When I started this blog, nearly ten years ago, I had some rules to which I adhered fairly consistently. (No one’s perfect! 🙂 )
I didn’t, at first, require others to adhere to those rules. However, it sometimes became unmanageable, as some came along who occasionally took advantage of the “dissent-friendly” nature of the rules. In such cases, I eventually had to make some difficult choices, and stop interacting with the offenders.
I’ve/we’ve never once censored anybody, though. Not once. (except to remove bad words. 🙂 )
As our group grew, and we added new, fresh voices to our group, I insisted, in my capacity as the founder of the blog, and as a condition of their joining our group, that new people make their best effort to adhere to “The Rules.” They’ve been pretty good at doing so too.
Here are the rules that we’ve all used over the years, regarding the tenor of our exchanges with online interlocutors.
#1: Never be the one to initiate verbal/written hostilities
#2: Always call people out who do initiate such hostilities, but do so politely, and ask them to desist.
#3: Give them one or two more chances, with one or two more reminders, and if that doesn’t work…
After all, there are only so many times where you meet overt hostility and irrationality with politeness, and it fails, before you realize that maybe the change in tactics that you should adopt is to meet them on the turf on which they’re playing. Rather, that is, than insisting that they come over to your turf.
It doesn’t always work, but then we’re not always arguing only for the eyes and mind of the person being addressed, are we? (heh heh)
Over the years, we began to formulate other rules too. Rules designed to minimize wasteful, or useless, or filler content.
We had come to realize that there are quite a lot of unserious people out there. People who were not coming here to debate in good faith, but instead wanted to insult, to whine, to pettifog, to filibuster, and filibluster, and largely waste everyone’s time. That wouldn’t, and won’t do.
Our blog is heavily consumed in the IDW (Intellectual Dark Web), and most heavily in the Academia sub-group of the IDW. Deep cover Conservative and Libertarian academics and faculty members use our materials extensively, reproducing them samizdat-style, so as to keep our blog well under the radar.
We can’t force those courageous intellectuals to weed through a bunch of substanceless muck to generate the content they need for their educational efforts!
Just as often, we found that people would start to argue the same, often quite silly, point over and over and over again. No matter how many times, or how many ways a point had appeared and met a response. Reading all that repetition is a waste of time for our academic consumers too, so we started to let people know that they needed to cut it out.
Finally, here are our rules — as they are at this moment — regarding the content of posts responding to our content:
#1: No asserting things without supporting them. If you say something, back it up.
#2: No dueling studies or sources to make a point. To provide data? Sure. But, not to make your point, using the study’s or source’s conclusion by itself. In other words: Make your point yourself, using your original thinking.
#3: No insulting or denigrating others in the thread. Public personages? Fine, have at it… but, again, see Rule #1.
#4: No anecdotes to make your point. To provide color? Sure, but not to make your point.
#5: No mind-reading. For example, no pretending that someone is a racist, who has said that he is not. He’ll tell you what he’s thinking, not you. And, if you both agree on the definition of “racism,” then he knows better than anyone in the world, or in the history of the world, whether he’s a racist… you don’t. This is true for all other states of mind as well.
#6: Assume that the other person is posting and arguing in good faith. (This one can get us in a lot of trouble, because we’ve had many interlocutors on the blog who weren’t arguing in good faith. One, in fact, told me after many long, involved exchanges, that he was simply trying to get me to waste my time interacting with him.) Still, the rule stands, and we only rarely accuse anyone of breaking it.
#7: No bad language. Write as if you’re writing something my 12-year old son might read. (He’s 19 now, but the rule remains)
#8: I/we censor bad language only, not ideas. We engage in online bleeping. 🙂