Perspectives on the Insurgency #5: It’s not your private salon

This is part #5 in a sequence of exchanges between myself and Jennifer Edeburn, on the appropriateness of complaints against Quora. See:

As with the preceding piece, Jennifer’s contribution has been significantly edited from her initial PM to me, as we’ve both been refining our thinking—and in this section, as we’ve both sought to avoid BNBR penalties by naming names.


I’m going to keep going on the topic of comments here, but from a different angle. It would be ridiculous to expect that Quorans would not form networks of friends. However, the Quora experience is not a story. It does not have an end and a beginning, nor is it even episodic. For the average Quoran, it is purely transactional.

This leads to a (in my view) problem, when Quorans in a common network talk to each other in the comments, or make a comment, with the knowledge that a particular audience will give it the proper interpretation. The problem is that they do not account for the interpretation of the far larger number of viewers that may see it and be lacking the basis to interpret it according to its intent.

These types of comments or back-and-forth can promote a perception of arrogance. When I say arrogance here, the sentiment I’m trying to express is something like “I don’t like the rules, so I don’t have to obey the rules”, or perhaps “my version of the rules is better, so I can just do that”, or even worse, “I’m part of a club here on Quora, so and the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to people in my club”.

As an example, there were several comments on a recent post on Necrologue that appeared to support the idea that a user was blocked capriciously. Some of these comments may have stemmed from person-bias, previously discussed. Others express a sense that this person should have been granted some leeway, or that his actions were not his fault, simply an irrepressible human response to the situation.

For the record, let’s take a look at what I found in his edit log:

  • “Please show me where vegetarianism is in that quote. I’m afraid I can’t see things that simply aren’t there.”
  • “Weak reply. Your claim was wrong, whether you were making it about “most” or all. They were not the only two choices given to non-Muslims. You were wrong. Deal with it.”
  • “You were wrong. Don’t post errors to Quora or people will show you’re speaking nonsense.”
  • “I can see why you posted this answer anonymously – I wouldn’t put my name to it either.”
  • “So cite the page numbers and quote him. Or run away. Your choice.”

That’s just in the last 48 hours before he was edit-blocked, and that is what is left over after mods presumably deleted the content that was reported. I think it’s really nice that all the commenters here seem to know each other and everyone feels like a club, but it seems to me that you’re all reinforcing each other’s viewpoint that you, and not Quora, have the right to say how strict the BNBR policy should be.

I know why you got your BNBR warning (What happened next?). I was pretty sure when I first read your post, and I found an old answer from Tatiana later that confirmed it. I know why Carlos didn’t get one. I suspect you won’t win your appeal.

Here again, the friendships are part of the problem; as I wrote above they cause you to lose sight of the fact that when you converse in the comments, you create the atmosphere of a private conversation, but your audience is still all of Quora. You think that the context should have been obvious, but to some stranger that doesn’t know you or Carlos, they didn’t get it and they reported it. The arrogance here is “everyone should have known what I meant, even though they might lack any piece of backstory and I neglected to make the effort to provide it and make sure that the context was encapsulated in the one entry.”

And that leads to one of my points about lack of perspective. You care about your feeling that Quora is a salon, and that you have personal connections with your friends here. I understand that. I think Quora actually understands and values that as well. Quora also cares about how the average user views its content, how the first time user appreciates what they see. I also understand that, and so should you. It is not an unreasonable thing they are asking, to be able to build their business. Quora is the owner of this house; they have the right to set the rules. You disagree? Fine. You want to write about it? Fine. But the rules still apply to you, and I do not feel it is not too much to ask, as Quora-the-business is doing, that you consider the appearance to the user on the outside of the club when you write comments.

My response:

I was waiting for when we’d finally disagree. I don’t disagree with everything, and I may not even disagree with the essence. But I disagree with some of this. In order:

The prominent Quoran: We aren’t naming the prominent Quoran who just got sanctioned as you described. I will not entertain speculation on Necrologue about why and how people were sanctioned, and BNBR prevents us saying that people are assholes and richly deserved the banhammer, and I do not feel I can quash commiserations on Necrologue comments.

FWIW though, I’ll say here, without naming the user, that they are profoundly insightful about their field, that I have learned a lot from them—and that they are a horrible sneering human being that I have refused to follow or to have anything to do with. And I’m astonished they weren’t sanctioned sooner.

I’m not going to tell others what to make of this user. I don’t feel it’s my place. Individuals will make their own call on whether the scholarliness outweighs the assholishness. Both are on public display, after all. And Quora has made its own call, and it needs to be able to.

The arrogance of comments: It is difficult to hold yourself to the same standard in comments as for answers, when comments take the form of 1-on-1 interaction. It is difficult to hold yourself to the same standard in comments as for answers, when they come across as a place for socialising and solidarity and banter. I think it’s unreasonable to hold them to the same standard, and I think it’s clear that there should be allowance for a more informal, bantering tone in comments than in answers.

Quora doesn’t, and Quora has made it explicit that the standard of behaviour is not that of participants in a 1-to-1 conversation, but of a random person stumbling onto your conversation (which is still, after all, public). I understand that you don’t either; but I continue to find that very difficult to get my head around.

My BNBR: I didn’t win the appeal. Of course. I know the tone-policing that Tatiana refers to (though I’ve been frustrated that I can’t find the post). I’ve spoken about what I think of tone-policing in the post (that it’s untenable, and it’s inconsistently applied), and I won’t repeat it here. I haven’t changed my mind on it.

I’ll just add that I barely know Carlos (though that must not what it be what it sounded like!), and I’m pretty sure he’s only vaguely aware of me. I actually don’t have a backstory with him, apart from noticing his tagline a couple of lines, and seeing one or two impish posts. We don’t have a lot of topics in common, after all. So it wasn’t cliquishness that made me make a friendly comment using a four letter word; it was what I consider neighbourliness.

This is not to refute your point, but to say that the “atmosphere of a private conversation” is something I assume for comments in general. And it’s a tall order not to. And that the amount of context needed for an outsider to understand what was going on was not inordinate.

Maybe I’m blinded. And I agree with the principle that cliquishness does not justify you breaking civility, or arrogating context. I disagree with this in particular was an issue of civility, which is what *I* think BNBR should be about. But clearly, the reporter and Quora have decided otherwise, that BNBR should also be about tone.

And if the policing of that becomes so obtrusive that I get dinged once a day rather than once a year over it, then I will likely leave Quora before I am banned.I understand the argument you make in your final paragraph.

I understood it when Tatiana made it too. I don’t embrace it. I’ve just commented on the origin of Michael Masiello‘s Yip Fuckwad, and though I think his edit block as a result was inane, I understand how it is offensive. But I honestly don’t see how I could have anticipated that anyone would take offence at “You don’t sound like a shitposter at all, Carlos!”. I’m serious. In fact, I don’t see how I can police myself from reoffending in that way again. I just don’t get it.

But then, those are the rules. And the rules are on your side of the argument. And disagreement with the law is not an excuse for breaking the law—though they are a motivation for civil disagreement against the law; for which I’ll bear the brunt.

But I’ll throw back to you (in comments, for that is our format). We conclude on a disagreement. I am going to break the fourth wall (?) of our Google doc, and cite your reaction to that last para:

But my concern is, is it really so important to you to use Quora in this way that you cannot make any constructive changes to avoid getting dinged once a day? You value your experience here that little, when all it would take is to put enough context in the comment?

… Maybe yes. But what sort of context could I have inserted in that instance? I’m honestly at a loss. The only remedy I see is not making the comment at all.

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