Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

All Things in Moderation

This post has sat a long time in draft form; really just a bunch of links, which you'll discover are several months old. It started out about the same time as the sexism kerfuffle surrounding Jennifer Hepler and her comments about stories in games. Another incident from around that time involved sexist comments made by Aris Bakhtanians about his own teammate, Miranda Pakozdi, and her reaction to it. I myself wrote about sexism in gaming about the time of E3 2012, and I still owe you guys the results of that survey Sctrz and I ran a month or so ago. This post is not about sexism. It's about forum/comment moderation, censorship, and Freedom of Speech.

The reason I decided to dredge the topic up after all this time is that some anonymous coward made a trollish comment about another blogger on one of my older posts that was caught in my moderation net. Not only were the coward's comments patently untrue, they were insulting and vulgar, and they brought absolutely nothing to the discussion. I promptly deleted the comment from my queue.

Now, I pre-moderate comments on posts older than two weeks, because I had heard a lot of spam comes through for those. (Why? I don't know, but it has held true.) I let newer comments post directly, only policing them if they are spam or otherwise inappropriate. Anyway, while I may disagree with bloggers and my own commenters, I will not permit this place to become a den of trolls.
Mmmm, roast hobbit!
There are several viewpoints on this topic. River over at High Latency Life eloquently gave his reasons for not moderating, citing his opinions on Freedom of Speech and censorship; even sharing a story of a troll on his own blog, and the eventual resolution. His post was in response to Spinks' post on moderating her newsfeed and commentary in the wake of the above-mentioned Hepler hoopla. While there are some who may decry insulating oneself from differing opinions (and justifiably so), Spinks and I make a distinction between expressing an opinion and rude behavior, including nasty comments on the internet.

Mike Elgin at Datamation makes a great argument for blocking people from your feed, that I would extend to include your forum (if you run one) and your blog comments. He makes the comparison to Meatspace situations (political rallies, nightclubs, cocktail parties) where it is entirely appropriate to remove someone who is being a jackass. Why should an online venue be any different? Mike also helpfully lists the sort of people it is OK to block (or moderate). I highly encourage you to go read his post even if you don't come back here afterward.

"But, Rowan," you may be saying. "We have to let these people have their say even if we don't like it. What about their rights?" A good example of this is Reddit. Hey, anybody has the legal right to say just about anything they want. However, A) not all speech is protected (i.e., threats, slander/libel, shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theater), and Two) even if it is, I don't have to listen/read it or include it on my blog/forum. In the middle of a article about sexism and bullies that mentions the Bakhtanians-Pakozdi debacle, Becky Chambers of The Mary Sue sums up my take on Freedom of Speech:
"This is where I think some people have a misconception of what “freedom of speech” means. Free speech does not give you carte blanche to speak without consequences. You are free to say what you like, but you are also responsible for your words and actions."
So the folks over on Reddit can exercise their Free Speech and try protect creeps and assholes, but Gawker (and the rest of us) can out those creeps if we so choose, even if the Redditors turn around and trample their own Free Speech principles as a result. I don't care, that crap ain't goin' down on this blog. [EDIT] Let me clarify the inclusion of this last paragraph. The owners of Reddit claim to allow an anything-goes, Wild West of a forum on their site, and therefore they attract the scum of society, who think they deserve the protection of anonymity. They don't. There is no basic human right to hide behind a username. I use a nom-de-blog partly to protect my own anonymity, but I don't claim a right to it. Nor am I posting clandestinely-taken, sexualized photographs of women, underage or otherwise. As was eloquently pointed out in this comment on a Gawker article, Brutsch is simply "getting the full free speech experience." As has been the case in the past (c.f. Dixie Chicks, Don Imus, and others) there are often consequences to our speech and actions, even if they are not administered by the legal system.


  1. In the US, the only actual protection on free speech is to keep the government from abridging it. You, I, and whoever can edit and censor whatever we like. No private group or citizen is required to allow others to use their forum for their own speech.

    Shouting "fire" in a crowded theater though... that one has some very dark history behind it, having been used by the government to suppress speech that was merely unpopular.


    1. Hmm, very true. It illustrates that Freedom of Speech is a slippery topic. In my case, I was literally talking about falsely shouting fire in a theater, which would unquestionably make one liable for injury claims (resulting from the stampede) if nothing else.

    2. The classical example of "shouting fire in a crowded theatre" is also both inaccurate -- the original form was in fact "falsely shouting fire in a crowded theatre and causing a panic" as Mr. Blaze notes -- but also out-of-date. Schenck has been overturned by Brandenburg for several decades, at this point, and the current standard is thus "imminent lawless action", or speech that is likely and intended to cause lawless activity faster than police could likely react. Not only is this not binding on anything but federal, state, and municipal law, it's also a standard exceptionally unlikely to be met on the average blog or subreddit.

    3. Hey thanks for your input, Josh. You're right, any speech intended to cause a panic and possible injury or death would fall under "not protected." If there truly is a fire in the theater, people need to get out as quickly and SAFELY as possible. I gotta say, the fire-in-a-crowded-theater example is practically an idiom after all these years, a simple illustration of the understanding that not all speech is protected under the First Amendment, regardless of whether the example itself is inaccurate or outdated. Honestly, I don't think anyone has ever been convicted of falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater. It was just an example given by Justice Holmes. The article on popehat, linked by WH, reasonably points out that beyond saying not all speech is protected, it is not very useful. But that is the only point I made in referring to it.

  2. "Only a jackass brays" - Chinese proverb

    I beleive letting people dig their own hole, most intelligent people see who the idiots are right aways. So let the idiots bray away and let us know they are indeed jackasses

    1. I know you do. I also stay away from many fora because their only occupants are braying jackasses.