban anyone who commits serious offenses or repeatedly generates complaints from the community.
When flagging problematic content, please do so responsibly. What actually triggers my intervention in the forums (moderation, suspension, or ban) isn't an exact science, but here's a general formula: The weight I give any flag is inversely proportional to the volume of flags a reporter sends me. I give more weight to flags from established users who have been around awhile and have a forum track record. Lastly, I consider how broadly the flags are distributed. The more users who complain, the more likely I am to intervene. For example: I'll probably act if 10 regular users flag something, but not necessarily if a couple users flag something 10 times.
I've received lots of questions about some previous forum bans. While I won't get into the details about any specific case, I thought I might address some of the general questions here, publicly.
As most of you know, I don't actively police the forum. My forum interventions tend to happen in cycles, whenever I have time to respond to flags, check on forum security, do routine maintenance, etc. When a succession of bans happens, it's either due to a backlog of flags or because of a security sweep. The recent bans were much more the latter rather than the former. That is to say, these actions were aimed more at forum security than at forum content.
Part of what I consider important for forum security is safeguards against forum deception, which tends to involve dealing with sock puppets (see my earlier post about multiple forum accounts). When people operate multiple usernames, they're often attempting to manipulate public perceptions, by amplifying specific ideas or points of view to artificially inflate their influence. This is bad for the forum, for communities and for our social norms generally, where we depend on a certain level of sincerity and trust in our dealings with one another. At the extreme end, these sorts of deceptions can be used for more sinister activities like fraud or even the subversion of democracies.
Because of the corrosive effects these practices have on communities like ours, I take a hard line against sock puppets and forum deception. It's bad for civil discourse and reduces our open, honest discussions to a contest won by fake numbers, not by ideas. That is why I have systems in place to detect and remove sock puppet accounts. The vast majority of the time, these safeguards work as intended. But it's not a perfect system and sometimes a violation can be mistakenly identified. Also, even when correctly identified, I've occasionally gone back and reinstated previously banned users. It's rare, but I have allowed a few users to return to the forum, once they've agreed to quit their banned activities. I do this on an exceptional basis only though, as sock puppetry to me is a serious offense.
Lastly, let me just remind everyone that despite my measures to keep the puppets at bay, ultimately, this is the internet where "nobody knows you're a dog". Keep that in mind as you interact within online social spaces, here or elsewhere; the reality is that you're engaging with random usernames and profiles, not necessarily real individuals. So that wonderful discussion you're having with your 10 best forum friends, whom you've never actually met, in reality, might be a conversation with 10 different incarnations of the same twisted soul, someone hellbent on deceiving you and everyone else to further an agenda. Sadly, this type of activity happens more often than people think. Be cautious out there!