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Conduct and harassment policies: what they are and how to enforce them

Edited by dronon, Sonious as of 16:51
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A clip from RainFurrest 2015's Code of ConductThere's a common line of recent social failure states in furry fandom, and in fandom in general. Not having a conduct policy, having a poorly-phrased or contradictory conduct policy, having an unenforceable conduct policy, or failing to evenly or consistently enforce the policy.

Good, enforceable, clearly understandable, and well-published conduct and harassment policies should be everywhere in furry fandom. But what is the best practice that the furry fandom needs to adopt in the face of not only common every-day jerks, but organised groups such as the Furry Raiders and Alt-Furries?

Step One : Have a conduct and harassment policy.

When do you need a conduct and harassment policy? Are you organising an event or social group that allows people from the general public you don't know to come into the event or group? Then you need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a convention? You need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a board gaming meet? You need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a public or semi-public telegram channel? You need a conduct and harassment policy. Organising a website's comment section? You need a conduct and harassment policy.

If you think it's obvious that you shouldn't harass people, then you are not the person the policy is written for. If you have never suffered or seen harassment yourself, then you are not the person the policy is written for. If you have never felt worried about attending somewhere because of who you are, then you are not the person the policy is written for.

Simply having a conduct and harassment policy is in itself is a clear statement that you want your community to be better.

Step Two: Don't overthink your policy.

One common complaint about having or enforcing a conduct and harassment policy is "We can't really define harassment in strict terms and it's too complicated to cover all forms of harassment." This is getting tunnel vision on the process, instead of the intent. And there's a simple end-run around this problem that's really obvious after you realise it.

Define what you want your community to be, and define antagonism to this as bad conduct.

For instance, your gaming group can have a declaration of intent that "All members and guests have the expectation of participating without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or disability, and to be free from harassment and intimidation. All members and guests will not engage in behaviour that will undermine or attack this goal." You can adjust that wording to cover a variety of events and groups.

Generally, the complexity of any conduct and harassment policy is not so much in its wording, but instead is found in how you then go on to handle breaches of the policy. Which leads us to the next step.

Step Three: Enforce the policy in a clear, consistently repeatable, and competent manner.

Work out how you're actually going to enforce the policy. Make this a part of the policy. Make it clear how someone gets reported for breaching the policy, to whom, and what can be expected to happen.
This is going to have the most potential for complexity, depending on your organisation's size and structure. There will be no one-size-fits-all text for this, but there are some good common practices that you should try to include.

Step Three (A) : Have a paper trail.

Record any and all complaints. Even the frivolous-sounding ones. Keep this documentation for a reasonable amount of time; be sure to pay attention to local laws about holding records on people as well prior to doing this.

You want to do this for several reasons. First is that a conduct and harassment policy will just collapse if there's no confidence in it, if people think that their reports will be ignored. Second, is that it allows you to see potential patterns of behaviour, which can allow for much clearer decision-making. Third is that you do not want to play a game of telephone down a long verbal reporting chain, with each step rephrasing the complaint in a different way.

Step Three (B): Have at least one nominated person who is in charge of it.

Yes, it should be the responsibility of everyone. However, to keep things organized, it would be beneficial to have these cases be the responsibility of a named person who can specialize in these situations. This can help reinforce the policy to have a person dedicated to ensure it is working.

Step Three (C): Don't invite debate and rules lawyering.

Do not try to hold yourself up to the standards of a criminal court. You will find this to be counter-productive to the idea of actually enforcing the standards of a conduct and harassment policy. This is because the principles of criminal courts are that of allowing someone a huge amount of "reasonable doubt". Someone who is antagonistic to the idea of a conduct and harassment policy, such as the Furry Raiders and Alt-Furries, will do everything they can to subvert enforcement of it. They will take any potential loopholes available to them. Instead, make decisions on the balance of evidence, the impact towards your community, and someone's history.

As an example of potential rules lawyering and loophole abuse, consider how to handle someone who harasses other members when they are entering, leaving, or nearby the premises of your event. Avoid tying your hands by ignoring this conduct because it didn't take place on the premises.

The one exception I do recommend is that responsible persons should always disqualify themselves from any situation involving spouses, close friends and relatives, or business partners.

Step Four: Make sure you make the policy very well-known.

Don't just bury it on your website, merely having a conduct policy is not good enough in itself. Make sure it's utterly implausible that someone could claim not to know you have a conduct and harassment policy. Put it in your publications, have signs, remind people about it at the opening event.

Step Five: Actually mean it.

The most important part of a conduct and harassment policy is you actually have to mean it. My feeling toward anyone who thinks you don't need a conduct or harassment policy at your fandom event, is that the fandom probably doesn't need your event.

Editor Addendum: Lessons of other conduct fights in other fandoms (by Dronon)

In considering how the furry fandom deals with these problems it is important to note that the furry fandom is not alone in hashing out rules to have more welcoming communities free from these issues. Over the last ten years, science-fiction, gaming, and cosplay fandoms have all been trying to improve their convention rules and policies. This has become more challenging due to toxic backlash movements such as Gamergate, the Sad Puppies, and denouncers of "SJWs". Some conventions have made bold statements. Others, like WisCon and ReaderCon, are thought to have failed in how they initially handled incidents. On the positive side, there are many conventions outside our fandom to which we can look for examples to help shape our own policies.


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Perhaps if SJWs weren't so keen to define everything that displeased them as "harassment", it wouldn't be so endemic.

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I've seen plenty of harassment where the person doing the harassing said they were just giving their opinions or critique and not harassing, so...

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Maybe they were. And maybe they weren't. As the kangaroo notes below, it's not always easy to judge intent.

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I have to ask, who are the people who are defining everything that displeases them as "harassment?"

This accusation gets thrown out a lot and I find it kind of silly because the persons who are allegedly doing this are almost never named. Instead, this is almost always used to group together everyone on one or the other side of a debate into a straw man. I think any time you are raising this type of claim you ought to name the people who are defining everything that displeases them as harassment. That way, we can identify those who are abusing the system and deal with them. When you instead simply assert that there is this broad group of people who are engaging in such misbehavior, it is no better than those who throw around similar labels from the other direction.

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There's a rub to that, naming names of someone who accused you of harassment can be used as evidence against you that you are committing harassment against them.

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I and many others would like an opportunity to confront these individuals who are making false claims and abusing conduct policies. However when someone makes a general claim that it is happening and wnot tell us who or what exactly the abusers are doing, it becomes a boy who cried wolf situation at best. At worst the person starts to losee all credibility. I do understand how some people get crazy if you call them out for bad behavior but not naming them and then throwing around blanket statements only empowers the bad actors while casting aspersions on innocents.

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So true to the point as a devote Christian where praying over my food, or having an opinion that expressed outside could be considered harassment because it make one uncomfortable but it is not harassment unless malicious intently directed at the person. Thus a person reading the bible, telling an off color joke, five or gays showing affection is not harassment because it not directed at a single person a group. There a lot in the fandom that make me uncomfortable but I do not believe the con should ban a single person be it Foxler Miller or 2 the ranting Gryphon.

Yet I have no qualms if one want to make a con free family fetishes and pornography i.e. a family friendly con, I would not have a problem as long it applied across the board; if one want to make a 21+ adult material con, I may speak my opinion but I will not attend.

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What convention was 2 Gryphon banned from?

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Supposedly anthrocon.

and I have to disagree with everything Acton just said, especially banning Foxler and 2.

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2 was not banned from Anthrocon. He chose not to attend.

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The board removed his planned shows.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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...which is why he chose not to attend.

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It didn't sound like you were aware of it.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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No, you just fail at subtext. "What convention was 2 Gryphon banned from?" the intent of that statement was pretty obvious to me, oblivious to you.

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I'm sorry.

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As I understood it, 2 submitted one or more ideas for performances (featuring himself) to Anthrocon's programming; they declined them; and 2 decided not to attend the convention. That's not being banned from the convention.

I was on the committees for the 1972, 1984, and 1996 World Science Fiction Conventions (all in Los Angeles). Our Programming department planned lots of program events; had lots suggested to us; and got lots of volunteers to present something or to appear on a panel. We accepted some and declined others; but none of the people whose proposals were declined were banned from attending the convention.

That is what happened between 2 and Anthrocon.

Fred Patten

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Yup. And I mean, I can't really blame him for deciding not to go, he's been performing at Anthrocon for how long now? That's a blow no matter who you are. But he was not banned from attending nor discouraged from doing so by the Board.

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Heck, I was refused a dealer's den table over Flayrah, and I went. Got a neat sketch, too.

I can see how he might not have wanted to given the very public circumstances, though.

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"Over Flayrah"? You can't just say that and not give details!

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A long time ago, in a comment thread far away . . .

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"the discomfort of our organization with your personal news media focus on our convention in the past, and concern over your personal news media focus in the future."

Business-speak for "we are butthurt pussies".

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To be fair. Cross and I had a panel on Nonfiction writing at Anthrocon this year. So time is healing that particular wound

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The "wound" was only on one side, and in their butt.

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I like to think that Fursonas might have reset their understanding of what counts as a personal news media focus.

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Flyer worked, I`m still reading lol

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That's not exactly what I heard. My memory's a little fuzzy because it was a while ago now but the statement from Anthrocon themselves which 2 read aloud on one of his vlogs sounded like a crock of shit. But the problem is, furries have this really bad habit of sounding like they're full of it even when they're not any time they try to copy "business speak" because 1. they're copying a rhetorical style they're usually not that well-versed in and 2. the style is inherently designed to mislead.

The story that was going around, and I tried my best to take it with a grain of salt but that's hard because I could see this being painfully true of furries, is they (incorrectly) assumed he had alt-right leanings and/or was a Nazi sympathizer because of some depictions of 2 as a Nazi from years ago, back when you could be called a Nazi just for being extremely opinionated and authoritative and pissing people off. You know, before the Alt-right was a thing people had to make it a point to dissociate themselves from.

So these people were offended by that and other things 2 had said in his comedy routines and rants and lobbied to get him removed from anything to do with being on stage at Anthrocon, even things where he was just going to sorta be just there, not the focal point of the set.

My only problem with any of this is that 2 has lied in the past. Not always to make himself look better, sometimes with his heart in the right place, maybe not even realizing what he's doing. But those times, it's seemed blatantly obvious to me (one thing about vlogging is tone of voice and body language can make it obvious unless you're a really good actor and 2 is definitely not) and I wasn't totally buying what he was portraying that time.

The problem is people are almost never totally honest the moment money and reputations are on the line. Not even when it would be in their absolute best interests.

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I have read quite a bit of 2's Twitter feed and watched a couple of his videos. From his Twitter feed I have noticed that he appears to be at best very intellectually dishonest. He routinely throws out claims and accusations that, after they are debunked, he then refuses to retract or pretends he never said. Through all my review of his Twitter I never once saw him admit to being wrong about anything or apologize for anything.

He is enabled to some degree by his many followers who immediately leap to his defense no matter what he says or does.

As for his videos, I haven't watched all but some. He does have a clever style to him and he knows how to satirize effectively. I understand his popularity with some of the fandom. I get what he is doing, but I personally find a lot of his ideas repugnant and in some cases despicable.

The thing is, his brand of humor is not meant for me. He knows that too and he wouldn't apologize for it if asked. Glad he's not allowed to perform at AC anymore and if he is performing at any other con I attend I will steer clear of his show.

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Pretty much no one thinks before they speak or admits when they're wrong. Partly because to do so is just to invite more shit. It's one of the ironic quirks of a culture that's addicted to contrition and attrition at the same time. We like confessional sob stories to invite pity (which part of me thinks is what's probably at the heart of 2's videos where he's been attempting to quit alcohol) but we don't really believe a person can be redeemed or forgiven. 2 is really no worse than anyone else. He's just an easy target because he's in the public eye (by furry standards anyway).

There's been far more acidic comedians who have said far worse and made infinitely more money while being complete fuck ups off stage with seemingly no consequences. So it's hard for me to see 2 as a villain to nearly the same extent some people do.

You're damn right he wouldn't apologize to you. It'd give you a satisfaction that you probably don't deserve and which probably doesn't exactly come from as morally pure a place as you think.

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You're right that very few people apologize on the internet or show contrition. And you are also right that 2 is not the worst. I have seen that he has posted videos about his efforts to overcome alcohol and that is comendable. That being said, words have meaning. He could have redemption if he wanted it but he simply doesn't want it. He has too much pride.

Yes, there are shit people on the internet who will try to stop someone from redeeming themselves but those people are not in the majority. Most are willing to accept it. I have seen it work it is a very powerful thing. But the person has to want it. He doesn't want it.

He has put out videos that have demeaned me and people like me. Do you expect me to cheer that on? I have no choice but to react negatively to him, and his position thus far has been to embrace that negativity. He feeds off it, and uses it to satisfy his audience. Again, what would you have me do?

All I can do in good conscience is not support him or his shows. If someday he decides to become a changed man I could get behind that. But until then I don't want to have anything to do with him.

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So it's 100% personal for you. I should've guessed. Do tell, how did he demean you?

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I wouldn't say personal in the sense that we have personally interacted, because we havent. I've watched his videos where he goes on lengthy rants about racial issues, and he tends to portray people like me in a negative light, to be kind. He also seems fond of claiming that guys like him are the real target of discrimination. I don't know if he really believes that stuff, but he knows who his audience is and that he's going to get a pass for that stuff.

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2, his supporters and the Furry Raiders all portrayed it as him being banned.

Of course, people should, and do, know the difference.

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Nah, 2 never implied he was banned. He just didn't try to hide how rejected he felt. Which to his credit is at least a lot more honest than a lot of people would be about it. Also, I doubt 2 exactly wanted people like Foxler portraying themselves as being in the same boat with him.

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I'd suggest looking up his "live from Germany" DVD cover and his late stance on antifa and all that. far as i'm concerned he's as bad as foxler.

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Not the fucking DVD cover again. Once again, that was years ago and had nothing to do with an actual political stance. God damn it, Godwin's Law made it almost a meme to ironically portray one's self as a Nazi. And as for Antifa, maybe there's a reason a lot of people are against them. Because they think they hurt their cause more than help it.

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You can't hurt a "fascism is wrong" cause. that's ridiculous.


This is the creator of Godwin's law:

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(this wasn't meant to be a reply ><)

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Which was well within their rights as a private entity and as already stated, none of this prevented him from attending. What's your bloody point?

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very Orwellian of you, he was banned for performing even-through space was available.

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Yeah, space he wasn't entitled to was available; they gave it to another comedian.

"Orwellian"...I'd tell you to stop using words if you don't know what they mean, but I think you wouldn't be able to say anything at all.

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If we didn't have people feel a need to wear the flag of treasonous losers and totalitarian regimes, we wouldn't need conduct and harassment policies.

This was a good and well written article.

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We'd still need them, but if people weren't assholes, we'd need less of them.

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You mean "If people weren't human"? Because as long people are human, posses any motivation or desire, they will behave in all sorts of ways that you might disagree with, or dislike. That's why commie-like Utopia will never work; well, not without authoritarianism and murder, and even then it still fails.

And btw, unrelated to your post, Gamergate wasn't about harassment. FBI cleared them as well. Cheers!

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the FBI didn't get involved with gamergate.

and oh yeah, it was TOTALLY (not) about ethics in journalism. yep. totally

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Clearly the solution is to replace all humans with not-too-anthropomorphic animals.

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Organising a website's comment section? You need a conduct and harassment policy.

Shots fired!

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Oh, I agree inasmuch as it helps for there to be standards; understood by the community, and consistently enforced.
For example, letting through some spam comments might be controversial. [Jury's still out on Fred's book mentions.]

But it's very easy to end up with a place where people feel threatened by the rules, just as they might by their lack. The more areas your policy impacts, the harder it is to police it consistently, especially over a large community. Meanwhile, a place with no rules, and no structures for the community to police itself, tends to devolve into warring factions.

It's crucial to understand that it's OK to have places where certain groups or individuals – perhaps even the majority – are uncomfortable. It's also OK to have "safe spaces" where comfort is the most important thing. Neither of these places has an inherent right to be the most popular place in a community – and frankly, neither of them are likely to be, because by definition they both appeal to extremists.

[It makes little sense to try to eliminate these kinds of social spaces; in almost all cases, the people who're using them were already in your community; and they won't just leave if the venue closes. They'll end up spending more time at the more moderate sites/events; probably the last thing you want if you'd like them to stay moderate and free of disputes. It's also likely that another such site/event will spring up to serve the market anyway. They're more a symptom then a cause; like furry cons were to the wider sci-fi community.]

Also worth discussing is the need to define what is not harassment; what is not intimidation. There has to be a clear understanding, at least on the staff side and ideally in general, of what is allowed. Otherwise, there will be people trying to use your policy to exclude individuals and groups they just don't agree with… while others are intimidated into not speaking or acting even if it would be allowed.

Several recent pieces have had a general thrust of "it's OK to make a minority unhappy if doing so benefits the majority". But that works both ways; it can also be right to say "no, that's not an offence, even if you're offended", or "no, that's not a threat, even if you feel threatened". If people say they're going to leave unless you change your community, be sure to keep the door open for them.

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"it can also be right to say "no, that's not an offence, even if you're offended", or "no, that's not a threat, even if you feel threatened""


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Onora O'Neill has a good explanation of the first. As for the second, Elonis v. United States shows it's not enough (in the USA) for a reasonable person to feel threatened by a communication; true threats require mens rea.

In some cases, recklessness may be considered evidence of guilt. But if it is, it requires consideration of the venue. Posting something in your gallery, or in an a general forum in a way that it might reasonably be avoided by the sensitive, may be judged differently to a PM, or posting in a forum dedicated to a group who may feel threatened.

The key take-away is that an individual's feelings are not the ultimate arbiter of whether a crime has been committed, either for the purported victim or the accused. The views of the wider community are relevant. The bar for recklessness can also be quite high.

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I recall one time of being accused of harassment on FurAffinity by one user when I thought we were just having a harmless debate. At the time, having the 'h' word tossed my way did catch me off guard and did make me frustrated. I mean, harassment is a literal crime and such crimes have intent behind them, which I had none of the sort.

However, at the end of the day, some people can't handle debate and you know what, some people just want to live their life without having to justify every thought they have. And to me, that's fair enough.

In hind sight I feel it this way, if debating someone caused them to use the harassment word in order to try and give themselves comfort, then they're not worth debating in the first place and its best not to waste your time further with them. Let them contribute to the community though their art and other such abilities. Not everyone's a politician and wants to discuss everything ad naseum, and sometimes that is actually a good thing.

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Some people define harassment as any unwanted contact. Depending on the circumstances I wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibility you just couldn't take a hint that this person didn't give a crap about whatever "debate" you were trying to rope them into.

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No, I get it in hindsight (this happened 6 years ago), but to me harassment is a criminal act. It'd be like someone accused you of shoplifting because you picked an item up off the shelf and were looking at it while glancing at the competing objects. I'm sure you'd be quite annoyed if someone did that.

Which is why customer service reps, instead of walking up to you and going "Better not steal that", instead they say: "Can I help you find something?". When they are either bored and have nothing better to do, or you look suspicious to them and would like you to find the thing you were looking for instead of looking like you're going to clean their house. Remind you you're being watched as it were. I know this because I was trained as a cashier in a grocery store and the "Can I help you?" method of approaching an individual that looks like they are going to shop lift is one of the things they teach.

What I'm saying is we need to learn to better use language without escalating, such as: "I'm not interested in debating with you and would request you leave me alone, thanks." Instead of: "You're harassing me." out of no where, especially in public because then they could be committing defamation/libel (depending on forum) since they are accusing you of criminal intent publicly. Of course, filing lawsuits against such accusations is not going to help your case in that you're not a harassing prick, so not advisable.

But in the end, as I said, it's best to let them be, they're probably dealing with other stressors and such and they have the right to their opinions, and to maintain their space.

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I've been accused of shoplifting more times than I can even recall, and the "can I help you" routine is so fucking obvious and I've seen through it for so long, it's at the point I assume that's the intent even when for all I know it might be a sincere question. Since this is pretty close to actual harassment which I deal with so much part of me has come to just accept it as normal, it's a pretty bad example.

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Actually it makes it a perfect example. If a false accusation is considered harassing, then what does a false accusation of harassment become?

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I have sometimes said or implied in a book review that this is an inept story, not worth reading. I have never made such comments at a convention. And a book review is openly just the reviewer's opinion. I have been accused of hypocrisy in criticizing a novel or short story because I can't write fiction at all myself, or because it's an adult erotic book and I've supposedly admitted that I don't like anything on that theme. (Read my reviews of Kyell Gold's work for examples to the contrary.) I don't feel that by such criticisms I have been attacking or harassing their authors.

Fred Patten

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It's not a terrible article but it would be a lot better if you gave an example of what you would consider harassment, or linked to a site/convention with what you consider a good harassment policy. The closest you get is an example statement of what a community might want which is "free from harassment" but that still never defines what harassment is.

Sonius' example shows that accusations of harassment can come out of nowhere. Summercat's example shows you need a lot more detail since it would be difficult to say that commenting on works that are available for comment is harassment. Harassment generally has to be repeated unwanted contact over a period of time. For websites, you should have the ability to block other users and that should be the first step. If a blocked user is circumventing that then its easy to say harassment. If someone doesn't block the supposedly harassing user then calling harassment is a bit less convincing.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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" Summercat's example shows you need a lot more detail since it would be difficult to say that commenting on works that are available for comment is harassment. "

I suspect you misunderstood. I was not refering to legitimate comments or behavior, or even "this sucks" types of comments. Instead I was talking about actual harassment issues. The defense offered of "commenting on places that are available for comment" was rejected, because the intent was to rile people up and harass them.

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I got that, that's why I say you often more detail on a situation. Because it certainly can be that someone will use comments to harass someone but you need to see the content of the comments to really judge that. You can't say that commenting on everyone of a person's submissions is harassment, for example. People can also rile up others without even meaning to, so that alone doesn't work as a good criteria either. Ideally, there should be the option to block that person from posting which solves the problem without getting moderators involved and then, if the person circumvents that block to continue, harassment is far more clear cut.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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I think the Sad Pups are way off base, but I can't really muster much outrage when they're making a mockery of a process that needed significant overhauling anyway - at least in my view. I may be in the minority, but when Graveyard Book beat Anathem, Saturn's Children, and Little Brother, I lost confidence in it. Graveyard Book was fun, but I have difficulty seeing it competing as a novel. Then again, I remember laughing when they had to add a YA category to keep Harry Potter from beating all those hard SF novels, so swings and roundabouts.

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