Discretion is the better part of Moderation

TechPresident, writing about the Slate story reviewing moderation practices on Sarah Palin's Facebook page, says it is "less a cleaned-up open Facebook conversation than a some sort of curated narration to the life and times of Sarah Palin."

Dickerson and a colleague built a program that tracked comments on 10 Palin posts over the course of 12 days. Now, you might assume that team Palin took a hatchet to especially negative, anti-Palin commentary. And some of that, it seems, happened.

But that's not all that went down. The Palin enterprise also scrubbed from her feed comments where, found Dickerson, folks went after people who wrote mean things about her. Racial slurs were enough to get the boot, yes. So were suggestions that she shouldn't let her kids (Bristol, presumably) do reality TV or vaguely-worded notes about Barack Obama birth certificates. Also no good: excessive religious imagery and mild objections to Palin's picks of candidates to endorse.

So, the Big Story here is that Palin's staff tries to maintain a decent community by keeping things civil and focused, and weeding out the jerks?

Look, we've gotten too wrapped up in the idea of politicians and/or technology having clear, defined and consistent rules.  That just doesn't work in a social medium. If you create any kind of bright line "no racism/cursing/personal attacks" rule, then you have to make decisions about exactly what does and does not qualify as racism/cursing/personal attacks - and you will be attacked for your decisions no matter where you draw the line.

Social interactions are too fluid for that kind of strict rule-making.

So what is the answer?  I think there are two reasonable options: 

  • Safe Harbor: A couple years ago (I can't find it now), Patrick Ruffini pointed out that the more control you try to exert, the more responsible people will hold you for what you allow.  Moderation = Responsibility.  The Obama campaign went the other direction, largely allowing anybody to post anything and only exercising minimal oversight.  When you have a flood of content, nobody blames you for the idiots leaving drops on the carpet.
  • Discretion: As appears to be the case at Sarah Palin's Facebook page, discretion is the better part of moderation.  That makes sense.  We don't demand hard, fast, bright line rules in the offline world, because we couldn't possibly make rules to cover every social situation. We wing it.  We use discretion. We do the best we can and move on. 

Maybe that will be the best way for political organizations to manage their online communities, as well.  Politics is already complicated enough. The online world doesn't have to be much more complicated than the offline world.


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I guess I'd need to see the axed comments in question, but...

I think deleting "mild objections to Palin's picks of candidates to endorse" goes beyond just trying "to maintain a decent community by keeping things civil and focused, and weeding out the jerks." The idea that kids & reality TV don't mix well also seems just a teeny bit less controversial than allowing racial epithets.

This noncontroversial sort of thing getting deleted is probably why the study got done in the first place. IMO this is the sort of top-down lockstep ideology that gets both major parties into trouble, because they love control & hate debate so much. The idea that Republicans are in any way immune to it is, obviously, laughable, especially in the case of social conservatives like Sarah.

Is it a *big* story? No, IMO, not nearly compared to the years-long Hal Turner welfare-for-racism scandal the news media's desperately-trying to ignore, left & right, with the exception of Mr. Farah. But it IS a story, because of what I just said about politicians' penchant for top-down control-freakery.


But if you read the story carefully, you'll see that they didn't delete everything that was critical or off-message (though, Slate certainly paid more attention to those they did delete).  So it's not a hard-and-fast blanket rule.  They're using discretion.

The "control" thing isn't an R or D thing. That's just true of all political organizations.

They *are* indeed using discretion

They just don't seem to be using it too rationally, from my reading of the Slate article. I like Rand Paul's approach - let 'em wish cancer on eachother, this is the internet. For one thing, it's less expensive. For another, it doesn't draw Slate articles.

But don't mind me -- I'm crazy enough to think the Hal Turner racism-subsidy story should be a scandal, and I'm annoying enough to say that so far Joe Farah's been the only pundit with the testicular fortitude (or is that cojones these days?) to tell the TRUTH


about it. I am *amazed* at the deafening silence of just-about ALL other pundits -- left & right -- over years of funding the worst sort of bigotry & 9/11 BS. Limbaugh, Huckabee, Malkin, Ingraham, and various other conservative talkers have been TOTALLY quiet about Hal's years of racism-subsidy, unless I'm mistaken. Am I *happy* that only WND has told the truth? No. They're the right's Huffington Post, and I'd much prefer a multitude of more credible sources saying what I believe. But I calls 'em like I sees 'em, and Joe Farah's the ONLY one with balls in this case unless I'm mistaken.

This is the main reason why, as I told you before, I DON'T think the RNC can afford to distance themselves from WND. http://www.thenextright.com/jon-henke/the-rnc-responds-but-will-not-dist... We may not LIKE it, but I'm at least honest enough to admit that WND has a monopoly on the truth when it comes to the Hal Turner scandal, and everyone else dropped the ball for suspicious reasons.

And since, as a Ron Paul supporter, I got falsely-blamed for much of the hate and 911BS my tax money financed for years under Bush's Fibbies via Hal, as we all saw, I'm now determined to "make it hurt a little" PR wise, for both the FBI & the cowardly pundits besides Joe Farah who kept silent. It's a fun issue to highlight, because just the bare facts of what Hal said & did make the media bias more than obvious to even the most clueless people.

I'm not worried, either, since I'm pretty sure I already have a pretty extensive FBI file, so I figure working to expose their long history of racism-advocacy will only make my eventual FOIA request more fun, assuming control-freak neocon statists like Dick Cheney or Joe Biden haven't managed to totally-gut FOIA by then...

And, to complete my Huffypo/WND analogy...

Conveniently, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shahid-buttar/cointelpro-20_b_664943.html appeared today. Once again, the "extremes" in the media, right & left, are the ONLY ones who even pretend to consider holding the FBI accountable for their long history of racist actions with MY tax money. 'Bout time, I say. And this goes beyond "getting them back" for the anti Ron Paul dishonesty, too. It's about the US Constitution, and principles. (No wonder it's an unpopular subject!)

You are right.

It really doesn't matter what you say, there are always going to be those who think your are being "insensitive" or "racist." I am really confused on what the term "racist" even means anymore. I mean, just because you don't like President Obama, that doesn't make you a racist.

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A straightforward "comments policy" goes a long way

I think it's instructional to follow the lead of DoD and the service branches.  These government agencies and organizations are engaging on Facebook and other networks largely in the constraints of Standard Operating Procedures already on the books.  

How then do they moderate what all-comers post, without being accused of censorship? With a simple and straightforward "comments policy." And as Henke suggests, they use discretion. Facebook's "report" feature is also helpful, as it ostensibly puts the offending post into Facebook's court.

IP bans may in some cases be necessary, such as the difficult user who begins creating multiple fraudulent accounts and attacking not just the page owner, but other individuals.