Talking rules

Like every community site, Able2Know grapples with the dilemmas of moderating objectionable content – and defining what “objectionable content” is. Some of it is easy to identify. Our volunteer moderators remove unceasing amounts of spam. Rare appearances of gore and pornography are dealt with swiftly.

Other lines are harder to draw. Especially on political threads, discussions can veer off into insult or even harassment. Able2Know errs on the side of free speech, but does need to preempt behavior that harms the community. A glut of personal attacks can make the forum inhospitable to participation and discourage new members.

Earlier this year, Able2Know revamped its content policy. You can find the current policy by clicking the “Rules” link in the footer of the site. Some of the rules are easy to uphold; others trickier. Rule 8, for example: “No personal attacks on other members. Heated arguments are okay; mudslinging and calling each other names is not.

To increase the transparency of our moderation and to encourage members to adhere to the rules, we are going to try out a small change. When a post is removed for reasons other than spam, you might now find a message indicating that it was removed, and why (e.g. “Response moderated: No personal attacks”).

This might be a little jarring at first. We ask you to keep two things in mind:

  • Our small moderator team cannot read everything that’s posted. If we removed one post but left another up, it might just be that we didn’t see it. So if you see something you feel should be removed, use the Report function and we’ll take a look when we can.
  • As our moderator team is small and consists of people volunteering their spare time, we are not able to engage in discussions about individual post removals.

We are keenly aware that any line we draw is going to be arbitrary to some extent. People will always disagree about what constitutes a “personal attack,” “personal arguments ad nauseum”, or “toxic behavior”. A couple of the rules of thumb we keep in mind, however, involve:

  • distinguishing between personal attacks and criticisms of someone’s views or arguments, however harsh;
  • distinguishing between attacks aimed at an individual and generic broadsides;
  • considering whether a post solely disparages another user or has other, redeeming content;
  • distinguishing between hate speech and controversial views.

In the end, we do not claim to be faultless. All the moderators promise to do, in the spare time they devote to A2K, is to try to be fair – and adhere to the rules that apply to their own actions.

UPDATE: After implementing the strategy of replacing posts that violated non-spam rules with moderation messages for half a year, we stopped editing out posts in this way again in June 2017. While the practice increased moderation transparency, it had little effect otherwise. Eventually we decided that the negative impact of littering threads with repetitive stock moderation messages on the site’s appeal outweighed its benefits. We have therefore returned to simply deleting posts that violate the site’s rules.

To increase the transparency of another aspect of our site moderation, however, we have started informing users who are suspended for non-spam reasons by email of the reasons why.