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Old 02-17-2013, 02:56 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

I am deeply troubled by this site's practice of removing complete groups of posts that the Moderators find offensive or that they fear will lead to name-calling or other personal attacks. It has happened to me a couple of times - mostly for (unwarranted) sarcasm.

There is a big difference between Moderating and Censorship, which those who practice the former should consider.

Moderator
1. An arbitrator or mediator.
2. A presiding officer, esp. a chairman of a debate


Censorship: The practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.

A Moderator steers the tone of the debate, but doesn't try to rewrite history. The MLS process is pure censorship, which is a really, really bad thing to be doing. It is the same as Hitler removing all references to german jews in books, or to deleting Darwin from a textbook. It happened - now you should be moderating the future, not trying to rewrite the past.

I would be a lot less bothered if you just removed the offending text and inserted [Expletive Deleted] or [Personal Comment Deleted] or [Offensive Remark Deleted]. It isn't necessary to remove whole groups of posts. Others can form their own opinion of the postings/posters.

Perhaps you need a tool that lets you hand someone a penalty - 24hr suspension from posting so the discussion can be steered in a different direction?

But please - stop the censorship.
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Old 02-17-2013, 07:05 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

How many posts/complaints have I seen for a while now that the "tone" of MLS isn't what it used to be, and that the "friendliness" is gone and there are too many personal attacks and arguments allowed now? Further, that we're "driving new members away" by allowing it. And now this... just goes to show you can't please everyone. It has happened to me a couple of times - mostly for (unwarranted) sarcasm.I find this amusing Pete - first you gripe, then you admit that it was done "mostly for (unwarranted) sarcasm." Maybe if you followed the rules and left the "(unwarranted) sarcasm" out of your posts and didn't get personal, said posts wouldn't get deleted... ya think?
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Old 02-17-2013, 07:56 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

Yes, Dwight, you have the very definition of a "thankless task" to carry out.

Maybe if you followed the rules and left the "(unwarranted) sarcasm" out of your posts and didn't get personal, said posts wouldn't get deleted
Maybe if you yanked the "unwarranted sarcasm" but left the thread alone, you might acheive the goal of reducing personal attacks? We all have days when we get out of bed the wrong side.

I'm not suggesting you shouldn't intervene - but the wholesale deleting of part of a thread doesn't seem like the best or the only solution.
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Old 02-17-2013, 09:25 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

I lived in Saudi Arabia for 7 years. I have seen censorship up close. Every book and magazine is reviewed by the censors and anything offensive is removed. Pictures of women with bare arms are blotted out. An expensive atlas in a well known bookstore had the map of isreal torn out.

This site has lost many people over the years I have been following it. Many of them were very knowledgeable and a great resource. I agree with Pete -- you should remove the offensive part and leave the rest.

For every one who posts here, maybe if you thought about what you are writing you could tone things down and not be so offensive.

Moderate the posts, but do not censor them. After all, this is America and we supposedly support the idea of free speech.

John
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Old 02-17-2013, 10:04 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

Okay, first off, I haven't done a whole lot of "moderating" lately, so I'm not privy to exactly which thread Pete is griping about. But speaking from experience, when several posts in a thread get "wholesale deleted" as Pete phrases it, that series of posts is generally off topic, personal in a negative way, and add little or nothing of a constructive nature to the thread and discussion at hand. Their remaining presence in the thread is therefore deemed irrevalent. It's usually the post that started it all, and followup posts that continue and escalate the non-constructive dialogue. We take pains in fact to leave anything that constructively adds to the actual discussion. So if an entire post disappears, one usually only has themself to blame.

I, and I'm sure the other mods, and despite what some may think, dislike having to get involved and particularly dislike deleting posts, or parts of posts. This isn't usually done without a warning being issued first asking the "gentlemen" involved to behave themselves. Unfortunately, such "requests" are usually ignored and things continue apace. These "gentlemen" are most often repeat offenders, and are the ones who get upset that they are being "censored" when they in fact are both responsible for their posts and guilty of ignoring the rules they themselves agreed to when they signed up.

The very fact, which I mentioned before, that many are complaining loud and often about the current "tone" of the forum demonstrates a request - and perhaps a need - for MORE moderating, not less - at least imo. Also as I said before, it demonstrates the truth of the old axiom that "you can't please all of the people all of the time."

Lastly, the word "censorship" generally is used in two ways - (1) the suppression or removal of material considered objectionable or offensive, and (2) the suppression or removal of material expressing objectionable or subversive IDEAS. While we may practice the first definition, which imo falls also within the definition of moderating a forum, we do NOT practice the second, which is generally the meaning the word brings to mind. The very fact that this thread remains and I'm taking time to respond is a good indicator of this.

No one comes here to read the cat fights or the little ego battles going on between two or more members, and no one but the participants in such battles generally gives a **** who wins them, or is impressed by the winner. People who wish to see that sort of thing can go watch "reality" TV. That's not what MLS is for. Confine your posts to the facts or your opinions on the topic at hand, remain constructive and respectful of others in their expression, and don't get all riled up and personally blast anyone who may disagree, and you have little to fear from the mods. Simple.
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Old 02-17-2013, 10:48 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

I agree with Pete,
IMO the moderation has been a bit heavy-handed lately..
and yes, it really is a "thankless job"! (im a moderator myself on two forums..one a railfan forum, and one a snowblower forum)
so i definitely see "both sides"..I agree that offending remarks should be removed, but sometimes not the entire post..
a perfect example:

Posted By aopagary on 17 Feb 2013 08:09 AM
Posted By steveciambrone on 16 Feb 2013 08:20 PM
I get the math, it is quite simple, I do not understand the frustration why 1/32 modelers get upset with a 1/29 model being introduced, so it is not your scale, why let it bother you? I do not care or comment when another model is introduce that is not a scale I model.
I also model Welsh narrow gauge on 45mm track, that is breaking the rules also.

Steve saying something like this, you obviously don't get the math or understand what a scale model is. you cannot have a scale model that is partly 1:29 scale and partly 1:32 scale. that is what is being foisted upon us by 1:29 "scale" manufacturers. it doesn't make sense to mix scales in a single model and that is the problem 1:32 scale modelers have with the 1:29 toys being produced.

modeling British narrow gauge is a rather daunting task. a look at the history of narrow gauge there reveals quite a number of narrow gauges as large as 49" and as small as 23.5". if i were to concentrate on a single road, say the Ffestiniog at 23.5" gauge, i would probably scale it at 1:13.25 for 45mm track, though for parts availability, 7/8" scale (1:13.7) would probably be close enough. but if i wanted to model more than one road, it would be better to choose a single scale with varying track gauges which would tend to show a more exact relationship between the different roads and gauges used.

i have no problem with US 1:20.3 scale representing 3' gauge or 7/8" scale representing 2' gauge with 45mm track.
i'm more than willing to concede track (rail) weight in favor of the models themselves being accurate.

Garyswhole post is fine, except for the first sentence: "saying something like this, you obviously don't get the math or understand what a scale model is."..
thats obviously just a flat-out insult, and that line should be deleted..
I wouldnt delete the whole post, just anything that is clearly a personal attack or a direct insult..

(also, off-topic, I think Gary should try to say things like "IMO, (in my opinion) you cannot have a scale model that is partly 1:29 scale and partly 1:32 scale."..
that makes it a matter of opinion (which it is)..but saying "you cannot have a scale model that is partly 1:29 scale and partly 1:32 scale." declares it as a statement of fact,
which it is not..)

And now..am I going to be in trouble for "insulting" Gary? perhaps..
I have found that often if someone says something rude, and someone else says "hey, that was rude"..
then the person who says "hey, that was rude" *also* gets censored just for saying that!
and that isnt right..
Notice the difference:

"saying something like this, you obviously don't get the math or understand what a scale model is."
personal insult? yes, IMO clearly an insult.

"I think Gary should try to say things like "IMO, you cannot have a scale model that is partly 1:29 scale and partly 1:32 scale."..that makes it a matter of opinion (which it is)..saying "you cannot have a scale model that is partly 1:29 scale and partly 1:32 scale." declares it as a statement of fact,
which it is not."
- is that personal insult or attack against Gary? I would say no..because im not attacking him personally, I am talking about declaring opinions as facts, and IMO why that's not a good thing..

I guess it all comes down to *how* people reply..If I said: "Gary, your are being a moron, obviously you stated an opinion, dont be a jerk and state your opinions as facts"
then that would be worthy of censure..

actually,,this would be even better: (also, off-topic, I think everyone should try to say things like "IMO, you cannot have a scale model that is partly 1:29 scale and partly 1:32 scale."..
because that makes it a matter of opinion (which it is)..but saying "you cannot have a scale model that is partly 1:29 scale and partly 1:32 scale." declares it as a statement of fact,
which it is not..)

I dont think anyone could complain about that..
So, its not so much what people say, its how they say it..

but, getting back to the topic..I have definately seen moderation here that I have considered needlessly "out of line"..
Its good to talk about it..

Scot
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Old 02-17-2013, 11:07 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

I think we need both more and less moderation:

We need more:
Moderation when it becomes personal.... EVERY post can be done without making it personal, keep to facts and what was writteh.
Moderation when it is "flaunting the rules".... when there is a remark that does not give the name of the person, but is UNAMBIGUOUSLY identifying an individual, then it IS personal.... This is my biggest gripe because the "no personal attacks" rule is broken over and over and NOTHING is done about it.
Moderation of "off topic" stuff.... The site owner has clearly not added an off-topic forum, but we get all kinds of junk that has nothing to do with trains. It's hard to police, because I loved the Jupiter picture... but again, it seems that no one can be "moderate" about off topic stuff, and some of the stuff is just stupid in my opinion.

We need less:
Deleting entire groups of posts so that the thread makes little sense.
Over sensitivity to one particular person... yeah, I know I'm the pot-stirrer... but I can show several threads where I'm censored, but several people get to go on and on. You HAVE to enforce the rules fairly, and evenly, even to the ones you don't like... otherwise you "embolden" people to keep picking on someone, and now your rules are meaningless...
Deleting without some personal message to the "deleted parties" when a simple email could help explain. It is EASY to click a member name and email him, "sorry Greg, your post was ok, but every other person quoted it and then took off, so I had to delete yours too"...

So, in my opinion, BOTH "sides" need improvement... more even handed moderation and more consistency and FOLLOW the POSTED RULES, or CHANGE THEM...

We forum members should be able to have discussions and even debates without name calling....

Greg
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Old 02-17-2013, 12:12 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

Okay, let's first address the "off topic" part. Generally speaking, the Public Forum has been used as the spot for off topic postings having little or nothing to do with trains. Over time, it became common practice to clearly denote such topics as "OT/NT" (Off Topic/Not Trains). This clearly alerts anyone and everyone that said topic has nothing whatsoever to do with trains, which are the MAIN, but not the ONLY, focus of this forum. Anyone who doesn't desire to read such a clearly labeled topic can simply not even open it and move on to something "train related" if they so choose.

It was decided long ago that we, the members (and mods ARE members too), have lives and interests other than "just trains" and that postings related to other hobbies and interests help all of us to know each other better, thereby knitting the group together and furthering the "fraternal atmosphere" we wished to cultivate. I've seen posts covering everything from model airplane/helicopter flight and photography to a member's current housing problems. Using my post as an example (since such is already the case), I have many interests and several hobbies besides trains, astronomy and planetary photography among them. So long as the Public Forum is used for such posts, and so long as such posts are clearly labeled, I personally see no problem with them. Further, I would consider the banning of such posts as counterproductive to the overall ends which MLS strives to achieve.

Regarding what is and is not appropriate material to moderate/edit/delete, and the subject of "fairness" - as I've said many times before, it's a judgement call. There are definitely times when the desire NOT to excessively moderate may end up leaving something which perhaps it may have been better to delete or edit. But then again, this whole thread is about TOO MUCH deletion, so I repeat, not everyone is going to be happy with the decisions made. Such is life. Speaking for myself, I can guarantee that I TRY to be fair, but fairness, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, and again, not everyone will be made happy. That being the case, I will do my best to follow my OWN dictates on what is "fair" and answer to my own conscience alone. Anyone believing me to be consistently UNfair can petition for my removal. It's not like it's some GREAT JOB to have.
Deleting entire groups of posts so that the thread makes little sense.I seriously doubt this often happens.Over sensitivity to one particular person...Repeated phenomenon draw the most scrutiny almost everywhere. A strange noise from your car may be only a passing concern and soon forgotten, but a repetitive noise warrants a closer look and perhaps a visit to the mechanic.Deleting without some personal message to the "deleted parties" when a simple email could help explain.I used to do that on a regular basis, and you WOULDN'T BELIEVE the childish and vitriolic nasty messages I often got in return, and some of the foul things I was called. So I did it less and less until I finally stopped altogether. Anyone with a question can politely message me, and I'll do my best to respond in kind.
FOLLOW the POSTED RULES, or CHANGE THEM... We do our best to follow the rules within the capacity of our own limited judgement and other aforementioned factors, and we CAN'T change the rules as WE don't MAKE them.

Mods are people too. We have lives and jobs other than MLS and can't be on here reading every post in every thread. We rely heavily on mod alerts. Every one of them is checked out. Sometimes we agree with the alert and take action. Sometimes we don't. We can only rely on our own judgement when accessing things. Sometimes an alert is discussed among ourselves in the Moderators Forum and a consensus reached. Sometimes that takes a day or two. That consensus may also be to do nothing.

Lastly, as I said, mods are people too. We have good days and bad days - we have pressures and stresses not related to MLS - we have fights with our wives and children and bosses and coworkers - and sometimes we also just plain get up on the wrong side of the bed. We have feelings just like everyone else. We make mistakes just like everyone else, and we're not perfect - just like everyone else. Shad is always free to dispense with any one of us at any time, and also free to replace any one of us with any one of you whom he feels would do a better job.
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Old 02-17-2013, 01:01 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

Nothing wrong with an occasional brawl in a free society. Notice the mods throwing most of the punches too:



Cheers,
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Old 02-17-2013, 01:28 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default RE: Moderating versus Censorship - An Open Letter to Moderators

Feedback is always a good thing. "Moderating" vs. "censorship" is a fine line, a very grey one, and also dependent on whether you're the one doing the "moderation" or the one being "moderated." When you read the "Disheartened" thread in the public forum, the overwhelming tone there is that MLS has become a decidedly unfriendly place to hang out; a "good ole boys' club" if you will. In light of those sentiments, when things take a personal tone in the forums, we're more likely to step in and try to quiet things down in an effort to bring back the friendly atmosphere that has been lost. (And I've heard from lots of people who say they don't post here because it's become so unfriendly.) Yet when we try to rebuild that friendly atmosphere again, we're met on the other side with complaints about "censorship." It's a no-win scenario in many ways. We make the calls we make, and let the chips fall where they may.

When "entire blocks" of threads are removed, it's because the moderator at the time determined the posts within that block are all part of the same common offending theme; i.e., one person says something out of line, the next takes exception, etc, often quoting the first, then there's the inevitable rebuttal, someone else commenting, etc. and so forth. Those kinds of posts don't lend themselves to being "edited for content" lest the post lose its meaning, if there even is one beyond pure rebuttal. It's better in those contexts to delete the entire posts since those posts are a distraction from the intent of the main thread anyway. Where possible (and is far more often the case), just the offending lines and subsequent references are removed. It's all contextual, all a case-by-case kinda thing, and as Dwight has already stated, is highly subjective and dependent on the mindset of the moderator at that time.

There are no "hard guidelines" for if/when to take action on posts. It's all up to the judgment of the moderators. It's akin to reffing a sporting event. It's a national pass-time to yell at the refs for bad calls, but rarely do we shout out "that was a GREAT call" when we're the ones being called. That's life, and that's part of wearing the hat we moderators wear. But as I said in the beginning, feedback is always a good thing. Moderation shouldn't be a one-way street; a "my way or the highway" kind of thing. Refs are constantly graded on the calls they make. Without feedback like this (either here or off-list) we don't get that outside perspective on our actions. It's not going to change what happened, but it can shape what happens in the future.

Later,

K
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