We Are the Boss of You ” Shapely Prose

Shapelings, we need to talk. I just updated the comments policy with the following:

Eighth rule: If you’re having trouble processing the seventh rule, just know that sassing the mods is a very bad idea. There may come a time when one of the moderators —me, Fillyjonk, Sweet Machine, Snarky’s Machine, or A Sarah — tells you to step back, knock it off, shut up, get lost, etc., and you think, “But I didn’t do anything that bad! This is unfair!” And you know what? Sometimes,  it might even be unfair. As I said long ago of this blog’s zero-tolerance policy for headache-causing bullshit:

Realistically, this means that we have probably, on occasion, banned or berated a perfectly decent person who might have eventually blossomed into the kind of commenter we can’t wait to hear from. And you know what? We’re okay with that. We’re not proud of it, and we certainly don’t set out to exclude bright, interesting people from the conversation here. But if it happens every now and again, oh well — because overall, our being hardasses helps keep this blog readable and only rarely crazymaking.

But here’s pretty much the worst thing you can do if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been upbraided by a mod, can’t figure out why, and are pissed off about it: Ignore the warning and spend your next comment or comments complaining about the unfairness and/or reiterating the point that earned you a warning. Because even if you didn’t do anything all that bad in the first place, now you’ve become a Person Who Doesn’t Take Mod Warnings Seriously, which will make all five of us much less favorably disposed toward you and seriously reduce your chances of bouncing back from a not-all-that-bad-actually incident.

I don’t know how to make this any clearer than I already have: Commenting here is not a right, and decisions about what’s appropriate are not made democratically. Each of the five bloggers here has complete authority to moderate as she sees fit. It is straight-up dictatorial, and not always benevolent. Some of us are more naturally inclined to couch warnings with assurances that we get what you’re trying to say and know you’re not a bad person or whatever. But none of us do that every time, and every official statement about our policies has reinforced the basic point that we feel no obligation to be patient, issue warm fuzzies, poll commenters on whether we’re overreacting or hold back when we’re pissed off. Moderating is a lot of work for zero remuneration, especially now that every post gets hundreds of responses, and sometimes, we do not have the energy to say anything beyond, “You are getting on my tits, and it needs to stop. Now.”

Now, let’s say you get a warning like that from a mod, and you’re genuinely confused about what just happened, and you have a history of making valuable contributions here and think you’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. Well, first, maybe you have and maybe you haven’t; we’re reasonable people who don’t get off on issuing warnings or bannings, but we’ve also never made promises about giving anyone the benefit of the doubt. Quite the opposite, in fact. Second, you need to ask yourself what your goal is, and then what the most practical way to achieve that goal would be.

If your goal is to continue participating in discussions here, then challenging the mod’s authority in the heat of the moment is, hands down, the least practical thing you can do. The very best thing you can do is just step away from the thread for a while — go look at lolcats, go for a walk, make yourself some tea, whatever. Remind yourself that blogdrama is only a teeny tiny part of your life, and the worst-case scenario here is that some people who’ve never met you and have no knowledge of all your wonderful characteristics will have some negative thoughts about your screenname, right up until they go look at lolcats or go for a walk themselves. And then remind yourself that the one way to guarantee the problem doesn’t escalate is to not comment while you’re pissed off. If you don’t comment, you cannot make the situation worse! And if you’ve been taken to task by a mod for something or other, and your goal is to continue participating in comments here, not making the situation worse is job one.

If, however, your goal is to make the mod feel like a turd, and/or gather the support of other Shapelings who think you’ve been treated unfairly for a good old-fashioned pile-on, I can see how continuing to comment and challenge the mod’s authority might seem like a good idea. But that behavior is extremely likely to get you banned, even if your original transgression wasn’t anywhere near banworthy and everything would have blown over in a day if you’d just taken a deep breath and backed off when you got the warning.

That’s the other thing to remember: This shit does blow over. As I’ve said before, there are at least a handful of long-time commenters here who’ve had run-ins with the mods, stepped away from the problematic threads, and never had a problem again. And you know what? I don’t even remember who most of them are. You have to work pretty hard at being such an asshole that out of the thousands of commenters who’ve dropped by and hundreds who are active at any given time, you stand out as a particular problem for us. (And usually, if you’ve pissed us off enough times that we do see your name and think, “Oh, it’s that pain in the ass again,” we ban you, so long-term animosity during your tenure as a commenter here is just not a big concern.)

If, after you’ve taken some time to let yourself — and, crucially, the mod in question — calm down, you feel like explaining yourself further or trying to smooth things over, you can feel free to e-mail that mod. She may or may not respond, and if she does, it may or may not be what you hoped for. It may or may not be a better idea than laying low for a bit and just letting it blow over. But that’s one thing you can do without escalating the situation on the blog and putting yourself on the fast track to bansville. I cannot stress this enough: If you want to keep commenting here, challenging a mod’s authority on the blog is a colossally bad idea.

I’m not kidding about the dictatorship thing (even if having 5 independent dictators is a bit of an unusual situation). One characteristic of a dictatorship is that even when the dictator is flat-out wrong, there’s not a damned thing anybody can do about it. There is no appeals process. There is no recourse. This is why no one wants to live under a dictator, or 5 of them, in real life. But when it comes to moderating blog comments, it’s the approach that makes things most manageable for us, so we’re sticking with it. The good news for you is, if you think we’re wrong and can’t stand our moderation style, you are free to leave at any time. You are free to stop commenting, to stop reading the blog, to stop thinking fondly of us. You’re free to shit-talk us all over the internet, if that’ll make you feel better. But you’re not free to go off on a mod in comments and expect to keep commenting here. It’s really that simple, and I really can’t believe I have to keep explaining this.