site banner

Moderations, Bans, and the State of the Motte - Let's have a Discussion

This a post that started in response to the question posed by @Amadan in regards to what should be done about Hylnka, and my thoughts in regards to the parent post about the state of the Motte.

The state of the Motte

So I'm a relative newcomer to the space and only lurked on /r/themotte occasionally, so I don't have a strong opinion on Hlynka one way or the other. I don't like him, I don't hate him, because I don't really know him.

But if you believe banning Hlynka is a net negative, that goes to reason that maybe there are some aspects of the rules that need consideration taken into account. I'm going to give my naive take since I haven't seen anyone else really answer the question recently regarding what should be done.

Perhaps there is an optimal ratio of good posts to bad posts that get some leeway. Or put another way, you get a pass for every "x" amount of good posts. Let's start with an extreme example. If someone makes 100 AAQC contributions to 1 ban-worthy post, I personally would rather want them to be allowed to keep posting even if they make 50 ban-worthy posts. I think to a certain extent, the mods already do this by gut feeling, which is why they have been lenient with Hylnka for so long. But because the rules don't allow for this, they don't have a good enough justification to allow for it. In the end, they became a slave to the rules. That being said in my opinion, the rules are actually really lenient and flexible, and I have seen the mods be plenty lenient. A place like Reddit nowadays will just perma ban you, most bans here are for a day or a week.

The more often you post, the more likely it is that one of your posts will be inflammatory or say something that people don't like and report you for. It's not ideal for people to just post and then not respond to people's responses, otherwise it's not that different from posting an article from an outside source. The controversial ideas are the most exciting. It's why the culture war stuff is the most popular. But controversial ideas are the ones that generate the most heat. The person proposing or defending the controversial idea will have many, many people piling on them. It's not easy being on the defending on, even if you deserve it.

Conversations on forums and the internet are weird. Human beings don't engage in conversation like this in the real world. Expecting people to be civil 100% of the time is an unrealistic expectation, especially in a place where your ideas are constantly attacked and challenged. People argue politics with their own family all the time, and these discussions can get heated, but at the end of the day, they still get together to eat at the same table. If someone garners enough goodwill in the community and makes good contributions, does it not stand to reason that they should be given more leeway? Even in our courts, where no man is above the law, the punishment is often adjusted based on the circumstances of the crime. At the same time, a forum means you can take the time to formulate your thoughts before hitting "post". I've seen some posts where people say they wrote this long post, it somehow got deleted, and then they realized how angry/inappropriate/inflammatory they were being and thus were able to write something of higher quality instead.

Are man made for rules, or rules made for man? Do the rules today really serve both sides of the ideas proposed by this place? To optimize for light, and to minimize heat? The common sentiment I see is that currently the enforcing of the rules minimizes heat, but doesn't optimize for light.

How do the people who wanted Hylnka banned feel now that he's gone from space? Do they feel the motte better now or worse for it? Do you genuinely want to see all these long-time posters banned? Why? Is it because you think they are bad for the community? Why do you think that? Are you using the rules for a personal vendetta, or are you genuinely trying to help make the Motte a place where people with opposing viewpoints can come together to discuss ideas to seek the truth? If all the people with opposing viewpoints are banned, how can you achieve that?

You aren't obligated to respond to someone. If they attack you in the comments just block them so you don't have to read it. Should the average user really be concerned with how others might interpret someone's statement? If the concern is how other potential newcomers may feel about the community, is that a valid concern today? When @Armin asked about the state of the Motte, most people agreed it's stagnant or decaying. The newcomers are not really coming.

Where are the people with counterpoints?

For the time I have spent here, I don't think I got any serious challenge from someone across the political aisle from me. I have gotten a few people challenging my ideas which I am immensely grateful for since they helped find the flaws in my thinking, but if I look back on them those don't tackle my core set of beliefs and were over relatively minor things. The one person who I did challenge @guesswho never responded to my response to his ideas almost 4 months ago and he's been gone for a month now. In other words, I have yet to be challenged on my core fundamental beliefs. To be honest, part of me is scared to even have that debate. It's uncomfortable. I'm fairly certain I will take it personally. Maybe the rules make more sense in that kind of environment. But my feeling, and based on reading what a lot of other people have posted, is that environment is long gone. The rules were built for different populations.

Every once in a while you get people from the opposite side of the political aisle, call everyone here nazis/far-right in an inflammatory manner and they get banned. I think their general sentiment is correct, though - this place is currently filled with moderates and people on the right political, and very few on the left. When I make a low-effort comment that would align with the red-tribe, I get tons of upvotes. When I see someone from the opposite side make a high-effort comment, it gets many downvotes. Now upvotes and downvotes don't mean much regarding the truth or quality of the post, but they do reveal the general user sentiment response to it.

Every community is composed of several groups - the mods, the prolific posters, people who post occasionally, people who mostly just upvote/downvote, and the lurkers. Forget about the lurkers, their opinions don't matter. In my opinion, smaller communities like the Motte can exist mainly due to the relationship between the mods and the prolific posters. I don't mean to sound rude but the prolific posters are abnormal. Most users post only occasionally. Most of us only respond to top-level posts and rarely make any ourselves. But the prolific posters have an insane output rate. Many of them have an insane high-quality output rate. Because their output is so high, they tend to be able to dictate the general flow of ideas. In other words, they're the ones that form the core of the community. They're the ones that make most of the AAQC posts. They're the ones whose ideas people will recall and remember the most.

As many others have said, each time a prolific user is banned, you lose a small piece of the community. To maintain or grow a community, you need more such people to come in to fill in the gap. But these people, because they're so abnormal, are rare to come by. For the people who have been here a very, very long time, has the void been filled? As much as the vision and the rules help shape a place, it's ultimately the people that form a community.

Solutions - What should we do?

Having said all that, I do agree with the mod's vision that the rules are what have helped make the Motte into this unique space on the internet. I don't believe in making big sweeping changes to existing communities because once you make those big changes it's no longer the same community. I think people have mentioned how other offshoots from the culture war communities from the SSC days have failed to survive to the degree the Motte has. That indicates to me the rule does have value in them.

My proposal

Here's my modest proposal: Once a month (or longer, maybe twice a year) users on the forum are allowed to propose unbanning someone. Maybe limit who can make these proposals so not just anyone can propose and abuse the system. Then the community can vote to allow someone back in. If a certain threshold is met (for example 60%), then the user is unbanned. If for example, 90% of the community would rather want someone to keep posting even if they make the occasional inflammatory comment, should they deserve to be permanently banned? After all, they said were mean words, they didn't kill anyone, they didn't incite violence, they didn't harass people.

This is an extremely minor change that I think could be implemented. Maybe it's a dumb idea and won't result in anything. Maybe it'll make things worse. The person likely won't come back. But maybe it could be the start of stopping the motte from stagnating.

Of course, like I said, I'm naive in this. I don't really know the history, or the people who have come and gone. I can read and read about but I will never truly understand it. Some of you guys have been around this space for over a decade. Maybe all this has already been discussed and thought about and tried by people multiple times. But this community is still new and exciting stuff to me, and I wish I could get to experience even a little bit of that magic of the past. If I think this place is better than many other places online now, just how much better was the Motte in the past for people to lament the state it is in today?

Criticizing is easy. Pointing out problems is easy. Complaining is easy. Coming up with solutions is hard. Coming up with good solutions is almost impossible. I'm sure the mods have thought about this plenty, and people on the forum too, but I don't really see the full discussions. There's got to be at least 1 person in this place that would have a good idea.

Solutions from other people

Some other ideas I've seen other people propose:

  • Just don't ban long-time high-quality posters. They get a free pass for being here so long and continuing to contribute to the community.
  • Have a separate, no modding no rules thread.
  • Stop (or minimize) tone policing. If there is an argument, in line with the tone policing, then that gets a free pass.
My dumb solutions

To help generate more discussion, I'm just going to throw whatever comes to my head here in this list, whether they are good or bad or feasible or not:

  • If you get banned for inflammatory comments but have made good contributions before, you are limited to just posting top-level comments for a period of time, but you are not allowed to respond. If you break the rules to try to continue a previous conversation you get banned.
  • If a conversation gets inflammatory it gets pushed into a black-box so nobody else can see it, or it auto collapses and you have to opt in to see it
  • Allow users that would have been banned to keep communicating, but users must opt-in into an "I want to see everything" option and they no longer have the rights to request moderation once opted in. All conversations starting from these banned users and subsequent child posts get hidden unless you opt in.
  • If you are banned, you must steelman your opposition point of view to an acceptable level to the person you were being antagonist against in order to get unbanned ahead of the ban timer
  • Every 1 AAQC counters 1 bannable offense
  • A converse to the community unban option - a decision of whether or not to ban of a prolific high-value contributor gets pushed to the community.

Let's have a discussion.

What do you, fellow Mottizens, think? I see a lot of complaining and only a few people have provided some ideas for a solution. This discussion about the moderation and state of this site has been popping up across multiple threads every week. How about the community actually get together and discuss the merits of actual proposed solutions, as well as provide their own solutions, instead of having fights with the mods every time someone gets moderated? Worst case scenario, at least all the discussion is now centralized for a place to reference for the future.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

The uhhh 'old internet' didn't have up/down votes on forums. This kept things illegible. Once you have voting the trend toward monoculture is usually unstoppable.

Funny, my immediate reaction was to upvote you in agreement. Looks like the new internet trained me well.

If you’re implying that we should get rid of the votes, then I agree.