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Censoring controversy and the fear of offensive ideas...

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posted on Jun, 8 2008 @ 11:06 PM
This is really important folks...this is about the very fabric of a free society and the spirit of this blog site; freedom of speach.

I love ATS/BTS and have enjoyed reading literally thousands and thousands of posts and have learned a great deal about a wide variety of topics and ideas. I felt it has been for the most part a very successful forum for the “free flow” and “free exchange” of ideas and information, organized well in categories and kept to topic well by excellent forum moderators.

Recently however, I have been extremely disappointed in what I feel is blatant censorship by staff on several topics and I will point out two primary examples. What I believe leads them to stop a thread is that they “feel” or “judge” the thread to be too “offensive” or controversial and then believe it best for the site to stop and lock up a thread, or in some cases I would imagine, even have one removed. This is where the rubber meets the road. How should one define what is offensive or too controversial and if so does that mean that the idea can not be explored? Consider the flag burning issue. Yes, I too find it offensive when a flag is burned, however it has been ruled free speech. Is ATS/BTS for or against free speech? I would argue that they are for it, but with constraints, and I submit in the two instance I am about to share, that the constraints are indeed to constricting, and as a result have shut out the free flow of further discussion about the topic in lieu of offending a percentage of the people interested in the topic area.

Example 1. I took a multicultural class during graduate studies at University and was very interested in this thread area. Did I agree with everyone in it? No way! Was I offended by what some people had written? Of course I was. It’s an incredibly controversial topic area and so one would expect a bunch of people to not handle it maturely, but should the baby be tossed out along with the dirty bath water? Anyway, after reading a few pages it occurred to me that a very important point in that field of discussion was lacking in the thread and I really wanted to post it because I think it was seriously important and is an integral point in the academic study of racism and multicultural studies. Much to my dismay and great disappointment, when I decided to post, I found that the moderators had decided on locking up the thread making it prohibitive to reply. I would assume it was done in the name of “protecting us from being offended”, but what the action did instead was prevent further discussion and did not allow for the thread to freely take it’s course where it could evolve and grow, or perhaps shrink and fade.

Example 2. *thread insert* I have entered into debate and discussion multiple times on the area of religion on here, and have read so many posts whereby a religious person or creationist comes on here and I for one have found a ton of “their stuff” greatly offensive. I have however, also learned from them, and freely entered into the thread whereby I knew what I was reading about in the first place, and had a general good idea of what to expect and what I would likely encounter. However, despite myself and others being greatly offended by some of these other threads and explicit name calling even, I have seen very few of these threads closed or locked up. The one I started *thread insert* of course is going to be offensive to some, but not to all, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to point out the obvious stranglehold religion has on people’s minds and perception, almost to an absurd level whereby all reason and objectiveness flies out the door when one dares to challenge these castles in the sky. Anyway, it was posted at BTS and didn’t even survive a full 12 hours before it was locked away. A lot of people happen to agree with what the thread was about, and I feel it was a knee jerk reaction by the staff to stop what they felt was something that was “too controversial” or “offensive” and so locked it up. Once again, to perhaps appease the holly rollers, the Christians, the religious, the creationists, the free flow of information and exploration of ideas was curtailed. Now, if this were a church and I walked in and proclaimed such a thing, I think it would be extremely inappropriate, however this is not a religious web site. It’s a forum for alternative topics, conspiracy theories, and obscure fringe ideas.

I am very surprised at this to say the least. One of the most attractive aspects to this web site has been the exploring of topic areas far outside of the mainstream. Of course some of it is going to be offensive to some, that’s the nature of these topic areas!!!

What recourse does one have with the staff when a thread you want to participate in and make further contributions and learn from is suddenly closed down? I’m stopping short of saying there is a pro-religious or politically correct agenda going on at ATS/BTS, because I don’t think it’s at that level. No, I truly feel, although I could be wrong, that such decisions are honest attempts to keep it civilized and avoid it degenerating to a name calling match, however it sometimes comes at a price, because it sometimes shuts out important aditional information from being added.

I’m curious to see how you all feel about this. I am not interested in debating on this thread about if god exists or not, or if science or creationism is supreme, so if you are thinking about posting something like that here, don’t waste your time, besides there are plenty of threads on the subject already going. I want to know if anyone else has experienced what they felt was censorship? Also would be interesting to hear from the moderators as well as to how such decisions are made and what they do to try and remain objective and prevent their own biases to crop into the decision making process of whether a thread should be closed or not. Maybe this isn’t that big of an issue? I don’t know, but I do know I have experienced it twice in two days, and it’s not congruent with my previous experiences on here or what I have believed the site to be all about…that is the free flow of ideas and topic discussions.

Here's another poster who apparently shares my views on the matter, and his thread was shut down even before the first reply! Yikes what is going on here???

*not sure where this should be so feel free to move it where you think would be most appropriate*

[edit on 9-6-2008 by skyshow]

posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 07:36 AM
As a moderator on other forums, some with less traffic, and some with more than ATS gets, I agree with the mods that the first thread needed locking. As the mod who locked it said, people were going off topic, and wouldn't remain civil in it. They had 2 choices. Babysit the thread, while ignoring the rest of the board, or shut it down. It had nothing to do with the content itself, as there are similar threads that have gone on longer.

While I don't agree with the thread on BTS, (destroying any book is sacrilege to me,) I wouldn't have locked it. I've seen far worse on other threads, both here and on BTS. Just about any of the atheist vs religious threads, or any of the evolution vs creationism threads for example.

Running and maintaining a board is a fine balance between freedom and censorship. There's obvious things you can't allow, iffy things you have to decide on on a case by case basis, and things you just don't remove. It's the reason you need to have people who can view a post objectively without bias as mods, and not people with a clear agenda one way or another. (Byrd is an excellent example of such a moderator. I haven't seen her shut down a thread without a very good reason for doing so.)

The reason you see threads and posts going by that do violate the rules without mod intervention is because not every post will be read by a mod. It doesn't matter how many mods and admins a board has, they can't be everywhere at once. If you see something that you think should be handled by one, use the alert button that is at the top of every post to let them know that there is a post you feel violates the rules. This is my biggest gripe as a mod. People will complain when their thread gets nailed but another goes by, then when asked if they reported it, the answer is almost always no.

If you feel a mod was wrong in what he did, u2u him. I've found most mods to be reasonable people, who will discuss their reasons behind doing something. It may not always result in what you want, but maybe you will get a better understanding to why something was done.

posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 08:08 AM
Interesting post, and a topic that doesn't just apply to ATS/BTS. Sure everyone has an opinion.

Whenever a forum is moderated, there's a balance of course that must be held. For example, multiple threads on similar topics. When should moderators 'trim the branches' of conversation, to focus attention and avoid disappation? Any rigorous set of rules would be inadequate; sometimes it will annoy.

For example, Skyfloating closed this thread, perhaps correctly, but before I could comment on Cadbury's quote:

I have observed a sharp decline in postings to this particular forum.... I'm wondering if the Masons and anti-Masons haven't secretly met up somewhere and shot each other to bits?

and what a hilarious mental image that evoked. I pictured two lines of waistcoat wearing, 19th-century gentlemen, stoically gathered on a field in the countryside, crying 'have at you, sir!", slinging intricately crafted treatises and calls for citation back and forth, medics providing tea and crumpets, etc. Quite funny.

posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 08:47 AM
As an administrator for two boards I can see both points here. When civility goes out the window you almost have to end the discussion. How to deal with offensive behavior or offensive posts is a fine line. When a post degenerates to name calling and offensive language trying to 'babysit' a thread is time cosuming and usualy does nothing to end the problem. Closing or locking a thread has to be the answer. ATS has may moderators but even with all that great help, its very hard to demand excellence from a few problem posters and deal with it in a timely manner!


[edit on 6/9/2008 by ZindoDoone]

posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 08:55 AM
We have a place for inquiries such as this...

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