Early on in the years of the Bulletin Board System for Dan Carlin’s website (DCBBS) Dan asked a question about why the BBS had gotten so hostile over time:
I have been getting a lot of notes lately from old-timers here on the Board that the culture here is deteriorating into partisan name-calling and the like. While many of the newer members might think we are actually a good deal more civil and thought-oriented (and less partisan) than other similar-themed sites they have frequented, those who were accustomed to how good we USED to have it around here are disappointed (and I can’t say that I blame them).
This is about the fifth or sixth time since we opened this board that I have seen us “devolve”. Every time we do, we lose a crop of the Board veterans who can no longer deal with the loss of civility/deeper thought. This is something that has even been discussed here on the Board as the “Golden Age” of the Board devolved into the “Silver Age” to wherever the heck we currently find ourselves. In those discussions we talked about the inevitability of this “de-evolution” as more and more people joined the Board over time. You get a much more representative sample of what’s “out there” when you get a larger slice of the population showing up. So we begin to look more and more like the uber-partisan/knee-jerk world around us. *Sigh*.
Can we do anything about it? I have wondered long and hard about this. It is almost like trying to figure out if you can reverse the decline of society or civilizations. Must the Board go this way?The Decline…
The answer the question “why is this place a shitshow?” is “it has to be a shitshow, and it will probably become a shitshow in pretty predictable cycles” because this is human nature at work.
There are, however, solutions. Several of them were offered in that thread; but yes, they required changing the software the board ran on. R. Elisabeth Cornwell discusses the solution that the Richard Dawkins Foundation used on their website in the video above, and in their terms and conditions:
Terms and Conditions
PURPOSE, DISCLAIMER AND CONDITIONS OF USE
Welcome to RichardDawkins.net. We have updated our Conditions of Use and all users are being asked to indicate their acceptance of them before commenting on or creating a discussion, or when registering. Please read the following carefully and, if you agree to abide by the Conditions set out here, check ‘Accept Terms and Conditions’ on the registration or edit profile page. If you don’t agree, you will still be able to read articles, discussions and comments on the site but you will not be able to post comments or start discussions yourself.
Purpose of RichardDawkins.net
RichardDawkins.net is intended to be a site where there is lively discussion of issues relevant to science, reason and unreason; where robust disagreement, provided it is intelligently argued, is welcome; where threads stay broadly on-topic (where ‘on-topic’ means ‘of relevance to reason, unreason and science, not necessarily the specific topic of the thread in question’); which acts as a showcase for reason and science; and where rational people can be confident of consistently intelligent interactions and stimulating ideas.
In a community of ideas, there will always be disagreements and friendly banter. We encourage robust discussion, but please remember that we do not want threads to be derailed by private chat, insults or prolonged off-topic exchanges. Nor do we want contributors to be subjected to bullying or abuse, or the cause of reason and science to be brought into disrepute.
The following Conditions of Use are meant to allow freedom of discussion in an open, civilised manner, no different from the kind of atmosphere that would prevail in a work meeting or social event with face-to-face interactions. If action is required against any user who is in breach of these Conditions, we will do our best to act fairly and impartially, but all decisions and judgements are at our absolute discretion.
Finally, a word about freedom of speech. In a very real sense of the term, RichardDawkins.net is a publisher. If we were writing a comment to a traditional publisher, such as a newspaper, we would not complain that our freedom of speech had been curtailed if it were not published. We would simply accept the editor’s decision. RichardDawkins.net does not operate a ‘positive editing’ system of that kind, where comments only appear once they have been approved: on this website comments appear automatically, without being seen by us first. Nor will we be regularly patrolling the site on the look-out for offending posts: that is why we are asking you to agree to abide by these Conditions of Use and also to alert us if you see comments which do not. Nevertheless, that does not mean we are under any obligation – legal, moral or otherwise – to permit everything submitted by users to remain on the site. If we become aware of comments that we consider to be inappropriate or to undermine what our website is for, we reserve the right to remove them and take any other action we deem appropriate. (Please note that we will never remove comments simply because they challenge ideas, whether that’s atheism or evolution or anything else that most people on this site are in agreement about.)
Some users may not share our vision for RichardDawkins.net or approve of the approach that we are setting out here, and that is of course their right. Nevertheless, it is this vision and this approach that will form the basis of how we manage this site.
The posting of an article, video or other item on this website does not mean that RichardDawkins.net endorses its content: items are selected purely for their relevance and their potential to stimulate interesting discussion. We are responsible only for content posted by us or by someone authorised by us to post items on our behalf. We are not responsible for the content of other websites, or for comments posted by users. We are not able to read every comment that is posted on this site, so if you see something that requires our intervention please alert us to it promptly. If we become aware of inappropriate comments posted by users, we reserve the right to modify or remove them, but not doing so does not imply that we endorse or approve of them.
Conditions of Use
1. No abuse. Let’s try and stay polite to each other. Obviously no intimidation or bullying, and if it does get a bit frank and heated, our language should be no more than a normal civilised person would use in face-to-face encounters. If it is not something that would be accepted at a face-to-face social gathering or meeting, then it is not acceptable here. When disagreements occur we therefore expect you to 1) Focus on the ideas and argue against the individual(s) rationally, or 2) Report individuals if they are in breach of the Conditions of Use, or 3) Ignore rude comments and refuse to escalate the situation. Pseudonyms should not become a licence for gratuitous rudeness.
2. No bores. Hard to define, but we all know them when we encounter them. The following list is not exhaustive. People who have one particular drum that they just keep on banging over and over again. People who persistently abuse and insult other users. People who treat the site as though it were their own personal blog or playground. People who seem to think a modicum of courtesy is a sign of weakness. People who snarl and spit as soon as anyone disagrees with them.
3. No sock puppets. Bores and other offenders who have been banned often try to come back under another name. This is strictly forbidden. In order to guard against this, we have to forbid multiple user accounts. If you already have more than one account, perhaps because you used to use an alias but now post using your real name, please contact email@example.com so that they can be amalgamated. Don’t forget to let us know which of your user names you want to keep.
4. No identity-sharing. For the same kind of reason, please don’t let other people use your RichardDawkins.net name and please take care to keep your login details private.
5. No chat-rooming. Please keep comments broadly relevant to the topic that heads the thread, or at least relevant to the subjects of reason and science. It’s a good idea (and it usually happens this way) for threads to begin by being strictly on the topic of the heading article. If interesting side issues naturally develop later, that’s fine too. But please don’t let threads become derailed into chat-room gossip. If that starts to happen, please remove the discussion to a more appropriate medium elsewhere, e.g. IM or email.
6. No spam. That includes commercial advertising, anything posted multiple times on one or more threads, and the habitual posting of material that has simply been lifted from other sites in order to make a point.
7. No crime. Obviously no promotion of illegal activity. No libellous comments. No uploads of or links to any material containing viruses, worms, trojans, spyware etc. No soliciting of personal information from or about underage users, and no unwanted sexual attention towards users of any age.
8. No trolling. Trolling includes any activity intended to disrupt the site, derail discussion or inflame personal conflict. It doesn’t include controversial posts that challenge the prevailing philosophy of the majority of visitors to the site. These are welcome, if they are intelligently argued.
If you see comments that are in breach of these conditions, please do not respond to them, but bring them to the attention of the Moderators by using the link at the foot of each post to flag them. You will need to be logged in to do this. If you wish to report a comment which you think may be libellous, please email firstname.lastname@example.orgRichardDawkins.net/sign_up via the Wayback Machine
…having read over them, I can state flatly that a good number of people who post here (including me, but I’ll find out on that point. Probably soon) would not survive there. Still, it does call up the points that I and others made in that other thread; that to maintain civility you have to be willing to ostracize the troublemakers. Civility will not survive any other way.
I can appreciate your sincerity here Griz, but I feel that you (and Dan) do not actually understand the problem. This is not an issue of censorship, it’s an issue of shaming and community policing, both being required tools if civility is going to be maintained. It’s (almost completely) pointless to flag posts in these forums. I almost never bother to do it anymore. Trech’s page of dicks being changed to links is the only instance that I can remember in which flagging a post produced a valid outcome (and personally, I was not offended by Trech producing proof for his argument as it was demanded of him to do) other than the obvious spam that does seem to disappear very quickly, which I do thank you for. There are members of these boards whose sole existence here is to shut down conversation; I have engaged in the pastime myself, I can vouch for the ease of this being done. There are members here who live to simply grandstand and name call, and again, guilty as charged on occasion (proposed genocide is something I think I can call a person names over, and will do so again as the need arises) and there are bores here by the dozen who have one argument and one argument only, and they repeat those arguments until they are the only person left on the thread and call themselves winners.
Chaos is what we have here; and if that wasn’t the goal, then something has to be changed to bring some semblance of order.
I agree with Kath, that the list of moderators should be culled to active people on the boards, and I would add that they either have to be given teeth to effect the chaos, or Dan should stop lamenting about the state of the boards. This is a wild social human interaction, it’s what you get when you don’t give the actors tools to alter the relationships, and aren’t willing to make those alterations yourselves.
Tyrius, people who post to a thread with the response that the conversation is meaningless are generally threatened by the content of the conversation; the content of your posts should not make you feel that way, if you are asking me for an opinion. Dan’s question was never answered by someone who could draw on a valid sociological argument. If you took the time to watch the video, you would have gotten the reason for this thread and the answer to Dan’s question.
This was an excerpt from a private post to a new user on the DCBBS forum:
Every responder to a post does not have the right to be heard. There isn’t enough time in the world to talk to everyone in the world. This is especially true when five billion responses will amount to “squirrel!” Some culling and weeding of responses must necessarily occur. It is good to remind those that sidle up to the bar that they better keep it civil or they’ll learn what the dirt in the parking lot tastes like.
July 26, 2019 – While in the process of cleaning up old drafts and reformatting posts for the relocated website/blog, I discovered that I had tracked down and copied the forum rules for the now defunct RichardDawkins.net forums as well as text and links to more than a few posts that I had written for the thread titled The Reason for the Decline on the DCBBS, so I have added them and the text for the rules to this post, the meat of which comes from the first post of the thread in question.
It is worth noting here that the Richard Dawkins Foundation has also deleted their bulletin boards. There is apparently no way to stop the trolling and attacking that occurs online without crossing boundaries that open a corporation up to lawsuits. This is a real problem that requires real world solutions and probably laws to enforce those solutions.