That's a simple rule to state but its implementation and interpretation is much more difficult. What constitutes a personal attack? I would appreciate some clarification from the moderators on the specific examples below. I would also like to advance some interpretations to improve the forum. I'll separate these for the convenience of anyone who'd like to chime in.
As a general rule, I favor less moderation than more. I don't mind insults much as long as insults don't derail the substantive conversation.
- 1. Allegations of bias/fanboyism etc. Do the moderators construe this as a personal attack? It seems no. These allegations are thrown around on a.net with such regularity that any plane-related thread would be heavily deleted. The same might go for some airline-related threads but idk. In my experience, one can expect a reply's deletion if one impugns another's intelligence but not if you impugn their intellectual honesty and/or maturity and/or agency as a rational being by stating that their opinion amounts only to "bias" or "fanboyism." That doesn't make sense to me. As a member of several other (irl) intellectual communities, it is at least as offensive and insulting to impugn intellectual honesty as to impugn anything else.
My recommendation: if moderators delete comments provoked by bias accusations, they must also delete - and caution against - accusations of bias.
- 2. Global critiques of a poster's "worldview" or mental framework for approaching an issue. Sometimes one needs to point out that an entire style of argumentation is flawed/lazy/unsubstantiated. The line between impugning a poster's broad train of thought and impugning a poster's personal capacity can be blurry: our thoughts reveal us. I'm sure many here disagree there is such a line: they're not in the habit of drilling down to fundamental assumptions that color everything one says and thus can be used to undermine everything that one has said. Nonetheless, there's a distinction between attacking as wrong/unfounded/lazy a pervasive premise of every argument that one has made, and attacking that person as wrong/unfounded/lazy. Suppose I were to say (surely I have) something like, "Everything Member X has said about Y comes back to his wrong/unfounded/lazy belief that Z." That doesn't mean I'm calling X lazy/wrong/unfounded as a person, just that belief Z is those things. No doubt I have many wrong/lazy/unfounded beliefs about thousands of topics I haven't considered deeply - most do. That doesn't make me as a person wrong/unfounded/lazy.
My recommendation: Moderators should give greater leeway for members to impugn the general characteristics of a member's beliefs without construing these as personal attacks.
- 3. Arguments from (or from lack of) authority. We fortunately have many members who have professional expertise or educational credentials relevant. Deference on technical matters is appropriate so long as it not unquestioning deference, as are requests for such deference. Some members, however - often not the experts themselves - abuse the principle by saying something like "member X" doesn't know anything because he is not an expert/professional.
My recommendation: Moderators should interpret such comments as personal attacks in more situations, especially when there is no other substantive engagement with points under discussion.
I'll probably add points as I think of them; I hope others will as well.
Thanks in advance to our volunteer moderators for clarifying interpretation of forum rules.