Since there's already been a lot of confusion about it, what happened was that some people posted links to a porn image with my wife's face photoshopped in. Objectively, it was a rather good photoshop job. Nevertheless, that particular clique earned themselves immediate lifetime bans. I know some of you know where the pictures are. If you'd like your accounts erased as well, please post links to them below. I'm sure someone will test me on this. I'm not kidding. There was also some related stuff with comments designed to crash browsers and so forth. Apparently, all the assholes went nuts at the same time.
Following that was a joyous day of playing whack-a-mole, watching the new accounts get created and removing them. It got boring real fast. Finally, mainly because I had work to finish, I just shut off new user accounts altogether to think about it.
And then one of our Scoop servers was broken into and basically trashed by a rootkit. I don't think it had anything to do with events on the site itself, but the timing sure was bad. The box is back up, and should be back to serving this weekend. We seem to be doing fine on one for now. But that's another story altogether.
I don't think we have a huge problem here. There's almost always been a few annoying people with enough free time to piss off everyone else. The names change a little but the song remains the same. If there was some way to keep it from becoming another game for multiple accounts, I would love to have user voting on whether another user could stay or not. However, that would require some kind of hard proof of identity, and I'm just not prepared to deal with that hassle, nor do I think most of you would accept it for the fairly limited benefits of just having an account here.
So the question is, how do we make it more difficult for obnoxious people to disrupt the site, without barring the gates altogether? And from a wider view, how can a large community like this continue to grow in an organic way? I think part of the initial success of the site was due to the word-of-mouth nature of who showed up to use it. Now that half of our pages are result number one for some google search or another, it seems like a lot of that person-to-person growth, and the sense of community that comes with it, has been lost.
I'd like to propose a strategy for this with four parts. The overall ideas behind it are first, to create more of a barrier to entry and thereby make losing accounts more of a hardship, and second, to recognize that some administrative oversight of who stays and who goes is necessary, while making it as accountable as we can to the wishes of other members (without, hopefully, turning it into a game itself).
Part I: Sponsorship
The first part of the plan involves new accounts. I don't mean sponsorship as in advertising, I mean sponsorship as in vouching for another prospective user.
The idea is this: someone creates a new account. They go through the normal email confirmation. At this point they cannot do anything. Before you have the privileges of a user, you must get an existing user to sponsor you. That just means that some user with the ability to sponsor others goes to a page and enters the new user's nickname. These two are now associated, and if a user gets kicked off the site, their sponsor does too.
Our hypothetical new user, after being sponsored, is now a full user of K5 in all senses but one. They can post comments and diaries, they can submit stories, they can vote and rate comments. The only thing they can't do yet is sponsor other users. The criteria for this are adjustable, but I'm leaning toward a requirement of 60 days of sponsored membership and 40 positively-rated comments before you can sponsor others. Yes, that is a high bar. I think it should be pretty high. Also, you will be restricted to a maximum of something like two users sponsored per week.
Also, you can revoke your sponsorship of a user at any time, if you think they're being obnoxious or you no longer trust them. A user whose sponsorship is revoked will go back to unsponsored status, and will not be able to post unless and until they find another sponsor. If the user is re-sponsored, they start from scratch as far as the requirements for sponsoring someone else are concerned.
Sponsorship and the associated delays that go with it, are intended to limit the growth of the site to a rate that allows new users to get used to the place and its culture (and vice versa), and to make it difficult enough to get an account that jerks, spammers, and fly-bys will go elsewhere.
I can't stress enough the point that if someone you sponsor does something to get themselves kicked out, you get kicked out too. This will be made abundantly clear on the sponsorship page. Further, it's not hard to analyze the chains of sponsorship and identify an account that has an unusually high rate of users kicked out downstream. The obvious game against this is to create a drawerful of sock puppet accounts that take the heat when one gets banned and keep your real account protected. It will be easy to identify the root accounts of any users persistent enough to try to game this thing repeatedly.
The sponsorship system is ready to go right now. I held off posting this until I knew that I could roll out the biggest part of it more or less immediately, and get membership back open, to the extent that it will be open from now on. I will await your comments and suggestions, and turn it on when I feel like you guys have had a chance to react. For current users, you are all fully sponsored and have your sponsorship date set to your account's creation date, so you may sponsor others provided you meet the 60 days and 40 comments criteria.
But I don't think this change alone addresses all that we need. Implied in the sponsorship plan is the admission that sometimes people do have to be kicked out. As I said above, I don't trust a voting system with no hard identity backing it up to handle that, so there has to be administrative judgement involved. The following ideas incorporate that fact and try to bring it more up to par with the democratic goals of the site.
Part II: Better Guidelines
The appropriate use guidelines we have now pretty much suck. I hate writing down rules for a thing like this site, because they're always going to be vague, and even vague rules will invite the classic legalistic troll ("The rules don't say anything about..."). But it seems like there will always be a few people who don't realize that harassing another user is not ok, so we might as well write it down.
The basic points I have in mind so far for appropriate use guidelines boil down to:
Hopefully you guys can help me whip this into something that spells out the basics of how to behave like a human online. One point I would like to include in there somewhere is that it's not a human right to not be trolled. If you want to be pissed off by something, you will surely find a way, and no website admin can protect you from that. The point is not to make K5 happy-play-land, but merely to prevent it from being a forum for harassment. People with stupid opinions, whether real (Baldrson) or pretend (John Asscroft), are not inherently unwelcome, provided they play by the basic rules of social interaction. "I think you're wrong, because numerous studies have shown that black people are less intelligent and more athletic than white people," is a dumb opinion, but does not inherently violate the site's rules. "You stupid nigger fag" does. That's the difference I'm trying to get at here.
- Be respectful of others
- Technical abuse is grounds for banning (intentional page widening/lengthening, posts designed to crash someone's browser, attempts to crash the site or interfere with other people's use of it, etc)
- Crapflooding, or posting repeated offtopic spew is grounds for banning
- Threats against or harassment of another user is grounds for banning
- Modstorming is grounds for banning
- All decisions are made by admins and are final, and you can be kicked out for any reason whatsoever. Whining about something not being explicit in the rules is not a defense.
Part III: Warnings
While it's been my experience that 99% of users who lose accounts know exactly what they're doing wrong already, and are doing it on purpose, it may possibly be that a few don't. Also, with sponsorship, one person's obnoxious behavior can affect someone else, who may be innocent of it. So I want to implement a warning system, so people will know when they've gone too far.
It's pretty simple. An admin will be able to go to a user's info page and fill in a text box explaining what that person did wrong. This warning is sent to the user's real email address, the sponsor's real email address, and will also show up in a big red-bordered box at the top of every K5 page the warned users view until they click a button confirming that they have seen it. Site policy will be that you get one warning. The second one is when you and your sponsor get the boot. Hopefully the sponsor system will also encourage people who sponsored friends that get a warning to have a little chat with their friend about what you do and don't do here. That's likely to do more good than I ever could.
This is policy, and not software-enforced, so the admins have the option to issue more than one warning or no warnings at all, and may do so in cases that seem to warrant it. But policy is one. More or fewer than that will probably be rare.
Part IV: Feedback From You
I often don't know whether someone is really annoying the hell out of everyone, or whether it's just a couple of people overreacting while everyone else finds it funny. So I'd like to provide a simple way for you to report if you think someone did something obnoxious enough to warrant a warning or to be shown the door. If you go to someone's user page, there will be a textbox similar to our admin warning one, where you can describe what you're complaining about and report that user. It will make it much easier for us to identify who is a problem and who is just goofing around. It ain't democracy, but at least it provides a clear channel for you to tell us what you think about someone. It should be obvious that reporting people in order to annoy admins is itself a great way to get yourself noticed and warned.
This turns out to be not all that hard to implement, at least in its basic form. I will roll out the sponsorship piece as soon as I feel like I haven't overlooked anything major, and the rest of the changes will follow. So please help me craft the appropriate use policy, and let me hear your thoughts below.
I will post another site news when whatever turns out to be the full plan is done. From experience, I expect that a bunch of comments below will ask the same questions and/or bring up the same points. I'll respond to as much as I can here, but if there are things that a lot of people seem to want to know, I'll talk about them in the next site news. Meanwhile, please, please read the comments below before you post. There's a good chance someone's already asked the question you were going to ask. Try to find out if it's already been answered.
And finally, since I know it will come up, the negative aspects described in this post from Everything In Moderation express very well how I feel about killfiles. I'm not going to add them here, and the arguments have all been had many times. So feel free to argue about them yet again if you must, but they're not ever going to happen here. For those of you who have suggested them (over and over) I would encourage you to bend your energy and creativity toward coming up with something new, rather than pushing for the same old mistake.