Since the last instalment

I've submitted my book manuscript, caught up on sleep, told my crazy landlord to go screw himself and spent the advance on a six month trip that takes in west coast USA, NZ, Australia, Bali, Singapore, and Hong Kong. I leave mid-January.

Discussing the catbox

Thank you everyone for your contributions to the discussion on how you wish you to see the catbox moderated after I put out a call for a public discussion in my August editor log. In addition to the public statements made in August 25, 2011, I received quite a number of private messages complimenting chanops on the tricky tightrope that they walk. It is so gratifying to hear that, by-and-large, this team does a difficult job well.

Chanops' tools

For clarification, it's probably useful to see a brief summary of the tools available to the chanops team:

  1. Communication - this is perhaps chanops' greatest tool. We talk to people. We warn users if their behaviour is coming close to the mark; if they overstep the mark they're given a final warning, after that, she or he can expect to be dragged or borged. We also communicate with the people who are affected by someone else's behaviour. We check that they're doing okay.
  2. Drag - removes a user from the 'outside' and places her or him in the debriefing room for 30 minutes. Here, why they were dragged will be explained to her or him.
  3. Flush - clears the catbox of the visible conversation. This is extremely useful if someone accidentally or maliciously reveals personal information, for example telephone numbers, publicly.
  4. Borg - yes, EDB does still exist and he will still gobble up users and prevent them from any kind of interaction (private messaging is prohibited by borging, too) for a period of time that increases proportionately to how many times someone has been borged.
  5. Chat suspension - is a tool that until recently the gods could impose on users who persistently transgressed the rules of the catbox or as a higher degree of punishment for something especially egregious. As of last month, OldMiner made it available to all members of chanops. It's also something that can be used to be keep a user out of the catbox for a given period. For example, we've chat suspended drunk users for an evening, or - at their own request - users who need to write essays or get on with a piece of work. With chat suspension, users can still contribute meaningfully to the site, but the friction-point of the catbox is removed from them.
  6. Topic and room suspension - these are used incredibly infrequently, but if people abuse their topic changing or room creating abilities, it can be suspended.

It's also worth noting that there are guidelines already for the chanops team (and there's a document for editors, too; in fact, it is probably the only unobfuscatedly named document on the entire site). What we're trying to do here is ascertain if what we're doing meets with the needs and expectations of the rest of the community.

Your feedback

So, what are these needs and expectations on the catbox?

The general consensus would appear to be that chanops needs to keep doing what it does, but not be afraid to come down hard on people who transgress societal conventions and the mores of the catbox. Meanwhile, other users also have their parts to play in maintaining the equilibrium of the public forum.

When it came to a discussion of what is and isn't okay and where the lines of 'appropriate' and 'inappropriate' need to be drawn, people were decidedly more reticent. This is understandable, making blanket statements about what is acceptable and unacceptable is difficult. Life is full of shades of grey and that we have people here to moderate the catbox and to make editorial decisions is indicative of this. You could say that behaviour that crosses the line of acceptability it is a bit like porn, you know it when you see it.

Wanting the catbox to be a place where people can enjoy discussion and debate requires that people feel able to express their opinions and views without fear of attack or vilification. At the same time, however, it isn't okay to make a statement that is in itself an attack, is threatening, or can be construed as incitement. As Posmella put it so aptly, we've the right to free expression in the catbox, but with it comes the responsibility to treat the other users respectfully and the inescapable fact that 'Some topics are just not okay.'

Part of that responsibility towards other users - which includes not attacking people personally and not baiting or bullying people - includes not feeding the troll. For those of us who've been around the intergoogles for a while, we can smell a troll at 60 paces. We also know that playing their game is just what they want. So don't do it. Ignore them, change the topic of conversation, step away from e2 for a few minutes if you have to. It's much easier for chanops to clean up after a troll if the world and his wife hasn't got involved in the fiasco, too.

Responsibilities towards other users includes marking links that aren't entirely safe for work as such. Some of us might not really enjoy looking at images of men having sex with dolphins that are knife-fighting with lions copulating with amoeba on the moon, and for others of us it might get us into trouble.

A recurring theme in comments was that just because a user has been here forever, it doesn't justify her or him being treated more leniently for social transgressions. The rules apply the same to users whether they have been here for five minutes, five years, or were a founding father.

Finally, politeness is always in order. For all of us.

Some guidelines

Seeing as agreeing on a definitive list of what you can or cannot do in the catbox has proved to be nigh-on impossible, these are some suggested guidelines:

  1. Be polite. It doesn't matter who you are and with whom you are talking. Politeness costs nothing except goodwill towards you when you show none.

  2. Homophobia, racism, or sexism won't be tolerated. There's a difference between intelligent, articulate debate and indiscriminately espousing pernicious points of view.

  3. Don't bully, threaten, attack, or abuse another user. If I really need to explicate this one, the world is sorrier than I thought.

  4. Don't take out your frustrations on other users. Remember: they're real people. You might not be able to see them, but they are more than words on a screen.

  5. Judge the audience and the conversation. If people are talking about gardening, they might not want to hear your latest tirade denouncing your bleeding heart liberal local politicians. Similarly, NSFW is okay, but it needs to be appropriate to who's there and what's already being said. Imagine that you're at a party. You wouldn't railroad a conversation there, so don't do it in the catbox.

  6. Don't feed the troll. Please, don't.

  7. Don't troll. Don't deliberately bait people or incite inflammatory conversation. It's not funny and it isn't constructive; it's completely the opposite. It's destructive.

  8. Private information is private. Don't drop people's real names, don't drop phone numbers or addresses, don't reveal information about someone that they can reasonably expect to remain private.

If you overstep the mark, you can expect to get a warning from a member of the chanops team. Do it again, and you'll find yourself being dragged or borged. Offend persistently and your chat privileges could well be revoked.

It's important to remember that these are guidelines and not hard-and-fast rules, so we're all going to interpret them slightly differently. If you think that someone made a mistake, you're welcome to raise that. Just ensure that you do it respectfully and with evidence. It's also worth bearing in mind that one drag isn't such a huge deal. It's when you become a persistent offender that we get concerned. If you get one speeding ticket, there's no real drama; accrue several and you're at risk of losing your licence. It's similar with the catbox.

Mostly, though, the aim is to ensure that the catbox is a fun and edifying place to hang out. If the conversation is flowing, if people are having a good time, then that's the way it should be.

Back to you, again

As a team, chanops is quite happy with this, but is there anything that you think we've forgotten, isn't sufficiently clear, or needs to be reconsidered? Drop me a private message and let me know. I'm looking to put these guidelines into a document by the end of October, but don't feel that you can't raise things with me at any time. Thank you.

Last of all

I'm disappointed but not surprised that England was knocked out of the rugby world cup. There was far too much ill-discipline for that team to go all the way. I'm delighted that Peter Schiergen won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with Danedream. And if Mark Cavendish isn't named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, then Elspeth and I shall sulk.

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