A short note from the h2g2 Editors: We have to point out that the only rules which count in the end are the official House Rules and Terms and Conditions - so while it could be useful in some cases to put these into context as done here, h2g2 Researchers should ultimately refer only to the official rules, backed up with guidance from the h2g2 Editors, and not to anything anyone else writes, which necessarily represents that individual's own particular view, and may be inaccurate, incomplete or not up to date. We are, however, always ready to listen to proposals (preferably constructive ones!) re. the official rules, but can't get into debate about what is essentially an individual's particular opinion about these rules, even when as well-expressed as here.
Note: As of the 18th December 2002, I am no longer maintaining this page. If you would like to take responsibility for it, please apply at the Community Job Slot. Thank you.
Flames and trolls should generally be avoided, though in controversial discussions tempers can flare, and the Italics are understanding of this. The target of a flame should have no effect on judgement, with the exception that flames directed at trolls are judged more leniently1.
In many cases a flame or troll will count against you and get you warned, suspended, or banned, even if it isn't hidden. Do not assume that just because a post was left visible it was acceptable. Such posts are sometimes left because the italics feel that researchers should accept the consequences of what they write2. This mainly applies to posts yikesed by the person who posted them.
Under reactive moderation, a post may be visible simply because nobody who read it has presed the 'yikes' button - not all Researchers like to use the yikes button, so just because a post is visible doesn't mean it has not caused offence. Unacceptable posts which have led to a researcher being banned or suspended are mostly (all?) left visible so that the community can discuss them3.
...When Reporting Offensive Content
It is acceptable to report on offensive content that someone else has said - whether on-h2g2, or elsewhere on the web, or in real life. However, such reporting must be:
Not libellous - the libel laws do not distinguish between originating a libellous comment and disseminating the comment. There is more info on defamation in the section on The Law.
Reporting, not repeating. It is not acceptable to repeat an offensive statement verbatim unless there is at least some comment on it4 - perhaps contrasting the statement with other statements by the same researcher, or giving the views of some of those who have been offended by it, or perhaps by explaining why it is particularly offensive to some people.
...And the Italics
This is a can of worms. The policy towards personal criticism of the Italics has varied considerably over time. For one week, it was deemed 'personal abuse' to describe the Italics as 'arbitrary and unprofessional', warranting an Official Warning or week's suspension. This policy contradicted the earlier advice that the target of a flame was not a factor. However, this policy appears to have been withdrawn5. The current policy is still uncertain.
The house rules make it quite clear that only behaviour on h2g2 falls under the house rules. The Editors have reaffirmed that in the past6. They've also ruled that an exception will be made for 'personal abuse' and criminal activity7. This exception has recently been re-affirmed8. The examples given imply that the primary exception will be for illegal behaviour (such as threats) directed at h2g2 (or possibly the rest of the BBC).
Racism and other bigotry
The house rules specifically mention 'racially offensive' material as being unacceptable. In addition a number of similar things fall into the 'otherwise objectionable' content: just as it is unacceptable to insult people based on their race, it is unacceptable to insult or denigrate people based on their gender, sexual preference, religion9, age, and so forth.
Jokes, humourous comments, insults, and satire relating to the female menstrual cycle are, in general, unacceptable on h2g2, as the Editors judge them to be sexist and 'offensive to women'10. Sometimes these kinds of comments are judged to be sufficiently inoccuous that they don't require censorship11.
According to Peta, the line between unoffensive posts (and links) and offensive posts is simple - did your post offend someone, or is it likely to offend someone12? This doesn't appear to be the whole story in practice13, but it is not known what other factors may be involved. The problem is that some people find, say, homosexuality offensive. It seems likely that this will be dealt with when it actually arises, rather than legislating in advance.
Ignoring the official guidance, and concentrating merely on how the rule on offensiveness is actually implemented, it seems that the bottom line is the Italics' judgement. If the Italics are offended by someone, or believe that somebody's claims of being offended are reasonable, then the post(s) will count as offensive. Somebody may well be genuinely offended by something, but that offence may not be reasonable: perhaps the offended person is being over-sensitive, for example.
Sticks and Stones
... may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Unless they're posted on h2g2, that is. h2g2 policy is that using derogatory or insulting nicknames to refer to h2g2 researchers, volunteers, or staff is not permissable14. For example, if George Bush was an h2g2 researcher, then use of the term 'Toxic Texan' would possibly be in breach of the house rules.
On the other hand, referring to Mark Moxon as Max Moron appears to be acceptable15. Whether this is made acceptable because Mark has used it to refer to himself, or because it isn't deemed derogatory or insulting, is unknown.
Bear in mind the context you are posting in. A slight flame in a forum which already contains a lot of heavy debate is going to be a lot more acceptable than the same words in a forum for a birthday party. You should also be aware of special rules and customs for the forum, as breaking these can result in posts being hidden or warnings given.
For example, posts in the review forums should aim to be positive and constructive16. Similarly, in most 'story' forums care should be paid to the continuity laws17. A simpler case was Big Bandwagon, where posts from outsiders in the 'house' could have been considered anti-social.