For the first time, I’ve deliberately reversed a decision of jcs’s.
I wanted to highlight it with an
announce post to talk about what led up to it, a related new feature, and more about moderation in general.
A few years ago jcs changed the code so that deleting a comment also hides any replies (effectively deleting them). Reversing this does mean that if a thread devolves into a big ugly flame war there’ll be an entry in the moderation log for every comment deleted. But I can’t think of a time we’ve had one and I’m confident we won’t anytime soon, so this seems a fair tradeoff.
This came up because yesterday I deleted a comment and, to my surprise, that deleted the thread. The comment was a snarky one-liner that admitted it was a “daily hate post”. The replies were generally good, but they were working uphill against a negative comment that detracted from a serious discussion (more on that near the end).
I’d like to apologize for the bad log entry I wrote when I deleted the comment, which was ‘don’t make “hate posts”’. I thought of how the entry is sent to the comment author and failed to consider that this wouldn’t at all be clear to anyone else reading the mod log. (There was a meta thread about this by a non-native English speaker using the phrase “hate speech”, which is the term for a contentious political/legal topic.) I’m sorry for this confusing message and will take care to write future messages to be clear about why a moderation action happened. And I regret a flippant post about Usenet I wrote. I edited in what I should’ve written in the first place, but it was still bad.
I’ve also added a feature to the codebase to add moderation log entries when a moderator’s hat is used on a comment. (I swear we had a thread or issue proposing this a while back but can’t find it.) I’ve manually backfilled logs to the passing the torch story. If you look in the moderation log, you’ll see most actions have been correcting story tags and titles, with a few comments. My basic approach to moderation is to make the smallest possible early intervention with the best chance to nudge a thread away from spiraling negativity. And most often that’s just going to be a moderator leaving a comment reminding people to be kind.
It’s worth noting that code changes to lobsters and the deployment playbook don’t appear in the moderation log. Every code change that touches on UI is in some part a moderation decision. People who want to be totally informed should watch the projects on GitHub. People who want to be involved should check out the good first issue.
Talking more broadly about moderation, the site has never been without manual moderation and won’t be in the future. The moderation log and the bottom of the user list sorted by karma reflect the comments deleted and users banned, but more fundamentally, voting isn’t designed to solve every moderation issue. Communities like Usenet, 4chan, and YouTube with little to no human moderation sink into useless garbage. On the other end of the spectrum, MetaFilter is an enormous, vibrant community because of its approach to moderation.
Rather than stop to write a comprehensive treatise about Lobsters and moderation, I’ll link to previous comments I’ve made on: what I think Lobsters is for, the environment I want to foster, difficulties with text-only Twitter, and, recently, some thoughts on moderation tools.
Since becoming sysop I’ve been acting a lot more conservatively than I recommended in those comments. Probably the biggest difference has been that I haven’t moved to create a downvote reason for hostile comments, which I argued strongly for before it fizzled out mostly based on naming. It feels like a larger change than I’m comfortable making while new to the position. The other major change has been to how I previously posted an occasional story that I wasn’t sure was on-topic. “On-topic” has been famously ill-defined here and I figured I couldn’t judge the border if I always played it safe. I’ve stopped because I worry about a presumption that something must be on-topic if a moderator posts it.
Lobsters has a healthy community and I’m glad to help it grow. Some of this will be experiments like the ‘here be dragons’ threads that didn’t work out. (GitHub links because there was never an announcement or explanation, which I don’t plan to repeat.) Part of it will be updating the ‘about’ page when I can bring it together to explain succinctly, without having to link to a bunch of old threads. Mostly it will be more comments under a moderator hat reminding people to be good to each other.
Hope you enjoy the new features, and thanks for your patience as I learn the ropes.