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.

I just don't think moderation is the issue here. The mods as far as I can tell are generally doing a reasonable job. From my perspective the biggest problem with the state of the Motte is, well, the user base. It's this:

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.

The Motte has a culture. It even has, unfortunately, a groupthink. I don't think it's really possible to have a community of humans without one. But it means that the Motte has positions that it favours as a group, and positions that it disfavours as a group, and this is very obvious if you look at the distributions of likes. People here, just like people on Reddit, are reflexively upvoting things they agree with and downvoting things they disagree with, regardless of intellectual rigour, and the same in terms of verbal responses. Trash that aligns with the majority consensus is favoured; gems that don't are disfavoured.

I'm sure anybody who's gone against that consensus has experienced this - you yourself describe an experience that I've had as well, where low-effort posts that agree with a majority view are heavily rewarded, whereas high-effort posts that I'm quite proud of are probably found under 'sort by controversial' or even 'most downvoted'.

Now it's easy to round that complaint to "people don't agree with me", so we have to be careful with comments like that. My actual preference, for here and for every web forum, is to just eliminate upvotes and downvotes entirely. I think they usually have negative consequences on a forum's culture - in particular, they enable that kind of mindless upvoting-stuff-I-agree-with behaviour, and by providing rapid feedback on how something is received, they make every post more of a spectacle. I find them the equivalent of the studio audience at a presidential debate, cheering for stuff they like and booing stuff they don't, all the while getting in the way of a reasonable discussion or debate between the people at the top.

However, changing that can't actually change the overall landscape, which is the way it is because the user base slants a certain way.

I don't think 'Red Tribe' is the right word here. Going by Scott's original formulation, I would be very surprised if there is more than a handful of Red Tribe people here. Red Tribe is not a synonym for 'conservative' or 'right-wing'. My read is that most of the Motte are Blue Tribe, understanding that to be to do more with education and manners, but also broadly speaking on the right. Even there I want to qualify a bit, because 'the right' is quite diverse, and while we have our share of tech-y-libertarians and people-with-weird-theories-about-race, I'm not sure we have much of that pick-up-truck-driving football-watching beer-drinking evangelical-church-attending gun-owning crowd that Scott called the Red Tribe.

The Motte has very few 'normal' leftists, but it also has very few 'normal' rightists. I always find it a bit weird and refreshing to have a chat with what I think of as 'normal' rightists. I don't want it to sound like I think those people are all lower-class idiots either - they're not. But I chat with people along those lines about politics and suffice to say it does not sound anything like the Motte, even when it is very educated.

Can the Motte change, and attract a more ideologically diverse user-base, and also make its atmosphere more attractive to people with different and challenging perspectives? I don't know. I suspect probably not. Most online communities can't change that easily.

But there's also a case that maybe it shouldn't change like that. Right now this is a place for a particular kind of weirdo, and there aren't a whole lot of spaces out there for people like this. You could accuse me, perhaps not without reason, of being one of the greys from this comic. It's true, I don't love the culture of the Motte and I'd like it to be different.

But then, in other contexts, I've been the pink one, and I know what it's like to be besieged by demanding greys. So maybe I should just forebear, and let the Motte be the Motte, even if that sometimes makes me want to hit things.

What if we create diversity quotas for Quality Contributions? Almost all of the political ones that end up actually making the list are right-leaing, or at least anti-woke. If we (slightly) lower the standards for left-leaning or rare opinions so that they get signal boosted, and in particular the highest quality of them get seen by more eyes, that might incentivize people who hold those opinions to put effort into it and feel more appreciated.

Online communities are capricious things, and so are voting patterns. I recall many times on reddit providing good, correct answers to questions and being downvoted and stupid/silly stuff gets up-voted. no rhyme or reason sometimes.

I'm sure anybody who's gone against that consensus has experienced this - you yourself describe an experience that I've had as well, where low-effort posts that agree with a majority view are heavily rewarded, whereas high-effort posts that I'm quite proud of are probably found under 'sort by controversial' or even 'most downvoted.

Some time ago someone asked me if I think votes should be public, and the more I think about it the more I like the idea.

I always have to roll my eyes at Downdoot Complainers. My first question to them always is: why do you care? Personally I remove the sign of each votr before adding them up into a single metric called "engagement".

But fine, no one likes a dogpile I guess. So second question is: what do you want me to do about it? I can vote the other way, and that might add up to an entire fart in a hurricane, so then what?

OTOH if people see high-profile users vote against the grain, maybe that will take the sting out of the flood of downdoots? Maybe it will even make people reconsider their boo-outgroup / yay-ingroup votes?

Then again, it might backfire. The voting record from the BLM era could probably be mined for salt for generations to come.

My actual preference, for here and for every web forum, is to just eliminate upvotes and downvotes entirely.

Occasionally I write an effortpost that gets few or no replies, but still gets a significant number of upvotes. I like having a signal that my post was appreciated, even if no one had anything to actually say in response. It's no fun just screaming into the void.

I think the actual solution is for people to just stop taking downvotes personally. As you point out, all a downvote means in most cases is "I disagree". That's fine! People can disagree! That can be a valuable and useful signal, to know where you stand with regards to the consensus community opinion.

Can the Motte change, and attract a more ideologically diverse user-base, and also make its atmosphere more attractive to people with different and challenging perspectives?

I don't know what concrete steps could be taken to do that at this point, except maybe relaxing moderation somewhat against users who have clearly unpopular opinions. But even then, probably not.

For me, a lot of the 'red tribe' vibes come from the openly religious postings and occasionally really in depth wholly religious debates on the finer points of the eucharist. The tales of having religious "awakenings" and the benefits of Mormonism, the just so stories, and the backronyming of reason and logical arguments to fit fantastical superstitious beliefs, the 3 page apologetics diatribes and the constant C. S. Lewis quotes. It boggles my rational mind that people that otherwise seem like coherent thinkers and smart capable motte posters have this glaring blindspot and aren't afraid to wear it as a badge of honor. Atheism is so boring and passe after all. Trad Cath living is the New Hotness.

While most Mormons and (white, church attending) Catholics are broadly red tribe, the stereotypical(and typical) red triber is neither- he’s an evangelical Christian who knows which church he ought to attend more often, believes the Bible to be true in perhaps a more literal manner than physical realities, and is basically orthopraxic and (by American standards)socially conservative in his Christianity, not very concerned with theological details.

Eh, I'd argue that's not necessarily Red Tribe? To take a specific example - I think that, say, Patrick Deneen is from the Blue Tribe. He's a tradcath social conservative with loopy politics, but in terms of culture, background, education, and most importantly manner, he's Blue Tribe. He's not like, say, Jerry Falwell, who was I think clearly Red Tribe.

(One commenter on the original SSC post tried to define people like this as the 'Violet Tribe', giving people like Ross Douthat and Leah Libresco as examples. I think I would shrug and just say that Ross Douthat is Blue Tribe. He's a conservative Catholic Blue Triber.)

Being religious by itself doesn't make you Red Tribe. Heck, liking C. S. Lewis doesn't - as far as I can tell he's very popular among Christians of both colour tribes. So I'm wary of taking those things as definitive.

Good points. There are many religious blue tribers, not many here though. Being openly religious or making it a large part of your identity is a very good marker for figuring out if someone is 'red tribe' but again that all depends on how we identify red tribe. Do we judge them by what they say they believe, or by how they say it? Semantics and what the definition of is is, I suppose.

I suppose I count myself as one of the 'religious Blue Tribers' here; or as a Violet Triber, in that terminology. I was raised in a church, embraced faith as an adult, studied theology, and now I work full-time as a religious professional; and even in terms of private devotion, I spend a lot of time in prayer and meditation. I also tend to embrace more 'conservative' or 'traditional' social values as a result. But at the same time, I'm an upper-middle-class university-educated white-collar worker in a heavily verbal field. My native language, so to speak, is Blue Tribe. I speak fluent environmentalist, multiculturalist, and therapeutic. Even though I've come to embrace an ethos at odds with my native culture, so to speak, it still is my native culture and I automatically know how to move in it. If I went to a barbeque with a bunch of gun-owning ESPN-watching blue-collar workers, I would be extremely uncomfortable and would feel out of place, whereas if I go to a wine tasting with the archbishop, I automatically know how to fit in.

It's an awkward place to be in, and even though I've deliberately made more of an effort to understand and be sympathetic to the Red Tribe, even siding with them against traditional Blue Tribe authorities, I'll never be one of them.

I think that even if you are more erudite and sophisticated than your fellow red tribers, you still fall into that catagory if you're conservative and religious. You agree on the big stuff. You just have nothing in common beyond that. That personally would make me question some things.

Maybe you like the structure, meditative nature, history, traditions, and pomp of the church, but I still can't reconcile smart people actually believing in magic. I always personally feel that learned church muckety mucks such as any archbishop don't really go in for all of that and it is just a way of life that affords them respect, some amount of power, and for thousands of years one of the best lives that you could have. Vatican city has had the most whores per square mile in the world since its inception.

I think that relies on a value judgement about what 'the big stuff' is. The issues that actually divide people in terms of social class are not necessarily the most important issues in an objective sense. On one level, it's hard to think of an issue bigger than the existence of God, or the truth of a given religion - whether Christianity or Islam or somesuch is true or false would affect pretty much everything. Yet I think tribe or class sometimes hinges on much smaller things than that, like the clothes you wear, the accent you speak with, or the kinds of parties you go to. That's why, to stick with Christianity, an Episcopalian bishop from New Hampshire and a charismatic evangelical from rural Georgia are very much not the same tribe, despite ostensibly being of the same religion.

We are bogging down in semantics about what constitutes a 'tribe'. I think on a fundamental level of how you feel the world operates (by divine plan) you're in the same group as those rural baptists. If you also agree with their stances on wedge issues and are socially conservative then you're absolutely in their wheelhouse. It is like a family, you may not like your relatives, but they are still your relatives, not mine.

I'd categorise 'relatives' differently, I think? My relatives are not the people I agree with. My relatives are something closer or more intuitive than that. I'd say it's more about where I instinctively feel at home, or what feels natural to me, and that means that things like language or custom count for more than agreement on any specific issue.

That said, you are correct that this is a semantic dispute. We would presumably both agree that in terms of custom or background, I fit with other well-educated middle-class suburban people in knowledge careers, even though in terms of ideas or substantive metaphysical beliefs, I probably fit in better with other groups.

I think custom is a better way to define the boundaries of 'tribe', and closer to the way Scott defined it in his original essay, but you can make words mean anything you like, so that's up to you, I guess.

(For what it's worth, I'm not downvoting you - I don't downvote conversations that I'm enjoying, and I don't downvote just because of disagreement. I only downvote if I believe the Motte would be better off if that post didn't exist, and you've certainly not hit that point for me.)

More comments

Arguably we've all very little to go on regarding judging one another in any substantive way beyond votes on posts, as what people say they believe--and even how they say it--regularly have little to do with their actual IRL behavior. Of course there will always be those who will judge based on simple metrics (Jew, Muslim, whether the person seems to be a "Hajnal-type," whatever.)

Unrelated but as I type this I am reminded of the tattoo discussion a while back, as across from me sits a dude in a black suit with a button down white oxford, no tie, wearing black ankle socks and rubber Nike slide sandals, with visible full arm sleeves and leg tats. Young, probably mid 20s, definitely on his way home (it's 630 am) from town. Low level yakuza for sure No wristwatch, leather tote bag, shitty Bluetooth earbuds, watching inane tiktok shit on his iphone. Looks like his nose was probably broken once. Plucks his eyebrows. Snarly cupid bow mouth. Definitely a young yak.

I love the morning train.

What's it like living in an episode of Giri-Haji?

Mostly I do the sudden, arty dance numbers like in that one episode. No one follows along yet but I'm confident they will eventually.