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Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism

105 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 April 2009 02:44AM

Previously in seriesMy Way
Followup toThe Sin of Underconfidence

Good online communities die primarily by refusing to defend themselves.

Somewhere in the vastness of the Internet, it is happening even now.  It was once a well-kept garden of intelligent discussion, where knowledgeable and interested folk came, attracted by the high quality of speech they saw ongoing.  But into this garden comes a fool, and the level of discussion drops a little—or more than a little, if the fool is very prolific in their posting.  (It is worse if the fool is just articulate enough that the former inhabitants of the garden feel obliged to respond, and correct misapprehensions—for then the fool dominates conversations.)

So the garden is tainted now, and it is less fun to play in; the old inhabitants, already invested there, will stay, but they are that much less likely to attract new blood.  Or if there are new members, their quality also has gone down.

Then another fool joins, and the two fools begin talking to each other, and at that point some of the old members, those with the highest standards and the best opportunities elsewhere, leave...

I am old enough to remember the USENET that is forgotten, though I was very young.  Unlike the first Internet that died so long ago in the Eternal September, in these days there is always some way to delete unwanted content.  We can thank spam for that—so egregious that no one defends it, so prolific that no one can just ignore it, there must be a banhammer somewhere.

But when the fools begin their invasion, some communities think themselves too good to use their banhammer for—gasp!—censorship.

After all—anyone acculturated by academia knows that censorship is a very grave sin... in their walled gardens where it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to enter, and students fear their professors' grading, and heaven forbid the janitors should speak up in the middle of a colloquium.

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