Banned for Showing You What They Say?

I think my last post was a pretty entertaining examination of something which happened in the Skeptical Science online course. If you haven't read it, a student in the coures labeled me a denier for directing them to the "conglomeration of worldwide right-wingers" known as the IPCC. I had seen some other strange things in the forum, but that was the strangest so I wrote a post about it.

What I found particularly interesting about it is a moderator, BaerbelW, responded to the rants and insults the user posted by being helpful and friendly, not in any way condemning the behavior:


This same moderator has now informed me it is against the rules for me to have shown you those insults and rants:


I might even get banned for it. You see, that forum's rules has this little gem:

Please refrain from posting content of the forums publicly unless individuals consent to having their contributions mentioned elsewhere.

Which says it is apparently okay to share the content of the forums privately. You just can't do it publicly. That means the moderator who stood by and let me get insulted by a bunch of crazy rants now tells me I broke the rule by showing the public those crazy rants. It's all quite strange. It's especially strange thanks to something the blogger lucia pointed out on Twitter. lucia had looked at the Terms of Services of the site this course is hosted on, and she noticed it included the line:

License Grant to edX Users. By submitting or distributing your User Postings, you hereby grant to each user of the Site a non-exclusive license to access and use your User Postings in connection with their use of the Site for their own personal purposes.

Which means the site explicitly gives the users of it the right to reproduce people's comments, opposite the rule I am supposed to get in trouble for. You might think that would resolve matters, but it doesn't. When I contacted the site with a question about how one of its rules would be applied, a representative responded:

Hello Brandon,

Thank you for reaching out regarding this. Moderation in the forums is at the discretion of the course team. We will, however, note and consider this feedback when discussing the course with them. I hope you continue to enjoy the course despite this disagreement with moderation.

Best regards,

Meaning the instructors for this course have complete discretion on how they moderate the forum. That means they can ban me for doing something the site explicitly grants me the right to do.

I informed BaerbelW I think this rule is ridiculous before I examined the site's ToS:


And I've now also commented to point out what the site's ToS says. I don't know what is going to happen next. I might get banned. I might not. I don't know. All I know is when you teach a class over 10,000 people sign up for, requiring nobody to talk about what gets said in your discussions is silly.

That's probably why edX explicitly says students can talk about what's said.


  1. Well, the instructors haven't said anything more to me, so I don't know where things stand. Either they've given up on the matter, or they're taking an inordinate amount of time to decide what to do. I'm not sure. One thing I do know is that person posting the crazy rants has ceased to be entertaining now, and as such, I've decided to stop engaging him/her.

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