Moderation policies

Careful reader will note all the missing points, misconceptions and inconsistencies, but probably won’t risk to be disrespected and even demonized like I was just for the one post with my dilemmas and beside it for a couple of replies which I created exclusively because I was asked by the Leader 13 days after the OP because, I guess, he wanted to understand my perspective?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen… well, let’s euphemistically say, “inappropriate conduct in a professional setting”.

There is so much to learn from @deeplow about your own Code of conduct (in which context I clumsy mentioned “freedom of speech”). Thank you @deeplow!

Merged two threads about the same topic in the interest of readability and context. Please be civil and technical.

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@Sven I disagree that this merge improves readability. @enmus raised a very precise concern about dom0, very different from this topic. Also, this topic is long and really hard to follow, since the OP did not express their problem clearly, shifted goals, and there were very many attempts to clarify what the problem was (thank you @adw). This topic should have been closed instead, in my opinion.

Even though I strongly disagree with the @enmus’s concerns, the discussion was IMHO civil and sufficiently technical. If an advanced user has such concern, it’s important to understand them and explain what actual goals of Qubes Air are and which rights its users will have, instead of trying to hide the discussion from the community (@adw). One can see that other users like Annah also have similar concerns.

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@fsflover too.
I am sure you are aware how firmly, as a Jehovah witness, or even a Cerberus sometimes, I advocated for Qubes so far.

This is a pretty serious mischaracterization. The staff already had an established policy about what to do with spam and conspiracy-theory-type threads, and that policy is to unlist the thread, add a mod-only comment explaining why, and then allow a second mod who agrees (if any) to close the thread. This ensures that at least two mods are required to agree before a thread gets closed. (Since @deeplow disagreed with the unlisting of that thread, we just added a clause about what to do if two mods disagree: It gets relisted until a third mod decides which way to go.) I was simply following the policy that the staff had previously established (spearheaded by @deeplow) about how to handle threads like that, yet you, in your capacity as a forum “Leader,” are accusing me of “trying to hide the discussion from the community.”

There are several problems with this:

  1. Instead of asking me what I was doing or intended to do, you simply assume that you already know my motivations.
  2. You assume the worst. Rather than assuming that I’m just trying to do my job as a moderator by enforcing the rules and keeping the forum clean (like you), or even some neutral explanation, you assume I’m actively trying to work against the interests of the community.
  3. You have no reason to assume the worst. I’ve been working for the community’s interests for years. I’ve been the staunchest user advocate this project has for years (including in ways you will never know, in conversations behind closed doors).

It seems rather illogical to look at someone who has a long track record of working for a community’s interests and interpret their latest action as being directly opposed to that community without any reasonable explanation for the sudden reversal.

I used to believe that building a good reputation by consistently doing the right thing over a long period of time would be meaningful and worthwhile. I believed it for the Qubes OS Project as a whole and for myself as one person playing a small role in contributing to this project. You and others have thoroughly disabused me of that notion by repeatedly assuming the worst about the project, the developers, and me. (I believe the principle probably still holds in other areas of life, but not here.)

Finally, instead of sharing your concerns privately as a fellow moderator, or even just first confirming their accuracy in private, you started off with a public accusation, which then requires me to write this lengthy (and off-topic) public reply, lest it seem like my lack of response to a forum “Leader” who tagged me constitutes some tacit admission of wrongdoing. This generates unnecessary drama.

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Thank you for your detailed response @adw. I apologize that my post came as too rude. I did not assume bad intentions on your side and never expressed such idea.

Trying to clarify misunderstandings, offtopic

I expressed that your actions worked against the Community. There are no perfect people and I’m sure my own actions work sometimes against the Community, too (and I’m always happy if anyone points out this for me so I could improve). It doesn’t mean our intentions are bad.

  1. I was not aware of the unlisting policy you mentioned. Are there any links?

  2. It seems rather illogical to look at someone who has a long track record of working for a community’s interests and interpret their latest action as being directly opposed to that community without any reasonable explanation for the sudden reversal.
    100% agree. But some people could interpret what you just did with @enmus as the above: Applying policy for “spam and conspiracy-theory-type threads” against a regular user. It seemed to me that @enmus felt offended (and expressed it quite rude too).

  3. I never assume the worst intention by anyone on this forum, especially by you and moderators. I explicitly acknowledged your numerous generous attempts to clarify the problem of the OP.

I’m sorry if that looked like a public accusation. It wasn’t my intention. My intention was to add my voice against unlisting and to show to other people that the moderators do not have any intention to censor the discussion (even if it’s not against the law).

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I just don’t want to be the reason for the fuss. Please!

Reply

https://forum.qubes-os.org/t/guideline-dealing-with-spam-conspiracy-thread/2049/

As I mentioned, this is a staff policy, so it is in the Staff forum section, which — according to its description — is visible only to “admins, moderators, and category moderators.”

Perhaps this episode demonstrates the value of having such policies visible to the general public. (Something to consider, @deeplow.)

That page doesn’t explain how exactly the “Regular user” badge gets awarded, but it sounds like too much weight is placed on merely being active on the forum for a long enough time. There’s not necessarily any correlation between the quantity and the quality of posting activity. Someone who simply posts a lot of stuff over a long period of time does not necessarily contribute to high-quality discussion. It may be worth rethinking how such badges get awarded.

In any case, whether a thread is spam or spreading conspiracy theories depends on the content of that thread, not the person who posts it. The thread in question was particularly egregious in making baseless, inflammatory claims. For example:

Where to begin? First of all, nothing in Joanna’s post indicates that dom0 will ever have “its own IP address” or be hosted on some server unknown to the user, so this can’t be “obvious” because in order to be obvious, something first has to be true. Second, the poster provided zero evidence to support this claim. No links. No quotations. Nothing. Just a bald assertion. Finally, there’s a link to the poster’s own comment in a thread about Intel ME, insinuating that, in the future, the evil Qubes devs will turn dom0 into something nefarious like Intel ME. This, of course, makes no sense, as the Qubes devs have been working for their entire careers to do the exact opposite: to secure users from security threats similar to Intel ME. (This is another example of what I was talking about above. You can work your whole life for a good cause, and ignorant people will still accuse you of working against it. It’s almost like they want to drive away everyone working for that cause.)

Feeling offended doesn’t change whether a thread violates a rule or not. Either it does, or it doesn’t. (Any individual mod can be wrong about whether it does, which is why multiple mods have to agree before a thread is closed.) It’s not surprising that some users feel offended when the rules are enforced against their threads and try to get “revenge” by lashing out against the mods with passive-aggressive ad hominem remarks. (Such behavior is as old as discussion forums themselves.) But that doesn’t mean we should never enforce the rules just to avoid offending people.

Thanks, I appreciate that.

I’m not sure why this cognitive bias regarding freedom of speech and censorship as applied to the forum seems to be so pervasive and persistent. Let me be very clear: Censorship is extremely bad when the government does it, and freedom of speech is extremely important as a legal right. However, neither of these things are applicable to private spaces like this discussion forum. It is not possible for us to censor anyone’s free speech, because we are not their government.

The reason it’s bad when a government censors its citizens is because that means the citizens aren’t allowed to speak about the censored topic anywhere in public without risking fines or imprisonment (or worse), but this doesn’t apply to a single-project internet discussion forum that no one is forced to use and to which everyone has nearly-limitless alternatives (in terms of places to “speak”). No one has a right to say whatever they want here. This is not the public square. This is the Qubes OS Forum. If we never “censored” anything here, the forum would be overrun with low-quality posts that contribute little-to-nothing to the project. (Some might say we’re already approaching that point.) Having no intention to “censor” the discussion simply means having no intention to moderate the forum.

As I said. Each further written sentence will be used to get disrespected, even demonized. Whoever write it.

Or should we come here once or twice a week, write several posts, share some slaps almost each time and so on and on?

Yes, I also think so. The more transparency, the better.

This is not just being “active on the forum for a long time”. Again, transparency is the key. Here is how to become a Regular:

Quote

To get to trust level 3, in the last 100 days…

  • Must have visited at least 50% of days

  • Must have replied to at least 10 different non-PM topics

  • Of topics created in the last 100 days, must have viewed 25% (capped at 500)

  • Of posts created in the last 100 days, must have read 25% (capped at 20k)

  • Must have received 20 likes, and given 30 likes.*

  • Must not have received more than 5 spam or offensive flags (with unique posts and unique users for each, confirmed by a moderator)

  • Must not have been suspended or silenced in the last 6 months

  • These likes must be across a minimum number of different users (1/5 the number), across a minimum number of different days (1/4 the number). Likes cannot be from PMs.

You can probably see that you should actually contribute quite a bit and help enough users to get such badge. In my opinion, this badge must be well deserved, the policy for it is reasonable, and we should value such users.

There are only 5 Regulars on this forum in 2 years after its creation (not counting Leaders and Qubes Team), whereas there are 209 Members and 1278 Basic Users (and I wonder how many users without any badge).

Moreover, you can go to @enmus’s profile and see who gave most likes to the user – and it’s me and @deeplow but also many other respected users. You can also see the topics user has created, the posts and judge how much they contribute to the Community. (Transparency is the key.)

You are right, although the user history should play some role in decisions how to act. Your further response to @enmus’s post is reasonable and @enmus indeed did not provide any evidence why user-hostile Qubes future is “obvious”. In my own responses, I tried to understand the reasons why it seemed “obvious”. I think it’s important to understand, because, as I already mentioned, there are other users with such thoughts. It seems to come from a wrong understanding of what “control” is. I would continue this discussion with @enmus, because I’m curious where it all comes from.

But it does change how Qubes Community looks for the bystanders/observers. I am personally trying to moderate without offending anyone unless there is no other way.

I fully agree with you. I just wanted to note that unlisting would not improve the trust of the observers to the Community. In my humble opinion, transparency always works better than restrictions. Especially with the people we want to attract.

I don’t see any bias here. Yes, any restrictions on this forum are not governmental, illegal censorship. Nobody said they were. However it doesn’t mean you can’t call this censorship, or that it does not do any harm. Again, in my humble opinion, the less suppression of the free speech we have on the forum, the better for the Community (assuming the discussion is sufficiently technical and on topic!). This is how we can descrease repeating questions from new users, like the one we’re discussing, from appearing on the forum and breaking the discussions like in this case. This is how we can increase the trust of the people to Qubes Community.

Yes, this is definitely true. If the discussion is not very technical and/or not on topic, like (one could argue) in the current case, it can still be steered into the technical debate, if it would benefit the Community, instead of closing or hiding the discussion. Not all users are very good at expressing their thoughts in English. It doesn’t mean, we should assume the worst, especially when it’s about Regulars.

You should be polite, respectful and not assume the worst intentions. This breaks the forum Guidelines.

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I agree. Absolutely, and I apologize. It’s just that “nonsense”, insinuations like “cut the FUD”, “conspiracy theories”, “if you’re convinced that the rest of us are trying to be evil”, “If your fork is the superior project, surely the majority of contributors would abandon the old one to join yours”, “unlisted 8 hours ago”, “spam and conspiracy-theory-type threads” “ignorant people”, “accuse” (false accusation that I accuse), “passive-aggressive ad hominem remarks”, “This is not the public square”, was at the point too much even for me.
Regardless of the fact, I shouldn’t allowed myself to reply in the same, or similar manner. This is private forum and if I don’t like it, I always have a choice not to participate.
The fact that since last October I created only 41 topics should solely speak against all the quoted above.
Too many times I stated that mostly it’s not about bad motives, but differences between people (language, cultural, etc…). From that perspective, everything is much easier to perceive.

PSA

This thread in particular and the general events (on this forum) of the last 24+ hours motivate me to state something that should be obvious:

PLEASE take some care in formulating your questions, assertions, posts!

Maybe many of us have been trained by the media to think about things in inflammatory terms or make statements in attention grabbing headline form. Maybe it’s social media too. I don’t know … I don’t read the news (mostly), have no TV and don’t participate in social media.

In the last 5+ years of participating in this forum and the mailing list before I was not even once accused or perceived to spread FUD or be disrespectful. There have been misunderstandings but they all have been removed within a post or two. At any given topic there is a 70% plus chance that @fsflover and I will disagree in some form, but that has never lead to any conflict or drama. So what gives?

How come that some people here can discuss for years with each other and have very different perspectives, yet are civil even friendly … while others seem to have a hard time getting themselves understood and getting a good reception?

I think the answer is obvious: it’s the care that goes into the posts.

Reading them two or three times BEFORE publishing. Asking oneself:

  • am I just blabbering? (my first drafts are always 2-3 times as long and I spend most of the time removing things before posting)

  • is this really what I want to say?

  • how could this be challenged / misunderstood?

  • am I being lazy? … can I find the answer / information myself?

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Note that it probably gets much more complicated than you described if your English knowledge is far from perfect. You might be right that the “non-polite” style could come from the (social) media, since it’s one of the typical resources for reading, especially for people learning the language. Learning a foreign language as a grown-up is really hard.

How come that I can discuss with people who do not formulate their questions perfectly, without any conflict or drama? I just assume good intentions, always.

Of course, your main advice is still very much valid:

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Excellent point!

Just a little Thank you to all the humans involved for being able to deal with problems in such a professional way.

The brutal professionalism even if people disagree is what i really enjoy in this community. This “incident” is a great example on how to handle those.

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I take serious issue with this. In my opinion this places undue emphasis on a definition rather than the point being made. To me it seems the point being made is that moderators are inappropriately inserting themselves without proper transparency. For the record I agree with this assessment, but I can understand the reasoning of the mods wanting to avoid FUD or misinformation. However I think the act of unlisting topics is also going to create a lot of FUD as opposed to addressing the how the particular topic is misunderstood. Given the length of time many people have spent on the forums I expect you have a much better technical understanding than most of the people asking the questions, as such many of the explanations I tend to see from mods are not very easily understood by someone who is new to qubes or linux. To users this often appears as just some sleight of hand with a bunch of technical mumbojumbo instead of trying to give a satisfactory explanation. Especially if this is followed up by unlisting or hiding the post it will seem to them that you are actually trying to hide a genuine question. Give the average qubes userbase I don’t think it is unfair to call us more cautious than average when it comes to censorship which will often also serve to amplify misunderstandings.

I think it would be a good idea for moderators to provide a clear explanation for their actions when they do decide to take action and perhaps reducing the amount of moderator action taken. In the time I’ve been around I think mods might be a bit too quick to split and/or merge various topics which, once again just based on my own experience, seems to cause more confusion than benefit.

An alternative solution I think would work out much better is that whenever some topic or discussion is resolved then someone should make a seperate guide/topic summarizing it so you don’t end up sending a bunch of people trying to discuss something into 3 different threads. At least for some of the more common issues that arise (Help I think someone has hacked me, How do I install package-name, how to properly set up mullvad vpn, minimal templates help) which all have been asked many times if you instead wrote up a tutorial/summary and had someone from the qubes team greenlight it and add it to the official documentation. If you could then reference that in future discussions then you wouldn’t be as dependant on future readability of threads as you are currently are. Ideally this should reduce the need for moderator actions like splitting and merging threads as well as hopefully allowing the rest of us to more easily address FUD, by pointing to high quality information as a result of previous discussions explaining things.

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What is this place?

It’s a publicly viewable and moderated forum about a specific topic, which means the vast majority of possible topics are not welcome.

We have a code of conduct and expect everyone to show professional and respectful behavior, so many forms of expression are not welcome.

No one is compelled to use this forum or limited in any way to express themselves through it. By making an account and joining the discussion one gives consent to be subject to moderation and agrees to stay on-topic and within the code of conduct.

Moderation is done by the community for the community. It’s not a single person but a growing team. Mistakes or overreach are bound to happen, because we are all human. The other members of the community will point that out and issues will be resolved together.

It’s not a public square, it’s a private club that is open to everyone to join.

This is all correct and very generally applicable. This however I would like to emphasize:

If the community genuinely wants to understand whether a future version of Qubes will restrict users in any way, this question should be clearly answered and not hidden. Even if the language used in the question is not perfect. This is all what this discussion is about, originally.

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It really depends on how you’re conceiving of this forum. If you think that the primary purpose of this forum is to be a place where Qubes users can discuss what they like, then you’ll probably view any type of moderation beyond the bare minimum as unwanted interference. However, that’s not the primary reason this forum was created. The primary reason that this forum exists is to further the interests of the Qubes OS Project, which, in turn, serves the interests of its users.

There’s an old joke that forum moderators are like the “janitors of the internet.” There’s certainly some truth to that, as their job is clean up the garbage that users strew about in the course of posting on message boards and in chat rooms. It’s an important job, but often a thankless one.

Now, in this instance, we had a user who was spreading lies about Qubes and defaming its developers. That doesn’t serve the interests of the project, so that alone is reason enough to remove those comments or the thread. Moreover, such comments are the equivalent of digital garbage, and it’s moderators’ job the clean up such garbage. So that’s yet another reason for removal. If mods didn’t do their jobs, the garbage would just pile up until it was everywhere. The forum would be a cess pit of misinformation, ignorance, and lies.

Now, let’s talk about transparency. What that means, in this sort of case, is the mods explaining why they’re taking the actions they’re taking. In fact, I did leave two comments explaining why the offending comments were FUD before taking action on the thread. However, I don’t think the mods always owe the general public an explanation for every moderation action, and here’s why:

  1. Moderating takes a lot of time, and mods may simply not have time to fully explain every action they take (while still doing their jobs), especially when they know that any explanation they offer is likely to be contested by the offender (and his sock puppets), sucking them into an endless debate that takes up even more time.

  2. Even when the mods provide perfect explanations for their actions, some people won’t be convinced or won’t understand. This doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with the explanation. It just means that any explanation requires both parties to function properly in order for it to “work”: The explainer has to provide a good explanation, and the listener has to hear and understand the explanation. Sometimes, people don’t listen, or they misconstrue, or they’re irrational.

  3. Since the ultimate purpose of this forum is to support the Qubes OS Project, the mods don’t answer to users; they answer to the project. This forum isn’t an experiment in democracy-for-its-own-sake. It’s a means to an end, that end being a progressively better Qubes OS. (Similarly, note how the Qubes development roadmap isn’t democratically decided by the userbase. That would turn out quite poorly, as most users don’t have the experience or expertise necessary to determine which goals are realistic and important for a complex, security-oriented meta-OS.)

When I first learned of this project, I was in the same boat. I had never used Linux before and had no idea what was going on. However, I recognized that software engineering, infosec, virtualization, etc. were highly complex and technical fields to which the developers and experienced contributors had devoted decades of study and research. I admired their experience and tried to ask smart questions that were respectful of their time. When I didn’t understand the answers, I took it as an indication that there were gaps in my knowledge, and it motivated me to learn as much as I could. While my knowledge still pales in comparison to theirs, this approach has benefited me greatly. I didn’t assume that they were charlatans trying to bamboozle me. Instead, I adopted an appropriate degree of intellectual humility and saw it as an opportunity — and a personal challenge — to better myself.

It’s very surprising to me to hear that some novices view good answers to their questions from more experienced folks as “just some sleight of hand with a bunch of technical mumbojumbo.” However, my reaction is not one of anger, but of sadness. I feel sorry for them, since their parochial mentality has robbed them of the opportunities for personal development that I have enjoyed, not to mention the practical benefits that improved technical skills and understanding can bring. I suppose this is just an unfortunate consequence of the anti-intellectualism of our age.

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