Open Discussion of Moderation Policy

Most the time we get it right, I think, but occasionally we get it wrong. I’m opening this thread as a place for open discussion of moderation policy at PS. For particular complaints it might be better to contact @moderators directly. Anything involving an individual should remain as private communications.

To kick off discussion, I offer one of my basic rules for moderating:

Another interpretation of this, is that if someone posts anything which somehow ends up eating up a lot of MY time, then it’s NOT my responsibility to fix it: I’m allowed to bounce it back for correction or re-post. No harm, no foul,

Other member side, if moderator decisions aren’t going your way and don’t seem right, it’s OK to ask for a second opinion. Ask for another moderator to step in. This might mean a delayed response, with comments remaining hidden until another mods becomes available. It’s OK to negotiate a solution too, and probably better if you can.

Some other topics we might need to poke at: private versus open moderation, and use of Slow Mode (comment timer).

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I’d like to offer some concerns that I’ve had in recent months with moderation. (None of which have been about @Dan_Eastwood’s moderation, incidentally.)

  1. My most immediate concern is with the lack of consistency of application. If it seems that getting your post hidden as “inappropriate” is a lottery, it is highly unlikely to alter behaviour. Where you have a post explicitly flagged for the use of a word condemned as “pejorative”, but a quick search reveals that this word has been prominently used in this forum (as both a topic title and a topic OP) without issue, this does not garner respect for the forum and its policies. I have however noticed a degree of “consistency”, but not of a good kind. This forum (and more particularly its owner) seems to be very heavy-handed (at times to the point of shooting off half-cocked) in defense of theist academics such as Richard Buggs and Michael Behe, but the forum seems to be very laissez faire about insults cast at atheist academics such as Barbara Forrest, Eugenie Scott (both of whom have been interviewed for this forum, I would note) and Robert Pennock.

  2. Another issue is topic splitting, which seems to be sporadically heavy-handed. Most threads on this forum run off topic when they remain active for any length of time (often multiple times). Unless this off-topic discussion is stifling discussion on the original topic (however this would be in the minority – in most cases where the topic is split, the original topic becomes moribund), this does not seem to be an issue . It has been suggested that this is due to moderators having insufficient time or attention. Evidence does not however support this. I have seen a topic started by a moderator, go almost immediately go off topic, and be left to wander until it reached a topic that made that moderator uncomfortable. Then there was a flurry of topic splitting. These occasional bouts of splitting frenzy would be less disruptive, if greater care was practiced in ensuring that the right comments ended up with the right thread.

    Of more concern is ‘air-brushing by topic splitting’, where criticism is hidden by moving it to a new ‘Private’ thread, e.g. this one. This sort of practice does not contribute to transparency, and thus trust, in the forum.

  3. A final, minor, issue. If you are going to turn an existing topic into a ‘curated topic’ (splitting the rest of the discussion into a ‘Comments on’ topic) can you please seek the intended participants consent first.

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A clear indication as to what restrictions apply in various threads would be helpful. Finding out comments are pre-moderated before rather than after posting for instance.

ETA: that comment was 8 hours in moderation. What is concerning such that pre-moderation is deemed necessary for this topic?

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As far as I know, the only thread-category that this restriction applies to is “Conversation” (as opposed to “Conversation Side-conversation”, etc).

Unfortunately this is by far the most common thread category used on this forum. It tends to be used as the default, even where its public-facing aspect is clearly not needed (such as in this topic), often slowing down non-controversial conversations. Are these categories hard-wired by the forum software, or can they be added to? Does anybody know?

I think that the delay you allude to may be exacerbated by the fact that most (all?) moderators appear to be from US time-zones, and so are active at roughly the same times.

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Sure. I’m not complaining that mods need to be 24 hour. I just wonder what the thinking is.

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I agree with these.

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It could be me too. Inconsistency is a team non-effort. :frowning:

This is a pitfall for any moderation team; we need better communications. Part of the problem is built in to Discourse, because once a flag is handled by one mod, the others don’t see what was done unless they go looking for it, and that still doesn’t reveal the why.

Partly thinking with my keyboard, but transparency in moderation matters too. Good link to a paper and related discussion: Transparency in moderation really matters - community - Discourse Meta

I put a question up on Discourse Meta to see if anyone there has suggestions.

I note that interpreting what is “pejorative” requires a judgement call from the moderator, and consistency might be a moving target.

Will come back to this later.

I note that most atheist academics don’t really need much defense - and least that’s how I often see it. Am I wrong? (replying to Tim, but it’s an open question).

I’ll have to come back to these too.

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I would suggest that “consistency” on what is “pejorative” is only one forum-keyword-search away. Where a moderator is (or should be) unsure, it is the more cautious and careful approach. And a cautious and careful approach to moderation is more likely to engender trust in it, and thus in the forum, than a rash and sloppy one.

When they are subjected to repeated and baseless slanders (which they were in this thread), then I would suggest that they are deserving of some protection.

But I would be far less concerned if the laissez faire approach was applied consistently to theist and atheist alike. Seeing respected atheist academics slandered freely, whilst often disingenuous theists (I have been aware of Michael Behe’s lack of candor since his less-than-credible attempts to spin his in-court admissions on astrology, in the aftermath of the Dover trial in 2005, an impression confirmed on numerous occasions since) are protected from often well-earned disapprobation, does not engender trust in this forum’s even-handedness.

I would also note that the laissez faire approach also seems to apply to denigration by conservative Christians, of the faith of their more liberal brethren, and of the faith of Christian scholars who disagree with them on NT authorship.

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I’m trying to be constructive. I previously mentioned consistency and that is just a case of moderators talking to each other. Fine. Maybe a brief set of aims and rules so everyone is clear on what to expect. If that already exists, some indication of where to find it.

If I were clearer on what mods intend to achieve, it would help to understand mod actions. If I assume that a free unfettered exchange of ideas is welcomed then what seems arbitrary pre-moderation, timer limits and thread splitting appear counter-productive. But maybe that isn’t the objective. Maybe PS wants to lead discussion to a particular goal. Fine. But be clear about it.

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I second this request.

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Respectfully disagree. Context matters, and past usage may have also been inappropriate but it slipped past review. Sometimes a mod wants to change the tone of discussion too - more on that below.

Point taken.

This is always a tough call. What you see as inconsistency might be mods trying to make room for the theist views. There is a tendency for atheists to pile on the criticism with too much enthusiasm. Sometimes that criticism is warranted, but I regularly see atheists taking the bait to the wrong argument too.

One option here would be to forego private moderation and have mods publicly ask people to edit their own posts. Back in my G+ days we didn’t have good moderation tools and all we could do was ask nicely or delete, but it worked. This has a benefit that everyone sees what the mods want, and they learn to self-moderate.

Discourse allows other options; mods can edit posts then publicly post about the edits. We have avoided this option in the past because we don’t want to be in the business of editing the Internet, and people can get justifiably angry if you change what they say.

I emphatically agree that context matters. However, I would suggest that where context is the determining factor, an explanation of that fact is warranted, rather than a blanket and context-free fatwa that the word is “pejorative”.

I also agree that inappropriate usage may, on occasion, slip through. But where the word has been used as a topic-title, this is unlikely to be the case.

Regardless, if there is little degree of consistency, and thus predictability, discernible in the moderation, then there is little point in expending extra effort in attempting to comply with it.

I am willing to entertain this possibility where the theist in question is actually presenting their views on the forum in person. It would not however seem to apply to occasions where the theist is not present. In the cases I brought up, I was ‘comparing apples with apples’, as both the theists I listed, and the atheists, were in absentia.

I would suggest that the ‘pile-ons’ tend to be more frequently scientist (including some theists) versus apologist (mostly creationists), than atheist versus theist.

I would also suggest that a more contextual analysis of such events would be warranted before assigning blame. If a commenter’s claims are sufficiently egregiously wrong , it should hardly be surprising if numerous responders feel qualified to come forward to dispute it (as opposed to being subtly wrong, requiring a specialised expert to dispute it).

Who gets to determine what “the wrong argument” is, and what is the qualifying criteria?

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As you may have seen, public discussion on moderating decisions on a site I admin was polarising and detrimental. But the idea of requesting self editing as an alternative to deletion seems OK if mods could find time.

Mods editing comments would be an absolute deal breaker for me on further participation.

But what about clarity on rules? Is there a statement somewhere on the PS site that explains the aims, rules and guidelines? If there isn’t, would it be too much trouble to produce one? If there is, where is it?

I think the slow mode is not fit for purpose. Why is it thought necessary? What is it intended to do, precisely?

How is thread-splitting supposed to work?

Pre-moderation is surely unnecessary for users once they have established a track record. I find it very off-putting and I fail to see any benefit to PS. Maybe pre-moderation can kick in where a user refuses to comply with mod requests.

Like Tim, not sure what this means.

Anyway, I’ve chipped in with a few suggestions. A rules page, getting rid of slow mode, getting rid of pre-moderation by default, confusing thread splits. I’m done. You only got this because you asked for it. :slight_smile:

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I take your statement to mean that moderation policy is not only inconsistent, but that it’s intentionally inconsistent. I don’t think that’s a good policy.

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It has been a while, but this is (in my memory) one of the latest statements we have had regarding norms of communication on this website. As far as I know we have never invalidated these rules, and I still use them as a guideline in moderating.

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Well, that’s helpful. Is it feasible to make the statement more accessible to forum users?

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To see if I can REALLY dig myself a hole, let me get back to those things I skipped before … :wink:

Topic splitting IS heavy handed, but not as heavy as shutting things down completely. Ideally it let’s both discussions continue, or one to continue minus distractions.

I don’t split threads as often as other mods, and when I doI try to give some warning or notice. Sometimes that notice is enough to kick a topic back on track.

I’d like to remind everyone that splitting a topic doesn’t really require moderator privileges; You can quote appropriate text, copy it and use it to start a new thread, then post a link to your new thread in the old one. If more people did this, mods wouldn’t need to.

That’s fair. This would still fall back on moderator discretion if the OP doesn’t remain active in the discussion.

There was some talk about granting privileges for members to curate topics. That might take the heat off moderator to manage certain threads.

I think this used to be pinned to the top for all users, but then for some reason it was disabled after a while. Now that there are some newer users, I think we could enable it again, @swamidass?

Which statement do you want pinned?

This one: An Update about Peaceful Discourse

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