Filtering Spaces

August 7, 2009

For any internet discussion space, there is a spectrum. On one end sits the most awesome, creative, intelligent space beyond your imagination, on the other end lies an endless page of spam porn and Timecube Birther rants in an unholy Esparanto of Zalgo and lolspeak. The second law of Internet thermodynamics states that all discussion spaces are headed toward the latter end unless active measures are taken.

So, filtering.

As stated before with Designing Spaces for Design Discussions, it takes work to make sure you get the good side and not the bad side of the spectrum.

Places like the Angry Black Woman blog has both a set of rules for discussion and a required reading list. This is really important if you’re running a forum or otherwise expect to encounter a lot of newcomers that you -want- to bring up to speed.

Generally, I’ve found, though, that people who just want to troll don’t care about whatever good-faith rules or requirements you put up, and, at best, simply use them to better camoflage their way into acting as concern trolls.

For the most part, public rules work better as education tools for good faith participants and to establish a chain of policy for banning/moderating, which is excellent in forums or spaces where more than one person has to share authority about moderating space.

The way I filter here, though, is actually more advanced.

There’s three things I’ve found common in people capable of good faith discussions- a willingness to self educate, not assuming authority irregardless of being uninformed on the topic at hand, and a lack of aggressive (“defensive”) posturing. Having these 3 qualities are necessary for meaningful discussion which is not locked into privilege based blinders.

I usually only let a few comments through which violate those principles, in order to show -how not to behave-, which you can find in a few other posts in the past. Long-time readers pick up on this, though trolls and folks who are more focused on speaking their own rather than dialoguing never do, probably because they’re not really reading. (Again, it’s a filtering tool).

Part of what makes this very effective is that most people imagine the only purpose of online discussion is to make oneself popular and well-liked (even if all you do is toss out hateful rants)- so the idea of disregarding large portions of the internet populace as irrelevant to discussion, even unto being an asshole and ruining your “online cred” (OH NOES!), it’s completely beyond them.

People who can grasp the point of the discussion space operate just fine, people who can’t show themselves out very quickly. Though this is less of a group discussion space, it works as a teaching space in it’s own way.

Whatever way you go, filtering is all about keeping true to the purpose of your space and who you serve. Filtering is the way to make sure it stays that way.


  1. I entered a comment on the Penny Arcade thread that I’m glad you filtered. 😦 It was knee-jerk “oh he’s ignoring *this* possibility which absolves Tycho+Gabe! and incidentally me!” when in fact the comic triggered bad feelings, regardless of whether I’d rather call the cause “racism” or “ignorance”.

    Plus the tone of my comment was absurd. So thanks for keeping it from visibility. 🙂

    • Understand that my letting any thoughtless example through is a service to you folks coming over from the gaming communities – the moderation exists because my primary readers want a space to read and talk about this stuff without race/gender 101 arguments and, inevitably the trolling, poisoning the space.

      You just happened to be lucky that a couple of people gave the two most common examples ahead of you.

  2. Thanks. Useful. I’ve been thinking of forums recently.

    • A good thing to consider is this: what is anyone bringing to the conversation to -improve- the discussion?

      This is an alien concept for most of internet-land, but it makes all the difference. It’s about realizing that this is not a “shoot the shit and everyone throws in their two cents” socializing affair, but rather a directed endeavor with a purpose and an aim – finding filtering processes to keep it on that track.

      I’m sure you see the parallels to game design, except the primary issue of filtering here is dealing with people who are operating in bad faith to your social contract. Which is what makes it more complicated and also that much more necessary.

      “Being the asshole” (not submitting to privileged demands for hand holding, space-taking, and education) also serves as a useful litmus test here – people who don’t get it either don’t post or are incensed and show their hands early, and the people who do get it, see I’m not really being an asshole at all, just returning the behavior given to me…

  3. Speaking of gender and race 101 – I’ve noted the shock over my ‘audacity’ to control my space. I was doing discussion wrong according to them. Someone even brought up ‘Fair and Balanced’. Near wet myself laughing.

    No comments at all people seem to understand much better/easier than my keeping control over the discussion. Even though they’re understanding a whole lot of wrong reasons.

    But not even accidentally reading the first line of a stupid comment in the moderation queue has been welcomed by my blood pressure.

    • Yeah, I totally see that.

      Maybe you should consider a group blog with you as admin and others you trust as comment posters only? You can still have a public interaction, if you see a value in sharing sane conversations as examples w/o having to expose yourself to the hate.

      The levels of entitlement are always… boggling. It’s like someone who believes babies are delivered by storks demanding to speak on gynecology and then screaming “censorship!” when their proudly uninformed opinion isn’t given time and energy.

  4. The entitlement is seriously amazing. Because this is the internet; There are at least 10 different easy ways to set up a blog presence. Heck just having a gmail account these days mean you have access to blogger and the potential to just activate a blog.

    But yet, if they don’t get to ‘tell me’ in my own space, then apparently the telling isn’t worth as much. So it’s obvious that it’s not so much they have discussion they want to engage in, so much as they want to Leave Their Mark. And how dare I prevent them from doing so. How dare I use the power given to me by the medium. Just because there’s power built in for me to use, doesn’t, apparently, mean I should know about it and utilize it.

    It’s very revealing.

    Especially in the context of ‘But everyone wants to be popular therefore…’

    – You’re only letting your sycophants through…

    – Why aren’t you letting anyone, even your sycophants through… (like I have them anyway)

    – Why are you writing if you’re not trying to teach us? Who else could you be talking to?

    – How can you be having a conversation we can’t see???

    I’m sure you can guess the rest, since it’s so. damn. tired and familiar.

    • Yes!

      If we consider privilege as socially groomed narcissism, it pretty much explains the idea of the mindset- the world exists to serve the person in question, and the things that don’t? Obviously are someone else trying to serve themselves in a rude, selfish, and petty minded way! Anything else is literally inconceivable. Small minds only see small minded motivations – projection is a helluva neurosis.

      It’s exactly why they roll to our spaces, find everything we’re writing about alien and foreign, and -still- assume they’re the intended audience (or at least the only audience that matters), and then proceed to tell us how we’re failing to serve them. It never occurs to them that if the majority of the posts and links are completely new ideas to them, that maybe a different audience is being served. The idea that anyone/anything else exists in non-service is beyond privilege’s conceptual space.

      Of course, it also comes out in just those questions you’ve listed- it’s always really important to make sure words are heard when it’s white/male/straight folks correcting everyone else in their spaces, but these same folks are mysteriously absent and ignorant when it comes to attacking censorship by white/male/straight folks on everyone else- despite the overwhelming levels of documentation. It’s both laughable and damning to claim ignorance as a viable defense (“Storks bring babies!”).

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