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Paul Constant

I'm a political writer. Everything is political.

Moderation, in all things

I'm very interested to see how content moderation will work on this site.

For a few years there—say, 2014 to 2016—Twitter became nearly unusable because dodging trolls, idiots, and other time-wasters became a full-time job.

Then, I realized the awe-inspiring power of the block button. To be clear, I didn't just block racists and misogynists. I also blocked the obnoxious hashtag-resistance "FOLLOW ME IF INTERESTED" thread-mongers and the Covid just-asking-questions crowd. I blocked popular influencers who mildly annoyed me and I banned virtually anyone who used "BREAKING" at the beginning of their tweets.

"Liberal" doesn't even begin to describe my block policy on Twitter. I was gleeful about it. I even used web applications that helped me block anyone who followed specific terrible users.

That policy really paid off. I devoted so much time to curating my feed that it became a pleasant place full of interesting, intelligent, engaging people. I blocked both Trump and Musk very early on in their Twitter careers, and I don't think I lived in a bubble because of that—their opinions were echoed in virtually every media source, so why should I bother giving them even the smallest bit of attention on social media, too?

Because for me, it comes down to this: I don't believe intellectual debate works on social media. Worse, I believe the Nazis and TERFs and trolls also don't believe in the power of intellectual debate on social media. Their goal is to waste my time, to divert my attention from useful projects, and to make me feel like the world is a terrible place that is not worth fighting for.

I can and do have challenging conversations with people all the time, but to do that I need to trust that they're approaching me in good faith. And because Twitter wasn't willing to moderate my feed to ensure that I could trust people who approached me, I had to do all of that moderation myself.

So I'm really curious to see what happens here on Post. Right now, it's a cheerful cocktail party with intelligent people. The team behind the site seems to be earnestly devoted to the power of journalism and community. But all that good stuff about Post makes it a ripe target for the worst people in the world.

What will Post do when they show up to shit in the punchbowl of this cocktail party? Are we on our own out here? I'm not sure I have the energy to go through the whole curation game again, to dig my own little perfect world out of the excrement and bile of the internet hate machine.

At the moment, my preferred post-Twitter social network is Mastodon because it has a strong moderation system that makes it very easy to block trolls—and even whole instances of trolls. Because of that strong moderation policy, my experience there has been pleasant and fun and weird.

What Post needs, in my inexpert opinion, is a system of community trust—kind of like Reddit, I guess—that diminishes the awful voices and doesn't allow them to take part in the conversations. I'd love a way to easily and publicly mark people as time-wasters or hate-peddlers who want to debate the value of human lives for a laugh.

For example, I'd love to see if, say, five of the people I follow have already marked a commenter as not worth their time, so I could skip the half-hour long back-and-forth in the comments before they reveal their election denialism. I want hate speech to have clear and immediate consequences. I want all signal, no noise.

Whatever it is, the moderation policy needs to be clear, visible, and consistent. I don't mean to be harsh in my first real post here. But when I look around at what trolls would refer to as the "media elite" on this site engaging in hopeful conversation, I can also see a giant bullseye painted on this place in bright neon colors. And I don't think I can go through that kind of fight again.

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