It’s taken me a long time to write this, and I’ve gone through about four drafts in as many hours. A part of me wants to simply echo what Shamus said and that we had a disagreement that we couldn’t resolve and that’s that. And maybe that would be enough.
But in the twelve or so hours that Shamus’ post about this has been up, a lot of people have been asking for my own take on the subject. And I feel like I owe it to a number of people to explain my position, and why it all came to this.
So let’s start with some background:
Last Friday, an episode of Life is Strange was posted, and in the comments a heated debate broke out over David and Chloe as characters, whether or not David’s treatment of Chloe was justified, the nature of domestic abuse vs. punishment (and whether hitting your adult stepdaughter in a fit of anger even is abuse) and the relative ethics and morality of those and several other related topics. To me, Chris, and a number of other people I’ve spoken to, a lot of these comments read like the sort of rhetoric you’d hear from a domestic abuse denier or apologist, and naturally made us uncomfortable.
Now it should be noted that the commenter in question who seemed to be advocating this has since apologized and stated that he wasn’t trying to make an argument in defense of domestic abuse, but was having difficulty coming up with the right way of phrasing his arguments. Whether or not this is true is largely not the issue here. The issue is that it appeared that way at the time.
I spoke to Shamus the following evening and mentioned that the course of the discussion was getting to areas that I felt were inappropriate and it was making me and the rest of the cast uncomfortable, but Shamus did not want to take an official stance against it or take any moderation action. Then on Monday, I spoke to Shamus again and we decided to part ways.
On its own, this may seem like a small incident to leave over. But it’s important to understand that this is a small part of a much larger debate that Shamus and I have been having over comment moderation and policy for the better part of the past year, and dealing with incidents going back over the past two. The crux of the problem is that Twenty Sided has a moderation policy based on tone that largely ignores content; i.e. debates are fine as long as nobody loses their head. Unfortunately, this focus on tone can and has in the past resulted in uncomfortable, mean-spirited, or disingenuous arguments to be seen as legitimate discourse. The issue with the comment thread in question was not the first nor was it probably the worst. It was simply the last.
It’s become clear to both of us that Shamus and I have very different philosophies regarding what an appropriate discussion should look like, and neither of us was willing to compromise on those beliefs.
Okay, so what about free speech and open discourse? Aren’t I just trying to censor opinions I don’t agree with?
In short, no. First, Twenty Sided is not a “completely open” discussion forum. There’s always been a rule against discussing religion and politics. And this is largely a rule that exists because such discussions will likely make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Shamus and I are in agreement that some things should be off limits. The disagreement is on what and how much.
Second, creating a space where almost any idea can be discussed and debated does not attract the most possible people; it attracts the people most interested in debating a wide variety of differing opinions. Widening the net of possible topics doesn’t mean you widen the number of people who will feel welcome. For the people who aren’t interested in ever dealing with the occasional outrageous discussion thread that we’ve all seen in the past, there aren’t a lot of options for engaging with the community aside from “don’t bother with comments at all.” This has been a significant issue for me, because over the past year both friends and acquaintances have expressed to me that they like the show, and used to engage with the website, but that the way some comment threads have gone has made them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
It’s also not true that everyone is always arguing in good faith. It is a fact that harassment, dressed in the guise of fair debate and logical arguments, has been directed in the past against people on Twenty Sided. But in a completely open forum, identifying and dealing with such disingenuous arguments is very difficult, because it deals not with tone but implication. And someone can always argue they didn’t mean to imply what they did.
I don’t want a cessation of debate or insightful discussions, or that no one should be allowed to express things I don’t agree with. But I think if that point of disagreement is something like, for example “I really do believe that domestic abuse isn’t a big deal,” then it’s reasonable to say “Hey, what you’re saying isn’t cool, and isn’t appropriate here, knock it off.”
What I want is a place where people feel welcome. Where insightful discussion is still the rule, and debates can still be held, but that they meet a certain minimum standard of acceptability. And if people feel uncomfortable, we should perhaps not be saying “toughen up,” but asking why it makes them feel uncomfortable in the first place, and whether the debate is really one worth having. And yes, sometimes the answer to that will be “yes the debate should continue,” but it won’t always be.
In the end, Twenty Sided is Shamus’ site, and I do respect that. There were times when I seriously considered jumping into comment threads that I felt had gotten out of hand or were being used to serve some disingenuous purpose, and imposing a policy regardless. But I never did, because I know that Shamus doesn’t want to run his site that way. But I also had to reconcile that with the people who’ve reached out to me, explaining that they feel unwelcome, or even hurt, by the way moderation has been handled. And that as contributor to the site, I shared some responsibility for that.
And I couldn’t reconcile the two. Neither could Chris.
So we decided the best option available for all parties involved was for us to leave.
I want to stress that I love the audience we have, and I have great respect for the vast majority of the community members of Twenty Sided. I can’t imagine the past seven years of this show without all of the insightful discussions and funny anecdotes and playful banter we’ve had in the comments. It’s why Twenty Sided has always been the first, best place to discuss the show. Some of you do have opinions that I disagree with, but the majority of you are polite and respectable and tactful enough to present them in ways that don’t turn other people off. This is not about you. But as the saying goes, a few bad apples spoil the bunch. At least, they have for me.
I know some of you won’t agree with me. I know some of you will feel that you don’t want to support the show anymore. I understand and respect that and I wish Shamus the best with his future work.
For those of you who want to stick around, welcome aboard. There’s going to be some changes around here, but it’s a little too early for us to talk about that just yet. Look for an announcement later this week with information about what we intend to do in the future and what the cast is going to look like. It may come in the form of a channel trailer, or another Patreon post, or maybe both. And maybe I’ll finally get around to updating this damn Patreon page. Stay tuned.