Canadian Atheist has always had a fairly laissez-faire policy in our community – in our blog comment sections, our social media spaces, and so on – under the assumption that people will generally choose to act like civilized adults. Well it’s 2018, and that no longer seems a safe assumption.
Over the next few weeks we will be drafting a set of policies for what will be acceptable behaviour in our community spaces… and by extension, what will not be acceptable, and what will get you ejected from our spaces. This process will be an open process – all Canadian Atheist readers will be invited to offer suggestions and critiques as we build the policy.
I think an important place to start in this process is explaining why it’s happening – what triggered it. That’s what this post is going to be about.
Recently we posted a link to a story about an arson attack at an Alberta mosque. As usual with our system, that link was duplicated on our social media pages: specifically Twitter and Facebook.
On Facebook, within hours of the link being posted, the entire comment thread was filled with various permutations of “meh” or “good”. For a while, all of the comments on that link were like that.
That would be bad enough on its own. This was a story of an arson attempt, and worse, an arson attempt that took place while people were still on the premises (it was the worshippers who spotted the flames almost right away, and called the authorities). Whatever your feelings on Islam or Muslims, there is simply no room for that level of disregard for human life in a civilized society. If your idea of criticizing Islam or Muslims includes celebrating an attempted murder, you are no longer in the domain of rational discourse: you are a straight-up bigot.
I should also stress that we’re actually not just talking about a single incident here. Virtually every one of the bigots who commented on the link are long-time repeat offenders. For many, many months – possibly as long as we’ve been using the Facebook pages since recovering the credentials – they have been leaving inflammatory, bigoted, and hateful comments on our pages. They have never shown even the slightest interest in reasoned, adult discussion. They have been challenged multiple times, and always showed a complete disdain for civility – and on more than one occasion revealed no interest in Canadian atheist issues at all. They have freely admitted that they’re just commenting on our pages just to stir up trouble.
So why did we tolerate it for so long? Well, I’ll answer that, but first… there’s more to the story.
This time, things actually took a particularly nasty turn; yes, even beyond the trolling that had been going on for months. One of our community members, justifiably outraged at what she was seeing, spoke out against one of the bigots. In response, the bigots piled on and starting hurling abuse at her, calling her a “bitch” and a “feckless cunt”.
Arguably the line had been crossed quite some time ago. But even though it’s late, we have decided to clean the filth our of our community spaces.
Why did things get so bad, and stay that way for so long? I’m afraid I have to take personal responsibility for that.
I have always maintained a level of decency and civilized discourse in the comment sections on Canadian Atheist itself – the blog comments. Bigoted and trolling comments simply don’t appear here. On rare occasions, I allow the more ridiculous and laughable attempts through, just to give readers a hint of what we receive, but the nastier stuff just doesn’t make it onto the blog.
However, I never really paid any attention to what was going on at Facebook. I have never been a fan of it – in fact, I only created an account grudgingly when I was forced to in order to reactivate the CA page. I have always considered Facebook discourse in general to be a cesspool – this is a site that happily hosts numerous bigots, with rampant hate, ignorance, and intolerance. I witnessed the shitty behaviour happening on our Facebook spaces, but shrugged it off as just how things generally are on Facebook. I had a volunteer manage things there, and just washed my hands of it all.
That was my attitude: Facebook was Facebook, and it was a shithole in any case, so whatever happened there simply wasn’t Canadian Atheist’s problem.
Seeing such naked bigotry and abuse of the one person who dared speak up for decency has changed my mind. Even if it is on Facebook, it is Canadian Atheist’s space, and everything is happening under Canadian Atheist’s banner. I will not allow this kind of trolling, intolerance, hate, or abuse in any space connected to Canadian Atheist, no matter where it’s hosted,
And just ignoring it is no longer an option. Ignoring the trolls did not make them get bored and move on; it allowed them to settle in and claim our spaces, and ruin them for everyone else. They have persisted in their shitty behaviour for months, and show no signs of losing interest.
So things are going to change around Canadian Atheist, both on the main site, and all of our associated spaces – including social media. We will become more proactive about dealing with bigotry, harassment, and intolerance on our spaces.
That change may frustrate some long-time members of our community, who have gotten used to the “wild west” our spaces have always been. But I’ve made a decision that between a community space where “anything goes”, and a space that is welcoming, and tolerant though restricted to constructive, productive discussion, I want Canadian Atheist to be the latter.
Over the next few weeks, there will be lots of consultation and back-and-forth with our community on what our new community guidelines will look like.
But in the meantime, I cannot leave things as they are. The situation has just got too bad. Starting right now, we will begin taking action against anyone who promotes or encourages bigotry, harassment, or abuse. In lieu of guidelines, we will be using a zero-tolerance policy. This will be applied retroactively to the most serious cases.
So here is the tl;dr for the current situation:
Canadian Atheist will be adopting new guidelines for community standards on all of our spaces – on the main site, social media, and anywhere else that is officially Canadian Atheist’s. Everyone who wants to take part in our community will be required to abide by our standards, or they will be ejected.
The community will be consulted to draft our new standards. Watch out for posts about it in the coming weeks.
While the new standards are being drafted, we will be using a temporary zero-tolerance policy. This will only be until the new standards are ready; we can’t leave things as they are now. I would strongly advise all community members to avoid pushing boundaries during this transition period – we’ll be busy drafting the new standards, and won’t have time to spend on adjudicating edge cases. It’s only for a couple of weeks; I’m pretty sure religion won’t suddenly take over Canada if you don’t rage unrestrained about it on the Internet during that period.
Our goal is to make Canadian Atheist and its communities places that are welcoming, tolerant, and conducive to intelligent, thought-provoking, critical, and rational discussion about issues of interest to Canadian atheists, humanists, secularists, and freethinkers.
Anyone who does not agree with that goal or who becomes an impediment to reaching it is no longer welcome.