Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Appropriate Behavior at CM.

I hate that I feel compelled to write this, but enough folks have raised their concerns through comments and emails, and I believe it's in the best interests of the blog to address some behavior in the comment sections on our blog.

I've hoped that the blog would police itself, that there would be a healthy exchange of ideas, even when opinions varied. But, at times that seems to have been overstepped by some folks.

Yesterday, one reader wrote to me and said: "There is a difference between a reasonable or amusing difference of opinion, and deliberately, indiscriminately and consistently giving offense, and when we do see that behaviour it needs to be stopped. This could poison the blog."

That's what I fear as well.

The comments today have gotten worse; some make me a little sick. I worry that the blog will become a place where reasonable academics (who? joking...) won't want to come, and that would be a shame.

Even though we've only been around since the end of June, it's already become a popular spot.

Of course not so popular if your point of view varies from a few readers who have turned to personal attacks and inappropriate messages in order to exercise their perceived rights to tell it like it is.

I am on record since the beginning as not wanting to have to moderate the page, but the support I've felt from many folks suggests to me that perhaps it's okay if I mention my concerns and see what the rest of the folks who read and write at CM think.

Please use the comments below to voice your thoughts. Should you need to be pointed to the worst of the offensive comments (and I can't imagine you won't find them easily on your own), let me know.



  1. I've already expressed on the page that I think some readers have way overstepped appropriate behavior. I wish that something could be done about it. I don't believe you need to be afraid of deleting some remarks and banning some readers. It's in the best interests of the group.

  2. I have been waiting a number of weeks for you to say all of the things you've just said, Fab. Please stand up to the handful of people who are making the blog an unpleasant visit.

  3. You're in a tricky spot, Fab. By opening the page up entirely you've created a great deal of freedom, and allowed a wide variety of voices. Of course, with that openness comes some of the misbehaving we've seen.

    Seriously, suggesting a threesome with another reader, but specifying that she be good looking first, is about as offensive as it gets.

    It's tricky business, and I'm eager to see what other people think.

  4. Acting out through inappropriate commenting or posting should result in deletion. Of course there are shades of gray, but nobody reasonable will mistake some of the filth and ignorance for "opposing viewpoints."

    I regret that I got caught up in it, and I apologize for anything I said that might have been offensive.

    But I saw the hateful remarks that were on the site and felt that someone had come and taken a shit in my living room. I should have acted differently.

    I'm glad this discussion is taking place.

  5. I think it's possible to just ignore them - and we all know who they are, right - but it shouldn't be necessary.

    They've ruined a couple of days of the blog already. Other commenters are right. People won't come here if it's unmoderated, vulgar, and offensive.

  6. I have some mixed feelings about this, but generally, I'm for some decorum.

    There's too much good that come from the page to have it derailed by some commenters who, seriously, are just working out some kind of anger issues.

  7. The blog is open to comments. If you can't take the truth, then go back to your cat and antique furniture blogs.

    Welcome to the NFL, pussies.

    If anyone had the right cranium matter, they'd beat me at my own game. But this has been like shooting fish in barrells.

  8. If my vote counts as a reader since the first week, I wish someone would moderate the comments and remove patently offensive material, especially personal attacks.

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  11. I have very bad news for you, Fab. You are the moderator. If you want the place to have some decorum and order, you're the one who can do it. Unless you want to give the job to someone else.

    But these vulgar attacks and replies are ruining several recent posts.

    I've given this blog address to some pals. Now I'm regretting it.

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  13. I can't let Jim's comment above go unchallenged. He claims he's been the focus of most of the insults, when in fact it has been he and Tim (Not Jim) who have instigated all the recent bad behavior.

    Some others have made the mistake of stooping to feed the trolls, and it's all been ugly after that.

    But let's not be delusional about what's started this.

  14. Jim writes: Having Rachel say she hates my guts does not pass the immediate harm test (unless I commit suicide over it).

    Yay! That's a post I'm willing to stick around for.

    Oh, is that impolite. Well, welcome to the NFL, then.

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  17. I apologize if someone was offended by what I said. But, seriously, you all need to grow up. And I'm willing to bet most of the complaints come from Humanities proffies who never seem to be able to take a little of the business that goes around normally in other disciplines.

    What a bunch of ***********. (Their, I edited myself!)

  18. You're in a tough spot, Fab, but I think I'd be grateful if ad hominem attacks, particularly the overtly misogynist ones, were removed. I don't care about the language, but the direct insult to Rachel was very far over the line. (Even apart from the fact that it was just plain stupid and entirely unrelated to her point.) It has generally been my experience that the profoundly sexist are also profoundly insecure about their intelligence, and tend, when threatened, to deploy sexually loaded insults in order to direct attention away from their intellectual inadequacies.

  19. By the way, Whatladder called me mentally challenged right on the main page of this website. Now for many of you, you would have straightened your smoking jackets and harshly tapped your pipe on the side of your easychair, then written a stern letter to the Times. But in my neighborhood, that calls for a smackdown. Where's the outrage for us mentally handicapped!

  20. And there are those of us who believe that profoundly sexist comments are the funniest. Rachel wants to call smack, she needs to learn to play with the big boys (or girls).

  21. Oh, JIm: read carefully. You played right into my hands.

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  24. Yes, I took a poke at Jim's mental capacities because I figured that since he can quite clearly dish it out, he can take it. That's how I deal with trolls.
    Now, I am smart enough and nuanced enough to know that every site on the internet has its own set of rules. If Jim comes to my corner of the web, I might call him a puppy-fucker, but if we agree to cut out the ad hominem attacks here at CM, then I will confine myself to politely pointing out the rhetorical flaws in his discourse.

  25. Oh, for heaven's sake. Just don't feed the trolls, people.

  26. I would be in favor of someone (perhaps some volunteers so it's not too much work for Fab?) removing some of the more offensive comments. I've been the target of personal attacks on this blog and it can get pretty unpleasant - this is why I've bailed on a few threads without bothering to check what further insults have been directed towards me. It's okay to disagree with someone and I can even accept calling someone a moron or stupid or whatever, but some of the comments have been rather offensive. Just because you disagree with someone doesn't make them a douchebag or a pussy or whatever juvenile profanity you want to lob.

    But I'm a huge prude who doesn't allow people to swear casually in my home, so it follows that I don't want to read a bunch of profanity on a blog. Most people will probably have a higher tolerance for it.

    I also think that commenters should mentally collect their ideas and comment thoughtfully instead of flooding the thread with multiple comments each time a thought occurs to them.

    There may be nothing anyone can do - trolls and flame wars are part of the Internet, and some people have an enviable amount of free time.

  27. I just returned from the "offending" material ... and while I reserve comment on the censorship issue, I have to say I am off the charts fed up with the "man up", "grow a pair", "this is the NFL" machismo.

    First of all ... this is NOT the NFL -- it's academe. Rememba, we all stayed in school so we would NOT have 275 pound behemoths charging at our heads every weekend?

    But, from the theme of the original thread, I stand 6'0", 225 and let's say there is no ambiguity about my gender.

    Still, I had an incident in a medium sized lecture hall, that scared me.

    Yes, SCARED me.

    Sullen Student was sitting directly in my line of sight, about four rows in, dead center, with no one seated nearby.

    Class progresses as usual but I notice that Sullen keeps shifting in seat and glaring at me.

    Finally, I ask Sullen a direct question because something seemed to be on the tip o' the tongue.

    From deep within Sullen's being, the Kraken itself was unleashed. Mind you, there had been no warning, no E/voicemails, no after class mentionings, no previous snarky buildups. Right then and there, Sullen began screaming at me how I had totally and callously run over Sullen's personal rights by not allowing unchallenged commentary, I was a bully elitist, etc., etc.

    It wasn't what Sullen said, but how it was being presented that was the jaw dropper. I am standing in front of an amphitheater style lecture hall, and Sullen looks and sounds like he is about to go postal.

    I was taken totally by surprise. When I regained my composure after a few minutes, I told the class that while everyone's contributions were encouraged, there still were basic rules of courtesy and respect that needed adherence. I called the break early, saying we could start fresh after.

    Sullen beat feet as the remainder of the class, almost to a person, all watched the departure, glued to their seats, unsure of their own next step.

    When most of the class had finally left for break, I approached one of the more "mature" students and just asked "Did I miss something? Do you feel anything I said/did justified that outburst?" That student just expressed total shock and surprise at the incident.

    Moral of the story ... even wearing "man pants", as this was going on, my knees were knocking, my heart was fluttering. I didn't know what do to in that moment because I had never before been IN that moment!

    Today, I have campus police on speed dial.
    Today, I would shut down such an outburst as soon as it was recognized.
    Today, I would likely approach Sullen privately.

    People come here to share our (mostly) metaphorical knocks not get buffeted here as well. I don't think anyone is so "sensitive" as to not expect some adult frankness. But, at least from my perspective, I'm here because I trust most people here understand the trials and tribulations I have endured, even if they haven't experienced them personally.

    Perhaps the blog should be renamed "College co-misery" because I've always felt the benefit of visiting was the commiseration, not to have more misery heaped on.

  28. Commenters who care about this site should moderate themselves. If somebody writes a comment that you think is truly offensive and beyond the pale, don't try to explain, reason, negociate or pursuade. Just ignore it. These things have a way of fixing themselves.

    None of the comments that I read from today were that bad, which may reflect poorly on me. CM's done pretty well with the current setup except for a couple of bad days. Let's not overreact.

    It's a tough call. I support Fab either way.

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  30. Moving away from the "Tim-Jim-some offended acadamic" Eternal Triangle I want to go back to early September of this year, when the subject to drunk-dialing academics came up. In the comments I mentioned my belief that Alcoholics Anonymous does not work. It seems that everyone who teaches (and writes/comments on this board) either knows a recovering alcoholic or is one. At no time did I say that alcoholics trying to recover should go it alone; I suggested that people try Rational Recovery or SOS before AA.*
    I was sandbagged for hating on the alcoholics and challeged by the veteran AA member "Miserable Adjunct" (who had only posted once before, on shoe manufacturers stickers.) Nobody challenged my facts, and everybody acted like an AA shill. I never complained to Fab Sun.

    * AA has the same recovery rate as spontaneous remission, five percent. It is a religious-oriented group whose twelve steps demands recognition of a god, realization that you are a powerless drunk, penitence towards this god, and "making amends." Booze is seen as all powerful; the drunk powerless, a philosophy that actually encourages binge drinking on the part of members. I haven't even gotten into the more bizarre elements of "the rooms", such as sponsors treating members like personal servants, weird sexual trysts between members, and all sorts of other drama. The anonymous "Agent Orange" has a book on the failures of AA and it's relation to the Moral Re-Armament cult at; these is a blog of ex-AA'rs at that covers all the crazy stuff that is happening in 12-step programs.

  31. I think the fact that this blog is unmoderated just makes glaringly obvious what was doubtless true when it was RYS.

    Academia is full of cowardly, pud-pulling buttholes, and our first impulse is to get into a pissing contest and then, to eat each other.

    Just a generalization. Not true of everyone. But manifestly true of a good portion of the people across all disciplines that populate academe.

    Personally I've really enjoyed a lot of the interaction on College Misery, interaction that wasn't possible on RYS.

    The downside is the overall quality of posts is down, and people are attacking each other. It's like an acrimonious T&P committee in here.

    If this blog were moderated as was RYS, Fab wouldn't have to deal with asshole posters that claim he's editing them, and probably no one would ever again have to read anything written by the T/Jims. (Seriously, I have not been keeping track of who is who.)

    But we would also lose the coziness and all of the productive discussions as well.

    The answer, of course, is to ignore the offenders. No moderation necessary. But I've never ever seen a case where even highly intelligent people were capable of ignoring trolls.

    So, what to do? I don't know. I personally would not have any problem with Fab completely eliminating and/or editing any posts where he thinks people are being assholes. Posts that are simply intended to insult. Just deleting/editing them. And any posts that respond in kind. If it's not kosher for "Jim" to insult people, it's not kosher to others to insult him either, even in response to his insults.

    I know we hate it when people delete their posts. There's always a kerfuffle. But if we can't discipline ourselves not to take proffered bait, I have no trouble with Fab seeing to it that the bait is removed.

    This is doubtless going to be a lot of work, because there are commenters that are dead set on being jerks. Those people, at Fab's discretion, could be blocked completely, if possible.

    Contributing here isn't a "right". Commenting here isn't a "right" either.

    But those are just some ill-formed general reactions. Honestly, I myself have no trouble picking through the minefield here and avoiding or ignoring comments.

    In a way it's reassuring to know that this online community is no better than any other, no matter how "smart" and "educated" we are. Pretty much all online communities descend into this sort of bullshit, if allowed.

  32. well said, stella...but you always get it right...

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  34. Dear Jim,

    The "Fab's mom is in the room" rule is not a criterion I'm asking anyone to agree with or live with long term. I'm just hoping it will get us through 24 hours so we can all get a chance to review what the group of readers and writers for CM think.

    Thank you,

  35. Jim--

    If the "extreme position" is basically "You're all assholes and I'm smarter than you," I wouldn't call that a "position," even if you had empirical proof that of both statements. I'm also not sure I think hurling insults qualifies as a "discussion."

    And "trash talk" (as well as the desire to provoke it) may be human nature, but so is liking the smell of your own farts. That doesn't mean we need to all sit in a room together and sniff.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for angry, smart people with foul mouths. Could you not take something positive from this site, and maybe try to contribute something positive as well?

    Then, when you call "bullshit," you might actually get people to think about whether or not you are right, and not just think you're a jerk and wrong by default.

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  37. Fab - Good luck with this one.

    The blog whose comments I most like to read is Jeff Master's on wunderground. Some of the features that make it nice are the ability to ignore a particular user and a reader activated method that hides comments most people don't like (available to look at, just one click away).

    I am not sure if blogspot has these features available, but an ignore button would let Jim ignore the rest of us, since we're all much dumber than him and our "words were too big for [him] (even with google)."

    I am not a frequent user of foul language, but I understand it has it's place (and most of those places are on the internet). I don't think personal attacks (or sexist, racist, *ist comments) are appropriate, and I think their presence has direct inverse correlation with intelligence, but I am not sure I find them out of place in this world that is supposed to be open and anonymous.

    If you choose to moderate, Fab, then a set of community standards should be determined. Should that set of standards be opened up to the masses, I imagine the ensuing debate would be "epic" indeed...

    In the end, you are the de-facto moderator, and there are no rules because none have been chosen to be enforced as of now.

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  39. I'm with the majority of thoughtful commenters above: it would be great to have some moderation, in moderation.

    As a longtime RYS and CM lurker, very recently joined up here, I enjoy a lot of the comments and often learn from the disagreements. But the exchanges of insults turn me away. Besides the unpleasantness of the misogyny and adolescent name-calling, they are distracting because they're off topic.

    We have some strongly worded disagreements at CM. "What's the Point of Tests?" is a good example. These are useful disagreements and aren't insulting. When the name-callers start in, though, it's just annoying to have a thoughtful exchange of ideas interrupted by personal attacks.

    Plenty of discussion boards have basic standards of courtesy, and users can get thrown out for abusing of the privilege of posting. Here's a modest proposal from a newbie who has used discussion boards for online classes many a semester:

    1. A "Please Read Before Posting" link in a permanent position above "Search This Blog". The link would lead to an archived comment titled "Netiquette 101" and saying something like this:

    "This blog aims for civil exchanges of ideas amid the rants to blow off steam about college teaching. We appreciate it when a writer tries to combine a series of comments into one post and to use correct spelling and limited or no use of caps lock.

    "We regret that because some have abused the privilege of posting at CM, it is possible to get thrown off the blog. Posts that attack other members with insults are deleted. That's the only warning. The second time this occurs, the writer is removed from the list of members.

    "Feel free to report us to the Dean."

    2. Enforcement.

    Some blogs allow more than one moderator (WordPress, for example). If that's the case, Fab, maybe one of your trusted, oft-posting colleagues here could share the pain.

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  42. Everyone has a perfect right to free speech - on their own blog. If this isn't your blog, you have only privileges. Deal with it.

  43. As I look back over the most active posts, It seems to me that it is we who have lost this war for ourselves. Jim has taken heat, and while he has been somewhat vulgar, he also had quite a few personal attacks directed at him in the wake of his statement on which discipline was smarter. We became so skittish as to accuse people who voiced support for Jim of being Jim. Really? If this community is that skittish and easily inflamed, we are not likely to last long in the interwebs.

    There are not many innocents in this mess. The rules posted in the other thread about, the comics curmudgeon, have two very interesting aspects, other than the humor. First, the threat he makes is to ban all participants in a flame war. Personally, I think that is very fair, but look around, and see where that banhammer would fall. Second, he notes that the site is his personal playground. This site is not Fab's personal playground. It is ours.

    We cannot hope to moderate ourselves through enforcement of rules if we cannot moderate our posted reactions. And much worse, we cannot hope to act as moderators if personal insults slung across the webs are taken to heart.

    Jim, I am quite sure I wouldn't enjoy your company if we met in real life. However, I am sad that we didn't give you the chance to demonstrate whether or not you were a troll, instead of pouncing on you quickly and voraciously.

    As for rules here, since I was previously vague in my personal stance, I would prefer anonymous, unmoderated conversation, but that would require thick skins all around, and will drive away some. That does not make this a safe place. If the consensus is a desire for a safe place, then rules, and enforcement, are needed.

    I don't think now is a good time to establish rules. In my opinion, the first order of business is to decide the form of government, and deal with the fallout from that. Then we can develop standards, if appropriate to the form of government and if those remaining feel we need them.

    Alan, spouting too many words...

  44. I don't know what you should do, Fab, but as others have said, if you do go to some kind of semi-moderated system where a team of people will have access for the purposes of purging offensive comments, I'd appreciate a heads up and a little lead time. I would likely leave CM if that happened. Jim wants you to think he'd be happy to post under his real name, but I've had some bad experiences with weird stalker/hateful mailbombing that I'm not eager to repeat. So if we go to that system, I'm erasing myself.

    As for the topic at hand, I think I was the first person Jim decided to tango with in the comments section. I wasn't offended by him, but I did come away from our exchange feeling like he was definitely trying to offend me and get a rise out of me and others. And I did stoop to insulting him in Latin, as he had requested, but it was mostly because I rarely get to break out the Latin anymore, and because the chance to put one of those dozens of Martial epigrams I memorized in high school to use was probably never going to come again. Perhaps I shouldn't have done that, but I don't really regret it either.

    I was a "regular" back on RYS, and the voice I adopted for that site was highly profane, and basically satire. The wiki post stands out in that regard--by the way Cal, how come that isn't in the final Ring of Distinktion. Now that offends me ;). I had fun writing those posts, and they were in keeping with the satirical spirit of that site, I thought. I'm sure not everyone agrees. Whatever, as the kids say.

    Unlike Fab and others, I do curse in real life (I blame my time in the military for that, socom units are not bastions of clean discourse). I've even dropped the occasional f-bomb in a department meeting. But I can see that the RYS Archie doesn't work that well for CM, so I've tried to dial it back to something more like my "real" voice, whatever that might mean.

    Even so, I've been called deluded, ignorant, and an idiot who can't think logically in the comments here, and that was long before Jim called me a pussy and dean material. I guess a certain amount of incivility is inevitable in an unmoderated forum. But there is a line, however nebulous, and I think any thoughtful person knows when he or she has crossed it. On RYS I tried to walk right on that line. Here I try to stay well on one side of it. Jim and Not Jim clearly crossed it, and if they can't see that on their own, then I think they probably need to take their ball and go home. You can lay down the smack without calling everyone a fuckstick all the time. I won't speculate on their insecurities. I'll just say that if that's all you've got, then your range of expression is seriously limited, and people will conclude that that's all you are. Go ahead, be filthy when you're feeling it, but try some other modes of interaction on too.

  45. Well said, Archie. I think he makes a lot of great points.

    I loved RYS, and that's why I was one of several folks who asked Cal about starting a new site so we'd have a profane and irreverent place to continue parts of that blog's mission.

    And, I don't think profanity is tied to civility. It's my mom who didn't like it. (I so regret using the "Fab's mom" rule yesterday...haha.) I just invoked a sort of call for a cooling down period so everyone on CM could have a chance to have a say without the fear of this sort of indiscriminate sniping that was underway.

    RYS Archie was one of my favorites. I don't think CM has to stay away from any of that. Nothing that has come to me through other readers has been a request to professionalize the site, or to hew to some guidelines that would suck some of the satire and sauciness out of what we're doing.

    It's all just been about personal attacks that have no point except to marginalize another CM community member.

    I hate that this has happened. I think the page has so much potential. Later today Cal and I have a brief update we'll provide that is based on the comments we've received about the issues.

    There's already a very modest note about "The Misery Rules" in the sidebar. Think of it as a fluid statement that I'm happy to modify as it fits the CM correspondents and readers.


  46. The good thing is, Fab, you model the best of what we could/can be.

  47. That statement (in the sidebar) looks good to me, Fab. I think that personal attacks on other posters are the only thing that's getting anyone riled.

    Oh, and "insults only in a dead language, please". I like that. :)


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