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Last post Author Topic: On free speech in forums  (Read 15560 times)

urlwolf

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On free speech in forums
« on: October 10, 2009, 04:59:11 AM »
Here, we have complained before about forums owners removing threads that criticize their products.
Well, here's a long post by Steve Pavlina trying to justify this behavior.

What I thought after reading this is: In such a situation, it's easy to grow your authority online! If you have an army of moderators that remove bad comments and pump up good ones, then new forum members will only see how much other members love their leader!

This is also the case when newspapers give you only one side of the news. I guess it's common practice. Was I too naive to expect that maybe on the internet things would be different?

What we desperately need is a reputation mechanism that sticks. We have solved spam (mostly). We could very well have a public currency that gets burn out when you say stupid things and gets inflated when you say useful things. In fact, Scott Adams is aiming in that direction too.

What do you think?

Curt

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2009, 05:54:51 AM »
I think that the hole idea, that the Internet includes 'the Right to Free Speech', is naive, and probably founded on ignorance. The tend is also the opposite, I think; more and more hosts being forced to practice moderation and censorship. My expectation is that this will grow and grow, until it no longer is a question about what kind of homepage / site you would want to have, but if you want to have a homepage at all!

---
BTW:
Well, here's a long post by Steve Pavlina ...
in the long run http://www.stevepavl...sion-of-entitlement/ is a better link.

tinjaw

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2009, 06:05:52 AM »
What we desperately need is a reputation mechanism that sticks.

Cory Doctorow's Whuffiew  8)

tranglos

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2009, 08:51:46 AM »
Here, we have complained before about forums owners removing threads that criticize their products.
Well, here's a long post by Steve Pavlina trying to justify this behavior.

Steve Pavlina, I almost forgot about him, the blogger who blogs about how much money he makes from blogging about himself and his blog! Ever long-winded just like myself :)

Basically he seems to be using a lot of words to say "freedom of the press belongs to those who own one", which is certainly a correct observation, if somewhat cynical. But he seems to forget, unless he owns his physical delivery infrastructure, that the site he calls his isn't really, because it's most likely hosted at another commercial entity, who will exercise the same rights he enjoys. A bigger fish than him, or a whole school of smaller fishes, can get Steve disconnected for his online speech almost as easily as he can moderate comments on his blog. In the end it's his legal budget against the legal budget of his ISP and whoever owns them.

There are likely lawyers and management types who will flock to pay for Steve Pavlina's wisdom, and that's just a shame, but what can you do.

Paul Keith

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2009, 10:54:35 AM »
Quote
What we desperately need is a reputation mechanism that sticks.

The concept is already out there. It's just not designed with forums particularly in mind.

CoComment, Disqus, OpenID, etc.

In the case of forums, it's basically the profile on your account and what website you associate it with.

Even the situation with admins is tech idiot fixable as long as you can convince a blog authority to link to your article on why x author's reputation is horrible.

It's still your community vs. the site's fans and controversy could just increase pageviews for said person's site but if the criticism is valid and enormous and it is spread correctly through the different social media services and voted by a group of bloggers, it's a reputation mechanism that's better than the best reputation mechanism because it's socially constructed and not technologically constructed.

Not to mention that any technological construct if it aims to be open and neutral is just as open and neutral to the "tyranny of the majority" and any closed system is no different from what Pavlina and Curt alludes to except the cheek is turned. Won't really stick or if it does, still not really credible.

Edit: Most importantly groups already put their votes in Digg, Reddit, Slashdot, Stumbleupon and other mini-sites like RateitAll that it's not that there's no reputation mechanism that doesn't stick from a technological perspective.

It's that the technological reputation mechanisms have no mind reading filter that warns you: "this site is not a phishing site but it's admin is a douche that is 80% incompatible with your free, independent and passionate personality"
« Last Edit: October 10, 2009, 10:58:28 AM by Paul Keith »

app103

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2009, 12:30:26 PM »
The thing with removing any negative comments about your product or service  from your own forum and blogs, is that it can backfire big time.

Remove the comment and you lose the opportunity to respond it well and turn it into something positive.

Instead, you anger the poster of the negative comment and he may retaliate by posting something much worse in a place you have no control over. Anger the wrong person (someone very popular with a lot of followers) and it could really blow up in your face.

Plus how does your product really look when a person does a google search and sees lots of negative remarks in results and nothing but praise on your own site?

Paul Keith

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2009, 12:59:23 PM »
Agreed app but it's a special case with Steve Pavlina.

I didn't check the date of the post but this isn't the first time he's made a post like this.

In fact, one of his core strategies before having a forum was that he experimented with removing comments and is one of the popular bloggers who popularized that concept of "commenting does not add much to your popularity and only opens you up to negative insults."

I know you weren't just referring to him but I'm just trying to be a devil's advocate and providing extra context to how he gets away with it.

He is also one of the pioneers of "attract a community"; drop comment system; provide a forum linked to your blog. Instant trick to justify to your subscribers that you're not against them speaking about.

Even guys like Seth Godin does this. The idea being that "I'm too busy to respond to your comment so I'm not going to allow you to comment. Instead, just link back to me so that you get more hits to your site if people like your comment/blog post enough. At the same time, I benefit too because people from your blog click to my blog. It's more win-win for both of us than having a comment system."

Another reason why Pavlina's product doesn't suffer much is related to something I mentioned before in GOE: "In general, productivity groups tend to not criticize each other."

If you combine this thinking with Steve Pavlina's advise that one should surround yourself with positive minded people then his actions are further justified to his audience. This is just a new twist on an old post.

He basically just made a good headline that would eventually cause people to talk about it somewhere.

In the end, I'm agreeing with your post, it's just that I'm trying to show that it's possible to game the perspectives of others.

There are lots of critical posts in the internet about the WWE, the UFC, Obama, Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, McDonald's, A-list bloggers, Facebook, Twitter -- but it's all PR fixable as long as you're selling a decent and above decent product as opposed to a totally horrible product.

Incidentally a horrible product need not wait for negative reviews. Most horrible products are perceived as being spam, scam, phish and sales pitch-y.

Basically, as of today, the only likely victim of backfire here are those who don't know how to hold and point the gun. The rest are home free unless they made a major major mistake and Pavlina has made some major ones like losing some of his subscribers when he went spiritual instead of productivity guru with some of his articles and so far he's still standing and existing.




40hz

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2009, 01:48:06 PM »
re: reputation mechanisms

I'd like to think the average forum regular is perfectly capable of spotting flamers, trolls and other boorish types without needing someone (or some bit of technology) to handbill them as such.

If a website is committed to stopping trolls and other troublemakers - and if it's actually a problem* -  there are two very simple mechanisms that will eliminate most of the nonsense:

1) Require registration in order to post comments. This gets rid of virtually all the 'drive-by' flamers, and most 'feedback spammers.'

2) Limit the amount of anonymity for participants.

Require actual names and verifiable e-mail addresses when registering. Registration e-mail information can (and probably should) be kept private and restricted to site moderators. Nicknames or 'handles' can optionally be allowed - as long as real names are available to the moderators.

And yes, while it is true that some people will contrive a way to spoof that information, most won't bother. By putting every participant on notice that your site cares about knowing who they are, you get rid of 99.99% of the idiots out there.

I can't speak for every website. But based on my own experience, once you require registration and a real name, you don't need to worry too much about people going overboard with their comments. Which IMHO  is a far better way to encourage people to behave responsibly. Or at least it's better alternative than to engage in removing/editing posts, getting into hairsplitting debates on 'acceptable use,' or invoking ban mechanisms.



Just my 2ยข :)

--------

* Note: I think it's important not to take these steps unless you actually do have a problem with people misusing comments or forum posts. Getting smacked by the occasional twit is unavoidable. Those individuals can usually be dealt with on a case by case basis, and in such manner as the occasion warrants. Creating excessively restrictive policies almost always does more harm than good.


----- ADDENDUM:

All of this is assuming the site in question is genuinely in favor of free speech. Many sites believe they are - but aren't!  :-\ ;D




« Last Edit: October 10, 2009, 01:58:04 PM by 40hz »

Paul Keith

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2009, 02:21:41 PM »
Well I have no experience with such sites because I like to keep my anonymity but judging by the way the IMDB forums are, I would say the system of real identity looks only good in theory.  :P

urlwolf

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #9 on: October 10, 2009, 02:38:40 PM »
Plus, how do you know someone is giving you his real identity? Yet another major problem of the internets :)

40hz

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2009, 02:39:35 PM »
Well I have no experience with such sites because I like to keep my anonymity but judging by the way the IMDB forums are, I would say the system of real identity looks only good in theory.  :P

True. But that's because they're movie buffs. You can't shame somebody who's shameless to begin with. ;D


Paul Keith

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2009, 02:49:21 PM »
Well I have no experience with such sites because I like to keep my anonymity but judging by the way the IMDB forums are, I would say the system of real identity looks only good in theory.  :P

True. But that's because they're movie buffs. You can't shame somebody who's shameless to begin with. ;D



 ;D

tranglos

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #12 on: October 10, 2009, 02:50:24 PM »
What we desperately need is a reputation mechanism that sticks.

I'm not sure that we do, at least not necessarily one that sticks across different forums. A person can be a php guru on StackOverflow and produce lots of silliness on a political forum - one should not cancel out the other. (Should that person's rep be very high, very low, or about zero? None of the above makes sense to me.) And on a hardware review board that same person's opinion is no more relevant than any other.

Perhaps I'm short-sighted on this, but I can't quite see how rep points could usefully tranfer between different sites, different topics and different worldviews, too.

Question: What problem would we be trying to solve through a persistent, global repoutation system?

Not spam, because spammers/spambots do not have persistent identities, for one thing. Not "stuffing the ballot box" by corporate entities, either - for the same reason as above, and because up-votes can obviously be manipulated by whoever owns a site, etc.

We could very well have a public currency that gets burn out when you say stupid things and gets inflated when you say useful things.

But stupid and useful are relative. The same post that gets voted sky-high on a left-anarchist forum will be immediately deleted by moderators of a right-wing site (and not for containing profanity, mind.)

BTW, I think StackOverflow does pretty well with their reputation system. One thing I like, for example, is that downvoting an answer comes at a cost of 1 rep point to the voter. I think upvoting should also come at a price, otherwise up votes can eventually inflate. Perhaps each user could have a limited pool of up or down votes that replenishes fairly slowly (or proportionally to that user's reputation).

Coming back to my question though. It's pretty obvious what problem StackOverflow is solving through their rep system, but what would be achieved through "globalizing" it? Also, what other problems would arise, like counterfeit reputations?

I want to explain the flippant way I dealt in with Steve Pavlina upthread. It's because I'd rather be flippant than take him seriously when he says things like You have no special entitlement to be treated fairly by others and builds his whole argument upon this gem. If I take him seriously, he scares the hell out of me - because this is exactly the kind of thinking that gave us the worst political and corporate abuses in history, and I mean very serious ones, not just unfairly moderating a post on The Internets.  

It is one thing to realize a fault in human character (a lot of people won't behave fairly if they don't have to, but have something to gain). It is a completely different thing however to espouse and promote unfair behavior as the basis on which to build your life or your business.

Spoiler
In fact, it is just !@#$% sick. There, I had to say it. Reading Steve Pavlina gives me the worst creeps.


If "every man for himself" morphs from an admonition to a commandment, than the lack of fairness online is really the least of our problems. And at the same time it is obviously possible to build a perfectly fair and minimally moderated forum like DonationCoder.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2009, 03:08:13 PM by tranglos »

Paul Keith

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #13 on: October 10, 2009, 02:53:38 PM »
Plus, how do you know someone is giving you his real identity? Yet another major problem of the internets :)

Well... with IMDB it uses your Amazon account, cellphone # or credit card information.

OpenID also claims to be the future.

Also many sites can allow Twitter and Facebook logins and while they are not real information, they can often be real enough for those who fear losing followers and being painted as a troll with their main accounts. (They could create a fake Twitter account but they might as well have created a fake mail account if they are going that route)

40hz

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #14 on: October 10, 2009, 02:56:10 PM »
Plus, how do you know someone is giving you his real identity? Yet another major problem of the internets :)

You don't really. But again, just asking serves to give notice that you take your site membership rules seriously. Which is better than nothing. And it does get rid of the casual gits.

Personally, I have no problem with the concept of web anonymity. I think it should be the right of the individual to remain anonymous. By the same token, it should also be the option of a given website to decide whether or not to allow absolute anonymity as a condition of posting comments.

Much like getting a safe deposit box in my bank: they ask you for your social security number as a form of ID. You're not required, by law, to provide it. And they're not required, by law, to rent you a box if you refuse.

Seems fair enough to me. :)


tranglos

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #15 on: October 10, 2009, 03:07:14 PM »
1) Require registration in order to post comments. This gets rid of virtually all the 'drive-by' flamers, and most 'feedback spammers.'

2) Limit the amount of anonymity for participants.

These are both good. As is enforcing a delay between registration and the moment a new user is allowed to post. This in itself will protect against drive-by trolls and flames. You can also have a system of graduated permissions: first you are allowed to comment on others' posts, later you can create top posts yourself.

(Both of these policies aren't really suitable for technical support forums. But they're good for any kind of opinion-oriented debate.)

* Note: I think it's important not to take these steps unless you actually do have a problem with people misusing comments or forum posts. Getting smacked by the occasional twit is unavoidable. Those individuals can usually be dealt with on a case by case basis, and in such man :beerchug:ner as the occasion warrants. Creating excessively restrictive policies almost always does more harm than good.

Bravo, 40Hz. And thank you.

tranglos

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #16 on: October 10, 2009, 03:11:10 PM »
Personally, I have no problem with the concept of web anonymity. I think it should be the right of the individual to remain anonymous. By the same token, it should also be the option of a given website to decide whether or not to allow absolute anonymity as a condition of posting comments.

More, more!  :Thmbsup:

Paul Keith

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #17 on: October 10, 2009, 03:21:10 PM »
1) Require registration in order to post comments. This gets rid of virtually all the 'drive-by' flamers, and most 'feedback spammers.'

2) Limit the amount of anonymity for participants.

You can also have a system of graduated permissions: first you are allowed to comment on others' posts, later you can create top posts yourself.

(Both of these policies aren't really suitable for technical support forums. But they're good for any kind of opinion-oriented debate.)

I have been a recipient of some form of this and I would respectfully disagree.

Graduated permissions are bad for opinion-oriented debate because then it promotes topic trolling. (That is, instead of creating a topic, a drive-by would actually ruin a valid thread.)

This is much better for technical support forums where anyone can first prove their knowledge and desire to help and then report an issue because these are the forums most likely to have cheap easy to add replies threads like "Which browser is more secure Opera or Firefox?"

I'm not saying it's optimal but for an opinion-oriented forum, it's just frustrating because if you're a legitimate user, you're not there to join others' opinions in other threads. You're there to create a less common thread and to hear what others think about or can educate you about it.

Believe me, it's much much easier to drive-by troll post in people's threads than creating one from scratch. All you need is to call the OP a newb or tell them to read the FAQ (even after someone already has mentioned it.)

40hz

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #18 on: October 10, 2009, 03:21:23 PM »
Basically he seems to be using a lot of words to say "freedom of the press belongs to those who own one", which is certainly a correct observation, if somewhat cynical. But he seems to forget, unless he owns his physical delivery infrastructure, that the site he calls his isn't really, because it's most likely hosted at another commercial entity, who will exercise the same rights he enjoys. A bigger fish than him, or a whole school of smaller fishes, can get Steve disconnected for his online speech almost as easily as he can moderate comments on his blog. In the end it's his legal budget against the legal budget of his ISP and whoever owns them.


True, but he could always drop about $500/mo on his own T1 line + $3K (one time) for two very capable servers (configured for load balance with failover) and save mega on legal bills and hassle time. And if he's making one tenth what he claims, it would still be a drop in the bucket.

And yes, while "freedom of the press belongs to those who own one," the price tag for said ownership isn't all that high any more.

FWIW, I'm not a big fan of Steve Pavlina. I think a lot of what he thinks and says is  a part of what's wrong with the whole blogosphere. And I can't comment of the specifics of what he may or may not be censoring on his site - mainly because (for a lot of reasons) I gave up and stopped reading him a long time ago.

But I don't have a problem with the notion of: Be civil - or begone! The way I see it, it's a simple case of "Pav's house - Pav's rules." I don't have an intrinsic problem with that.

But by the same token, I don't visit his website either. ;)


tranglos

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #19 on: October 10, 2009, 03:33:54 PM »

Graduated permissions are bad for opinion-oriented debate because then it promotes topic trolling. (That is, instead of creating a topic, a drive-by would actually ruin a valid thread.)

This is much better for technical support forums where anyone can first prove their knowledge and desire to help and then report an issue because these are the forums most likely to have cheap easy to add replies threads like "Which browser is more secure Opera or Firefox?"

I see what you're saying, Paul. What I meant though is that the various tech support forums are often set up for the specific purpose of answering questions asked by "new" people. If your fresh Linux installation were crashing (assuming that's even possible :) ) and instead of asking for help, you first had to provide some decent comments, you'd effectively be locked out of the forum.

On the other hand, if all you're sharing is a political opinion, then it can wait.

tranglos

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #20 on: October 10, 2009, 03:41:11 PM »
But I don't have a problem with the notion of: Be civil - or begone! The way I see it, it's a simple case of "Pav's house - Pav's rules." I don't have an intrinsic problem with that.

Oh, I agree with that part.


(Although when you take it to the logical conclusion, then in practice there is no free speech at all outside of the Speakers' Corner in the Hyde Park. But this is probably a separate topic altogether).


He loses me when he goes on to dis fairness and people who expect to be treated fairly. It smacks of the whole "blame the victim" mentality, which for some reason is typical to exactly the kind of people who write blogs and books about how great they are.

40hz

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #21 on: October 10, 2009, 03:42:06 PM »

I have been a recipient of some form of this and I would respectfully disagree.


Don't blame you a bit Paul. It bugs me to no end too.

But being a former dialup BBS operator, and current forum moderator, I've seen this issue from 'both sides' so to speak. And despite my many misgiving, I was eventually made to conclude that there are times when posting and comment policies do become necessary. And this was as true way back in the late 80s as it is today.

I don't advise setting conditions like that right out out the chute. (I greatly prefer letting things work rather than making them work. But that's mainly because I'm lazy pragmatic...)

But still, sometimes it's unavoidable.

The key is to avoid it until you can't.

And just how long you do avoid taking certain actions says as much about the kind of person you are as it does about the amount of abuse your website is experiencing.

 :)



« Last Edit: October 10, 2009, 03:47:52 PM by 40hz »

Paul Keith

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #22 on: October 10, 2009, 03:57:17 PM »
@trianglos

I get what you're saying that's why I added: "I'm not saying it's optimal" in my post.

That said, if my Linux was crashing, I'd have to be pretty darn lucky to even get to a forum. (as opposed to irc)

On the other hand with political threads, most people who are new to politics gets easily discouraged. It's not like politics is not famous for being a flame war thread. Every little gem of a thread helps.

(Remember politics may seem less important because of all the crap there is but at best, in an equal world of quality threads, politics is just as important as tech in that it also influences the world.)

Yes, most times it can wait for newbies but most times, it also brings less benefits. We shouldn't just factor the wait. We should factor the benefits of the system as a whole.

In the case of politics, while I've seen some political forums adapt graduated permission, I haven't seen where such methods have improved the threads or the concept of freedom of speech in them.

In the case of tech support, if we are to assume that a certain tech support is being a troll magnet for some secret agenda, graduated permission does help and not only will a problem eventually be posted if the tech support forum is literally the main place to get the answer but it sends the ideas to newbies to take the plunge and try to help others and trash newb posts are much harder to come by but it also reduces the drive by trolls.

Basically, the former worsens or at best has no effect gained from graduated permission while the latter while not wholly benefitting from the system does at least improve certain aspects for that type of forum.

I have been a recipient of some form of this and I would respectfully disagree.


Don't blame you a bit Paul. It bugs me to no end too.

But being a former dialup BBS operator, and current forum moderator, I've seen this issue from 'both sides' so to speak. And despite my many misgiving, I was eventually made to conclude that there are times when posting and comment policies do become necessary. And this was as true way back in the late 80s as it is today.

I don't advise setting conditions like that right out out the chute. (I greatly prefer letting things work rather than making them work. But that's mainly because I'm lazy pragmatic...)

But still, sometimes it's unavoidable.

The key is to avoid it until you can't.

And just how long you do avoid taking certain actions says as much about the kind of person you are as it does about the amount of abuse your website is experiencing.

 :)

Agreed 40hz but in my reply to trianglos, I was referring specifically to the application of graduated permissions in opinionated forums and tech support forums.

(I'm not sure you understood that so I just repeated what I said.)

To be honest though and with all due respect to you and trianglos, I don't really get my hate for graduated permissions but I absolutely abhor it. Maybe because it's a system that punishes all the newbs of the internet from the first time internet surfers to the casual people -- more than it punishes the trolls -- and that just irks me and at the same time, I guess the idea that we live in a world where our opinions are not as valuable as the giving away of support also irks me. I'm not saying one is superior to others but I just hate the thought that one is treated as inferior to the other but maybe it's not even that...maybe I'm so fanatical about this inequality that I react strongly to it because it seems like a case where tech-intelligent people sacrifice fully analyzing the cons and pros of the system in favor of the perception that the internet is not this global way to communicate but this global way to "control" those of lower peons and lesser talent to learn the ins and outs of being a great admin with a great forum that it just makes me react strongly against graduated permissions.

At the very least, I apologize to both of you if my post came off strongly to the point of offending.

40hz

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #23 on: October 10, 2009, 04:03:39 PM »
He loses me when he goes on to dis fairness and people who expect to be treated fairly. It smacks of the whole "blame the victim" mentality, which for some reason is typical to exactly the kind of people who write blogs and books about how great they are.

Oh, that's just Steve Pavlina trying to convince himself he's not being arbitrary - even though he is. Nothing unusual there. If you read him regularly you'll soon notice how often he tries to have things both ways.

Just one of the reasons I lost interest in reading his stuff. :P


(FWIW: "Pav" is a lot less obnoxious about this stuff than some. Texas' own Ken Starks over at The Blog of Helios has him beat by a mile. Just watch the reaction to any comment that raises an skeptical eyebrow at some of Ken's more incredible true adventures as he pursues his exciting and dangerous crusade to get...erm...free Linux PCs out to disadvantaged kids.)

tranglos

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Re: On free speech in forums
« Reply #24 on: October 10, 2009, 04:18:20 PM »
(Remember politics may seem less important because of all the crap there is but at best, in an equal world of quality threads, politics is just as important as tech in that it also influences the world.)

I just want to go on record to say politics is the single most important thing(*). "If you're not interested in politics, then politics will get interested in you" (I've probably mangled that quote). In my dream-world, everyone would be informed and participate in politics. I still think that in practice, whether you can post a particular opinion on a particular forum or if you have to wait, doesn't make or break much of anything. You are right though that it can be discouraging, so I should probably amend my stance.

And I wish there was a politcal forum as civil and successful as DC is. It just doesn't seem to be attainable though.

(*) I am including market/economic issues here, especially since market processes have gradually been supplanting the processes of representative politics. Which is partly what Pavlina's post is implicitly about, too.