Good luck with that.
The problem is that making firm, clear, inflexible rules of what may and may not be written, and to whom, and when, and where, and under which conditions, boxes you guys in more than you’re comfortable being boxed in. “Firm, clear, and inflexible” easily morphs into lots of “Okay, HE did the same thing on Tuesday, and HE only got a warning”-type complaints, which you currently deal with by saying “Hey, it’s our site, we’ll do as we please.”
But “loose, vague and flexible” simply and explicitly IDs your policy as “Hey, it’s our site, we’ll do as we please,” which is bothering some folks right now.
Are you concerned about harsh or hostile tones more, or abusive language, or persistence of arguing beyond the point you declare an argument settled? May I call a mod a cunt in a context where I’m all RO, and half-kidding, and pretending to be much madder than everyone knows I am, but in some dead-serious thread on a passionate issue (like PP) my language needs to be far more decorous?
I would advise you to continue taking hits in your official positions here, and to recognize that you have the power and don’t need to send the message that you do. If someone is disrupting communication–spamming, or sockpuppeteering or something that has clear parameters, well, that’s one thing. But stuff that just pisses you off personally? Try thinking of that stuff as a cost of doing business: you want to have a lively, free-flowing exchange of ideas here, and you’ve set it up so that venting on Mods, even when the venting is uncalled for or needlessly nasty in tone or language, serves a useful purpose for your clients, even if it feels horrible to you guys personally now and then. Think of yourselves as doctors on a mental ward–you don’t react to “Hey, you stupid prick” the same way you do to that abuse in a barroom. If that’s too extreme, try the analogy of being a nursery school teacher–if a kid calls you a bad name, it’s pretty unprofessional to go nuts on him. You’re better off to let the words slide off your back and try to help the kid deal with his emotional issues.
What I’m saying is that a mod writing only “I don’t appreciate the abusive language. Please address me in more nearly civil tone” (even if it has to be repeated a few times) is pretty strong stuff, and far more impressive than “You’re banned/ suspended/etc. even though other people use the same words, express the same sentiments without even a warning.” I think you guys need a tougher hide, which would resolve some of your issues here and free you from the burden of inventing Pit and ATMB rules that will be lawyered to death, and still leave most of the current problems in place. With a slightly tougher hide, in the recent example, I think Lynn would have simply changed the title to something less provocative, but instead of that professional response she chose to label the thread “trolling,” and getting into a whole messy discussion about what trolling is and isn’t, which no one enjoyed very much.
I don’t think any of you mods or admins deserve one-tenth of the abuse you get and will get, but I do think that to some large degree, that’s just the nature of free, open, lively discourse. You can try to contain it, but only at the risk of having an ongoing if not endless discussion of your policies while your clientele remains uncomfortable with the grayer areas of any policies you can devise. If most of the problems can be resolved by raising your own standards of being offended personally, that’s how I’d go.