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There are several things to address in this question, but I'll try to be concise. Comments referred to in this question are mostly available in this chat room, though there are some that were deleted before the comments were moved, so they're unavailable for reference, unfortunately (the chat room discussion starts with my message "I will abandon this chat room so we can talk here").


Earlier today I came across a question, Should I stop pirating TV in order to better role model for my toddler?, via the Popular Network Questions list. While reading the question and answers, I saw a comment from a user (who happened to be a moderator) calling an excellent answer into question:

Hmm. I don't want to refute your premise, but discussing why you break the law with a child is not likely to help her moral "compass"; it's more likely to help her to pick and choose which laws she wants to break. We all break laws, but we should call a spade a spade, I believe.

This comment seemed to imply that morality is determined by one's accordance with the law, which is problematic because it conflates morals (an individual's code of "what's right") with ethics (a group's agreement of what constitutes "what's right"). I responded as such in a comment:

@anongoodnurse Morals are an individual's compass for right and wrong. Laws are society's, and are therefore based on ethics, not morals.

To which the moderator responded with:

Note that the OP already thinks it's wrong. That puts it squarely into the "morals" category.

(The third sentence present in the chat room records was edited in later; see below)

My next comment and the moderator's response to it are now deleted, so I'm recalling from memory what I said:

"building/defining a moral compass" is exactly telling his child which laws to break and which not to. Not all laws are passed by people with the same moral values. See cannibalism, slavery, rape, abortion, gay marriage. Even though these topics have laws with strong ethical foundations, there are still people today who disagree on the morality of them.

This is when the moderator edited their previous comment to include the third sentence:

Also, ethics are inextricably intertwined with morals.

Disregarding the fact that the Answer's poster, Erik, had responded in kind (see here), siding more or less with me on the ethics vs morals topic.

This brings me to my first concern:

Deleting comments and then editing previous comments ex post facto (seemingly after the 5 minute expiration time, no less) to appear to "preempt" valid concerns is somewhat disturbing behavior from a moderator, especially when it's not clear at all what, if any, rules were violated to warrant comment deletion. I responded to this action with my concern:

@anongoodnurse It's not fair for you to abuse moderator powers to delete my comment response and then ex post facto edit your earlier comment after the edit timer expired without giving me the same opportunity. My point is that, even though morals and ethics are related, they are two distinct things, and your original comment conflates them.

To which the moderator said that talk about rape and other offensive crimes is not OK:

@TylerH - when you talk about rape and other offensive crimes, it's my job as a moderator to delete your comments. Comments are evanescent, and you can always take this to chat.

Disagreements on what a moderator's job is and, more specifically, how it should be carried out aside...

This brings me to my second concern:

The moderator's comment makes it sound as if I was carrying on/opening a discussion about the merits and/or details of rape and other offensive crimes, when in fact I made no mention of crimes at all, only laws, and only mentioned the above law topics as a historical reference to help illustrate that there can be a difference between group ethics and individual morals. The moderator's response painted me in a poor and, I think, unfair light, considering I don't think it's an accurate representation of what I said and the moderator had--and exercised--the power to delete disputing comments.

While there are certainly rules on being polite and reasonable, I hardly think that merely uttering the word "rape" counts as "offensive discussion". There are no doubt more mundane examples than, say, cannibalism or gay marriage, but the point was to show that even regarding topics with a strong ethical foundation, one can still have personal morals in conflict with the law.

At this point, I asked in a comment reply (The automatic function for suggesting users take extended comment discussions to chat room hadn't appeared yet) whether there was any Meta consensus or discussion about what constitutes offensive discussion, to which I received no reply. Shortly thereafter, the comments were deleted and discussion moved to the chat room linked above.

Of course, I have always and do continue to believe that comments, questions, or answers encouraging discussion specifically about or participation in such topics is not OK and potentially very offensive. But that's not even close to what I was doing.

My question to the community is thus:

I'd like for the Parenting.SE community at large to discuss whether merely mentioning the word "rape", among other words/terms like "cannibalism", "gay marriage", etc. is inherently offensive or if, when in an appropriate, non-discretionary context, use of those words for mere historical purposes (e.g. "there exist laws on rape/gay marriage/etc.") is permissible. That way there will be some consensus to rely on as precedent in the future.


Disclaimer 1: I should mention that even though I feel the moderator's threat of a comment perma-ban was fairly overzealous, especially later on, I don't feel any personal animosity toward this moderator, nor do I believe any such feelings are or were reciprocated. This is merely a question about policy clarification/decisions.

Disclaimer 2: there was some discussion later regarding the moderator giving me a "last warning" about making what she thought were new comments, but were in fact old. That overzealousness was due (and the moderator later sort-of agreed) mostly to not looking at the comment timestamps before reacting, so that section of the chat discussion is not relevant to this question).

Some partial screenshots I made for reference:

http://i.imgur.com/D3Ux5BH.png

http://i.imgur.com/hgSbcZ5.png

http://i.imgur.com/0wttCr2.png

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  • It is always interesting to see things from someone else's viewpoint. Thanks for taking me up on my suggestion. I will look forward to community input. – anongoodnurse Oct 2 '15 at 4:11
  • Additional discussion is now in chat. – Acire Oct 5 '15 at 14:46
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Comming at this "raw" as it were, I've read through the full transcript (and as a mod I do have full visibility of deleted content as well) and some thoughts from me:

I understand your point, that you weren't posting "offensive" content, however those comments are considered emotionally charged by the majority, and in a comment context are at best unnecessary, and at worst will encourage trolling, arguments and conflict.

Your point could have been equally well served without bringing those topics in.

But the key thing to remember is that on Stack Exchange, comments are to request or provide clarity, and are expected to eventually be deleted; across the sites I moderate, I have deleted many thousands of comments over the last couple of years. The end goal is that we have question posts, and answer posts, and as little extraneous "noise" as possible, whether that be comments, salutations, "Thanks" etc

So I understand why @anon spoke to you about this, and while each moderator has a different approach, I'd support her intent, which is to avoid noise in comments. (Her style is actually more collaborative than mine - I tend to just delete/move to chat and leave a comment to explain why, whereas she will first discuss, but then I'm a techy, so probably less used to communicating :-)

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  • Avoiding noise in comments is fine, but it is NOT the reason stated in the quote alleged to be from the moderator. As for discouraging trolls, deal with the trolls themselves, rather than censoring legitimate words that may attract them. – WGroleau Oct 10 '15 at 22:20
  • WGroleau - while we do deal with trolls directly, I would always prevent rather than have to go through all that extra effort. Trolls take a huge amount of time and effort that they aren't worth. – Rory Alsop Oct 10 '15 at 22:27
  • Is this avoidance worth the amount of loss of reasonable discourse that might unintentionally become troll-bait? – WGroleau Oct 10 '15 at 22:29
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    Definitely. We don't lose reasonable discourse by having people choose slightly different words. Look what was actually edited and you'll see. Also remember, Stack Exchange is not for discourse or discussion; it is for questions and answers! – Rory Alsop Oct 11 '15 at 7:35
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The number of parenting questions which can potentially concern themselves with cannibalism, slavery, rape, abortion, or gay marriage is unsurprisingly somewhat limited. We aren't Law, History, or Philosophy. However, some examples are easily found with a quick search:

The number of deleted Q/A which mention rape or abortion significantly outnumbers the not-deleted ones. (I can't link to most of them in such a way that they're visible to most users, though.) However, note that they were not deleted because of the word used, but because of the context in which it was used.

Indeed, context -- which may include where the terms are used (comment? question? answer? chat?), relevance to the primary topic under discussion, and other surrounding language -- is central to a decision of whether any word, whether on this list or not, is appropriate. While the words are not inherently offensive, they do have a greater potential to offend (or to be used offensively on purpose) and therefore are given a higher level of scrutiny.

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