On the topic of moderator bias

Allow me to preface the following by stating that I’m really not interested in the internecine drama of “board life”. I don’t care that much about who said what to whom in the past, and why so-and-so is a chronic jerkface, and so forth. Quite frankly, I only recognize and remember about a dozen screen names of posters, all of whom have specific areas of techincal knowledge, or with whom I have corresponded with in the past outside this forum. Generally when I find some poster particularly onerous or engaged in defacing an active threat, I’ll put that person on an Ignore list, unsubscribe from the thread, or just walk away from the keyboard and go read. It’s just not worth my while to get too wound up in the artificial community of a message board, especially since my main interest is a discussion of science, engineering, food, drink, and travel.

That being said, I’m really at a loss to understand some recent exchanges, the umbrage they’ve caused, and why I perceive a significant bias in moderation that permits and even tacitly encourages drama at the expensive of rational, civil discussion. A specific example is in the recent thread entitled [post=11804255]Okay to ask guest to leave their guns at home?[/post]. In this thread (which is admittedly on a topic that causes many people to run for corners and wait for the bell to ring) most posters responded in earlier threads in a reasonable and civil manner, with some reasonably good natured ribbing and dissent, and one outlier who proved the exception to the rule. Then [post=11804219]another poster interjected with invective and ad hominem[/post], and while he did not at that point single out any specific posters as the target for his insults, it was very clearly directed at early respondents to the thread who did not share his view. Shortly thereafter, [post=11804298]he explicitly acknowledged that his comments were directed toward at least one specific poster[/post], and then continued to fan the flames in the same manner while disingenuously asserting that his statements of unlawful physical violence were not what they appeared to be. Meanwhile, [post=11805336]I was giving an official Warning for pointing out that the poster in question was behavior this way[/post] (which was reasonable given that I used a term for this poster that is a prohibited insult), and [post=11805344]another person was cautioned[/post] for tossing back the same metaphor used by the poster in question. Meanwhile, the offending poster, while all but called out by name by the moderating authority as engaging in argument trolling behavior, received no more than a “We’ll be watching you,” caution.

Ordinarily I’d just chalk this up to moderator indifference and a lack of thoroughness, but as it was indicated by others that the behavior demonstrated by the offending poster was part of a larger pattern of behavior, and so I did a search. Even a cursory examination of posts by said individual indicate a very clear and persistent pattern of goading people and thinly veiled insults, and yet I can’t find a single example of his being officially Warned or given any more caution than a “knock it off,” while several other posters have received official Warnings for responding in like manner or indeed with less invective.

And lest it be indicated that this is just limited to one individual who may retain some kind of incriminating evidence against said moderator, the same pattern of behavior recently occurred in [thread=539856]another thread[/thread], in which a poster responded to pointed comments that he was missing an essential flaw in his reasoning with personal insults and insinuations of mental instability with nothing but a gentle, “Stop that,” rather than a Warning that his actions were in clear violation of the forum rules. Another cursory search of this poster demonstrated the same pattern of behavior; unsubstantiated and untrue claims, response to challenge by invective, and nothing more than the slightest diversion from his behavior.

Why is it that some persons are given almost unrestrained reign to insult and troll for drama at the expense of civil discussion and knowledgeable discourse?


LOL, it’s Tomndebb. That’s just the way he is. Don’t expect any sort of consistency of principle from him.

Perhaps so, but the point is that there is a consistent permissiveness in favor of certain posters who are chronically offensive or baiting.


Your second example is weak. You started in at post 54 calling xtisme dense and then proceeded with several hostile posts while xtisme tried to defuse a bit. I’m surprised you didn’t get a warning. Your complaining about xtisme’s warning being insufficient is pretty rich.

You are correct, of course.

But no one will admit it. You will be dismissed as a complainer and part of the tin foil hat brigade, seeing conspiracy where none exist.

How can there not be bias? Mods are human, and they can’t help but like and dislike posters. I’ve never met anyone on this board in person, and there are posters I like and dislike. Why would a mod be different?

Life is not fair. This board is not fair. Get over it, or move on. It’s a message board, run by human beings. Some mods are better at hiding their biases than others, but it’s not realistic to think they don’t have them.

Of course, my approach may not work for you. I don’t mind not going back to threads, or using the ignore list. That allows me to control the board experience in a positive way for me.

But abrasive posters and assholes? The board is full of them. Rejoice at diversity!

Seriously? I called him out as being dense because he was being intentionally obtuse about what a Near Earth Object was despite repeated explanations that it included objects closer and in lower energy orbits than the Moon. He made no effort to “defuse a bit,”; indeed, he proceeded to harp on about not being provided with a very specific citation that refuted his own claims which were incompletely derived from half-remembered pop science programs, and then continued to make statements such as, “clean the foam from your muzzle”, “Stranger is probably twitching on the floor in need of immediate medical assistance at this point”, and “hopefully Strangers head won’t explode,” well after I stopped responding to the thread. Nor is this sort of thing a limited incidence, as I discovered by doing even a simple perusal back through threads.

I’ll be the first to admit that I frequently get frustrated with posters who go off half-cocked in regard to topics that they clearly have no more than cursory knowledge of, and that this sometimes colors my language, but in the case of someone who refuses to learn or make the slightest effort to educate himself on basic definitions, I have little more than contempt and dismissal.


I agree with your approach, and frankly, I’m not so worked up over the fact that some posters are jerkish and abrasive as that they pervasively permitted to behave this way, but that anyone who calls out on such is chastised and penalized. And I find it curious that, particularly in the case of the two persons identified, they bring little to nothing to discussions other than abject ignorance and discordant conflict. There are other posters who can be equally abrasive but are sufficiently knowledgeable that arrogance and contempt is somewhat mitigated and often justified in providing worthwhile information and perspectives.


Stranger, am I understanding the complaint correctly?

  • In the first post you cite, you were warned for calling another poster an “asshole.”

  • In the second post, the poster described a class of people (gun fetishists) as snivelling, makes a statement that they have right to various behaviors (neo-nazi) that are “creepy, and disordered, and socially maladjusted.” That statement seems to me to be directed at a group of people, not a single individual; that’s not ad hominem and not against the rules. Lord knows, we’ve got people calling the Republicans/Democrats various vicious names. It’s “you” plural, even though some posters belong to those groups, we’ve never considered that personal insult. Hence, not a rules violation. Please see Rules of Posting on the Straight Dope Message Boards, Post #10. So, no, that post did not receive a warning.

  • The third post you cite is entirely about what the other poster SAID, and thus is fair game. No warning there, either.

  • The fourth post you cite is where tomndebb gave you the warning for calling another poster an asshole (see first point above.)

  • The fifth post, the poster is basically referring to a single poster, saying “Ignore him as you would a nazi.” It’s not the word “nazi” that brings about moderator reaction, it’s the context. In the second post you cite, the word is being used generically in comparison to a group of people (gun fetishists.) In the fifth post, the word is being used in comparison to a single poster.

The line is a fine one, between insulting a political group (which happens to contain posters) and insulting a poster. But the line has always been there, in our rules, for a long time.

Again, in [post=11804298]post #198[/post], Diogenes specifically and explicitly identifies that his insults (“fetistists…snivelling”, “creepy, and disordered, and socially maladjusted”) were directed at a particular poster (not me). This seems to be a clear violation of forum rules. I’ll accept the Warning as legitimately due to me (although I find it ironic that my position was one of moderation whereas the poster in question could not restrain himself from repeatedly describing how he would forcibly insert a firearm into the possesser’s rectum) owing to my choice of language, but it was quite frankly an accurate characterization of the behavior of that poster, who then continued to harass and bait in what can only be regarded as a clear pattern of passive-aggressive trolling behavior, and is part of a larger pattern of such behavior that remains unchecked.

I’ve normally just skipped over threads where people complained about biased moderation, largely because it has rarely been an issue for me (when I’ve been called out previously, it has been entirely legitimate and proportionate, and the same criticism was made of other involved parties) and I’m just not that into the drama about who did what to whom on a message board. But this was just…weird, as if one poster is permitted to say and do anything he pleases with only a token slap, while anyone else that makes even the slightest effort to point it out, as ExTank did, is chastised.

Do as you will; this is your board, and not a democracy of any sort. But if this is the tenor of discussion that the moderation authority collectively wishes to encourage, I’ll prefer to devote my spare writing time to more fruitful pursuits.


What I see is it seems like Tomndebb only hands out warnings for personal attacks if the person calls the other person a name. He doesn’t seem to realize that there are other ways to level personal insults.

Argent Towers: Rather than leaving the board, I would take advantage of the loophole. Apparently it is okay to say “I want to physically harm all blevians,” And then, in a later post, say “BigT is a blevian.” The fact that that logically becomes “I want to physically harm BigT” is apparently irrelevant.

Board procedure is that if you see someone acting like a dick, you notify the moderators. If you tell the dick that he is acting like a dick, or comment to someone else that there is a person being a dick, then you will get in trouble.

The rule is Do Not Feed the Trolls. You will be warned for doing it.

This is not new, nor is it biased, nor is it random. Let the mods deal with trolls/threadshitters/etc.

“Dense” and “obtuse” are synonyms for dumb or slow-witted. They are insults, as you seem to concede. You insulted him because you thought he was acting stupid.

A matter of perception, perhaps. But his next reply seems genuinely befuddled as to why you were so needlessly hostile.

For which he was properly chastised, a warning which he seems to have taken to heart. You, on the other hand, went unscolded for starting the hostility. So it’s pretty silly for you to use it as an example of mod bias, when the mod error was in not addressing your open hostility toward someone for not knowing as much about you about space science.

Just interjecting here: nobody reported post #198 in that thread, and it might have been worth a warning. I opted to make a note to Diogenes the Cynic for comments later in the thread. I think a warning would have also been deserved but I went the lighter route. If that post had been reported I might have gone the other way.

You are missing the point in a big way.

First, there are more choices than “love it or leave it”. The third option, of course, is to bring up issues that you feel are detrimental to the board, and thus strive to change things for the better. Since, as you pointed out, the mods are only human, then it stands to reason that posters who are concerned about issues like mod bias are clearly entitled to bring them up instead of treating the mods or rules as perfect and unchanging.

Secondly, it’s certainly ok to ask that the people in power are held to a higher standard than others. If a judge rules in favor of a party contrary to law, we don’t just shrug and say “well, they’re only human”. The SDMB mods are admittedly not so important as to the functioning of society, but it’s not absurd to think they might have some small duty to overcome their conceits.

I don’t have much opinion on the warnings in question; it’s too much to read through. But if there is bias, or even an impression of bias, it can’t be bad to bring it to light and discuss it rather than just shrugging and saying “that’s life”. Because unlinke, say, cancer, rules and rulings can be easily modified.

I have found that if there is an overweening temptation to get too wound up in the drama and artificial community of a message board, a logical step is to avoid ATMB.

And while this perhaps is slightly off-topic, “Sniveling Fetishists” is not the sort of band name that would encourage me to download their songs.

It’s a drama when it happens to someone else?

Yes, and some of those “other ways to level personal insults” are within the rules, and some are not. The question of group insults applied to individuals has always been a sticky one. We can’t (and wouldn’t want to) say that you can’t insult a group that has posters in it: that would imply no insults against Democrats/Republicans? lawyers? etc.

In this case, my understanding (I haven’t read the entire thread) is that there was an insult levelled against a group; that there was a later comment that the person “had a single poster in mind” when he made that comment. The question of whether that’s a warnable infraction, a “friendly reminder” offense, or negligble depends on circumstances and situation. I’ve already said that my reading would have been “friendly reminder” or negligible, and why. (In this case, as in most cases, one factor is sometimes whether an insult has been reported. Mods do not have time to read every thread as thoroughly as it deserves, so we rely heavily on y’all reporting suspected infractions.)

Yes, there’s some subjectivity involved, but it does NOT depend on who the poster is. (Well, OK, we often cut way more slack for new posters the first time they run afoul of the no-insult rule because they’re new.)

And please note: no one is criticizing Stranger for raising the issue. We are happy to have such questions raised politely, calling for an impartial review, like Stranger did. We are happy to examine the situation (either by the mod in question or by another mod), and explain in more detail or take further action, as seems fit.

Apparently you can, at least sometimes.

Again, that depends. I have been informed that in some cases, if one reports posts too often, and is perceived by at least one mod as reporting violations only from one ideological side, then that mod at least will discount your reports as less worthy of consideration.

It has also been the case that if you do report a post, a mod will publish the fact in an apparent effort to discredit you.


Shodan, the example you cite is not the same ballpark. We’re talking about a large group that INCLUDES posters (such as the Democratic party.) You’ve cited an example of a group of ONLY posters, that includes no one else. That’s pretty much apples and oranges. The instance that you cite, the insult is directed at a group of posters, not at a group that happens to include some posters. I’m talking about insulting a large group (in this particular instance, those who favor gun control.) You’re citing back at me an example of insulting posters whose name starts with R.

I also need to amend your other statement: “If one reports posts FRIVILOUSLY too often, or raises too many irrevelancies, then a mod will POSSIBLY discount that person’s reports as less worthy of consideration.” Such situations are extremely rare. The mods take every report seriously.

If you say so.

No, I am afraid you have no need to amend my other statement, since your amendment of it includes factors to which the original statement did not refer.

It is not the case that the explanation in question made it clear that only frivolous reports would be discounted.

I decline to bother with a cite.