The Mother of All Destroyers (Updated)
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”
Many years ago, if I remember correctly it was 2009-2010, I was a member of a vibrant left leaning blogging community that was about the same size as this one. In retrospect it very much reminds me of c99p and I know several of our members here were also members there and may recognize the scenario that I'm about to expand upon. As a matter of fact much of the design and concept of this site was borrowed from that site. There are many similarities.
But there appeared a dark cloud on the horizon. I personally witnessed this community destroy itself.
This community I speak of blew itself up over a very divisive issue, IP (Israel/Palestine). If I remember the timeline correctly a comment was made in a diary that the administrator deemed as antisemitic and the commenter was banned. Several folks disagreed with the banning. This led to several dueling heated diaries on the I/P subject, tempers came to the boiling point. Members lashed out at each other, it was ugly. Lines were drawn, fingers were pointed, folks that were allies became enemies. This war dragged on for several days and did eventually settled down. But the damage was done. Several members were banned and many folks left and never came back. The site limped on for a while after that but never recovered from that fiasco. One by one more and more people left. The site lost its mojo and became a ghost town. It still survives but the original community was totally and utterly destroyed. It was a sad and sorrowful situation.
Witnessing that destruction left a lasting impression on me. I loved that community. It was fun, very smart and mostly open, as we are. I learned the lesson well. I am hyper-vigilant that the same does not happen here. A case in point: about a year ago a very heated essay and comment thread threatened this very community. Essentially it was about the same issue. It immediately brought back memories of the demise of the community that I mention above. With that debacle vivid in my mind I took action to stop what I saw as a very possible rerun of what I had witnessed before. So after much deliberation I decided to shut down the comment section of that essay. I took quite a bit of heat for doing that but in my mind it was worth it knowing what the vitriol could lead to. People were pissed at me, stating my action as censorship, but the site did not blow up.
Now we are faced with an issue that very well may be the catalyst of demise of this site, and that is not hyperbole. We need to get a handle on it now before it's too late. The sexual harassment issue is tearing this site apart and I as the lead moderator am not sure what to do about it. Something must be done before we go too far down the road of destruction. But what?
We take pride in our open discussion tenet so how do we reconcile that with an issue that is so volatile and divisive and destructive. Initially I thought that letting essayist and commenters have at it that it would get it out of our collective systems and eventually calm down. That hasn't proven to be the case. It dies down after a while only to rekindle again and every iteration seems to get worse. This issue is only going to get worse in the day/weeks/months ahead on the local and national stage so it's not going to go away any time soon. I expect it will be the same here. Lines are being drawn, sides are being taken, feelings are being hurt and folks are leaving. We are becoming what we all loathed elsewhere.
It would be much easier if we proceed as most sites do and just make certain issues verboten. But that's not us. Didn't the vast majority of us leave other sites because of that very thing? We lose our identity if we make certain issues unmentionable. I despise that idea. But how do we stop ourselves from tripping into the abyss?
Here are the options as I see them:
* Make the issue verboten. Not good. We become what we hate.
* Ban folks. Not good. We become what we hate.
* Close down comments on all essays on this issue. Yes, this is a viable option but could lead to dueling essays rather than dueling comments.
* Close down comments when they take a wrong turn. Yes, this is viable but how does one arbitrate without taking sides?
* Warnings and vacations (I hate the term timeout). This leads to hard feelings and folks will leave.
* Let things go as they are and let the chips fall. Nope, too much work went into this site to sit back and let it fail.
* Everyone make a concerted effort to be civil. That's our only standing rule here and so far it hasn't worked too well on this issue.
I have my own opinions on this issue and believe me many times I want to speak out, so I wrestle with myself to stay as neutral as possible. This is tearing me up watching this happen to this community.
Before I take a course of action, and possibly the wrong one, I want to pose this to the community. Personally, I am leaning towards closing all comments that breach this issue.
Please folks, how do we pull back from the abyss? I need your help. We need our help.
Update: There is much wisdom flowing from the comments which is what I was hoping for. I'll refrain from commenting for now. I'll just listen to what you have to say. Thanks folks.