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Protecting our forum from propaganda, polarization and failed communication

 
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Therefore I guess an ordinary member wouldn't actually be pushing propaganda; it seems to be the realm of organizations of some type, though members may recycle propaganda they have received.



This is what makes propaganda so scary.  People can honestly believe what they have been cleverly manipulated into believing, then spread this information without realising they are now acting as puppet for corporate interests.  I think education is a powerful tool against this, as is encouraging multiple view points to be expressed.

Sometime there could be individuals who wish to deliberately sew propaganda and distension on this forum.  How can these be identified and what can we do to prevent the damage?

Is permies a big enough thing to be a threat to certain interests?  If so, wouldn't a powerful tool for these corporations be to encourage arguments among the users?  When someone deliberately pushing our buttons, sometimes it's difficult to see it, but if we react, they get the result they came here for.  Is there something we can do to recognise when we are being manipulated and prevent it from taking focus away from our greater goal - create a community that is usually about permaculture and making a better world through learning good things rather than being angry at bad guys.
 
r ranson
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My understanding of Paul's rules on this forum:

Discussing the merits of vegan lifestyle is fine
Discussing the merits of a non-vegan lifestyle is fine

Attacking the other side is not acceptable
Telling people how they should eat is not acceptable.
Debating diet is not acceptable.  Debating of any kind, on this forum is not acceptable.  

By making this very clear, we avoid a major hot button issue that can cause great tension, hurt feelings, yelling and all around not niceness.  It may seem like censorship and it is.  I don't see it having anything to do with the majority or minority opinion.  If a meat eater was to say "you should eat meat" they would be dealt with just as harshly, perhaps more so, than if a vegan were to say to me that I should not eat meat.



The opening post made me think this thread was about coming together and making this forum a friendlier place as a way to defend it from outside attacks.  That is something I would like to learn more about.  
 
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R Ranson wrote:

Sometime there could be individuals who wish to deliberately sew propaganda and distension on this forum.  How can these be identified and what can we do to prevent the damage?



Since it's almost impossible to argue here, I don't think they'd get very far.  I think they'd slip up and get flagged for moderation after only a couple of posts.  A real corporate shill would, I think, tend to stand out, being a new person and posting in a non-permie way.  For instance, posting anti-permaculture comments.  People here have a tendency to doggedly correct misapprehensions or wrong information about permaculture.  Pro-industrial-ag comments will get an especially stern scrutiny here by a lot of members, I think.

 
Tyler Ludens
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R Ranson wrote: I don't see it having anything to do with the majority or minority opinion.  



I disagree, I think an unusual opinion is going to get more scrutiny by virtue of being unusual.  I don't think it will be moderated differently, I think it will be read differently by a lot of people. "Hey wait a minute, what are you saying?"

Some people might be genuinely curious to know how meat-eating might not be sustainable.  I think many people might feel a little defensive about the "very idea!"

 
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R Ranson wrote:My understanding of Paul's rules on this forum:

Discussing the merits of vegan lifestyle is fine
Discussing the merits of a non-vegan lifestyle is fine

Attacking the other side is not acceptable
Telling people how they should eat is not acceptable.
 



I think Tyler has made a very good point. I've never, I believe, done any of the above things. I have raised the matter of whether raising livestock is sustainable, but it's been treated as "telling people what they should or should not eat" and "having a vegan agenda".

Going back to the question of values, one of my values is perhaps quickly summed up as "I am of the view that humans urgently need to learn to live sustainably", and I suspect most people on the site would concur with some version of that proposition.

With that said, if I suggest implications derived from that proposition that contradict a mainstream view of the subject, the moderation criteria seem to me to change.

This also has implications for working out where the boundaries are between discussing values, as James suggests, and discussing the practical implications of those values.

I think I need to lay my hands on his book.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think people seeing someone suggest that something they do may not be sustainable is going to tend to make them a little defensive.  They're probably going to feel judged, even if no judgment of them is actually occurring.

Discussions of what may or may not be sustainable are fraught with peril, even though ostensibly this entire message board is about that exact topic.
 
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I have raised the matter of whether raising livestock is sustainable, but it's been treated as "telling people what they should or should not eat" and "having a vegan agenda".  



Um, that's not exactly correct, to put it mildly.  What you actually wrote in that post was that "meat eating is unsustainable, and thus logically incompatible with permaculture, which must be sustainable by definition."  That is expressing opinion as fact, equating meat eating with livestock raising, and smacks of an attempt to declare that no-one should eat meat if they claim to be sustainable.  It smacks of someone imposing their ethics on others.  And you keep coming back to the subject and disguising it as rhetoric even though members have pointed out that feelings are getting hurt.  

If the subject is mentioned in any further posts in this thread, they are going to get removed.  
 
Tyler Ludens
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How can we rigorously discuss the topic of sustainability without hurting feelings?   Is it even possible to talk about the relative sustainability of various practices without appearing to judge?

We can't even hint that another permie isn't perfect, but can we talk about practices (not people) in terms of relative sustainability?

I should mention that, even though I think I'm trying to practice permaculture, I can't think of a single thing I do that is sustainable. Maybe making rock dams in the creek.  That's maybe the only thing I've done that's actually sustainable.

 
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As far as how we can help protect the forum; I say one of the most important things is to work on becoming friends with as many other members as possible. One can have a discussion with friends that, if held with anyone else, would turn into a raging battle. I've been on unmoderated forums, where two or three individuals spent their whole time chasing one another around the forum. It was impossible for the uninitiated to even tell what the battles were about, since they spanned all the subcategories and had been running steadily for years.

So, before one posts "I think etc. etc. etc." we should each take the time to figure out who the main figures are in the relevant subcategory, check and comment positively on their threads, get a feeling for where they are coming from culturally, discuss non-threatening topics, praise them for great posts, etc. I don't say I've been perfect on this; I remember getting into a real tangle with another member, and then when I went back and read all about them, I realized a lot of things that helped me understand what they were really trying to say.

I think the real sounding names are a huge help to this. Who will really feel much respect for hatfield201 or Dingbat5? It just sets the wrong feeling.

Seed saving and sharing between members can also help; it gives us a physical, positive link to these unseen people.
 
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As a follow up to the above; basically, we permies are trying to act like we all live in the same village instead of interacting with one another in a virtual forum.

Virtual reality, social media, etc. can make people to be much nastier then they are in real life, because all the multifaceted reality of the people involved is stripped away, sort of like a synthetic vitamin removed from a complex fruit. We can restore as much of that background,  all those mediating and grounding and localizing factors that come with a true local community.

(Of course our real communities are now often as unreal as our virtual ones, a crowd instead of a group. I think this is largely due to the virtual reality of our screens; but that is a topic for another time. )
 
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Hello Tyler;

here is my thoughts on your question.

Every choice or opinion inherently means that we think other choices or opinions are inferior, at least for us at that moment.

However, I think what permies staff wants us to do is always state the positive.

So, first, if I plant seeds instead of saplings for my trees, it is because I think it is superior.

But, that does not mean that the sapling planting people are inferior to me;

And, it might be better if I said, "I plant seeds because xyz "instead of "I don't plant saplings because of abc";

And, I might be wrong and if so would like to learn more;

And, what works for me does not always work for others.

Now, can we state that an idea is a bad one? I'm not sure on this, the permies staff would have to let me know. I recently posted an idea about using carpets on my garden paths. Some people posted what they do; but some also posted some potential drawbacks to my idea. I'm glad they did. And I'm glad others told me not to whitewash my roof with lime, and others told me that planting trees on top of hugelkultures was a bad idea.

But I'm not staff, so I don't know.
 
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Since propaganda is to me a deliberate secret attempt to distort discourse dishonestly then I think that is the role of the mods to sort out when identified .
Polarisation to me is two people having extreme views and the way I would  sort that out is to insist that there are a spectrum of views on each topic and that this range should be respected . We live in a colourful world not a black and white one.
Failed communication ...er what was the question again  

David
 
Tyler Ludens
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:

So, before one posts "I think etc. etc. etc." we should each take the time to figure out who the main figures are in the relevant subcategory, check and comment positively on their threads, get a feeling for where they are coming from culturally, discuss non-threatening topics, praise them for great posts, etc.



I think this all helps the forum run smoothly and avoid conflict, but it's possible that sticking to non-threatening topics may suppress communication.  For instance upthread someone wanted to talk about how a particular message might be perceived -- would it be perceived as 1. providing information,  2. an opinion piece, or 3. propaganda.  Unfortunately the example was so controversial (or badly phrased) that it derailed the conversation and the question was never explicitly answered.  The conversation became one of how to post according to permies publishing standards, which is certainly important, but left the question unanswered (failed communication).  It might still be an important question.  I don't know if a different example of a controversial subject can be posted to find out if controversial subjects are more likely to be seen as providing information, or as opinion pieces, or as propaganda.  Maybe the message is to avoid controversial topics even if they might be very important to a particular poster, simply because they tend to cause discord.  Unfortunately if that subject is one that the forum member is most interested in and feels is most important to share information about, that person won't be able to post much about what is important to them and may give up trying to share ideas because they can't work out how to present them in a way which doesn't cause controversy.  I'm convinced it is possible to present virtually any information in a way which doesn't violate permies publishing standards, but this still doesn't prevent the information from being threatening to someone, especially if it is uncommon or controversial.

paul wheaton wrote:This image shows one of my many concerns.   I think a lot of communities on the internet do this, and this what I don't want for permies.com.



 
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Tyler - who decides when communication has failed ? The person who is trying to say something or the person receiving the communication ?

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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Yes, he would; at which point he would go and start "Permies 2" which would soon be the largest permaculture site on the web. Which is exactly what folks could do who don't fit on permies. After all, the web is much larger the permies; permies is the site of Mr. Paul Wheaton, to further the goals of the Wheaton empire.

I think this is at least fair, right? We can all vote with our feet, as Tyler said in another thread.



I don't believe that it is possible for many people to start a forum as simply as is stated here. Paul has a background pre-Permies of working in the tech world. He is naturally inclined and he is trained towards techie work. I for example, have tried to learn coding and web site building a few times, and the extreme frustration that resulted from each attempt necessitated that I move on towards a different future. I think three times of me trying was enough to convince myself that I wouldn't enter that arena again. I also know that many people have even less technical computer skills than I do - reading from some members that this is there first experience of a forum at all reminds me that much of the world did not grow up in a tech heavy society - this isn't even approaching members of so-called 'second and third world' countries.

I think that it is important to remember that most people specialize in a few or even one topic throughout their life. They may dabble in many, but they don't become great at a lot. In Paul's previous life he specialized in the tech world and has run forums before Permies, most members here cannot say the same.

Tyler Ludens wrote: People don't get banned for their ideas.  



An hour ago I read on a thread here (and can't find it again) of someone coming on here and posting that they 'hoped the world would end through nuclear war so all humans would be eradicated' (paraphrased). I believe it was R Ranson referencing it?
People do get banned here for their ideas, but banning and censorship is not necessarily a bad thing. Paul makes many good points about why he deletes posts and sometimes bans people. I think the questions being raised here are in relation to where is the line for censorship and carried further, banning.

Tyler Ludens wrote: I think uncommon conclusions are more likely to be seen as propaganda than the accepted thing.  For instance, it is accepted that meat eating in a permaculture context is sustainable, so I think it would be difficult to convince a permaculture audience that such may not be the case.  I think the presentation of the information would need to be very carefully crafted in order to not be seen as propaganda.  Pro-meat-eating information, on the other hand, because coming from an accepted position - "meat eating is sustainable in permaculture" - does not need to be carefully presented.  It is, by virtue of being accepted "fact" not subject to the same scrutiny as the unusual position "meat-eating is not sustainable even in permaculture."

The accepted position doesn't need to make any claims about being the logical conclusion, it is automatically accepted as logical.  It is also accepted as simply information, whereas the unusual position is seen as propaganda or rocking the boat/trying to stir up trouble/debating, etc.



This is a great point Tyler, and I think the crux of what some members have been discussing here. Tyler you have mentioned having a fear of discussing a point because you didn't know how to say your point without starting conflict. Neil has run into this problem several points with trying to present an alternative and highly controversial point about animals in a sustainable permaculture system.

I know I am late to this discussion, but I'm hoping it can continue on so that I can learn more and so that I also don't squash anyone with some opinions that I hope to discuss in the future.
 
Tyler Ludens
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David Livingston wrote:Tyler - who decides when communication has failed ? The person who is trying to say something or the person receiving the communication ?



Possibly both.  In this case it was the person trying to say something.

 
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Aaron Martz wrote:
People do get banned here for their ideas



I have never seen an example.  I think people may get banned for refusing to adhere to the publishing standards.  In other words, they may get banned for how they express their ideas, but not for their ideas.  The idea "I hope all humans die in a nuclear war" is a controversial topic which might not survive except in the Cider Press.  If the person who wants to discuss it insists on posting it outside of the Cider Press, their threads will probably get moved or deleted.  If they get upset about this and fight with the moderators, they may get banned.  But not because of the idea, which (I believe) could have been discussed in the Cider Press, adhering to permies publishing standards.





 
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Aaron Martz wrote:
People do get banned here for their ideas



I have never seen an example.  I think people may get banned for refusing to adhere to the publishing standards.  In other words, they may get banned for how they express their ideas, but not for their ideas.



Tyler is absolutely right, as usual.  Except I'd probably add that we generally try pretty hard to get people to express their ideas a bit better, and only resort to banning as a last resort if they seem totally unwilling to attempt to change how they express them.  
 
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Aaron Martz wrote:


People do get banned here for their ideas, but banning and censorship is not necessarily a bad thing. Paul makes many good points about why he deletes posts and sometimes bans people. I think the questions being raised here are in relation to where is the line for censorship and carried further, banning.



I haven't seen anyone here get banned for their ideas.  Saying that, most of the volunteers don't get to use the ban hammer: that's Paul and Burra's privilege.

Things I have seen people get banned for:
  • spam
  • a pattern of deliberately causing or continuing arguments
  • constantly expressing ideas in a way that does not leave room for other people's ideas
  • Not Niceness


  • My understanding of the goals for this site is to encourage ideas, even if they seem a bit odd.  HOWEVER, we do come down heavy on people who think everyone should subscribe to these ideas and/or they express these ideas in a way that fails to leave room for other people's ideas.  If people are having trouble understanding the publishing standards, the staff are always here to help.  


    Tyler said it best:

    Tyler Ludens wrote:  In other words, they may get banned for how they express their ideas, but not for their ideas.  

     
    Gilbert Fritz
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    Don't some ideas flag a person as unlikely to be a productive member of the forum? For instance, the nuclear war proponent; I'm sure whichever moderator dealt with that had very little hope of getting them to cooperate.

    Also, aren't there some ideas that would get people banned? Let's say someone started explaining how we should kill off as many non-permies as possible so that we could rule the world. Even in the cider press, I imagine that idea, and subsequently the member, would get banned.

    But correct me if I am wrong.
     
    David Livingston
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    "Also, aren't there some ideas that would get people banned? Let's say someone started explaining how we should kill off as many non-permies as possible so that we could rule the world. Even in the cider press, I imagine that idea, and subsequently the member, would get banned."

    This would come under not nice ( also impractical )

    David
     
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    ", the nuclear war proponent; "

    Not that anyone would ask this ........ ok nearly everyone would not ask this .
    I would see this as the promotion of toxic gick

    David
     
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    Gilbert Fritz wrote:Don't some ideas flag a person as unlikely to be a productive member of the forum? For instance, the nuclear war proponent; I'm sure whichever moderator dealt with that had very little hope of getting them to cooperate.

    Also, aren't there some ideas that would get people banned? Let's say someone started explaining how we should kill off as many non-permies as possible so that we could rule the world. Even in the cider press, I imagine that idea, and subsequently the member, would get banned.

    But correct me if I am wrong.



    I'm pretty sure that promoting nuclear war or killing off non-permies would count as 'not nice', so it's in violation of the publishing standards.  Probably also political, so gonna get deleted for being outside of the cider press.  And then there's that 'should' that we don't generally allow.  Plus there's the catch all of removing anything that falls outside of Paul's comfort zone.  That kind of stuff would sure fall outside of my comfort zone.  So we'd certainly put posts on probation to get them edited to meet the standards, or, if they were too bad, we'd just delete them, possibly issue apple cores too, which reduces the likelihood of that member posting in the cider press.  Banning is generally for spammers and people who really won't follow the rules.  Or start taking up vast amounts of moderator time to the extent that we can't do anything useful.  The emphasis here is supposed be on useful discussion of how to make the world a better place through permaculture, and if anything seems to be completely against that aim it's generally easier and more productive to just get rid of it.
     
    r ranson
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    Gilbert Fritz wrote:Don't some ideas flag a person as unlikely to be a productive member of the forum?



    Yes and no.

    I don't know which thread you're referring to, but in general, when I'm moderating a new user I like to help them get to know the publishing standards.  This site is very different than your average forum and it takes people a while to get used to it.  A moderator helped me with a post or two when I was new to this place, and I really appreciate it.  I think 9 times out of 10, people react positively to this sort of thing and need very few nudges to stay on track. Occasionally, a person reacts differently to this approach.  They usually come to their own conclusion that this site isn't Reddit and it's not the kind of moderation they feel comfortable with.   They usually remove themselves.

    Because most new users react so positively to the publishing standards, I try not to flag someone as a problem user until a pattern of behaviour develops.  

    Other mods may have different approaches, but this is the one I like to use.  I also don't know if this is the best approach to protect our forum from outside trouble.  I tend to think the best of people and like to give them the benefit of the doubt.  
     
    Gilbert Fritz
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    So, in brief, some ideas are banned; ideas that are not nice, about toxic gick, or are outside of Paul's comfort zone. But people will only get banned for them if they persist in posting them.

    In any case, whatever the moderators are doing, it seems to be working. Permies is the most pleasant online community I've run across yet, and that is quite a feat considering how large it is.
     
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