2010-10-06 10:46:57Hissy fit from JohnD
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.186.160.198

Just keeping everyone posted on the latest moderation issue. A flame war erupted on An Underwater Hockey Stick which started after Jmurphy's comment. JohnD posted an inflammatory comment which was (quite rightly) deleted by Tom. JohnD proceeded to post a series of complaining comments most of which were (quite rightly) deleted. Then JohnD emailed me a complaint:

I wish to register a very strong protest regarding the moderation and censorship that occurs here.

A debate that involved myself JMurpy,and Doug Bostrom evolved to the point where they had backed themselves into a corner when I presented evidence that totally supported my assertions and made some of their allegations look foolish.

A post was made by JMurphy that made a rather snide and offensive attack on myself, as well as distorting what had been presented by myself in the course of the debate.

When I tried to respond, my reply was deleted. I posted a request asking for either the JMurphy post to be deleted or my reply to be reinstated. That post was also deleted, and again as I reposted it also again.

I believe that one, or perhaps both of the parties on the other side of the debate are involved in the moderation and are using their power to censor arguments against them.

If that is the case then it reflects very badly on this site, and yourself.

I post on other sites where the moderators are known to the contributors and identify themselves when the moderation process is applied. This is very important in ensuring transparency and fairness of debate when moderators are also participants.

I hope that you can look into this current issue as well as the broader matter of moderation and censorship.

I emailed him back with this reply:

Hi John,

I assume you're talking about the comment with all the ALL CAPS remarks throughout. It was deleted because it was inflammatory - there's no need to discuss these issues without resorting to all-caps ROTFLMOA and other inflammatory remarks. It doesn't elevate the debate and the moderator was right to delete it. You could have made your point without them (in fact, more effectively without them).

Neither JMurphy or Doug Bostrom were involved in the deletion of that original comment although it's kind of beside the point - I would've deleted it if I'd been awake at the time.

You're very welcome to reply to JMurphy's comment but I ask that you edit your comment to be less inflammatory. A good tip is to avoid the all-caps. Personally, I find when you argue a point in a debate, you're a lot more persuasive when you maintain a calm, reasonable demeanour. That's always the approach I try to take, even when I'm feeling a bit hot under the collar.

Can I also suggest you don't post multiple comments asking for previous comments to be reinstated? Just email me if you have an issue.

In this case, the moderators handled it very well. If anything, the moderator was being overly tolerant in allowing JohnD's last two comments (here and here) and posting a reply - but that's okay, it was an attempt at conciliation which is no bad thing. The only question mark over this incident is whether we should rethink again about transparency with moderation. Probably not, this is an isolated incident and easily fixed by emailing the commenter directly. But food for thought for future reference.

2010-10-06 11:32:51
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

Quoting johnd: "My earlier deleted response was very carefully and calmly considered, and constructed to make specific points responding in kind to what I considered an offensive post, and it was intended to offend back. "

What a buffoon.  Talk about making the case for reconsideration, eh? 

If one bothers to read the whole mess through, including johnd's various pleas to have his first idiotic explosion reposted, it's pretty clear he's loose with the truth. No surprise, I guess.


2010-10-06 23:31:42
Ned

ned.flounders@yahoo...
129.170.23.6

John, thank you very much for handling johnd's irate email, and for supporting us members of the Society of Junior Moderators even when we bring down the wrath of angry skeptics on your head.  I often have second thoughts about my moderation decisions, so seeing your vote of confidence in this case is greatly reassuring (even though I personally wasn't involved in this one) and greatly appreciated.

If johnd is still annoyed about this (and he probably is!) we will probably need to be a bit careful about not letting other commenters use all-caps this week.  I can easily see him posting aggrieved comments accusing us of hypocrisy for deleting his but letting someone else's slip by. 

 

2010-10-07 07:38:55Support for the Society
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.186.160.198
Whenever I've received an email from an angry censored skeptic, without fail, once I've investigated the details of the moderation, I've agreed with the moderator's actions. So I've been happy to defend the reasons for the moderation vigorously. You guys are doing a fantastic job and can take a very large part of the credit for the high quality of discussion at SkS.

The one case where a complaint was justified was when a skeptic complained that a warmist comment violated the Comment Policy but wasn't deleted. I looked, agreed and deleted it. Ned's comments that we tend to be less critical of our own side is something to watch out for - it is a psychological reality, after all.

2010-10-07 18:25:49
Riccardo

riccardoreitano@tiscali...
192.84.150.209

I too think Doug did a good job.

The possibility to be less critical of our own side is real and difficult to manage. Apart from any consideration of fairness and justice, it may start a flame. We should pay attention to the reaction of the skeptics, we may notice that theprevious comment was a bit beyond the line.

Another problem is the moderation of comments when we are involved in the discussion. I suggest to wait and see if there is another modertor active and let him do the job. And don't forget to delete the responses to the deleted comment as well. This should stop the flame.

2010-10-08 03:18:25
Ned

ned.flounders@yahoo...
129.170.23.6

Riccardo writes:  Another problem is the moderation of comments when we are involved in the discussion. I suggest to wait and see if there is another modertor active and let him do the job.

Thanks for the reminder.    That's a good idea, though there might be exceptions.

John Cook writes:  Ned's comments that we tend to be less critical of our own side is something to watch out for - it is a psychological reality, after all.

Well, to be fair to ourselves I think we mostly do an excellent job, and that insofar as any participants think the moderation process is biased against them, it's mostly just that they don't see the comments we delete from our own side, combined with the normal psychological feelings of being in a small minority where you're "at the mercy" of authorities who are part of the majority.

So we should try our best to be fair, and we should probably err on the side of more aggressively policing our own side ... but then just not worry about the occasional complaints about "bias" and "censorship" that will probably always be with us.

2010-10-08 08:09:35Do we moderate if we're involved in the discussion?
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.186.160.198
Just for the record, I've continued to correspond with johnd and had a fairly cordial discussion. I think he was just appreciative to get an email reply which is a big factor in building bridges (mental note: program that 'email a commenter' feature for moderators). His main concern was that one of the people he was arguing with was also moderating him which he felt was an unequitable situation. He has a point. In an ideal world, moderators shouldn't moderate if they're involved in the discussion. On the other hand, if you're chatting and someone posts a blatant bad comment, you can't just sit on your hands and let it sit their festering on the comments thread. I would suggest the guideline is avoid moderating chats you're directly involved with if possible, leaving it to someone else to judge, except for definite blatant violations of comment policy. Thoughts?
2010-10-08 09:20:04
Ned

ned.flounders@yahoo...
71.181.75.53

I would suggest the guideline is avoid moderating chats you're directly involved with if possible, leaving it to someone else to judge, except for definite blatant violations of comment policy. Thoughts?

That seems exactly right to me, both the general principle and the cautious exception.

Talking about this stuff also serves as a handy reminder of the need for a certain emotional detachment when moderating.  If I'm feeling a bit combative, or having trouble concealing my contempt for Particularly Annoying Skeptic, I probably should avoid moderating for a while.    (E.g., it's probably a good thing that I wasn't called on to consider deleting anybody's comments today right after that little flashback to the trauma of the Evil Waste Heat Thread....  )

2010-10-08 09:41:29
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
One thing that helps maintain detachment is to never use the first person singular pronoun in a moderation note. In any case, it's a collective consciousness; no such thing as "I" or "me." 
2010-10-08 11:00:21Good advice
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.186.160.198

Thanks guys, have updated the Moderator Guidelines with the extra text:

  • It's important to remain emotionally detached when posting a direct moderator response. Avoid using the first person singular pronoun in a moderation note. Eg- moderators act as a collective consciousness; no such thing as "I" or "me." Remember, there's no I in moderation (oh, wait, there is). 
2010-10-08 11:22:34
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

 I would suggest the guideline is avoid moderating chats you're directly involved with if possible, leaving it to someone else to judge, except for definite blatant violations of comment policy. Thoughts?

Uh-oh, YAS!

First thought is that ipso facto, we moderators are reasonable, skeptics are not, that's why they're not moderators. We are infallible, they are just wrong.  I see no fairness problem at all. :-)

Seriously, one thing that might be handy would be to add yet another feature to the sidebar of the page, visible to moderators, indicating which moderators are logged in. I've often wondered if any other other moderators are online when I am, whether the shop is running unattended.

However, this would require setting up a list of "last activity" for logged-in moderators, adding scripting to check against that list and refresh our own list time stamps whenever we refresh or pull down a new page. More work. Maybe one of those things only allowed to bubble up to the top of the todo list when everything else is squared away...