A bit more on our philosophy as it has developed along with the birth of journa.host
By Evan Urquhart Journa.host’s first head moderator
We understand that journalists come to journa.host expecting an environment rooted in the values of professional journalism. As moderators, we aim to encourage standards of civility and decency – both to ensure that our own members are as comfortable as they can reasonably expect to be, and to make some efforts to be “good neighbors'' to others on Mastodon.
Most of our moderation efforts are spent determining who joins Journa.host. Our hope is that professional journalists will comport themselves within the community standards. With that in mind, we anticipate the occasions when moderators need to intervene will be relatively rare. But, as anyone who’s administered any online discussion board will tell you, we are guaranteed to have at least some such moments.
As a veteran of moderating communities, I know that one of the most important policies on any forum is the one banning harassment. Harassment can be difficult to define fully, but any sort of slurs or prejudicial comments based on identity will be removed, as will doxxing, which I define as sharing personal information with either an intent or a high likelihood to drive offline harassment. Those who make such posts will at a minimum incur a temporary suspension. We will impose immediate bans in egregious cases. We are alert to the subtle ways harassment can manifest, and the constantly shifting language that intentionally seeks to find ways to reestablish harassing dynamics by exploiting moderator blindspots or gaps in the guidelines.
Bigotry and prejudice is often a shifting target. Bigots adapt to changing norms and seek new ways to make old prejudice-based arguments in new ways. We will quickly ban people who engage in broad prejudice-based attacks on all members of a minority or marginalized group whether or not they are harassing a single individual, but we also recognize there are more subtle forms of bigotry. We will employ the range of techniques as necessary, but I believe these issues are really best addressed through healthy, respectful, diverse community-building to prevent this behavior from taking root.
Criticism, debate, and disagreement are an essential part of journalism. In order to have a healthy debate, people from all backgrounds must feel valued and welcome to contribute. On the rare occasions when airing of views comes into direct conflict with welcoming people from all backgrounds, we will prioritize welcoming people from marginalized groups. These groups include (though are not limited to) people of color, people with disabilities, women, indigenous peoples, immigrants, GRT people, Dalit caste members, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. They do not include groups of people who hold an unpopular opinion, members of any political party, or holders of any ideology.
All this said, we also recognize that anyone can grow irritable or angry when discussing important topics, and that this is distinct from harassment. While we do not want to excessively intervene in ways that stop the flow of conversation, we will act to interrupt conversations involving our users that have devolved fully into acrimony and name-calling, if asked to do so by participants or other stakeholders. In my experience, many professionals want this; many of us appreciate another voice stepping in to remind us of who we are and the standards we’ve set for ourselves. Depending on severity of the behavior, our involvement may result in a brief suspension or “pause” that lasts only long enough to interrupt the negative exchange, a longer suspension, or removal if the behavior becomes a pattern and other avenues have been tried.
Volunteers who devote time to moderation deserve to be protected from abuse and harassment. We welcome and acknowledge criticism and feedback on our practices; however, insults or abuse knowingly directed at members of our moderation team in the course of their moderation duties will incur an immediate response.
To our new neighbors on Mastodon: We have heard some of you express discomfort with the journalistic practice of treating social media posts as public declarations without seeking permission from the poster. We’d like to explain further why a ban on this would be untenable: Journalism exists to facilitate public discussion and debate, and social media is a major venue for this. Additionally, public figures often use social media to communicate. It’s difficult to draw bright lines on public vs private, because of rare and hard to predict cases (for example, a politician might be using a secret/anonymous account to harass people, a CEO might control a large number of bots, etc). To ban reporting on public social media posts is incompatible with the principles of journalism. That being said, most journalists, most of the time, restrict their reporting on such statements to those who are in some way public figures, or whose posts have reached a reasonable threshold of newsworthiness. Ordinary people’s posts are often better viewed as creative work. We encourage journalists in our community to seek permission from private individuals when their posts seem newsworthy. However, we will not ban reporting on public posts.
Our purpose here is to be of service to journalists and the practice of journalism. It can be difficult to determine what is and is not appropriate for such an effort, but we will let our purpose be our guide. We are not here to tell our members how to practice their craft, or how best to engage in social media. We do hope that our members will see all of this as a team effort – team journalism – among moderators and members alike, to create new tools and opportunities for journalists in social media, and a conversation here that best represents who we really are.