[Steve Morris contributed to this report.]
Yesterday CBR owner Jonah Weiland took strong action against the nest of trolls that had set up housekeeping in the CBR forums: he wiped the slate clean. Existing forums will be up for two weeks while people retrieve material they want to preserve. After that it’s a whole new ballgame, one with new rules.
Effective immediately, in place of the forums will live the new CBR Community, a discussion area that will still facilitate conversation and debate, however passionate — but will show zero tolerance for intimidation or abuse of all members of the community, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identification. CBR and all areas of its website and operations will be a safe space for all people, of all levels of involvement. We’re starting from scratch, providing everyone with the opportunity to build a new community, together. Rules will be explicit, and once again — we will not tolerate anyone who doesn’t want to abide by them.
I believe there is value in building and fostering a community that is inclusive, diverse, accepting and compassionate. It is important, and it’s worth trying to build a better place for every fan, regardless of background or identity. I’m putting the money and resources behind this to make certain that those who have acted with hatred in their hearts are unable to spread their hate in our community again. I can’t stop them from spewing their trash elsewhere, but I can ensure they’re not welcome at CBR.
The move came as a result of the extremely negative response to Janelle Asselin’s Teen Titan’s cover critique, which led to extremely dismissive and insulting response and eventually to rape threats.
Predictably, in the remaining forum, there are long threads devoted to people complaining about “political correctness” and “censorship.” It’s a little disheartening how many posters would rather have an unpoliced community of insulting trolls, but I’m not surprised.
Internet message boards have been a mixed blessing ever since the first packet was sent to DARPA. On the one hand, it allows every one an equal say. On the other hand, it allows everyone an equal say. In the “message board” era, it quickly became clear that all boards needed moderation of some kind. I cut my internet teeth on CompuServe where a gang of vigilant moderators enforced various rules, and you would see most of the pioneers of the comics internet —from Neil Gaiman to Rich Johnston—peacefully discussing Xena Warrior Princess all together in one grazing herd.
However as commercial boards — on Comicon.com, TCJ.com and CBR evolved form the late 90s on, they became less lawful places, boards abuse and Goatse became the “winning” argument in any discussion. There was some great discussion but the nutters tended to drive people away. And you had to relaly have a strong stomach to stand up to it. The number of women who posted was pathetically few, helping foster the idea that women weren’t interested in geek topics.
Some will remember the Warren Ellis forums on Delphi, later The Engine. The latter was a place where the policy of incredibly strong moderation made it both a where women felt comfortable posting AND posting pictures of themselves topless. Paradise, in other words. Ellis had a strong personality and the discussion was brisk and informative especially WITH the mods, of Filthy Assistants as they were known. Of course there were people who got banned and sulked and railed against “political correctness”. In 2002. So the same arguments are made over and over and over again.
Here at the Beat we also have a zero tolerance policy for abusive comments. And if you become a particularly annoying circular arguer, you will also get removed. I’ve had to revoke the accounts of well known people when they wouldn’t play by my rules. My time for moderating comments is limited, but I take the job seriously. And I’m proud of the community we have here at the Beat. It may not be perfect but it is generally civil discussion.
A lot of people believe in taking away discussion boards, but I think it’s part of the culture of the internet. I just want that culture to be better. Strong moderation makes strong message boards, and there is no way around that.
So who will be next to clean up their forums? IGN? Bleeding Cool? MIllarworld? The only reason not to is a fear of losing traffic I think, but even there the tradeoff in intelligence is a win win. This is a big internet and trolls have Reddit and 4chan to be disgusting if they so choose. The lowest common denominator will always have a bigger influence than it should on anything that is crowd sourced, but it’s time for the gatekeepers to take a stand.
So I ask again: who else is going to prove they are strong enough to take a stand?
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.