Okay. You’re checking to see what I’ll tolerate, right?
I’d prefer you were reading this out of some kind of literary interest in what goes on inside my head and I’ve authored it as such, but there will be those who come here needing what teachers call ‘behaviourial management’. For those seeking the former, welcome and thanks for stroking my ego. For the latter, you had it coming.
Seeing as how I try to tolerate as broad an adult discussion as reasonably possible, I’ll focus instead on the principles behind what I tend not to tolerate. These are my boundary conditions.
I’m the editor here. Think I should be writing something else? Get your own website and write it yourself. I do put consideration into what I write, actually, and considering it’s my website…
Your 1st Amendment rights. I’m an Australian. We don’t have a bill of rights. Perhaps we should, but we don’t. And besides, nationality aside, the 1st Amendment doesn’t guarantee you can say anything you want on any given website anyway. Invoking the 1st Amendment will get you nowhere with me in a moderation dispute.
Rights clash. If you were going to address a receptive public audience, and I cut across you with a loudspeaker such that nobody could make out a word you were saying, you’d have a grievance. It’d be no defence my saying that your objection to my loudspeaker usage infringed upon my right to free (loudspeaker) speech. I’d look like a right privileged shit on top of being just plain wrong. The same ethic applies here in regards to bullying people into submission or non-participation, and I don’t look kindly upon people who act out of self-pity when caught being a shit to others.
‘It’s political correctness gone mad! I’ll write whatever I want! You’re oppressing me like it’s 1984!’
Mill’s corn-dealer. In On Liberty (1859), John Stuart Mill wrote…
No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard. Acts of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind.
I don’t have much in the way of favourable sentiment for people who post the kind of rubbish that gets called into 2UE, agitating for violence (e.g. SMS calls repeated on 2UE prior to the Cronulla riots, or the more recent threats against the Prime Minister called in during the ‘Convoy of No Consequence’ circus), nor when threats are made against climate scientists and the like. While no cause for jeremiad, to my mind social media actually positions the media closer to the mob than in Mill’s time, which requires a greater degree of responsibility by publishers. I intend to take this seriously, even if much of the press seemingly don’t.
And don’t be seduced by the notion that I’ll be taking sides in such matters. My revulsion for this kind of thing is bi-partisan. I won’t be impressed by salivation over what some left-revolutionaries think they’ll be able to do once The Enemy finds itself up against the wall.
For sure, heated rhetoric is tolerated, but incitement is not.
Disinformation. A healthy democracy functions best when well-informed, and I’d like to think I do my bit to counter the spread of disinformation – specifically by not being a platform for it myself. If you use my comments threads to spam Monkton’s dodgy black body radiation calculations, or try to pass off the myth that Australia putting on a scary face deters boat people, or push one of the various social-Darwinist conspiracy theories out there, I’m going to push back. This may involve banning depending on how hard this rubbish is pushed.
No, I’m not a climate scientist or an evolutionary biologist. I’m just some guy with a science major in environmental systems. Sure, with this admission comes a certain amount of wiggle room for ignorance and error, but I’m not in such a totally uninformed position as to be unable to make judgement calls. And at any rate, secondary observations such as how willing people are to answer questions and provide citations, and how open they are to evidence, are a good proxies to ascertain how productive discussions are, whatever the topic and whatever people’s expertise.
Witch hunts. No thanks. People often deserve the criticism they receive. Sometimes they deserve it from every direction at once. This doesn’t mean I’ll automatically join in if 101 net-denizens and their poodle happen to be pouring scorn on some individual. The comments threads aren’t there for me to be recruited into flame wars. I can be contacted by other means, and even then I’m not guaranteed to be receptive.
Freedom of association. Don’t expect me to bump anyone from commenting here just because you’ve had a run-in with them elsewhere. Sure, if their behaviour is criminal, or breaks the comments policy, then we can talk about it via the back-channels. But the more garden variety disputes that occur abroad at best provide context for discussion here, and besides, I’ve got my own criteria for association to operate by. If you don’t like this, well, you’re free not to associate with me!
You don’t get to tell me who not to mix with. Or at least, you don’t get to without risking being bumped from the comments.
I’m the moderator. If you want to discuss at length, some moderation decision I’ve made, you can do it via the back-channels. Discussion of people who’ve been banned, unless worthy of becoming a topic itself (such as if there’s a newsworthy campaign of Internet harassment involved), shouldn’t be a cause of discussion being lead off-topic. And it shouldn’t need saying that people who’ve been banned are being denied the right of reply – you may be entitled to one free kick, but not a hundred.
And this shouldn’t need saying (in an ideal world at least) but, you people don’t get to police this policy. That’s my job.
Feel free to say ‘shit’, ‘fuck’ and so on. Just be thoughtful in the way you use the terms around here.
If we’re talking ‘fucking’, then ‘fuck’, ‘fuck’ away, but if you tell someone else to ‘fuck off’, or call them a ‘fuck head’, then that’s where you and I are going to have issues. I may tolerate robust discussion, but I don’t tolerate bullying. If an argument gets to the point where someone deserves to be told to ‘fuck off’, then that’s probably already a matter of moderation – contact me privately if you have such a concern. There’s no call for people to go all sweary-vigilante.
Aside from abuse, there are aesthetic concerns that will probably influence me.
Ideally, if you can ‘fuck’ better than D. H. Lawrence, it’d be appreciated. Mind you, I won’t ping you for trying and failing to reach this goal. Don’t let me give you performance anxiety.
I’m open to allowing the poetic invocation of men’s genitals as proxies for emotional states; they’re pretty expressive organs making them well suited to the task; there’s no significant history of men being marginalised with this kind of language, and importantly, cock-talk, historically, has been something imposed on people by men. Much of the history of men is the history of men talking about their cocks, or at least discussion reducible to talking about cocks. The rest is balls.
‘She said I was thinking with my hairy brain, so I should be able to call her “c**t”, otherwise it’s a sexist double standard and I’m the victim’, or words to this effect, delivered by poor self-pitying men, will not be well received.
Though this is the way I intend to treat the matter, ‘don’t be a dick’ is probably off the cards, or at least borderline. Calling someone a ‘dick’, as opposed to telling some bloke he’s thinking with his balls, draws inferences about a whole group of people via an arbitrary criteria (i.e. being the owner of a penis). By far it’s not the worst gender epithet in the world, but it’s something to watch out for all the same.
Crying wolf. I mentioned I try to tolerate as broad an adult discussion as possible. Sure, if someone tells you to ‘fuck off’, adresses you with a racial or gender epithet, that’ll have me doing something about it. But I don’t look kindly upon attempts to silence others through overwrought accusations either.
(And oh, how often this kind of thing is preceeded by an obvious, yet furiously denied, series of asteisms from the accuser. I do know how to spot this rubbish.)
You’re among proles here. The language may be colourful. You may misread aggression where none is intended. But I won’t silence people just because they don’t fold their handkercheif the right way, and I won’t take kindly to people de-railing discussion by expecting this kind of privilege.
I like snark. Snark is fine. Hunt it all you like if that’s what gives you self-worth, but I’m more interested in how snark is delivered.
Is it accompanied by any of the other things I’ve said I won’t tolerate? Does it incite violence? Does it deliver disinformation?
Is it good snark? What makes good snark? I’m pretty sure cliché doesn’t.
‘Pwned’ just makes people look stupid. I won’t censor anyone for using it, but still…
And if you think my being a lefty is the primary reason why I like Paul Keating’s ‘John Howard has all the vision of Mr Magoo with none of the good intentions’, we’ll probably have problems. There are purely aesthetic reasons to love the turn of phrase.
In light of this, if you plan to participate in discussion here, it’s worth remembering my not being fond of discussion being bogged down with cries of ‘wolf!’
Comments moderation is inherently ad hoc. Yeah, yeah, casuistry. If it’s come to this kind of judgement, one of us has probably been taking our own storm in a teacup far too seriously for far too long. (Yes, it may also be that this is already the case – this very article going to such a lengths).
I’m not so omniscient that I can parse all commentary for consistency of moderation. Nobody is. The computational requirements are phenomenal, and expectations that I (or anyone else) can or should pull this off are phenomenally ridiculous.
Regulate yourself if you’re so damned worried.
And a sense of proportion, please. It’s a comments thread on the Internet, not the Seventeenth World Congress of The Fourth International.
Generally, three strikes apply. Unless it’s obvious, in which case it’ll be one strike. And I’ll be deciding what’s obvious on a case-by-case basis.