Tone police police
March 21, 2019 8:44 AM   Subscribe

My wife is a moderator of an online community which has both occasional problematic behavior that needs to be called out (the usual sexism racism transphobia etc) and also community members who sometimes do the calling out in a way that is hostile to the point of damaging the community. My wife is looking for a way to articulate policies on call-outs that don't discourage people from bringing up issues or quibble about their tone when they do so, but also make it clear people have to be respectful of other community members. Any pointers or suggestions?
posted by inkyz to Human Relations (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Doesn't directly answer your question but the moderation on Hacker News generally gets the response correct in my opinion. Posting guidelines can be found here:
posted by chr at 9:04 AM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

It's not really fair or realistic to put the burden of this tone moderation onto minorities who are being treated badly by your community.

What can absolutely make a difference, is having a diverse mod team, having a code of conduct that makes it extremely clear what problematic behaviour is not appropriate, and then enforcing that code of conduct firmly, publically and consistently such that minority members can clearly see that the community is behind them. If there are members who are responsible for an ongoing pattern of incidents, those people need to be gone from the community.

At this point (and only at this point), it's reasonable to ask people who are angry about an incident, and unable to deal with it calmly, to back off and call in air support from the mod team. You can say, in effect, "around here we deal with these things calmly and kindly, if you're not in a position to do that yourself we completely understand but we ask that you back off and get us to deal with it for you". It's not reasonable to say things that sound like "we expect you not to be angry about racism" or "we expect you to be respectful to racists". The word "respect" in particular has a very bad history of being weaponised against minorities to demand obedience to unreasonable demands.
posted by quacks like a duck at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2019 [11 favorites]

It's not really fair or realistic to put the burden of this tone moderation onto minorities who are being treated badly by your community.

IME, it's usually white people doing the toxic callouts.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:18 AM on March 21, 2019 [19 favorites]

My beef is not with one person who has a particular reaction, in fact, even if there's strong emotion, that can be healthy for the community to hear. So I'd steer away from trying to control how a person frames their beef - as long as they aren't like, crossing whatever your sites guidelines are for personal attacks.

But pile ons, to me, are problematic for the health of the community. They stifle expression and for folks who are on the sidelines can feel super alienating.

So if I were to make a guideline for an online community, I'd make it clear first that racist, transphobic, misogynist, etc comments will be deleted.

Then, let people know we respect a diversity of perspectives.

Then, if a comment doesn't rise to the level of deletion for offensiveness, but the substance troubles you, we welcome you speaking up directly to the person or to the moderator.

However, a series of comments that all focus on one individual will also be deleted because it comes to dominate the discussion and narrows participation, not just from the person receiving the feedback, but from other members of the community who don't want to be involved in that particular conflict.

And then remind users they can reach out to mods if they feel one individual is being offensive, inappropriate, breaking guidelines, etc.
posted by latkes at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

(As a queer person I have definitely been in weird online discussions where there are straight 'allies' who are more or differently mad about queer issues than me, and are enforcing a narrower range of discussion than I would want.)
posted by latkes at 9:30 AM on March 21, 2019 [13 favorites]

both occasional problematic behavior that needs to be called out

Do the callouts happen in the same forum where the behavior is happening? And what is the purpose of the callout?

- to bring the behavior to he attention of the mods for possible sanction?
- to teach the poster that what they said wasn't okay?
- to let the community know that behavior isn't okay?

Because there are a lot of ways to manage this. Here on MeFi the callouts you make have to happen in somewhere that is not the thread. Comments are either deleted or not deleted, mods may make a comment or not, but the callouts need to happen in a more structures way, at a slower pace, and elsewhere.

The line used at MeFi is that hey people feel what they feel, but while their feelings aren't something they can control, the words they type on to the website absolutely are. So you can say "This makes me really angry" but you can't say "You're a piece of shit for talking that way" And sometimes people hear "This makes me angry" as "You're a piece of shit" anyhow and mods need to be the ones who draw the lines of what is and is not okay.

And then, yeah, you need real guidelines about what you let stay on the site, what goes, and what results in some sort of sanctions (i.e. transphobic commenters will be removed from the community at the mods' discretion). This can be hard of the moderators are NOT the ones with the keys to the building. It's all pretty complicated. I wrote a little thing about people sort of accidentally being elevated to community mod roles that might be helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 9:31 AM on March 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

Having been the victim of a pile on that left me surprisingly out of sorts for a very long time, I just want to say thanks to your wife for trying to figure this out. It's hard to not experience it as alienating at best, abusive at worst. And what's more, it's not an effective means of communication because the receiver is going to feel attacked if there are multiple people calling them out so whatever the issue is, it isn't likely to get addressed in an effective manner - if "effective" means long term increases in conscious awareness and sensitivity/compassion for the Other or eradication of hate.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:34 AM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think these kinds of callouts do more damage than good. It makes people stew with anger at being publicly humiliated and just furthers the cycle of hostility. They also feel they are being silenced and having their free speech violated (which yes is total dumbass crap but that's the reality).

when dealing with assholes on the internet unfortunately you have to treat them way better than they treat you rather than actually expecting them to treat you as a human being. otherwise you just pour gasoline onto a fire.

I think a better way would be a private callout where you write to them issuing first, second and third warnings where they will then be banned after 3 warnings.

Please note this will not necessarily work and there is not necessarily a foolproof solution for this problem because of the nature of the internet and its ability to let people behave in a toxic way with impunity.
posted by winterportage at 10:22 AM on March 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've been in groups where this same issue came up (and yeah, it was most often white people/allies rather than members of the group being talked about).

I think a good way to phrase a new policy would be to present it as "this group has a learning orientation, we encourage and support pushback against problematic stances but we need that pushback to not turn into personal attacks or pile-ons."
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:13 AM on March 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

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