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A friend I invited to the site asked if Lobsters would be interested in adopting the Hacker School social rules (included below). I’ve looked over them and think they would be a great fit for our community. These sorts of things never seem needed until it’s too late. Once culture is set it’s very hard to change, and there’s usually a shaping and pruning phase once you get started. Having some guidelines to point to really help in that process.

What does everyone think?

Social rules

Another way we try to remove obstacles to learning is by having a small set of social rules. These rules are intended to be lightweight, and to make more explicit certain social norms that are normally implicit. Most of our social rules really boil down to “don’t be a jerk” or “don’t be annoying.” Of course, almost nobody sets out to be a jerk or annoying, so telling people not to be jerks isn’t a very productive strategy. That’s why our social rules are designed to curtail specific behavior we’ve found to be destructive to a supportive, productive, and fun learning environment.

No feigning surprise

The first rule means you shouldn’t act surprised when people say they don’t know something. This applies to both technical things (“What?! I can’t believe you don’t know what the stack is!”) and non-technical things (“You don’t know who RMS is?!”). Feigning surprise has absolutely no social or educational benefit: When people feign surprise, it’s usually to make them feel better about themselves and others feel worse. And even when that’s not the intention, it’s almost always the effect. As you’ve probably already guessed, this rule is tightly coupled to our belief in the importance of people feeling comfortable saying “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand.”

No well-actually’s

A well-actually happens when someone says something that’s almost - but not entirely - correct, and you say, “well, actually…” and then give a minor correction. This is especially annoying when the correction has no bearing on the actual conversation. This doesn’t mean Lobsters isn’t about truth-seeking or that we don’t care about being precise. Almost all well-actually’s in our experience are about grandstanding, not truth-seeking. (Thanks to Miguel de Icaza for originally coining the term “well-actually.”)

No subtle sexism

Our last social rule bans subtle sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. This one is different from the rest, because it’s often not a specific, observable phenomenon (“well-actually’s” are easy to spot because they almost always start with the words, “well, actually…”).

Lobsters is not a place to publicly debate whether comment X is sexist, racist, etc. If you see something that’s unintentionally sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. at Lobsters you’re welcome to point it out to the person who made the comment, either publicly or privately, or you can ask one of the faculty to say something to that person. Once the initial mention has been made, we ask that all further discussion move off of public channels. If you are a third party, and you don’t see what could be biased about the comment that was made, feel free to talk to faculty. Please don’t say, “Comment X wasn’t homophobic!” Similarly, please don’t pile on to someone who made a mistake.

We want Lobsters to be a space with as little bigotry as possible in it. Therefore, if you see sexism, racism, etc. outside of Lobsters, please don’t bring it in. So, for example, please don’t start a discussion on the mailing list of the latest offensive comment from Random Tech Person Y.

Why don’t we want public discussions of sexism, racism, etc. at Lobsters? For many people, especially those who may have spent time in unpleasant environments, these conversations can be very distracting. At Lobsters, we want to remove as many distractions as possible so everyone can focus on programming. There are many places in the world to discuss and debate these issues, but there are precious few where people can avoid them. We want Lobsters to be one of those places.


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    I’m in favor of being well-actuallyed, because I find it extremely educational when people well-actually me. Also, I think Miguel is kind of a nincompoop, but that’s not why I’m opposed to the rule; other people who I do respect prefer well-actually-free conversations.

    One contextual factor is that, in writing, if there’s a thread you aren’t interested in, you can skip over it. I think the emphasis of these rules makes more sense for in-person interaction: although all the things they mention are things I care about. (Even the well-actually rule is intended to promote a kind of conversation I value: one that stays focused on the most important aspects.)

    Here’s the main thing I’d really like to see. Don’t accuse people of misconduct, unless you have really strong evidence. This includes calling them “trolls” (people who lie about their beliefs in order to get reactions from other people) or “disingenuous” (people who lie about their beliefs by claiming to accept things that are plainly absurd). Really I think people who use these words more than once a year or so should probably be banned.

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      I see disingenuous is a serious word for you. The dictionary definition has a few variations, but the one I like is “giving a false appearance of simple frankness”. There is often a context of “calculating or dishonest”, probably why you don’t like it, but I’ve often used it (and understood common usage by others), slightly differently. It just means “you left something out”. Who doesn’t wear rose-colored glasses on occasion?

      I mention this because I think others use the word more lightly than you, and they probably didn’t intend their usage to throw down the gauntlet.

      Anyway, if it’s a word that offends people, I will use the word incomplete.

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        All of the definitions in e.g. thefreedictionary are different kinds of dishonesty, except for one labeled as “Usage problem” where people use it to mean “ingenuous”. Even that meaning, though, is probably offensive. It’s one thing to say, “you left something out,” but “that’s ingenuous” means “you left something out because you’re naïve.” Occasionally that may be justified, but you shouldn’t be surprised if someone gets offended when you say that they only disagree with you because of their ignorance. It’s better than saying they only disagree with you because they’re lying about what they really believe, which is what it means to call their point of view “disingenuous”, but it’s still far from welcoming their contribution to the discussion.

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          Hmm, your comment is… incomplete. That page also says “Most Panelists also accept the extended meaning relating to less reproachable behavior.” among some other notes about shifting meanings.

          I think it’s fair to correct someone who uses a word incorrectly (and I appreciate the corrections regarding disingenuous). I don’t think it’s fair though, and leads to unnecessary outrage, to force the correct definition onto the words when that’s clearly not the author’s intent.

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            I addressed that: the “less reproachable behavior” in question is being ingenuous, which is to say, naïve, or to put it less gently, ignorant. In fact, that’s what my entire comment was about except for the first half of the first sentence.

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        Totally agree.

        The “Well, actually…” and the “What, you didn’t know…?” rules are fragile in a way that the bigotry rule is not. it’s possible to use the former phrases in a ironic, gentle, and even constructive way (and we should not be afraid to do so). And it’s possible to use them otherwise: to provoke, bully, or insult. We have to appreciate context and intent to distinguish these cases(*). With diligence, the voting system will separate the two. And of course there are other signs of bullying that are more obvious than these turns of phrase.

        By contrast, any phrasing that slips into bigotry, no matter how well intended, no matter what the context, is detrimental to the discussion. We need a code of conduct for this case, not just voting. I don’t see the need for the CoC to be very different from others around the web.

        IMO lobste.rs could publish (on https://lobste.rs/about) an explanation of how the community was envisioned and how that differs from other communities, highlighting how that difference goes beyond the respective codes of conduct, which may in fact be quite similar. It takes more than rules to make a culture.

        (*) “What, you didn’t know you had to download and apply the secret patch to make $SOFTWARE work?” – this is critical of $SOFTWARE, not of the person it is directed towards. Saying this may actually express sympathy with the poor soul.

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          Don’t accuse people of misconduct

          I’ve been called a troll on here for saying things I honestly believe. I welcome people to ignore or argue against me but claiming that I don’t believe what I write is totally useless.

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            Not only useless: it’s a positive barrier to further dialogue.

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          A formalized set of rules only works if someone is responsible for applying them. When applying them is left up to the group collectively, all rules add is discussion of the rules and how they apply (i.e. noise).

          A good example of this is the Hacker News Guidelines, particularly the guidelines for whether a subject is on topic.

          (Also I think that rules should be avoided until there is a problem that they address.)

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            I went to Hacker School and I found that the social rules worked very well.

            I’m not sure the Lobsters needs to be a place free of discussions of sexism. That works well at Hacker School for reasons that I can’t quite articulate, but there’s certainly a place for discussions of bigotry in the world at large.

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              Interesting… I’ve been following these basic rules on Lobste.rs for as long as I’ve been on Lobste.rs. I was under the impression these were written somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where I read them.

              That being said, I agree with the rules. And I’d suggest adding expanded forms of “if you have nothing nice to say…” and “ask yourself, are you really contributing?” to the list.

              I’d be remiss if I didn’t consider possible negatives. Putting a “rigid” set of rules (I believe that rules are inherently “rigid,” or at least perceived as such) could stifle creativity and give the site the air of authoritarian government/moderation.

              So far, Lobste.rs has been pretty well self-governed and everybody has behaved like rational adults. I’d definitely like to see Lobste.rs continue to maintain this mature attitude, but I understand if formal rules or guidelines are deemed necessarily, even preemptively.

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                I share the same feelings. The rules aren’t needed to fix any current behavior. Instead, they codify what everyone is already doing.