"Yer not from round 'ere" - should we challenge posts from non-SE23 residents?

Perhaps a little contradictory, that this is a local conversation but globally inclusive.

I think the real issue is that some posters regard their own views as non-political, whereas political neutrality is a concept that many simply see as impossible, a fantasy. Some posters who believe that their views are non-political actually get to express their political views, but other participants have to keep quiet.

There is also still quite a bit of ad hominem attacking going on - sometimes disguised as general opinion about other posters. Here are a couple of recent examples:

“some people struggle to tolerate different opinions” - means those people who disagree with me.
“I’m sure some bright spark will respond with …”- this is a pre-emptive ad hominem attack on whoever won’t let me have the last word on this. “Bright spark” = idiot.

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It’s not perfect but until the developers tweak it’s what we have to work with.

It is so much easier to understand why people flag if they explain why. That gives us a chance to speak as mods and come to a general consensus. 99% of the time we all agree, a lot of forums leave that up to the particular foibles of the owner we just like to keep things as open and transparent, and fair, as possible.

That is your interpretation, others may see it differently.

The issue with an online forum is it doesn’t allow you to judge people on their nuances, facial expressions or the way they say things.

But it allows you to say them.

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I think I explained why that may happen in my post here: "Yer not from round 'ere" - should we challenge posts from non-SE23 residents?

A recent example, I think, was a flag on a 5 day old post which already had a mod response. Cutting the post out would have orphaned the mod response, and 5 days after the event there isn’t a lot to be gained - most people will have seen the problem post, and any reaction already registered or posted.

Personally I see moderation working best when it steers an ongoing discussion out of the rough; there’s a lot less use in to trying to change a discussion after the fact, unless something is clearly offensive or personal.

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Where you and others get the time for all this refereeing/moderation I can’t imagine. I never realised there was so much to it. I hope that the fact that someone may have to clear up after me will make me think twice before I shoot my mouth off from now on.

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I think there are a few issues that play here, if I may remove my councillor hat and on put on my ‘forum user’ hat.

I am sympathetic to the idea that politics can rarely be separated from day-to-day civic life. Take a fairly non-controversial issue, such as the (seen by many as) inadequate pedestrian crossing on London Road. Any decision to prioritise funding for its refurbishment - the allocation of TFL funds - the extent and limits of central government’s bailout of a Covid-19 hit TFL (and the decision by a previous Mayor and Chancellor to make TFL self-funding) - these are all inherently ‘political’. Should a new traffic island prioritise the movement of pedestrians over the South Circular? That is small-p political in my opinion, like most things that shape the world around us. It is very hard for topics like this not tread into the political. But just because something is political, it does not need to cause a full-blooded culture-war discussion.

However, with this being said I had to laugh when Chris said ‘I think the most important form of diversity on a forum is diversity of opinion’.

Now, I know a couple of people on this forum who hold ‘liberal’ (for want of a better term) views who have been ground down and driven out. They’ve dropped from the forum altogether or very rarely post. It is interesting to see a few more people express this as well and judging by the likes they’ve received they are not alone.

Previously, I am told, that when Chris owned this website, people were simply blocked for repeatedly challenging him and the politicisation of debates. Under the new helm, I have not seen that but I would say that Chris is what I would call, in jest, a master of the ‘dark arts’. Chris will not use foul or abusive language or direct name-calling. However, he will challenge you, robustly, and incessantly. He will quote you with something you have not said. The outcome is to harass those with views he rejects and to signal to like-minded followers in the forum to get involved or to signal that this their place.

Example 1: Unsafe crossing for pedestrians, Honor Oak Rd and A205/London Rd

Example 2: Lockdown 3

Examples 3: Lewisham planning to use Experimental Traffic Orders?

There is a network or clique, as alluded to in a previous post, who boost each other’s posts - liking each other’s post, offer encouraging replies etc. This group shape the debate on most threads and they will target voices they don’t like, usually with Chris leading the charge. Often, it’s through a wink and a nod to encourage comments like this. Another classic tactic I’ve witnessed is to accuse someone of being divisive if they don’t like their view - which isn’t classified as an ad hominem attack by moderators…

This thread is quite illustrative and shows how legitimate concerns by those who live on the affected street are lent on, whipped up and cheered on by this group. Examples here, here. The target is usually the liberal interventionist council (60% of our funding has been cut since 2010 and our public realm has suffered the consequences, but we’re still trying to do what we can improve the borough as we sit fit, building new homes, encouraging sustainable transport, all while protecting the most vulnerable - over half our budget goes on adult and children’s social care ).

Now Chris might just see this all as winning the robust argument and that might be fair. Voices hostile to new housing, to LTNs, to School Streets, to the ULEZ-extension etc, are winning the argument on the forum and the *NIMBY-*sentiment is the prevailing sentiment on the (forum) community.

My hunch is that that isn’t necessarily the case but instead, certain voices are being drowned out by constant challenges, questioning, barbs, and are ground down by the heavy-politicisation of discussions that slide off-topic. I think frustration springs from the inability of members to effectively call out bad behaviour, including challenging those who regularly respond aggressively (in tone) to posts and who respond to fairly innocuous comments with politicised rants.

I think the rules of the forum are designed to protect Chris and other’s conduct. No ‘Ad hominem attacks’ - therefore you cannot challenge Chris (or others) behaviour because this would be seen to attack one’s character rather than the argument at hand on any given thread. ‘Responding to a post’s tone instead of its actual content’ is against the rules in this forum, protecting people from accusing Chris (or others) of being hostile or bullying in tone rather than engaging the content of his argument (I accept tone can be hard to read online, but it is down to moderators to make this call). The rules explicitly state 'criticise ideas, not people’ and therefore moderators will intervene if you challenge his behaviour. Seen even in this thread.

All in all, the effect is clear to me. The more liberal-leaning, ‘yes-in-my-back-yard’ voices, are driven from the forum and threads are dominated by not only the same accounts but the same arguments. Diversity of opinion has dwindled even in the relatively short time I’ve been following the site.

The councillors of Perry Vale ward and Crofton Park ward don’t get involved in this forum and we know why - just look at some of the replies I and Sophie get. I used to get protection from the site’s owner and moderators*, I presume because they wanted to keep me involved - a local councillor regularly engaging on the forum does give it some kudos and authority. A privileged position which isn’t afforded to most regular posters.

Some might wonder why I care and why I am posting all this? My answer is because, personally, SE23.Life is a good way for me to keep tabs on casework matters and interesting events taking place in the ward. Moreover, as a user, this is probably the most organised local forum I’ve ever come across and has an impressive and easy to use interface. The website has much potential, along with its sister site SE26.Life. I would like it to thrive, become more diverse in opinion, and be a safe space for all sections of the community.

Yet it is clear this forum has issues and many people are exasperated with its regular heated tone and same inevitable political direction debates go down.

I would like to encourage more ex-regular posters to express their thoughts here and as to why they have taken a step back.

I hope @ForestHull who now owns the site, will reflect on what those such as @PV @promofaux @Fran_487 @beatrix have said already and listen to any additional feedback that is offered. Finally, I would like @ForestHull to see this - a small minority of forum users post a large number of attacks on others, kicking off the conflict. Some relatively small changes to this forum could make a big difference.

This post will probably be hidden by the moderators but in posting this, I hope it gives the new owner some food for thought in how to stop the loss of longstanding contributors, foster a better atmosphere, and encourage a broader array of views on the site.

*Just chuckling to myself as I never got any thanks for the wooden bollards outside The Fitting Studio on Kirkdale, or the School Street trial on TA from those who demanded action. Who would ever be a councillor eh?

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I am working atm so will come back with a fuller answer in a bit but wanted to answer 1 remark. To my certain knowledge we have only banned 1 person. And that was after many, many requests for them to adhere to forum rules, they chose to repeatedly ignore all of the requests so were removed. They have posted endlessly on other local forums about this. The simple fact is we made a simple request of them, as we do with everyone, they ignored it, they were banned. ALL the mods agreed to this action.

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Actually I will ask you a question on this. Why would we hide it?

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What a post. Thank you @LeoGibbons – this must have taken a long time to put together. I also hope this doesn’t get hidden; I think it’s thorough and constructive, and gives expression to the concerns and observations of many.

And thank you for the work you do daily! It’s appreciated – if only we were as vocal in our appreciation as we are in our ire! (And I include myself in that statement…!)

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I admire your commitment and passion in defending the past actions of this forum. However, I beg you to ‘listen’ to what is be said by those who have been too afraid to speak up before.

I also suggest that any further comment is a combined effort between @ForestHull and the other moderators before you do any further damage.

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Damage? Please tell me what damage I have personally done.

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This post was flagged and is temporarily hidden.

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Beautifully put Leo and about time!

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I just wanted to thank Leo for taking so much time to think so carefully about these issues, and say I think he has identified some core issues that I think need to be taken on board for this site to be as successful as it could be. I also appreciate in particular Promofaux’s contribution, as well as a number of other people’s posts up the thread. And i was particularly perturbed to read Clausy’s Twitter thread, indicating he has been fired from the moderation team, without any explanation or note of the fact here.

As regards bans, it may be that only one person has been permanently banned (though I remember reading about plenty of others over the years), but I must say that there are plenty of people who made extremely useful contributions to this site, who no longer contribute for reasons that have been identified, and I think that is a great shame.

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Thanks for the thought put in here leo. I won’t go in to more detail on my own views save one point you highlight above which rings very true - it’s very hard to make any point on this forum without being accused of being divisive or making ‘zero sum’ arguments (often used incorrectly but cela vie). Whilst this isn’t a direct attack on the poster, its a tacit way of criticising the poster, and moreover gets very tiresome!

I suspect this thread may soon have run its course as it’s clear that there are a small number of people as the subject of lots of replies, although I daresay that’s to be expected when a thread like this is set up!

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On the original matter, I share the opinion expressed extremely well by Oakr that your current geographic location should not negate contributions to the Forum. There are many with strong links to the area for whom these contributions can be a welcome addition.

However, I can also see circumstances where this does seem incongruous. At one point, about half of the comments on the “unsafe crossing for pedestrians” topic originated from members who do not live in London. I can easily understand why some would find it hard to understand why a topic of specific interest to local residents, would be dominated by people who are not directly affected by it. And it is natural for people then to question intent when the tone or subject of the discussion changes, particularly when it becomes political.

This topic also is an example of one which was side tracked into a more political discussion. As the OP noted, he was not the first to do so. But I think we should be mindful that one politicized response should not be an open invitation to continue that line of debate. I can fully understand the strong desire to intercede and put my counterpoint across, I did that enough when we had political grohup. But it has been some time now since the moderators took the brave decision to remove political debate from this site and I for one believed this to be the right decision despite my own penchant for it.

My own suggestion to members would be that if an overtly political point IS raised to simply ignore it. Without oxygen it will die. On a community-based website, there is really no need to offer a political counterpoint just because someone else did. If you have to start a response with a quote from the previous post, add links to media articles, challenge people to provide evidence or proof and throw around accusations of divisive behaviour…. then maybe the topic has become a political debate rather than a community discussion.

Once again the “unsafe crossing” topic offers a great example. Foresthull’s timely reminder of the original topic tickled my funny bone. But also a reminder of a topic gone completely off track.

On that matter I would also suggest the moderators don’t make the assumption that a flag has been raised for simply those reasons. A flag by its very nature is raised when someone doesn’t like a comment. I’ve flagged posts as I’m concerned the discussion is becoming politicized. I think the suggestion to add comments is a great one and to be encouraged.

When anyone with TL4 or above flags a post, the flag immediately takes effect and hides the target post. So quite often hidden posts are not the result of moderation or discussion by moderators.

Edit to add: I was really saddened to learn of @clausy’s suspension as a moderator. I thought he brought great balance to the moderator team and had made many positive contributions in that role.

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Hi @LeoGibbons,

Good post, and thank you for taking your time to think about this and write it all up. I know you are active across a number of social media platforms and so it’s particularly interesting to hear your thoughts on this community (as well as it’s easy of use).

I agree that politics comes into all sorts of things, sometimes from unexpected places and angles, even creeping in unintentionally - it is very hard to avoid. So for a while the forum had an area set aside for general politics to be discussed. It was an opt-in category and was provided to house those discussions that had wandered. But that area wasn’t very constructive and got a lot of people’s backs up, no one wanted to moderate it, and so it was closed it down.

Unfortunately for a lot of people, on all sides of the argument, I think this is not true. The aforementioned general politics section showed that even without a overt ‘culture-war’ type discussion, needling and jibes could foster bad feeling over a long time. It was not good and it did not bring people together.

Untrue. The guidelines are basically taken from the software defaults with some tweaks. You can see pretty much the same text here: https://meta.discourse.org/faq

Similarly the system of trust levels, member areas (#lounge) and other things on which aspersions are sometimes cast, these are all pretty much standard features of the software which have been designed and honed to try and promote healthy online discussion.

This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been a huge amount of effort in setting up and tailoring the site to make it work better for SE23, or that feedback to continue to improve things isn’t welcome - it is, as this topic possibly shows. I just want to be clear that things have not been constructed to benefit any particular individuals.

Correct. But no-one is powerless to complain about someone’s behaviour - if you see a problem flag it - that’s the way to deal with things that fall outside the guidelines, rather than replying within the topic. Of course you can also message the @moderators too if something doesn’t quite fit the flag system or you are unsure.

The thing we don’t want is ‘he said’ ‘she said’ types of arguments corroding genuine discussion - hence complain off to the side through a flag (which also gets our attention more quickly).

That said, all too often we get flags where no forum guideline has been broken. Flags aren’t simply for disagreement - they are for a problem.

As a Councillor it is of course true that your input is valued as you have unique insights and can help shape the area more than other members. But no one is protected more or less. The same guidelines apply to everyone and we try and treat everyone fairly when problems arise.

The off-hand comment to Sophie wasn’t flagged and while it could have had a better tone, as Councillors I think you have thick enough skins to take that that one. At times I think you, Cllr Gibbons, can also give as good as you get, and if we were to try and moderate every little thing that would also kill any discussion. Over moderating can be as bad as under-moderating.

It baffles and concerns me that you would think this. Sure we are running a bit wide of the topic title, but we are making good ground. Perhaps it’s the topic title that needs updating :wink:

Well I’ll thank you :slight_smile:

Anyway, I think we shall let this topic run for a while (maybe the week, or until it goes astray!) and then at some point we’ll sum up and close it. There are some common themes here and most people are probably unaware of discussions that go on behind the scenes, but we have been trying to improve things, though I think some expectations are a bit high - it’s barely been 2 months since I took over as admin!

@LeoGibbons, I was very sad to read your post.

I’ve publically defended you against attacks from other people before (ad-hom / straw-man etc), because I believe those policies are universally a good thing and that they should apply to all people.

Whilst I would love to set a few records straight, I’m not going to defend myself from the various personal accusations made on this topic.

I’ve seen this sort of topic before on other forums, and I know how it works. I know that the best thing for me to do is to step away from this kind of thing and not feed it.

Regarding politicized rants that include barbs at persons or institutions or culture-war posturing:

I genuinely do not think ‘ignore it’ and it’ll go away, is a viable strategy. People will either 1. Rise to political rants and try and counter them, or 2. Simply leave the thread/forum

  1. Will lead to usually lead a hostile and unpleasant atmosphere that will often veer off the local-issue at hand. 2. Will mean a handful of people who indulge or support the first ranter are the only ones remaining - turning the forum into a cliquey talking shop.

I really would encourage @ForestHull to meet (online) with his moderator team, together and individually, so they can speak candidly. I also encourage him to speak to some ex-regulars and ex-moderators and hear their feedback on ways the site can improve and move forward.

I go back to this.

1% of players are trolls who do 5% of all toxic behaviour. 95% of toxic behaviour comes from “average” players "having a bad day.

Banning abusive players while giving them immediate feedback results in 92% of toxic players improving

Moderators need to look at who is a poster having a bad day, getting riled and typing a reply before taking a breath and who is a repeat offender, consistently dragging down the tone of debates, politicizing threads in a hyper-adversarial manner, aggressively picking apart people’s comments and/or making direct or indirect accusations at them.

I think moderators should be able to impose sin-bin bans, where posters are provided with feedback on why mods have taken this action.

With a few tweaks to how moderating operates and a targeted approach to block the minority of repeat hostile posters who are regularly complained about, I think the forum could be transformed.

In my view, it’s whether the owners of the forum have the guts to do it.

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Thank you for this post. Everything you said rings true from my experience. I used to very occasionally engage on this forum but stepped away a long time ago… one of those ones who felt driven out because of my ‘liberal’ views.

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