Regarding activities about social issues
May 2, 2023
This has become the most disputed issue on the site recently, so I thought that I need to step in and clarify what the site's policies are.
To give some background, an activity was posted last week regarding the modern issue of gender identity. The larger topic of gender identity and how it relates to language has become one of the most heated and debated topics in the English-speaking world. Like other modern issues, I think the nature of advertising-based media has fostered intense polarization and made the debate difficult to engage in without the participants getting extremely angry.
I never intended ALTopedia to be the place where people debate this issue, but I suppose it was eventually going to come to the site at some point.
The activity represents a viewpoint that is generally not represented often in younger, education-related online spaces in that it disagrees with the concept of gender identities. I discussed the activity with the user and they're sincere in their beliefs, which they believe aren't yet represented in the material that has already been posted to the site. From their perspective, they disagree with the existing activities on the site regarding gender identity and pronouns and wanted to post an activity that engaged in the debate from their perspective.
I should probably mention here that I see a lot of comments in the moderation queue on pronoun-related activities that are extremely critical of them, but I haven't let any through yet because they don't contain positive or productive feedback, which is the rule that I've set for comments. But I think it's safe to say that there's a range of opinion on this issue among the users of the site.
This new activity has attracted a lot of comments, both positive and negative, but I haven't let most of them through since they're either incendiary or dismissive in a way that I wouldn't allow on any other activity.
I'll be upfront and say that I don't plan on removing this activity, because:
- I don't exercise editorial control over users' activities, and I don't give that editorial control to anyone else. If people thought that their activities could be modified in ways that they didn't agree with, there wouldn't be nearly as much material on the site as there is now. It's one thing to post something and have someone else make their own version of it, but altering or removing an original activity is like putting words in someone's mouth, and nobody's happy with that.
- I cannot claim that the site is neutral on the issue if I only allow one side of it to be presented.
- It's always been a tenet of the site that nobody is required to use an activity. I'm sure everyone who's used the site has come across activities that they wouldn't use, but there are almost 3000 activities now, so there are almost certainly other options.
- My email discussion with the user indicated that they were sincere and felt like it was important to be able to speak their mind on this issue. They pointed out that other users had already been doing the same with their activities.
Removing it because of the volume of negative comments, or because it stands on the opposite side of other peoples' beliefs on this issue would set a precedent that I don't think the site could ever recover from. If I did it this time, it would become a cudgel for other people to wield on this issue or other issues, and it would lead to endless fighting.
I'm going to draft up new guidelines and rules for comments and activity submission soon. My intent isn't to retroactively apply new rules or prevent similar activities from being posted in the future, but I suppose that the size of the site now will necessitate clearer guidelines on what's acceptable and what isn't. I'll also build in functionality to freeze comments on an activity that is attracting too many contentious comments.
There's no decision here that will make everyone happy, but I'm trying to operate the site in a way that gives teachers the most latitude in what they can use in their classes.
I'm using the new comments freeze feature (which still needs a little more work) to freeze comments on this post and on the activity, since they've turned into people just arguing with each other. I'll build more features like this as they become necessary, as unfortunate a use of my time as it is.