Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Towards an Editorial Policy...

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about the internet in general and the blagosphere in particular is the false sense of familiarity it gives people. I’ve spent enough time at Slacktivist and Pharyngula that I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with Fred and PZ. I’m not. Hell, I don’t even know what Fred Clark looks like. Chances are good I never will. I’m okay with that. Chances are good, too, that there are some people who come here who feel like they know me pretty well. It’s both the nature of blogging and of this particular blog. I tell a lot of stories. It’s what I do. A lot of my stories reveal things about me. If you’ve been around long enough you probably know I’m a White Sox fan. Chances are you’ve figured out that you can find what bands I like. You might even know what my living room looks like, that I recently passed the 100,000 mile mark on my odometer (and might even be able to guess what kind of car I drive). Hell, you might even know something about me that most people probably wouldn’t share with the internet. But there are also a lot of things you don’t know about me. You don’t know where I live, outside of the fact that I’m somewhere in Chicagoland. You don’t know what I do for a living. Hell, you don’t even know my real name (well, you might have picked up on my first name, but considering that it was, like, the seventh most popular name for a boy the year I was born that’s no big deal. There’s probably a whole bunch of other stuff you don’t know, too. One of the biggest problems with the internet, I’ve noticed, is the tendency for people to assume that not only do they know somebody they’ve never met, but to assume they know how that person thinks. There’s about a 100% possibility that this is wrong, however. It’s hard enough figuring out how somebody thinks who you know well. Meanwhile, that internet pseudo-familiarity sometimes gives people license to believe they can travel about the intertubes explaining to complete strangers how they’re not only wrong on a topic, but their thought process behind what they’ve said on the topic is completely wrong. Add in a few assumptions about how the person’s intentional wrongness is fueled by their less-than-ideal motivations to talk about the subject at hand and you have a recipe for some good, old fashioned trolling. I’m not a fan of trolls. Slacktivist was the first blog I posted on. Fred’s general ideas about how things were tended to appeal to me, so I’ve carried them forward in to my attitude towards this blog and any other ones I choose to comment on. Basically (and I wish I remember where he said this), the idea over at Slacktivist was that it was, for all intents and purposes, Fred’s house and anyone who came there to read or comment was a guest. For the most part the guests were civil and respectful and the community had a tendency to police itself pretty effectively and tell the less decorous new arrivals how to behave. Slacktivist remains one of the more civil blogs out there, even with the old Thursday Flame Wars and discussion threads that regularly receive hundreds of comments. There’s simply an attitude that works and enough people have bought in to it over the years that it’s self-perpetuating. I’ve also taken the Slacktivist attitude with me. When I post on any blog I treat it as if it’s the blog writer’s home. If I’m going to visit someone else’s home, even if I disagree with them about something, I do my utmost to be respectful. It is, of course, easier to do if I’m just popping by to say, “Yeah, I totally agree with that.” Even if I don’t agree that doesn’t give me license to accuse the other person of disingenuous arguments or malice. If I’m genuinely trying to start a conversation there’s absolutely no reason for me to start with a contentious post that puts words into the blogger’s mouth or thoughts in to the blogger’s head that probably aren’t there. I don’t always manage to achieve this balance. So with that in mind I try to give anyone who posts on my blog and pisses me off the benefit of the doubt. Some days are better than others and sometimes there are enough keywords or concepts in a comment that I feel safe dismissing someone out of hand. It’s not like I just discovered this crazy internet thing last week. Nothing, as someone claiming to be King Solomon once said, under the sun is new, after all. The comments seem to be heating up lately, so I figure it’s in my best interest to have some sort of official editorial policy in place. I’ve had an unofficial progression of: 1. Give the benefit of the doubt. 2. When my patience is exhausted mock the troll and say, “Go away.” In general I think I’ll stick with that. However, I figure it’s a good idea to point out the things that annoy me. So, in no particular order: 1. If you feel the need to say the words, “I’m not here to evangelize,” chances are you should not be on this blog. I have never once been told that and then not been evangelized to on some level. I will assume you are lying. 2. Similarly, if you feel the need to say, “I just want to have a discussion,” you’re already telling me that you have some ulterior motive. People don’t need disclaimers for discussion. If they want to have a discussion they say, “Hey, you said [this]. But have you considered [that],” or something similar. I have never once had someone walk up to me on the street and say, “Hey, I just want to have a discussion.” It’s what people say when they want me to listen to and agree with them but want to seem polite. 3. Anyone who tells me that it’s my job to tell both sides of a story will piss me off to no end. It’s not my job to emulate today’s media and give equal time to any stupid theory. If you think the other side of the story hasn’t been served, try to tell it in a coherent way. So, as a template, perhaps something like, “It’s too bad you’ve had that particular set of experiences. Here’s a counter-example or collection of counter-examples I’ve run in to.” I can guarantee you that will start a conversation much faster than, “Your story indicates you hate ___________ and are just like every other person I’ve ever met who meets [this] criteria. Your experience is the outlier, so I’m going to tell you about this one time I ran in to a counter example and accuse you of being a liar who is out to ruin this thing I hold dear.” 4. Provide examples. I’ll even take anecdotes as long as the anecdotes are good and are (reasonably) personal stories as opposed to repetition of urban or internet legend. Saying, “Your personal experience is wrong and I know it because I say so/read this thing on the internet this one time,” isn’t a good way to ingratiate yourself. 5. Don’t pretend you’re my friend if you’re not my friend. There are a few people who post here who are my friends, I know who they are, and unless it matters that we have some sort of real-life connection they and I don’t bring it up. So, basically, if you think you can violate any of my other rules and get away with it by saying, “Hey, we’re just buds,” I probably hate you. And, in fact, a couple times my real-life friends have called me or contacted me on AIM or email to say, “I’m thinking of posting this, would you mind?” I trust my friends and have always said, “Do whatever you want to do, I trust your judgment.” The fact that they want to make sure they won’t annoy me or violate some sort of weird rule I have is an indication that they respect me. And, like I said, it’s only really come up twice that I can think of, and once was back during the James days, which was a touchy situation, anyway. 6. Don’t tell me what I do or don’t know. Don’t tell me what I do or don’t think. Don’t tell me what my motivations are. Don’t tell me that my experiences don’t count. I can assure you that you will be wrong. And it’s not a good way to start a conversation. 7. Don't be pretentious. Pretentiousness pisses me off. I can use big words, too. And on the off chance I don’t know your big word I’m not ashamed to look it up. I’m not intimidated by your intellect and chances are that if you feel the need to try to intimidate me with big words it means I’m a hell of a lot smarter than you, anyway. In fact, everyone once in a while I will write something that’s intentionally pretentious just to prove I’m capable of doing it. But most of the time my theory is that true intelligence is taking complicated ideas and breaking them down in a way that can be understood by all but the densest people. 8. Don't give me homework. I don't mind getting links, but don't come in and say, "I disagree with you. Here, read this to see why you're wrong." If you can't come up with your own argument then you're not capable of defending your viewpoint and aren't going to be able to have a conversation. Give an abstract, then say, "But so-and-so says it better." That'll get you farther. 9. If I’m talking about an academic subject, history especially and you think I’ve gotten something wrong, please call me on it and treat it like a peer review. I know how those things work. I get stuff wrong. If I say something blatantly stupid I’ll be gracious about it. Of course the ensuing discussion for something like a philosophical topic or some contentious issue about a historical event and you and I fall on opposite sides of the debate there might still be an argument, but I’m perfectly capable of being civil and only ask that you do the same. Like I said, I’ve been through a few peer reviews. Now, then, there’s a really good chance that you’re reading this and thinking, “What does this have to do with me?” If you’re already a regular commenter rest assured that this isn’t directed at you. For the most part I like my commenters* and have run off the ones I didn’t like (James, Ken, Da Bomb, maybe a couple others. There might even be one in the works as we speak…). If you’re reading this some time in the future there’s a pretty good chance that you don’t think this applies to you and there’s a pretty good chance you’re right. I’ve found that most people on the blogosphere do seem to get the whole idea of respecting their host. I’ve also found that most people will only go to blogs that have a viewpoint they more-or-less agree with, anyway. It creates the “echo chamber” so hated by trolls, but who the fuck cares? Seriously. The people accusing bloggers they don't like of creating echo chambers probably go and hang out in their own echo chambers the rest of the time. It's human nature to hang out with people who have similar interests, attitudes, and ideas. Meanwhile, to anyone who really does/will need to read these guidelines, please remember something. I don’t care if you like me or not. I don’t care if you read my blog. Chances are you weren’t reading it yesterday and I won’t notice if you don’t come back tomorrow. I’m not trying to use this blog as a source of revenue, since my paycheck from the job you know nothing about is more than adequate, thankyouverymuch. I’m also not expecting to be discovered as the next great American writer because of what I say here, certainly not by some random internet troll. I do this because I like to. I used to write posts even though I knew there were three people reading them if I was lucky. I happen to know there are a lot more now, but three people, thirty people, or three hundred people don’t actually change anything about my attitudes towards writing this. If this blog bores me tomorrow I’ll stop writing it. If I no longer have time to write it I’ll stop. And I’m under no illusion. Some people may spend the next month or two occasionally checking back to see if anything new has popped up, but they’ll find something else to read and Accidental Historian will fade to the back of their minds. Such is the way of the internet. If someone doesn’t like me on the internet I don’t care. If somebody is wrong on the internet it’s not my job to correct them. It’s the friggin’ internet… Anyway, I’m sticking with my give the benefit of the doubt, then mock and ask to leave approach. It works. I’d rather never have to moderate comments (again). But I am willing to delete comments from people who annoy me and I’m perfectly capable of setting up a killfile. I haven’t felt the need to do so yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how. So that’s it. My basic editorial policy. I’m going to try to sticky this somewhere on my main page so it’s always available. I only plan on enforcing it if I need to and I assume that will be rare. -------------------------- *That seems unnecessarily possessive. But I can’t come up with a better way to say it.


katster said...

This seems fairly reasonable. Even though I lurk more than I actually talk over at Fred's blog (and yours for the matter), but I like that we're hanging out in your virtual living room listening to you tell us stories, and occasionally interjecting our own thoughts.

I'm a little nervous at "don't be pretentious" as I have a tendency to drop the big word in -- it's just how I talk, and I've had to back up and define a word for somebody in real life. Yeah, maybe it's a bit pretentious, but it's generally a matter of nuance I'm searching for. That said, I don't think it'll be a problem.

Generally, it boils down to 'my blog, my rules', which is the way it ought to be.

That said, there's some difference between a flat out "You're wrong!" and "I don't think that's right/agree with that and here's why". Besides the fact it's more polite, you don't automatically get somebody's hackles up by accusing them of being *wrong*.

And I'll stop writing an essay in your comments section, except to say this: I love the blog, Geds, and it's become one of my must-reads. I've particularly liked the Civil War series.


Fiat Lex said...

I did't think the thing about the unslept-on side of your bed was pretentious at all, good sir, and if you write more introspective stuff like that I will enjoy it mightily. Then again, you know me for a brain-contents junkie, and my own blog is ludicrously self-centered, so I'm sure you'll take that with whatever grains of salt you feel necessary. I'm just happy on your behalf that your readership has grown to the point where you feel the need to delineate an editorial policy.

Also, all your personal opinions about everything are wrong because of Rap Chop. Which I know you have already seen.

What horrible life experience did you have that made you hate Rap Chop?!!?!!1one!? How can I berate and shame you until you agree with me?

Geds said...


The big words in and of themselves aren't the actual problem. In a lot of cases they exist for a reason. It's easier to say "juxtapose" than "put two things side-by-side for the purposes of comparison" or, for that matter, "pretentious" than "stuck up, self-important blowhard."

If you've got a big vocabulary, by all means use it. I'm not going to count syllables or anything. It's just that on the internet most people can't look down their noses at you, so in order to act superior I've noticed they tend to throw a lot of big words around in hopes that the object of their contempt will be afraid. In general the attempts of the pretentious to use big words come off as buffoonish while someone who simply has a large vocabulary will use the words in an organic way.

So it basically boils down to, "Don't talk to me like your Word-A-Day Calendar makes you a better person than me."


I wasn't actually going for pretentiousness with that one. I had this thought about doing a completely over-wrought intro that was all ironically self-aware and attempting to do Chuck Klosterman without actually understanding what Chuck Klosterman does. But then I realized that my intro didn't have a damn bit of anything to do with the actual post so I kind of gave up on it. The idea still amused me, so I left the essence of it in.

Klosterman does that to me.

And I can't believe you would dare come to my blog and preach your lies about Rap Chop. You know I'm a true believer in The Picard Song. Take your heathen blasphemy elsewhere!

May a thousand burning Shamwows haunt your dreams. Now I must go offer prayers of cleansing for my blog.

Our Captain
Who art in Prime Time
Picard be thy name
Thy Starship come
Thy orders done
On Earth as they are on cable
Give us this day our Earl Grey, hot
And rescue us from the evil Borg
As we rescued you from them at Wolf 359
And lead us not into the Neutral Zone
But deliver us from Romulans
For thy mission is to go where no one has gone before.

jessa said...

Hey now! I didn't remember it, but you remembered me re-introducing myself to you by saying I wasn't going to evangelize to you and I'm pretty sure I didn't.

Not that that is a serious objection, maybe just a reminder that some people with genuine intentions are not socially aware enough to realize that "I'm not here to evangelize" is an inauspicious beginning and precisely what someone would say if they were there to evangelize.

Anyway, good rules, and maybe someone will notice that their little "tricks" are pretty transparent and annoying.

Geds said...

Yes, jessa. That was also in a personal email and at no point during the course of said email did you tell me what I really thought or project anything on to me.

Sometimes the various things are unavoidable. That's why I try to offer the benefit of the doubt. And that's why there's a list. If I only see, say, number 1 by itself I'll probably be more likely to assume it's an honest attempt. If I see numbers 1, 2, and 6 together I'm more likely to get annoyed.

Actually, though, the feedback so far is good. I take a fairly nuanced view of all of the rules but they do seem pretty hard and fast in the original post. Before I actually sticky anything I'll probably make some tweaks.

I'll take the feedback from katster and jessa in to account and if anyone else sees anything else, please point it out.

The Woeful Budgie said...

When my patience is exhausted mock the troll and say, “Go away.”

I feel a little weird tooting my own horn here, but I'd have to recommend Mad-Libbing a troll's argument as an excellent way of mocking the troll. It pisses them off royally, you don't end up stuck in a stupid argument with them, and it's good fun, so it's an all-around win!

(Beyond that, I have nothing really helpful to add. All seems pretty reasonable to me. Actually, most of it looks like it'd fall under the heading of "common fucking courtesy", so it's kind of a shame that it has to be said.)

Michael Mock said...

Wait... you mean we're not really friends? ::sniffle:: I mean, so what if I've never met you, or spoken to you, or if I don't have any idea what you look like or how you are in person. We can still be friends, right? Right...?


Actually, in my experience, having someone tell me what I think is (very, very slightly) less annoying than the reverse: having them expect me to know what they think (because it's just so obvious, don't you know) - especially when it's their abjectly poor communication skills that are causing the problem in the first place.