html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Work

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Mark asked, and I started answering, then I thought it was important enough to bring front:
Megan, I've spent some time trying to figure out why you would think that people who host unmoderated fora are creating work for others. I'm guessing you view them as a form of pollution? That the existance of unmoderated fora increases the frequency of undesirable comments on other boards?

Please elaborate some on that, because I've got some thoughts on the subject, but want to understand where you're coming from before expressing more.

Hey Mark,

I'm a little concerned about the part where unmoderated fora legitimate that type of discussion on other boards, but that isn't the work I mean.

The work I mean is the effort I have to put out when I read nasty shit about me in my or someone else's comment sections. (Mr. Clarke is even more empathetic, and extends it to people who love the target, or people who want an end to cruelty. But I'll stick with the personal example.)

I write a post, and it has an ordered logic, laid out well enough to be refuted, and it has an emotional content, and it has a point. Right? I did all that. In response, I get back stuff like "that's the kind of hysterical crap that makes me glad that women will never get anywhere", if they don't suggest that a raping would show me some truth. (Those aren't exact, but they aren't exaggerations, either.)

I read those, and my shoulders just sag. That is where the work starts. I have to dismiss them, and not remember them throughout my day. I have to let them go and not constantly make counter-arguments, because those counter-arguments are even more work. I have to reconstruct my faith in people, so that I can meet the kind and wonderful men in my life without wondering that maybe they think that just a little inside. And the next time I want to write a strong post on a touchy topic, I have to brace myself, because I know what it will bring, and I have to decide to do it anyway.

All of that, keeping myself steady and engaged, is work. That is the cost of not moderating, that hurt and effort. Each asshole comment may be a small cost, but the aggregate, of all the slights and for all the people who are injured (Dizzy, who hurts when she sees me attacked, and all the people who learn that if you put yourself out, you'll get slammed.) is a lot of damage to a civil community.

I've never spelled this out, because it is so obvious to me. It is obvious to anyone in a target group. The people who say "who cares what some asshole thinks" haven't had this happen to them a lot. They don't understand the way each saps you a little, and makes you do work to recover yourself. And they don't understand that it is a heavy weight, knowing that you're going to incur all that again and still deciding to do it because you have something to say.

This is the work I mean, and I have tried to find ways to point out how much it matters. I tried to find an equivalence in blogger's reluctance to moderate; maybe that is equal to the hurt not-moderating externalizes. I don't know if that equivalence is accurate, but I am sure that just like Mr. Clarke says, not-moderating pushes that work on the very people it hurts. It is unjust.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sort of thing is obviously unjust to me, too, and I always wonder why it isn't obvious to everyone else.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Considering any forum characterized by:
1) People can express themselves anonymously
2) People who are completely unknown to the host are allowed to "grab the mike."
3) Strong opinions are expressed as seeds for further comment
4) The more inflammatory the comment, the more attention the commenter gets

is going to inevitably get a lot of bad behavior. It's a terrible, terrible, design for a forum if one is sensitive to boorish behavior. I strongly advise anyone who has their feelings deeply affected by what jackasses think and say to stop paying attention to any forum so designed.

I circulate in some fora that break the above design in various ways, up to and including the use of REAL NAMES and judiciously pre-screening who is allowed to join the conversation. This is highly effective.

But the cretins are still going to think and say what they will. They're saying something that will make someone else sad/angry right now. In fact, there's currently several rooms full of idiots chortling over some statement that would shock and deeply sadden a sensitive soul. There is no way to stop them, and no way to reform them all. The only solution is simply to refuse to pay attention.

While you may argue that it we have a moral obligation to not hand a microphone to offensive ideas, the raw fact is that everyone has a microphone now. And we're not all one same-minded community that can stick to some obvious objective standard. I'm horrified by the notion that one person's sensitivity can project strong moral obligations upon others' behaviors on their own turf.

Megan, I don't think you should stifle some of your language and opinions because my grandpa would be offended by them. I think gramps has the obligation to protect himself by not poking around these places.

Likewise for sensitive souls poking around in anonymous, unmoderated fora.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I think the obligation to moderate comments is in direct proportion to the blogger's belief in free speech and civil discourse. If those aren't important to the blogger, the obligation evaporates.

It solves some of the problem for me to avoid unmoderated boards (which I do, 'cause I don't even know where I'd find them). But remember also that THEY LINK ME. And it isn't just people who have very different values, like the folks at Small Dead Animals. I have no hope of influencing them. But otherwise reputable sites, hosted by people who aren't cretins and aren't malicious, link me and allow bad shit to go down. What is my recourse then, when they hold me up and let me get slammed?

It isn't one person's sensitivity, most people who haven't inured themselves on the internet are shocked and hurt. It isn't an extreme sensitivity. And it isn't the sensitivity that should change. Again, you're putting the burden on the wrong person; it should go on the bad actors or on the host. Not on the victim.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I'm in analyze-and-problem solve mode, so I apologize in advance if this is too mind-centric.

I'm on another forum that is no-robots shielded, so it can't be Googled. Most of the conversation topics are only accessible to full members. One becomes a full member by introducing oneself, getting to know the other people, and generally showing that you have some care about the other people as people. Nobody there has any of the problems you are experiencing.

Change the way you interface with the internet, and most of your problems will go away.

Before you accuse me of blaming the victim. You are complaining about continually being shot. I am simply saying that you if you stop casually strolling through the war zone, you will not be shot nearly as often.

"But THEY are the ones doing bad things." does not change the fact that you have the power in your hands to avoid being continually shot. Yes, if there is some way to stop them from shooting, I'm all in favor of it. But, I strongly believe that is not possible.

The structure and design of internet communication makes it INHERENTLY a war zone. The outcome is predestined given the design. I'm honestly happy if I'm proven wrong. I am almost entirely certsain I will not be.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Nope. I refuse to accept that the internet is immutable, or that our behavior is fixed. I agree with you that structural characteristics bring out the worst in some people. But the internet is too valuable and too intrinsic to civic life to force anyone who doesn't want to play by those rules to leave.

If we want everyone to play, we change the rules to keep them in. Enforcing civility is even the right thing to do, for all those reasons I've talked about before. There are numerable accessible leverage points, like big bloggers, who need to sack up and deal with this.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

There are numerable accessible leverage points, like big bloggers, who need to sack up and deal with this.

OR, admit to themselves that they don't care about the participation of targeted voices and the hurt they allow to happen. If they don't want to deal, they should at least admit (privately) who they have made themselves into.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I refuse to accept that the internet is immutable, or that our behavior is fixed."

Yeah, so? How easy do you find it to change even your own behavior? (If you're like me: it's darn hard.) So, what exactly is your 'not accepting' the behavior of many thousands of total strangers likely to achieve? They're out there, they exist, they're boors.

If it makes you feel any better, boorishness isn't aimed exclusively at non-white non-males. Being a non-leftist in a left-heavy will evoke it too. More generally, I think there's some basic tendency of large groups of people to demonize or disparage outsiders, and the Net is rife with it in all directions. It's brain-damaged, rude, energy-draining, and generally a poor advertisement for the ideologies of the boorish. But, it is indeed "how it is."

A good general essay on this sums up what I've seen from 15 or so years on the Net, going waaaaaay into the pre-blog and even pre-Web days:


--Erich Schwarz

12:26 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

How easy do you find it to change even your own behavior?

I work on it ALL THE TIME. It is as unnatural and difficult for me to practice lovingkindness here as it is for anyone. I fail often. Because it is such a radical approach, it is the only one that has a hope of reaching people. (Altemeyer's book on authoritarian personalities supports this as well.) That's why I harp on it so.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But otherwise reputable sites, hosted by people who aren't cretins and aren't malicious, link me and allow bad shit to go down. What is my recourse then, when they hold me up and let me get slammed?

A reputable person would stop linking to you, if asked, and shown that doing so exposes you to unwarranted ridicule.

Folks may not be acting with malice, but in this context, recklessness and gross negligence can be called out just fine. In email. To the person choosing the links. If this doesn't work, then you are dealing with malice.


3:53 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


Yep, I've done that and it has worked. I've been thinking, idly, about a linking policy posted on the front page of my blog requesting that I not be linked by anyone who doesn't moderate their comments.

So far I haven't been willing to relegate myself to a backwater blog. But then sometimes I dream grandiose dreams about other people also doing the same thing. Enough other people generating enough other content that it would be a nuisance to not be able to link to them. Like a boycott, in reverse.

I'll probably start sometime after I've gone through another round in the thresher and don't care if I never get linked again.

4:18 PM  

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