Susan Bertolino, Michael Masiello: Is Quora social media, and how does that make us view bans?

I left a comment about Top Writers at… , which triggered an excellent exchange with Susan Bertolino.

The response I particularly want to draw attention to is her insightful take on how, if you are more invested in Quora as a social media site than as a Q&A site, the bans will have more of an impact on you. I think it deserves surfacing out of comments:…

Is Quora social media? For me, no, but I have made friends. I used to run a blog and it got very popular. I made a lot of friends and even traveled for it despite making no money and getting a few free books to review. Many of those people are still friends because it was organic. I started the blog actually to help with with my academic job as I had to teach John Locke and my background was Comparative Literature. I didn’t know what to do. So my blog was my way of working out thoughts for class. Then I got followers. It was a shock.

I see Quora the same way. I came here to write on Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. Then other topics came up. Then came the friends. It also feels organic because it is based on what I write, not my pictures of my cat even though I decided to put one on my profile as she is gorgeous. Quora is the first place where I felt I could write what I see as my strengths and perhaps find like minded people even though I didn’t seek that out initially.

Others view it as a social media site. So when so and so gets banned, edit blocked or some moderation thing happens, they see it as painful because the friendships I liken to one big body and a finger got stubbed, cut or even maimed. People react strongly because the primary reason they are here is to share their ideas with their Quora friends. And those are the people I see as more angry because they feel under attack when the body is under attack. (Are you a Star Trek fan? I am referring to the episode with the Body of Landru (sp) in which all are meant to be part of the body, but it turns out to be a computer.)

Look, that is their choice and what works for some will not work for others. A friend got edit blocked a few months ago. I didn’t like it. Another gets moderation notifications. I don’t like it. But I don’t see it as an attack on the body. I just wish it wouldn’t happen or that these friends could still get out of the bad situation and do what they do best—write.

I’m just being honest here, Nick. It isn’t criticism of anyone’s motives. As a teacher I need to see what motivates others. And I see that as a primary difference in attitudes on Quora as people who get edit blocked or banned or quit for those who want this to be social media feel that their tribe has diminished and they are alone with fewer friends. For me, it is about the topics and the friends are an unexpected delight. But it isn’t why I joined this place. Does that make sense? I apologize for the length.


I have a different perspective than you, and I understand and like your exposition of the difference. (I’m also delighted that you’re not just dismissing the social media perspective, as too many users do.)

I can report that indeed, I do feel bans as an attack on the body. I do not regard every single user as a peer—certainly not proven trolls and reprobates. But there are people whose politics or personalities I have disliked, that I am saddened to list on Necrologue, because I feel that way.

It’s one perspective; it’s not the only one, and it may well be a minority perspective within Quoradom. It’s an interesting clash, because your perspective is closer aligned to how Quora sees itself, and the curtailment of socialising implements that; OTOH, the social perspective is the norm outside of Quora, so the clash is unavoidable.

And of course I do not take your comment as a criticism! It is seriously a good exposition.


I don’t dismiss the argument for Quora as a social media site because people largely create their own experience. Who knows how many people even thought of it as such until it turned into precisely that—social media—a place to meet and share friendship. One cannot deny what is real to a group of people.

It hasn’t been my experience, but I’ve always done poorly with what are defined as social media sites such as Facebook. They start out okay, then something goes wrong for me or they lose their charm. So if I had primarily seen Quora as a social media site, I probably would be long gone. I might do better with Facebook again if I could see it as something else, but I think Facebook is designed to be social media. Quora strikes me as something that the user can mold into his or her own paradigm of usefulness. Some seek answers, but interact with few. Some enjoy comments along with answers. Some message people. If the tools are there, why not use them? The interpretation belongs to the beholder.

I also want to add Michael Masiello’s contribution to that discussion:

Susan (if I might interject an unsolicited thought here), I think yours is a wise assessment. But I might poke at a couple of your ideas a little.

My own, not-wholly-dissimilar characterization of Quora would be that this is a Q&A/knowledge site that, as it developed, created virtual intellectual communities. I think that the site is less attractive if depersonalized; I think friends here provoke friends to more extensive and useful participation and interaction. In short, I think the “social” aspect of Quora fuels the creation of some of its best and most rigorous content, and also addresses a problem Quora itself never set out to do: the isolation of intellectuals in an increasingly anti-intellectual world.

Quora could be a Republic of Letters if it only let itself be. We have Erasmus’ works, but also his correspondence with countless other humanists. Erasmus talking to More, and More to Erasmus, is a great gloss on both writers’ literary output; and their literary output, likewise, illuminates the correspondence. More vascular articulations of thought and its discontents, and more verisimilar representations of selfhood in its relation to “knowledge,” are the result. I cannot imagine how this would ever be deleterious to a site like this, nor how stifling the voices of those who underscore this sense of Quora as a community of knowledge-sharing, rather than a vessel into which bland information, always less rigorous than what exists in other media (esp. in topics for which there are peer-reviewed journals), is blithely deposited, could ever be a good thing. The latter feels like a dead letter office to me. The former feels organic, living, and human.

I think that’s important. Quora Inc. does not.

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