OK, I saw this topic when it was first posted, and I’ve sat quietly reading the back and forth since it was deleted.
I’m not sure I entirely disagree with deleting the original post, as I have no idea of the merits of what was alleged. Be that as it may, I personally believe that freedom of speech is a very important principle, which when violated has a ‘chilling effect’. I’ve sat on my opinion on this for a while now, as I believe in thinking before I speak.
First, no-one here has a ‘right’ to say what they wish to say. This is a privately-run forum and so those who run it have the right to moderate it as they see fit. We all agree to the guidelines when we decide to post here. Be that as it may, the fact is that if the rules become so restrictive that enough people simply leave, the forum wouldn’t achieve it’s goals and indeed wouldn’t succeed at all. So what I am really discussing here is not whether ‘freedom of speech’ is protected per se, but whether the moderators are striking an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and moderation.
As I said earlier, violation of free speech (whether in the realm of government or in the realm of forum moderation) has a chilling effect. It has a chilling effect on what people say, how they say it, the political views expressed, and the authority figures they are willing to speak out against. I believe this has occurred at this forum. But it wasn’t always this way.
Don’t get me wrong; most of the mods are just fine in my book. Others, well, not so much. I refuse to name anyone or call them out here, as I have no wish to publicly embarrass or attack individuals. But I think this is an important topic.
I have been here from the very beginning; this is my second login name here. I became aware of the SAFE project days before the crowdsale, and quickly shifted my crypto holdings into the crowdsale. I was a participant member of the dev Google group before this forum was founded. I was very excited about the project, and was delighted to see such heated discussions about freedom of speech, free markets, foiling the NSA and other entities’ ability to spy on us all etc etc etc. I participated in some of these discussions myself.
But things changed. Over time, I noticed a few things occurring:
1. Mods taking sides in heated discussions when moderation wasn’t the issue
Now, I assume that the mods here are not paid employees who are professionally agnostic to the content and issues discussed here, and that they have as much of a right to express their opinions as anyone else. Fair enough. And a moderator taking a position on a topic is not, in and of itself, a negative thing. A problem occurs, though, when we see heavy-handedness and perhaps soft bias employed by those same moderator/s. Which leads me to -
2. Mods editorialising users’ comments
In the last year or so, I have seen certain members here being given ‘advice’ on how they might comment ‘correctly’ by a moderator. This went on for some time, and since I now do not read here very often, I have no idea if this behaviour persists. In my opinion at the time, I saw no reason to believe that the individual comments were in breach of the ‘guidelines’ in any way. Basically, the moderator in question differed in their opinions from the commenting member, and felt the need (nay the RIGHT!?!) to spend time policing how they should speak. Honestly, I’ve never seen this anywhere else, and I hope I never see it again. It seems to me insulting and condescending to treat another adult in that way, at least in the way it was handled at the time. I see no problem in people suggesting others how they might make their argument/s more clearly and less emotively, but this was well beyond that. (It is important to note that this was limited to a very small number of moderators)
3. ‘Off-Topic’ pedantry
I’m all for people staying on topic, but at times, side-issues tend to come to the fore during the discussion. The most common form of this that I have seen here is when a technical topic is posted, and then political or value-oriented side-discussions begin that pertain directly, and importantly, to the original topic. Some of the topic-splitting that has gone on has been reasonable, and some has been iron-fisted and frankly pedantic. I think when a value or principle pertains directly to a technical topic, it can affect the pathway of that technical aspects’ development. Splitting the topic at this point effectively pushes the issue out of view for those viewing the original topic, and pushes the arguing parties out of view also. Obviously, as with all of these issues I am discussing here, there is a sane balance that needs to be struck in order to avoid discussions being hijacked by completely OT content. I understand that. But in my opinion, the balance has not been healthily maintained. I have seen this sort of behaviour by new moderators on other forums, and I believe it is a form of ‘power-drunkenness’. For some reason, when some people are elevated from their positions ‘under’ the rules to a position of ‘power’, they overstep reasonable boundaries and make pedantic and to-the-letter decisions that remind me of dealing with my local government’s various bureaucracies. All in the routine of ‘just doing their job’. This does not help to spur conversation when dealt so harshly, but instead stifles creativity and limits the marketplace of ideas.
I want to make another comment on 1) and 2) combined. In my opinion, there is a level of political bias displayed by one or more of the resident moderators. I see no problem there, in and of itself. I also see no problem in moderators taking part in the discussion, and holding views that are contrary to my own. However, there is a reason we ask, say, judges in court to put aside their political beliefs when judging a case. As an example, what justice could a rape-accused male expect from a radical-feminist-female-rape-victim judge expect, should that judge not put aside their political and personal leanings and judge solely upon the law and the merits of the case? What chance for justice does an alleged rape victim have from a biased, misogynist male judge who doesn’t put aside their biases?
So when I see certain individuals singled out here for making comments that are alleged to be opinion only, by a moderator who has made their political opinions very clear, and people on their side of the political spectrum make equally, if not far more ideological and opinion-based, comments, and they get left alone, well. It starts to seem that those of us who hold contrary views to moderators on this side of the fence are less than welcome here, and our views count for less. In the cases here that I am thinking of, it seems to me that particular moderator/s have taken ‘political offense’ to some of the views expressed here, and then have used expansive interpretations of the guidelines to try to undermine that speech. I can’t prove that, but I think it’s pretty clear.
This issue is not so important when carried out by another user, rather than a moderator. The fact is that a moderator is an authority figure and this greatly influences, and magnifies, the effects of this behaviour. It puts people off. It makes people feel as if their views are unwelcome. People are less likely to argue with a moderator, and so, as with an activist judge, behaviour and expressed opinion begins to be shaped and moulded in the presence of an ‘activist moderator’.
I will say again, the majority of mods here do not do this, and I have no problem with them in this regard. One further point, though, might be that some of the mods here are veritable cheerleaders for MaidSafe, and seem to take the position that certain criticisms (such as the roadmap issue) should not continue. I disagree. Criticism creates momentum for change. I understand the FUD issue, though. People should not be allowed to needlessly spread FUD in these comments. I just think that there could be a less, say, dismissive approach to these concerns. If we care about the project, we don’t want people dropping off in their support because of FUD. So when someone raises an issue, even if it is FUD, I believe that it would help the project greatly if the complaint was responded to in a way that helped to allay the concerns of others who may agree with it, and may be swayed by the original complaint.
The sum total of all of this is that I, and I assume some others (as I have noticed names disappearing over time), no longer feel positive about engaging in discussion on this forum. I feel like I have to be unreasonably careful about what I say and how I say it, I feel like I have to be very narrow in my discussion in terms of the off-topic issue (even though I strongly believe that some of these issues are extremely important to the development of the main Safe project and other side-projects), and I feel like there is a politically/ideologically-based skew on this forum in regards to certain acts of moderation. I have frequented many politically charged forums, where opposing views were not ridiculed or ignored, but encouraged, in the name of logical argumentation and the marketplace of ideas. I feel far less comfortable here than I do in those places, even though the discussion there was often heated far beyond the point that we observe here.
So what environment do we wish to have here? Personally, if I was running this thing, I would want to create an atmosphere that maximises the flow of ideas and perspectives. We all have something we can learn from each other, even when we disagree. But frankly, over the last year or so, this place has become so narrow and restricting that I no longer wish to engage. In my view, a Safenetwork forum ‘utopia’ would include these qualities: apolitical stances from the moderators and lack of bias, all views welcomed besides abusive or insulting communications, and a mostly ‘hands-off’ approach to how people choose to express themselves.
In my opinion, if moderators are strict, they should not be biased. If they are biased, they should then be tolerant of those they disagree with.
Let me finally say this: I, personally, have not actually fallen ‘victim’ to any of what I call this ‘activist moderation’. I am not here saying this because I have been personally offended or snubbed. But I don’t need to be a direct victim of these policies in order to feel suppressed by them. Which is the real damage that the ‘chilling effect’ inflicts. Specifically, that even those who are not involved in the dispute feel that the balance of ‘power’ is leaning against them.
The mods have a very challenging and difficult job, and for the most part, many do it well, and are welcoming and friendly people. But the moderation is not consistent across moderators. I am here saying this because I am concerned about the environment here, and concerned about the direction of the project itself, particularly once MaidSafe relinquishes control over the project, and the community takes over.
This post is therefore an appeal for the moderators to consider my opinion, and hopefully take steps to improve the environment for those who feel marginalised.
To those who would tell me “If you don’t like the way the forum is run, then start your own”, you have effectively said that my view doesn’t count for anything here, and this effectively means that you are not listening to a portion of the community that frequents, or wishes to frequent, this site. Often times I hear this view expressed, both here and in the public sphere, when the person who said it is unable, or unwilling, to consider the complainant’s viewpoint. Obviously, only those who are impacted by a policy are going to complain about it, or find a problem with it. If you asked most people whether they have a problem with this issues I have raised, they will probably not think my points are important. But this is likely because they are not impacted by it, and are unwilling or unaware of the effect it has upon others. An important liberal principle is that, within the sphere of government power, we take an apolitical approach and do not allow bias against those who dissent when it comes to administrative matters. For the purposes of this forum, the moderation team is the government. My question, then, is do (all of) the moderators here consider this a valuable principle?
Justice should not require a majority of agreement among those who partake in the system. The aforementioned principle exists to protect the minority against the majority, not the other way around. Democracy alone cannot provide justice, and so I care not whether I am in the majority, or the minority, on these issues. Just because most people believe something, doesn’t make it true.
Should the forum cater to all people, all of the time? No. But it is not necessary to cater to all, in order for all to feel welcome here. All that is needed for this situation, is a tolerant, apolitical stance from the moderators and even-handed treatment.
Summing up, you guys/gals can run the forum the way you want. But if it continues the way it has been, then I, and perhaps others, won’t want to contribute here. And it is clear that what draws people to any website is the content. The discussion here is the content. And if people don’t feel comfortable here, then they won’t comment. I’m one of them. Make of it what you will.