in reply to Consideration for obscenity

Obscenity is very much in the eye of the beholder IMHO. Sure, there are words that invoke negative connotations and can be construed as being offensive as well as having aggressive intent.

What the misguided soul who posted the node in question did was a lame attempt at a cheap joke. Worthy of a downvote or hundred, but censorship?

I moderate several different electronic mail lists for topics ranging from dog training to barbeque. Folks that engage in dog training as well as folks that are into barbeque can be a very passionate lot with respect to their beliefs, techniques and just the topic at hand in general.

In the dog community, very thankfully, the use of profanity is very rare. Given that at a competition of either agility or obedience use of profanity is enough to get you sent home for the rest of the competition. Do that enough times and you can get banned from competion for an extended period of time. I've actually had to sit in on in an official capacity when a disciplinary hearing had to be held to deal with charges of this nature.

The AKC and NADAC (two of the officiating venues involved) have made the statement that dog performance sports are to be family friendly. Sorta like Perlmonks... right? So the use of profanity is considered a big deal.

I say all that to say this: while I am a proponent of free speech and I'm not exactly an angel myself when it comes to profanity there are venues where it is inappropriate. During an AKC disciplinary hearing the phrase used as a result of someone using profanity includes "determimental to the sport of dogs." So the real question becomes when someone uses profanity here at the Monastery "Is this deterimental to the Monastery?"

As far as reaping a node that contains profanity goes I have to say there is some caution that needs to be excersized. Censorship, IMHO, is a slippery slope. If one post should be censored... what about that one?

For my mailing lists where someone has posted something that offends others (note.. not me... others) my first action is to email them privately and say something like "you know, I'm catching some flack on your behalf over what you said. Can you tone it down?"

Most reasonable folks will apologise and be more careful about what they post in the future. About one in one hundred times I'll run into an non-repentant and I'll have to invoke one of my tools and place them on moderation. Now I'm in the uncomfortable position (or myself and my co-moderators are) of approving or not approving everything this person posts. I hate that. But sometimes you have no choice.

Given that we are an online community I think these matters sort themselves out very nicely. If someone is being offensive either by using profanity or saying bad things about Larry Wall we have the option of downvoting that person. We further have the option of having the node considered. That consideration is then voted on and a majority can then decide what the fate of the offending node is going to be. Democracy in action. Much better IMHO than a benevolant dictatorship because it puts less pressure on the dictator.

As I said before in this post, censorship is a slippery slope. Which is why as a list moderator I tend to be very lenient and I'm not willing to jump on people and say "that's offensive" or "that's off topic" unless the offense is blatent.

Peter L. Berghold -- Unix Professional
Peter -at- Berghold -dot- Net; AOL IM redcowdawg Yahoo IM: blue_cowdawg

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Re^2: Consideration for obscenity
by Eliana (Scribe) on Feb 05, 2007 at 18:52 UTC
    There seem to be two somewhat separate things to consider here:

    The first should be a matter of simple fact, but perhaps my ignorance is showing again! ;)

    1) Would the presence of the word in question trigger filters or blocks from users' workplaces,etc? Or would it cause PerlMonks to be placed on a 'corporate blacklist'?

    This has nothing to do with what anyone finds "offensive", it is an issue of keeping the site accessible for everyone.

    Does anyone know for fact what threshold triggers these things? Could someone find out?

    2) Does the presence of this post make PerlMonks less 'family friendly'?

    I'm not sure how one evaluates that except by consensus. It seems to me that the answer would vary from family to family.

    Perhaps, in absence of clear Monastery guidelines, the best clue is in the phrase 'highly offensive' (an even more subjective concept than 'family friendly'!).

    Despite my own personal prudishness, it seems to me that this phrasing sets a very high bar for reaping. The 'family friendly' concept and the 'avoid corporate blacklists' goal are given as justifications for why a 'highly offensive' post would be considered for reaping.

    And, honestly, despite my vehement distaste for certain language, or even the discussion of certain topics in a public setting, I cannot say I am 'offended' by the post in question... although I am not sure if we should each be using our own personal yardstick for offensiveness...

    Hmmm... if we are trying to make this a comfortable site for everyone, should we not consider more general standards of offensiveness? (Mine certainly does not qualify as that... *sigh*)


          1) Would the presence of the word in question trigger filters or blocks from users' workplaces,etc? Or would it cause PerlMonks to be placed on a 'corporate blacklist'? This has nothing to do with what anyone finds "offensive", it is an issue of keeping the site accessible for everyone.

      Hmmm.. that reminds me of an incident in my own career that I often trot out surrounding this subject.

      Working for a CLEC that got bought out by a "Major Multinational Telecommunications Company" we (the keepers of the internet gateway) were instructed to install a proxy server such that all web browsing was redirected from the firwall to this proxy appliance where sites were either allowed or blocked via this wonderful appliance using some sort of "heuristic content filtering" to determine if a web site fit within the corporate guidelines for suitable web sites.

      After spending much time working with our Checkpoint firewall to take all port 80 traffic going outbound, redirect it to port 9090 on the appliance and then reverse all of that on the way in to the appropriate web browser (many tech support calls later) we got the stupid thing working and the corporate REMFs were happy. All the while I was working on this project I used many words that I'm sure the "heuristic content filters " would have banned calling into question everything from the probable ancestory of the people who came up with this plan and the stupidity of using technology to enforce management policies to their morning diet.

      Since they wouldn't give us administrative rights on this wonderful box, we weren't able to prevent what happened next.

      The American Cancer Society, about two weeks after we installed the appliance and got in running, had a week long focus on women's health and in particular breast cancer (hmm... wonder if this will get blocked by someone's corporate web proxy??) and many of the ladies that worked where I worked tried to go out and look at the website only to find they got our page that stated in ominous tones that they had violated the corporate policies on web use.

      This generated quite a stir. And when an executive vice president (yes... female) got that page, she went ballistic. She came marching down to my office breathing fire and wanted to know in terms that I'm sure would have been blocked by the proxy and most unlady-like why this page was being blocked.

      I keep my feathers numbered for just such emergencies

      I explained to this rather irate EVP about the proxy, the directive from corporate, etc. etc. She thought about it for a while, and then said "pull the plug on that thing!" "If you need it in writing to CYA then I'll provide that too, but pull the plug!"

      Did I mention that I keep my feathers numbered for such emergencies?

      After restoring the Checkpoint configuration that existed prior to the installation of the proxy (making a backup of the one that worked with the proxy just in case) the ladies were able to go to the ACS site without being told by a rather obnoxious web page that they were subject to immediate dismissal for violating corporate web use policies.

      Such is the life of a SysAdmin.

      Peter L. Berghold -- Unix Professional
      Peter -at- Berghold -dot- Net; AOL IM redcowdawg Yahoo IM: blue_cowdawg