General Community Guidelines

Greetings everyone! I am posting a first attempt at outlining some community guidelines below. This will be a living document, and will be updated as needed. Of course, feedback is always welcome. The guidelines are general with the hope of setting the tone for the type of environment we hope to foster here. The guidelines can be summarized as “be civil and constructive.”

We know that the overwhelming majority of the QC community already follows these guidelines intuitively. We are extremely grateful for that. That being said, it never hurts to have a set of guidelines posted for new users to help set the tone for productive conversation. So, without further delay, here are our guidelines:

Be civil to one another:

Act like you are all sitting in the same physical room, having a discussion. Be cordial, assume good faith, and do not issue personal attacks. Respect each other. Do not impersonate people or expose their private information (no “doxing”).

If you are unsure if your behavior is appropriate, imagine how you would feel if your post were featured on the front page of The New York Times. Would you still be proud of what you wrote? If not, don’t post it.

Try to improve the discussion:

The Boyscouts have a rule: leave it better than you found it. We believe the same sentiment may be applied to conversations, especially public ones. Leave the conversation better than you found it. If someone is mean, respond with kindness. Do not escalate. Don’t feed the trolls, as they say. Model good behavior so that observers will feel welcome, even if they hold opposing views.

If you are not sure what you are about to post adds to the discussion, or might derail the current conversation, give it some more thought before deciding what or whether you will contribute.

Criticize ideas, not people:

We welcome disagreement, even strong disagreement. But for a productive conversation to take place, we must separate people from their ideas. In all disagreement it is important to criticize ideas, and not people.

This means: no name-calling, ad hominem attacks, responding to a person’s tone instead of its content, or knee-jerk contradictions without substantiation. Instead, provide reasoned counter-arguments that improve the conversation.

If you see a problem, flag it:

Thousands of words are typed out on Quillette Circle every day. This is great, as it shows that many great conversations are going on and the community is vibrant and engaged. But the volume of content makes moderation a difficult task, so we encourage our community to actively flag posts they feel violate the community guidelines.

Don’t worry about mobs mass-flagging posts in order to trigger an algorithm and get a user banned. Flagged posts will get reviewed by a living, breathing Quillette employee, who will decide whether the post violates any rules.

We hope you find these guidelines reasonable and not too restrictive. In the end, we want this place to be fun, engaging, and intellectually stimulating for all. Please do your best to foster that sort of environment. Thank you! :grinning:

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Nice balance. The only comment I have refs this phrase. It’s fine but I suggest adding something to the effect of don’t post with “tone” and if someone does…

Some observations:

First, prior discussion over objections to Discourse FAQs - I’ll note that this guideline is less definite than the default (which itself was very vague):

Second, The way discourse works needs factoring in to have specific guidelines. Discourse Moderation guide is an excellent primer, on how the site works, on what graduated measures need to be taken:

Third, the part about being on-topic has been omitted. If topic relevance, careful framing of the debate are ignored, there can’t be civil discussion.

Fourth, there has been ample demonstration of the unsuitability of these “guidelines” in:

Please clarify what is mandatory, and what is aspirational. That requires factoring in how the system is supposed to work, and how QC as a community has operated so far. It can’t be made absent such context.

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Good comments. Especially regarding hate speech. IMO the main issue is philosophical. I tend to favor minimal regulation to the extent possible.

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Great guidelines. I only take exception to one item:

I’m not sure this is the best publication to cite, given the current cancel culture at The New York Times. The ‘paper of record’ has fallen into a deep chasm, from its once lofty heights. But don’t take my word for it, let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth:

https://donaldgmcneiljr1954.medium.com/nytimes-peru-n-word-part-one-introduction-57eb6a3e0d95

Perhaps on reflection, it might be wise to heed your advice about the New York Times. They’ve printed factually incorrect stories about YouTube radicalisation, where a conservative was radicalised towards the Left, despite the headline claiming it had pushed him far right, they’ve cancelled their own staff over offence archaeology of dubious and discredited provenance, and they are now in the habit of printing trash.

It should be noted that this story was first envisaged by Andrew Doyle as a satire, using his character of Titania McGrath. So, yes, we should all be exceedingly wary of ever appearing in the New York Times.

Or did I just get hold of the wrong end of the stick, did you mean as a story- instead of as a writer- all along? :slight_smile:

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Hi @Regression: Good points, I especially agree with the first two.

On your third:

I’m actually quite glad that this part was left out. Even though I often wish people would stay on topic more, the restriction would be enormous and would upset the whole discussion culture on QC. There would be hundreds of violations every day (strictly speaking, about half of all posts would have to be flagged!), lots of restrictions, and lots of resentment. Furthermore, it would also be a lot of work for the mods.

Therefore, I suggest to continue here as before: Everbody is encouraged, on a voluntary basis, to outsource special discussions in separate threads. But there should be no sanctions in this regard.

The fourth point (“clarify what is mandatory, and what is aspirational”) will certainly become clearer over time, for participants and moderators alike. There is no need to rush here. As you rightly say, you need to be familiar with the community to judge where a line needs to be drawn.

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@Geary_Johansen2020 Great point about the NYT. I recommend a non-specific example – “under your name on public media”

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This is a no go. I often criticize the person, along with what they are saying----I mean the writers, not fellow members. It is not gratuitous ad hominem generally, but an effort to explicate.

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No. Many QC commentators have been kind enough to create new topics, and the discourse from creating new topics has been quite rich.

As the moderation guide mentions, moderators have the ability to shift a post into a separate topic posts. Similarly topics can be split. There can also be inline indications about topic relevance, which can be discussed, without affecting the flow.

As always, I urge a graduated response. Discourse has enough tools, if moderators are willing to use them. The flag option, also allows QC users to communicate that posts is veering off-topic. Moderator intervention is necessitated to the extent we abandon requesting good behavior. Even when there is mod intervention, there are plural options.

No. If this were true, consider the statement:

The guidelines could then be stated in their entirety as “Be civil and constructive, any violations absolutely moderator discretion, in turn modulated by community outrage”. This re-statement would be more accurate, and honest. Remember, discourse sanctions, the most severe ones namely suspensions & banning, occur privately. Not every user has enough pull in the community to defend themselves through outrage - I also find that notion reminiscent of mob-virtue. Secondly, moderators, given lack of clarity would be inundated with flags, and since there are no rules, defer & feed contentious relations between moderator-community.

I’d prefer clear, specific rules. Absent that, even a specification that there are no rules save the pleasure/discretion of moderator (subject to community outrage, countered by threats of QC dissolution), is welcome.

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This would definitely fall under the category of aspirational, but I think a good guideline to follow is to refrain from assuming someone’s affiliation based on only a couple of data points. I noticed that a lot of the nastiest derailments start with some version of your ilk/side/tribe… or you people/leftists/trumpists…

Naturally this happens for a reason and such assumptions turn out to be right quite often. However, QC does seem to attract statistical outliers and I think it’s precisely the people that don’t have “out of the box” world views that give this place it’s charm. If we want to retain any more of them that happen to wonder in here; it would help to start by only asking them to defend the positions they explicitly stated they hold.

Incidentally, it would also help to keep things on topic. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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@Regression: Oh, I don’t mind threads staying on topic. :smiley:

You’re right, it could be doable. We can give it a try for all I care. Maybe it would actually improve communication.

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Personally, I prefer the discursive approach to conversation on a particular topic, rather than a focused one. Consider if we were discussing Jonathan Haidt’s work in relation to ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’. Many commenters will be aware that he borrowed from Naseem Nicholas Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility to describe the way we are raising our children. This is turn could lead to a discussion about the original use of term- to describe the intrinsic frailties of the world’s financial systems, because of a failure to allow financial institutions to bear the full effects of shocks. Next, it could lead to a discussion of the fact that Taleb has argued the restaurant sector is the perfect model of an anti-fragile system, with the exception of the black swan pandemic times in which we are living- yet another concept Taleb pioneered. Finally, the point might be made that small is beautiful as far as Taleb is concerned, and we might be better served by smaller banks and financial firms, far less likely to be ‘too big to fail’.

How far has this discursive strayed from the original topic of Jonathan Haidt? I would argue not at all. Plus, we have to concede that much of the more impressive work in thought and culture has been possible only by pursuing an interdisciplinary approach. Perhaps if we are going to look at the issue of topics, it would better to insist that topics remain productive, rather than insisting that comments remain true to the topic of the original thread.

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The trouble is that conversation ceases altogether, whether discursive or focused.

Discourse allows cross linking between topics and posts. Thus, conversation can be both focused, and discursive.

A thousand odd posts can be exchanged by two users, and they’d consider that productive. Else they wouldn’t continue in that activity. There is no inconvenience to a user who feels an important line of query, but doubts it being off-topic, from stating so, and including a link to the newly created topic. Cross-topic links are prominently displayed, more so than links to posts.

The problem however, is that creating a new topic, requires some thought as to the framing of the question, purpose of the query. Derailing topics is attractive.

Creating a new topic, and linking to it, would let readers decide, as opposed to disrupting the topic.

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On topic. How often does that happen even in normal conversation? Is it truly possible (except perhaps in a classroom/lecture setting) to have more than a 5-minute conversation with one or more people and not have someone either go on a tangent, or be reminded of a joke they’d heard, or flip the conversation completely over?

Of course, we could just insert a “circle back”, but we know how useless that is.

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It doesn’t, especially in classroom/lecture settings these days.

There is a difference between regular users, and new or even occasional users here. Regular users can afford to derail topics, while others can’t. The choice to derail topics or not, is also with regular users given the volume of their posts.

There have been topics with hundreds of responses, continuing to be on topic. Users reminding each other to be on topic helps. For example:

I’m sure there are others. Note, that users generally were averse to using flag option to indicate off topic responses - so they did it publicly. No one likes telling someone else that their post is off topic, people dislike being told so even more. Yet, there have been topics which have been surprisingly coherent.

OTOH, where regular users chose, topics have derailed with posts in the single digits - there have been topics with responses omitting any reference to the published article at all.

It is a matter of decision by QC users, really. Moderators can help a little, but ultimately it is up to us.

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thank you for posting these guidelines. i don’t specifically take exception to any of them, all of them being written in good faith, which is exactly the spirit of QC.

and i think now we can all be glad that this time the trolls did not win. QC survives!
now if only we could get Trevor to come back.

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These are all good guidelines, Colin, but for the NYT reference. I’m with @Geary_Johansen2020 on that (Walter Duranty to Jason Blair to the crazy, woke propaganda rag of today). It’s not been a truthful and balanced news source since??? How about a more respectable media outlet like (I’m thinking hard) … Quillette?

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This all seems good and reasonable, but also not too much different from our last community guidelines. I appreciate the effort @SwipeWright, and it does merit repeating now and again, but it reminds me of those people who say “rape is bad” as if they’re actually expecting to lower rape occurrence by saying that. Rapists aren’t going to be moved, and the large majority are just going to be offended at the suggestion they need to be told not to rape.

Sorry for the harsh analogy, but what I mean is that people have their personalities and they’re going to do what they do. We’re lucky here that we generally have people who understand that insulting language undermines their case. Others cross these lines when they lose their temper. What can you do?

If you issue suspensions when someone crosses the line, it will raise questions. Was the person they were arguing with also suspended? Are the standards consistent across the board? What about if the lefties are more likely to flag than the righties? People will be keeping score, and the subjective nature of these guidelines will likely give everyone cause for complaint.

This effort is well-meaning, but I don’t think it will raise the level of civility here, and it might kill the golden goose.

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Good start, simple enough. If any of us are ever accused of hate speech, can we put it to a community vote? Sadly, I often find ‘hate speech’ used as a cover for ‘my argument is weak and I can’t respond adequately enough’. If the community deems it hate speech then the poster should accept their fate. However, if the community does not deem it hate speech, the complainer should accept a suspension of the same timeframe. In effect, this will force posters on QC to check themselves before escalation because they are simply losing an argument via discussion. Just my two cents…

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