Philosophy of Moderation

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jun 2, 2013

Filed under: Notices 172 comments

It has been noted by non-me people that this website is an unusual place. Specifically, we have an uncharacteristically genteel and polite community by internet standards. Very few communities have the sort of low-key and thoughtful disagreement we see here, even ones with more stringent rules, fewer people, and more moderator coverage. In fact, you’ll notice there are basically no rules aside from the advice at the bottom, “Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don’t post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.” That’s pretty vague as far as rules go, and you wouldn’t expect it to keep the trolls away. In fact, it doesn’t.

The interesting thing about this is that I do very little in the way of moderation. Aside from requisite spam-handling, a vanishingly small percent of all posts actually require my attention. I read them all – even comments on posts from years ago – and I step in when I think things are getting nasty. A good week will see anywhere from 400 to 1,000 comments, depending on how often I’m posting and how much anyone cares. I have to step in to warn people or delete posts perhaps once or twice a month. That means less than one in a thousand comments presents a problem. Compare this to YouTube, where the ratio of insight to insipid is rarely better than 1:1. (And sometimes a lot worse.)

So there’s only one moderator and no rules. Yet we’ve got good spelling, coherent discussion, and a calm tone. And unlike most forums, posting is open so there’s less direct accountability. So why don’t the comments here devolve into the usual YouTube-level sewer of hate as performance art? So what makes this site so special?

It might be counter-intuitive, but the reason this place works so well is because there aren’t any written rules. I’ve said in the past that I like to keep the line blurry in order to encourage people to stay away from it.

In my estimation, the world looks like this:


In any random cross-section of internet society, you’ve got a couple of people who won’t ever stoop to unpleasantness. If they don’t have something nice to say, they won’t say anything. If the conversation turns sour, they simply leave or go quiet. These conversational saints are great to read and fun to have around. I aspire to be a saint, but if I’m being honest then all too often I fall into the next group…

Most of the population consists of basically decent people who are willing to respond in kind. If you sling mud at them, they sling it right back. If you cuss, they cuss back. They prefer to inhabit civil places, but if they can’t have civility then they’ll make sure they have justice. Just like meeting in person, most of us tend to adopt the tone and posture of the environment around us. If it’s hostile, we’re hostile. If it’s gentle, we’re not eager to be the first person to raise our voice.

And then, in every sample, you’re likely to have a tiny minority of completely batshit crazy moron assholes. This last group is obviously the root of the problem. If you let them run rampant, the saints will leave, and the normal people will sink down to their level. People will get angry, reactions will intensify, people will begin to hate and resent each other, and the conversation will degenerate.

This is inevitable.

A lot of things can put someone into this last group. Maybe they’re performing for attention and don’t care how destructive they’re being. Maybe they have a bunch of pain in their lives and they’re trying to share it. Maybe they were raised in some messed-up abusive environment and aggressive hate is their normal. Maybe they just aren’t very good at communicating. It doesn’t matter. They’re broken, and as a moderator you don’t have the power to fix them. The problem is in their heart, and nothing you say or do can make them care about others.

Most communities are built around the idea of getting these people to behave. This is a mistake. Broken people cannot be fixed by rules. If you make the rules loose, they will find weak spots and exploit them. If you make the rules tight and specific, they will rules-lawyer you to the brink of insanity. They will haggle over the specifics of the rules, and they will insist everyone be held to precisely the same standards. If you let someone else slide, the nut will condemn you as a hypocrite or accuse you of injustice.

We’ve all seen a rule along the lines of, “You will not use any forum or other community section to post or transmit any material that is abusive, hateful, racist, bigoted, sexist, harassing, threatening, inflammatory, defamatory, knowingly false, vulgar, obscene, sexually-oriented, profane or is otherwise offensive or in violation of any applicable law, rule or regulation.” The thing is, sane people know this. They understand it without being told. Nobody needs to post rules on the door to Olive Garden telling customers not to spit or punch. If someone breaks these rules then they’re sick, and we call the cops. The crazy people are the only ones who need these things explained to them, and even when you do explain it to them, they just see your rules as a problem to solve. The problem isn’t that they broke the rules regarding saying hateful things, the problem is that they wanted to say something hateful in the first place.


Instead of making rules to compel crazies to behave – which can become a full-time enforcement project – I allow them to act out. And then I ban them. I want to know who the crazy people are, as fast as possible. The sooner they reveal their character, the sooner I can pull them out of the pool before they make a mess. This isn’t hard. Problem People are usually easy to spot.

Now, in the context of an open system like this blog, “banning” doesn’t mean much. People can change personal details and come in as someone new. But so what? If someone assumes a new identity, they still have to pass the sanity test. They still have to behave like a human being. And if a banned person assumes a new identity and then behaves in a civilized manner? That’s not a flaw in enforcement. That’s mission accomplished.

This system lets me give slack in a way that a strict set of rules doesn’t. If Ann Commenter hangs around for several weeks being generally sane and polite, then I can cut her some slack if she screws up. Maybe she’s having a bad day. Maybe the topic drifted into something that’s deeply personal to her and set her off. Maybe she’s got some stress in her life. Maybe she misunderstood what someone else said. Maybe I’m misunderstanding what she’s saying.

With all of this in mind: I have created forums for this site. They’ve been sort of spreading by word-of-mouth over the last couple of months. I’ve watched them long enough that I’m reasonably confident they’re not going to endanger the conversations here on the blog, and I’m reasonably sure they aren’t going to change the tone of the site. However, the blog takes priority. If the forum diminishes the blog in any way, I’ll nuke it and we can forget the whole thing. The whole system is still on probation until we’re sure it will bring value to the community.

If you’ve wanted to be able to have conversations with sane people about games that I don’t cover here on the site, then this may be what you’re looking for.

Be nice, don’t post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.


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172 thoughts on “Philosophy of Moderation

  1. Faguss says:

    > nothing you say or do can make them care about others.

    I’ll disagree. There’s a way of speaking called NVC and I think it might help in this. Although it might be harder to do via net.

    Basically you try to figure out feelings and needs (that he/she was satisfying by his actions), communicate your emotions & needs and then propose a different way to meet his/her needs.

    1. Asimech says:

      Even if moderation is the moderator’s sole day job that’s asking a lot. Even if they could do it in person. Since no moderator does it as their sole job, I’d say NVC done by moderators wouldn’t work in practice. The amount of stress and required overworking would tip the cost-gain ratio over the table and rolling under the couch.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:


        Now, I will admit I don’t really know more about NVC than a quick check on the wiki provided me with but even if this is something that, when did correctly and persistently, works more often than it doesn’t it’s really not something suited to the internet forum, if not for any other reason than because of the amount of work it would require.

        Even assuming the necessary amount of time, will and skill on the side of the moderator I still fail to see how this could effectively work when the only communication channel that the moderator might have is PMs and we’re dealing with an “lol, I nonviolently communicated your mom last night, fag!” kind of individual. Although I do imagine the OP meant more that in the general sense there may be ways of “teaching” such an individual proper human forms than specifically meaning “on and through the forums.”

        1. Faguss says:

          > meant more that in the general sense

          Yes, I mean it’s possible in general to mitigate conflict. I have no idea how the method would work text only.

          > done by moderators
          > that the moderator might have

          Why only moderators? It’s possible to use by everyone. And even if you have individual with whom you can’t exchange f&e, the method tells you how to understand such inflammatory messages and not be insulted.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Because reasonable, internet savvy people, assuming they don’t fall for the bait, will try to avoid interaction with these individuals, or call mods, or move the conversation elsewhere, or drop it altogether, or anything else other than trying to engage in some kind of lengthy mental engineering with people who are likely to not even pay attention to what is being said, whereas moderators have to do something about them.

            Again, I’d hate to sound dismissive, especially since I know very little about the method, but I just find it hard to imagine it being effectively applied in the kind of situation that we’re discussing. To be perfectly honest I’m somewhat sceptical of the of the method altogether and the, in my opinion overly optimistic, assumptions it makes about human nature (at least the way I understand them) but maybe I’m just bitter and cynical.

            It also goes beyond the matter of insulting. I don’t need to be insulted by a man screaming obscenities in the middle of my conversation with others to find him disruptive, my understanding of his motivations does nothing to relieve me of the burden of his, for lack of better word, input.

    2. Cody says:

      It might work with some people, but there are always the people who will be a jerk until someone who is bigger, louder, or with more authority gets them to stop. The only problem is online you really only can ignore them or hope a mod banns them.

      Then again I could just be horribly jaded, working retail/customer service your entire life will do that to a person.

      1. Faguss says:

        Those ppl whom you call “jerks” do things you don’t like for a reason. The idea is to find the source and act on it.

        1. Volfram says:

          I’ve been reading a book called “The Sociopath Next Door.” The gist is something it’s hard for most people to wrap their heads around because we’ve been raised in a world that indoctrinates us with the untrue idea that “all humans are inherently good.” No, all people are inherently terrible, wicked creatures, we naturally want to be good because we’re raised in a society where we’re expected to be good.

          The gist is that there’s a small segment of the population, about 4%, who have no conscience. And no, NOTHING you do can EVER convince them that they should, because they see it as a flaw.

          I’m fairly sure I know one such person. I may know more, but I haven’t managed to detect them yet.

          Like Shamus said. You can not fix these people. You can’t teach them to behave because they have nothing to gain from behaving. You can’t make them want to behave, because they have nothing to gain from WANTING to behave. You can only spot them as quickly as possible, and get rid of them before they do too much damage.

          Also, I have seen cases where “nonviolent communication” actually makes the subject MORE irritable. Sometimes that subject was me.

          1. Faguss says:

            I’ve been reading a book called “Non-Violent Communication”. The gist is something it’s hard for most to wrap their heads around because we’ve been raised in a world that indoctrinates us to classify, analyze and determine levels of goodness/wrongness. No, all people do what they do to meet their needs and only sometimes we’ve got conflicting strategies.

            1. I don’t think either of you (or rather, the sources either of you are relying on) have really solid bases for your theories of human nature. Frankly, the real story about how humans think and what we’re really like, is that we don’t know. Much of psychology as it relates to personality and motivation has little scientific basis, and even the evolutionary psychologists are often spinning plausible “Just So Stories”, which feminist evolutionary psychologists criticize for being largely culturally based and biased.

              There is a lot of reliable psychological data, but it tends to be about little isolated traits and urges. Partly that’s because those are easier to study; looking for the keys where the light is. But partly it may be that there is no “Way people are” in a sense–that at base we’re all just assortments of little wants, fears, rules of thumb, reflexes and so forth, sort of superficially pasted together with, and sometimes overridden by, forebrain identity and rationality stuff. Just a lust here, a bias for a bird in the hand over two in the bush there, a predisposition to fear small things that have no fur and move suddenly the other place, with a fair amount of emergent behaviour happening when you stack them all together and use a thinking attachment to figure out how to satisfy/get/avoid all that stuff while dealing with contradictions.

          2. Syal says:

            The gist is that there's a small segment of the population, about 4%, who have no conscience. And no, NOTHING you do can EVER convince them that they should, because they see it as a flaw.

            Fun fact; trying to make people have a conscience is not the same as trying to understand them. People without consciences still act rationally (unless this person you’re talking about routinely sticks their hand in a fire or something).

            Figure out why they do what they do, and offer them an alternative that does it better.

            1. One problem with that is there may not be such an alternative, particularly if there is no punitive approach to stuff they do bad. In screwing up other people’s lives they may well be taking what for them is an optimum path. In such a case, the only way to get them not to do it would be to make sure the path they chose becomes less optimum, by making sure they know their lives will be hell if they do it any more.

              I’m not one to advocate relying heavily on retributive justice, but then a good deal of crime is not committed by people with no conscience. I really doubt the figure is as high as 4%, and I’m not convinced that it’s always inherent and unalterable either. Studies have shown that higher income people, mainly very high, have a higher proportion of psychopathic traits than lower income people; this seems to be derived from a learned sense of entitlement rather than being inherent. So yeah, I don’t think there are that many people without conscience, and some got that way by circumstance and might be educated into having one again.

              But when you do find someone that really is like that, understanding them won’t necessarily help much. The only thing with a chance of working is heavy doses of rewards and penalties.

            2. Volfram says:

              The problem comes up when the objective of the person in question is to cause harm.(the example given in the book, purportedly a true story, was of a successful businessman who started at a very young age torturing and killing frogs at his parents’ vacation home. He thought it was hilarious.) Sometimes causing harm is incidental, but strictly the only way in which your alternative is “better” is in that it doesn’t hurt anybody and, objectively, has several additional downsides which make it less desirable.

              Cooperation, or at very least, coexistence, is an excellent ideal, and it is good to strive for. It simply happens that sometimes, given circumstances, it’s impossible, and you have to have a plan B.

        2. Felblood says:

          This is actually a terrible strategy for meeting the needs of a forum moderator, or indeed any civil society.

          The common citizen should be expected to give people common courtesy and the benefit of the doubt.

          He should not be expected to be able to provide professional quality psychiatric help to any random jerk who accosts him.

          By refusing said jerk an outlet in the form of being a jerk in public, we actually encourage him to seek out better strategies, like finding a qualified therapist.

          It is simply more efficient to try to turn one Crazy Jack into a Han Solo, than to try to turn seven Han Solos into Mister Rogers.

      2. Syal says:

        but there are always the people who will be a jerk until someone who is bigger, louder, or with more authority gets them to stop.

        Most of those people view themselves as weak and act out to prove they can influence things. If you’re able to convince them that they have worth without needing to drain it from the people around them they’ll stop on their own.

        The real problem is doing that when 80% of the group is just going to try to get them to shut up by out-dicking them.

        1. Works both ways though. If they just get banned the moment they act out, then it becomes a less appealing tactic for trying to influence things.
          It may be possible to get them to act nicer if you spend a lot of time and effort and have some way of getting them to listen. But I don’t feel like I really have that responsibility towards random people on the internet who are hassling me. And if it isn’t done pretty carefully, the message continues to be “I acted out and people paid a lot of attention to me”.

        2. Vincent says:

          “If you’re able to convince people that they have worth…”

          Wrong. Terribly wrong. People have to demonstrate their worth before it can be recognized, otherwise you create an entitlement society. If you give needy people an inch, they will take a mile and run rampant demanding more and more entitlements. Chaos ensues. Accountability is what matters. It’s no use making people “feel good about themselves” in return for nothing. Achievers behave well because they feel good about themselves for providing for others and receiving adequate compensation in return (in the form of respect, admiration, money, attention, notoriety etc). Those who do not behave well lack the same self satisfaction, and they simply cannot understand it. Needing things is why they act out in the first place. If you give in to their demands, you only enable them.

          If one simply panders to the depraved, all they’ll do is wreak havoc. The recourse is to hold them to higher standards (and encourage higher standards and provide the means to reach them). Failing that, society must hold them accountable for their behavior.

    3. Heather says:

      True. I moderate a Facebook forum of over 1000 and that is basically how we handle things. I think in over a year we have had to boot one. That said it takes 12 of us to moderate it and somedays it is super hard and stressful.

    4. Steve C says:

      I prefer Shamus’ method. I don’t see any particular reason to be inclusive/understanding/tolerant of undesirable behavior when there are an infinite number of other online spaces that individual can express himself elsewhere. However I agree with it in the real world. It makes a lot more sense to work with people when they do not have instant access to every community in the world simultaneously.

      1. Volfram says:

        I agree with you somewhat, but I also agree with the old saying, “Some people are only alive because it’s illegal to kill them.”

        Even in the real world, some individuals are simply worthless, and nothing can be done to recondition them. Hard part is figuring out who can and who can not be reconditioned, and how much effort to “recondition” someone is worth it vs. simply excising them from living society.

        1. Antwon says:

          That sounds about right. I mean, can most people be “saved”? Yes, I’d imagine that that’s true for a huge bloc of the rabble-rousers out there. Can everyone be saved? Probably not, no. Are there some edge cases where redemption could be achieved, but man, it is going to take an unholy boatload of patient person-hours to to get there from here, so it might not be worth the effort? I could see that.

          Either way, I don’t think the onus is on random website moderators to play therapist with rogue elements. There are only so many hours in the day; just because you maintain a website does not obligate you to make nice with each and every soul who decides to interact with it.

          1. Syal says:

            Having defended the NVC approach above, I want to mention I agree with this. I think nearly everyone can be helped, but it’s not a mod’s job to make every random jackass a better person, and trying to is more likely to make the mod a worse one.

            I also think there are cases where people can only be helped after excising them from the community.

          2. Volfram says:

            You’re absolutely right. Website moderators have better things to do than play Therapist. There are people who you can go to if you need a therapist. They’re called Therapists.

    5. Dreadjaws says:

      I’d like to believe such a thing is true, but unfortunately, and without the intention of offending you, I believe that not only it isn’t true, but that believing it is, is a little naive, and maybe kind of egocentric. I think believing you are capable of understanding every single person in the world is having a little too much self confidence.

      Such a thing is simply not possible. Every person is different. And even when we can generalize enough to accomodate people in certain groups, there’s still going to be an amount of people we can’t hope to understand. With so many different things going on inside a person’s mind it’s just simply not possible.

      Yes, that method you describe can (and most likely has) been used successfully in many cases, but it is certainly impossible for it to work all the time. Furthermore, even when it seems to work it might not be the case. For instance, the person you thought you had convinced might come back under a different name and with the same behavior, or might humor you for a while just to make you believe it’s working and then go back to doing it. Or, far more likely, he might find you boring and leave but find someone else to bother. In that last case you wouldn’t be solving the problem, you’d be transfering it to someone else.

      The most important thing you need to understand is that people are far less inhibited on the internet. People say things here that they’d never say in real life, and only because they have the gift of anonymity. Everyone behaves differently on the web, one way or another.

      Yesterday it was announced that one of the founders of the recently-funded Oculus Rift virtual headset project was killed in a traffic accident by a car running from the police due to an altercate. Visiting small places like personal blogs or less publicized sites, like Cinemablend, you’d see that comments in the articles mentioning that person’s death were all compasionate, understanding and/or at least civil thoughts on tragedies.

      Visiting big sites like IGN, though, you’d see an inmense amount of commenters resorting to crack jokes about the dead man, deciding to blame illegal inmigrants (due to the driver of the car having a spanish last name, even though no other information about him had been released) or insulting people for related or unrelated reasons.

      I made a comment there offering my condolences to the family and friends, and a sort of eulogy to the man (R.I.P.), and someone replied to me saying he still wanted his Oculus Rift and he better got it. I replied to him saying I knew his intention but I refused to sink to his level. He replied to me again saying the guy’s death was my fault because I was insensitive. Of course, I refused to reply and calmly flagged his comment as inappropiate. Yet those kind of comments were filled with people who replied to them saying things like “You should have been under that car” and such.

      My point is, this kind of behavior not only depends on being on the internet and not on real life, but it’s also influenced by the size of the group. The more people are, the easier the verbal violence escalates and the harder to control the situation becomes. There really is no simple answer. Believe me, I wish there was, but I can’t just make that come true by wishing it.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        It’s always bothered me to some extent how the overall internet ‘personality’ as it were trends towards this sort of thing. I know its not everywhere – I mean, here is the obvious example – but it always concerns me how something like 90% of articles I read have some sort of comment that makes me cringe.

        Unfortunately, its a very very large problem with deep-seated roots in… something. For me, I just try my best not to add to it and make things a little better when I can. And staying away from Youtube comments for the most part.

      2. Syal says:

        Just wanted to make a couple comments on this.

        People say things here that they'd never say in real life, and only because they have the gift of anonymity.

        Which just makes it easier to identify what the problem is. It’s hard to figure people out when they’re hiding themselves, but they don’t hide as much when they think they’re anonymous.

        In that last case you wouldn't be solving the problem, you'd be transfering it to someone else.

        Banning does the same thing. Worst case scenario you accomplish nothing. (Well, worst-case scenario you do it wrong and make them worse, but any comment can do that.)

        it's also influenced by the size of the group

        Very much so. It’s entirely possible to be able to help someone on an individual level but make no headway when their friends are around. Your only hope is to dilute the group with people who think like you do (good luck), or break the group up and talk to people individually (good luck again).

        I replied to him saying I knew his intention but I refused to sink to his level.

        This never calms anything down. It’s the same as saying “I’m better than you”.
        I haven’t actually tried it, but I suggest starting a sentence, hitting a bunch of random keys, posting the message, blaming it on your cat and then launching into a rambling monologue about said cat. Fight fire with airheadedness.

        1. Dreadjaws says:

          “Banning does the same thing. Worst case scenario you accomplish nothing. (Well, worst-case scenario you do it wrong and make them worse, but any comment can do that.)”

          Yes, but he seemed to be claiming his technique would actually solve the problem. I was merely pointing out that it wouldn’t.

          “This never calms anything down. It's the same as saying “I'm better than you”.”

          Maybe I misspoke there. I didn’t actually say “I refuse to sink to your level”. It’s what I did, not what I wrote to him.

          “I haven't actually tried it, but I suggest starting a sentence, hitting a bunch of random keys, posting the message, blaming it on your cat and then launching into a rambling monologue about said cat. Fight fire with airheadedness.”

          I’ve tried it (well, the general idea, not the cat thing) and it depends on the other guy. They might cease or might see it as a challenge.

    6. McKracken says:

      I have actually managed to calm one or two people down who were in the process of having a full-blown flame war.

      Those endeavors took at least an hour per post and quite a number of posts. And they worked because after a few posts back-and-forth it was mainly two people left talking (one of them being me). And I’m not even mentioning the times when it didn’t work.

      This is possible, and I encourage everyone to try it once in a while (it’s also good for your own communication skills, especially if you tend to go over the line sometimes yourself). A world where more people are able to do this is a better world.

      It is also completely unrealistic to hope that Shamus (or someone else in this community) will come to the rescue every time someone misbehaves in the comments here. No-one can even always in a mood that will allow them to do this, not even mentioning having enough time available.

    7. Gavin says:

      I love NVC. I think it’s fantastic. It’s made a huge difference in my life. But I think its effectiveness is limited in the cold communicative vacuum of cyberspace. I’m sure you know how textual communication like this doesn’t carry tone. I just read your post with you having a kind, motherly tone and it fits. Then I re-read it imagining you rolling your eyes while condescendingly telling all these nubs how NVC solves all the problems, and it still kinda fits (although I don’t believe it’s true!). That’s all me projecting onto what you wrote, because words on the screen are so devoid of communicative power. At least I’m aware of it, but if I wasn’t, and because of my own whatever projected you being a condescending dbag, there is going to be a difficult obstacle for you to overcome.

      A potential troll might, as Shamus says, be having some stress in their life. But that’s hard to tell. And following NVC means having a long series of back and forth, probing and digging to get to the root of their unmet need. Something which is entirely necessary for the people involved, but completely off-topic for a mostly-anonymous gaming discussion forum.

      I’d love to fill this paragraph with good ideas in return… but I got nothing. Smarter people than me are going to have to work out how to make space for that kind of thing in a community like this.

  2. Vegedus says:

    D’awww, but I like discussing politics & religion on the internet! Granted, it’s rarely a nice conversation to have, but it’s also an important one. Though, for a forum dedicated to some specific, fun-oriented hobbies, it’s perfectly reasonable to avoid that vitriol.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Oddly enough,the few times politics and religion popped up here,the conversations were mostly civil.Yet when Shamoose pulled in fanboys of certain games,it hit the fan,and it hit hard.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        We’ve talked about operating systems and game consoles. Keeping civil with regards to politics is nothing compared to that.

        1. False Prophet says:

          What’s the saying? The lower the stakes, the more vicious the politics?

      2. Tony Kebell says:

        You mean, the the defecation, hit the oscillation?

        1. anaphysik says:

          Forsooth, the infernal containment measures were broken quite asunder.

        2. lurkey says:

          Shouldn’t it be ventilation rather than oscillation?

          1. Zukhramm says:

            Maybe there are some odd kind of fans that oscillate instead of rotate.

            1. Syal says:

              Like, hand-held fans.

              1. Zukhramm says:

                Like fans of the GameBoy?

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Or maybe fans of hand-held fans.

                  1. Volfram says:

                    I would be a fan of watching fans of hand-held fans watch Watchmen.

                    1. tzeneth says:

                      But who watches the Watchmen watchers’ watchers?

    2. Epopisces says:

      The response chain above this one is an example of what makes the internet awesome.

      *Takes a screenshot*

    3. nerdpride says:

      I’m a little disappointed too. Politics and religion are among the most important things possible to discuss.

      XKCD has forums where such things are possible. I think they are somewhat nice over there, too.

      1. Shamus says:

        This might be the most political thing I’ve posted here:

        Some of the reason I ban the two subjects is to protect myself. The discussions are very painful for me. I’m a Christian, but I don’t really fit in with the typical Christian groups and I’m often very frustrated by both how believers behave in the public arena and how they are portrayed. I supposed it might be a bit like the way reasonable, gentle animal activists feel about PETA’s outrageous behavior that makes the cause look like trollface.jpg. Or the way environmental activists feel about environmental terrorists.

        On the other side, I really can’t bear the horrible, ugly things people say about the Christian Right. Some of the things people say about “fundies” are just disgusting falsehoods that spring from ignorance, some are exaggerations, and some are well-deserved points that could have been said more gently.

        So whenever politics and religion collide I go bonkers, wanting to argue with both sides. It angers me and makes me forget that there are lots of really wonderful, compassionate people in the world who aren’t participating in this exchange. It’s bad for my heart and there’s no way I’d be able to moderate justly.

        1. Erik says:

          It angers me and […] there's no way I'd be able to moderate justly.

          And this is one of the wisest things I think I’ve seen you say.

          Knowing one’s own limits and hot buttons takes more self-inspection and honesty than is common. Coupling that with the self-control to step away from the fray is a rare combo.

          Communities tend to take on the personalities of their founders. And that is why this one works so well.

        2. Paul Spooner says:

          So, it’s basically a “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” kind of thing? The title image works on so many levels!

          And, in the defense of “outrageous behavior” of all varieties, it’s very difficult to agree on where this line even lies. Avoiding the question entirely is certainly safe.

          However (and this has puzzled me for a while) if, as you say, “I want to know who the crazy people are, as fast as possible.” it seems that allowing both political and religious discussions would be an excellent way to drawing such elements into plain sight. Your choice of course, but it seems strange.

          1. krellen says:

            If I’m reading this right, the central issue here is that, were the subject to become religion and politics, Shamus would quickly become one of the crazy people, and would thus be forced to ban himself, which would make it hard for him to moderate in the future.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: “˜Moderator, ban thyself'

  3. Knut says:

    So by your estimation, the world is mostly filled with people who shoot first? BA-DA-PISSH

    In all seriousness, I usually get tired of most internet forums because of all the hate and insults. But here the tone is almost always polite, even when people have strong disagreements. I think that one of the most important reasons I keep reading this site.

    I don’t post very much myself, but I do enjoy reading a good discussion, as long as it’s polite and on the matter.

    1. Scampi says:

      Actually, I read him the other way: most people will wait for a shot, and only answer in a quid-pro-quo fashion, keeping the tone as calm as possible, as violent as necessary.

      1. Ardis Meade says:

        I think you missed the punch line. It was a Han shot first joke.

        1. Scampi says:

          OMG…yes, I did miss it…might be because I never valued SW (BLASPHEMY) enough to watch it even a 2nd time (WE FOUND A WITCH) and not even once in the remastered versions (nvm the prequels…). I just don’t really appreciate the entire franchise (MAY WE BURN HIM?). I often read about the topic but could really not be bothered to make the connection at the moment.;)
          Also: a current conjunctivitis hinders my eyesight a bit more than I thought before…didn’t recognize Han…

        2. Volfram says:

          To be fair, Han did assess the situation and can be seen asking himself “Can I get out of this engagement quickly and without getting shot?” and only pulled out his blaster when it became clear the number of ways Greedo intended to let him leave did not include both the qualifiers “soon” and “alive” at the same time.

          1. Taellosse says:

            I <3 this comment. That is a delightful summary of Han's thought process in that scene.

  4. Magdain says:

    This reminds me of the broken windows theory a lot, and I’m definitely inclined to believe it’s a huge factor in fostering a kind online community. I’m curious if/how other things play a role. For example, having no extrinsic reward system for comments.

    Similarly I’m curious to what extent your content self selects your community. Even for a community that aggressively moderates, only having to intervene a couple times a month is unusually low. Is there something about your format that keeps problematic elements away? Being very long form, without editing, and without clear boundaries I don’t think Spoiler Warning provides regularly paced or quick gratification. Perhaps this attracts a more considerate, long-term audience?

    Or maybe I’m just seeing connections that don’t exist, I dunno. I find this to be a fascinating study.

    1. MelTorefas says:

      Me too, actually. I have thought off and on over the years about what it would take to create an “ideal” forum space (for my own personal values of ideal, of course). I would probably err on the side of too many rules, which made this post particularly interesting to me. Shamus’ site is a great one to take inspiration from.

      1. Antwon says:

        [nods] I agree that it’s refreshing to see a forum space behave so well. I know that when I was maintaining my own reasonably well-trafficked forums several years back, I didn’t have any explicit rules; “I am the benevolent ghost in the machine, and will quietly nuke trolling elements accordingly” was the closest thing I had to a site “rule”. And it worked great! There were no language-lawyer trolls, because there was no language to lawyer against, and any rogue incendiary elements were quietly snuffed out. It’s nice to see the same general concepts bear fruit elsewhere, on an even greater public Internet stage.

    2. False Prophet says:

      The science fiction author John Scalzi seems to go by a version of that theory. His commenting policy is relatively open and vague, and like Twenty Sided, the discourse is pretty polite and intelligent. (He probably gets a lot more vitriol but he also has a lot more explicitly political posts; still, even political disagreements are generally polite). In his author talk at Google some years ago, he says you’re responsible for your own site, and you have to ride herd on comments and ban trolls when necessary, because if your site becomes known as a sewer, only the jerks will comment there.

  5. Dragomok says:

    That was a very interesting read, Shamus.

    Anyway, there’s a typo: “diect” instead of “direct”.

  6. Infinitron says:

    Shamus, the reason your comments tend to be civilized is because you’re running a niche blog that requires a certain amount of gaming expertise to understand, not to mention a lot of reading. That’s a built-in IQ cutoff that filters out a lot of the mouth-breathers.

    Your own very “moderate” personality may also have something to do with it – like attracts like. I don’t think it really has anything to do with your rules policy.

    1. Asimech says:

      I don’t think the truly insane are going to be stopped by not understanding something or that they’d feel above going “TL;DR” (but silently) and just going to the comments to pick a fight.

      Also considering Campster’s “feedback” on Youtube (and my personal experience with people in person) implies that like does not attract like.

      1. Infinitron says:

        Like I said, it’s a combination of all those factors.

        YouTube is a more visual medium that is much more “accessible”, for good or for ill. It’s also much easier to randomly stumble across a gaming-related YouTube video than it is to randomly stumble across a blog.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I disagree.Violence,be it real life or internet,has nothing to do with intelligence.

      1. Infinitron says:

        But it does have something to do with realizing that acting like a jerk on the Internet might just be a waste of your time.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Stubbornness plays a much more important part in that.As well as upbringing.

        2. Zukhramm says:

          Well, even knowing it’s a waste of time, I also know it’s fun.

        3. Syal says:

          I always laugh at “waste of time” comments, like if they weren’t starting fights on the internet they would be doing cancer research or filling in potholes in roads or something.

          Games are a waste of time. They’re also enormously popular, because they’re fun. If people have fun arguing, they’ll do it.

    3. I disagree that this is linked to IQ, a measure of how well someone can do a set of basic mental tasks. Just look at Sayre’s law, a comment on how bitter and pointless infighting is in academia between people who are certainly top percentile for IQ.

      On the main topic, I am reminded of my school years. There was one rule: pupils will act like gentlemen at all times. Some regulations had been filtered in over time: what was considered dress code, how the declaration of summer changed that, etc but the core of the system was this same limited policy that can be interpreted with the flexibility to run a benevolent dictatorship.

      1. Volfram says:

        I used to be a member of the Dwarf Fortress community. They are very smart, clever, and funny over there. They are also an INCREDIBLY hostile community, going so far as at least once almost rioting because someone gave DF an oblique compliment.

        I was both legitimately kicked out for poor behavior and decided I wanted to leave because I didn’t want to be around people like that.

    4. Steve C says:

      > your comments tend to be civilized is because […] not to mention a lot of reading.

      I disagree. When I first started following Shamus’s blog (very start of DMotR) Shamus would only write a paragraph or two and 5, 10 comments was a lot. 50 was crazy.

      What attracted me to the blog way back then and kept me here?- the comments! I tried to get my friends to follow the blog too. I remember gushing to my friends about how good the comments were in relation to other blogs.

      Point being, it’s always been good even when there wasn’t much here.

    5. Phantom Hoover says:

      But Shamus’ TV Tropes page clearly states that he’s “Known for having radical political opinions and strong religious beliefs, but not blogging about them ever.”! Maybe he just moderates himself for the mystique.

    6. McKracken says:

      IQ is not a measure of polite-discussion-ability.
      The highest intelligence will never prevent anyone from acting stupid.
      There was a nice study a few years ago showing that the highest concentration of political extremes (any extreme) was in universities and with people who hold University degrees in Germany.

      1. I’m not sure how those two concepts relate. Extreme political views are not a measure of lack of polite-discussion-ability. Or of stupidity.

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          Weeelll… okay, I wasn’t very precise here, by equating extreme political views to stupidity. Thing is: There are people holding opinions that you would usually never associate with well-educated, smart people. But they still do. More so than elsewhere.

          Which in turn means the usual association between a degree and being a reasonable person to have a polite chat with is false. Quite contrary, it can be very hard to talk to a person who thinks he already knows everything (I should know, I’m one. And on a mission, too!)

    7. I have hardly any gaming expertise and I’m not a programmer. What keeps me coming back is basically Shamus’ prose style and wit. Thing is, aside from technical chops that stuff is to a fair extent an expression of personality.
      Basically, people who hang around here are the kind of people who like Shamus. Apparently such people aren’t big on angry bickering.

  7. Mr Compassionate says:

    I get the feeling if you think about it the spell will be broken and whatever impossible balance you have achieved here will collapse.

    I consider myself almost entirely a member of the first catagory yet bizarrely there is only one place on the internet where my social etiquette breaks down because the environment is so brokenly aggressive I just subconsciously see no point in being polite. Its not youtube where I find all the trolls can be easily ignored or played with by politely responding, in fact youtube’s level of troll is so easily identified they are actually kinda cute. its not The Escapist forums where the occasional flame war is unpleasant but avoidable provided you vow to only witness, never comment.

    Nope the truly most horrible place on the internet is the Steam forums, where even a curtsy glance on ones ill advised bi-yearly visits can be maddening. You re-play some age old classic game or buy an ambitious new indie title and out of curiosity peek into the forums to find a sea of hate.
    In fact just to be completely impartial and fair lets just randomly drop into the forum of a recent indie game, give the forum a surprise inspection and see what we can come up with. Xenonauts has been on Steam for about 2 days I wonder how thats going…
    ‘Its not finished’ Is a forum complaining that a game on early access is not finished. Apparently this is a person both willing to drop £15 on a game without reading about it yet also wants a very specific experience. Naturally he expresses his disdain by suggesting he was mislead and that the devs are evilly manipulating him into mindlessly buying their games.
    ‘Why is this game so ugly?’
    Because its an indie title based off Xcom, a game few played for the graphics.
    ‘Should I pay $19.99 for an XCOM knock off?’ A forum complaining that the game is both too expensive and a rip off. Making a wide scale strategy game rivaling a triple A release without a publisher is both easy and free so this complaint is entirely valid.

    Basically just imagine this stuff 80% of the time across every forum of every game. I must admit the Xenonauts forums are not as bad today as they were yesterday and the examples I chose are very tame in comparison to the usual deal. At lease some of these were written without all CAPS or endless swearing. Still anybody who dips into the community knows Steam users are second only in adolescent fury to Xbox live.

    1. Felblood says:

      I get the feeling if you think about it the spell will be broken and whatever impossible balance you have achieved here will collapse.

      Mad Baron Felblood respectfully disagrees.

      I too, feared this outcome once, but this isn’t the first time Shamus has gone in depth on his moderation strategy.

      Occasionally having this little talk with his audience is part of what makes his method effective.Knowing the rules here, is basically a matter of knowing Shamus a little, and knowing the kind of community he is trying to grow here.

      Clear, but non-limiting, communication is the key to being a benevolent dictator.

  8. Henson says:

    I think this may be the closest you’ve ever come to posting something political, Shamus. Dangerous! But a good read.

  9. Felix says:

    All this matches my experience on WikiIndex and SpinDizzy MUCK. The rules lawyers think rules are a football for them to have fun with — essentially, one more way to troll. The crazies are, well, crazy. Broken, as you say. If they were able to understand what “be civil” means, they wouldn’t need an explanation. The rest just need a gentle reminder and a nice environment to be in, and they’ll behave.

    1. MetalSeagull says:

      I’ve been reading the JREF forum for 11 years at this point, longer by far than any other. Their primary forum disruptor is the rules lawyer. These folks can keep it up for years, barely toeing the line and eating moderator time. This eventually resulted in a change to allow banning for “body of work.”

      Rules lawyers can also be some of your most prolific and otherwise interesting commentators, making banning them over being a general irritant a difficult call.

  10. Joshua says:

    Maybe it has something to do with the fact that 99% of the commenters here aren’t “TL:DR” types.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Good point. The readership of the blog is already self-selecting: people who enjoy reading longer, thoughtful essays on stuff; probably less likely to have a knee-jerk reaction to something.

      While on this topic, I think also that Shamus himself has been promoting good behavior: not only by reminding people to be civil (especially when the topic is fertile for flamewars) but mostly because of the obvious care he takes in his writing to (1) avoid being misinterpreted, and (2) be fair-minded.

      I think these two traits really show all the time, and helps put the Han Solos of the world in the right frame of mind when they finally click that “post comment” button.

  11. Bropocalypse says:

    As someone who runs a site and eventually intends to build a community around it, this was an interesting read.

    I think it’s worth noting that communities also tend to have cultures which grow from their initial members. You couldn’t, for example, apply your moderation style to 4chan /b/ and expect them to all turn into Martin Luther King Junior. When it comes to people, like attracts like. The “saintly” users are attracted to your site because there are other level-headed folks like them to get cozy with.
    One could probably go into a convoluted analogy about gardening at this point with weeds and/or bad seeds but that would be a somewhat dehumanizing, I guess.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      To be fair, I think its likely that some of the more unpleasant elements out there might filter in as the audience grows, regardless of the contents… and a huge jump in readership, if any, might attract more attention from the whole spectrum of people.

      But then again, they’d probably need some compelling reason to stay, and here that would involve actually reading the articles. :)

  12. drlemaster says:

    I have tended to describe the community here as polite nonconformists. Or at least reasonably-considerate nonconformists. My guess is some combination of the folks attracted to this site and Shamus’ moderation system gives the results we see. Let’s hope the forums do not upset this delicate balance. Much as I enjoy reading Shamus, our preference in games only partially overlap; so it will be nice having some place to discuss other games with these folks.

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      The only way, I think, that the forums could attract someone besides the blog readers is if one of the threads became incredibly popular to the internet at large, which tends to happen only with stories and certain LPs(which falls under stories, arguably). The only thing we have to fear is amazing content.

  13. froogger says:

    Interesting thoughts, and along the lines what I’ve been thinking too. This makes you smart, and me right. Incidentally, here’s a body hair-removal that actually works! httpcolonslashslashetc.

    Totally agree on banning as only viable option. I had my fill of moderating IRC channels back in the day. There I learned that there just is no reason to give maliciousness (malevolence? vitriol?) room to spread.

    Your fuzzy rules works like an anarchosyndicalist heaven, and I’m glad this oasis exists.

    I just find it amazing that you do this all by yourself. The number of regulars in here must be in four digits, and working through the steady stream of posts must look like a regular job to your family by now.

  14. Sashas says:

    Roughly ten years ago, I ran a forum with a high school friend of mine. It was a general-purpose forum which allowed discussion of religion and politics (anything, really). In hindsight, it is remarkable to me how little trouble we had with toxic posters. It was not the sort of forum where you know everyone, although the population was smaller than what you have here. The reason I’m sharing this is because I notice an interesting commonality:

    All of the non-toxic places on the internet that I am familiar with enforce standards of communication. Typos happen to everyone, but you had to at least approach the ability to complete a sentence, and you had to make clear you were trying.

    I don’t know offhand what Shamus does, but I cannot remember the last time I saw a comment on this site that looked like a stereotypical text message. In the forum I ran, we had a semi-official rule barring leetspeak (the equivalent of the time), which was enforced variously through post-nuking, post-editing, and finally banning if someone demonstrated an unwillingness to change their ways.

    Long story short, I have noticed a correlation between literacy and politeness in online settings, and I am wondering whether anyone else has encountered this (or the reverse).

  15. Zukhramm says:

    I will say I hate sites with strict rules. Things like “no swearing” only leads to people insulting each other in other ways, usually with some obnoxious passive-aggressive attitude.

    1. Volfram says:

      It’s been observed that among myself and my 3 roommates(and even most of my friends), I am capable of some of the most graphic, offensive, and disturbing language in the group.

      I am also the one member of the group who almost never swears.

  16. Sleeping Dragon says:

    There is also the fact that this is a private blog so you can have your moderation power absolute and don’t actually need the rules because what you say goes. This is something that, say, Escapist, Bioware or Steam forums can’t afford because they are “public”, they want to attract and keep as many people as they can while you’re only really interested in attracting people who are interested in your content (which is somewhat niche on top of that). It’s a bit like the difference between loosing a (possibly paying) customer in an MMO and kicking a disruptive individual from your private RP group.

    1. krellen says:

      Shamus is willing to accept a lower level of traffic for his principles, but it’s not like he doesn’t need traffic; the blog is a fair portion of his livelihood, and a lot of the income stems from ads, which requires traffic.

      I’m sure if Shamus thought he could get a couple hundred thousand views a day while retaining the atmosphere of the blog, he’d do what was required to get that.

      1. Steve c says:

        > Shamus is willing to accept a lower level of traffic for his principles

        That’s implicitly stating that Shamus would gain traffic if he loosened his principles. I strongly disagree. For example, I’d leave and I’m sure others would too. You’d have to provide some pretty convincing proof before I’d believe it.

    2. Raygereio says:

      It's a bit like the difference between loosing a (possibly paying) customer in an MMO and kicking a disruptive individual from your private RP group.

      If that (potentially playing) customer is disruptive to the point where he’s insulting others, throws hate-speech around, etc, he will drive other (also potentially playing) customers away.
      So it’s in your best interest to stomp down hard, make it known that sort of behaviour will not be tolerated and ensure that your enviroment is one a tolerant one that welcomes everyone (except shitheads like Mister Disruptive).


      There is also the fact that this is a private blog so you can have your moderation power absolute and don't actually need the rules because what you say goes.

      Places like the steam, bioware and escapist fora are also operated privately and their moderation power is equally absolute as Shamus’ is here.
      When you post on a forum, you’re effectively a guest in the house of the people who run that forum. Doesn’t matter if the forum is run by one guy from his comfy chair or by a huge multi-national corporation. The principle is the same and if the people who own and run the forum decide to throw you out of their metaphorical house because they don’t like what you said, they get to do that.

      1. Scampi says:

        I think the point was: Shamus does this pretty much on his own. If you’re say on the Bioware forum, the guy moderating it is not the lone boss of that forum. He also is not sure to be allowed to do whatever he pleases. That guy has superiors, telling him to maintain the good mood of the customers while moderating as strictly as required. What if he bans someone who acts like a huge jackass and that guy complains and someone in the upper echelon thinks the mod made a big fault that might disturb the forum’s peace? There are probably guidelines he has to follow and is not always sure how to react to people who appear to disturb the peace of the forum. Still, they depend on being in charge of it, since it pays their bills. Shamus is like the trainman on his blog & forum, but Dirk Modbrick on random forum #17 sure isn’t and I think the chances are good his moderating might suffer from that.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          That was largely my point, the stated rules aside the guidelines for the mods in those “big” places are usually specific on being pretty lenient. I’m not even going to count the times where I’ve seen mods fight a battle with dozens of disruptive users by deleting individual posts, repeatedly handing out 24 hours mutes or three day bans or having to deal with obvious alts on a “per offence” basis. And I do largely blame the “customer” philosophy: because these people are customers we don’t axe them, we give them gentle slaps on the wrists and otherwise smile and take it as long as we can.

  17. SteveDJ says:


    …well, except I’m not first — I’m more like… sixteenth.

    But if I had been first, this would have been a clear reminder that you do in fact have one extra rule, that isn’t really posted, either. :-)

    And one rule that I heartily agree with.

    1. Syal says:

      I thought “first post” posts just were time-delayed to make the poster look like an idiot. Did that change?

  18. bloodsquirrel says:

    I think part of it is that this blog is so personal that people feel guilty about starting shit.

    It reminds me of the experiment where they left one of those “take a candy bar for $1” things at an office to see how much people just stole the candy bars. They found that doing something as simple as putting a picture of a pair of human eyes staring at the person on the sign massively reduced the theft.

    I think that people feel more like they’re being watched by a real human being here than say, on the Escapist. Actually, I’d love to see a real experiment done. Whenever someone wants to post on a forum, have a picture of someone looking at the poster disapprovingly above the textbox 50% of the time, and see if there’s a difference in the percentage of comments that result in moderation.

    1. Jekyll44 says:

      I agree with this, I feel most people would find a hard time to start something in the comments section when there are heartfelt posts about Shamus playing Starcraft with his son, or about his struggles with finances. It’s the kind of personal touch mot big sites seem to lack and I think it plays with people’s empathy. They know if they talk crap they’re doing it in Shamus’s house. Also, discussion here is allowed and people are allowed to express their viewpoints. I’ve seen countless personal blogs and tumblers ruined because the moderation forced an echo chamber type of environment, where dissenting opinions were shut down by both commenters and the moderators.

      1. Heather says:

        Seems so yet I have run into all sorts of nastiness on similar sized mom blogger blogs…Christian ones to boot. So good theory but definitely not true.

        1. Jekyll44 says:

          Whoops, there goes my Faith in Humanity Chip â„¢ again, coulda sworn I burned that out years ago. :P In all seriousness, I guess it just speaks for the time and effort put into making the comments here and at chocohammer, digitalMumbles, and ErrantSignal the intelligent and dignified places they are.

  19. silver Harloe says:

    We’re boring to pick on.

    Trolls want attention. The only attention they get here is a ban. Since they can’t make another account and argue with the moderation team about the validity of the ban, they can’t even use the ban for attention.

    1. Alexander The 1st says:

      I think this is kind of on the right track.

      I’d go so far as to say that, on the blog, nested replies only go so far before they become a giant line of un-connectedness, so to me, that feels like it works best.

      So instead of trolling for large groups, the best that people aim for is short bursts of punning through a thread. Because at some point, you’re not going to keep track with who’s saying what to whom – but where puns end up going…they don’t need context.

  20. Brandon says:

    I love the “HULK RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE” image in the header.

    I stumbled across the forums a couple of weeks ago. I think it’s a pretty good community already, and I’m looking forward to the influx of new members we are sure to get from this announcement.

    It’s really nice to be a part of the 20 sided community. Shamus’s efforts to keep the trolls away have left behind a lot of really cool people that are nice to talk to.

    I think most of us just got compared to Han Solo, too, so that’s pretty awesome. (I say most because some of us are Mr Rogers I guess.)

    1. Thomas says:

      I’m interested to see if there is a notable upswing in people (especially since the article is a long piece about something unobviously related until the last paragraph). I reckon there’s probably a big crossover between the type of people who write comments/post in forums and the people who will have seen the more obscure ways he mentioned it.

      There should be a small group of those type of people who just happened to miss the previous ways for various reasons(maybe they don’t listen to diecast or had to stop listening to that one episode), I guess you yourself would be one of them, but beyond that I wouldn’t be surprised if the activity increase is relatively low

    2. JP Hate says:

      I hope I’m a Han Solo!

  21. Hal says:

    Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Shamus went through this spiel, but when you register for the forums, you get this?

    You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening, sexually-orientated or any other material that may violate any laws be it of your country, the country where “Twenty Sided Forum” is hosted or International Law. Doing so may lead to you being immediately and permanently banned, with notification of your Internet Service Provider if deemed required by us.

    1. Cody says:

      It’s basically just there so people wont cry out that there isn’t a rule against it thus they should be able to do it.

      1. anaphysik says:

        Actually, it’s just part of phpBB’s policy (and many other boards have likewise notices) :/. Shamus had no real choice in the matter, except for the Hobson’s one.

        But yes, from phpBB’s standpoint, that’s one of the reasons. Obviously, the other big reason is to deny any legal culpability from falling upon them.

    2. Shamus says:


      I guess that’s some boilerplate left in the forum software? I didn’t know it did that.

    3. Brandon says:

      Oddly enough, I don’t remember seeing that after I registered. Could be I skimmed over it, but I actually remember being very struck by how little there WAS in the way of “agree to these rules or else!” I think the blurb you posted might have been the only thing there, and that is a far cry from the pages upon pages of rules that most forums seem to have.

  22. McNutcase says:

    The major influence I see in keeping these comments civil is Shamus leading by example. Even if he’s not a Mr. Rogers, he tries to be – and I would feel really bad about resorting to sniping and meanness with Shamus around, just because I can imagine the sigh of his disappointment in me.

    I do my best to keep this place as the kind of place I’d like to hang out. Which means that I do my best to not post cranky, to keep disagreements respectful and limited to addressing the other person’s statements, not the actual person, and to keep my sense of humour no bluer than about PG-13.

    This is one of my favourite communities on the web, because just about everyone here stays nice. Some of you other commenters have become friends to me – you’ll be able to recognise those people by the fact that I gently insult them (and expect them to gently insult me in turn; I’m a Brit, insults are how we express friendship) and those of you that aren’t friends yet are still acquaintances who I’d prefer to keep around.

    1. Francesco G. Lo Polito says:

      I agree. It’s a nice place to hang around. Shamus has achieved something I never thought possible in the Web 2.0 era…

  23. X2-Eliah says:

    Sorry Shamus, but your “nice guys” – i.e. Mr. Rogerses – are well-known to be extremely hostile. Proof: QED.

    1. anaphysik says:

      Also, we must consider his role in the SPOILERS Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.

  24. X2Eliah says:

    Anyway. On the subject of moderation.. Eh, Shamus is mostly right. Overbearing rules and trigger-snapping moderators *can* hold for some time, but inevitably the forums/communities start to form cliques and favourites, which are allowed more and more digressions, especially wrt trolling and making insults through allusions. That happened in a supposedly wery good community, on Egosoft’s (developer of the X-series space sims) forums, and.. Well, yeah. They also used many of the same principles as Shamus, especially the ‘ultimate power’ of mods. But inherently the true fault was that the community had gotten stale, overfamiliar, and liked to indulge in circleje****g – by the end it was like one of those horror tropes, with monsters wearing human skins and acting kind whilst blood drips from their fangs.


    So, yeah – something to watch out for.

  25. Thomas says:

    I’m pretty grateful for Shamus’ leniency and flexibility with moderating. Especially since I misdirect frustration quite a lot and you have to be an awesome moderator to ignore the personal stuff. It helps that with the way comments and the site works that when you do something really stupid, the blogpost gets buried quickly and so it’s easier to walk away from something that you should already have walked away from

  26. somebodys_kid says:

    I’ve said this before on multiple prior posts, but this is my favorite place on the Internet with the best community. There’s genuine respect between the author(s) and the commenters. Very refreshing.

  27. swenson says:

    My “home” on the internet (a forum where I spend the most amount of time… or at least feel like I do) is another place where we have basically no rules and… basically no problems. I’m an administrator, and in the past year, we’ve had exactly one problem person, and he’s more or less shaped up after we had a little chat with him. The reason we didn’t ban him (despite him causing multiple flame wars between people who had been friends for ages…) was because he could be constructive, he just usually didn’t think about how his posts could be interpreted before he made them… and he was the sort of guy where if you ban them, it would just make them want to come back more and more and be worse and worse. And now he’s a constructive member of society. Mission accomplished, I guess.

    I think a big part of it is one of the reasons this place is so nice–random idiots just aren’t interested in game theory and programming and criticizing Bioware. Similarly, at the site I mentioned, random people aren’t usually interested in writing techniques and sporking terrible fantasy books. Because that audience isn’t attracted here, they never become a problem.

    I used to be on a forum which had more rules, by the way, and the person who caused us the most trouble almost never actually broke the rules–she was just very, very good at walking precisely one inch inside of the line. Sometimes I think people view rules as a challenge… how close can you get? How far can you push it?

    1. Felblood says:

      If you are going to build a forum with a full code of conduct, it is important to include something equivalent to a Reckless Driving charge.

      You know it when you see it, and you let people know, that you’re not here to play the legal loophole game.

    2. Syal says:

      I am interested in writing techniques and what “sporking” means with regard to terrible fantasy, and would like to know what site this is.

      Folks like you mentioned are why you should have wavy lines. “Do this three times, get a strike” is less effective than “This will get you a strike if you do it more than 1d8 times”.

      1. swenson says:

        “Sporking” is sometimes also called MST3k-ing; it’s effectively taking a terrible piece of writing and going through it bit by bit to mock it. The most popular one on the site (and, in my opinion, the best one) is of Maradonia. You have almost assuredly never heard of Maradonia. You are very lucky.

        Twilight, Eragon, the usual crowd also make an appearance, though.

  28. Mike O says:

    hehe, the caption makes me think of FILMCRITHULK

  29. Sabredance (MatthewH) says:

    There is surely a dueling metaphor in here somewhere, except that our host gets the gun and the dishonorable lout gets a 5 second head start…

    My standing rule has always been “don’t argue on the Internet.” I am that “someone on the Internet is WRONG!” guy, so I avoid the problem by reading, but not commenting. This is one of 3 places I routinely comment, in part because even when ya’ll are wrong you’re interesting, but also because the conversation is far more social than argumentative. There is disagreement, but not much “WRONG!”

    This place may attract the saints just for that reason. And those of us who like to hang with the saints come along for the ride.

    1. X2-Eliah says:

      I’m not terribly sure of the details, but I am pretty positive that you are wrong. Somehow.

  30. Eldiran says:

    The amount of indecent comments you get actually ties pretty well to the average rate of sociopathy (1-3%). Actually quite a bit better than that. Not that all your problem commenters are sociopaths… but it certainly goes to show that your policy is pretty well suited to protecting against inevitable crazies.

    1. Thomas says:

      You missed a decimal point, he get’s 0.1% bad comments. Which means he’s doing a pretty good job, right? (Or only 1/10th of the normal number of crazy people reach the site)

  31. Kavonde says:

    You know, I wondered why the forums were so busy today. The secret has been revealed! Sanctuary is breached! Get thee to the highlands, for the flood comes for us all!

    Ahem. What I mean is, hello, new forum people. See you there.

    Also, Shamus, I suspect that the intelligence and maturity of your posts draws in an audience that is, similarly, intelligent and mature. (Or, at least, feels less inclined to post if they cannot match the intelligence and maturity of others here.) You definitely cultivate a place of civil discussion and insightful commentary.

    And of the occasional terrible, terrible pun, but that’s largely Rutskarn’s fault.

    1. DGM says:

      >> “And of the occasional terrible, terrible pun, but that's largely Rutskarn's fault.”

      Shamus could be seen as an enabler.

  32. Scourge says:

    “Maybe they just aren't very good at communicating.”

    Somehow, someway, this reminded me of DM of the Rings where Gimli insults the riders of Rohan after a critical Diplomacy failure…

    and I have no idea whay, but the thought of people talking normally and then suddenly someone critically fails their conversation roll makes me just chuckle.

  33. Smejki says:

    I think that the most significant reasons of this site being “clean” are:
    1. Clever thoughtful and long articles – these filter stupid hateful people and trolls-on-purpose
    2. Good example in the person of Shamus or other big guys here.

  34. Michael McGurk says:

    I’m going to make a bit of a request. I love this community, but I don’t know nearly enough about gaming to be a participant. However, I *do* know a lot about other things, like language and foolish mistakes and poetry and pouring snacks into mugs when I want to moderate my crap intake. These things aren’t verbotten, but there’s no place to talk about them in the forum. So rather than a request, I’d make a proposal: an off-topic board.

    It would be a terrible proposal if I didn’t present any justification for it. I think, though I may be wrong, that there are certain things everyone is interested in and can talk about without becoming upset about them. Language would be my first example. I don’t want to have to find a linguistics forum to wallow in, attempting to decipher jargon, make useful contributions, or avoid the foolish, baseless discussions. But everyone loves language, especially the one they speak, and intelligent, well-mannered people are great to speak with in amateur terms. Perhaps this is a bit too much, but I’d like to know if there’s any other off-topic topic people want to discuss with this community in a forum space. Thanks!

    1. Thomas says:

      People have been using the ‘Twenty-sided’ subarea of the forums as an off-topic, at least we’ve been talking about films and books and anime and webcomics which don’t seem to be mentioned in the description

  35. noahpocalypse says:

    I can’t load the forums on my desktop, it’s a server not found error. It works fine on my iPad though.

    That is such a bizarre statement to say.

    EDIT: It’s working now. I didn’t do anything, it just magically fixed itself. If you (Shamus) did it, thanks. If not, hail Sheogorath!

  36. DorkAngel says:

    Go shamus. Benevolent Dictator is the best form of government. ;)

  37. Jokerman says:

    “performing for attention and don't care how destructive they're being”

    Ill admit i was close to this type of person in my younger years, but i have chilled to the middle level as i have got older. When i was around 17-18 i was just a dick possibly due to the sites i discovered first.

    But this place is too nice for me to ever even get in inclination to start shit or be unnecessarily rude to someone. For better or worse i pretty much just fly under the radar here…which would really surprise some people i know.

  38. K. Sleet says:

    I think it’s simply what Shamus said: his willingness to just ban people who are damaging the conversation and get on with his life.

    This is the key, and it honestly baffles me why so many people who run various sites with comments have problems with it. I’ve seen site owners agonize for days, weeks, months on end, about the problem of trolls, begging readers to not respond to them, trying so hard to understand. The regular commenters are screaming for the owner to please just ban this jackass already, and it’s as if the owner can’t even see the word “ban.” And eventually another community goes down the tubes.

    1. Jokerman says:

      It is hard to truly ban someone from something like this though, even if you go for the IP you have to deal with dynamic ip’s and proxy servers.

      1. K. Sleet says:

        True, but you can take care a substantial chunk of the drive-by jerks who aren’t going to expend effort if they don’t have to. With people who are more hard core, as Shamus said you can just ban them again when they misbehave under their new name; no need to waste time trying to figure out if 321ecafkreJ is the same as that other guy Jerkface123, because what’s the point? It’s behavior that triggers the ban, not identity.

        Now, if someone was determined to dedicate their life to ruining the comments sections on this website I’ll agree they could hause a lot of trouble, but that’s true anywhere.

        1. Jokerman says:

          Yea i agree, i have seen whole moderation teams trying to track down people they have banned, second guessing new members, possibly even banning innocent people and even turning of registration.

          Shamus has pretty much cracked the formula for good moderatership at least for a site of this size.

  39. Phantos says:

    Hmm… This makes me think about people who turn off comments entirely on their blogs. I understand some people get a disproportionate amount of bile and threats. But I’ve always thought that closing the discussion is not a solution, but a retreat.

    I think your way makes the most sense, Shamus. Your unofficial/official guidelines are simple, short, and with an emphasis that we’re here to have “fun”. Refusing to suffer ankle-biters, but understanding that there are complicated and varied reasons for why people act out like that.

    Granted, it’s not the moderator’s responsibility to heal a wounded soul. But at the same time, I think a lot of people today are taking advantage of and abusing the responsibilities they DO have, in the name of upholding a less hostile environment.

    I see a lot of immaturity in people online lately. In the comments and in the articles. It’s easy to block the jerks, but more and more I’m seeing people abuse the tools at their disposal to silence people for harmless disagreements. (The new trend on Youtube seems to be marking as spam any comment one disagrees with, so it will be covered up and unseen).

    I’m glad we have places like Twenty Sided. The rest of the internet could benefit from studying up on Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement.

    1. Syal says:

      That’s like the food pyramid, right? We don’t really need the top one and they become more and more nutritious as we go down?

      1. DGM says:

        Well, yes. If you’re feeding trolls instead of people.

  40. I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the atmosphere of this blog. I spend a lot of time online reading blogs, forums, and watching you tube, but this is the only place I actually stop to read and post in the comments.

    P.S. It probably says nothing good about me that the first thing to pop into my head when i read this post was that it would be funny to do a really stupid trolling post as a joke.

  41. ccesarano says:

    Sweet, I’ll be able to keep up with discussions more easily again!

    I have faith your forums will remain sane, as there’s one other place just as sane on the Internet. The GamersWithJobs forums. There’s a thread on the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video that I’ve been a part of. While there are moments where things have gotten dicey, no one has been banned, and the thread has not been locked. Everyone is mostly civil, and any negative feelings have not carried over into other threads.

    I imagine your forum will be much the same, even with potentially controversial topics.

  42. Disc says:

    It goes along with what I’ve learned when witnessing various internet communities evolve. A lot can be saved with good management and/or leadership. And it never hurts when the people in charge are somewhat passionate and dedicated.

  43. Ravens Cry says:

    I wouldn’t call the angry outliers and trolls ‘crazy’ and unreachable, but they are hard to reach. The ones that are hardest to reach are the trolls. They don’t have a grievance, they are just trying to stir up trouble.

  44. SKD says:

    I much prefer your method of moderation Shamus. I usually waver between the too nice to say anything and the neutral balance groups. I am not an angry person and by the time I have finished typing a post I have bled off any anger that may have inspired it. Then I read and revise the post until I am either fairly certain that it is not inflammatory and conveys what I want to say or I delete it and go on to other things.

    screwed up email in previous post

  45. Zak McKracken says:

    These “rules” (i.e. “I ban whomever I decide to”) sound pretty strict and rude, and I wanted to question whether this “tyrant” approach is actually a good idea.

    … until I read (and remembered) the bit about simply posting under a different name. Shamus can afford to ban people because the consequence isn’t the same as being banned as a registered user. Having posts deleted or being banned is still a punishment, but a muuch lighter one than it would be in a different context, where your user ID might even be tied to stuff you paid money for. The way it goes here, a poster can be punished but there’s always a way to come back and make it better. Short of offereing free communication courses, I think that is the best way to deal with the problem.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      And, in the end, you can’t argue too much with the results. Yes, it is a “tyrant” system, but your wording seems to imply that there’s something intrinsically wrong with that. The fact that it apparently works so well should lead you to question that assumption.

      1. swenson says:

        Despite what innumerable self-absorbed internet idiots would like to claim, the internet is not and has never been a democracy. Free speech does not exist here unless the owner of a given website chooses to allow it. I am entirely, 100% OK with this. If a website’s dictators aren’t so benevolent… well, I’ll just take my discussion elsewhere.

        The difference between dictatorship on the internet and dictatorship in the real world is that it’s not nearly so easy to pick up and move in the physical world!

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          The difference between dictatorship on the internet and dictatorship in the real world is that it's not nearly so easy to pick up and move in the physical world!

          … which is a bit like voting, which makes it a little more democratic, doesn’t it?

          There are some much more unpleasant places on the web wich are moderated less rigidly but with more dire consequences (as in: You paid for something, and if you do something vaguely undefined, it will be lost to you) — these are a lot more like actual dictatorships, and they should not exist. I find it deeply worrying if people who supposedly grew up in a democracy do not understand the difference.

          Now, Shamus is not our elected president, but that’s what I meant: He can afford to have vague rules because the consequences of breaking them are more like negative feedback and less like proper punishment.
          Just imagine a pay-site moderated by a swarm of trigger-happy mods. If you attract the attention of one of them, your yearly subscription is lost. Spot the difference? This, to me, is much much less democratic, and regardless of my ability to avoid such a scenario, no-one should be in that situation.

          1. swenson says:

            Yeah, I wasn’t really considering paid sites (games, etc.), just free ones. That would be a bit of a different arena because there’s more personal investment.

          2. Paul Spooner says:

            So the stakes are lower because we haven’t paid money? I would argue that the stakes are actually pretty high here as well. There are quite a few people here who post under our own names, have links to our own websites and businesses, and expose our own closely held opinions. If we get banned or burned we haven’t lost money, but we have lost reputation. The system runs on Honor, and that’s at least as large an incentive as cash. Ten bucks is nothing compared to even one hour of sincere discussion.
            At the risk of going political, I’ll simply say that I think the system here would work much better than our current real world legal system… as long as there was a good man at the top. It isn’t an issue of structures that “should not exist” as such, but of proper execution of justice.

  46. Taellosse says:

    I have nothing substantive to add to this discussion (though your analysis of internet culture in general, and the aspect of it that tends to manifest here in particular, was interesting and, I think, apt), but I would just like to say that image set depicting “what the world looks like” literally made me LOL. It is fortunate that, while I am presently at work, it is after hours, and I am alone in the office. Bravo.

    Also, good luck with the forums. Dunno whether I’ll visit them or not, but I hope things go well there.

  47. Pearly says:

    I like this a lot, and I’d like to coopt a bit of it for my “rules” section in an online roleplaying group. Would that be alright with you?

      1. Pearly says:

        Thank you, I’ll make sure to give credit and a linkback where appropriate.

  48. BlackBloc says:

    I have to agree, with a small caveat. Having an explicit anti-(harassment, racism, sexism, etc) policy is actually useful in at least certain communities (from personal experience, I would say: gamers, skeptics/atheists and some species of libertarian-left politics) for the very reason that these things are not considered to be wrong by a non-trivial percentage of the community. The point here is to confirm that you will have the back of members of the community that are traditionally victimized by such. So while your moderation policy might be sufficient to keep the “traditional demographic” of these communities (not to name them in particular, but I’ll give you one guess on who I’m talking about) to play well with each other, not having an explicit policy makes the community suspect to the people who are traditionally on the receiving end of the worst abuse, and they may simply decide not to risk coming over.

    The point is not to have some sort of iron-clad rule, which will be ruleslawered to oblivion anyway, but to show a “statement of principles” that will make it clear to people that they are in a safe(r) space.

  49. harborpirate says:

    Am I recalling correctly that the default policy is also that new users automatically fall into moderation for the first couple of posts?

    If so the combination of banhammer & auto-moderation on new accounts could be a significant factor in terms of why we don’t see more raving a-holes.

    That’s my theory anyway. That Shamus has managed to stumble upon a combination of settings that create a tougher environment for trolls to operate in, and his site doesn’t get quite enough traffic that managing it would completely overwhelm a single person yet.

  50. Deoxy says:

    I LOVE that “No target shooting” picture.

  51. Vi says:

    I don’t have anything helpful to add, I just felt like saying that now that you’ve explained your magic non-formula for making your comments section unnaturally pleasant, we have just one more reason to respect you as a person. :)

    Well, I could also remark that I appreciate your analysis of problematic people as “broken”. I don’t know much about outside people, but it’s probably true. It’s a sound way of interpreting the behavior we see in others, and we see it in ourselves all the time. When a member of our dissociative identity collective goes from Mr. Rogers to Mr. Hyde over a thoughtless remark and pounds out a vitriolic rant of their own, it’s not that they don’t understand the social norms. They’re usually reacting to some of the pain that created them, which no lay moderator would have the time or expertise to defuse. (I don’t even know if a therapist could pull it off.) We do our best to “pull them out of the pool before they make a mess”, preferably before anyone touches the submit button, but we can’t always police each other in time, so we completely understand why moderators sometimes have to take the pragmatic approach and pull us out for us. ^_^;


  52. wswordsmen says:

    Just came here from your latest ME post (14). And I would like to say this shamed me because I recently made a comment that was defiantly on the low end of constructive on the Noveria post.

    Also I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for the community here. Your posts are normally thoughtful and never angry no matter the subject. Content like that, combined with a relatively hands off moderation would strike me as strong troll repellent.

  53. Watrrmark0n says:

    So, basically, you have secret laws which you refuse to tell us about because you fear we might find ways around them. And once one of your secret laws has been violated, you immediately respond with the harshest punishment possible with no warning.

    …that’s fine and well, but it is basically the enforcement approach of a totalitarian country. And I doubt the approach could be generalized successfully to other forums. The fact is that the nature of man is shit, they are only kept in check by law, and that’s why many forums tend to degenerate. Trying to pretend that it is some tiny minority of undesirables who must been cleansed from society to attain utopia is a theory that many people have tried to apply throughout history, always unsuccessfully.

    1. Joe says:

      And once one of your secret laws has been violated, you immediately respond with the harshest punishment possible with no warning.

      Shamus said:

      Now, in the context of an open system like this blog, “banning” doesn’t mean much. People can change personal details and come in as someone new.

      It’s like you didn’t even read the article. Or understand how this comment section works.

      Trying to pretend that it is some tiny minority of undesirables who must been cleansed from society to attain utopia is a theory that many people have tried to apply throughout history, always unsuccessfully.

      Ah a thinly-veiled Godwin’s law, I fear I must rebuttal with accusations of false equivalence, association fallacy and (whether you intended it or not) Reductio ad Hitlerum.

      And 3 years after you said it as well. What am I doing here, why am I bothering with this?

  54. Jon Ericson says:

    I wanted to thank you for this article, which I find useful over and over again. I’m a community manager over at Stack Exchange and it rather accurately sums up the situation on many of our sites. For years, the only restriction we had was “be nice”, which is about as vague a policy as one could ask for. A few years ago, we added a list of rules, but thankfully these were things the community had mostly decided upon in advance. The key point I take from this post is that adding rules paradoxically makes moderation harder rather than easier due to a quirk in human nature.

    Another paradox (and I’m writing shortly after the Spoiler Warning show left this site) is that a community moderated for tone does seem to be unwelcoming to outsiders. To take an offline analogy, I have a junky car that recently got hit while parked on the street. A few days later, I got a note from parking enforcement warning me that I’d get a ticket if I didn’t move it. A neighbor had reported it as abandoned. Some people don’t like to see junky cars parked on the street and they like having a rule that makes them go away.

    In an online community, there’s usually some self-selection going on. Around here, the commenters tend to like nitpicking games. (I don’t comment very often because I’m perpetually 3-5 years behind in my game-playing habits.) It would be a bit like living in a neighborhood where everyone drove the same type of car. Nobody would ask the city to tow away a car if they drove a similar car themselves. It’s only when someone new comes in that they notice a barely drivable, Mad-Max styled, more rust than steel jalopy that’s been parked there for ages.

    I’d also observe it’s nearly impossible to fairly moderate content on your own. Everyone has blind spots when it comes to polite, but hurtful, statements. In fact, it’s very likely that people who make hurtful statements aren’t aware they are doing it. (There’s a whole ‘nother question of whether society has evolved extra-thin skin lately.) But the brilliant thing about moderating for tone is you can quickly figure out what sort of person you are dealing with when someone confronts them. People who apologize or just shut up are the people you want around.

    Anyway. This is a long, rambly comment on an ancient post that nobody will likely read. If anyone (Shamus in particular) does read this, I want to thank this community for its example of a pleasant place to read the comments. (Mostly. ;-)

  55. LunaticFringe says:

    In regards to Mr. Young’s commenting policy, which I appreciated, years ago:

    Don’t stop . You are the representation of Western, rational discourse, You go after the needless trash but allow the ‘offensive’ argumentation. Though I disagree with the positions offered, you defend them as a valid intrepretation, and I give you credit for that even when I disagree.

    Sincerely, a fan since 2009.

  56. Bookwyrm says:

    FYI, from years in the future: The link to the forums no longer works. I don’t know if the forums were nuked at some point, or if the URL changed, but it would be nice if an Edit tag were added providing a new link (“Edit: Old link dead. Go here instead”) or indicating whether the forums have been killed (“Edit: Forums dead [because X]”).

  57. SG says:

    Sometimes I wonder why some forums have moderators, because they never ban anyone, or instead of banning trolls that make 20 off-topic pages and deleting all off-topic, they lock thread… that original poster never get answer.

    The same trolls move on on other threads to post off-topic.

    Moderator not ban them because they’re regulars, or their friend, or “influencing people”, or whatever.

    I noticed that pattern of my country’s forums, whereas serious international forums have less of it.

  58. Stacts says:

    I know this is an old page.

    Anyway, the arguments presented here are the same reasons I’m against gun control. Most people don’t go around committing crimes and those that do won’t be dissuaded by signs saying “Gun Free Zone”

    Makes me sad I only recently found this site. Seems like a great community.

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