ca·pri·ciousSo I finally got around to reading Kos' Ask Me Anything diary from yesterday and noticed in the comments threads there were a lot of questions as well as anger over some recent site moderation and administration actions and decisions. In particular, without getting into the specifics of any of the arguments that lead up to theses actions and decisions, I noted complaints that admin and enforcement of rules is not fair, not consistent, and that the rules and potential consequences are not clearly spelled out in advance, nor are they necessarily explained after the fact.
given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior.
synonyms: fickle, inconstant, changeable, variable, mercurial, volatile, unpredictable, temperamental; whimsical, fanciful, flighty, quirky
This is all true. Completely correct. I learned this myself here in 2010, when I got caught up in a situation where I had rec'd a comment that contained a line near the end tht included a word that someone deemed an "insult" that could not be rec'd, and decided to send me a warning that locked me out of the site until I acknowledged this "rule violation" and the threat that any such violation in the future would result in being banned. I didn't even know what comment it was talking about!
I remember the year and know it in the weeks before the Arizona senate primary for our 2010 challenger to McCain, because when it happened I was involved in a fun and active discussion with some other BajaAZ Kossacks one evening about the upcoming primary and our candidates of choice. I think it was the night of a debate and we were all quite involved in the conversation. No one was insulting anyone, it was a great community spirit kind of discussion. Suddenly, my page locked up and I got this big red warning notice! To say I was shocked, hurt, angry, and upset would be kind of an understatement.
Below I will explain what happened, why I got the warning, what I learned from it, and how the experience effected my subsequent involvement and participation here. It's kind of a long story and I don't know that anyone will be interested, but even though it was four years ago it's not something I've forgotten - so here's the story for what it's worth.
My first feeling when I was suddenly removed from my discussion with other Baja Kossacks and allies about the senate primary and Rodney Glassman's insulting performance and what were the chances of beating him and who we liked instead, to find myself instead reading an admin warning that I had done something so terrible that if I did it again I'd be banned ... was shock. Confusion! What. The. FUCK?? Then... denial. This can't be right. System glitch. Log out, log back in. Still there. Shit. On to bargaining... it must be a mistake or misunderstanding. I'll go see if I can track down what this about and try to get it resolved. (Forget my political discussion now, it's about survival first.)
So first I had to acknowledge the warning. This got me back in to the site. I could have, I suppose, just gone back to my discussion and moved on - but I felt it was vital to discover what rule I had broken and how, so as to not accidentally get myself banned. I could not imagine it was anything in the current discussion, which was more than civil, there was camaraderie. So I had to go back further... I finally found the offending comment by the reply threads which included Meteor Blades saying that the rec'ers would be sanctioned, because near the end of the several-paragraph-long comment (from earlier, it might have been that morning or the previous day maybe, I don't recall exactly but it was not a current comment at the time I got the warning) the writer used the word "firebaggers" in reference to a certain subset or mindset of some progressives. Now mind you, had I noticed that I most likely would not have rec'd it, I think my rec was for some other part of it, and I hadn't read it that closely. That was not a good thing to do, but such is life, it happens.
I also had no idea until that very moment that rec'ing a comment that "contained an insult" was against the rules! Given that a huge number of comments here are or contain comments that someone, somewhere would certainly consider an "insult" and are rec'd with abandon all day and night every single day, this was quite a surprise to say the least. I had been here a couple of years at the time, and had managed to stay mostly out of trouble until then. I read the FAQ carefully, and I lurked for a long time to get a sense of the community and where the lines are. I do try to both know and respect the rules of the place.
I engaged with Meteor Blades in the comments, telling him that I had removed my rec, that I had never heard of this rule, that I hadn't even noticed the insult, that wasn't why I rec'd it anyway, and that I felt it was extremely unfair and wrong to issue such a sanction for something that 1. was a mistake and 2. I didn't even know was against the rules. He was nice enough to respond to me and explain his actions, but he was 100% unsympathetic to my complaints.
I asked when and where did this "rule" come from, and where was the list of forbidden words? He said the rule had been announced in a diary at some point. Well, I thought that alone was unfair and wrong. I don't have time to be here 24/7 or read every diary. How is that a reasonable way to communicate new rules? That's how it's done, he said. And people learn the rules just like you did here: by running in to them. Oops. This is how "community moderation works" I was told.
Hum. OK then. So I asked where is the list of forbidden words, so we can know which comments cannot be rec'd? There are no forbidden words, he said. Just that rec's on "insults" are subject to harsh sanctions. Like pornography, they cannot define this, but know it when they see it. I pointed out that countless insults are written and rec'd every day with no such consequences. I said that inconsistent enforcement of subjective rules is unfair and not user friendly. That's the way community moderation works, he said.
I told him that I felt I was treated unfairly. I was not flame-war regular, I was not participating in any flame-war, in fact I was actively talking local politics with other uses here, and this sudden warning for something in an earlier diary that I'd long since moved on from was a hurtful and disruptive action that made me feel like this was not a safe place to come and discuss things. (Note that I'm paraphrasing all this from memory of the message I received in the discussion.) He said essentially that he understood my feelings, but it was the only way they could do it, there's no way to read everything so enforcement is random and yes, sometimes unfair. Getting a warning isn't the end of the world, just move on. I felt he could have looked at my comment history and what I was doing currently and made a fair decision instead of a random one, but I see how that was probably unreasonable given the volume of shit he had to deal with.
To my defense that I hadn't even noticed the insulting line at the end, he was particularly harsh. He called it my "actual behavior in rec'ing an insult" and said that was all that he went by, and it was my responsibility to read each comment I rec in detail, and be more careful in what I choose to recommend. Got it!!!
Well, I was steamed. Hurt. Really annoyed. It all went down like a very bitter pill. I felt unfairly singled out and attacked for a mistake and breaking a rule I didn't know existed and that the moderation methods, such as they were, were bullshit. But at least it was all out on the table, take it or leave it. I stayed. I am to this day much more careful about what I rec and let many comments go without one, because of this experience. I guess that was his point.
It gave me much amusement and a sense of satisfaction when only a few weeks later, Meteor Blades himself added a rec on a lengthy comment that included near the end a reference to Barack Obama as Stepin Fetchit, and when called out for it, he said he hadn't read the entire comment and wouldn't have rec'd it if he'd noticed that. hahahah... I felt vindicated! He gave himself a pass for his "actual behavior" of rec'ing this racist insult because of not reading carefully enough, an error that could get me banned if I did it. Oh the irony!
I don't know why, but this somehow made me realize how silly I was being in hanging on to my anger over what had been "done to me" with my unfair sanction and warning. MB was human too! He did as great a job as anyone could with moderating this massive place, but I do think it's better off with no designated "authority" figure other than Kos, and we probably couldn't get anyone other than maybe Zaphod Beeblebrox to do it now anyway.
Since then I have made it more of a point to try to read more of the meta and Ask Me Anything diaries and at least scan the comment threads on popular diaries, looking for other announcements of new rules or new interpretations or whatever. I still try to keep up. But I also know by now that is hopeless and I will miss things and maybe stumble on them one day again. I also know to stay the fuck out of flame wars and I do, almost always, and I try to tread carefully if I do wade in on "hot" topics. It put a damper on my participation - but I think that's what it was intended to do.
Kos has said quite unapologetically that he is capricious regarding community rules and enforcement. He may let things slide and slide and slide until he loses his patience one day and suddenly goes purge mode. He might issue bannings and whatever other sanctions he feels like when that happens, and it ain't going to be pretty. It's happened a few times. It does reinforce the risks of participating in the flame wars, in any capacity. It's easy to get caught in the hurricane even if you're mostly on the sidelines. For those who fly into the center of the storm, you must realize what you're doing and what you're risking.
I think "rules" that are based on entirely subjective criteria like "don't be a dick" are ridiculous. Like an "insult" this is in the eye of the beholder and undefinable. However, Kos explained it quite well one time, when he said if you are getting into frequent arguments and getting frequent HRs in multiple diaries, you're being a dick. You might be right, but you're still being a dick. That really stood out to me, being right is not a reason to keep harping on something beyond a certain, subjective point. You can be right and still just drop something. Wow, what a concept!
So now we have some people who seem very upset and confused about why there is unfair, capricious admin decisions and sanctions. And seem to be stuck on this and going back to it on multiple threads and diaries. Some have seemed very insistent that someone "admit" that the rules are random and have a personal touch to them sometimes, for better or worse depending on which side you're on. So that's partly why I wrote this, to "admit" that is completely true. I thought it was well-known in fact. Not a secret. And it's not going to change. So I think we all have to make the decisions I faced back in 2010, to either move on to acceptance, adapt and cope with it as it is, or leave and try to find a place better suited to your desires and preferences.
I chose to stay and to adapt. I had to confront my feelings and the reasons why it had hurt and angered me so much to be "unfairly" sanctioned, even though it was in one way mild, just an admin waring ... but it carried the threat of banning for even one more inadvertent infraction, so it felt very serious to me. In the following weeks there was a diary about teachers and early school and authority figures and I was reminded of a terrible incident in my first grade class where the teacher humiliated me in front of everyone in the class, for accidentally breaking a rule I didn't know existed. I was six years old and I learned it was very important to know the damn rules and follow them if you didn't want such treatment. When I got that warning, I felt the same way all over again. I had to think about that and put it into perspective. That was then, this is now. I'm a grown up and this is a private website, run by a person who makes his own rules. Stay or go. I stayed, and I'm happy I did. I hope everyone can find peace with whatever decisions you make for you.