September 8th 2018

linux, forum, review

An Open Letter To LinuxQuestions


...or maybe to myself.

Introduction

Two things first:

1. "This is a Linux Forum" - yes, it is. But wherever people come together to discuss whatever, the sociological, emotional and psychological aspects, and aspects of communication and language, are just as important as the (technical) topics.
I have always been very interested in these aspects, and often found that the solution to a problem lies there, and not on the technical side.

2. Until recently, I liked to assume that the laws & regulations that rule our "real lives", also rule LQ (and other similar online communities). I know there's a lot to be said against that assumption. I can hear all your "But"s already, but please read until the end, chances are I have already made that counterpoint myself.
Even if I ultimately agree that it's not a perfect analogy, even if it sounds over-dramatic at times, I will stick to it, because in the endless drafts I made for this post, it turned out to be the only way to get my point across.


A few years ago, I had this idea that I can stick to one online personality, spanning various communities, one that ultimately represents me as a person, even if I never reveal my real name or fine-grained location.
Because I would like to be online as a real person, not some reduced online personality. I would like to be myself, with the usual limitations that entails (just like in real life).
I believe in Integrity.

I am now beginning to understand that this is not possible, at least not on LQ.

Let me explain.

We have a set of rules. We have moderators.
Is this not an analogy to "laws" and "law enforcement"? Does this not ensure integrity?
No, not at all.
Upon closer inspection, the rules are just a short text consisting of a combination of non-commital feel-good messages on one hand, and pretty vague, flexible, and extremely broad Dos and Don'ts on the other hand.
Added to that, moderators have an almost absolute power to take punitive measures against a user without the need to justify themselves, and the user has no effective possiblity to defend themselves, is at the mercy of the powers that be.
It reminds me of the stereotypical sheriff from some Wild West movie ("I'm the law around here, and you look like trouble!"), strangely combined with the mentality of a pencil pusher.

One could say: "C'mon, it's not real life, nothing is really happening, and you're still posting, you haven't been banned, so it can't have been that bad?" - but then I think: OK, then why did I receive that warning in the first place? It is meant to intimidate, and intimate the possibilities of further, more drastic actions against me. It is a personal act of wielding that absolute power against me.
In real life, there are regulations to prevent law enforcement from becoming a law enforcer's personal act, but they are missing here.

And what can I do, if I feel that this is unjustified?
Can I appeal? I can, but it is up to that moderators' indulgence to even read it.
I have done this twice now, and it leads to exactly nothing (reporting a moderator does not lead to another moderator joining the discussion), except that the moderator is getting vaguely annoyed with me, and probably puts a mental peg in it: Watch this user. Maybe more severe action is appropriate to make them understand The Rules.
Or one could argue: "Moderators do such an important job, and they're so busy, you really can't expect them to respond to your every whim." - as in fact some of them do when pressed for justification.
I say: "Then why did you start the whole thing at all?" - apparently the answer would be: "Because I am trying to make LQ a better place, and you aren't" - can you see what slippery slope we're on now? Who is a good person, and who isn't?
Lawfulness & Integrity do not work this way.
Innocent until proven guilty, there's a good reason why that is the rule in every civilised place on this planet. (*)

All in all, this leads to a situation where almost anything one posts can be construed to be against the rules - if one isn't extremely careful, that is.
Take the "off-topic" rule for example. Almost anything beyond the strictest technical discussion can be put under that.

Are those extremely broad rules applied justly?
Of course not.
It depends very much on the situation, on the participants' "standing" in the community, on their other contributions, and on vague feelings that the moderator has about the poster in question, how each contribution is interpreted.
For each and every warning (and one infraction) I have received I can point to various examples where another poster did the same thing.
Unfortunately we cannot see what sort of warnings others have received. But the moderators can. It just adds to their absurd power. I'd prefer things to be more open. Yes, including my own red & yellow dots to be visible to others.

Since there's no objective set of rules, or at least no objective way of enforcing them, people have to be cautious. They adapt to the situation at hand. Over the years they learn to formulate their posts in such a way that they offer the smallest possible attack surface; but at the same time they learn to use "legal" outlets for their "forbidden" needs (to make off-topic remarks, to criticize in a way that might be construed to be a personal attack), and take every opportunity to point the finger if someone else has broken the rules.

Just look at the "lawful" bashing of Kali Linux users (and also their often extreme defenses). Finally an outlet!

To my shame I must admit that I also did this, in various ways.

All this wouldn't be a problem...

Of course I know that these things (rules) are almost the same on almost all forums, Linux or not. But usually this is much less of a problem - not because moderators are better people there, but because there's just less of them, or they do less, maybe because there's a general agreement that less (action) is more.

If law enforcement has nothing better to do than dissect people's behaviour then there either isn't enough real crime to go around, or too many police.

I am not saying that I am a model citizen

Yes, I am grumpy. Snarky. Unfriendly. Sarcastic. But hopefully sometimes also witty (the audience decides).
I have always lived on the edge, on the fringe, exploring boundaries.
And even in my fifth decade I haven't learned not to speak my mind when it might be inadvisable.

In other words, I draw attention. A square peg in a round hole.

It's perfectly OK to criticize me for it, straight to my face, even just tell me to shut up.
It's OK to tell me: "Then why do you behave this way, if it's causing you so much grief?" - I do that myself quite often.

But does that justify the police coming up to me to tell me to stop this, or else?
Of course not.
There's a huge difference between being arrogant, unfriendly etc. on one hand and an insult or personal attack on the other.
There's an even bigger difference between perceiving someone's behavior as insulting, and being able to prove this to the world, incl. a chance for the accused to defend themselves.
If this were real life I'd already started looking where I can get a lawyer. Seriously.

Conclusion?

Five years on LQ, and a lot of time spent here.
A pretty strong part of my online personality.
Getting a PM from a moderator (usually another warning) felt strangely personal. Threatening to my online personality. Like trouble at work. I know it's silly, but you can't tell your emotions that they're being silly, they still come.
I need to do something about this. Not exactly sure what, other than bring it up.

This is not a grand & dramatical exit.
This is not a call for a revolution against moderators.

But from now on I will relate differently.
I just cannot take this seriously anymore, and now feel a little ridiculous that I ever did.
I'm not sure what my decision will entail; maybe I won't be using the ondoho persona anymore.
Maybe I deliberately need to ween myself off the negative emotions I get from moderator warnings.
I definitely need to stop discussing things with them.
I definitely cannot believe in the idea of integrity and being a real person here on LQ anymore.
I hope that this, paradoxically, will help me to become more honest.

I refuse to weigh my every word for its potential to offend a moderator.

This is not a place where the real-life me wants to expose itself.
Sock puppets for the world, thanks to LQ over-moderation!

PS: I was told to take it to jeremy. I prefer to take it to the people, openly. This is a judgement I have far more trust in.


(*) My last 3 warnings were about posts where the moderator thought that I was being insulting. There was no objective proof of that, and they were indeed off with their judgement. 2 of those warnings were from rtmistler. After the first one they were still willing to discuss matters with me. The more recent one, not so much anymore. rtmistler says they find my replies "worrying". Some veiled threat.
Here are some examples:
Signature rule violation (huh?) - harsh joke - by rtmistler
Inappropriate language, insult - by Mara
Insulted Other Member(s) - by rtmistler
I am not saying that I was on my best behavior in these posts, I can see that. But, once more, there's a difference between criticizing me (preferably openly), or making it illegal.
This is not a personal vendetta of mine, but since moderators hold a sort of public office, I believe it appropriate to mention them by name.