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An Important Note for Commenters

Behind the scenes at the Virtual Skepchick Headquarters, your favorite skeptical writers have been engaged in an interesting discussion on how to keep the site awesome while we continue to grow with new readers and new commenters. As many of you know, we had a comment thread last week take a turn for the nasty, resulting in my first having to call for a halt to insults and then having to shut the comments off when that request was ignored.

The reason why we allow comments on posts is that we want to give readers the chance to give us immediate feedback, contribute knowledge and humor, and build an enjoyable community. To continue to foster that kind of environment, we’ve decided to more explicitly spell out what we expect of people we allow to comment here and what will happen to you if you fail to live up to our expectations.

You can find the Code of Conduct here, or by clicking “About” at the top of the page. I’ll sum it up here, though: show basic decency and politeness when posting, or else we will kick you off the blog.

If we see a post that is completely out of line, we reserve the right to delete it and take away that commenter’s ability to post. In most cases, we will give a temporary ban of one week. However, particularly egregious posts may earn someone a permanent ban. There will be no appeal, and any emails begging us for mercy will be deleted unread. We do not have the time or interest in debating our actions.

Because we Skepchicks value free speech, any person banned from the blog is perfectly free to start a blog of his or her own.

If you’re waiting for an example of what kind of comment is deserving of a ban, wait no longer:

Beginning today, Rystefn is banned from posting on Skepchick for one week for multiple posts suggesting another poster die in painfully awful ways.

I hope that this post clears up some confusion over whether or not we would tolerate that kind of behavior. Future bannings will be announced as posts with no comments allowed. However, I’ve left the comments open on this initial post so that you might ask questions or discuss the policy.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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57 Comments

  1. If we see a post that is completely out of line, we reserve the right to delete it and take away that commenter’s ability to post. In most cases, we will give a temporary ban of one week. However, particularly egregious posts may earn someone a permanent ban. There will be no appeal, and any emails begging us for mercy will be deleted unread. We do not have the time or interest in debating our actions.

    That seems if not perfect at least reasonably sensible. It’s always good to specifically outline expectations and explain actions beforehand.

  2. Kudos for transparency of the bananation process, BTW. Whenever I have a little bit of power, I wield it with appalling capriciousness. It’s good to know that things are less arbitrarily cruel around here than they would be if I was in charge.

  3. Accepted Rebbecca.
    I have another suggestion, something that can improve the moderation of comments at your end: Some sort of a “report this as offensive” button attached to every comment. It’s easy to program if you can’t get hold of a blog module or extension.

    Go SGU! :D

  4. Freiddie: Thanks, I’ve just fixed it. Sorry about that!

    IdanH14: Good suggestion, and one that we considered. However, we won’t be instituting report buttons because we want to strike a balance between taking care of major offenders while not creating a forum-like atmosphere full of whiners. ;)

  5. I really don’t want to make a “thing” out of this, but I would like to (moderately quietly) point of that I disagree with the action taken against Rystefn on two levels.

    One: ex post facto.

    Two: what SciPreFix said (on another thread). This strikes me as an example.

    Not to drag that conversation here, but I really do feel that “crime and punishment” is fundamentally flawed: there are problems and solutions… and I’m not sure banning Ryst for a week is going to solve the problem.

    Of course, I have to add three caveats here: 1) I do believe that what he did was incredibly lame. 2) It’s the Skepchick blog, not a democracy, and whatever you say goes. 3) I am not sure what would solve the problem.

    Just my two cents. I won’t comment further on the subject.

  6. @JRice: “One: ex post facto.”

    To clarify, this is not a new policy. A number of commenters have been banned in the past when they’ve made it clear they couldn’t behave. This post merely makes it blindingly obvious that we expect commenters to show a basic level of decency.

    As for your #2, I’m not concerned with this being “punishment” and I have no desire to reform anyone. We are simply doing away with people who do not contribute to the site in a positive manner.

  7. Because we Skepchicks value free speech, any person banned from the blog is perfectly free to start a blog of his or her own.

    Wow! That means that Skepchicks would be able to stop others from starting their own blog should they choose to? I better don’t mess with these girls!

    (Yeah, just kidding. I understand why such a clarification is necessary, having seen many a troll crying “censorship” when banned, as if he were a victim of some oppressive police state. Heck, I’ve even seen an UFO enthusiast whose idea of “free speech” was everybody silently agreeing with her.)

  8. Wow. Wishing someone dead is pretty lame and offensive. It’s one thing to disagree on someone’s political stance but quite another to wish them dead. Verbal abuse is just completely unacceptable in my book. Glad he got banned for a week.

    Though the insults being worked into rhymes was pretty amusing…and awesomely nerdy. *snicker*

  9. Rebecca, I just read the entire guilty thread, and I was pondering that perhaps you might rethink the idea of deleting failing threads and/or posts.

    Even mean and ugly posts present an opportunity to learn something, and when posts get deleted the flow of thought, good, bad, or ugly, is thrown out of whack.

    Perhaps just shutting down a failing thread would be sufficient.

    Just a thought.

  10. Thanks for ruling over us with a mighty but just iron fist Rebecca! Praise be thy name! The internets usually leads to people getting way the hell out of hand and we need someone to keep us in check. Relative anonymity does that.

  11. This just seems ridiculus that it is necesary. I’m not arguing the fact that it is or isn’t necessary. I just think it is ridiculus that we let ourselves get so angry over someone else’s posts that we would act like this. I think I may have to consider only posting comments after I’ve been drinking. But that didn’t work out too well with Sam’s post about the child molesters down here in Texas. I got pretty pissy on that one.

  12. @SicPreFix:

    I agree that we shouldn’t be going around deleting comments and posts we don’t like or that might be upsetting.

    Comments that threaten harm or death to other readers and/or writers don’t have a place here on Skepchick. They don’t deserve to stay up and they don’t serve a purpose by remaining up.

    As far as controversy itself is concerned, I don’t think any of us (“us” meaning writers) has an issue with a healthy heated debate.

    @Gabrielbrawley:

    I encourage more drunk posting from you. The other night your comments were quite fun. I, too am a fan of the comic stylings of John Oicver.

  13. I enter into TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) mode after the comments reach about 25-30 posts. Now I’m thankful for my short attention span after reading that sampling of Rystefn’s delightful… uh… remarks.

    Here Here, Rebecca. Just say “no” to evil. Leave it to us guys to muck up the rainbowy, unicorny domain of the skepchicks.

    If you guys ran the world, there would be no evil. Heck, even hurricanes wouldn’t seem so bad if girls were solely responsible for naming them. How could “Hurricane Sparkle” possibly do us harm?

    Seriously, kudos to the no-bs attitude for this kind of wretched behavior.

  14. @Gabrielbrawley:

    This just seems ridiculus that it is necesary…. I just think it is ridiculus that we let ourselves get so angry over someone else’s posts that we would act like this.

    Yes it is rather isn’t it.

    Communication on the Internet seems to carry some magic civility-free dust that blows up some folks noses when they get there. Some folks think it’s the issue of anonymity that allows some of us to just start raving and ranting. I think it’s more than that.

    I think maybe it has to do with the rather oddly unnatural aspect of online communications. Without all the various physical clues (body languge, eye contact, tone of voice, etc.) that we have grown so used to, I think perhaps we begin to get a bit sort of schizoid or loopy-tune or something when we get all roiled up in our online opinionizing.

    Or something like that.

    Maybe.

  15. Warnings and temporary/long term bans are an appropriate measure to keep the site civil.

    Good thing you didn’t threaten to spank the offenders: We’d be up to our ears in death threats!

  16. Oh, and as for the policy: fair and reasonable in my book. I stopped reading/posting in that Libertarian thread far before it got THAT ugly, but not everyone abandons threads as quickly as I do.

    Certainly, to keep this place respectful a modicum of oversight is required and is well within the rights of the site’s staff. Maybe it’s not ideal, but this ain’t Candide, and we’re not in the best of all possible worlds. As a practical measure, you must do what you must.

  17. Rebecca: Glad to see you’ve decided to crack down on the more abusive commenters, or “keyboard cowboys” as you once so trenchantly described them.

    I mean it’s bad enough that some people have to be reminded to be civil, but ignoring these reminders is inexcusable.

  18. @Kimbo Jones: Nomination for COTW

    I don’t know that banning them is a good idea, surely the cure is to sprinkle less than an atom of nastiness on them amidst a whole bunch of water… (preferred nastiness:Brussels sprouts aka greenus foulus)
    The most potent cure meaning they never come in contact with a molecule of water that ever came in contact with a molecule of water that ever came in contact with a molecule of nastiness. That stuff should burn like unholy water!

  19. I don’t believe it was a “serious death threat”, but it was hideously malicious and not at all appropriate.

    Ah, bloody boys muckin’ up Skepchick for all the responsible, clear-headed chickies! Bloody boys, starting all the wars, getting drunk and beating their children or locking them under the house, killing their daughters for the sake of ‘honour’, writing bibles that put women in a subjugated position, and generally cock-fighting with each other online, down at the pub, or across the world stage…

    Man, my gender stinks sometimes :S

  20. I started reading that thread, just because I thought it kind of offensive and disheartening that my skepticism was being questioned because I don’t espouse the correct political views. I am a Libertarian because I value freedom above most else. If politics were a real, quanitifyable science, I could see the appropriateness of such a question. An experiment could be run, data gathered, hypothesis could be confirmed or discredited. That is hard to do with any reliablity due to the nature of politics. Since politics are little more than opinions, I am discouraged that I am being compared to any ridiculous religion that claims to be the one way. Not to get into a long thing about Libertarians.

    The whole thread had me realizing that even among freaks, I’m not wanted. I am seriously reconsideering any involvement with this movement, solely based on the reaction to my politics. I returned to get a chance to read the entire thread when I stumbled upon this one. I am slightly encouraged by the response, but, I know where the general opinions of many of the writers and readers of this blog lay. It seems to be the way the whole movement has gone and it seems less and less like I’m welcome. I hope I’m just being a whiney little baby with no foundation to my claims. We’ll see.

  21. Rebecca-

    You are the Goddess of your blog (OK, perhaps Chief Executive Goddess, as I’m not sure about the organizational structure) … Reasonable and unreasonable minds will disagree, but I think you should do exactly what you are doing for the sake of basic levels of civility and order, with (hopefully) the comfort of knowing most of us appreciate your efforts and understand that you will not please everybody in doing so.

  22. @fatherdaddy: Don’t leave us! I think that thread was a little ridiculous and stayed the hell away because politics always makes people angry. Take it to heart that most skeptics could not care less who you vote for or why as long as it’s not Sylvia Browne. I have some mild libertarian leanings, and I thought that the question in and of itself was silly as being a skeptic has nothing to do with politics.

    Anyway, before I get too ramble-y, I want you to know that most of us on this website and the skeptic movement as a whole still want and love you. Don’t let one silly post and the ensuing shit fest get you down.

  23. @fatherdaddy and @LOLkate:

    I’m with LOLkate here. I came and went in that thread, said my little piece (which was erased before submitting due to my accidentally clicking “Restart Now” – whoops!), and then backed out of it.

    I consider myself an independent because I question all political ideologies and wouldn’t want to be allied to any of them. Many (but not all) of my opinions about what would, ultimately, be OK goals are in the libertarian spectrum even if my approach to any given issue might be more pragmatically and practically driven (rather than ideologically).

    The skeptical movement is interesting in that many of the big names in the movement (Michael Shermer, Penn and Teller, etc) are big-L Libertarians…but just as many are skeptical of that political philosophy. It’s sort of the big push pull between classical and modern liberalism smashed into the small container of the skeptical scene.

    Don’t let those highly emotional responses push you away from the movement as a whole, even if you think Skepchick and its readers are more of the modern Liberal tradition. Not everyone is so politically single-minded or ready to mock others over their political opinions. Even if you think you should stop reading here there are plenty of other skeptical outlets that would be more to your taste. Ultimately, the goals of skepticism are beyond petty squabbles like politics :)

  24. I’m a frequent reader of the blog, but rarely comment. After all, why get into pissing matches with certain longtime posters who (still?) fail to recognize this site’s slogan regarding “critical thinking.”

    If skeptics who espouse a minority (for this site) political view are attacked for not having the “correct” view, then you’re not going to foster debate, you’re just going to create an echo chamber.

    And I agree with the point that the “civility” rule isn’t Ex Post Facto — even in this thread over the summer: http://skepchick.org/blog/?p=1512#comments

    Months ago, Rebecca had to step in and ever-so-gently ask people to tone down the level of discourse. That, um, didn’t work (see towards the end) for all commenters. Frankly, it just drives away traffic from the site and creates a less diverse universe of viewpoint (of which the skeptical community normally has a wide range).

    Glad to see cooler (and far more rational) heads prevail.

  25. I don’t want to be a jerk here, but following your policy: writerdd was at least as bad — peppering the comments with insults, but worse, from the skeptical point of view, not justifying them. This is coming from a SkepChick writer, which is kinda worse, if anything. I think the question was stupid to start with and designed to provoke hostility. (By which I don’t mean that writerdd stayed up at night adjusting it to its maximum stupidity and hate-mongering, intentionally, merely that it was always going to have those effects).

    I don’t even understand the politics too well, but from the insults being thrown about, often with no justification, several are guilty of gross, and repeated, critical thinking failures, to put it mildly.

    Just a though, though. I’m normally a night-time denizen of this blog, when most of you North American people are asleep ;)

  26. It’s not like I can’t take a little disagreement. I don’t freak out when my dad spouts his Pentacostal crap on me. I don’t get hurt when my aunt tells me that communism, of whatever form is currently fashionable, is what we need to save society. I get in plenty of discussions and I don’t have reactions like this. I guess I expect it from them. I should have expected it from people here, as well. It was just so cool to run into ideas that are so similar to my own on so many subjects that I let my guard down. Even though I never got to post on that thread, it closed before I had a chance to voice my opinion, I felt like the response could have been aimed at me. I didn’t think the ideas behind libertarianism were so far out there that I deserved the same response given to a xian-right supporter. How naive of me.

    I have gotten over myself and I will quit crying now. I enjoy too much of this blog to stop reading and I have too big of a mouth to stop commenting. It never hurts to have your eyes fully opened.

    Thank you, Rebecca, for giving me a chance to vent my frustration.

  27. Hey Rebecca and other skepchicks,
    For the pleasure, entertainment, intellectual energizing and digital company I’ve found on this web site I thank you. I am greately appreciative of the amount of work you clearly put into this effort, including the house keeping chores. Your goals for this website and your actions have been and are commendable and pretty fucking cool!!!

  28. Actually, the post was intended to be a joke.

    I completely disagree with certain libertarian ideas and politics, but I think it’s ridiculously obvious that libertarians can be skeptics, particularly since several big-name skeptics, such as Michael Shermer and Penn are libertarians. The whole thing backfired though, because no-one else apparently got the joke.

    For the record, I did not call anyone names or insult any individuals, except Penn and Shermer, and I think they can hold their own. I said that none of the comments thread did anything to convince me that libertarians are not XYZ (I forgot exactly what I said, greedy or selfish pigs or something like that), and I still haven’t seen anything that has convinced me, especially in that thread.

    P.S. as I’ve stated many times on this blog, I don’t consider myself a skeptic and I guess I’ll have to keep saying that until Rebecca fires me. At any rate, I won’t be posting about politics ever again since it’s a subject I hate talking about anyway and no-one noticed that I was trying to be funny.

  29. I don’t understand why there is so much discussion on this … Yes, Chris, I agree that writerdd can be emotional at times (and I don’t even blog here that often), as a number of people do, and I also see Rebecca chiming in with warnings on a pretty indiscriminate basis … But in the grand scheme of things it would be pretty stale site if the participants were not passionate about their viewpoints, and we are all human and lose control over our passions at times … It seems like just about everybody agrees that a line should be drawn somewhere and we could all argue about where the line should be drawn, but as the person who maintains the site and makes sure it has fresh discussions on a volunteer basis, Rebecca SHOULD have the perogative to be the Line-Drawer … There’s nothing wrong with sending a blogger into a little time-out for a bit, and I’m sure he will be welcomed back without any grudges by the skepchicks (even if not by all of the commenters) … I don’t understand why it has to be a controversy.

  30. @Expatria:
    a quick note on Shermer, he recently stated that he has moved away from his big L libertarian position to one he described as Fuzzy Libertarianism. This shift is largely due to the research on his book, Mind of the Market. There’s an interview on the Reason Magazine website, where he goes into a bit more of what his position now is.

  31. @Chris Hyland:

    I don’t want to be a jerk here, but following your policy: writerdd was at least as bad — peppering the comments with insults, but worse, from the skeptical point of view, not justifying them.

    I think there’s a substantial difference between anything writterdd was saying and the tone of posts by the banned commenter. Rystefn was directly expressing a desire for very bad things to happen to another commenter. I think it’s very good to take steps to keep the conversation above that level.

    I thought the post had good potential, but unfortunately it mostly went in the other direction. Something I hope to gain by participating here is a different perspective on things I believe. I think a rational discussion of libertarian (or whatever other political/economic) ideas would be great. Unfortunately, a lot discussions of these things are lacking in calm, rational exchange of ideas.

    I want to hear from people with legitimate disagreements, or even insightful questions, about things I believe. On the thread in question, I thought JRice was trying to weigh in on things in precisely this spirit. I hope this doesn’t cause people here to shy away from these topic areas, but just tones down some of the unhelpful noise.

    I am a Hedge

  32. I stayed out of this one when it was happening, and after reading back through it, it appears that Rystefn knew he was risking banning when he said what he said. I have to say I was a little disappointed, though, that sethmanapio just got a little smack on the hand for deliberately provoking him (even if it was in rhyme) for the last few hours of the thread.

    Ah well … nobody elected me Queen, so my opinion is worth exactly the paper it’s printed on. Which is not much, when you’re online. ;)

  33. Oh no I’m so disillusioned, everything is changing, people aren’t who i thought they were. skepticism looks less inviting,….. libertarians.. everywhere!!… aaaaaahhh JEBUS!!!

    Seriously, I’m skeptical of most of you mofo’s on here with ur rectal inspection and mental masturbation. Rebecca keeps it real though ;)

    Here’s a tip – and this is something I do periodically when I’m starting to get all significant about some thing or other: visit the Atlas of the Universe website (http://www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/universe.html), and keep clicking the ‘Zoom In’ button (it will refresh the page) until you reach our solar system.

    I bet 100 Simoleons it will get ya some friggen perspective, and all of a sudden — aahhhhh! — human politics doesn’t seem to matter QUITE so much! Do try it!

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