Civil Discourse and our goals here, redux
It’s been almost a year since we last discussed civil discourse and our goals at Main Street Plaza. As our community grows and evolves, we need to discuss whether/how our goals and policies should evolve.
As you probably know, Hellmut and Solistics started this blog in March of 2007 with the idea of providing a platform where the DAMU could communicate with the Bloggernacle on equal footing. At that point, I’d already been gathering up exmo blogs into “Outer Blogness” for more than a year from my own blog, so I immediately signed on here to help turn Main Street Plaza into a central gathering for all of the LDS-interest blogs: pro, anti, faithful, ex, post, liberal, borderland, other, etc. Sitting in this niche, it seemed only natural that MSP should be a place where we can challenge and criticize one another (as we discuss LDS-interest issues and current events), but where our criticism stays civil and constructive. A place where we recognize that — despite all of the labels — we’re all people, we have common interests, and we have an interest in talking to each other sometimes, not just at/past each other.
I’m a big believer in “to everything there is a season,” especially on the Internet. I don’t think that every site should be shooting for civil dialog. Quite the opposite, I think there are times and places where civil dialog is not not appropriate, and the Internet would be a poorer tool if everyone were trying to do the same thing.
That said, I like civil dialog, and I think that here at MSP we don’t do too badly at it, considering how passionately we sometimes disagree and considering the level of hurt that is sometimes found in mixed-faith families. And, as I said in last year’s post, in an exchange of ideas, fair play favors the side thats right. Hurling insults, making wild speculations about other people’s motives, and “answering the question they should have asked” (instead of staying on topic) are tactics to obscure the issue when you know your case is weak. So if you think youre right (about any given subject), you have no reason to fear a reasonable dialog with people whose ideas on the subject are different than your own. Worst (or best?) case scenario, someone else gives you some food for thought that perhaps makes you refine or reconsider your position on an issue.
Regarding how we treat faithful Mormons who come here to talk to us: Being civil isn’t about coddling them or about making them feel all warm and snuggly inside. It’s not really about the Mormons per se. We don’t have a specific policy about how we should treat faithful Mormons any more than we have a special policy for the Evangelical Christians or the Buddhists or the atheists or the agnostics or the Muslims or the Hellenistic Pantheists or whomever. It’s that if we’re keeping the dialog civil, we’re keeping it civil period. If we want to ask others to make a good faith effort to keep it civil, then we start by doing it ourselves. And if we have to make separate rules for different groups, then it starts to look like we’re afraid to play on a level playing field.
I know some people aren’t here for the dialog; they’re here for the news or to share stories with others who’ve had similar experiences. That’s fantastic, and I don’t think a civil dialog policy really stifles any of that. We’re generally pretty laid-back here, but if you feel like our discussion style is hindering you from expressing yourself, well, then, that’s another reason why I love the diversity of the former-Mormon community on the Internet! Any kind of site you want, you’ve got it! For example, the exmo Reddit is a fantastic place to swap stories and share news without having the slightest qualm about TBM readers. Similarly, FLAK, Post-Mo, and Life after Mormonism are all fantastic for discussions and socializing with fellow-former-Mormon friends. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg — there are plenty more. I love that we have so many sites, all with slightly different styles (and overlapping communities) to meet all different needs and tastes.
Also, don’t forget that you’re free to set whatever tone you like on your own site. And I’m not being facetious to say that. To make a thriving site, all it takes is one person or a group of friends and a good idea. For example, I’m not sure the exmo Reddit even existed a year ago, and now it’s one of the most popular exmo sites on the Internet, if not the most popular.
So, anyway, that’s my case for why I think MSP should keep its commenting policy of “make a good-faith effort to keep your comments civil and constructive.”
As far as the details of what it means to be civil and constructive, that’s an open question that we can be constantly discussing. I don’t think there’s a magic formula for which comment is OK and which is out-of-bounds. The closest I’ve found is to ask yourself whether you’re sincerely trying to be civil and understand the perspective of others. But as for how that translates into action at the post level — after nearly four years of moderating, I’m still guessing a lot of the time.
That is why, of course, we have a policy of not deleting out-of-bounds posts. Because we don’t have any omniscient moderators, we’ve learned (especially recently) that it’s better to keep the (allegedly) out-of-bounds comment up so that readers can make up their own minds about it.
So, what say you? Like it? Hate it? Anything where we’re failing? Anything that needs to be refined or overhauled?