This is a repository of moderation decisions that we expect to make semi-frequently, where it's somewhat complicated to explain our reasoning but we don't want that explanation to end up dominating a thread. We'll be adding to this over time, and/or converting it into a more scalable format once it's grown larger.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
There's a phenomenon wherein a commenter responds to a post with a reasonablish looking question or criticism. The poster responds, which doesn't satisfy the commenter's concerns. It turns into a sprawling debate.
Most of the time, this is fine – part of the point of LessWrong is to expose your ideas to criticism to make them stronger.
But criticism varies in quality. Three particular dimensions (in descending order of importance) that we think are important are:
- Steelmanning – The best criticism engages with the strongest form of an idea. See this post for more detail on why you'd want to do that. Two subsets of this are:
- Does it address core points? – Sometimes a critique is pointing at essential cruxes of a person's argument. Other times it pedantically focuses on minor examples.
- Does it put in interpretive effort? – Sometimes, a critic puts in substantial effort to understand the poster's point (and, if the author worded something confusingly, help them clarify their own thinking). Other times critics generally expect authors to put in all interpretive effort of the conversation. (In some situations, the issue is that the author has in fact written something confusing or wrong. In other situations, it's the critic who isn't understanding the point).
- Is it kind? – While less crucial than steelmanning, LessWrong is generally a more fun to place to be if people aren't being blunt or rude to each other. All else being equal, being kind rather than blunt is better.
Any given one of the three spectrums above isn't necessarily bad. We don't want a world where all criticism must involve a lot of effort on the part of the critic. But over the years we've encountered a few users who frequently focus on criticism that is a) addressing noncentral points, or misunderstanding the author's core point, while b) being a bit blunt and/or not putting much interpretive effort into the conversation.
The results are comments where any given comment seems basically reasonable, but the aggregate of them makes LessWrong feel like a hostile, nitpicky place. Several people have cited abundance of this type of comment as a reason they left LessWrong.
The phrase "Death by a thousand cuts" hopefully gets across the sort of problem here.
This is somewhat challenging to moderate – if you're a new user, it might look very heavy-handed to see someone suspended or banned for what looks (in isolation) like a fairly innocuous comment.
But since this pattern of commenting is one of the strongest complaints we've gotten about LessWrong, it's necessary for us to take action on it from time to time. (Generally starting with 2 warnings, followed by a temporary suspension).