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Matt6461
Topic Author
Posts: 2361
Joined: Wed Oct 16, 2013 9:36 pm

Moderation of "Personal Attacks"

Thu Nov 09, 2017 1:21 am

The rules of the forum clearly advise against personal attacks.

That's a simple rule to state but its implementation and interpretation is much more difficult. What constitutes a personal attack? I would appreciate some clarification from the moderators on the specific examples below. I would also like to advance some interpretations to improve the forum. I'll separate these for the convenience of anyone who'd like to chime in.

As a general rule, I favor less moderation than more. I don't mind insults much as long as insults don't derail the substantive conversation.

Examples:

  • 1. Allegations of bias/fanboyism etc. Do the moderators construe this as a personal attack? It seems no. These allegations are thrown around on a.net with such regularity that any plane-related thread would be heavily deleted. The same might go for some airline-related threads but idk. In my experience, one can expect a reply's deletion if one impugns another's intelligence but not if you impugn their intellectual honesty and/or maturity and/or agency as a rational being by stating that their opinion amounts only to "bias" or "fanboyism." That doesn't make sense to me. As a member of several other (irl) intellectual communities, it is at least as offensive and insulting to impugn intellectual honesty as to impugn anything else.
    My recommendation: if moderators delete comments provoked by bias accusations, they must also delete - and caution against - accusations of bias.
  • 2. Global critiques of a poster's "worldview" or mental framework for approaching an issue. Sometimes one needs to point out that an entire style of argumentation is flawed/lazy/unsubstantiated. The line between impugning a poster's broad train of thought and impugning a poster's personal capacity can be blurry: our thoughts reveal us. I'm sure many here disagree there is such a line: they're not in the habit of drilling down to fundamental assumptions that color everything one says and thus can be used to undermine everything that one has said. Nonetheless, there's a distinction between attacking as wrong/unfounded/lazy a pervasive premise of every argument that one has made, and attacking that person as wrong/unfounded/lazy. Suppose I were to say (surely I have) something like, "Everything Member X has said about Y comes back to his wrong/unfounded/lazy belief that Z." That doesn't mean I'm calling X lazy/wrong/unfounded as a person, just that belief Z is those things. No doubt I have many wrong/lazy/unfounded beliefs about thousands of topics I haven't considered deeply - most do. That doesn't make me as a person wrong/unfounded/lazy.
    My recommendation: Moderators should give greater leeway for members to impugn the general characteristics of a member's beliefs without construing these as personal attacks.
  • 3. Arguments from (or from lack of) authority. We fortunately have many members who have professional expertise or educational credentials relevant. Deference on technical matters is appropriate so long as it not unquestioning deference, as are requests for such deference. Some members, however - often not the experts themselves - abuse the principle by saying something like "member X" doesn't know anything because he is not an expert/professional.
    My recommendation: Moderators should interpret such comments as personal attacks in more situations, especially when there is no other substantive engagement with points under discussion.

I'll probably add points as I think of them; I hope others will as well.
Thanks in advance to our volunteer moderators for clarifying interpretation of forum rules.
 
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atcsundevil
Moderator
Posts: 2139
Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 12:22 pm

Re: Moderation of "Personal Attacks"

Thu Nov 09, 2017 1:26 pm

Matt6461 wrote:
The rules of the forum clearly advise against personal attacks.

That's a simple rule to state but its implementation and interpretation is much more difficult. What constitutes a personal attack? I would appreciate some clarification from the moderators on the specific examples below. I would also like to advance some interpretations to improve the forum. I'll separate these for the convenience of anyone who'd like to chime in.

As a general rule, I favor less moderation than more. I don't mind insults much as long as insults don't derail the substantive conversation.

Examples:

  • 1. Allegations of bias/fanboyism etc. Do the moderators construe this as a personal attack? It seems no. These allegations are thrown around on a.net with such regularity that any plane-related thread would be heavily deleted. The same might go for some airline-related threads but idk. In my experience, one can expect a reply's deletion if one impugns another's intelligence but not if you impugn their intellectual honesty and/or maturity and/or agency as a rational being by stating that their opinion amounts only to "bias" or "fanboyism." That doesn't make sense to me. As a member of several other (irl) intellectual communities, it is at least as offensive and insulting to impugn intellectual honesty as to impugn anything else.
    My recommendation: if moderators delete comments provoked by bias accusations, they must also delete - and caution against - accusations of bias.
  • 2. Global critiques of a poster's "worldview" or mental framework for approaching an issue. Sometimes one needs to point out that an entire style of argumentation is flawed/lazy/unsubstantiated. The line between impugning a poster's broad train of thought and impugning a poster's personal capacity can be blurry: our thoughts reveal us. I'm sure many here disagree there is such a line: they're not in the habit of drilling down to fundamental assumptions that color everything one says and thus can be used to undermine everything that one has said. Nonetheless, there's a distinction between attacking as wrong/unfounded/lazy a pervasive premise of every argument that one has made, and attacking that person as wrong/unfounded/lazy. Suppose I were to say (surely I have) something like, "Everything Member X has said about Y comes back to his wrong/unfounded/lazy belief that Z." That doesn't mean I'm calling X lazy/wrong/unfounded as a person, just that belief Z is those things. No doubt I have many wrong/lazy/unfounded beliefs about thousands of topics I haven't considered deeply - most do. That doesn't make me as a person wrong/unfounded/lazy.
    My recommendation: Moderators should give greater leeway for members to impugn the general characteristics of a member's beliefs without construing these as personal attacks.
  • 3. Arguments from (or from lack of) authority. We fortunately have many members who have professional expertise or educational credentials relevant. Deference on technical matters is appropriate so long as it not unquestioning deference, as are requests for such deference. Some members, however - often not the experts themselves - abuse the principle by saying something like "member X" doesn't know anything because he is not an expert/professional.
    My recommendation: Moderators should interpret such comments as personal attacks in more situations, especially when there is no other substantive engagement with points under discussion.

I'll probably add points as I think of them; I hope others will as well.
Thanks in advance to our volunteer moderators for clarifying interpretation of forum rules.

As a rule of thumb, we want users to debate the topic, not the user. This exact phrase is in our forum rules.

Therefore, criticizing a user for fanboyism, ignorance, or otherwise stupid behavior is what we would consider a personal attack, because it adds nothing to the conversation. If it doesn't add anything to the discussion, then it doesn't need to be said. If you feel that what they're saying is off topic or violates our rules, then we ask that you report it to us rather than respond. We want to keep threads on topic, because off topic conversation isn't fair to the OP or to other users wanting to stay on topic.

Now, I'm not going to get upset over a comment that says, "Users who don't understand X are misinformed", or something along those lines. That could be a fair statement in certain situations. On the other hand, saying "Users who don't understand X are morons" is simply unnecessary. Whether it's directed at one user or a blanket statement, harsh and critical language isn't necessary because it adds nothing of value to the thread. It's fair to tell a user that you disagree or that you believe they don't understand the situation, but there's no need to be rude about it.

If people want to be fanboys, let them be fanboys. You're not going to change their mind, especially if it involves attacking them, so why bother? Debate them based on substance, not on the premise that they're a fanboy and could therefore not objectively view the conversation.

We just ask that users respect each other and differing opinions. We have a lot of users on this site who will come down very hard on other users (particularly new ones) for something they perceive to be incorrect. It's an attitude that many moderators (myself included) see as toxic, and it has driven away a number of valuable users over the years.

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