Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge

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Policy Discussion: Insults, etc.
Escher Snakes
sanguinity wrote in 50books_poc
I'm elevating this to a new post, because the mod team is small and we want a wider range of input than what we can bring to bear ourselves.

The topic under discussion is whether or not insults, mocking, jeering, and/or personal attacks are acceptable on the comm, in what context, and directed toward whom.

First: that's probably not a complete list. One of the things I'm noticing in the comments and pms is that people have different characterizations of what is in dispute here.

Second and related: not everything in the list above may be comparable to everything else in that list. We might choose to give a pass to some of the above and yet reject others.

Third: I'm expecting that there might be some context dependency in these decisions. My gut sense is that insulting an author is not the same thing as insulting another comm member. Being white and being POC is not symmetric. Being the original poster and being a non-OP commenter in an exchange may also change the context. There may be other factors.

So let me lay out some of the issues that the mod team has been discussing.

Because of the way the tone argument gets used, we have been reluctant to implement a blanket "no insulting, no jeering" rule. There are times when it is more important that something gets said than how it gets said; there are times when the clearest and most straightforward way to communicate an idea is to mock the original statement. Additionally, any given demand for politeness or patience made by this community is happening in the context of numerous asymmetric demands for politeness and patience; as mods, we strongly dislike the prospect of increasing those burdens as the price of participating in the comm.

We are trying to negotiate two conflicting chilling influences: one of them is the chilling effect of someone knowing that they might encounter insulting or jeering comments if they post; the other is the chilling effect of a "don't say it any meaner than this" rule. The latter can make people walk away from a comm just as the former can. (I personally have walked away from a comm because it wasn't worth it to me to deal with the emotional stress of trying to negotiate such a rule; I have heard more than a few similar stories from others.) What particularly worries us as mods is that who walks away because of either environment is often asymmetric along axes of privilege.

(Obviously, I would prefer a policy that doesn't have people walking away, if we can swing it.)

I additionally have concerns about how this plays into our sense of who the community is "for". There are at least three distinct ways that members use this forum. Some are using it for personal improvement, trying to correct biases or lacunae in their own personal education, environment, or knowledge. Others are using it as a tool to focus attention on authors of color, who face systemic biases in the publishing, reviewing, reading, and fan communities. Others are using this community as a social refuge, as a place where conversations about books are not forever reverting back to white authors and white norms. (Obviously, these uses are not exclusive to each other: there are many people who use this comm in two or more of the above ways.)

I am not at all sure that the comm serves the last group well. In the process of setting policy on this, I would like to avoid making this community serve those people less well. Unfortunately, it is not clear to me what would or would not do that.

So, the questions we have for you:

What constitutes a personal insult?

Are they never acceptable, sometimes acceptable? Are some more acceptable than others?

Does it make a difference if the insult is directed at an author or at another community member? Where another community member is concerned, does it make a difference as to whose post it appears in the comments to (your own, or someone else's)?

Do we want one blanket policy of acceptability for the entire comm? Should OPs moderate their own comments as they see fit? Some combination of the two?

Are we correct to be worried about an asymmetric effect on white and POC/chromatic members of the comm? And if so, what kinds of policies do you specifically see being a problem? What would be acceptable?

What are we missing?


If you wish to reply privately, you are welcome to PM me or send me an email (this username at gmail).


ETA (6/29): I've turned anonymous commenting off -- there's at least one person who is harrassing people. If you have something to say and need privacy to say it, you've got my pm and email.

ETA2 (6/30): My draft position on some of the interactions under discussion, specifically some of the earlier posts about N.K. Jemisin's books. Re everything else, I'm still reading, still digesting. I haven't begun replying to pms yet, but I'm reading those, too.

ETA3 (7/5): FYI, we're still working on the policy post; we hope to (but cannot promise!) to have it posted by Friday.

ETA4 (7/9): progress updates here.

ETA5 (7/13): Policy post is now up. Comments here are locked.
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Okay. The following is an attempt to be transparent, because I'm recognizing I have not been transparent at other points in these threads, and that has at least partially contributed to the problems here. Also, this is partly for you, winterfox, and this is partly for everyone else. And yes, I know this is buried in a humongous set of comment threads: I'll eventually recap in a follow-up post (but that follow-up post may take some while).

I consider what you were doing on those threads I linked above to be trollish behavior. They have a chilling effect on the comm: I know for a fact that some people have chosen not to post about Jemisin, Pon, and any other book that you may in the future review negatively, and that they are doing so because of those comment threads. What's more, I don't believe that chilling effect is counterbalanced by any benefit to the comm or the issues that the comm has been trying to serve: it's just chilling.

Consequently, I ask that you and everyone else recognize that reasonable, worthy people can disagree on the value or merit of a given book, and leave space for that in your conversations about these books, at least tacitly, if not explicitly. Matters of taste in books do not make one reader a better person than another; I will respond negatively to implications that they do. When I mod on this, it may appear arbitrary or "cult of nice", but the question of what is chilling-and-without-counterbalancing-value is subjective, and I'll be negotiating that subjectivity the best I can.

I may choose to extend you, winterfox, less leeway than I extend others. I accept that your statements here are made in good faith, but it is also true that you've burned through some of the comm's trust (as much as I may speak of the comm as a unified identity). I am not going to require that other comm members extend you the benefit of the doubt. Expecting everyone to let bygones be bygones: there's a certain "cult of nice" in that, too. Please keep that in mind when you comment on someone else's positive review of a book you disliked.

When I said "trollish" above, I make a distinction between "trollish" and "troll". Additionally, I am not implying intent on winterfox's part; I am describing effects.

I am still making up my mind about insults toward authors, or insults over kyriarchical matters. At minimum, it looks like there may be an intersectional issue with disability at play. ("At minimum": if you'll forgive me, this has been a lot of information, very fast, and I'm still digesting it all.) Also, I'm still making up my mind about different kinds of insults, what divides them, and if it matters. If there's something else that I haven't said here and you're wondering what my position on that is, I'm probably still making up my mind about that, too.

You may consider this comment a draft of my position, as a moderator, on this single matter. If something I have said in this comment seems unfair, unproductive, or just plain a bad idea, I'm willing to take input on that.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

(Deleted comment)
I've posted reviews of books in Japanese in the past. Some of them are also available in English, and I always link to the English version in such cases, while making it clear that I didn't read that, so I can't speak for the quality of the translation. Even for books that are only available in Japanese, I figure there are surely at least a few people reading the comm who can read Japanese and might find the reviews helpful.

I'm pretty sure I've seen occasional reviews about books in other languages as well, though I can't remember any off the top of my head.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Bah, sorry, there's enough going on that I forgot to come back to this. kyuuketsukirui is correct: books in other languages are fine.

Question and my answer when it was asked on the FAQ post.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Thank you for the update.

I really appreciate the thoughtfulness you put in before making decisions, and also how careful you are to consider input from the entire community, including people I may disagree with.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

(Deleted comment)
Thanks for this. I haven't commented before, but I thought winterfox's initial review had some excellent points (haven't read Fury, but certainly Ai Ling's exceptionalism in the first book), and the ensuing discussion shifted my initial thoughts about calling out the author - from a "critique the work, not the author" approach to the belief that this is an artificial separation, and one driven more by my unexamined assumptions about "proper" behaviour rather than enabling discussion. I don't want the comm to be a place where people attempt to outdo each other in colourful invective, but if a particular book has made you feel that strongly, then a blanket ban on expression seems unhelpful.

Which is the problem I had with the comments linked above, in that they seemed much more likely to shut down discussion than promote it. Your summary here is elegant and clear, and helped me sort out my own thoughts on the matter.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Thank you for this.

(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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