who made you moderator? my last visit to anti-social forums

Internet | Building/Consensus
There’s an oft-quoted theory of Internet discussions that all rational discussion ceases when the Nazis are invoked. (“You wear socks? The Nazis wore socks!” as one standup comedian once riffed). The same might be said about the inevitable question “who made you the moderator?” But they’re very different. While the first example is merely a logical fallacy, the second is just an outright rejection of procedure. Logical fallacies are well known, and intuitive. But deliberative process is vastly more complex and unknown to the unitiated; consider the procedures in judicial and parliamentary systems.

The demise of my involvement in the Dean “Forums For America” (and, interest in the Dean campaign as well) happened when I thought I’d make a short post regarding Dean’s newfound religious posturing. I started a new thread entitled “Talking about Jesus and/or God”, and made a couple of points. One, that the mention of “Jesus” tends to disengage Jewish people, and perhaps other non-Christian groups, who are otherwise fine with “In God We Trust” and “God Bless America” et al. Secondly, I searched a collection of Reagan speeches on a website which archived a number of his speeches, and found 25 “God” reference to one for “Jesus”. If the most identifiable political figure to be adopted by Christian conservatives could stick with “God”, Dean could, too.

I thought that was a pretty “narrow case”, as we would say in the APDA debating society. But there weren’t any more master debaters on the Dean forums than then there were in most anti-social corners of the Internet. Many responses just took a few ideas from the starting post, just as the James Bond movies stopped resembling the books after a while. One particular annoyant was a fellow who posted under the handle NJHack, who would regularly write posts up 500 words in length, quoting unnecessarily from the Bible, and not caring a wit about anything anybody else had to say. Many people responded to his points instead, which just encouraged him to continue. The next afternoon, I wrote post #20 to tell him I was offended, #24 to agree with Judtih, who presented a crisp point that a politician could point to Jesus as a rule model. In the next 9 hours there were 24 were posts, and I finally gave up, saying:

Ok, as I started this thread, I would like to see it ended and have it locked. (moderators?) NJHack, I am warmed by your apology to me, but I am otherwise just tired of having to skip past your long posts which do not contribute very much substance to the discussion, and which end up being off-topic and prolonging the thread unnecessarily.

3 posts and 20 minutes pass, and NJHack refuses to rest:

Since when is garfunkle [sic] the self appointed thread closer? He may be satisfied but there are much larger issues to be discussed.

(Incidentally, the Dean Issues Forum was much better behaved: it had moderators who were real people. But being “unofficial”, without any links from the main Dean site, the DIF had about 1/10th the traffic and users).

I’m someone who used to believe in post-and-subscribe based forums as a way to avoid the flood of emails from mailing lists, and as a way to better organize discussions. But they still have a ways to go. They are too weakly structured, and thus can’t force a deliberative approach, such as what I call constructive media. It will take some more time.