Feedback Wanted on Blog Moderation

The Question of Moderation

Sometimes people on this blog are civil. Sometimes they say negative things about each other. I recognize that moderating this has been uneven. That is for at least two reasons: 1) it is hard to be consistent over time, especially when one is in a hurry due to other obligations and 2) several people have the authority to moderate comments and we probably don’t have the same worldview of acceptability because we are all dealing individually with 1), in addition to our own differences.

I myself have been accused of being unethical, a consort of the Sith Lord, etc., but while it doesn’t bother me (sticks and stones and all that), I think by it does pollute, albeit perhaps subtly, the atmosphere of the blog. We have plenty of great policy questions to debate without accusing others of bad intentions or self-interest or whatever.

I think we have erred in the direction of quickness, so the dialogue is real time, and generally probably been too easygoing about the effects on the atmosphere, which is not necessarily a good thing. Hence, this discussion.

So I have exhorted people not to do it. And they don’t, for a while. And then someone starts.

The alternative would be for me (and possibly the other volunteers if they agreed) to spend a lot more time editing comments, or to not approve them and email people to tell them why, or not approving and having people figure out on their own as to why. None of these seem like desirable alternatives (to me) because they displace the responsibility from the writer to the volunteer blog administrators.

Even though I plan to spend more time on the blog in the future when I retire, I’m not sure that micro-editing snarky statements would be the best use of my time. It would be much better for people to police themselves.

But in reality that does not seem to work. So here are a couple of other ideas.

1. Others on the blog could step up, perhaps, and say… so and so, you are over the line. Now this tends to happen only across philosophical lines, perhaps each group could form a team and police their own?

2. Maybe we could find a charity that funds civility and get a grant for a “civilizta” to patrol the site.

I’m interested in what others think:

Do you think moderation is a problem?
If so, What are your ideas for a solution?

13 Comments

  1. Thank you Sharon, the questions you pose are very appropriate and hopefully will cause a bit of reflection by all who choose to participate here. I hope and would expect you get some robust comments to this post.

    First, I would offer, in all sincerity and humility a “Thank you” to you and the other moderators who keep this blog going. Hopefully your willingness to devote so much of your time has proven to be worthwhile and you are willing to continue.

    With a few exceptions, I think the moderation has been appropriate. Although NCFP has probably strayed from its original intent dedicated to “policy” and “planning” I believe the passion shared by some of the most frequent commentors towards the more ground/project level management should be telling. It’s what we know best. Occasionally we (speaking for myself and others) get carried away and lose sight of the bigger picture (and the comment policy here).

    With respect to folks like Mr. Iverson, Mr. Fernwood and others…yes, our (my) eyes do glaze over at discussions aimed at the upper policy level. In truth, most of us simply cannot, do not, don’t have the time and/or experience to engage at that level. But how many times have we heard by our leaders (elected or otherwise) that a “ground-up” approach is what they’re after.

    A ground-up approach is sometimes messy…emotional outbursts often take the place of rational and civil discussion. I’m not sure that moderating these away is appropriate. The challenge (for the moderators) is trying to read-thru what the underlying messages of the comments are.

    As much as some folks here would like to hide behind the intricacies of the laws and conflicting/confounding science, I think the challenges we face with forest planning and policy are inherently social. Some of the more recent name calling, outing and calling each other out are not appropriate, however I believe comments (and moderation of comments – no matter how emotionally driven) should be encouraged in an effort to help “map out” the issues.

    Given the challenges you cited in above, particularly the different “world views” amongst moderators, my vote would be to first, police ourselves – if things are devolving past “snarky” comments and if folks can’t hold their tongue then WE should note it, either publicly (in comments) or to a moderator. If that doesn’t work then the”‘offender(s)” should be given notice and not be allowed to comment/post for a specified period of time and/or banned from commenting.

    I doubt, given the passion of the routine posters, commentors or followers, that any of us wants this site to turn into some sort of milquetoast drivel that we can get at work or read about in the paper. The comment considerations are fairly clear…biggest hurdle is trying to discern what is “kind” vs. what is (and should) be “challenging.”

    Personally I enjoy coming here to see and challenge Matt’s dedication to what he feels is right, read Bob’s take on peer reviewed science, remark at David’s vocabulary and mastery (albeit somewhat loquacious use) of the English language, and get Larry’s take on forest management (and “catastrophic fire”). Of course Sharon, your exceedingly balanced views are always appriecated too.. Anyway, that’s all I have to offer. No doubt Derek will call it another disillusionment, but I hope you’ll moderate that away!

    • It is hard to add anything to your great comment JZ.

      The Forest Service often happily shoots themselves in the foot, sometimes with a seemingly innocuous sentence within a marking prescription. I ran into just that, yesterday, shaking my head at seeing the Forest Service risk the entire project over something that could easily be construed as “illegal” and greedy. My lowly position and need for a job prevents me from saying much against this risky stance. Also, it is pretty hard to use my allowed “discretion” to avoid legal conflict. I found myself “biting my tongue” to avoid questioning why we want to risk the almost inevitable litigation. It seems that our only defense in this specific issue to shut up, and hope the serial litigators don’t discover it.

      Whenever I use “snark”, I justify it because of the ridiculousness of a previous comment. That often seems to quell my disgust for preservationist “un-reality”. I’m often painted as an extremist timber beast but, I feel I am firmly in the middle of the road. I’m within my rights to fight against those who are happy to slander me and my peers, to push for their own exceedingly narrow preservationist views. I would never want to silence or censor those opponents, though. If Matt hadn’t chimed in on some issues, they wouldn’t get out into the public arena. There still appears to be some “conflict of interest” by pounding a square timber production block into an ecological hole. We still need to “walk the talk”, above all, to continue to earn trust.

  2. I think the moderation of this blog is very good. I have no complaints. Of course, I cannot see those comments being edited out, but some level of conflict can be very productive over the long-term.

  3. You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore. I’ve been planning to exit for a long time. I realized a long time ago this blog was a useless endeavor. So for the last few months I’ve been havin fun mocking enviro hypocrisy. You know, isn’t that what you old hippies called guerrilla theater. Don’t you think it was all a bit Jerry Rubin’ish? I’ve patterned my whole character, my whole persona if you will, after Mathew, David and Garrity. I’m your anti matter. I’m your parallel universe.(no offense)

    I see no progress here. “gaining trust…?” I haven’t seen any increase in trust here.”finding common ground…? Nothing but hopeful feel good buzz phrases. As I’ve said before, this blog has only proved to me more than ever that radical enviros won’t and don’t want to be part of the solution. And that’s a realization I think has turned away many visitors to this blog. As in “whats the point debating him.” Get it. You’re blind if you don’t see that. Any hopes that appeasement, making them feel “inclusive” , or just plain kissing Mathews a**, isn’t gonna get Garrity, Hansen, or the CBD off you back. You might consider offering to double his salary-that might bring him around. However, I do find it ironic that Mathew defends the CBD’s plan to log 30,000 acres per year, but condemns those who want to do the same in Montana as Nazi collaborators. An Irony I’m sure is not lost on others. That said. I don’t hate you Matt. I’m sure you’re a good father, son, husband and friend. I promise I won’t threaten your life in the Missoulian again(that is what I did-right)!

    And I wish you collaborators luck. You are the future. But as I’ve pointed out, the only “collaborative” that I know of that was actually implemented and actually built a sawmill for the “small diameter trees”, went belly up and failed(QLG)-due to litigation. Maybe you could expand on that Larry? The rest of you guys are nothing but on the drawing board. Ten years of attending meetings is over. The heavy lifting comes now. JZ. You’re a decent guy. Sorry to have given you a hard time(see persona above). But tell me? How many years has your collaborative been “holding meetings.” How many millions of tax dollars has gone to funding your meetings? How many “groups” are in your collaborative. How many “million board foot of timber” has gone to the timber industry as a result of your collaborative? Frankly, I think “real” change will only happen when guys like you have your projects frustrated by litigation and start scheming to change the laws. Something that’s totally lost on Mathew, but probably not the CBD. If the 4FRI was enjoined by the 9th circus, I gots a feeling the mighty Nature Conservancy would bring their considerable power to bear to “reform enviro laws.” D’ya think? Nobody cared when the wolf was just affecting a few thousand ranchers. But when it started affecting a few hundred thousand hunters…the laws got changed.

    For me, I’ll be redirecting my efforts elsewhere. RANGE magazine has published some of my logging stories for the last year. And I think we’ll have some fun in the future mocking enviro hypocrisy and holding radical enviros accountable for bungling forest policy. I despise those who wish to air brush history in the name of appeasement. I’m sure none of you have read the 1980’s forest plans for the southwests forests. If you would you would realized that the USFS was transitioning to the very “small diameter commercial thinning” that the CBD has now endorsed(that story coming in the August edition). I gots a feeling that with every wildfire, burning now and into far the future, business is gonna be good. But with every “green island” of thinned trees that survive on the edge of a black forest that used to be their playground, the public is gonna get more pissed. They’re gonna be asking why more of it wasn’t done. And they ain’t gonna be blamin the Forest Service. Everything is going according to plan.

    Enjoy fella’s and gals. I do respect you all. Even you Matt. I’ll pop in once in awhile. Sharon, I do wish you would re-direct your efforts to something more productive. The forestry issue is just gonna get hotter in the next few years-dontcha think?

    • Derek, you sound like a couple of my old bosses…(not that I blame them, management objectives are set at the top) in terms of metrics of productivity. I am a dreamer of a better world and a launcher into the unknown, with more impulsion than wisdom sometimes.

      Being in community is just about the hardest thing a person can do. We can get so frustrated with each other but the rewards can be incalculable.

      During this election season, it seems like everything I read is ” x people believe this, aren’t they stupid, malevolent or both? Aren’t you glad we are y people and are caring good and wonderful?” People make (silly, IMHO) global pronouncements about other people, like this op-ed from the NY Times today here:

      “Our biggest political division is the war between the empty places and the crowded places.

      It’s natural. People who live in crowded places tend to appreciate government. It’s the thing that sets boundaries on public behavior, protects them from burglars and cleans the streets. If anything, they’d like it to do more. (That pothole’s been there for a year!) The people who live in empty places don’t see the point. If a burglar decides to break in, that’s what they’ve got guns for. Other folks don’t get in their way because their way is really, really remote. Who needs government? It just makes trouble and costs money. ”

      If, for the tiniest bit of time, on the tiniest issues, we move past that and humanize our enemies (or as Benedict says, listen with the ears of our hearts) we are practicing something that may never add up to anything, but may change hearts, open minds and make better policy. But I can’t argue that it makes sense to pursue this based on the probability of a positive outcome.

  4. Having done a public meeting or two over the years, I think you are doing fine with your ongoing virtual town hall. Heck…on a good day the best a planner can hope for is to tee off about half the folks who show up. I count that as a sign of balance. We all see the world from the hilltop we are standing on. There will always be loud voices and rhetorical bombast. Vitriolic attacks happen…we’d like it otherwise, but that’s the way it is. (I could share a few stories…) There are also a lot of people who read, and think and don’t join the fray, but they vote, and I’d prefer they see the view from another hilltop now and then so they know there are different points of view. People are passionate about public lands, and that’s a good thing because we need people who care…otherwise the public lands won’t be here for the next generation, but finding the balance is hard. That kind of goes to the heart of being a forest planner (or perhaps more aptly said, goes to a forest planner’s heart). Comments from folks who do the personal attack thing really say more about them than about the topic at hand, so trying to filter for content is a good thing, but difficult. Sometimes, there is a nugget of truth in the flames. You host the blog, so it is your call about what gets on here, but on whole I think you are doing fine. North lies between northwest and northeast. Tacking back and forth between NW and NE is fine. You aren’t headed south as near as I can tell.

    The picture of the ref was great.

  5. The only thing I’ve had moderated here was my standard Boxxy response to perceived trollers that begin to irritate me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bMLrA_0O5I

    This may have been a reasonable decision, considering I said that the opposing poster’s “mom” (Boxxy) was calling him, as introduction to the link. Yep, snarky, and no chance to be called on the carpet by JZ because my post was altered before it was posted. Other than that, I’ve been glad to see that even my most cringe-inducing (“drunken”) posts have been aired; as someone else has said, it is often these types of things that actually provoke serious thoughts and useful discussions. Usually not, though, and that is why we self-police.

    I like this blog because of the passion of the posters, their mental agility, and their command of the topics. If I want vanilla pudding, I’ll go to Safeway. And I agree with what JZ has posted here, but he forgot to mention the great Referee picture.

    I also agree with Derek, to a point, but note that he will be back from time to time — while I probably never will go to Safeway’s to buy vanilla pudding again.

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