Some Community Guidelines and FAQ

On some days we get thousands of comments a day on Slugger: some of them come in at essay length. It’s impossible to get through every single one. But we do want to create a high-quality forum for debate here.

In order to keep the standard high, we have some rules to discourage the abuse that ruins so many online conversations. Our aim is to provide a outlet for considered, considerate comments, encouraging creative conflict, shared understanding and at very best, actionable insight.

So we’ve pulled together an FAQ to explain how backstage at Slugger works, to help clarify the practices that have emerged organically over the years.

These practices have sometimes been patchily applied, dependent on how many hands have been on deck. Our aim is to make things clearer and more transparent, so commenters know where they stand and will often have access to recourse.

Who are the Moderators?

As things stand there are six of us, all of varying backgrounds and opinions. The key rule, play the ball and not the man/woman, provides us with a simple non political means to decide what stands and what doesn’t in pursuit of a consistent and level playing-field.

However, we are also all human, and we don’t always get it right in every case. To this end, we’re developing a more comprehensive set of guidelines for ourselves to work within: a first draft of which you will find below.

When do we Moderate Comments?

First of all, we do not pre-moderate comments. Apart from the huge cost, resource and time implications, our first presumption is that everyone who comments has read the rules, fully understands them and is committed to acting in good faith.

Most folks on Slugger take time and effort in composing their comments, and so the vast majority of them always remain untouched, in all their raw glory. If you see something that shouldn’t be there, please do report.

We will step in in the following circumstances:-

Libel or things that are plainly untrue. Self explanatory. When making a controversial claim, please take some time to verify your own view with linked research. It will help you banish weaknesses in your claim and strengthen your argument.

Spam. This is usually ads, gibberish, bots. Also long sections of cut and pasted text.

Incitement to violence.  This is a criminal offence and we reserve the right to enforce an outright ban in these cases.

Foul language. Usually an indication of weakness in your argument. Often Disqus will tag such a comment automatically and put into a ‘pending’ folder for moderator approval. Most of these comments will end up deleted.

Man/woman playing, including personal attacks and insults. A rule made internet famous by Slugger – play the ball not the man/woman. To facilitate plain speaking and robust criticism, argumentative strategies which focus an opponent’s character rather than their argument is treated as pernicious rule breaking. Persistence usually ends in exclusion.

*NB this also applies to public figures.

Going hugely off topic. Self explanatory. Conversations with purpose usually require focus and engagment. Sometimes divergence can be enlightening and entertaining. It’s a matter of degree.

Trolling. Provoking people, spoiling for a fight. Especially by sockpuppets.

Crass generalisations. Applying stereotypes to an entire section of the population. “All unionists/republicans/Brits are X” type comments. Remember there is a difference between a political party and the people that vote for them. Consider whether your argument is straying into the ad hominem (aka ‘man/woman playing’) non arguments.

Excessive and circular whataboutery. Sometimes it’s necessary to bring in “but what about” for context and counter-point. But this gets stuck in an endless feedback loop of evasion and can bury other more valuable conversations.

Negative comments that bring nothing to the conservation. Our writers give a lot of themselves to this site, for free. By all means critique their ideas. But comments like “this is crap and you’re an idiot” may be moderated.

Part of a thread that contained a more serious infraction, and therefore no longer makes sense. If a thread goes “you’re a troll”, “no you’re a troll” and you weigh in to say “let’s not call each other trolls” we may remove the entire exchange, even though there were no problems with your individual comment.

What are the Sanctions?

If a comment makes a good point, with only a problematic word or two, we may make a very minor edit. We don’t like to do this, and tend not to. But it does happen from time to time.

However most comments in the above categories will be deleted.

If you’ve had a number of comments deleted, consider this a warning. Please reflect privately about how you could express yourself differently.

We may give a warning in the comments, although in many cases we need to delete the comment so this is not possible.

If you’ve had a warning (with repeated deleted comments, or from one of the mods in the comments) and carry on in the same vein, we’ll consider this a second offence, and you will be subject to a two week ban from commenting on the site. A ban can be issued by any one of the moderators. After GDPR, we no longer have access to your email addresses. So if you have any queries, or would like an explanation for your ban, drop us a line at moderator@sluggerotoole.com

Any comments with an incitement to violence will result in an immediate ban without warning.

If, after, a two-week ban, you want to return to commenting on the site, drop us a line and we’ll be happy to lift it.

For a third offence, bans will be permanent. We do not take this lightly. And to reduce the impact of unintentional bias, all permanent bans will be agreed by a vote amongst three moderators. If you contact us, we’ll be happy to explain why.

All permanent bans will be subject to review. Your case can be looked at by a moderator, who did not vote in the original decision, on request.

If an individual tries to get back in with the same, a similar or a different name, this will result in a lifetime ban that cannot be revoked.

But I don’t think I did anything wrong – where did my comment go?

None of the above answers the biggest Slugger mystery of all… “I don’t think I did anything wrong – so where did my comment go?!”

There are some occasions, often dictated by software, where comments disappear into the abyss, mostly temporarily. The explanation for this is usually achingly boring.

Our foul language filter puts some comments, and common insults, in ‘pending’ until a mod has a chance to look at them. Some of this ends up having context and being approved, there is just a delay. The rest gets deleted.

Some comments get caught in spam. This can include very long comments, sections of cut and paste, or links. Sometimes it’s just random. We try to fish comments out of spam at regular intervals, but again, this may cause delays.

Sometimes Disqus returns comments to pending or spam, even after they have been approved, and we will re-approve them next time we spot them.

In very exceptional circumstances we pre-moderate a thread which we predict will be unusually inflammatory. We try to watch these closely, to let conversations develop. But it is impossible to moderate them in real time.

It is also worth pointing out, that when you’re in a conversation thread, the original commenter may themselves delete their post.

Finally, your comment might have been on a thread where another poster’s comment was deleted, and has been deleted because the entire exchange no longer made sense. This will of course not be held against you.

If another poster flags your comment as problematic, it does not disappear in the thread. But it goes into a folder for another set of eyes. Again, we try to apply the above criteria as objectively as possible.

That’s a lot of rules – what about free speech?

At Slugger we are committed to creating an open, pluralist space where deeply different views can be expressed. Division is the reality of our politics, and we have no desire to whitewash this. If you’re a regular here, you will know that we leave a huge amount of comments in place that are on the line and close to the bone. Because this discomfort tells us much about where we are politically. And this needs to be heard.

But free speech is not an absolute. Everyone has it on their own platforms of course. But we’re trying to do something a bit different here.

Slugger has been the passion project of a small team for fifteen years now. We give our time, for free, to try to facilitate difficult conversations across political divides. This means we all need to take a bit more care than usual when we’re here.

Not just to avoid libel. But not to attack people whose experience of this place may be radically different to your own, or to constantly derail with crass generalisations or circular whataboutery.

If that feels restrictive, that’s fair enough. It is a bit. And if that drives you nuts, it’s possible that this isn’t the place for you. It doesn’t mean either of us is wrong. Just that we’re maybe trying to get different things out of this particular online experience.

I was banned last year – can I come back?

Yes! We’d like to welcome any long-lost posters who wish to come back. If you’re happy working within the above guidelines, and were banned before 2018 under previous guidelines, drop us a line at moderator@sluggerotoole.com with your username and email address and a rough idea of how far back in the archives you might be. And we’ll start again with a clean slate. All new bans will be subject to the above process.

Hopefully, some of these explanations and clarifications are useful in understanding how things work backstage. As moderators, we will aim to be inclusive and generous. Multiple chances will be given, explanations and a right to appeal will be offered. Because we all get it wrong sometimes.

But we hope you will come along with the wider project of making Slugger a space for thoughtful debate, where we can disagree well without poking one another’s eyes out in the process.