Very rarely in the history of this site it has been necessary to ban a person from contributing altogether, for life. In the past, such bans have been for easily describable and generally accepted reasons which are very easily indicated as being direct violations of specific rules of the site.
However, recently a ban was imposed on a researcher (on H2G2 styled "Arpeggio", here referred to by her abbreviated name "LeKZ") who had only been using the site for a short time. In that time, she had contributed a prodigious amount to many conversations, and written or contributed to several erudite Entries which made the Edited Guide. She had also, due to her forthright nature, rubbed several people up the wrong way. She had recently had her H2G2 account suspended for a week, and within a very short time of returning to the site was banned for life - the first she knew of which was several hours after the fact because of her status as a US resident and the time difference to the UK, where this site is hosted and run. You can read the announcement of her banning, and the subsequent discussion here.
The discussion has gone on for (at the time of writing) over 800 postings. The tone has ranged widely, and started out mostly as flames, but settled some time ago into a constructive attempt to improve on what is perceived by several people to be the arbitrary application of site rules and the summary justice 1 which follows transgressions. Several excellent schemes are in development, but they have in the main concentrated on either extending or changing the site rules, "demanding" more rights, or involving more researchers and more work for the management in resolving disputes and arbitrating suspensions and bans.
There follows a modest proposal, which the author thinks would actually reduce the workload of the italics in the event of another ban, while providing ample opportunity for those interested to discuss and put forward their views in a forum where they may actually be able to affect an outcome. It would increase respect for the system of bans, and may even prevent some.
We take as our starting point the assumption that Researcher X has, in the opinion of the management, broken a rule of the site and must be banned.
Management immediately suspend the account. They then send an email to Researcher X, worded something like this...
"You have broken a rule of the site, and are now suspended for one week pending a permanent ban. The reasons for this are as follows: [insert reasons for ban here]. If you believe you have any mitigating reasons for the actions described, please reply to this email with them. We undertake to read email replies from you and consider their contents before coming to a decision. Our decision will be made in one week, and will be final. No correspondence will be entered into. Please remember when replying that abusive, threatening, or offensive email replies will result in the immediate imposition of a life ban, as will any attempt to return to the site under a different ID. If you have any unedited entries you wish to keep, your space will remain readable and unaltered for the duration of your suspension. Unedited Entries may not be retrievable after that date, and we may delete them from our database."
Management then put in an entry in the Guide which contains the following text:
"Researcher X has been suspended for one week, pending a life ban. The reasons are as follows: [insert reasons here]. Post character witness statements below under "Don't Ban Researcher X" or "Ban Researcher X". Postings in other area of H2G2 re: this subject are not welcome. Please concentrate discussion HERE. Please do not flame. Rational debate is encouraged for the duration of the remand period, i.e. one week. At the end of the remand period, content of polite postings here may or may not be taken into account when deciding whether to ban this person permanently. Postings elsewhere will be ignored. A decision will be made one week from the date of this entry and until that time Researcher X will remain suspended. Email correspondence on this subject will not be entered into with anyone except Researcher X. Management will not participate in conversations on these threads. Persistent emailing on this subject, or posting on this subject to management personal spaces, may lead to a suspension of your account."
A line is added to the top of Researcher X's personal space, saying "Suspended Pending Permanent Ban", with a link to the page described above. They may also make an announcement on Community Soapbox with a link to the space, depending on circumstances.
Management then forget about it for a week, go away, cool off and have a drink. They do not read anything at all, on the threads under the discussion entry or the emails from Researcher X. At the end of the week, they read everything on the discussion threads for the remand page only (this minimises the need to follow conversations around) and read any and all emails from Researcher X. At that point, with a week's distance, whatever confidential information they may have (e.g. "Yikes" complaints) and whatever character witness statements (either supporting Researcher X or supporting a ban) and mitigations have been submitted to hand, the italics can make a decision.
If they decide to let Researcher X stay, the account is reactivated. Researcher X is officially notified that they are on probation and are under particularly close attention. Note, however, that in the event of them doing the same thing again, exactly the same process should be applied - although obviously any pleas are almost certain to be ignored in the case of a second transgression. Nevertheless, the "remand" system should be applied in all cases where a life ban is being considered, even for a repeat offender. The standards of mitigation are of course a matter for the management.
This point is worth repeating: The remand system should apply in all cases where a ban is being contemplated, even in an open and shut case such as, for instance, posting links to illegal pornography. Obviously, in such a case, the week's suspension is a formality - but it is important that any procedure is applied in every case. Even Rosemary West got a trial. However, the level of "publicity" given may vary. In certain cases it may be appropriate not to announce the ban on Community Soapbox. Typical examples would be: a Researcher who contributes to the Edited Guide, Peer Review, the H2G2 Post or otherwise has a "presence" on the site would warrant a quite public announcement, as the loss of any such person from the site is important. A counter example would be an account created specifically for mischief, which may need to be shut down quite "quietly" - i.e. no Community Soapbox announcement. Other than this, however, the full procedure should apply, even in the latter case. In such a case, of course, it is highly unlikely there would ba any debate to speak of during the week's remand.
If they decide to ban Researcher X, the account is deactivated, the personal space is cleared, all unedited Guide Entries (including Journals) are deleted from the database (unless there's a reason to keep them). All Edited Guide Entries remain the property of H2G2 and the BBC, or whatever their legal position is anyway. When the above is complete, the "remand" page is altered to say the following:
"Researcher X has been banned for life. Reasons are as follows: [insert reasons]. Representations by and on behalf of Researcher X were considered at the time of the ban, but the Editors' decision is final. Further correspondence on this subject will not be entered into by the Editors. If you wish to discuss the ban or events surrounding it, please do so here, only. Conversations are easier to follow if they occur on one place, so please cooperate and do not discuss this in other conversation threads, unless it is to link to here. Thank you."
This scheme has a number of advantages over the current system, and the other proposals in the pipeline:
- It requires no change to the site rules (although a clear explanation of the suspension/remand/life ban system would be required if it were implemented). It is simply a procedure by which the existing rules may be applied.
- It requires no more organised volunteers - interested individuals will post carefully worded defences and/or character witness statements to the conversation threads, knowing that they will be read by the Italics before the final decision is made. This will have the effect of making people consider what they post very carefully, and will allow the management to assess the general "quality" of the person they are about to consider banning by judging the company they keep. Trolls may try to sabotage the process, but they should be easy for the management to spot and ignore.
- It removes none of the Italics' power or authority. They are still the final arbiters. They merely choose, in implementing a "remand" procedure, to take some time to make big decisions rather than rushing into anything. This will gain them the respect of the community.
- It allows the Italics to reinstate someone facing a life ban if their defence is acceptable. Moreover, it allows them to do so without loss of face or respect. If they ban someone for a week, pending a life ban, then let them back, there can be no question but that the week's ban was justified. There can also be no question that the Italics are prepared to accept reasoned defence - if such is presented. Equally, if they choose not to reinstate someone after the week, but ban them, they can honestly say that they did so in full possession of the facts, with a cool head, and after giving the banned person a right of reply. Either way, the Italics look better.
- It concentrates discussion to the "Remand" page, which lasts one week. It concentrates subsequent discussion to the "Banned Now" page, which makes it perfectly clear that the Editors decision is final and they won't be drawn into conversation about it.
- As far as the Italics are concerned, it requires a little work ( less than 1 man hour) on the day of the suspension, nothing at all for the next six days, then a little more work on the day of the decision (admittedly possibly a lot more if a lot has been posted) but in any case the whole thing is over from their point of view in seven days, instead of dragging on for months...
I can't help but think that if LeKZ had been suspended pending a Life Ban in this way, and the above procedures were clearly in place, that:
- the tone of the postings from the "anti-ban" lobby would have been *much* more moderate, given that they would have known that immoderate posting would have been counter-productive at a time when it was still possible to have the suspension lifted;
- LeKZ would have known that she was facing a life ban when it was still possible to mount a defence, rather than waking to a fait accompli;
- She may have been able to email an acceptable mitigation to the Editors, who after the cooling off period and in the light of well reasoned pleas on her behalf from reputable friends may have been more disposed to consider lifting a "remand" suspension;
- The "Lifetime Suspension" thread would not have lasted so long, because the process would have been obviously much fairer or at the very least less Kafkaesque EVEN IF it had still ended in a life ban.
There may be those who say "well all the italics would do is wait a week and enforce the ban, and ignore defences and character witnesses". To which I say - yes, they could do that - but it would hardly lead to a quiet life, would it? It would likely lead to protests worse than "Lifetime Suspension" et al. You *have* to trust them to do the right thing, or go play somewhere else. I don't like that much, but that is the way it is. There is a little evidence, in the form of the retreat behind the h2g2 Editors persona and attempts to present a more professional face to the customers, that the Editors do want to do the right thing.
If they set up a remand system at all, it would show willing. They would probably gain a great deal of respect by doing so (and probably shut quite a lot of the Small But Vocal Minority up - well, me anyway, can't vocalise for the rest!).
It occurs to me to chuck here the fact that in the history of H2G2 there have been fewer life bans than I have fingers on one hand, so this isn't even something that you'd expect to happen very often. But if the site is to grow, it's going to get more frequent, and the next person may not have the well-organised, articulate friends backing them up that LeKZ has had.
I commend this proposal to the Italics, to the SBVM, and to anyone else who cares to comment.