What constitutes a personal insult in ATMB?

I would like a clarification regarding what precisely constitutes a personal insult in this forum.

Recently, Giraffe received this from Dex after complaining about ** Carol Stream**’s “henpecking” of posts.


He received an official warning, well, two official warnings over this mess, although I haven’t been able to follow well enough to know what was actually a warning and what (if anything) was rescinded.

Okay, fine, stating that someone is “henpecking” another’s posts is now a personal insult. Arbitrary, but you make the rules.

I have to ask though, how can it then be that “riding someone’s ass” is specifically not an insult?


Followed by


It seems to me that “henpecking” is as much as descriptor of behavior as “riding his ass” is, so could we have some clarification as to why one constitutes a personal insult but the other does not?

I thought we’d been through this several dozen times, but we’ll try again in very simple terms. Speaking in general, here’s the way to tell the difference:

  • “You are an X” is a personal insult.
  • “What you said is X” is NOT a personal insult.

There’s nothing magic about “henpecking” nor any other word (with two or three exceptions.) We are NOT going to come up with a list of words that allowed and words that are not allowed. "

ACCEPTABLE: Your post sounds like third-grade writing.
NOT ACCEPTABLE: You must have stopped your education in third grade.

ACCEPTABLE: What you said comes across like henpecking.
NOT ACCEPTABLE: You are a henpecker.

NOT FUNNY: How much henna can a henpecker peck if a henpecker could peck henna.

But “You are an X” is not considered a personal insult if you use irony and sarcasm, which complicates the issue.

Ie when responding to a thread where someone says something dumb a phrase like “A genius like you” gets no response but “An idiot like you” gets a warning.

That’s pretty much going to depend on context and individual situation. A compliment that is pretty obviously a thinly-disguised insult … well, could vary by individual circumstances.

I personally don’t like ANY comments about the poster; the poster should be irrelevant, it’s the post that matters, it’s what the person says, not who the person is (exceptions probably in IMHO and MPSIMS.) However, most of the other mods and most posters here probably wouldn’t like that approach.

Again, we do NOT want to limit free speech. We want a lively, vibrant, active bunch of boards. Defining words that can’t be used, prohibiting any converstion about a person, etc. – that would be stifling and counter to our goal of community-building. If you can find clever ways to deliver jabs at another poster, that’s fine. We want to encourage creative expression. We just don’t want personal insults.

And, please, note: a couple of warnings are not a big deal. Kind of like, the teacher reprimanding you once isn’t a big deal. Happens to everyone. It’s the repeated, persistent, behaviors that cause further action.


I understand the clarification you’re making, but my question was more specific.

Why is this a personal insult:

“You are henpecking”

But this is not:
“You are riding his ass”

I do not understand the line between the two wherein the first is an insult, but the second is not.
Edit: If you just want to chalk it up to inconsistent moderating, that’s fine. I’d just like to know.

Because Jesus did it?

Riding someone’s ass is a non-gender-specific phrase meaning, “giving that person a lot of trouble.”

Henpecking carries a great deal of sex/gender-specific baggage.

Disclaimer: I wasn’t involved in either situation, but I see the logic.

And apparently:

ACCEPTABLE: Your post is exactly like the post of a liar.
NOT ACCEPTABLE: You are liar.

ACCEPTABLE: Your posts prove that your are a lunatic.
NOT ACCEPTABLE: You are a lunatic.

This sort of rules-wrangling that allows people to insult others with impunity has now reached the stage of being ridiculous.

One minute a Mod says that they don’t want to have to codify explicit rules, the next they say that the rules must be consistent as codified and so long as you make the accusation against the post and not the poster, it’s all OK.

I’m not sure what you mean by “rules must be consistent as codified.” We’ve never wanted to codify explicit rules on personal insults, we’ve set out general principles. And we’ve always said that (almost) everything is situational and depends on context.

There is not one authority who oversees all moderation decisions and all posts, so yes, there is inconsistency between moderators, between forums, and between individual situations.

I’m certainly open to having discussions about other ways to enforce the no-insults rule, but frankly, I think we’d be in a lot more confusion if we went by “intent” rather than the words themselves. How the heck would we determine someone’s intention? If we have this kind of wrangling over word use (which is pretty much clear), how would we ever decide “intention” which is rarely clear?

And please note that my statement, as quoted in the first post in this thread, was qualified with the phrase “in general terms.” No, it is not the case that just because the words “your post” are used, that it’s not a personal insult. It is the case that if those words are NOT used, it’s pretty much sure to be a personal insult.

I think “Your posts are exactly the same as the posts of a liar” would be unacceptable. “Your thoughts are exactly the same as those of the Jack Acid Society, conspiracy theorists known to lie and distort” would probably be acceptable.

There is another very similar thread to this referring to GD, where I posted the following. It is as relevant to this thread, and I have had permission from C K Dexter Haven to duplicate it here.

This really ought to be very simple.

If the intent of one poster is to hurt, wound or upset another poster, that should be forbidden. Cruelty should not be allowed. The mods should have carte blanche to interpret this as they see best. Yes, there would be strong disagreements, but it would be no worse than the current situation where we have, as evidenced in this thread, endless nit-picking over which particular words can be used, and in what way. There’s even discussion over whether, specifically, being condescending should be illegal. It should be the intent, not the method that should be important.

Saying ‘Fuck you’ in the heat of an argument is the equivalent of stamping your foot, or hitting your hand against a wall: an expression of frustration or impatience. I seriously doubt that the recipient would be hurt by it. On the other hand, the constant needling and the picking on characteristics is wrong; it’s done in a way that is thought out, considered and deliberate, with the aim to provoke, rile and upset. That is what shouldn’t be allowed.

Blake’s post where he/she has a list of variations on ‘Can I say…’ is a good example of where I think we’re using the wrong approach. It should simply be: will these statements cause undue pain or suffering to the recipient?

There’s endless discussion about the specific words, but I’m not sure I’ve seen much about *why *these discussions are being had. I hope it is to ensure that people don’t have to suffer while using the Dope.

As a poster, I find that the strictness with which the no-insults rule is being applied in ATMB makes discussing many moderation decisions incredibly awkward. Moderation doesn’t happen in a vacuum – poster behavior is often an important mitigating factor. It’s difficult for us as posters to have a straightforward conversation about whether a moderating decision was reasonable if we can’t refer to patterns of negative behavior in non-circuitous terms.

I think the net effect is going to be that posters who act like jerks but stay just within the rules are going to have a lot more power. They and their supporters can bitch and gripe and complain about any and every mod decision, but it will be hard for people to come to your defense and stay within the rules. So people won’t. I know I won’t. Which means you’ll feel more and more like all people do is complain all the time no matter what you do, because those are the voices you’re going to hear most of the time.

In relation to what Giraffe said, I as a member who occasionally plunges into these sorts of disputes find it useful to distinguish between person and post content. To say, e.g., “Carol Stream is acting like a jerk” is impugning her(?) character as a person, and an insult. To say, “Carol Stream’s posts [giving examples] make her sound like a jerk to me” (presuming there’s a reason to say so) is directing attention to the words she posts, and the impression I gain from them. It’s a rather subtle distinction, but one that seems to successfully walk the line between insult and appropriate critique of board content, and how the latter is moderated.

YMMV, of course. But I offer it for what help it may be.

Fair enough. And I can understand not wanting the posters or mods to walk on eggshells.

However, my concern is that with the current setup you have a situation where the vagueness of the rules can cause a lot of frustration. I was frustrated because I felt personally insulted by ITR, so I insulted him back. The response was to give me an official warning (which could lead to suspension or banning) while giving nothing to ITR. Like Blake is saying, this could lead to a system where people just find clever ways to game the system which is going to lead to a lot of frustration and disillusionment.

I don’t see it the same way, but fair enough.

Following your logic:
I can say “You are X” to another poster, where X is a non-gender specific phrase that may or may not be insulting, but I can’t say “You are Y” where Y carries gender-specific baggage?

I’m not trying to engage you in hypotheticals, and perhaps it’s best chalked up as a difference of opinion regarding the insulting nature of “henpecking” vs. “riding his ass”.

But, I do think it’s a mistake to attempt to read into the intent of the poster as a guiding light for measuring whether someone is insulting or not.

First, I think we all understand the difficulties in properly conveying connotation and tone via text alone. What I perceive as an innocent remark or joke is easily perceived by another as a grossly inappropriate comment. In my view, that’s why a bright-line rule is preferred over relying on whether someone is going to read my remarks as offensive or innocent and a warning will be contingent on what my perceived intentions are.

And, I think Giraffe makes an excellent point, and it encourages rules-lawyering and seems to permit (or encourage?) trolling so long as they stay within the bounds of the rules, but inhibits effective response.

Which is the situation I found myself in in the other thread on personal insults in ATMB. Someone used ironic sarcasm to make a personal insult towards me, so I used a direct insult to tell him to back off. I got an official warning, he got nothing. It is a frustrating system.

A quick historical reminder: we started out wanting only one rule: “Don’t be a jerk.” That was impractical, because no one (including mods) were comfortable with a principle that was so general. We wanted a message board that was different from the usual ones out there, so we said “No personal insults; if you want to flame, do it in the Pit.” Again, the concept of “no personal insults” seemed to be too braod. So, we defined it in terms of “attack the post, not the poster.” That’s where we are still today. We are trying to balance between two extremes: on the one hand, we want to allow maximum freedom of expression. On the other hand, we don’t want any flaming against other posters outside the Pit.

At the same time, we’re trying to balance between rules that are reasonably clear and yet not overly intricate and technical. Just reading the responses in this thread, we have some folks saying that the current rules are too narrowly defined, and others saying that the current rules are too vague. (Personal aside: I personally think that “attack the post, not the poster” is clear, leaves lots of room for discussions and comments, and is easy to understand and follow.)

It is surely possible to discuss a moderator’s decision by talking about the observed behaviors (that is, the posts), rather than the person. Think of general politics: one can argue against someone’s political stand without calling into quesiton their morals, their motivations, their intelligence? Think of the law: lawyers appeal decisions all the time without making any statements about the personality of the judge. Think of parenting: you tell a child that their behavior in writing on the walls is bad, you don’t say that the child is a worthless disappointment.

Anyhow, that’s the standard we’re trying to set.

And please be aware, that we’re not about to let people play legal-beagle and skirt the intention of the law simply because they’ve managed to express personal insults in round-about ways. Our basic principle is still, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Thanks for taking the time to hash that out with me.