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Lynn Cyrin

programming zealot \\ productivity demon \\ software artisan

Social Combat Rules of Engagement

On keeping your balance while you work towards creating a more just world


In working towards a more "just" world, there are a lot of things that we should be willing to do as a means of fixing the issues in our communities. When things become too horribly broken, you have to be willing to take action to fix the issues. Except, everything has been out of balance lately, and everyone has been out of tune. People being threatened with doxxing for suspicion of a behavior . This is not how things should work. We don't bring out the nuclear weapons when we think someone may be guilty of subscribing to a certain point of view. There has to be a balance to how we act, that takes into account:

  • What problem behavior the individual is being accused of
  • The extent to which we can prove that the behavior is occurring
  • What kind of response / retribution is justified for that behavior

For example

  • If we think someone may have donated to Donald Trump's campaign, that's not sufficient justification to dox them (neither is knowing they have done so, but more on that later)
  • If we have unquestionable proof that someone has 4 automatic weapons, 300 bullets, and is planning on assaulting an clinic, that's when we bring in local crisis response teams.

I do not need to tell you all to call the police on people who want to bring death to places of healing. But it does provide a good point of comparison, because some sections of internet culture (*chan) have managed to justify leveraging lethal force (Swatting) against people (feminists) simply because of having opinions. It is definitely the case that this same sort of thing has bled into leftist culture, because it hasn't always been the case the we try to dox people because we think they're a white supremacist.

Unfortunately this sort of issue has spread beyond racism and doxxing, so I'm going to flesh out some rough guidelines for, in general, when the reasonable balance of knowledge, problem behavior, and retribution. Please read these with the knowledge that I am not all knowing, and so there will definitely be issues. I really want as much feedback on this as possible, so we, as a (currently broken) community can have some reasonable guidelines governing how we act.

The Rules

Preface: These rules are intended primarily for intra-community conflict (ex: Liberal Democrats vs Democratic Socialists), secondarily for inter-community conflict (ex: Feminists vs MRAs), and not at all for times where the person you are in conflict with has already committed some gross violation of human decency (ex: trying to kidnap your children). They also apply poorly when dealing with politicians, but apply just fine when dealing with celebrities. They assume everyone can verify each other's identities, and accounts poorly for anonymity. They are intended for "low intensity conflicts", which in this case means a level of conflict below "drive this person and all their associates off the internet permanently". They work best when a conflict is not acting across a massive power gradient, so millionaire vs millionaire not millionaire vs minimum wage worker.

  1. Aim for the retribution for some problem behavior to be related to fixing it. For example, many TERFs primary crime is harassing trans women. Mass blocking (that is: blocking them, all their followers, and distributing said blocks to your friends) TERFs is the perfect retribution, as it (in an ideal system) completely removes TERFs ability to commit the crime in the first place. As a counter example, imagine someone is being biphobic in a private chat with you. Not proclaiming the sins of all bisexuals on a large platform held up by their followers, but being pointedly rude to you, in a private setting. This is a very poor case for mass blocking, particularly so if its the person's followers aren't also biphobic.
  2. Understand that personal retribution and community retribution must often be kept distinct. If you are, for example, extremely sensitive to (ex: cultural appropriation), you might want to completely stop associating with an entire group of people because of it. That is entirely within your right to do! But do acknowledge that often not everyone you know will have the same degree of negative opinion about (cultural appropriation), so you should think of how you want your community to respond distinctly from your personal response. Also it is important to be aware of of how influence and scale plays into this. The more followers you have (ex: 10,000 as opposed to 300) the more likely it is that a personal dispute will escalate into a community issue.
  3. Avoid mentioning identity when having a personal dispute. This primarily comes into play when you have a personal dispute with someone who openly associates with a certain identity or community (that you do not also associate with). Having an argument with say, two Marxists, might prompt you to say "wow these Marxists in my mentions are...". Such a statement will be read not as a personal dispute with individuals, but as a large scale conflict between communities (that is, your own and Marxists). There are times when this is both intended and justified, in the case of Marxists that would likely be when they are arguing with you about political or economic theory. But you must acknowledge that describing the conflict as being with an identity instead of two individuals will more likely than not escalate the conflict into a community dispute.
  4. Do not assume that someone shares all, or any, oppressive / rude / vulgar opinions / behaviors with someone simply because they associate with them (that is, because they follow them). "X person was racist, so they're a racist..." yes, "...and everyone who follows them is a disgusting racist too" no. Allowing all the issues that a person could have to be "infectious" in this manner will simply lead to a world where everyone is bad, and nobody has any friends. If you think a entire group of people shares an opinion due to an association, you need to give it serious thought before you start handing out indictments to everyone.
  5. Understand that association, even intense association!, does not mean approval. Someone having a racist husband, for better or worse, doesn't mean that they will also be racist. You as an individual are of course free to block both person and husband whether or not they're both racist, but it is not reasonable to use that as justification for community retribution.
  6. Whenever possible / reasonable, make it a goal that every individual person in your community has agency to form their own response to problem behavior. So "I just blocked X, they were harassing my friend" and not "X is a gross and terrible harasser that nobody should associate with, everyone should block them right now".
  7. Always cite sources, but avoid at all costs mass duplicating the sources for your own records. Which is to say, mass screenshot blogs are bad, but short lists with citations on every line are good. Mass duplication removes from the individual the capacity to apologize / redact statements, in addition to it being an invasion of their privacy (which is sometimes reasonable, but as a norm it should be considered not to be). Consider people who engage in a behavior and then rapidly delete it (to hide the evidence) to be an edge case, not the norm.
  8. Scale the retribution, or the potential for it, by the degree to which you can prove an individual is engaging in the behavior. Make sure that there is always at least some proof, do not make decisions based entirely on feelings and accusations.
  9. Respect a reasonable statute of limitations for any and all opinions. A good baseline is some number of years, but it should never be an entire lifetime. For example, I do not care about any opinions from older than 10 years. Come up with your own similar policy, and assume others will do so as well.
  10. Acknowledge that people can change, although it is not necessarily the case that they will. Build systems and social norms that allow for the capacity to change.
  11. Scale the amount of time you spend searching for proof, to the degree of the problem. If you think someone was only racist once, it is not reasonable to spend several days and the efforts of multiple people to find the source. Assume that if it takes several hours to find someone engaging in problem behavior, then the extent of that problem behavior is so small that it is negligible.
  12. Do not make repeated sourceless accusations, particularly in public. Posting "hey I think X is racist" enough times is going to lead to people thinking they are racist, sources or not.
  13. Always describe the problem behavior specifically, avoid using generic phrases such as harasser, troll, abuser, etc.
  14. Respect the human right to food, shelter, water. Seriously. Do not try to get people put out on the street with no way get their life back on track. If someone's in a homeless shelter (or similar) already, just lay off them entirely -- unless of course you are also in the homeless shelter and they are directly affecting you.
  15. Understand that the end goal of all of this is to have everyone be better to each other, and not ever associating with anyone (because they're all "problematic") does very little to reach that goal.

And finally: assume people will forget the rules! Particularly when there's a lot of emotion involved. Do politely remind them.

This post is open to feedback and updated semi-regularly! Please tell me your opinions!

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