I’ve been moderating forums and lists for almost 20 years now. When I’m moderating for other people or the public, I generally prefer to say gentle, humorous things like:
Rule #1: Be Excellent To Each Other
Rule #2: Don’t Be A D…erm…Asshat? Don’t be an asshat!
Rule #3: Please Do Not Feed The Trolls
Rule #4: Stay On Targ… I mean TOPIC.
-Your Friendly Local Benevolent Dictator-
That’s probably why I often earn the reputation for being the nice mod, the good cop – I’ve been known to hand-hold people through the process of learning how to interact like a mature adult if I see any redeeming qualities in them, and I try to stay well up and out of any interpersonal conflicts on my forums.
However, I have realized I have expectations that those cheerfully geeky rules don’t make explicit. So I’ll be a bit less flippant and trope-oriented, and a bit more blunt in my own spaces:
RULE #1: Discuss IDEAS, not people. I expect you to actively engage the concepts presented, as opposed to discussing the behavior, attitudes, potential motivations, vices, or even virtues of the other participants. I expect you to be intelligent enough, and sufficiently skilled in basic logic and critical thinking, to know the difference.
RULE #2: Stay Civil. You are a guest here, in my space. Please behave with the decorum appropriate to a visitor in someone else’s home.
It is in fact possible to disagree with someone respectfully. That is the very essence of debate. I don’t require that everyone admire each other, but if you’ve dropped below common courtesy into spite it’s time to let it go, or take it elsewhere.
That means no personal attacks. They utterly fail to support any valid argument whatsoever, and serve no useful purpose except to break Rule 4. If you simply can’t contain yourself, go write a witty rant in your own space, and come back when you’ve re-established self control.
Now, I do actually value being politely disagreed with. I value being sincerely challenged to clarify my own thoughts, to support my own arguments – provided that the person doing it is presenting me with something clear against which to push, and supporting their own arguments equally well. If you want to actively engage me with debate, feel free. But if you do, you’d better hold your own with real arguments, not just attitude.
RULE #3: Own Your Feelings. I do understand that not all topics are comfortable subjects for debate, and not all attempts to voice our thoughts are necessarily intended to start a debate. I will often note when I write a post if the topic is a sensitive one for me, and will subsequently refuse to engage in debate with people if they bring up objections in response.
If what you need to do is express how you feel about a topic, that’s fine. All I ask is that you own that they’re your feelings, and be clear on where your feelings end and the rest of the world begins.
Scenarios are not emotions. If your sentence starts with “I feel like you are….” then you’ve gotten out of your emotional state and into describing how someone else is. It’s a step in the right direction – owning your opinion – but it’s not recognizing the difference between your perception of the world and your feelings.
To be clear, I’m fine with you describing your world perceptions too! I just ask that everyone be as clear as possible what the boundaries of what they’re saying are, and not stray into crossing other people’s boundaries with their assertions. We don’t get to define each other, only ourselves. A little clarity goes a long way.
RULE #4: No Baiting. Just because you are clever enough to skirt the line without crossing it yourself in order to entice or incite others to rush well past it, doesn’t mean I can’t tell it’s you who started it. There are many forms of trolling. Some of them are funny, I admit, but even the funny ones are forms of baiting. Troll somewhere else please.
That doesn’t mean there is no value for playing “Devil’s Advocate”. If that’s what you want to do, then fine, present your hypothetical – call it out overtly – and we’ll play. Keyword: Play. Devil’s Advocate works in a very specific way. If you don’t know how to play that role, don’t try.
Presenting a poorly formed or odious position in order to provoke a reaction is NOT “Devil’s Advocate”, it’s trolling. Presenting an unpopular opinion without caveat or context and then complaining when people tell you just how unpopular that opinion is, and why, is not Devil’s Advocate, it’s just being a poor loser at debate.
If the only argument you can offer for why you are taking a deplorable position is that you have freedom of speech, then you have no argument at all. Take your poorly formed bigotry elsewhere, and have a nice life.
RULE #5: Don’t fall for it. Seriously, if you’re being baited, contact me outside of the conversation and let me deal with it. Rise above it, or take a break, but don’t let yourself get pulled off the topic.