Conspiracy Theory - Curtailing Toxic Content

DigNap15

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Sep 14, 2019
Messages
378
Its a tricky subject
I'll say more later
But what I do, do is edit all posts that include the code for Qanon
WWG1WGA and remove that code
I tell them that spamming for other sites or products is Spammig and its not allowed
 

Oh!

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Joined
Oct 1, 2020
Messages
136
Its a tricky subject
I'll say more later
But what I do, do is edit all posts that include the code for Qanon
WWG1WGA and remove that code
I tell them that spamming for other sites or products is Spammig and its not allowed
Oh, I have a tip for this. For very specific problematic content like that, I use the profanity filter to edit the word to a warning and a link to a debunking site (which is displayed inline in the text). Automated, and tends to put them off from posting similar content. ;) For your example, (and the benefit of those who might be less familiar with BBC and the filter) I suggest something like this:

WWG1WGA =>

Code:
WWG1WGA - [B] [COLOR=red]WARNING:[/COLOR] 'WWG1WGA' = QAnon, a conspiracy theory and example of mass-delusion. For more about QAnon, please visit: [URL='https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/QAnon']RationalWiki[/URL] [COLOR=red]/WARNING[/COLOR] - [/B]

The above (within a sentence) would display like this:

Some random text WWG1WGA - WARNING: 'WWG1WGA' = QAnon, a conspiracy theory and example of mass-delusion. For more about QAnon, please visit: RationalWiki /WARNING - blah blah blah.
 
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feldon30

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The internet has been great. Terrible but great.

Conspiracy theories used to be typewritten and mimeographed by some guy in the public library to his fervent membership of 87 readers. Now, with the internet, complete nonsense is broadcast around the world and given audiences of millions of gullible viewers who believe they are being given a behind-the-scenes look at how the world REALLY works. It's even given prominent mention and reproduction on cable television "news".

To produce convincing, professional video with high quality sound, audio, editing, and titling used to require tens of thousands of dollars of audiovisual equipment and a unique skills. Now, anyone with a smartphone and free software can produce video indistinguishable from professional news gathering content.

The libertarian aphorism that all communication venues should be completely open as a marketplace of all ideas fails to consider any of these paradigm shifts and that there are a lot of people out there who cannot think for themselves. You might say "oh well, that's their problem". Anti-vaxxers are causing measles outbreaks and deaths. The current global pandemic is considered a "hoax" by enough people to pushback on even the most commonsense mitigation efforts. Our society is literally tearing itself apart as Facebook wine moms adopt QAnon as a belief system.

This crap will always be out there. But I wholeheartedly support Forums and Social Media not amplifying and surfacing content which has been totally debunked and whose distribution is harmful and may lead directly to deaths. People think the 1st Amendment is unlimited, but you will be arrested if you jokingly shout "Fire!" in a crowded moviehouse.
 
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Oh!

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The internet has been great. Terrible but great.

Conspiracy theories used to be typewritten and mimeographed by some guy in the public library to his fervent membership of 87 readers. Now, with the internet, complete nonsense is broadcast around the world and given audiences of millions of gullible viewers who believe they are being given a behind-the-scenes look at how the world REALLY works. It's even given prominent mention and reproduction on cable television "news".
Yes, I've made a similar argument elsewhere. The same Internet which has allowed like-minded individuals from across the world to work in a collective endeavor to do good (no matter now niche), has also allowed the most twisted individuals in society to reach 'fellow travelers' and to ensnare the lost and easily influenced. Worse, the likes of Youtube actually push this content. Research demonstrates that on any given topic, Youtube algorithms will push more and more extreme videos on to the viewer.

theverge.com: How extremism came to thrive on YouTube

bloomberg.com: YouTube Executives Ignored Warnings, Letting Toxic Videos Run Rampant

To produce convincing, professional video with high quality sound, audio, editing, and titling used to require tens of thousands of dollars of audiovisual equipment and a unique skills. Now, anyone with a smartphone and free software can produce video indistinguishable from professional news gathering content.
Such technology has allowed for some truly great creative content at Youtube. Sometimes, a single very talented individual is responsible for script, presentation, editing and production. Unfortunately, just because someone is a conspiracy theorist, it does not follow that they are inept or incapable. Indeed, it seems to me that the most successful conspiracy theorists are highly capable people and know exactly what they are doing. But in times past, they would have been selling snake oil or shares in some non-existent company. Legally speaking, peddling in conspiracy theory is far less risky.

The libertarian aphorism that all communication venues should be completely open as a marketplace of all ideas fails to consider any of these paradigm shifts and that there are a lot of people out there who cannot think for themselves. You might say "oh well, that's their problem". Anti-vaxxers are causing measles outbreaks and deaths. The current global pandemic is considered a "hoax" by enough people to pushback on even the most commonsense mitigation efforts. Our society is literally tearing itself apart as Facebook wine moms adopt QAnon as a belief system.
Earlier in the thread I mentioned the loss of traditional gatekeepers of information, or as you put it, librarians. Facebook, Twitter and Google (Youtube) in particular have totally failed in their duty as gatekeepers. They would probably argue that acting as 'gatekeepers' is not their responsibility - I disagree.

This crap will always be out there. But I wholeheartedly support Forums and Social Media not amplifying and surfacing content which has been totally debunked and whose distribution is harmful and may lead directly to deaths. People think the 1st Amendment is unlimited, but you will be arrested if you jokingly shout "Fire!" in a crowded moviehouse.
And the very broad failure to understand that the 1st Amendment only applies to the Government attempting to curtail freedom of expression. The individual citizen or private company can apply whatever editorial line they wish for the publications (or platform) they own and operate. And that is as it should be.
 

rkins

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Nov 28, 2010
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I have 5 basic rules on my forum. This is the 5th one:
5) No Politics/Religion/Controversial topics - someone will get offended by this, no way around it.

Haven't had any problems - there are plenty of other sites they can go to to vent their opinions on theories.
 

RisingSun

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Messages
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At one point, we created a closed section of the forum called "Political Debate" where this kind of stuff was allowed. If we had a thread that started with a questionable topic, we would just move it to the section (and make sure the OP had access). It allowed the rest of the forum to stay on topic and for most of the regulars to ignore the debate. What happened was the interest in posting up politics eventually fell to nothing because the posters couldn't get the people with mainstream beliefs to engage anymore. It worked itself out fine without having to ban anyone or block content.
 

feldon30

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I saw a model train forum try it with a Politics forum. Suddenly a forum with people from all walks of life and diametrically opposed political viewpoints helping each other with troubleshooting, sharing resources, and posting photos of their in-progress projects turned into "frack you!" "no frack you!" The Politics subforum was gone after 6 miserable months.
 

Nev_Dull

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Earlier in the thread I mentioned the loss of traditional gatekeepers of information, or as you put it, librarians. Facebook, Twitter and Google (Youtube) in particular have totally failed in their duty as gatekeepers. They would probably argue that acting as 'gatekeepers' is not their responsibility - I disagree.
I don't believe in "free speech" any more than I believe in "free will". However, I find the idea of information gatekeepers very disturbing.

Information is neither good or bad. We can all choose to believe information or not. What we cannot do, is make rational decisions on information we don't have because someone decided we shouldn't have it. Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein all came out with ideas that many thought were absurd and disturbing. Where would we be if your gatekeepers had blocked their information from getting out?
 

Oh!

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I don't believe in "free speech" any more than I believe in "free will". However, I find the idea of information gatekeepers very disturbing.

Information is neither good or bad. We can all choose to believe information or not. What we cannot do, is make rational decisions on information we don't have because someone decided we shouldn't have it. Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein all came out with ideas that many thought were absurd and disturbing. Where would we be if your gatekeepers had blocked their information from getting out?
Certainly, Gatekeepers can (and do) abuse their position. But, if you apply any editorial standards for your community, you are acting as a Gatekeeper too. We have seen that free-for-alls do not work. There is no solution which both allows for no censorship and at the same time keeps discourse productive. It simply is not possible.
 

feldon30

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I don't believe in "free speech" any more than I believe in "free will". However, I find the idea of information gatekeepers very disturbing.

Information is neither good or bad. We can all choose to believe information or not. What we cannot do, is make rational decisions on information we don't have because someone decided we shouldn't have it. Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein all came out with ideas that many thought were absurd and disturbing. Where would we be if your gatekeepers had blocked their information from getting out?
There were gatekeepers back then. The Catholic Church. They put people to death and ruined people's lives for trying to share this info.

Not retransmitting complete and total b******* and merely forcing you to host conspiracy theories on your own website or on fringe social media services rather than the ones used by 2 billion human beings is not really comparable. The reach of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter is comparable to the largest newspapers ever distributed. Keeping the worst stuff off these sites in no way censors anyone from self-publishing -- they just may have to pay for their own publication.
 
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Nev_Dull

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But, if you apply any editorial standards for your community, you are acting as a Gatekeeper too. We have seen that free-for-alls do not work. There is no solution which both allows for no censorship and at the same time keeps discourse productive.
You are talking about different things here. Editorial standards are employed to aid communication by ensuring information is usable by the majority of the audience. It doesn't exist to change or hide the message. The sort of gatekeeping you described denies access to certain information altogether.

On a forum, that is perfectly acceptable. In the example feldon30 shared, adding a political discussion to a model train forum was a useless distraction from the purpose of the forum. All of us have to make choices as to what types of discussions work and what don't for our forums. However, you brought in the idea of society at large, and that's where I see the danger in the idea of gatekeepers. We have historical evidence of the harm those can do.
 
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Nev_Dull

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There were gatekeepers back then. The Catholic Church. they put people to death and ruined people's lives for trying to share this info. Not retransmitting complete and total b******* and merely forcing you to host conspiracy theories on your own website or on fringe social media services rather than the ones used by 2 billion human beings is not in any way comparable.
Exactly. We have plenty of examples of the harm information gatekeepers can do.

To be clear, when it comes to our forums, what information to allow is our choice, whether we do it for better content or personal reasons. We should not be forced to either allow or prevent any content on our sites. My response was to the idea that preventing conspiracy theory content on our forums was also somehow for the betterment of society.
 

Oh!

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You are talking about different things here. Editorial standards are employed to aid communication by ensuring information is usable by the majority of the audience. It doesn't exist to change or hide the message. The sort of gatekeeping you described denies access to certain information altogether.

On a forum, that is perfectly acceptable. In the example feldon30 shared, adding a political discussion to a model train forum was a useless distraction from the purpose of the forum. All of us have to make choices as to what types of discussions work and what don't for our forums. However, you brought in the idea of society at large, and that's where I see the danger in the idea of gatekeepers. We have historical evidence of the harm those can do.
We do seem to be talking at cross-purposes here. 'Gatekeepers of information' has been (historically) applied to newspapers and TV (we seem to be agreement here); but more recently it is also used in relation to the large social media platforms or even bloggers, etc. The term is not a pejorative, though it sometimes used that way, especially over the past few years. It is more about how information is disseminated and shared than it is about how it is censored and blocked. (Again, I think we are in agreement). I am not suggesting that information is never blocked. Only that gatekeepers of information is meant more as a descriptor of a process. And, whenever we act as a controller or publisher of information, we are gatekeeping at some level.

As defined at Wikipedia:
Gatekeeping is a process by which information is filtered to the public by the media. According to Pamela Shoemaker and Tim Vos, gatekeeping is the "process of culling and crafting countless bits of information into the limited number of messages that reach people every day, and it is the center of the media's role in modern public life. [...] This process determines not only which information is selected, but also what the content and nature of the messages, such as news, will be."[3]
  1. In exercising its "surveillance" function, every news medium has a very large number of stories brought to its attention daily by reporters, wire services, and a variety of other sources.
  2. Due to a number of practical considerations, only a limited amount of time or space is available in any medium for its daily presentations of the news to its audience. The remaining space must be devoted to advertising and other content.
  3. Within any news organization there exists a news perspective, a subculture that includes a complex set of criteria for judging a particular news story – criteria based on economic needs of the medium, organizational policy, definitions of newsworthiness, conceptions of the nature of relevant audience, and beliefs about fourth estate obligations of journalists.
  4. This news perspective and its complex criteria are used by editors, news directors, and other personnel who select a limited number of news stories for presentation to the public. They then encode them in ways such that the requirements of the medium and the tastes of the audience are met.
  5. Therefore, personnel in the news organization become gatekeepers, letting some stories pass through the system but keeping others out. This then limits, controls, and shapes the public's knowledge of the totality of actual event occurring in reality."[4]

Actually, truth be told, I need to read up on this properly myself. I'm going to work through the Wiki article and see where it takes me.
 

feldon30

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On the most basic fundamental level, human beings were not designed to deal with the current quantity of disparate information now available at their fingertips.

The only way for a human being to determine whether information is something they should absorb or reject is either the person presenting it is someone they know or who is part of their "tribe", or it is information from a trustworthy source. Over the last 10 years, even the most trustworthy examples of sources like news media, scientists, medical experts, etc have all been under attack to force a retreat to tribalism and cult of personality. And it's working for 30% of Americans.

All of the scholarly and philosophical debates over whether conspiracy theories and "dangerous" information should be given larger venues are kinda moot given the above crisis we are facing. Forums dedicated to the mental exercises of duelling experts are fun for those with tons of free time and access to a wealth of peer-reviewed sourced and cross-indexed rebuttals. However the average person doesn't have that kind of time. When someone in their tribe amplifies QAnon or some other crap, they don't have 10 hours to chase down every claim -- they just accept it.

We cannot afford to create policy from a place of idealism.
 
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thenashy

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Feb 2, 2012
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We have a dedicated thread to volatile subjects.

- Conspiracy Theories
- Politics
- Religion

We loosen the rules a touch to try and keep frustration down through allowing users to call out crazy theories and information, and the staff actively remove fabricated news, and bad sources of information, or we allow the community to denounce a source of information if it's not valid information.

We warn and make clear of our expectations via use of reply banners, so they can't say they haven't seen our message. Temp thread bans, and warnings get issued for repeated violations, but we tend to steer clear of flat out removing people from the threads, as they just try to continue the argument across the board.
 

Nev_Dull

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whenever we act as a controller or publisher of information, we are gatekeeping at some level.
I agree with that, though I prefer the terms publisher or curator, rather than gatekeeper. That term has more negative connotations, depending on the context. I read it throughout this thread in the context of your initial post:
I find such content toxic both for our online community and for society in general.

What rules do you have in place? Where do you draw lines? What responsibility do you feel towards your members and wider society?
That clearly says "This information is bad and people should be prevented from seeing it." Again, on my forum, I make no apologies for blocking or removing content that doesn't fit within the scope of the site. When it comes to society in general, I would never want to block or prevent controversial or even wildly inaccurate information.
The only way for a human being to determine whether information is something they should absorb or reject is either the person presenting it is someone they know or who is part of their "tribe", or it is information from a trustworthy source.
I agree, this is increasingly the case. However, I don't believe the answer is to protect people from that information (And who should do that? The government? A private corporation?) The only reliable answer is education. We need to teach people how to think, rather than what to think, so they have the tools they need to assess information as it comes to them. (Yes, this is way outside the current discussion, but it has some relevance in our forum world too.)
 

feldon30

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I agree, this is increasingly the case. However, I don't believe the answer is to protect people from that information (And who should do that? The government? A private corporation?) The only reliable answer is education. We need to teach people how to think, rather than what to think, so they have the tools they need to assess information as it comes to them.
Educate 330 million people to A) think for themselves and B) read, compare and contrast peer-reviewed reliable sources to draw reasonable conclusions? This is absurd idealism and is never going to happen.

Social media and forums must operate in the real world. Once we take 'educating hundreds of millions of people to be critical thinkers' off the table, we must look at what solutions remain. We've tried the hands-off "marketplace of ideas" for 10 years...

25% of the UK now believes in QAnon.
33% of America believes the virus is a hoax and masks don't work.
THIS IS NOT WORKING

Facebook and Twitter chose to exist. They chose to get big, hire behavioral psychologists to make their sites as addictive as possible, and trounced competitors to become these massive corporations that are now causing colossal disruption to our politics, elections, human interactions, and indeed society. Facebook and Twitter chose make billions of dollars off of our wishes, dreams, and personality profiles, and in the process shape the way millions of people think. In exchange for billions of dollars in ad revenue, they MUST take responsibility for protecting us, OR they must be broken up until anti-monopoly laws. Why are they they gatekeepers? Because nobody else will do it.

And it must be reiterated that "censorship" as a word applies to government. A business-owned website choosing not to publish or amplify certain information which that user is still free to self-publish or take to a thousand other platforms is not "censorship". As the owner of a website or business, you can choose to share or not share anything you wish, and that goes for the words and photos of people you have invited onto your site.

To take the libertarian view -- as an American, I have "access" to healthcare, "access" to a job, and "access" to unpopular fringe information. But no business is under any obligation to give me those things.
 
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feldon30

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I saw that today and nearly fell off my chair.
Folks arguing about the top 2 social media sites with 3 billion active worldwide users limiting QAnon activity on their sites has yet to give me a real world alternative solution. Like ok, the house is on fire, and maybe we should have built it out of better materials or had a committee meeting on stronger fire codes and personal responsibility, but THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. To not immediately utilize a fire extinguisher would be unethical.
 

MikeTF

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What happens if the balance shifts and you get 10 members posting in support of bad (or even dangerous) advice and only one member posting against it? At your forum, does it really come down to the rule of the majority irrespective if the advice is demonstrably bad, plain wrong or even dangerous? Is medical advice down to opinion and (effectively) a vote? Same with legal advice, etc.?

It doesn't come down to anything. I'm not the ruler of what is truth on my forum.

A discussion comes up, people chime in with their opinions. As long as they aren't personally attacking each other, it's allowed. If members disagree with someone, they are free to, and encouraged to, attack the idea, but not the member.
 
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