Through the ratings system, the community has been given the tools to, in most cases, police itself. Users who consistently bring good arguments, well thought out discussions, or simply happy doses of humor will be rewarded with "recommendations" from other site users: those that engage in offensive, disruptive, or forbidden behavior will find themselves "troll rated".
If a user constantly engages in disruptive behavior over a certain period of time, such that the community repeatedly trollrates the comments of that user, it may trigger an automatic banning of the user known as autobanning. This is the tool given to the community to police itself, and should be taken very seriously.
Autobanning is an entirely automated process -- there is no human intervention. The exact number of trollratings needed in a certain period of time to trigger autoban has not been publicly stated, but the algorithm, generally speaking, is calibrated to be very, very lenient -- you have to be very much an ass, for a prolonged period of time, before it will kick in. A mere bad mood in a comment thread or two won't do it, except in extraordinary cases. A prolonged history of trollrated comments will.
For that reason, you don't really have to worry that trollrating a single offensive post by an otherwise productive community member will get them banned: that doesn't happen. Five or ten such comments from that user, though, and they begin to be on thin ice indeed. If you are having a bad night, as a commenter, and find yourself being repeatedly troll-rated, stop what you are doing. This is considered a social IQ test: if you fail, and get autobanned, don't expect much sympathy.
Immediately Bannable Behavior
While Daily Kos is certainly a site of rough-and-tumble political speech, where debate is encouraged as long as that debate centers around how best to move progressive Democratic politics forward, there are certain behaviors which are strictly forbidden on this site, and will very frequently lead to immediate banning.
These rules are largely unspoken because they are so transparently obvious that, if someone does not immediately understand that they are inappropriate, that person is likely to not be someone we want here in the first place. Immediately bannable behaviors include:
Sockpuppeting. This refers loosely to the practice of having more than one account on the site, and using them both. Infrequently, one account is used to "defend" the arguments of the other, provide a fake voice of agreement. This is a dishonest practice, and is forbidden.
Misrepresenting your identity. It is perfectly acceptable to remain pseudonymous on the site, meaning that you wish to provide no personally identifying information about yourself. This is fine and accepted practice: many users may have reasons why they do not want their political opinions widely known in their workplace, for example. What is not acceptable, however, is lying about your identity. You may not pretend to be someone else, claim to be a race or gender or class or nationality you are not, lie about your military service, or background, or otherwise misrepresent yourself. You may refrain from talking about those aspects of your life, but you may not misrepresent them in an attempt to bolster your pseudonymous credibility or otherwise mislead other community members.
"Outing" other site users. If a user wishes to protect their pseudonymity, and has not freely provided information which would unmask or otherwise undermine that pseudonymity, then you may not reveal private, personal information about that user that might allow others to subsequently identify them. Period. For that matter, you may not do it on another site either, if you wish to participate here: we take pseudonymity concerns very seriously.
Writing "Callout" Diaries. Diaries are expected to be more substantive than comments, and are supposed to generally stand on their own, as stories, not be continuations of previous fights. Writing diaries that attack other site users in an overtly hostile or ad hominem fashion is forbidden: it is disruptive, it is obnoxious, and it is an inappropriate use of the site. Leave arguments in the comment threads where they start: if you truly feel you must respond to the arguments of another user via a diary of your own, then respond to those arguments, not as an attack on the intelligence, intentions, or experiences of the user.
Intentionally misrepresenting facts, or posting "facts" that have repeatedly been debunked in the past. This is a reality-based site: all users are responsible for the credibility of the sources they cite or link to. If a user's "facts" are repeatedly bogus, they will be removed. This is especially true of 9/11 and other conspiracy theories.
Copyright violations. Most things you run across are well-covered by fair use: taking snippets of someone else's text in order to make a point of your own is protected, for example. But taking protected works in their (near or full) entirety clearly violates copyright law, in most cases. See the various online discussions of the doctrine of fair use.
Threats of violence. Strictly forbidden. 'Nuff said.
Posting offensive materials, such as pornography, viruses. Ditto: strictly forbidden.
Spamming comment threads with repetitious and/or clearly off-topic posts. Strictly forbidden.
Consistently rating up the posts of users who are themselves engaging in inappropriate behaviors, thus thwarting the moderation efforts of more responsible community members. More on this below.
Creating another account after being banned. This is considered sockpuppeting of a different but just as malicious sort. No dice: banning is intended to be permanent.
There are other behaviors which may not be bannable, but are on the edges of what the community or site administrators are willing to tolerate. For such cases, "warnings" may be given. "Warnings" are simply short messages that may appear the next time you are on the site. They are written by individual site administrators in their ongoing efforts to mediate fights behind the scenes, alert users to problematic behaviors like copyright infringement or unnecessary hostility towards other users, ratings abuses, or otherwise issue small private messages to users.
It should be emphasized that getting a "warning" does not necessarily mean that you are about to be banned. It simply means that a site administrator wants to give you a short private message. Most of these messages amount to "please knock it off", where "it" is a specific behavior that the administrators feel is inappropriate, but where the behavior may not be nearly egregious enough to warrant any discussion of banning.
Having said that, warnings are very rare: if you get a warning, take it seriously. The most common warnings given are admonitions to cease a fight with another user, or to rethink how you are using ratings.
All right, those are the easy cases. The hard cases are, well, harder. There are infrequent times when a community member is continuing to make good and respected contributions to the community but, at the same time, consistently engages in destructive or disruptive behaviors towards the site, or towards specific users.
Daily Kos has, at Markos' direction, a very hands-off approach to moderation. It is up to the community to police itself, to decide community norms, and to downrate posters who do not follow those norms. A site administrator will only get directly involved if the behavior is egregious. It does happen, however, and the philosophy behind resolving the dispute is always the same: the effort to maintain Daily Kos as a site for useful political discussion in as productive an environment as can be managed.
Social interactions on Daily Kos are expected to be of no less civility than you would find at, for example, a meeting in your local community center. Discussions are expected to remain on topic, for whatever topic is currently being discussed in a given thread. Community members are expected to allow others to make their points as they make theirs, and are expected to treat others with respect.
These are all guidelines meant to promote civil and productive social and political interactions. That's it: that's all. The goal of Daily Kos is not to be an incessant debating club, but a tool for individuals and groups to hone their arguments, to alert others as to news events of significance to Democratic and progressive politics, and to organize activism.
What's not acceptable, among site users, are consistent attacks on the overall community or on other segments of the community. Just like in real life, the perennial malcontents, the constantly disruptive, and the seemingly intentionally malicious are not welcome participants in the debate. And just like in any other community discussion, there comes a point in which those people are asked to leave.
This site does not allow conservative or GOP advocacy for one obvious reason: this is explicitly a Democratic and progressive site, meant to promote Democratic and progressive politics. For much the same reasons, those that consistently attempt to cause division among the progressive, Democratic, or netroots communities are similarly not welcome.
That doesn't mean you can't criticize Democrats, other progressives, or other progressive sites. It does mean that if the majority of your interactions here are dedicated towards attempting to describe or foment division, you probably aren't a good match for the site. There are other sites with a much more explicitly liberal (or explicitly centrist) bent on politics, and there are plenty of other sites that attempt to divide the progressive movement along single-issue lines. This site is an attempt to bring together a coalition of progressives of all stripes, and provide them a place to all discuss their issues and goals together.
The emphasis is on a large coalition, not a narrow one. If you cannot work with those that agree with you 90% of the time, but not the other 10%, and if you choose to consistently wear the 10% of disagreement as your primary and vociferous contribution to the site, you will be asked to leave.
The hardest cases require the personal judgment of the site editors, Markos always having the final say. Action is never taken unless the site editors have discussed the situation and are in general agreement, if not full consensus. Uncommon but potential cases where users may be banned, after internal discussion, include:
People who consistently attack other users, or who carry fights and grudges from thread to thread, or otherwise hijack threads. If every thread a user takes part in becomes a rhetorical fistfight with other users, it seems reasonable to determine that that individual causes more disruption to the community than the community gains by having them. Interpersonal fights are, despite however you may feel at the time, either dull or insulting to the tens of thousands of uninvolved site users that have to read through them to get to better content. They add nothing useful to the wider conversation.
People who consistently seek to thwart or disparage the goals of the community or the site. It is a tersely put point: "if you don't like it here, then leave". But it is an accurate reflection of our desire for participation by and among people who truly want to be here, and truly want to contribute in positive ways. If the sole point of your involvement in the community is to point out all the various ways you believe the community to Suck, and you seemingly devote yourself to that topic to the exclusion of all others, it seems reasonable to conclude that you do not have the best interests of that community at heart. There is a difference between constructive and destructive criticism: while the site editors give the benefit of the doubt in nearly all cases, a person who is almost exclusively critical of others or of the community may warrant removal.
People who encourage disruption by others. If someone else is behaving like an ass, you may seek to calm them, you may trollrate them, or you may ignore them. Encouraging them, however, only inflames the situation and encourages others to take part.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why can some users get away with behavior that would get other users banned?
In practice, decisions on each individual are made individually. The goal is not to have a rigorous, inflexible set of rules, but to judge each case on the merits.
Banning only takes place when the site editors are convinced that the positive contributions of an individual to the community are much, much lower than the negative or destructive actions of that same individual. This does indeed mean that if someone is a valuable and longstanding member of the community, we will be very loathe to remove that individual, and will more frequently choose to privately "warn" that user instead. A newcomer to the community, however, or an individual with little net positive contributions will frequently not be treated with such leniency.
Why aren't some clearly divisive people banned?
The site editors cannot see everything that happens on the site, and certainly cannot deduce the origins or merits of every online fight. And during any given period of time, there are indeed some huge ongoing ad hominem fights on the site.
If neither Markos nor the editors can see a clearly right and a clearly wrong side in a fight -- if they cannot clearly make out who is the aggressor, because all parties are dishing out similar levels of punishment -- then it is usually preferred to err on the side of inaction, and do nothing. This does not mean that something will not eventually be done: just that there is no clear action to take at present.
The community itself needs to take responsibility for helping to moderate these arguments, either by intervention on comment threads or through troll rating the instigators. After it gets to the point of requiring intervention by site editors, the typical action is to ban multiple users, on both sides of the arguments, until the situation is resolved.
Why do bannings sometimes seem arbitrary?
See above. More to the point, a particular banning may seem arbitrary because you may not have seen all the behaviors that led to a particular banning. It is very, very difficult to get banned (or even warned) for a single action. In every "difficult" banning case, there is a prolonged pattern of the same behavior, usually over the span of months. One particular "final straw" incident may be fairly trivial, taken by itself, but may have served to confirm to Markos and multiple site admins that the user's negative behavior was indeed intended to be simply destructive, was going to continue indefinitely, and that no warning would suffice to change it.
Why are the reasons for banning not publicly stated when a user is removed?
Why won't you discuss the case of a banned user in comments?
While it would frequently be helpful for the community to know why a user was banned, in cases where it is not obvious, individual privacy concerns trump community needs. In the case of sockpuppets, the evidence of sockpuppetry may, if made public, unnecessarily expose the identity of the person banned. In other cases, private conversations between admins may hinge on the suspected honesty or dishonesty of the user, on private correspondences with the user themselves, or other non-public factors. Even if we presume a poster to be dishonest, our goal is not to publicly punish or expose the user, but merely to remove them from the community.
The general policy of the site is not to discuss the reasons for bannings at all (save sockpuppetry), but to merely acknowledge when they take place. This avoids all possible privacy problems, and tends to at the least not prolong the disruption caused by the banned user. It also is intended as a final small act of graciousness towards the user: we may no longer be willing to allow the banned user to join in discussions here, but in almost all cases we will grant them the decency of remaining mute on the reasons why the editorial staff of the site came to the conclusions that they did.
The point here is that banning is not an attempt to mark a person as evil or unclean or somehow unworthy of conversing with. It is merely a statement that that particular user has, for whatever reason, proven emphatically to not be a good match for this particular site. They are welcome to go elsewhere.
Some banned users find other sites more to their liking, with users more in tune with themselves and their opinions, and are much, much happier for it. Others tend to jump from site to site, being banned on each in turn for very similar reasons, never quite understanding that it is their frequently hostile behavior, not a conspiracy against them, that is causing people to dismiss their arguments.
Yes, banning is inherently unfair to the individual who has been banned. It is not meant to be fair towards the banned user: it is meant to be fair towards the rest of the community, which deserves a site without the distractions of personal fights or other consistently destructive behaviors. If banning is the only way that can be accomplished, for a given case, then banning will be used.
Why can't we have the input of the community on bannings?
One frequent proposal is to have a group of trustworthy site users review banning decisions. While noble in spirit, we already have two such mechanisms. Troll ratings and the autoban are one method of community review: the site editors themselves are the other.
Site editors are chosen for their steadiness as much as for their writing or journalistic talents. They are chosen to represent a broad spectrum of the site, and they are chosen from among the longest and most consistent contributors to the site. That's the review group that has been established, and it has been chosen with an eye towards community moderation in mind.
As mentioned above, opening the discussions in a great many of these cases could also raise privacy concerns.
There is one very important rule about banned users: banned users are not allowed to return.
Banned users are not allowed to return under that account name, or under any other account name. They are not permitted to create new accounts, and if they attempt it, those new accounts will be banned as well. The simple premise is that banning is permanent: if you could not be trusted to act as a valuable part of the community the first time around, and caused enough disruption to the site or to site members as to actually be banned (a difficult thing to do), you will not get a second chance.
The point is that the threat of being removed from the community is supposed to give sufficient pause to individuals that they will not get anywhere near the line of banning. It is considered very, very serious -- the only real response available for community members who repeatedly refuse to abide by the rules or social conventions of the very, very large community of other users.
There is a caveat, which is that a banned user may request reinstatement by writing to "reinstatement" at dailykos.com if they feel they were banned in error and wish to make a case that they should be reinstated. Reinstatement almost never happens, but may be granted in exceptional circumstances if the user can make a good case for it, and if the user has not attempted to re-register or made other attempts to thwart the original banning.
Thus concludes this painfully long explanation of what banning and autobanning attempts to accomplish in this particular online community. It is unquestionably a potentially controversial action, in every case -- though often not nearly as controversial a decision as the banned poster presumes it has been. The hope is that at the least, this explanation will attempt to shed a little light on the process behind it, and give a sense of the seriousness with which such decisions are taken.
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