Forum Censorship - Some Proposals

Following on from my last post about the issues of forum censorship, I offer some proposals to improve the situation below:

  1. Censoring (hiding or removing a user’s post) should always be used as a tool of last resort, not a tool of first response
  2. Censoring should be a decision taken against strict, defined and objective guidelines. It should never be at the moderator’s subjective discretion (which will inevitably lead to an abuse of such power).
  3. Moderators who carry out censorship should be known to the person whose posts they are censoring so that they can be challenged as to the legitimacy of their decision. They should never be anonymous or hidden.
  4. Moderators should provide a proper explanation, linked to the aforementioned guidelines, as to why any particular post is being censored and what the posting user may do to make his or her post more acceptable to the community and/or in line with the aforementioned guidelines.
  5. Before even considering censorship moderators should, either privately or as a post-reply to the user (depending upon what is appropriate), set out why the post is inappropriate according to the guidelines. This could be a simple “Please can you return to the topic at hand” or “This is a little off topic but still important so please can you start another thread for this issue” or “Please can you refrain from using offensive language” or whatever.
  6. Moderators should recognise that the forum has contributing users from different countries and cultures where different standards of behaviour apply. They should above all be tolerant and flexible - only intervening ‘softly’ where it is absolutely necessary, and only censoring a user as an absolute last resort.
  7. Moderators should recognise that the vast majority of people do not intend to be offensive (“offence is rarely given, but often taken” - anonymous) but differences in culture often mean that misunderstandings take place. Users should not be censored for such, but given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps “Three Strikes and Out”, with suitable warnings, might be an appropriate guideline in this respect.
  8. Everyone should recognise that almost all of us are here because we want Sailfish to succeed, even if legitimate frustrations do occasionally show themselves.
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How many @Steve_Everett-writes-lengthy-comments-on-so-called-censorship-threads will we get in the end?

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Perhaps you have now decided you are back in again to participating in this conversation?

I wrote this post because I was asked to by other forum members. If you don’t like it, or its not something that concerns you then don’t read it, or don’t participate. But please have respect for others that do think it is important.

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Step zero:

Realizing that is whole “problem” is caused neither by Jolla, not by any anonymous “censors” or anything like it, but simply by the way this forum software works.

It is the users of this forum which flag posts, and it is the forum software which then hides them.

There are no censors.
There are no evil oppressive moderators.
There are (almost no (and presumably no inherently evil)) Jolla administrators.

There is only the user community, and the flagging feature.

This is not an issue of “free speech”.
This is not an issue of “censorship”.

This is a purely technical issue paired with user education.

Now, having realized this truth, the things to discuss remain more or less:

  • proposals on how to configure the forum software differently.
  • proposals on how to educate the users of this forum on how to use the flagging features.

Good luck.

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I sort of agree with you on this point - the way the software works, or is perhaps configured, makes it all to easy for people to abuse the system in the way that is being discussed in my other thread Forum censorship - The Issue.

I also agree that education can play a big part in this, especially with some strengthened guidelines as well. However, the sad fact is that users do not even comply with the current guidelines.

Take @WT.Sane 's post above as an example:

This is simply a sarcastic remark designed to make make me, as the original poster, feel inferior. It adds nothing to the debate and is completely unnecessary. More importantly it contravenes Jolla’s existing forum guidelines:

Be Agreeable, Even When You Disagree

You may wish to respond to something by disagreeing with it. That’s fine. But remember to criticize ideas, not people . Always provide reasoned counter-arguments that improve the conversation.

Finally, I’m not suggesting that anybody is evil here, but there are categories of community users on the forum who have greater powers to moderate than ‘standard’ users - we’re not all equal in our ability.

So, I believe you are right in that better education, strengthened guidelines, better control (configuration?) over which users can do what would almost certainly help reduce the ability to suppress posts seemingly indiscriminately and therefore the amount of supression that is taking place.

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The moment that one places a long list of constraints on moderators is the moment that moderators begin to over moderate. It’s the beginning of real censorship. And by placing too much of a burden on moderators, we will bring on this censorship ourselves.

Not that the contents of your reflections are without merit. The costs of taking them into account are too high, though.

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The costs of taking them into account are too high, though.

@poetaster I disagree here with you. All we want is that the hiding by flagging without a reason stops.

@Steve_Everett is trying to change the way posts are handled here by software or by people and he deserves a lot of respect (from my side he already has it for the way he brings forward arguments and for the structured way of discussion he establishes)

I am member of the debian user forum since many years and this forum has 10s or 100s times the users here. The topic was discussed also there but in the reverse direction. The forum allows too much freedom of speech, however no one removes or suppresses anything and everybody is happy at the end. The moderators are intervening by talking to the users getting into a conflict and trying to sort out the conflict. @Steve_Everett is correct that we need in some cases something like this also here in this forum.

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Some more light was shed on this yesterday. What it boils down to is that some members, even I as of recently, probably have too much power. And that is indeed a problem that can only be solved by moderators. My understanding, after the meeting yesterday, is that the progress of events on the initial thread is being examined and they level’s of agreement between moderators and the flaggers is being evaluated. Let’s see. I’ll certainly come back to.

“2. * Censoring should be a decision taken against strict, defined and objective guidelines. It should never be at the moderator’s subjective discretion (which will inevitably lead to an abuse of such power).”

One of the guidelines is about respectful behaviour. Respect is by definition subjective and doesn’t follow strict objective rules. You can see that in the original flagged posts. For some people the language used is acceptable behaviour, for some people it’s not.

I also think this topic is one sided, it needs a bit of effort, flexibility and understanding from both sides.
On one side we can indeed request to be more careful with flagging, and also explain why the flagging is taking place.
On the other side, it is quite apparent that not everyone tolerates rude and overly emotional language. We can request that people use a somewhat more acceptable tone of voice.
That doesn’t mean we cannot be critical, it is not aimed at the content of the messages. The flagging happened because of the tone of the messages.
So thinking twice before flagging a message would be good. Thinking twice before hitting the “send” button on an emotional message would also be good.

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To a certain extent I agree with you, but you (we, the community; and Jolla the ‘owners’ of this forum) can at least ‘de-subjectify’ what respectful behaviour actually means in a more or less objective way, for example:

  • Recognise that the opinion or view of the poster is of equal importance to your own
  • Recognise that the poster can bring different skills and/or experience to the debate to your own which are equally as valid and useful
  • Do not use abusive language, swear words or other that is likely to cause offence
  • Do not shout at the poster (text in all-capitals)
  • Do not resort to personal insults or name-calling
  • Always criticize the idea, not the person (already exists in forum guidelines)

and so on. I appreciate that the use of language varies across cultures and countries and we need to be flexible and tolerant (I’ve said this in previous posts already) but I see no harm and only benefits in setting minimum standards of behaviour.

That’s the fist task in my view. The other task is what to do when those standards are breached. As in my proposals, I don’t think anonymous action leading to suppression of posts (whether they can be accessed in a different way or at a later or different time) without any justification or explanations is either the right approach or fair.

I also note that in the Sailfish SFOS viewer app that there is no way to see hidden posts, which makes this course of action worse for those only viewing the forum through this app.

As I’ve already said, I prefer a ‘softer’ but more direct initial approach, with moderators (be they community or Sailors) simply asking the poster to not do this or that which breaks the guidelines and then, only later as a very last resort if absolutely necessary, hiding the post for further review.

So I agree with your general summary:

So thinking twice before flagging a message would be good. Thinking twice before hitting the “send” button on an emotional message would also be good

but I still believe further reforms are necessary.

.

Perhaps in some cases, yes, but in other cases?

I’d be interested to know why my posts in the original Total Buggy OS - Xperia 10 Plus thread were found rude and offensive in terms of their unsuitable language, or indeed @peterleinchen 's post referred to here: Forum censorship - The Issue - #13 by Steve_Everett amongst others. However, no explanation or feedback was provided, they were just all hidden.

In fact two consecutive posts in that thread used the terms ‘bllsht’ (@Seven.of.nine ) and ‘sh*t’ (@deloptes). The second was flagged and hidden, but the first was not - so those who are doing the flagging are clearly being subjective as to which users they are flagging and not just concentrating on the content of the posts.

Could it be that the post that was suppressed was talking about ‘sh*t’ in the context of Sailfish, whilst the one that was not was talking about ‘bllsht’ in the context of Android?

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Ah yes, when things get heated, emotion comes into play :slight_smile: I can imagine people here not flagging when someone uses ugly words about Android but will go flagging when someone uses ugly words about Sailfish :slight_smile: So yes, that is not consistent, but personally I am fine with this difference. I hope you don’t mind :slight_smile:

Similar emotions might have played a role after that first flagged post, when people seemed to argue that the post was fine and flagging was unwanted. I don’t think that post was fine.

About an extended set of rules, I can imagine the desire, and it might be good to have them a bit more clearcut. One thing about strict rules is that they get abused as well in discussions like this, because now moderators have to follow rules that might not be fitting for the situational context and you might get the opposite of what you wanted, like poetaster explained.

Instead of rules, I think recognizing values is a more basic thing. In the recent discussions several values seemed to be in play.

  1. The value of discussing the content of every topic in the context of Sailfish. This includes critical content.
  2. The value of respectful communication. We can probably find consensus on not insulting each other’s mother, but using words like ‘shit’ and ‘rubbish’ for Sailfish releases is apparently more subjective. And yes, some explanation here in the rules might be good.
  3. The value of expressing ones emotions. We are not robots and emotion adds an extra layer to the discussion. We can also be passionate about Sailfish.

One of the complicating things on a forum is that a single post can consist of many things; critical content and emotional words. Flagging for the use of words can get taken as censoring the content, which I assume was not the intent.
So yes, simply just flagging is not much feedback about what is considered unwanted behaviour and will heat up the discussion even more. But it’s not always easy to stay level-headed, and emotion can evoke emotion as well, which can make things hard to explain.
I also see inconsistency in wanting to use all kinds of ugly words, and then expecting others who oppose that to explain everything very reasonably. That makes different rules for different people :slight_smile:
And personally I am quite tired of people that think venting all of their frustrations has any added value. It just wears me out reading that kind of stuff and makes me want to leave this forum, it’s just too much negativity. I have frustrations too (it’s not all pink here) but I don’t go swimming in it.

But what was said earlier, we all want Sailfish to improve and Jolla to have a good business, so in general we all want the same. We could and should appreciate the best intentions of other people here.

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First the statement. For me, flagging is not censorship. It is a heads up. Now, the rumination.

As a person who was raised by fairly extreme Christians (I was born on the so-called mission field) I grew up with an aversion to certain language. And a very PC practice. That was a trained response. I’ve turned it on it’s head. I curse like a trucker when the kids aren’t around (I try). Which is neither good nor ill, depending. Different strokes for different folks? If my language is always ‘gutter’, though, I feel I’m probably not very eloquent and fail my objective in communicating in some way. So, I do try to reflect before blurting. o9(&(|#r43STR@#’!

I practice a fair amount of self-censorship in different contexts (the editorial staff in comparison with tech staff, for instance), and, of course, around children. I also have different levels of ‘self-control’ when it comes to experiencing emotions. Sometimes I’m really theatrical (perhaps painfully so), and sometimes really sober.

I really don’t wish to live with the dissonance but don’t see a realistic way to be who I am without simply dealing with the consequences of the extremes of my behavior. What’s the worst case? I feel the need to apologize? So, I do? Or even then, alienate someone? I take it as a given that I will alienate some people, some of the time.

I think it’s better to be as one is. If that produces a flag, ok. so be it. Let’s see if there is a compromise. Given the complexity of human psychology, I certainly don’t expect a system, a moderator or any individual person to somehow magically hit the right balance FOR ME. I don’t expect to be served.

On top of it all, a lot of people in this forum are speaking/writing a second language. How ‘fine’ their feeling for what is offensive is questionable. Or rather, variable. What is offensive? (see George Carlins 7 words you can’t say on television George Carlin / Seven Words You Can't Say On Television - YouTube OFFENSIVE language. well, not to me.)

I’m always going to be amazed by what/how other people feel. I don’t think that any policy or code of conduct can capture the nuances. And I don’t expect the operator to justify every decision just because it doesn’t suit me.

Much of what has been listed above depends on ‘moderators’. That neglects the fact that this is a largely self-moderated forum. The flagging is delegated, in the main, to people who’ve been around for a while (so, a kind of meritocracy) and don’t seem to offend the moderators. Placing the emphasis on moderators instead of a balance of algo+member+moderator, would effectively ‘flatten’ the responses.

It would lead, I believe, in the long term to more clarity, but less freedom. And we would all suffer.

Some more clarity might be attained by more information about the system as it is. And maybe it can be fine tuned some. But I don’t like the demanding tone in much of the discussion.

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I agree, and I don’t agree :crazy_face:

Flagging is a system tool available on this forum so, in of itself, I agree that it is not censorship.

Where I disagree is that what is important is how that flagging tool is used:

  1. If it is used to flag (and subsequently hide) a post that clearly breaks a forum rule (e.g. the repeated use of bad or offensive language, offensive name calling directed at the poster, etc) then it is clearly not censorship but a legitimate use of the tool
  2. If it is used to flag (and subsequently hide) a post because the person doing the flagging (a) doesn’t agree with the opinion expressed in the post, or (b) feels his/her opinion is of a higher value or is the only one that ‘counts’, or (c) doesn’t like the poster, or (e) something similar, then it clearly is censorship

In the thread concerned a lot of posts that were flagged and subsequently hidden fell into the second category, and not the first. So as @tomdi has suggested, better education as to how to behave and use this forum is a good start.

  1. Sure.
  2. I’ll need to go through it in detail again, but it occurred to me at some point, fairly early that ‘someone is taking the piss’, so to speak. I’m not sure the expression is kosher. Tat is, that flagging was being turned into a satirical game. Still, you’re right in the sense of abuse of power, though censorship in my book means disappearing the information. Just ‘one-click-away’ hiding it draws attention. Censors abuse power, or used to, without being visible. Well, these days, they hide behind terms of service and algos.

EDIT: I’ll go read the original again.

Well, if it was a game, it was a bad one :frowning:

I agree that one-click hiding does draw attention and I made that very point in one of the posts that was then suppressed. One of my posts in that thread was flagged twice (i.e. once when I originally posted it, and then immediately again after I edited it), so consequently it is now permanently hidden (or has been for nearly a month now) and no longer ‘one-click away’. There may have been others like that as well.

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Ah, ok, I hadn’t seen a permanently hidden one yet. I just went back and started to read and it was clear that vige, who has the hat on was already ‘twitchy’, probably personally offended and had clearly raised the stakes from a moderation. He said:
Calling other people “forum police” is not only rude and inappropriate, but also off topic in this thread. If you want to discuss the flagging/moderation policies, please create a topic for it in the site feedback category instead of abusing other topics.

Now, that’s very sensitive. If it were my forum, I wouldn’t have flinched at forum police (as Olf mentions later, it’s current, common, usage). But vige made a clear statement. The very next statement calls vige ‘forum police’. So this has become personal. The rest is bound to be mud flinging. Especially since EVERYONE ignored vige’s request that such an ‘off-topic’ discussion not take place in this thread. He didn’t say, don’t express your opinion. Just not here. And no personal attacks.

And that, for me, is the end of the story. I appreciate that almost everyone was, from my vantage, keeping pretty civil. I really think ‘y’all’ are a pretty civil bunch. But I can’t force my view of civility on vige. Or anyone else.

Well, if you’re suggesting that it was a Jolla employee, or at least someone who can be said to represent Jolla the company, that was responsible for all this ‘emotional’ flagging (including subsequent suppression of posts) and not following the forum guidelines of his/her own company by providing feedback and explanations for their actions, then I’m not sure how that leaves me feeling … :disappointed:

As for the ‘off-topic’ justification:

and perhaps:

As you have said above, enough has now been said. If Jolla want to improve things then the ball is in their court now.

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