Teresa Nielsen Hayden Demonstrates How *Not* To Moderate an Internet Forum

As Teresa Nielsen Hayden once noted on her web site, moderation isn’t rocket science. In fact, I’d recommend a nice rule of thumb — watch what ever Hayden does, and then do the exact opposite.

I thought I’d seen everything on Boing! Boing!’s discussion forums until I read this thread. Nielsen herself shows up halfway through the conversation and replies to a number of posters, including to a user nicknamed Coldspell who apparently posted that Democrats and Republicans are equally inane. Nielsen writes,

Coldspell @25, I just lost my patience with unthinking assertions of parity. I’ve been running a center-by-center-left sometimes-political weblog for seven years now, and what you’re saying simply isn’t true. I don’t think a day has gone by here at Boing Boing for weeks now when I haven’t seen one or two dozen lazy assertions that things are the same on both sides.

They aren’t.

Did you catch Antinous, some while back, explaining that we’re not enforcing a party line at Boing Boing, and it’s not our fault that worst of the fuggheads almost all come from the same end of the political spectrum? The far right has been cultivating the dumb-and-resentful segments of the population for many years now. I honestly feel sorry for the intelligent, thoughtful conservatives whose political neighborhoods have filled up with yahoos.

Interesting. I wanted to see exactly what Coldspell had written that touched off such a nerve, but I think you can guess what’s coming next . . .

#25 posted by coldspell , October 9, 2008 4:51 PM

T b fr, n cld *sly* crt smlr vd tsd n bm rlly:

“Grg Bsh *prsnlly* crshd *bth* rplns nt th Wrld Trd Cntr! Bt nly ftr rlsng mnd-cntrl chmtrls nd rgn-hrnssng stllts vr NYC!”

Slctv dtng s th prpgndst’s frnd.

That’s right, the post was interesting enough for Nielsen to write a 137-word reply to it, but apparently enough of a threat to the tenor of discourse at Boing! Boing! to warrant being disemvoweled!

And, to go to the heart of Nielsen’s claim in her post, it is easy to live in an echo chamber when you can deface the words of someone you disagree with while then posting your own, unadulterated to said defaced post for all to see.

Nielsen’s the Dave Winer of forum moderation — forever seeing bad acts and malicious intent in anything that deviates from her point of view (and quickly disemvoweling such threats).

Finally, Nielsen and others keep claiming that Boing! Boing! is not biased in its posts for or against Democrats or Republicans. As she puts it, it just happens to be the truth that Republicans are the party of “fuggheads.” However, it is interesting that in September Boing! Boing! featured posts about Cintra Wilson twice, but couldn’t once be bothered to mention Wilson’s bizarre rant in Salon about Sarah Palin.

Again, if all you ever feature are Republican idiots, of course you are going to conclude that it is simply the case that the only idiots are Republicans. It is called selection bias.

25 Responses

  1. Mark Morgan October 11, 2008 / 9:44 pm

    No kidding. And she (and Antinous) could take a week off of “Let me show how I am witty and smart by how snarky then insulting I am if you offend me”. Snark is the lazy person’s wit.

    I’ve been watching how she does “verbal wrangling” since the Violet Blue incident. The original thread on that was a train wreck for just that reason–both mods felt it was their job to bitch-slap the people. Both showed (and continue to show) behavior when moderating that would get either of them banned if anyone did it to them.

    I much prefer the Metafilter moderators–both Cortex and Jessamyn have made it clear that even if they think a poster is a complete asshole, that’s no excuse for a mod for being an asshole in return.

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  2. Brian Carnell October 14, 2008 / 4:23 pm

    Yeah, Metafilter has a lot of give and take whereas anything outside of a very limited range of discussion on BB gets disemvoweled or deleted. Its a nice groupthink mentality that’s identifies any vigorous disagreement as outside of the bounds of acceptable discourse, which is just plain stupid.

    Currently both my accounts are banned there for questioning the moderation on a couple threads (and, I confess, occasionally throwing in the word “fuck” as an adjective for my opinion of the quality of moderation).

    One thread I came across someone had registered and made his first post only to have Teresa delete it. The poster came back later and wondered why his comment had been deleted, wherein Teresa explained how she had used her psychic powers to determine that the post was somehow done in coordination with an earlier post to the same thread and so she deleted it.

    It’s just really weird to have heard all about how wonderful disemvowling in particular and Hayden’s moderation skill in general are, and frankly it doesn’t come close to something like Metafilter — in fact the boards at this point there are far worse than they were IMO than when they pulled the boards the first time because everyone was being mean to Xeni (which in light of the Violet Blue episode seemst to say a lot about Jardin — what a fracking flake).

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  3. Brit November 21, 2008 / 2:46 am

    Yeah, TNH (and Antinous, for that matter) is very heavy-handed with commenters. I’ve seen that in the past, and experienced it first hand over the past few days. I wasn’t rude, I didn’t call people names, I simply made an argument against Cory’s ideas. For that, I had my comments disemvowelled. I was surprised when my first comment was disemvowelled, and then my account was suspended (to be reinstated). Then my second comment was also disemvowelled, too. I was less surprised because I saw what a trigger-finger the BB moderators have for censoring people. Merely disagreeing is grounds for censoring.
    http://www.boingboing.net/2008/11/17/why-i-copyfight.html

    I think the rule is simply this: BB exists for the promotion of the contributors and their ideas. Disagreement with their ideas will not be tolerated, and is grounds for censorship and banning. Their goal is to create a nice little community of people who praise them and their ideas – to make all visitors believe that there is large public consensus with the things they say. Independent thinking not allowed. Discussion not allowed.

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  4. Brian Carnell November 21, 2008 / 11:30 am

    Wow…you know, I’m totally in agreement with Cory Doctorow’s views on that particular issue, but that’s just bizarre they disemvowelled your responses and then banned your account even temporarily for that post. Mind if I re-emvowel it and post it here as part of a commentary?

    The odd thing is the moderation policy itself says,

    “A possible explanation that’s guaranteed to be wrong: we’re not going to delete or disemvowel your comments because we simply can’t deal with the vast swoop and majesty of your hard-hitting opinions. If we tell you it was due to your behavior, believe us. ”

    But they clearly disemvowel comments simply because they don’t agree with them rather than any rude content.

    And frankly, none of this would matter if it wasn’t for the fact that, as the LA Times put it, “has often presented itself as a stalwart of cultural openness.”

    Instead it turned out to be just another marketing blog (I was really disappointed when Mark Fraunfelder basically dismissed the whole Violet Blue episode by saying he just didn’t take anything posted at BB very seriously.)

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  5. Brit November 21, 2008 / 4:18 pm

    Wow…you know, I’m totally in agreement with Cory Doctorow’s views on that particular issue

    And I think it’s fair to agree or disagree with Cory, I’m just amazed at how fast discussion gets shut down. Ironically, a few posts after mine, someone opens with “Cory I think your commitment to freedom through building dialog on copyright is outstanding.” Building dialog? That was posted right after I was disemvowelled and (temporarily) banned for “opening a dialog”. I had to do a double-take to make sure it wasn’t satire.

    > Mind if I re-emvowel it and post it here as part of a commentary?

    Sure. Re-emvowel the second comment, too. (I might even have the original copies around on my computer.) I was actually more conciliatory in that one (saying things like that I agreed with about 70% of what Cory says and listing some examples), and I still got disemvowelled. The censoring does put a damper on the desire to even respond, because you never know if the time you spent writing the comment will be wasted. Also thought it was interesting how quickly TNH jumped to suggesting that I might be an shill for the RIAA – as if disagreement with their position means I can’t be a real software developer with that opinion; I must be getting paid by greedy corporate overlords.

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  6. Brit November 21, 2008 / 4:46 pm

    Here’s the original version of my first comment. I’m still looking for a copy of my second comment.
    ——————————————————-
    Unfortunately, Cory’s ideas about copyrights are also broken. Cory believes that DRM should be entirely removed from everything, and that filesharing should be 100% legal. There are major problems with widely available filesharing. Cory likes to talk about “taking photographs of a Dilbert cartoon” because everyone will agree with his level-headed approach, but *fundamentally* he’s not talking about photographs of Dilbert cartoons. He’s really talking about filesharing – taking the software, videos, films, books, television shows created at great expense, and making them 100% free. Content creators have to beg their consumers to tip them. When you stop and think about the WIDE variety of software products on the market (expensive software with few users, inexpensive software with millions of users, etc, etc), you quickly realize that the software industry (as well as the movie industry) will be royally screwed if copyrights were “reformed” according to Cory’s ideas.

    Cory does put his work out on the internet for free (showing that he does put his money where his mouth is), but the problem is that free books on the internet isn’t comparable to free movies and software on the internet. Comparing the two or generalizing from books (“it works for my books, why not for movies/software?”) is a fundamentally flawed starting point. People want books in tangible form. I hate reading books on a computer screen, and I know a lot of other people do, too. This means that a physical book is better than a digital book. Because of this gap, it creates an incentive to buy the physical book. But, for movies and software, the digital content *IS* the only form of the content. I think Cory likes to ignore the distinction.

    Cory might argue that the movies and software is already out there on the internet at PirateBay, but the very fact that piracy is generally viewed as unlawful also helps to stigmatize it (that makes the real purchased copy more valuable in people’s minds than the pirated version) and makes it more difficult to get (I know lots and lots of people who would jump at the chance to download “free” software off the internet if they knew about it, but they aren’t tech-savy enough). Those two things help keep the digital media industries alive. We in the industry need to make sure copyright laws are not “reformed” along the lines that Cory proposes, otherwise, we’re screwed.

    In the future, I actually plan to take a more active role in countering Cory’s arguments about copyright, because this is a fight we literally can’t afford to lose.

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  7. Brit November 21, 2008 / 4:56 pm

    Found the original version of my second comment (I usually backup my blog comments before posting them – which is why i have the original copies)
    ———————————————–
    You’re mistaking Cory describing how things do work, for him describing how things should work. The ease of making copies is a real thing. Any reasonable approach to copyright has to deal with that.

    Cory’s arguments implicitly justify filesharing. He talks about “culture” and the right to share, but doesn’t specifically say “filesharing”. I think it’s pretty clear from the context, though, that filesharing should be entirely legal. (How would “filesharing” not fall under the umbrella of “sharing”?) As long as people aren’t making a profit off of the artist’s work, it’s all okay. In other words, he thinks copyright should give the artist exclusive rights to sell his product. What this means is that filesharing (because it involves no profit) should be entirely legal. I’ve said this on BoingBoing several times, and I’ve also noticed that Cory never denies it. If you would like me to go back into Cory’s old posts, I’m sure I could create a pretty clear case that Cory is arguing for the legality of filesharing.

    My first impulse is to ask whether you’re a flack for the RIAA, or an artist who’s trying to find an excuse for avoiding an unfinished project.

    I don’t think there’s too much mystery. I’m an independent video game developer, and I have deadlines that I fully intend to keep.

    But getting back to Cory’s views: I actually agree with him on about 70% of his stuff. Copyrights extended ad-infinitum are ridiculous. (I actually think a 14-year copyright is fine, but I work in a very fast moving industry, too.) Preventing people from taking pictures of buildings under “copyright” is ridiculous. Sure, there’s plenty of ways companies are working to maximize their copyrights, but I reject both the position of those companies and Cory’s views. I find them both to be too extreme. The fact that I agree with him on 70% of his copyright complaints doesn’t mean that I agree with him on the other 30%, though. I think Cory’s views go too far. It would be nice if I could support Cory in good conscience. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m being attacked from both sides by two groups with extreme views.

    In the meantime, you should learn more about the corporate rights grabs Cory’s been fighting… The big entertainment conglomerates hate having stuff out there that isn’t owned. It’s disturbingly similar to the historical insistance of various ruling classes that there be no land without its owner…

    Like I said – two groups with views that are too extreme. Pointing out the sins of one side isn’t going to make me love the ‘copyfight’. If Cory could moderate his position a bit, then I could actually support him.

    I also hope that I could have a chance to actually speak-out about where I think Cory goes wrong, and let people know that everyone is not in agreement with him (even the people who aren’t working for the RIAA or megacorps).

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  8. Brit November 27, 2008 / 9:49 pm

    Wow…you know, I’m totally in agreement with Cory Doctorow’s views on that particular issue

    By the way, why do you agree with Cory’s view that filesharing should be legal and copyright laws should be minimized?

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  9. Brian Carnell December 8, 2008 / 10:17 am

    Hey Brit — sorry I haven’t gotten back to you.

    I agree with you on Cory and filesharing. As far as I know he has never actually come out and said he thinks filesharing is legal, but it is very difficult to see how his views don’t entail that view. I assume he doesn’t come out and say “filesharing should be legal” either because he’s got some convoluted argument against or he’s afraid that sort of statement might marginalize him.

    That said, given where we are today with copyright laws, media and filesharing I will say that — filesharing should be explicitly legal and media companies will have to learn to live with that.

    Copyright is not an absolute right in the United States. As the copyright clause in the Constitution notes copyright was intended “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

    The only way anyone will ever stop filesharing and similar technologies at this point will involve methods and techniques like the DMCA that impose far greater costs to society than any benefits they create.

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  10. Brit December 8, 2008 / 11:03 pm

    Yeah, I think you’re right about Cory’s ambiguous stance on filesharing. When I read his arguments, I can’t see how in the world he could believe those things AND oppose filesharing being legal. Many of his arguments seem crafted to legitimize filesharing. I think he avoids admitting his pro-piracy stance because it would marginalize him and make him look extreme (or should I say, ‘reveal him to be’ extreme). And that would be bad as he tries to influence politicians.

    Although, I did find an old BoingBoing post where Cory recommends “Steal This File Sharing Book”, which is basically an A-Z guide to how to fileshare and not get caught. Here’s the post, from 2004:
    http://www.boingboing.net/2004/12/12/steal-this-file-shar.html

    That said, given where we are today with copyright laws, media and filesharing I will say that — filesharing should be explicitly legal and media companies will have to learn to live with that.
    Filesharing might not do too much damage to some industries, but I think the “pro-filesharing” crowd tends to ignore the effects on the software industry – as if it’s all about music and movies. I think it would hit the software industry harder than, say, the music industry – which can, at least, retreat to alternative revenue sources like concerts.

    The only way anyone will ever stop filesharing and similar technologies at this point will involve methods and techniques like the DMCA that impose far greater costs to society than any benefits they create.
    I think that it would be better to keep copyright laws around even if pirates aren’t dragged into court or sued. The fact that filesharing is a violation of copyright laws is important in reinforcing the idea that it is morally wrong. Many people (like me) are completely *capable* of pirating software (I work on computers all day). But, I believe it’s morally wrong to do so. If copyright laws were changed to allow for filesharing, then buying software would quickly gain the status of “it’s what suckers do”. (I know quite a few people who would buy music from AllofMp3, because they believed it was legal under Russian laws. It was obvious, though, that they weren’t paying anyone for selling the music; it was all profit for them. This also shows how “it’s legal” = “it’s okay”, and “it’s not legal” = “it’s not okay”, even if the law is not enforced.)

    Further, legalizing filesharing would legitimize the development of larger-scale filesharing networks. Everyone would join in. It would be devastating because it’s the non-pirates who keep the software industry alive.

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  11. Brit December 8, 2008 / 11:13 pm

    I should also add that filesharing could be severely reduced if governments would take appropriate actions. I think shutting down pirate bay would be a big step in the right direction. Filesharing technology relies on either hosting the files on a server somewhere (which can be shut-down), or involves a server holding an index to peer computers that have the files (the pirate-bay model). We can go after both of those, and I don’t think that would somehow be damaging to society. Essentially, you go after the filesharing network the same way you’d go after people *selling* pirated software on the internet. Maybe you could make an argument that going after individual filesharers, and monitoring internet traffic would involve too much cost to society, but we don’t even have to go after them. Eliminating the servers and pushing filesharing to the seedy margins of the internet would be a very good thing.

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  12. fdeblauwe December 10, 2008 / 1:05 am

    Why would I comment on Boing Boing? They’d treat me like a criminal anyway! I used to think Boing Boing was interesting but now I’m not so sure. I got “disemvoweled” just for posting links to some relevant blog posts of mine. I tried to communicate and got nothing but silence. have they ever thought of assuming commenters are writing in good faith and email them to clear up a possible misunderstanding? Instead, Antinous—oooh! how erudite a handle!—left a caustic comment following mine with no clear way on how to “comply” with their blog commenting philosophy, started to disemvowel my comments, said that I should contact “Teresa” without telling me how I was supposed to do that, etc. Also, email would be better too as I’m sure not everyone returns compulsively to read all the subsequent comments to a post they commented on. It all seems a bit too arrogant and callous to me.

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  13. Shannon September 28, 2009 / 6:36 pm

    I guess these things are quite common — I was surprised to see that after it happened to me and I did a quick google search and came across many others who’d been through the same thing.

    The thing that perhaps surprised me the most was that in my case, I was completely in line with the politics of BoingBoing (Hitchens style atheism in my case — I suspect my politics are quite different from yours), but for some reason there’s a deep desire to avoid criticizing Islam and how it treats women among the BB staff. The other thing that surprised me was how NON-transparent and draconian and downright deceitful the process of being banned was, and how it ran contrary to BB’s stated politics. It almost makes me wonder if it’s all a game to sell ads to a specific market and the key people have become jaded in time.

    It also left a very bad taste in my mouth seeing the personal attacks flying from Teresa (who David tells me is no longer BB staff, although she says she is on her website so who knows) and moderator Antinous, something I never did, and even more so from Xeni — someone who I considered a friend on some levels. BB has been a favorite site for a long time, and I’ve even been featured in various posts over the years, so it was very sad having it all happen like it did.

    You probably saw the incoming link, but here’s a more verbose version if anyone is interested: http://www.zentastic.com/blog/2009/09/27/playing-at-the-park-getting-banned-from-boingboing/

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  14. Brian Carnell September 28, 2009 / 8:21 pm

    Shannon, like you I am a bit of a Hitchens-esque atheist and have seen similar comments get moderated out of existence. Boing! Boing!’s moderators only tolerate a very narrow range of opinion — being outside that narrow range is itself prima facie evidence that you are violating one or another rules and results in disemvoweling or banishment.

    I actually used to care deeply about the issue (hence the post here), but now find the hypocrisy more amusing than anything. From reading BB when it was a zine and forward I thought it was an interesting experiment, Something New and Really Cool(TM), etc., but it turns out Boing! Boing! is just another brand.

    Asking why X or Y was banned at Boing! Boing! is a bit like trying to fathom the Apple app store approval process. Banning people or disapproving apps is just what those brands do.

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  15. Lisa Spangenberg November 22, 2009 / 2:51 am

    You know, until you’re moderating a community with thousands of active posters, your opinion doesn’t mean shit, Brian.

    You’re an armchair driver, with absolutely no clue about what is going on behind the Window that you don’t see–but feel fine about sitting on your ass and pontificating about.

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  16. lulzbot September 26, 2010 / 5:06 am

    Lisa, moderating BoingBoing works as follows:
    1. Antinous or his cronies sit in armchairs and deletes posts he does not like, because they are Spam, inflammatory or not congruent with his opinion.
    2. Repeat 1.
    Nothing complicated about it.
    Really moderating a blog/forum is more complicated, but that´s not what happens there.

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  17. casey October 27, 2010 / 5:48 pm

    Nice to read this. On more than one occasion I have had to comment that we are not their friends (something they cultivate as it pleases them) when a moderator “defends” one of the editors, but their readers, and as such we expect a modicum (and I mean just that) of respect and due process.

    I, too, have felt that it has become just another marketing blog, in fact you could see that one coming down the pike when they freaking censored every profanity out of a BB TV interview with Doggtown photographer Glenn Friedman. When informed it was really hard to listen to as a result, we were summarily informed by Xeni that advertisers would not like it. My initial thought was, what advertisers? Who gives a shit? You can do whatever you want, you’re BB….unless… and 3 mos later? Saks 5th Ave and Virgin want me to click their links. Yawn. Also, the uniqueness of their posts have been directly proportional with that same quality of their visitors.

    Finally, with regard to TNH. She once barked at a joke I made, and I thought, “how could anybody in their right mind take that comment seriously, I refused to defend my comment”. Now this is going to sound mean and would definitely get kicked off Jezebel (but really, who has time to read the comment policy for them). But, I just went to TNH website as I heard that she had been sick. I saw a picture of her in her youth and recent (?) photos. I then had an idea why she might be so rant-ish. She was stunning in her youth, like model gorgeous with chiseled features. Now? Not so much (putting it mildly). So here’s the thing about TNH (IMHO)-she went from someone that people listened to and did things for, in part, bc of her beauty to someone that people did not listen to, or do things for, possibly bc of her lack of beauty. Sadly, she may or may not have registered this transition and adjusted attitude accordingly.

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  18. Brian Carnell October 28, 2010 / 9:54 pm

    Lisa Spangenberg nicely captures the “fuck you, peasant” nature of the Nielsen-style approach to forum moderation. We’re the moderators, who the fuck do you think you are?? If only you felt our pain!!! Oh, poor misunderstood moderators.

    This is why you see complete dick moves like TNH disemvoweling someone’s post and then subsequently offering a detailed response to it. That’s pretty much the epitome of “fuck you, I’m the moderator.”

    Next time, Lisa Spangenberg might want to add a few “nah nah nahs” to really drive home the point she’s really getting at here.

    @casey: interesting ..I hadn’t watched any of the BB TV stuff, and that is hilarious if they’e been bleeping out expletives there.

    However, the pop psychology explanation at the end of your post is silly, condescending and sexist.

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  19. RP December 12, 2010 / 11:16 am

    It’s interesting to read these comments. I just had a similar experience with Antinous. I posted a couple of fairly mild criticisms of the site — I don’t like the fact that they’ve now posted about two tragedies involving the TSA and air travel and used them to score political points — and my account was suddenly suspended with no explanation. When I asked for one I got a fairly hostile response from Antinous — “half of your posts are attacks on the site, and that’s boring.”

    I just find the endless posts about TSA and wikileaks tedious. ANd when they’re not blogging about those subjects, it’s all self promotion.

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