I am returning from my self-imposed exile from Quora, which was in protest of the ban on Jimmy Liu.
No, I’m not over it.
I went on strike because I saw that the reaction to Jimmy’s ban would be just like the reaction to so many other bans: Michael Church’s, and Dorothy Clark’s, and Rass Bariaw’s, and however many more. People will fuss; and then they’ll get over it; and the caravan will move on; and nothing will change. Which is all very well if Quora is not a community, and not social media, and all that matters here is factual data-mineable answers, which will somehow get monetised.
Such, we guess (for who actually knows?) is the thinking behind Quora Inc., and what drives it. Those here that like Quora the Tribe (see on Scott’s House O’ All-Purpose Answers)… they don’t have the same priorities. To them, unique voices matter: that’s why they’re here.
Jimmy mattered. And I will not shrug off the fact that he’s permabanned.
The Black Maria has carted off many Quorans before, and will cart off many to come. Many with clear cause. Too many without. There have been protests about it on occasion, which Quora has made a point of not responding to. In fact, Quora makes a point of not responding to much of anything.
In the Elder Days, Quora Inc. was just as non-responsive; but moderation was a community matter. Mods were drawn from the community, and those mods have repeatedly recounted that decisions to block and ban were not taken lightly, were intensely debated internally, and followed intensive discussion with the ban subjects as well. The ban subjects may not have felt any better about it; but there was, if not transparency, at least some level of inchoate trust that the mods were our peers, were part of our community, and did not use their power lightly.
Quora now pursues moderation at scale. Moderation at scale means (a) not involving the community in moderation; (b) moderating by robot or by robotic human (“rule-bound”, the corporate term is); (c) not bothering to provide any explanation to the community (invoking respect of the blockee’s privacy); and (d) not providing any explanation to the blockee themselves.
As a result, you get RunOverPedestrianGate. You get a widespread impression that moderation is capricious, unrepresentative of the community’s norms, and has no checks or balances. As Scott Welch noted at the time, the fact that Marc Bodnick apologised about some of the blocks he issued made things worse: it confirmed those suspicions.
Trust is good. Squandering it is not.
If to Quora Inc. the Quora Community is an annoying side-effect, that gets in the way of that lovely, lovely machine learning data (as do the jokes and the memes and the languages other than English)—then of course there’s not reason they should bother cultivating the community, or treating it wth respect, or justifying their decisions. They didn’t set out to create a social media site to begin with, after all.
And the recurring response whenever anyone protests, from those who think Quora Inc. is doing a great job, is that we’re here at Quora’s sufferance, as the guests at Quora’s soirée, and if we don’t like the rules here, we can good and sod off to the backstreets of Reddit or *shudder* Yahoo Answers.
Well then. We are the guests at Quora’s soirée. But let’s not pretend all is well this evening. There are some nice canapés laid out, and some excellent conversationalists. But the roof has been leaky for a while; the waiters are incessantly rearranging the sofas; most of the hosts have not been sighted for months; there’s a disconcerting number of people milling around wearing balaclavas over their heads; and every so often, rent-a-cops show up and drag off people you were in the middle of talking to, and often enough, with no visible cause.
And if you say “gee, it’s a bit… Hobbesian in here”, some head prefect type says “Rubbish! BNBR has made this space wonderful! Wonderful! And if you don’t like the rules, there’s the door!”
So when I then hear someone gushing in the corner, “Who should play Adam D’Angelo and Marc Bodnick in a TV series about Quora?”, you’ll pardon me if I wince and turn away.
There are very hard limits to how one can protest the action of some company’s site that you pay no fee to. Especially when the site is a remote Leviathan. Venting on Rage Against Quora; blogging on Quora; asking questions on Quora; cc’ing the admins in comments; none of it makes a discernible difference. Those are the rules, and there is the door.
So if one’s actions will not change things, and one cannot just put up with it, what path remains?
Quit Quora? Always an option. But I currently still get too much out of Quora the Tribe, and giving value back to the tribe. The hassle from Quora Inc.’s endless interface changes, gimmicks, and moderation fails haven’t outweighed the benefits quite yet.
Go on strike, and withhold the fruits of your labour? Tick. But keep doing that, and you might as well have quit.
Short of that? Moderation is my current beef. I have never had a run-in with Moderation, and do not care to; and I acknowledge that BNBR is a nett benefit to Quora. But opaque application of BNBR is not.
Quora Inc. expects me to help out in their “moderation at scale” by using the Report button. I have no idea what happens when I hit the button. I have no trust that Quora Inc. make judicious and considered use of my hitting the button. And Quora Inc., by keeping silent, and blocking people for seemingly ludicrous reasons (which we can only guess at precisely because they are silent), are not doing anything to restore my confidence in their moderation process.
They can choose to do that with their process. I can choose not to be complicit in that process.
I will no longer use the Reporting functionality of Quora. If Quora Inc. won’t invest in my confidence, I see no imperative to invest in theirs.