In Defense of Active Moderation

I LOVE how much engagement we’re seeing on the topic of rape culture. I LOVE IT. I don’t love that it’s necessary, of course, but I am so encouraged by how many people have been willing to critically reflect on rape culture and our role in it. Keep rocking out.

However, since I posted an explanation for why I would not be approving comments related to false rape allegations, there have been a slew of comments regarding bias and manipulation of discourse. It became clear that, somewhere along the way, I had failed to make clear what my intention is here.

If you’re one of the folks who made such a comment, and has not seen it published, it’s because this is to be your response. Hopefully the exchange sheds some light on why things are being done the way they are.

Christopher     March 23, 2013 at 2:45 am 

After getting an idea of the kinds of posts you have chosen to allow and the ones you’ve “banned,” it seems there is a definite conflict of interest here, all of which existing in you and your approach.

It seems possible the attempt being made with this post was to draw attention to an issue about which you have strong feelings … especially given the strong wording in the text.

Unfortunately when you decide to be so selective by picking and choosing what comments to post and which ones to dismiss, you’re left with what amounts to the proverbial “choir,” with you as preacher.

If you’re attempting to expose a problem you feel isn’t getting enough of it, however, and are truly attempting to make a difference, you need to confront and engage anyone and everyone in whom you CAN make a difference. In other words, you can’t be a very effective voice against a war if all your speeches and quasi-townhall discussions are attended by anti-war people because those in favor of it have been denied access.

Your passion and determination are admirable; unfortunately your approach and effectiveness is lacking. Like others whose words you have “moderated,” which I imagine are those of individuals you seem to be trying to reach, I have neither the intent nor the desire to return to this page. And I will do so thinking I just encountered yet another angry feminist screaming too loud — and too selectively — to bother listening to.

Lauren Nelson     March 23, 2013 

Christopher,

I understand your frustration, because the process has been frustrating on my end, as well. I’m all for open and free discussion of important topics. A respectful exchange of ideas can foster greater understanding of complex ideas, and cause us to examine our own beliefs.

And as it turns out, my experiences since this post went live have made me examine my own beliefs.

I think context is important for this response. This blog has, since inception, been a place for me to give voice to topics I found important. It was not an endeavor with a specific goal. I had a full-time job, and a four year old daughter, family and friends to keep up with, consulting work on the side… consistent posting was not an option. But I enjoy research and writing and lively discussion, so having a platform to that end when necessary was a good thing.

When I initially wrote this post, it was the product of frustration. I was sick over Steubenville. I was nauseated by some of the comments I had seen from people I had otherwise respected. It seemed as though people were not seeing the big picture, and that broke my heart. In many ways, I assumed I would write this post, and use it for reference next time someone thought elements of rape culture were not prevalent in our society.

I certainly never expected it to go viral.

It very quickly became clear that this post no longer had anything to do with me. It had to do with those who were reading and sharing and commenting. And something very special was happening – hearts and minds were changing, and people were driven to inspire change in others, with over 10k shares on Facebook and 2k shares on Twitter (rough numbers – WordPress data isn’t the most reliable). The past several days have been a blur of narratives. I cannot put into words how moved I have been by the courage of survivors who have reached out; some realizing, for the first time, that they had been victims. Others spoke to a sense of healing that came from seeing so many people stand up for the interests of survivors instead of doubting their suffering.

I’m not sure if you realize how rare that is. For a survivor to feel safe and secure and supported is not something one can, in good conscience, take for granted.

In the beginning, I censored nothing on the comment thread. However, as time went on and the traffic surge began to spike, the content of the comments began to shift. By and large, the comments were respectful, insightful and compassionate. Some, however, were not. What do I mean when I say that? Here are some of the comments in the trash right now:

– Did you know that DONGLES may be a THREAT to YOUR vagina?
– But I love rape.
– *Yawn*
– Dinking is allowed. Rape not!
– I’m tired of hearing about males raping…and killing…and raping…and killing…and raping…and killing…
– i lol’d

I deleted these posts because they were non-sensical or patently offensive or blatant trolling – all of which would have detracted from the very important conversation taking place. After a while, I stopped approving posts which posed critiques that had already been addressed… on at least a dozen other occasions. Part of this goes back to the fact that I’ve been moderating the thread while working and mothering and (if we’re being frank) dealing with a crisis in my community, so at times, the backlog of comments was above 200. The comment thread had begun to sprawl, and this was, in some ways, about keeping it functional. Had I not taken this step, there would have been times where you saw 10 comments in a row about not all athletes being rapists, with the same response to each about that not being what the posts says. That wouldn’t have furthered the conversation; it would have made the comment thread even more difficult to navigate.

The decision calculus changed again as more and more survivors began to share their stories. I won’t post excerpts of the responses I’ve deleted. In the few hours of sleep I’ve managed since all of this started, my nightmares have been peppered with their words. I really don’t understand the hate in people sometimes.

Some of the comments were, in a vacuum, merely questions. The problem came with context. In some stories, the survivors spoke of being doubted at every turn, with no one believing them, and the helplessness they felt. More and more frequently, a group of commenters began to (almost religiously) question these survivor accounts. For someone to relate the trauma of being called a liar after one of the most frightening experiences of their lives… only to be called a liar again… it seemed unconscionable to even think about allowing the comments through.

Even when the comments did not directly attack the survivor, they still seemed inappropriate. They were largely phrased as, “I respect your suffering, but-” … and the problem is that there shouldn’t be a “but” in that statement. A survivor should be able to tell their story – both as a form of catharsis and as an inspiration for other survivors – without having to defend themselves against a critique once more. It was a matter of sensitivity.

At this point, I think it’s important to pause for a minute to think about the psychological impact of sexual violence on a survivor. These are individuals who were violated – sometimes in a violent nature, and sometimes by people who they thought cared about them. For these survivors, the impacts last a lifetime. From PTSD to night terrors to issues with intimacy to panic attacks… the list goes on and on. For many of these individuals, finding themselves faced with serial doubters once more could be a triggering experience. I’m not sure if you’ve ever struggled with severe anxiety, PTSD, flashbacks, or depression, but it can be terrifying to have an episode triggered. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. And I have been blessed enough to never be the victim of sexual violence, either; I cannot begin to fathom the depths of that pain.

So I drew a line in the sand. I prioritized the security of the survivors over the conjecture of observers. I will not apologize for that decision. Does that make for a lower level of quality in the discourse? I don’t think so. The topic here is rape culture – the socially accepted beliefs, ideas and practices which trivialize the experience of the victim, make light of the crime, or rationalize the behavior of the perpetrators. The idea of a false accusation (however deplorable it may be – and I do believe false accusations to be heinous) does not trivialize the experience of a true victim of sexual violence. It does not cast sexual violence into the framework of entertainment or humor. It does not rationalize or justify any acts of sexual violence. While the topic may merit discussion, it technically isn’t salient to the SPECIFIC topic of the post. This, combined with the potential for intimidation or revictimization, was the foundation of my decision.

Since that decision was made, my approach to moderating comments has been to ask a series of questions focused on a singular idea: What does this do to the conversation?

Does it derail it onto an unrelated topic? Is it a direct attack or dismissal of a survivor? If not, does it have the potential to make survivors feel dismissed or attacked? If so, what is the proximity of the comment to the narratives of the other survivors? If it is not in close proximity to a survivor’s story, is the argument sensitively phrased and supported with something other than conjecture? If it is conjecture, has the topic already been addressed elsewhere sufficiently?

Essentially, the goal was to foster focused, sensitive, and constructive dialogue. Note – not a single part of my criteria has anything to do with what whether or not a comment aligns with my opinions. There are PLENTY of comments on this thread, and throughout the blog, that make me want to scream. But I think it’s important to have our worldview challenged, which is why – if they are focused, sensitive, and constructive – they get published. I understand why you might be concerned about the execution of moderation; you can’t see the backend. Let me put it this way: of the roughly 1230 comments that have been submitted on posts throughout this blog, THERE ARE ONLY 126 IN THE TRASH. About half of these fell into the trolling/repeat category.

I think this also speaks to your concerns about whether this approach alienates the target audience. Both the relatively low frequency of rejection on the basis of comment content, and the numerous posts from commenters who are just now realizing the significance of the topic at hand, seem to undercut the worry. And that’s not considering my inbox, where I have been flooded with messages from people wanting to tell me that they “get it now.”

That doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled with rejecting some comments. This is particularly true of some of the commenters who shared their personal experience of being falsely accused. In those instances, I tried to reach out to thank them for their candor, and provide a specific reason for why their comment was excluded. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, and to those I’ve overlooked, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I’m human, and I’m doing this by myself right now. I’m trying.

Now, I’m assuming the impetus for your comment, Christopher, is the fact that I had not yet approved your comment, submitted at 6:52 PM. The specific portion of your comment which resulted in rejection read as follows:

These days it is almost FASHIONABLE for a woman to claim she has a “stalker,” a term that is used far too easily and frequently in comparison to the amount of damage it can cause. It’s quite simple, really: Among the countless other possible scenarios, let’s say a woman in a relationship with a man decides to be unfaithful, and is then caught and confronted.

A rather large percentage of women in that position will not simply explain herself or admit her wrong-doing, and will instead simply leave the relationship. Anyone with an emotional investment in that relationship will not only want but DESERVE answers, and will seek them. Almost immediately, rather than provide an explanation, the woman will start acting frightened of a man she knows would never hurt a fly, and not wait long to label the man a “stalker.”

Why did this spur rejection? Let’s look at the questions I was asking to reach my conclusions-

Q: Does it derail it onto an unrelated topic?
A: Yes. Not a single part of this comment is related to rape culture. Further down, you attempt to pre-empt this concern, stating:

What does this have to do with “rape culture?” Simple: The whole rage of claiming “stalker” is a power women commonly exercise, damages the opposite (or occasionally same) sex, and is something in which the actual damage caused is neither understood nor considered. And if anyone doesn’t believe how prevalent it truly is, or how loosely and freely it’s slung around, just search twitter for #stalker.

The term “rape culture” in my mind is one way to lament the decreasing recognition of the seriousness of the crime. Meanwhile, I’d be stunned if the term “stalker” ever lost its potency and stigmatic power.

This statement in no way, shape, or form establishes a connection to rape culture (see definition above for reminder). It does not directly address a single point of the post itself. It is not in response to anyone’s comments. It is, simply put, a rant about stalker accusations. That’s all fine and well, but it isn’t salient to this conversation.

Q: Is it a direct attack or dismissal of a survivor?
A: No.

Q: If not, does it have the potential to make survivors feel dismissed or attacked?
A: Perhaps. It enters a conversation about suffering and says, “But look at me!” That could be interpreted as dismissive and disrespectful. At a minimum, it is a distraction from the goal of the thread, which is to better understand what rape culture is, how it impacts us, and how we can work to change it.

Q: If so, what is the proximity of the comment to the narratives of the other survivors?
A: While not directly next to a narrative, it would have posted close enough to one of the accounts – and one where the survivor had never openly discussed the matter before – to be of concern.

Q: If it is not in close proximity to a survivor’s story, is the argument sensitively phrased and supported with something other than conjecture?
A: Unfortunately, the comment was entirely based on conjecture. There was no data. There was no evidence. There were no warrants for why you believe false accusation of stalking to be a problem.

To be clear, I have no problem with you individually. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with the conversation you are trying to have. But for the reasons above, it is not a conversation to have here and now.

You have a right to your opinions. I’m sorry if you don’t approve of this moderation process, but it was my decision to make, and I stand by it. If after this explanation, you still believe I am nothing but “another angry feminist screaming too loud,” I’m not sure what to tell you, except I wish you luck on your journey.

Peace,

Lauren

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21 comments

  1. As someone currently writing a thesis on social change, I would like to add in response to Christopher that one does not “need” to address anyone and everyone on whom one might make an impact. In fact, it is often valuable not to do that. That’s because any entrenched idea has a spectrum of people who encounter it, and they must be addressed in different ways. There are people who will defend it, people who don’t know, people who have been victimized by it, and people who are against it, to name a few.

    I cannot stress enough that cutting the first group out of the discussion is NOT a bad choice. It is a valid decision that allows the remaining groups a safe space to explore the idea without being attacked for doing so. Christopher, you are right that addressing this first group is important. You are wrong that it should always be done everywhere. You would not invite the KKK to a meeting of the NAACP; likewise, Lauren has made a courageous and valuable choice not to invite un-self-critical defenders of rape culture into a discussion of that culture.

    Including those of you who want to troll, or to post about how rape culture is a myth, or complain about how a single false accusation would justify putting people who have been violated through the further abuse of having people disbelieve them and ridicule them, would potentially harm the people who wish to have a more respectful discussion. There is a place for your ideas–it just isn’t here.

    And Lauren–thank you for making the choices you have, regardless of the subsequent flack from those who don’t understand or respect them.

  2. I would suggest that if Christopher feels so strongly about women making false allegations about stalkers, he consider doing a post about it on his own blog, where he can talk about it to his heart’s content

    1. I may be a bit late with the invitation but suggest Christopher might like to drop by my place nextdoortostevengoddard and from thence over to my neighbour’s. Steven’s a bit of a brat but fun in his own way. I’ve been living next door to him since Saint Paddy’s day and it’s been quite an adventure, let me tell you. Gotta get back to my own blog now but look forward to dropping by again and joining in the discussion!

  3. Excellent response. And quite frankly, I, for one, appreciate the fact that you are taking responsibility for a conversation (a very important and serious one) that you started to moderate the threads. Kudos.

  4. I would never have the patience and forbearance you’ve shown. My response would be, “My blog, my rules, and if you don’t like it, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” No justification, no apologies; this is the way it is, and I don’t have time to deal with such whiny nonsense.

      1. You’re sick and you need help. Due process does not promote “rape culture” you feminazi psycho

  5. You are entitled to express your opinion. You are not obligated to continue to defend your opinion/position. If you want to encourage dialog – fine. If not – fine. The ranters will continue to rant, the haters will continue….and so on…you don’t need to provide a platform.

  6. You are an impressive blogger and comment moderator. Really – I would neither have the patience or the emotional resources to deal with the blowback from a subject like this. Kudos and I look forward to reading more of your blog posts.

  7. Thank you for a series of great posts bringing attention to the massive problem of the rape culture in society. Let me tell you that it’s just as big an issue here in Ireland as in America. Hopefully all this attention will force us to face reality and change.

  8. This is such an important but sensitive topic, I think it’s a brilliant decision you decided to moderate the comments. I also think the questions you use to base this moderation on is perfect. Especially the backing of what the poster decides is fact. If there are stats etc, then yes it might prove relevant and interesting to discuss. If someone is just providing their opinion, and that’s in a negative way, a people have said, they can start their own blog. Well done!

  9. I have often seen posts about rape culture being derailed. I would just block them. When talking about something as sensitive as rape, not all opinions are valid. Its your blog, do what you think is right and feels comfortable for you.

  10. Lauren,

    A friend introduced me to your blog last week, and after reading a few of your posts, I subscribed right away and have been sharing it with my friends. I want to thank you for your intelligent, fair, and courageous discourse. Thank-you for putting up with and responding to all of this for the sake of everyone in living within our culture today. Authors like you are rare – authors that always employ justice, patience, reason, and compassion while examining difficult issues. Sorry to gush, but seriously, your blog is a solace and it gives me a lot of hope for the progression of my country. Cheers!

  11. I would like to say Thank You for this. Your handling of “Rape Culture” and it’s associated topics is top notch. You have done a good job of presenting the facts as you see them. You have clearly explained why you see them that way. You have even backed up much of what you say with sources. Your comment approval process is even very even handed and rational. This is a great departure from most of what I’ve seen on the topic. Keep up the good work.

    Note: I strongly oppose your positions, but support your right to say them. It fills me with hope that you are doing the same with comments.

  12. I agree 100% with every point you have made. Even though I am tired of hearing about it, along with every other tragedy, it MUST be confronted and dealt with in order to prevent more tragedies from happening. It’s refreshing to see the commitment and perseverance you have put into this. Ha I don’t think I’ve ever seen an author reply to so many comments. Keep up the good work Lauren!

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