My detoxification from Quora is progressing well. I am managing to stay away from checking on comments there are maybe a week at a time. I no longer daydream about slapping Jonathan Brill in the face. I am actually reading websites other than Quora, although I am dismayed to discover how stupid they have become while I was away. (Slate.com in particular has succumbed to crowd pleasing superficiality about Trump, at a time when superficiality is the last thing you need from an American masthead.)
My ego is gratified to find that I have not yet been forgotten back at Quora; people are on occasion saying that they miss me, and people on occasion invite me to private Facebook groups about Quora. Those groups fill a valuable function, since the dead hand of BNBR policy quashes much meaningful meta-discussion about Quora; and Quora is hardly optimised for group discussion to begin with.
I have just unjoined my second such group, and I think I owe people an explanation. Or at least a forewarning.
I am happy that people are continuing their Quora communities off-Quora. I am offended and repulsed that Quora Inc uses a closed off-Quora community to cultivate its Elect (its Top Writers), and give them preferential access to staff and information. But then again, I’m offended by the institution of Top Writers to begin with; and I’ve been repeatedly assured that they’re not getting that much more information or influence than the sans-culottes outside.
(The real inner sanctum of users with direct access to staff and influence on Quora is far, far smaller; and if you stick around long enough you can work it out. Anecdotally — as I’ve been told from a former insider — it’s who Brill huddles with in Top Writer meetups. From my own observation, Chris Van Lang is definitely in there, and I suspect David Rose is as well.)
I have been mostly courteous on Quora, mostly willing to listen to others’ perspectives, and mostly willing to change my mind about things. But there are two classes of people on Quora that I will not break bread with. Not many people are in those classes, but a few are.
The first class are reflexive defenders of Quora Inc. That’s reflexive defenders, not defenders in general: I’ve had good exchanges with people who defend Quora Inc, because they have been courteous to me, and because they have conceded that I was not merely hallucinating in my critiques.
But if you are a long-term beneficiary of the Top Writer Quill, and the selective enforcement of moderation that comes with it, I expect some acknowledgement that other writers are still part of the same community as you, and have legitimate grievances. I expect some humility towards those who have not been as lucky as you. (And do not tell me it isn’t luck. Do not tell me that you are ten times the writer I am, and it is my lack of merit that has stopped me from getting the Quill, or any number of brilliant writers who haven’t.)
And if you say to critics of moderation, say, “Pretty Please with sugar on top, shut the fuck up. You don’t get a say”, then I want no fellowship with you. Especially when you are not held to the same standard as those critics of moderation, because you’ve made Top Writer five times in a row. (In other words, because you happened to get in early.)
The second class are instablockers. Again, blocking is a useful resource, and I don’t begrudge people using it where appropriately. But putting your hands over your ears and shouting “Quora is not a debate site” may make your stay on Quora more pleasant — but it also makes you a poor citizen. If you block me for merely disagreeing with you about something, then I block you right back, and I want nothing to do with you.
And if my tone was not consistently at the level I aspire it to be, then maybe you blocking me was a fair call. But I still want nothing to do with you.
Like Andrew Baird, who told me to fuck off and stop trolling him and blocked me, when I poked fun at his obsession with saying there was no such thing as a Byzantine Empire, and answering all questions about the Roman Empire so as to include the Byzantine Empire. That’s Humpty-Dumptyism, and it was doing querents a disservice, when they clearly meant the political entity extinguished in 476. I may have poked a little fun, but his reaction was so over the top, I concluded Quora was not the right forum for him. (And indeed, he ended up banned a year later.) If he chose to block my content, that was his loss: it’s not like there were a lot of people writing on Byzantine matters to begin with.
Like Ward Chanley, who gave an answer about common law marriages that was US-centric, and I commented as much. (“That’s a US-centric answer to a US-centric question.”) If that’s grounds for blocking me, well, I don’t think I have that much to learn from you anyway.
I got added to a Facebook group by a user concerned that the Top Writers Lounge group was excluding other writers, and generating disgruntlement among non-Top Writers. A laudable initiative, given how much resentment the group had aroused, and I passed on the invitation.
The group welcomed Top Writers as well as non-Top Writers. Again, laudable, and I do not want to be part of artificially dividing the community, the way Quora Inc already has by setting up Top Writers in the first place.
But of course, the premise of the group was that it was open to non-Top Writers, and that non-Top Writers have concerns that they haven’t been able to discuss off-Quora.
There was one discussion thread about what the criteria for awarding the Quill were. Which showed some of the disgruntlement at play within the community. Then there was one discussion thread (launched by me) about what the criteria were for posting death notices on users’ profiles (see How does Quora decide which deceased members to add the “Remembering” tagline to their profile?) Which showed some more of the disgruntlement at play, because it was divulged that not all users are seen as equally deserving. A Top Writer retorted “But user X was the boyfriend of Top Writer Y and the business partner of Top Writer Z”. Sure. That doesn’t make their death inherently more worth commemorating than non-Top Writer W; and to intimate that it does is pretty damn low.
And after those two discussions, the same Top Writer said that this was not the forum for such negativity, and it should be a place where we celebrate the community we have made with each other. Before an extensive to-and-fro of that Top Writer with another couple of Top Writers, about what good friends they were.
I’m sorry. I thought I was joining a forum where non-Top Writers were going to be made to feel welcome. And said Top Writer was not even the owner of the group. If I wanted to be talked down to by reflexively defensive Top Writers, I’d already be following them on Quora.
I wished the group founder well in his endeavours, and I unjoined. So did La Gigi.
I got added to a Facebook group by a user where people could discuss trolls.
Not my cup of tea, and in fact I’ve been quite fortunate to have had a troll-free existence on Quora; but I accepted. If they put that trust in me as a user, well, I didn’t want to repudiate the gesture.
… Until I saw a post by Ward Chanley.
So what, now I’m going to be on a Facebook group dedicated to deriding trolls — with at least one member who has decided, on the basis of a single anodyne comment, that I’m a troll; and whose name I did not wish to see again?
I wished the group founder well in her endeavours, and I unjoined.
I’ve made friends on Quora, and I wish to stay in touch with them, on Medium or here, or on Facebook. I’ll even join Facebook groups on invitation, though I won’t be seeking those out.
And if I sign out of those groups, because there are people on them I was well contented never to see again, well, please don’t take it amiss.
Originally published at opuculuk.opoudjis.net on September 27, 2017.