Thursday, 2 April 2009

Going back to base

It's been great to see The Hand Mirror become more read in recent months. We've welcomed new readers, new commenters, and been chuffed to see older friends again too.

The success has come at a price, and it's a cost that is now becoming too high to bear. If rectifying the situation means we lose some readers then I think it will be worth it.

I write, of course, of our comment threads.

We wanted this to be an overtly feminist, openly progressive, safe space in the turmoil of Blogland. Largely I think we've succeeded. But one or two trolls on a thread, even when there are fifteen friendlies commenting too, starts to feel bad. And I don't want to feel bad about this blog, or about blogging. I don't want to have my blogtime eaten up by nasty munters who seem to take every response, every deletion, as a boost to their self-worth.

So let's head back to our base; to (most of) you, dear readers, and to us, the writers.

What are we, who are we, and what do we want in our space?

Here's what I think:
  1. We are people - men, women, human beings. Inherent in that is treating each other with respect, as if we were face to face. We know we are not heartless robot monkeys typing away in search of Shakespeare in a cavern underneath Mt Eden.
  2. We are interested in discussion and debate - we don't mind disagreement, and we enjoy exploring points. We know that abuse is not necessary to achieve good discussion.
  3. We like inclusive language, and we know we're not perfect at that either - so when we get it wrong we call each other on it gently, as we might a dear friend. And we try not to get it wrong in the first place.
  4. We acknowledge that this is a feminist blog, written through the lens of women from and/or in Aotearoa New Zealand - when we step into this space we have a 99.9% probability of encountering posts that are within that brief.
  5. We all want The Hand Mirror to be a comfy corner in Blogland - we want it to be a blog where ideas and experiences can be shared without fear of trollish abuse or irrelevant thread jacking. We're all going to work together to keep The Hand Mirror a space free from sexism, racism, homophobia, and other nasty stuff like that. We're ok with the bloggers here moderating threads to delete comments that seek to sabotage that environment. This blog is ours.
That's my philosophy for who we of The Hand Mirror are; both readers and writers.

What's yours?


stargazer said...

i think the "freedom of speech" thing bugs me the most, especially when it's brought out to defend some pretty nasty stuff.

for one thing, we all know that there is never complete freedom of speech. we all regulate our speech, mostly because we want to get along with each other. if a person chooses to be offensive, then they have to take the consequences of that behaviour ie that people will no longer interact with that person. to then act all injured and hard-done-by is pretty laughable.

i know sometimes it can be difficult to draw the line - some things verge on unacceptable but don't quite get there, and there are going to be calls we make that are inconsistent. that's ok, it's just part of being human that we get things wrong sometimes.

but i totally agree with your main point that this should be a safe space. disagreement is good, it makes us think about our positions and the reasons we hold them. some of the best posts have resulted because of disagreement in a previous comments thread. and disagreement is not always pleasant - i can think of a couple of threads which made me distinctly uncomfortable. but as long as there is a degree of respect maintained, and an absence of abuse or direct personal attack, then that discomfort is something we have to live with.

the most difficult troll is the one who refuses to acknowledge the points presented, keeps changing the boundaries or simply derails the discussion. while they say nothing directly offensive, they put off other readers from commenting or even from coming back to the blog. i have no problem with being tough with such people either, because the internet is a big place and they can go and freely express themselves on their own blog or other like-minded (to them) blogs.

so thanx for this reflection julie. i think it's up to us (ie bloggers, readers and commenters) to shape this space so it works the way we want it too. for those who don't feel comfortable commenting here, i hope you might provide feedback directly to julie by email, cos i'm also really interested in what people think.

Mary-Lou said...

You mean "freedom of speech - just as long as it's what you feel comfortable with".

I totally understand that, but disagree completely. However it's your blog so if you choose to ban comments altogether then go for it.

Placebogirl said...

I live in another online community that has just been plagued by unrest caused by certain disgareeable individuals: They had a vision for how that space ought to serve them, but the majority of people didn't agree with that vision, and a lot of people got hurt. In the end, it was up to the person who owned the site, who also found these individuals to be disagreeable, and the root cause of the major problems. The owner banned the major troublemakers, and there has since been a consistent policy of not feeding the trolls.

I think the important thing in my story is that the site owner did what they thought was best--the side was theirs, and as such it is their choice what to do with it. Despite the free-speech cries, I feel the same way about blogs: This site exists because of the love and heart and energy you women of the hand mirror pour into it, and you can do what you will with it, including banning/deleting trolls/ideologues/troublemakers. If they really have something they feel they need to say, blogger is free for them too, and in the meantime it keeps this space, your space the way you want it.

I love this blog, and though I don't comment much, I read every single post. I love reading about what is happening in New Zealand, especially with respect to women--it's like getting letters from home (living in Oz right now). I think this blog, and you who tend it offer a unique and valuable perspective. Whatever you decide, I hope THM doesn't go away.

Cactus Kate said...

Oh for goodness sake stop being so precious.

By all means delete comments that are particularly abusive but your own posts are very controversial, which is probably why most people read your blog.

Get over yourselves and allow free and full debate of what you have written.

Or write posts that are bland and boring and have no readers at all.

Your choice.

Giovanni said...

This was never meant to be freedom of speech central, right? It's a feminist site, so presumably the holder or promoters of anti-feminist views are not terribly welcome. Otherwise I'm with Stargazer, you can use the "freedom of speech" defence to smuggle in the usual power relationships that actively marginalise feminist points of view in society at large.

How and with whom you allow debate within your parameters, it's your business, not your community's, I don't think there's a lot of point appealing to the readers. It's good to have the philosophy and rules reaffirmed from time to time, yes, but ultimately, the front pagers and the moderators will set the tone, by the tenor of the posts and the boundaries that they allow the commenters to push.

In a way that's connected with why I have a (very minor) problem with your byte counting, and why I think Tumeke's list is worth shit: it would be pretty easy for a blog on your topic and with your readership to crank up the number of comments and posts and counterposts: relax the comments policy, allow a few trolls in. Always be controversial, rather than thoughtful or useful (which I suspect is what Cactus Kate means by "boring", but to each their own). I think THM is much better than that, which is why I come back.

The Bewildering Case of Ms Enid Tak-Entity said...

There's a name for people who crash your house-party and make dicks of themselves:


Telling dicks to go away and be dicks in their own houses is not a freedom of speech issue.

Anna said...

Has anyone noticed that the people who most bang on about freedom of speech are the ones who use this right to deliberately defend others?

IE the people whose free speech adds absolutely nothing to society whatsoever?

If that's your idea of what free speech your are, as Enid puts it so well, a dick. And you can go away.

If you like robust debate conducted courteously - that is, you like behaving like a grown up - then you're welcome.

As far as I'm concerned, the right to be safe and debate intellegently is way more important than the right of someone with no social skills to get their jollies by being homophobic.

Emma said...

Good community is like Star Trek. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. If you have a persistent dickhead on your site, that person will drive other people away. Ergo, you lose more voices than you gain. By allowing them unfettered speech you end up with LESS speech, not more.

So moderating a community is not an action which must be in direct conflict with 'free speech'. It's just that the rule must be 'you can express any opinion you like, as long as you do it politely and with respect'.

Tidge said...

Another regular (i.e. everyday) reader, very sometimes commenter. I think you should run the blog exactly how you want, and that the ideas you laid out are perfect.

I would like to say that I think Psycho Milt is a perfect example of someone who fairly regularly disagrees with the points being made, but who always manages to make his own point in a considered and adult manner, without resorting to aggression or incivility. I think he's awesome, even though I often disagree with what he's saying. It would be great if certain other commenters would rise to the same level, and stop missing the point of your post.

I do think that it is a very fine line though. Perhaps borderline comments should be given the benefit of the doubt, and if following comments continue in the same vein, despite the commenter having been alerted to the problem, then delete their comments/ban them/something. You seem to be doing that already from what I gather, and it seems like a good strategy.

And maybe some ground rules... This is very Jezebel, but how about, for a start, no body snarking (would have rectified some of the paul henry problems) or threats of violence (obviously), personal attacks, or statements that deem any kind of violence acceptable? This could be problematic, as in the prison rape post, but some basic, B&W ground rules could be good?

Moz said...

I'm firmly on the side of not approving bad comments. For whatever definition of 'bad' makes you happy.

I have run a variety of explicitly anarchist online groups and the only thing I've found to work is the fist of god approach. p*ss me off and out you go. Don't like it? Start your own community. Otherwise every time a troublemaker comes along the group degenerates into meta-discussion of group self-regulation and other idiocy that is totally not the point. At some (early) point I just say "enough" and start killing posts.

You don't have to go the whole Twisty-on-her-red-monkey-arse routine, but if a comment makes you uncomfortable or you think it'll detract from the community, just bin it. Don't angst about it, FFS. If people are so crippled that they can't even get through the Blogger setup to create their own blog and respond to THM, they have more important problems than whether THM accepts their comment.

(captcha: crood. How appropriate :)

The Paradoxical Cat said...

I love your blog, and I don't read it avidly because it's "controversial", I read it because it puts forward a point of view that the mainstream media suppresses, and the right wing attempts to undermine in every way they can, including by their often nasty comments.

We already know how "they" feel, we are constantly bombarded by it. I'm perfectly happy with you deleting their point of view especially if it's uncivil (as it so often is...)

Any intelligently made point of genuine debate can be useful to read, and I think you're all smart enough to recognise such comments and let them stand.

Sometimes, too, it is useful to be reminded how toxic the unmoderated net really can be, but there are plenty of other places we can go to see that.

I think the concept of a "safe" space is just as important as it ever was.

Kia kaha.

M-H said...

Kate, I can't work out if you enjoy reading this blog or not. If you don't, maybe you should ask yourself why you read it and get your blood pressure all raised. If you do enjoy it why do you slag off the writers with expressions like "stop being so precious". Enjoying an making an argument isn't the same thing as attacking the person who made a point.

I think that the two most important things about blogs are that the blogowner controls the space, and that no-one is forced to read one. If you don't like what you read, go elsewhere. If you do continue to read and comment you have to accept the risk that the blog owner may delete your comment. And yes, it's happened to me. (Not here.)

Mary-Lou said...

The truth comes out! So in order to maintain a "safe" and "women friendly" environment you must remove the undesirables and people who challenge you.

No wonder the hardcore feminist movement never really took off in NZ.

stargazer said...

mary-lou, i'd suggest that you go back and read the original post and comments again, because you seem to have missed all the bits where people have said that disagreement is fine, as long as you are able to argue the point without attacking the person and you treat people with respect. examples of positive debates with plenty of disgreement and challenging comments have also been given.

we just aren't interested in the kind of nastiness that puts off other people and restricts their participation.

i didn't think it was such a difficult concept to understand.

Anna said...

Mary-Lou, it's courtesy to actually read the comment you're responding to. You don't seem do this.

Someone mentioned Psycho Milt as an example. He frequently disagrees with posts here, and argues them vigorous, logically, and politely. And for those reasons, he's welcome.

You should try it.

Anonymous said...

I am an everyday reader of THM and I don't really understand why some people bother to come on here if they so obviously disagree with every issue raised. It seems like people like Cactus Kate just come on to have a snarky laugh at the expense of everyone else and others like Mary-Lou just seem permanently angry.

I would comment more if I didn't feel like I was being judged by right wingers who think they're superior to me. That being said I just love reading all the posts on here so I don't have to comment.

Brenda said...

it's your club, you get to choose what goes on here. :-)

I reckon this shouldn't be a place where you need to explain first principles of feminism over and over to people who don't get it.

I say delete any comment you want. Tell anyone you want to move on.

backin15 said...

I'd've said this was one of the most constructive sites both in terms of posts and comments. The odd idiotic comment is easily identified and mostly doesn't lead anywhere. I tend to prefer unrestrained free speech because when people feel totally free to say what they want, even if it's intolerant, they are seen as what they are.

I don't think you're being precious for revisiting this though. I think the popularity of THM will test the community and it's right that the community determine it's approach to comments - the authors particularly. There's dissent here, there's informed and rational discussion, there's tolerance and respect. I hope you can maintain this as you have so far.

Cactus's comment is odd. Not least of all because it accuses THM of something it's not done but also because she doesn't allow full and free debate on her own blog and deletes comments that don't suit her narrative (usually also dismissing the commenter's motives).

styler said...

i love this site, i'm an avid reader, not often a commentator.

comments are an extension of your site, if they are deliberately being snarky or mean or (insert troll behaviour here) why would you want to be associated with that kind of behaviour?

I don't read some sites anymore because the words and tone in their comment threads make me ill.

Giovanni said...

Emma over at PAS has some free advice.

Julie said...

Thanks for all the feedback, and big ups to Emma for the supreme linky love too. I'm glad my thoughts on the matter seem to be in agreement with the vast vast majority of our community, that's a relief!

Cactus Kate said...


If you don't know whether I like the blog then chances are I like it. I've never left people wondering what I think. The confusion is your issue.


I delete your comments on my blog because you are nothing but a troll. And a whinging one at that. I've possibly only not published a dozen comments in the years I have had a blog. Several as they were defamatory but the majority are yours when you just don't know when to piss off.

I come to H-M, read the posts, make a comment maybe another then leave.

That's the difference between you and I. I know when to leave the house when I am not welcome.

A home owner would call that good manner.

backin15 said...

Cactus, calm down. I'm not getting into a slanging match with you here or elsewhere. I don't accept your criticisms (you might want to reflect on your own behaviour) and am happy to let my record speak for itself.