Dealing With the Things That Bother Us Online: Facilitation of Problems Part 1
There have been a bunch of interesting blog posts recently around online interaction facilitation issues. I've been collecting them in draft posts and I'll try and roll them out with a bit of commentary. Work may preclude that, but if I hold on to them too long they lose value. The first is pretty straight forward, has a blog centric focus and springboards off a common theme of labeling folks in a way that may or may not be useful. More on that later. First the links: From Teresa Nielsen Hayden - “Spam, Trolls, Stalkers: The Pandora’s Box of community”.
The ease with which people from all over the world can come together and create a virtual community is one of the most powerful gifts of the internet. Sites which facilitate community—from Slashdot and Metafilter to the single-author blog with comments enabled—do so first by making communication easy. Unfortunately, this also opens the gates to undesirable parasites who, at best, don’t care about your creation or, at worst, want to destroy it. (SNIP)
I posted this to the online facilitation list and immediately got a very negative reaction around disemvoweling in the context of an online discussion group. I suggested that blog comments can and often are quite different than a more communally perceived online discussion board or list. The comments spring off of the outward facing voice of the individual blog owner, so it seems to me there is a far more flexible line over control of comments.
Some things I know about moderating conversations in virtual space:
1. There can be no ongoing discourse without some degree of moderation, if only to kill off the hardcore trolls. It takes rather more moderation than that to create a complex, nuanced, civil discourse. If you want that to happen, you have to give of yourself. Providing the space but not tending the conversation is like expecting that your front yard will automatically turn itself into a garden.
2. Once you have a well-established online conversation space, with enough regulars to explain the local mores to newcomers, they’ll do a lot of the policing themselves.
3. You own the space. You host the conversation. You don’t own the community. Respect their needs. For instance, if you’re going away for a while, don’t shut down your comment area. Give them an open thread to play with, so they’ll still be there when you get back.
4. Message persistence rewards people who write good comments.
5. Over-specific rules are an invitation to people who get off on gaming the system.
6. Civil speech and impassioned speech are not opposed and mutually exclusive sets. Being interesting trumps any amount of conventional politeness.
7. Things to cherish: Your regulars. A sense of community. Real expertise. Genuine engagement with the subject under discussion. Outstanding performances. Helping others. Cooperation in maintenance of a good conversation. Taking the time to teach newbies the ropes.
All these things should be rewarded with your attention and praise. And if you get a particularly good comment, consider adding it to the original post.
8. Grant more lenience to participants who are only part-time jerks, as long as they’re valuable the rest of the time.
9. If you judge that a post is offensive, upsetting, or just plain unpleasant, it’s important to get rid of it, or at least make it hard to read. Do it as quickly as possible. There’s no more useless advice than to tell people to just ignore such things. We can’t. We automatically read what falls under our eyes.
10. Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they’ll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.
11. You can’t automate intelligence. In theory, systems like Slashdot’s ought to work better than they do. Maintaining a conversation is a task for human beings.
12. Disemvowelling works. Consider it.
13. If someone you’ve disemvowelled comes back and behaves, forgive and forget their earlier gaffes. You’re acting in the service of civility, not abstract justice.
Here are a few more links related to Theresa's post: http://www.threadwatch.org/node/1246, http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002877.html
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