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A guide to civil conversation

Last changed: 4th October 2021

0. Preamble

0.1. An introduction

Following this short author’s note is a long and detailed ruleset. It certainly is opinionated and represents the author’s view on how a community should function and be moderated. In no way is it perfect, complete, objectively good, or anything close to that. Yet, it’d bring me great joy if it contributes to better discussion culture, or saves moderators of communities some work. One of the intents behind this is to replace the “use common sense” rule. There is no clear definition of common sense. This gives concise and general guidelines that could all be considered common sense or etiquette.

0.2. License

This piece of work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) by Ravy ([email protected]).
You can find more about the license here.
More information about why is available in the postscript at PS.2.

I. General Definitions

I.1. Wording Definitions

Shall
This word (also “required”, “must”), in any context and word case, implies something that has to be followed under any circumstance. No exceptions are to be made.

Shall not
This word (also “must not / mustn’t”), in any context and word case, implies something that has to be never done under any circumstances. No exceptions are to be made.

Should
This word (also “recommended”, “ought”), in any context and word case, implies something that might be ignored in specific circumstances, given there is valid reasons or particular and justifiable circumstances. Before that, the following implications should be inspected, understood, and weighed against each other. When in doubt, the underlying rule should always be followed rather than not.

Should not
This word (also “not recommended”, “shouldn’t”), in any context and word case, implies something that, if possible, has to be avoided. Said rule is possible to be ignored in specific circumstances, given there is valid reasons or particular and justifiable circumstances. Before that, the following implications should be inspected, understood, and weighed against each other. When in doubt, the underlying rule should always be followed rather than not.

May
This word (also “optional”, “optionally”), in any context and word case, implies something that is truly just a general guideline. There is no need to follow a rule or action defined by this. Following said rule makes no difference in the validity of the action.

I.2. Abstract Definitions

Community
A community (“communities”, “server”, “guild”, “servers”, “guilds”) shall be defined as a collection of channels in which users can communicate with each other.

User
A user (“users”) shall be defined as a communicator or account run by a communicator or an automated system that partakes in communication.

Member
A member (“members”) shall be defined as a user in a community.

Channel
A channel (“channels”) shall be defined as a place of communication where messages can be exchanged.

Message
A message (“messages”) shall be defined as a singular entity containing communication between two or more users.

Moderator
A moderator (“moderators”, “mod”, “mods”) shall be defined as a community member with elevated permissions to guide and influence conversation.

I.2.a Discord-specific Definitions

Snowflake
A snowflake (“snowflake”, “ID”, “IDs”) shall be defined as an integer used in Discord’s API to uniquely identify an object.

Community, Server
A Discord guild (“guild”, “Discord server”, “server”, “guilds”, “servers”) shall be defined as the common object that is to be found either in the client as “servers” (when using the “Join Server” or “Create Server” buttons, as well as when selecting one from the server pane which is located on the left side of the official client), or in the API under the GET /guilds/:id path.

Member
A subset of the guild object definable by the following identifiers shall be defined as members (“member”, “guild member”). In the official client, those are to be found on the right side, if the member list is toggled while having a guild selected. They are to be found on the /members/:id subpath of the guilds API.

User
A user shall be defined as any account on the Discord platform whose data can be obtained via the GET /users/:id path of the API.

Channel
A channel (“channels”) shall be any place in Discord where information can be transmitted. Be it verbally or in written form. These are to be found under the GET /channels/:id path in the API.

Message
A message shall be defined as any content shared by a user in a text-based channel that shares the same channel id, as well as the same ID for the /messages/:id subpath of its channel.

II. General Guidelines

II.1. Violations

(i) Inciting a violation
If a user incites or encourages violating the following guidelines, they shall be punished to the extent of the rule they encouraged others to violate.

(ii) Attempts of a violation
An attempt to violate any of the following guidelines should be punished to the same extent as a successful violation.

(iii) Scope of a violation
The following and previous guidelines apply to any aspect of your community membership. This includes text messages, voice communication, profile cards, and any other visible, invisible, direct, or implied item linked to the community.

II.2. Fallback

(i) Think about your own actions
As a rule of thumb, “Act in such a way that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a principle of a universal legislation.” (Kant, Critique of Practical Reason)
The previous rule must only be interpreted and used as a deciding factor when there is no other rule covering the subject.

(ii) Think about others
Always consider other people in the community. Think about how your words and actions might affect them, and have empathy toward them.

(iii) Think about the community
If faced with a difficult decision, decide on what is best for the community. If theres’s something that will negatively impact the community, you should decide against it.

II.3. Being part of a community

(i) Be fair
You should gracefully accept constructive criticism and you should not criticize anyone in a hateful or (purely) personal way (e.g. ad personam or ad hominem). This includes staff members. Even though staff decisions are not perfect, you must abide by them until ruled otherwise. You may exert any constructive criticism on a staff member’s decision after complying with it. Said staff member should not leave the criticism unevaluated, given it is valid and constructive. If you believe the decision was made in bad faith, refer to section IV.1. (iii).

(ii) Be thoughtful
You shall not intent to make any other user feel unwelcomed or uncomfortable in the community. If you’re unsure whether something you’ll be doing will negatively impact someone, you should refrain from it. You must refrain from any behavior that is socially unacceptable, hateful, toxic, harassing, racist, sexist, or discriminating in any other way. You should avoid topics that could fuel such behavior, such as religious or political discussions.

(iii) Be patient
A lot of people might have trouble partaking in a community. Be that missing knowledge of it, language barrier, or any other factors that limit or hinder them. You must at all times stay welcoming, instead of gatekeeping and destructive.

(iv) Be respectful
Interpret the arguments of others in good faith, you must not simply seek to disagree. You shall respect the different viewpoints and experiences of others and should be empathetic toward them. Everyone matters just as much, you should not show disrespect to any members of the community or outsiders, competitors, partners, or even other communities.

(v) Be welcoming
You must use language that’s neutral and inclusive of all members in the community, as well as free of any hatred.

(vi) Be positive
You shall not actively seek out argument and disdain. Trolling can be fun and enjoyable, yet you must not troll in an attempt to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Toward others, you should start with a positive attitude.

(vii) Be honest
a. Under no circumstances must you lie or give untruthful statements about others or yourself. You shall not unfairly influence public opinion on a person, community, entity, or topic or suggest to do so.
b. Further, you must not accuse anyone with unbackable claims or give wrong feedback to or about someone. You shall especially not defame, libel, or slander someone.
c. You shall not impersonate or misrepresent anyone.

II.4. Integrity

(i) Do not abuse automated systems
You must not and must not allow someone to reverse engineer, disrupt, or interfere with any automated systems in place to support the community. You must also refrain from misusing places built for feedback, suggestions, or support.

(ii) Do not circumvent security mechanisms
You must not and must not allow someone to reverse engineer, disrupt, interfere with, circumvent, bypass, or exploit any security mechanism in place to keep the community safe or moderated.

(iii) Do not put yourself in the spotlight
You shall refrain from actions that are meant to fuel your desire for attention at the cost of disturbing others. This includes tasks such as hoisting or unmentionable nicknames.

III. Conversational Guidelines

(i) Disruptive content
You should refrain from posting low quality or meaningless content. Examples of this are the use of spoiler tags where none are needed, bye-messages, dead-chat-proclamations, dotposting, or posting in a language not widely spoken across members of the conversation and moderation. You must not participate in or organize raids.

(ii) Misleading content
You shall not, at any point, post content whose purpose or side effect it is to mislead or scam users.

(iii) Inappropriate content
You shall not post content that is negatively shocking, sexually explicit, or otherwise not safe for work (except in zones marked explicitly for that purpose), offending, irritating, or otherwise hurtful. You should avoid cursing whenever possible.

(iv) Irrelevant content
Most chatrooms, spaces, subcommunities, or whatever sections of communication are marked to have a topic. You should stay on that topic at any time. You also shouldn’t interrupt an ongoing conversation for the sake of bringing your topic into it to the disdain of the previous participants.

(v) Unpleasant content
a. You should not necropost, minimod, spoil, or generally ruin or impair fun and enjoyment for other members.
b. You should not inquire for or suggest a moderative rank in the community unless via an official form.
c. You must not use the community to advertise, share referrals, share or promote revenue producing links or codes, or promote external communities or competitors, unless explicitly asked to do so in the natural flow of conversation without your prior mention.
d. You should not use the community to inquire for anything of personal gain unless explicitly asked to do so in the natural flow of conversation without your prior mention.
e. You should reserve mentioning users or otherwise increasing the notification priority of a message for relevant or urgent circumstances.

(vi) Controversial content
Non ad-hoc discussions about intrinsically subjective preferences should be avoided. This includes discussions about the superiority of different manufacturers, companies, political motivations, religious guidelines, products, people or concepts, as well as the quality of the beforementioned entities. Any massive and not objectively solvable disagreements, as well as personal and community-based drama, should be resolved directly and outside of the community.

(vii) Confidential content
You should keep anything that happens inside the community or limited group of conversation participants private to said community or conversation participants. You shall not produce unauthorized records of any conversation. On the other hand, you shall not post any confidential or private information regarding a user, group, community, or other entity without their explicit or strongly implied agreement.

(viii) Hateful content
You must refrain from sharing content whose purpose it is to negatively shock, insult, belittle, or spread hate toward a specific person or a group of people.

(ix) Harmful content
a. You must not, in any situation, at any point in time, under any condition, post content that promotes, glorifies, or justifies rape, sexual harassment, gore, abuse, self-harm, or suicide or could easily be interpreted as such.
b. Further, you must not make any threats whatsoever to any user, especially not of the aforementioned topics.

IV. Operational Guidelines

IV.1. Handling moderative actions

(i) Discussing actions
You shall not discuss or argue about current or past moderative actions, outside of dedicated channels for doing so.

(ii) Dissociation of action and actor
You shall not, under any circumstance, attack, harass, slander, insult, or offend a moderator of a community based on their moderative activity.

(iii) Moderative integrity
As a moderator, you shall act faithful to the rules, but if necessary for the best interest of the community. In cases where the decision to be made is not clear or possibly subjective, you must either decide on favor of the user or request an arbitration. If there is no arbitration committee in place, a third-party opinion by a moderator may replace that process.

IV.2. Arbitration process

(i) Arbitration necessity
An arbitration committee is an optional but recommended process to solve unclear disputes.

(ii) Arbitration committee
Actor of any arbitration actions shall be the arbitration committee. A group of well-known and respected members of a community that are trusted to decide difficult disputes in favor of the community as a whole.

(iii) Arbitration requirements
To request a decision from the arbitration committee, both parties in a dispute must agree that the subject matter cannot be easily solved by objective interpretation of the rules. The subject matter must also be relevant and abstract enough that a general decision is possible.

(iv) Arbitration
Upon a request for arbitration, the arbitration committee shall decide on the action to take based on the subject matter. While both involved parties can make suggestions, the arbitration committee does not have to adhere to either sides request.

(v) Future relevance
A decision made by the arbitration committee is immediately binding and valid for all future similar cases.

(vi) Request for reevaluation
If any party in a similar case (not the same case the request for arbitration was issued) has good faith to believe that the decision made by the arbitration committee does not apply, is inaccurate, or is invalid, they may issue an additional request for arbitration on that subject matter.

Postscript

PS.1. Inspiration

Of course, this document didn’t come out of thin air.
The contents of this are derived from rulesets I’ve written in the past, from rulesets others have written in the past, from what I had in my hand while writing it, or what was on my mind before writing it. I’ve written Terms of Service and rulesets in the past and wanted to make this somewhat of a bigger and general successor to those rulesets, based on my previous work experience in the field.
Section I.1. is inspired by and adapted to the IETF’s RFC2119.
A lot of great rules originate from the Discord Gophers’ and the RiceTeaCatPanda CTF’s respective Codes of Conduct. The arbitration process is inspired by the RfA and Arbitration Committee on Wikipedia.

PS.2. More about the license

While it might seem trivial to copy parts of this and just use them for your ruleset without credit, a lot of work went into this and I would appreciate you playing fair.
If you’re not sure on how to properly credit me, or which usage rights and conditions this license grants, feel free to reach out at [email protected]

Why did you choose such a strict license?
I find it easiest to start with something strict and go more open if I feel confident people are happily using it. If you’re someone that really e.g. wants to do a modification, feel free to reach out to me at the above email and we can talk about an exclusive license grant.

Exception for contributors
The only exception to the above license is making direct contributions to this work. By this, I mean you reproducing and modifying the document in an attempt to improve it in a meaningful way (e.g. by forking it on GitHub and then opening a Pull Request). Doing so results in an exception from the NoDerivatives clause in the license, allowing you to make modifications for the sole purpose of improving this work. Please still contact me beforehand to make sure there aren’t any issues.

PS.3. A summary of the rules

Especially on Discord, there’s sometimes places where you don’t want to put the whole ruleset. For this purpose, you can find a summary below:

  1. Be fair, don’t act in bad faith towards others, and don’t seek to disagree.

  2. Be kind and respectful to others, don’t spread hate or act negative for the sake of it. Don’t glorify bad actions and don’t incite dangerous activities.

  3. Be honest, don’t misrepresent yourself or others. Don’t impersonate anyone.

  4. Don’t try to circumvent any moderative measures. Don’t interpret rules or messages in bad faith.

  5. Try avoiding content that is inherently fuel for destructive discussion, e.g. personal preferences in brands or politics.

  6. Don’t put yourself in the spotlight. Be that through hoisting yourself, randomly mentioning users, or by posting content that’s meant to draw unnecessary attention.

  7. Don’t advertise. This includes links, references to other communities or projects with intent to draw traffic, nicknames, and custom statuses - even if they don’t generate you any revenue.

  8. Stay on-topic if possible. Don’t try disrupting the conversation with spam or meaningless content.

  9. Keep confidential content secret. This includes spreading content from the community outside of it, as well as spreading outside content in the community.

  10. For a full and detailed list of rules, check out https://conversation.guide