Perspectives on the Insurgency #7: “and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other”

This is part #7 in a sequence of exchanges between myself and Jennifer Edeburn, on the appropriateness of complaints against Quora. See:

This is the last exchange in which I quote Jennifer and then respond, so it draws “Perspectives” to a close. From now on, Jennifer will be posting in her own right.


In the previous post, we had the following exchange:

J: 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?

N: … 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.

You write: “… Maybe yes”. I hear what drives you to that statement. But *I* value having you here, and I would hate to see you go. I often think that is the saddest thing: many popular Quorans write that they answer on Quora in order to be helpful to others, and the intersection with those who get edit-blocked repeatedly can’t possibly be the null set. Well, you can’t be helpful to others if you’re not here. I know that you, in particular, value the community and your friends here. Well, you also can’t be a part of the community if you’re not here, and I think the community would be lessened by it.

To the second part, what you could have done in this instance, I have written elsewhere (…) how I think you could have edited this particular comment. I think this one was fixable, but I also do think you have to ask yourself sometimes how much that comment really matters. Some things that people put in comments might be better served as PMs. Some might not really be necessary.

Similarly, I have seen people write about responding to attacks made in comments. I don’t know if this is something you have an issue with, but I only have a small amount of sympathy for it. It is absolutely for sure that I have had some inflammatory comments on my answers that I was really pissed about, and ignored, and left alone planning to come back later and defend myself … and then after I cooled off decided that I didn’t need to defend myself after all, because I had already done it in my answer. Quora is asynchronous, and there is never a need to answer when emotion is running high. With a little self-control, you can pretend you didn’t see that until you can respond to it appropriately.

I have seen the goal of the Welchite movement stated as pushing for more transparency, but I disagree that that should be the goal. I think the goal should have a more constructive focus, since I don’t believe that the push for transparency is going to make any progress in a positive direction. I’m an atheist, but I think the Serenity Prayer has a lot of merit.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

I’m not saying that I think all criticism should stop, but if we redefine the goal as: making Quora a good place to be and reducing the number of apparently capricious bans and errors by moderation, then I think there are things that can be changed or improved by the user community, some of which people may already routinely do.

Whether or not people complain about what they think BNBR should be, for the most part we have to live with what it is. But I think there are things that we can do to empower ourselves, within the constraints of the existing policy. Because for the most part, everybody agrees that BNBR is a good thing, and I think there is a lot to be gained by actively helping others to understand it and live within it. Here are some ideas:

  • Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. It is not necessary to report everything you see in order to promote BNBR.
    • I have used Suggest Edits to remove a single line of offending material from an otherwise solid answer, and noted that I was suggesting the edit to prevent the answer from being reported for BNBR.
    • I have requested friends who have commented on my answers to edit their comments if I thought something was inappropriate.
    • If not possible (or desirable) to PM the poster of a potentially offending comment, comments may be left underneath as a reply, pointing out a specific item that might draw a report. As with Suggest Edits for an answer, I would suggest that the choice between doing something like this vs. simply reporting (if merited) is a personal decision.
  • As I suggested above, save comments that might be controversial (from a BNBR perspective) for PM.
  • Help to educate
  • Follow the blogs where people bring their BNBR violations to ask how their content violated the policy. Help them to understand what Quora moderation did not or could not explain to them. Direct people to these blogs when they have questions
  • .Create blogs to showcase examples of BNBR subtlety and explain them, so that people can learn before they get in trouble.
  • Keep links to the policy guidelines handy—in particular to specific answers in a guideline question that you think best represent the policy—and hand them out freely in answers. Increase the possibility that someone will stumble over these even though Quora does not place them prominently.

My response:

Maybe Yes: I just posted Nick Nicholas’ answer to What would happen if you were banned by Quora tomorrow? (an A2A, which means some people think it’s feasible). I don’t want to reiterate the maudlinness (though I’m happy to translate the Greek swearing!). I value my friendships here, and you’ve managed to insinuate yourself into them in short order.
Sometimes, nevertheless, one’s self-respect is worth more than being helpful, or being with friends. But I do not seek for it to escalate to that point. Not at all.

Hold back on comments: BNBR has pulled me back from the brink more than once about posting a hostile comment. (And when that fails, I give Tracey Bryan a call. I think she’s by now the fourth angel on my shoulder. Maybe fifth. Quora is thick with angels.) That, I fully agree with you on, and have done so before I met you.

You are of course saying something further: not just your aggro, but your banter may need to be kept away from the public eye. I haven’t read the comment exchange yet in the previous post, but I see it’s controversial, and I have difficulty with it. But I don’t want to labour this here.

The Eight Commandments of Jennifer: I’m reminded of What are some things you will never do on Quora?

The idea I have for myself is to come up for a code of conduct which is not contingent on Moderation doing anything at all different.

And yes, “save comments that might be controversial for PM”… yes, that remains a challenge, but I’ve said enough.

Everything else? Enthusiastic agreement. This is a good and virtuous course of action for Welchite and Loyalist alike. We the community can educate and police our own: it is meet and proper to do so.

I look forward to many more exchanges with you Jennifer, hopefully some on our common employment rather than Quora Moderation! And I look forward to cartooning you.

Jennifer’s counter-response:

I did not say earlier (I don’t think), and I should have, how much I appreciate that you are willing to listen to this, and especially to be open about it and give it a fair ear. I have tried to mostly BNBR, but I know that doesn’t make it easier to hear. Your willingness to listen does usually come across in what you write, and I don’t think we would be having this conversation were it not that I was able to hear that from you. If you value it (the conversation), then you deserve much of the credit for its existence.

So here, in front of our blog audience, thank you for not only listening but also suggesting that we bring this discussion out into a public forum. I hope that something good comes of it, and since I’ve had the opportunity to preview your written response, I will ditto what you said at the end. Or I should say, ditto except that I can’t draw, so no cartoons from me.

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