Reply To: Request for clarification of rules.

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That’s a weak argument, Node. The fact that street crimes don’t stop when a gang member is in prison can hardly be cited as evidence of that person’s innocence.

In any case, thank you for posting your enquiry in the correct forum. To address your numbered questions in turn:
(1) Yes, a lengthy contribution from Steph was removed on 17 December, as it wasn’t conducive to productive debate, but a similarly sarcastic reply from glenn_uk on 10 January wasn’t removed. Why?

First, bear in mind that the bbPress discussion forum is a supplementary service provided as a courtesy for blog readers to raise their own topics for consideration, and the entries aren’t monitored or moderated as frequently as the comments under Craig’s articles, so inconsistencies can arise.

In this case I was the moderator who spotted Steph’s sarcastic retort and suspended it, because (unlike the other reply you mention) it contained no substantial points about the issues being discussed; instead it comprised a series of false (but clearly satirical) claims about the kind of comments acceptable on this forum, along with attributions which impugned the motives of other participants. It was deleted in order to prevent the tone of debate from degenerating into pointless jibes. I added a moderation notice advising all contributors to keep the tone of debate respectful:


December 17, 20:54

A reply in this thread was suspended because it overstepped the line between rational debate and taunting sarcasm. The same points could be expressed with a more cordial tone.

Ideally all contributors should show respect for the personal perspectives of others without resorting to taunting with stereotypes. It would be unfortunate if anyone wished to duck out of the debate due to perceived insults. It may help to adopt a spirit of joint enquiry. We’re all trying to make sense of complex issues.

The analysis and advice from ET earlier in the thread was both wise and prescient.

Steph had the good grace to concur and apologise: “Sincere and deeply embarrassed apologies.”, “To other posters also. I was quite rightly slapped down by the mods for my sarcastic outburst, and I’m grateful that it has been removed. Apologies to all.”

The subsequent entry to which you draw attention appeared under the watch of a different moderator, who opted to let it remain. Although it was also satirical (and insulting), it contained more substantial criticism of the specific participants’ arguments. It could have been deleted for “taunting sarcasm” (though lack of courtesy is less of a crime in the forums than the BTL comments). It contained a critique of specific commenters’ arguments, albeit in a highly snarky way. Retaining it is a judgement call for moderators, and we may construe the balance between substantial content and sarcastic remarks differently.

The moderation team has a general rule, stipulated by Craig, that we should respect other moderators’ decisions. Contradicting the decision of another moderator requires a dispute-and-resolution process behind the scenes – which is quite apt when a new moderator is appointed to the team, less so with experienced moderators; it’s also very time-consuming and at present we don’t have time to engage in such procedural discussions about trivial bickering. Nevertheless, in response to your enquiry we have now examined this specific case and we have agreed that if an approved reply is deemed in retrospect to break a rule or to disrupt courteous debate then any moderator can take reparative action, suspending the comment and leaving a notification if necessary. Be aware, however, that moderating the discussion forum is a very low priority for the team, so inconsistencies may remain.
(2) It’s true that the reply by Clark did address the concept of conspiracy theory after the mods requested such disputes be redirected to a different thread, but it wasn’t construed as a direct challenge to moderation. We rely to some extent on self-regulation in the discussion forums and usually only intervene when a problem is flagged up (as Steph did herself in the case above) and it appears to be distorting the flow of discussion. So the simple but mundane answer is that we didn’t notice. Thank you for flagging it up. But that doesn’t mean we’re compelled to remove it.

If you feel Clark’s opinions are given more weight than yours, there is a valid reason for it. Although Clark has not been a moderator here for several years now and has no admin privileges, his opinions reflect some degree of sagacity due to his previous experience. Sometimes his advice is heeded, sometimes rejected, but always considered. He’s not above moderation and has been subject to it on several occasions: he has been admonished and suspended in the past – just like you (and glenn_uk, for that matter). We continue to pay special attention to Clark’s views because he’s familiar with the methods and quandaries of moderation.

It’s fine to question narratives concerning the Covid-19 crisis and the responses to it, and but not to assert pseudoscience or other misinformation, nor to propound so-called ‘conspiracy theories’ which stretch credulity beyond reasonable limits (for instance by implying ubiquitous secret cabals of malign conspirators or asserting unprovable assumptions that are much more dubious than the narratives being challenged – more on this later). Clark and others help to flag these instances up for our attention – as in the undeleted contribution you mention above.

You asked whether there’s a level playing field concerning challenges to “the official Covid-19 narrative”. To expand your metaphor: the playing field is level, but players can be booked for infringements and sent off for challenging the rules. The referees don’t need the consent of the offenders. We can listen to reasonable challenges at our discretion, but bear in mind that players can also be booked for protesting and timewasting.

I accept that certain policy issues – some generic and others specific to the forum – require more clarification. Correspondence with other members of the blog team is ongoing and clarification will be published here shortly. Until then, this thread will be locked to prevent dilation of, or distraction from, the referee’s report.