"Just Shout Louder": A Failed Viewpoint

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Yesterday, inspired by watching a forum I love fall apart, I Tweeted this:
The problem with unrestricted free speech: one loud idiot can drive away forty sane people.
No.  That’s really not how it works, nor how it should work.
See, the issue at hand is most places are optional forums – you don’t have to contribute to them.  Which means that people are only really participating because, despite a handful of inconveniences, they enjoy being there.  So if you have your lovely woodworking community where you all get together to build Amish rocking chairs, people are going there after the stress of work to get their chair on.
Fortunately, human beings largely enjoy themselves via the act of creation.  Which includes creating new friendships, new communities, new skills.  So you often wind up with an organization by mistake, simply because people get off on this sort of thing.
Now.  Throw in one lunatic – the guy who insists that YOU’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG, THIS ISN’T STRICTLY AMISH, and yells at everyone because their chairs suck and starts trying to amend the bylaws so that every chair produced here must fit his crazy standards.  This guy does this shit because he gets off on being right.  In fact, the more people fight him, the more he enjoys it, because there’s the challenge of winning.  So your yelling at him won’t drive him away – it’ll just be fuelling what he loves doing, which is arguing semantics.
The other forty people?  They find arguments stressful, especially when they’re about silly things that don’t really need to be argued about.  And this guy won’t stop.  Suddenly, they’ve stopped going to a place they enjoyed hanging with their friends and creating things they were proud of, to a place where they’re squared off against Idiot Boy and creating things that they’re not proud of, because Idiot Boy is changing the nature of what they’re producing.
Now, according to my short-sighted friends on Facebook, the proper solution is to just push back until he leaves.  Except, as noted, he won’t leave voluntarily.  He views this place as his his home, and he’s determined to make it suit him.  Every action you take will involve battling Idiot Boy in a public showdown.  Which means, really, what you’re saying is, “Even though you’re now made miserable by this group, it having turned into a chore you actively hate doing, you should stay in there forever just out of principle, in your spare time!”
Which is a fucking stupid approach.  Basically, what you’re saying is, “This one idiot ruining all your fun should get what he wants, and you should have your spare-time enjoyment destroyed, forever.”  No, the rational approach is to leave the group, because you’re now in a hostile situation where you can’t enjoy yourself.  This isn’t the future of American defense programs… it’s a fucking wooden chair, or a writing group, or a fantasy football league.  So they leave, making the idiot have fewer people left to fight him.
“Well, why can’t they throw the idiot out of the group?” you ask.  That’s a great question.  It solves your issue neatly, tells people what sort of conduct you expect to see in this group, and sets a tone that bolsters the enjoyment of everyone else in the club.  There’s just one problem:
That’s not unrestricted free speech.  It’s moderation.
This is why moderation is fucking awesome.
Look, it only takes one idiot to ruin it for a lot of people.  And if two idiots find each other and form a power bloc?  Forget it, their strength magnifies.  (And that’s assuming, often charitably, that the idiots actually believe what they’re saying and aren’t just trolling to see what damage they can do.)
Letting the idiots run loose means that you’re effectively prioritizing one communication style – loud and confrontational – over all the other forms of communication that exist.  When the idiots run reign, there are at least forty people who stay quiet because they don’t feel like getting into a fight – and that not wanting to fight all the time with crazies is entirely justifiable and logical.  Which means that you’re effectively suppressing whole swathes of thinking, making your group dumber.
I’m not saying that unrestricted free speech is bad.  I’m saying that in many cases, it’s completely suboptimal, particularly if you’re trying to foster a welcoming environment for people who don’t get heard much anyway.  Shaping environments are as much about what you won’t allow to happen as what you will… and to respond to every idiot by saying, “IT’S HIS RIGHT TO SPEAK!” is, quietly, telling all the other people who are not having fun any more that this isn’t about satisfaction, it’s about a bitter sticking to principles and you’d damn well better suck it up.
Not surprisingly, that’s not terribly appealing.  And then you wonder why your group never gets anything done.


  1. Michael Greenhut
    Jun 11, 2013

    Totally agree. I’m also reminded of The Rumor Mill’s sad fate, where (IMHO) stronger moderation would have increased its lifespan.

  2. Apel Mjausson
    Jun 12, 2013

    This applies to groups in RL as well. It only takes one obnoxious brat* to ruin the fun for everyone.
    Over the last couple of years I’ve seen exactly that happen to an RL group that I used to love. The group has been shrinking, nobody wants to take responsibility for arranging anything, most women show up once and are then never seen again, the few hardy souls who still hang on come mostly out of obligation and because it used to be good, and so on. The odious individual has been given a stern talking to a number of times, yet they wonder why everybody is turning their backs. To them we are all traitors.
    Recently I’ve given up on the group too. It’s very sad but I’m not going to spend every Wednesday evening inhaling this person’s intense disapproval of me and everybody else who has an opinion of their own. Why would I? 🙁
    *=brat of any age

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