Why we banned gun control discussion
by, 01-23-2013 at 01:02 PM (3178 Views)
Most of you who are regulars here and who visit the conversation forum, are aware that recently we banned the discussion of gun control and gun control politics. I thought I'd take the time to explain this in more detail. After all, this is the first time we ever banned a topic from the conversation forum.
First things first: Freedom of speech, within the context of our site, does not necessarily mean you are permitted to say whatever you want whenever you want however you want, without consequence. Your participation in SRP requires that you follow our rules and you must agree to do so when you register. The rules use a lot of words in pseudo legalese to basically say that we get to say what is acceptable.
Gun control threads not only got derailed repeatedly, but due to the highly emotional context regarding gun control, these were bound to derail again and again. And not only did they derail, but we noticed that people started regarding each other differently based on which side of the fence they were on. We noticed that this was becoming a problem. Internally we've had quite lengthy discussions about how to tackle this problem. There were just 2 options (or variations of those options): restrict the conversation forum topics, or deal harshly with anyone stepping over the lines of common courtesy (i.e. banning several people).
Historically, we've never restricted what topics can be discussed in the discussion forum. All we demanded was that people treated each other with a modicum of respect, even if they didn't agree with each other. We like to be a gentleman's forum, and that implies that everybody here has mastered enough manners to behave themselves.
Personally, I was drawn more to the latter approach because I saw gun threads as not being different from threads about religion or the election season, or any of the other controversial topics that crop up from time to time. I thought that since appealing to common courtesy and banning the occasional hothead worked before, it would work again, despite several of our staff telling me that that was not going to happen. That was the message coming to me from both sides of the equation btw. That is the advantage of having a diverse mod team. This discussion was not dominated by either pro or anti gun control opinions.
But I was still not certain it was the way to go because it would be a first for such a policy change. And the old ways seems to work so well. However, something happened that made me realize the advice I was getting was indeed correct, and we had just been lucky so far.
You see, I stumbled upon a white supremacy forum, quite accidentally. I am sad to say it took my faith in humanity down a couple of notches. The viewpoints expressed there were extreme to say the least. And what I found even more disturbing than the pure hatred was the fact that quite a number of people there have all sorts of 'rational explanations' and 'scientific evidence' to justify themselves.
After I got over my initial disbelief, one of the first things I thought was 'anyone ever saying those things on SRP is gone so fast he doesn't know what hit him'. But then the second thing going through my head was 'so how about your earlier conviction that anything can be discussed if it is done with respect'. After all, under that philosophy, I could take a discussion from the white supremacy site, clean it up a bit to remove the insults and swearwords. And I'd end up with something that would abide by the informal SRP rules, while still being a BS argument full of hatred, which would send shockwaves through our community and cause mayhem for the moderators.
This realization made me look at the current problems more closely than before, because that realization proved that the situation was a bit more complex that I initially thought. And I found an important difference between gun control threads and religious threads. Or for that matter, gun control threads now and gun control threads a couple of years ago.
The reality is that a community needs to consist of people rallying around a single flag. I've written of this before. That flag for us is straight razor shaving. For other forums it could be woodworking or fly-fishing. Or it could be absolute freedom of speech and political discussion. That doesn't mean that everyone has to agree with everything, but everyone should acknowledge that topic X is the point of the community, and be united in that purpose.
The off topic forums such as the conversation and our finer things forum serve the purpose of giving the community a place to get to know each other over topics that arise as part of being human. Birthdays, family, best wishes, humor and tragedy. Everyday life. Such places are necessary because they give people a way to be 'human'. That way, off topic content does not end up in other parts of the forum. From an objective management point of view, those off topic places are safety valves that vent stuff that would otherwise derail the actual content forums.
However, at all times it is important that whatever happens in the off topic places does not divide the community. Because that would be the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve in the bigger picture.
If a topic comes up that is so important to people that it is an unchangeable core essence of their being, discussion is bound to go to hell. The actual topics themselves don't matter. In our case it was gun control. This has never been a big issue before, because there was nothing playing in the political arena that would have a strong influence on people's lives. Gun control has been discussed before, at times when people's opinion was not threatening to change other people's daily lives. We could argue pro and con from a hypothetical approach, and people realized that no matter what the other person argued, we could all just agree to disagree.
With the recent batman movie killing spree and Newport killing spree, that comfortable situation has ended. In the real world US (which is a large part of our member base), political forces are lining up for battle. With some creative word smithing I could paint a picture of a LOTR battle scene where the armies are lining up in the field. No matter how it will turn out, right now, people are threatened in their core beliefs, no matter whether they are pro or con.
It's no longer hypothetical. It's no longer an interesting discussion for discussion's sake. It's a war between ideas in real life, and online discussions are now held over the outcome of a very high stakes conflict in real life.
We can try to moderate every single one of them, but given the above, every single one of them will inevitably end the same way, causing moderator work and ill feelings between members. Every single one of them will be a blow at the blunt end of the wedge that is gun control discussion, threatening to split our community. We can't (and shouldn't) make people agree, and we can't take away the fact that the real life situation is being played for extremely high stakes for all participants. The only thing we can do for now is take away the wedge.
It is a bit of a numbers game. The whole concept of a wedge is that a small number of people can have a big effect. If we had a much smaller user base, we’d have a lot less members for whom this would be a hot button issue, and we would not be having those problems. If gun control was not up for discussion in real life, the number of people who would really feel under attack in their being would be much less and it would not be a problem. If we had only a couple hundred members, this would not be a problem either.
Will gun control discussion ever be allowed again? I don't know. That depends in large part of what the real life situation is going to be. For the foreseeable future, that answer is no. Will we ever restrict other topics? Again, I don't know. We've managed not to until now. Yet it is not inconceivable. You may say 'that sounds a lot like you just make up your mind as you go along'. And you would be right. We do make up our mind as we go along. That is the price we pay for trying to give as much freedom as possible, while preventing our community from being disrupted by specific problems.