Saturday, April 9, 2011

Infrastructure: Thump

Once it was acknowledged that the wiki's forums required moderation, inevitably, a tool had to be created short of banning to censure people. This tool is the thump. The name is another one of those metaphor things- when they first started out the line was something like "this post has been thumped by the stick of off-topic thumping". So, a moderator would take out a stick, and thump the offending post away.

When thumping first appeared the main reaction people had was what exactly a "thump" was. The infrastructure arrived rather unceremoniously and without explanation- at least anywhere that most forumites would see it. Once the thump was explained, everyone pretty much went on their merry way. The reasoning made sense enough- pretty much every forum has some means of penalizing its users for engaging in untoward behavior.

The main unique aspect of the thump is how it goes about its task. When a post is thumped, every trace of the original text that provoked the thump is similarly excised. Most forums, to the best of my knowledge, don't go this far unless an individual has engaged in behavior so outrageous that simply allowing anyone to read this person's writing would accomplish her purpose- she's only writing inflammatory material in the first place in the hopes that someone will read and preferably overreact to it.

The first usages of thumping were not for these extreme scenarios. Some of these posts certainly crossed some line (otherwise they would not have been thumped), but without the original context the nature of the offense is a mystery. These conversations didn't have any apparent escalation. Someone would be making an innocuous comment and then the next post would be a thump. The confusion would be confounded when strings of thumps appeared- evidently there was an entire conversation about something, who knows what, that was deserving of serious infraction.

The strange thing about all this light-heartedness is mainly how we could all be so blase about it in retrospect. When the thumps first started out, they were generally at least predictable. I recall a minor conversation derail when I asked another troper why she was concerned about the sexiness of her socks when she was already married- I was fishing for a humorous rejoinder. Once she posted her bit of comedy a moderator appeared, and rather than actually thumping these posts, simply made a post in parentheses about the strong temptation to thump this obviously off-topic derail. This was about as tongue-in-cheek as the derail itself, though we knew the moderator meant it.

Thumping bears a great deal of similarity psychologically with purges. While there are perfectly valid reasons for the tool to exist, for it to exist in this form belies an essential assumption- that there is simply some content which people do not need to be able to see. How this determination is made is a subjective one determined by the moderators. Indeed, from the very beginning, it was obvious to those who had observed thumps that the text could be modified in such a manner as to explicitly state whatever behavior it was that had resulted in the thump- but I recall few instances where this editorial discretion was exercised.

However, like most posters who observed the first thumpings, I was generally unconcerned. The practice, did, admittedly, seem a little strange to me since there was no obvious way for a person to tell what exactly they had done to warrant a thumping. At the same time, it wasn't an especially awful thing for a person to be thumped. Most people guessed from the context of the initial thumps that they were just infractions for off-topic conversations, and these could be easily avoided. If anyone really wanted to discuss the thumped material they could start another topic. But most significantly for me, the thump was seldom exercised in Trope Repair Shop, which was the only forum that I was really worried about being censored anyway. Trope Repair Shop topics were too single-minded to have much off-topic conversation- however, the more salient point that I came to realize was that Trope Repair Shop topics lacked the urgency for thumping to even be necessary in the first place.

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