Let’s talk about the BikePortland comment section

Posted by on February 22nd, 2021 at 3:56 pm

On Saturday, Tony Jordan, a parking reform advocate I’ve known and respected for years and who’s written stories for BikePortland, posted something on Twitter about a BikePortland comment. The conversations and concerns triggered by his Tweet (which I’m still responding to, three days later) have made me think deeply about our comment section.

Here’s Tony’s tweet:

While I disagree with Tony, his concerns are valid.

Many people responded to Tony’s comment with their own opinions about how our comment section has changed over the years. Several people said they’ve stopped commenting or stopped visiting this site altogether because of the sometimes abusive words and bullying they’ve experienced at the hands of other commenters.

The critiques centered around a certain type of commenter and my lack of more heavy-handed moderation of them. You probably know the type: They are mostly men, are quick to demean the subject of a story, tip-toe the line of decency/indecency (or cross it at times), dominate threads with multiple comments, or who are simply not nice to others.

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This is very complicated topic that I’ve wrestled with for many years. I often tell people that commenter opinions do not reflect BikePortland and they are certainly not a representation of “the bike community” (a troubling label in my opinion); but I can’t ignore that many people don’t see it that way.

As I have for the past 16 years, I’m the only person in charge of moderating comments. That has pros and cons. As the site (and the community’s expectations of it) has grown and the general tenor of our society has become more anxious and divisive (thanks Trump!), that task has become harder then ever.

My goal is to provide a platform for robust discussions where everyone feels valued and welcome. I take that part of my job very seriously.

Currently I give readers a very long leash in the comment section. There’s no log-in required. Anonymity is OK. A rough tone is tolerated up to a certain point. I do this because I value open discussions and I want to host as many voices as possible. I have no interest in an echo chamber and I don’t want to provide a sanitized version of reality. I encourage voices that challenge entrenched dogma because I believe strongly that a lack of debate prevents Portland from moving forward on many difficult issues.

But therein lies the rub: How can we balance this need for robust and challenging debates in a way that supports as many people as possible?

It’s not enough to host opposing voices if they result in harm and silencing of others.

BikePortland comments might never feel safe to everyone (important debates are bound to be too heated for some people), but they could feel a lot safer for many. And if we can get better at this, the result is something very valuable and exciting.

(By the way, we have separate communities over on our Instagram and Facebook pages that are much more light-hearted and skew younger and are less male-dominated if you’d like to interact with our content on those platforms. We also have an email with all our stories that you can read without coming to the main site.)

Another realization from Tony’s Twitter thread: Being a white, straight man of privilege makes it easier for me to have a high tolerance level for mean comments. I have a famously low tolerance for mean words directed toward bicycle riders from car users. But I have a higher tolerance for mean words directed at people whom I don’t identify with as strongly? That’s not OK.

From now on all comments will be held back for manual review and approval before they are published. I will also be moderating with an even keener eye for instances of meanness, bullying, misogyny, homophobia, or racism.

Our comment section has survived a long time. It was here before legacy media outlets like The Oregonian had one, and it’s still here long after they’ve given up on them. I have no intention of shutting them down and I remain convinced they are worth fighting for — but only if we stop fighting in them. I appreciate everyone who comments and hope you understand we all play a role in making the comment section something we can all be proud of.

As the owner of this business, my work to make them better is far from done. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

I find the comment section indispensable for getting a read on an issue and hearing a variety of voices. The hatred and sophistry can be a bit exhausting, on the other hand, and feel like something more at home on conservative talk radio.

My preference would be that the comments section not be anonymous, however. I think accountability for what one says would go a long way, especially with those that live in Portland.

Lastly, I think the most damaging part of the BP comment section are the over-commenters. They often leave little space for others to speak and can just make things feel unwelcoming.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Real names is what keeps NextDoor pleasant and neighborly. 🙂

Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

Yes, NextDoor is its own hell, but if I knew who you were, HK, I could at least track you down and ask you to proof my comments to see if there are counter-examples to what I say or any logical inconsistencies in my reasoning. 😉

Oregon Mamacita
Guest
Oregon Mamacita

Daniel, women experience sexism and misogyny when they do not boost the male ego. With all that toxic pseudo-masculinity floating around the internet, staying anonymous is a good idea. The idea that a man would track a woman commentator down is not cool and the reason we use pseudonyms. We don’t want to feel ambushed if you contact us off this board. It would truly creep me out and lead to repercussions. In real life, men have reacted to my logical statements with insult and anger. Maybe become our ally by smacking down men bullying women.

Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

I hear you. My comment was just a friendly jab at HK–whom I assumed was a man–for always finding flaws in comments, and it did not express any desire or intent to track anybody down. The idea of a man tracking down a woman commentator is uncool, and I’m sorry that my comment read like that.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

My comment was just a friendly jab at HK

I understood it as such.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

People don’t always use their real names. I’m a Neighborhood Lead and it can be difficult to validate people’s residency.

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

“I think the most damaging part of the BP comment section are the over-commenters. They often leave little space for others to speak and can just make things feel unwelcoming”

joan
Subscriber

Daniel, I like having registered users but dislike any requirement to use real names. I think pseudonyms are fine. Many folks aren’t comfortable using their real names in online environments because of the harassment they face across platforms; this is especially true for women and non-binary folks, queer folks, and people of color. I commented here for years under a pseudonym because I wasn’t yet sure I wanted to use my real name. It’s easy to create multiple identities if people want to, but a system where you have to be logged in seems to be a good way to let people be somewhat veiled but also have a consistent username.

Daniel Amoni
Subscriber

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Joan. My preference for using real names is based on the idea of building community and getting to know each other in a respectful way. I would love to feel more comfortable commenting on BP, but I don’t like the tone and bad faith much of the time.

Batiya
Guest
Batiya

“The hatred and sophistry can be a bit exhausting…”
Please. For anyone who has been brutalized by a lifetime of having the Status Quo shoved down their throats, that’s like saying the Titanic had a slow leak. It’s long past time for straight white guys to stop blathering and to do their own emotional and philosophical work. To date, BP’s Comments section (and by extension, its sole moderator) have done little to address that “hatred and sophistry.” If this continues ad nauseum, no one should be surprised when readership and subscriptions decline.

Julie Garner
Guest
Julie Garner

I really like the comments section and like Daniel said, it helps me get a read on an issue and hearing a variety of voices. The New York Times is a great example of comment sections done well. I’ll read an article but really can’t wait to get to the comments because other people will mention things I never even thought of and others will say things that I disagree with but in a way that it helps me gain perspective. And some are just really good at articulating what I’m processing. Or they’ll explain things in the article that weren’t very clear. It’s educational most of the time. An example of a terrible comment section is Politico. Literally all anyone does is name call and rant and rave about things. It’s stupid and a total waste of time. I finally stopped even visiting that site because the comments tainted everything as immature and whiney. And they didn’t seem trustworthy as a news outlet to me.

So far I’ve really liked reading comments on here. Sure some people are probably trolls or are negative in a ridiculous way, but I can recognize those and just move on tp the next comment without taking it personally or getting bent out of shape over it. But most of the comments are really interesting! I’ve learned a lot and I like hearing from other riders and gaining new perspectives. It makes me feel more connected to the collective bike community here in Portland. So I’m really glad you’re going to continue having them up, Jonathan!

60secondman
Guest
60secondman

FYI Politico dropped its comments feature since before the election. I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by not visiting that site. Their analysis is excellent (from somebody with deep sausage experience).

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

This is a real life example of how polarized we have become in our current society. Yes, it is more difficult to have nuanced conversations online. However, I think the real issue is how social media and online platforms have allowed people to “live in their bubble” which has led to radicalization on both ends of the political spectrum.

As an example is Tony Jordan calling me (a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Democrat) a troll and advocating for me to be silenced. Name calling and censorship instead of engaging in a conversation now seems to be preferred approach by many. Especially those on both the far right and far left. It is ironic that Tony was so offended by a comment from someone who is centrist in their beliefs and values. He does not even want my voice to be aired. I’ve never met Tony. I bet he is a nice guy. We could probably sit down and grab a beer and have a nice chat. Yet he wants me silenced.

Here I am someone with a BLM sign in my yard who frequently calls out friends on the far right side of the spectrum and am now being vilified by those on the far left. If Tony (and others of his persuasions) can’t even engage with me how can we ever find middle ground or consensus to move our city, region and country forward. We have so many important issues to work on (such as racial equity, educational opportunities, police reform and even protected bike lanes 🙂 ) but these issues will never addressed if we just endorse a “shut up” culture.

Think about it. I remain hopeful we can rise above and seek common ground. Not selling out, just being real and loving our fellow humans.

Peace out,
Nadia

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Very well stated. The further in either direction one is, the less desire there is to hear anything contrary. Far Left or Far Right is not interested in dialogue, just confirmation.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

It’s not personal, you’re a pseudonym and a gravitar. I wasn’t “so offended” by anything… there’s a lot of reading into my tweet as though I had to go lay down for a bit after reading your comments. Please.

What does the BLM sign in your yard mean to you if you’ll come on and say that our first Black woman commissioner is “so committed to racial equity that it clouds her judgement?”

Jake Robbins
Guest
Jake Robbins

Hm. “It’s not personal, you’re a pseudonym and a gravitar. I wasn’t “so offended” by anything… there’s a lot of reading into my tweet as though I had to go lay down for a bit after reading your comments. Please.”

Seems like someone could interpret this comment as having “meanness”

PTB
Guest
PTB

Tony, you were so offended/upset/annoyed/whatever that you took a screenshot of the post and posted it to Twitter!

Matt P
Guest
Matt P

The entire tone of this comment …

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

I am one of those people who agree with Tony. I thought your comment was condescending and bordering on racist, as it implies that one who cares about social justice is intellectually incapable of being a leader or managing an agency. When said about a person of African-American heritage, it has the familiar feel of American white supremacy. And it was said without any reference to supporting facts. I don’t care what lawn signs you have up, in my considered opinion, your comment sounds stupid.

The reason your comment should be removed is that it adds nothing to the discussion. It’s just a personal insult aimed at Ms Hardesty with racist overtones. It has no value, given Jonathan’s stated goal for the comments section, and only creates negativity. Therefore, it is worthless at best, and damaging to the community and to BikePortland at worst. There is nothing worth engaging with.

Now, to you, and to all of you who get upset at being morally judged for your opinion, I say you are the ones who need to get over it.

You don’t like being told your comment sounds racist? Then I guess you don’t love free speech as much as you think.

And you should know that Jonathan and BikePortland have no obligation, legal, moral, ethical, or otherwise, to give you a platform to say ill-considered things.

From my perspective, you seem whiny, entitled, and clueless. Please try to be smarter.

Oregon Mamacita
Guest
Oregon Mamacita

I think a fair reading of the comment is that Joanne Hardesty is not capable of more complicated (intellectual) duties (managing a complex bureaucracy with multiple objectives) because she is invested in racial equity issues. Therefore, she is better suited to the presumably simpler tasks of community organizing because too much focus on racial justice is correlated with blindness. If NM’s tweet was a glass of wine, it would leave a bad after taste.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Too much focus on one topic often leads to shortcomings in others.

I disagree with Nadia Maxim’s comment, but it did not question Hardesty’s intellectual ability (which I think is considerable), but rather her political focus. This is a legitimate question given that her bureau passed over the preferred option for Hawthorne that many here supported for reasons explicitly tied to a (somewhat specious) argument about racial equity that sounded to many like an excuse to maintain the status quo.

In that context, in this forum, questioning Hardesty’s priorities seems legitimate, even if we ultimately agree they are appropriate. I read Nadia Maxim’s comment as suggesting that we need leaders who can focus on many areas at once and that someone who had a singular focus would be better suited for an advocacy role. This is a race neutral comment.

In a forum largely populated by people passionate and knowledgeable about transportation, we need to be able to have frank discussions about whether we are getting what we need from PBOT and its political leadership. We can’t simply take that topic off the table because her supporters mistake criticism of Hardesty as racism. That is the “stifling of debate” others have referred to, and that would destroy much of the value of this forum.

Oregon Mamacita
Guest
Oregon Mamacita

You make thoughtful points HK. I think the takeaway is that people have to choose their words carefully sometimes. We all make mistakes. Nadia, your comment was not well-worded. I think you should have just said “Commissioner Hardesty made a mistake when analyzing the Hawthorne project because the approach I favor is also the approach that promotes equity for X reason.” My comment was fair enough at taking your words at face value. HK reached below to pull out your legit point.

marisheba
Guest
marisheba

“I think his obsession with climate change clouds his judgment on other topics.”

Is that an objectionable thing to say? I think it would be quite reasonable, and it’s comparable since it claiming that someone is so focused on something important and valuable, that it nonetheless clouds their judgment in other areas. I neither endorse nor un-endorse Nadia’s comment on the merits, but I think reading it as racist requires some extra work on the reader’s part that isn’t in the text.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

If I were debating with someone who said they were concerned about that politician’s focus on climate change, I would think that person doesn’t take climate change as seriously as the facts, as I see them, require. They would be defending the status quo and furthering harms to the environment and the future.

Similarly if someone can look at modern day Portland and the USA, consider the facts, and say they are concerned about a politician being too focused on racial equity work, I would think they don’t take white supremacy and racism as seriously as the facts, as I see them, require. I would think that person is defending the status quo (white supremacy) and furthering harms to people of color.

And that’s why I made the comment I did.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

What I’m hearing in this post is that it is illegitimate to have a different set of political priorities than you have, and if someone does, they should be called out (which is exactly what you did by taking a single comment out of its context and calling the author a “troll” on twitter).

I don’t think that’s a reasonable or constructive position to take, and I don’t think it helps build the sort of broad non-political community I want to see focused on bicycling in Portland.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

If that’s what your hearing then we’re not connecting. I am making a very specific critique. I do believe that the evidence shows our society benefits white people more than people who aren’t white. That’s white supremacy. White supremacy is not just the KKK.

To make things better, to stop furthering those injustices, one of the things we need to do is to focus more on racial equity in our institutional decisions, which have historically been made in the service of white people over people of color. That’s combating white supremacy.

My critique then, of the comment I choose as an example, is that Nadia’s comment, which was without any real content (as pointed out by others) was that JoAnn was focused too much on racial equity to do her job (ie: she should resign) which was repeated by other commenters. That is a defense of white supremacy.

I do believe that the belief we are in a post-racist society is very wrong, you might call it illegitimate. So be it. It is a viewpoint I think should be called out, yes. Do you disagree that people should call out defenses of white supremacy?

You claimed to have explained why the example isn’t actually a defense of white supremacy in another post, which didn’t convince me, sorry. You and others could actually try to argue what your evidence is that we don’t need to focus on racial equity or provide examples of places where we should approach things differently, or provide specific examples of what positions and actions Hardesty has taken that show poor judgement in the pursuit of racial justice. But I’m actually not seeing any of that attempted in the more than 200 comments posted here, which is quite telling.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

The argument you’ve constructed makes it impossible for people to set political priorities differently than you do without being labeled a “white supremacist” (which, I’ll note in passing, is generally understood to mean something different than your definition, and that common definition is what gives the label its power).

To you, racial equity should be at the top of PBOT’s and the city’s agenda. To me, that issue should be fighting climate change. That does not make me a white supremacist any more than it makes you a climate denier; it just means we disagree about what the city’s priorities should be.

But even though I see climate change as an overarching issue with the utmost urgency, I don’t want my leaders to focus on that to the exclusion of everything else. That is what Nadia Maxim was arguing; that our leaders can’t run the city with an exclusive focus on any issue. That does not make NM a white supremacist.

You say that you find that argument “unconvincing”. That’s ok. By participating here I believe you have an obligation to give good-faith consideration to what people say, but you don’t have to agree. You can even express your disagreement if you feel so-moved.

But taking comments out of the context of this forum, posting them elsewhere without permission, and insulting the author where they have no ability to defend themselves is bullying, and, in my opinion, constitutes unethical behavior.

PS This decontexualizing and reposting of comments on Twitter is exactly why pseudonymity is so important here.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

I never said I thought that racial equity should be at the top of PBOT or the City’s agenda! You’re fighting with your own shadow.

Let’s first just get to facts here which is JoAnn Hardesty is a VERIFIED climate activist! She was the champion of the clean energy fund, she’s quoted in the wweek today demanding congestion pricing, she was president of the Coalition for a Livable Future and she is constantly outspoken about the need for climate action AND climate justice.

The whole premise of Nadia’s comment was baseless. JoAnn is not demonstrably blinded by racial equity, no one has provided a convincing argument that is even true.

Climate action is actually my number one issue as well, I have devoted most of my time to that specific issue (and adjacent issues) for years now. I also think we can’t have climate action that furthers racial injustice. And I believe we will do a BETTER job fighting the climate change if we are JUST about how we do it.

The likelihood that the pendulum in this city is going to swing so far that we actually do too much racial justice work is very small. But it quite possibly might shift some priorities so that the projects that will benefit some of us might not happen as soon as other projects.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

JoAnn Hardesty is a VERIFIED climate activist

I know this, and is one of the reasons I supported her candidacy. I was conjuring an example, not criticizing Hardesty.

JoAnn is not demonstrably blinded by racial equity

I agree with you, which is why I disagree with Nadia Maxim’s comment.

Stipulating that this does not describe Hardesty, do you agree that a singular focus on one issue, however meritorial, could be detrimental to a leader’s overall performance?

Again stipulating that this does not describe Hardesty, do you agree that if a leader is unable to be effective in their job it is ok to call for their resignation?

Finally, do you agree that someone can express a different opinion than you about whether the above statements describe Hardesty without being a white supremacist?

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

I don’t actually think I called anyone a white supremacist in these comments or my tweets. Making a comment which is racist, or sexist, or defends white supremacy, doesn’t make a person a racist or a sexist. You (and others) keep making that claim to make my comment look unreasonable.

I think the comment I tweeted about defends white supremacy. I think it reflects poorly on this website and the bicycling community. Is Nadia a troll, that’s my opinion. And I hope I’m entitled to my opinion.

Should the comment be deleted, I feel more strongly YES than I did when I tweeted that. TheDude hath strengthened my will. The comment adds nothing of value to discourse in Portland.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I don’t actually think I called anyone a white supremacist in these comments or my tweets.

My bad. You said Nadia Maxim’s comments “defended white supremacy”. I suppose on some level that’s not exactly the same as calling them a white supremacist. I apologize for misquoting you.

You are absolutely entitled to your opinion; I am less sure if you are entitled to drag an unwilling participant into the twitter maelstrom for expressing theirs, and I have some level of trepidation with engaging with you at all out of a fear that you would do the same thing with me.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

And with that I’m done. Half your long posts on here have been about the terrible meanness of calling someone a racist when it’s CLEAR we’ve been calling their comments and beliefs racist (or defending white supremacy). The hand wringing, the false equivalency, goalpost moving, etc… it’s too much. It’s bad faith. It’s trolling.

And to top it off with some fear that your anonymous account (which I have also not advocated for removing, but I reserve the right to treat anonymous accounts with skepticism) might get quotes on a public website linked to or screen shotted on twitter? That’s free speech and the consequences thereof, Kitty!

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I’m sorry we so badly misconnected. I’ve always respected your views even when we disagreed, so maybe I was wrong to fear you’d take this to twitter.

I’ve presented my reasoning for my belief that you may have made a false accusation, in which I hope you can see a logical progression of thoughts leading me to my conclusion. You don’t have to agree with me, but I hope you can see there is more than one way to view the situation, and that it will also serve as evidence that I am not trolling you.

Peace.

beckyjopdx
Guest
beckyjopdx

I’m just here to reiterate what I said on Twitter and back up Tony, Joan, etc.

I come here so rarely I don’t even remember my password. I do not want to expend the energy fighting racist and sexist comments. And yes, you have some very serious culture problems in your comments section. No, they are not harmless “state of our country” issues – these are real problems. It’s comments like “this is just how it is” that allow space for abusers to multiply. They get away with “I can’t be racist, I have a BLM sign” to back pedal their racist comments.

Like I said, I already physically battled skinheads here in the 90s. I’ve spent my whole life battling sexism. I don’t need to come here and volunteer to do it more.

You can have a comment section and it can be anonymous. Like any place with a healthy culture, you set up guidelines on the front end. You can have no tolerance policies. I do it all the time. Heck, pre Covid, I had 100-200 attendee in-person events with behavior expectations set. My nametags required pronouns. It’s not hard to hold space for kindness, anti-sexism, and anti-racism. I say this as likely the second most privileged type of person that comes to this site. I’m here putting my rear end on the line. My real name is Becky Jo Johnson. I really am a cis-female, white, hetero person in Portland with secure housing and food. I bike as transportation by choice.

I gave you, Jonathan, 2 screenshots of forums with behavior guidelines. The first one is 100x the size of yours with a handful of people working there. I can get you in touch with them and do an intro if you want to talk shop with them. I’ve interviewed the owner. You’ve not seen trolls until you’ve seen her trolls. BP has nothing in comparison – yet they still have created a healthy, safe, kind, and supportive environment. You can too.

You can set behavior expectations and right this ship at any time. But without rules and guidelines to point to, you just can’t ground the kids and they all run amok. I’m not afraid of the trolls on this site. I just don’t care. I have other things to do with my time than deal with people who insist they’re middle of the road while being racist and sexist. There are a few, likely me included, that sometimes drop niceties when we get excited. I have and do engage with those (Soren, you rock!) But you’ve got a little club of bullies and I think you know it but don’t know what to do about it.

You also have supporters. And now that many have voiced their concerns and you just now gave a forum…if nothing changes…I’d gamble you’ll lose a few.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

The tone of your comments section is simply a reflection of the tone of civil discourse in the United States. I am one of those who stopped commenting regularly years ago, and more recently I’ve moved out of the US as well.

The simple fact is that America, Oregon, and Portland are absolutely filled with distressingly uneducated and ignorant people who lack any sense of compassion or perspective, are totally convinced they are correct all the time, and are completely uninterested in having an honest discussion or changing their opinion based on new information. And thus, so is your comment section.

When you leave the US for an extended period of time, you get a much broader perspective on the culture. Perhaps if you’re still engaged in the Portland political scene, you see “spirited debates” on “important issues.” But with the wisdom of perspective and experience, you realize it is the political theatre aimed at preserving the status quo of a violent and dysfunctional culture run by profiteers and malignant narcissists. The leaders are unable to solve even the most basic problems that have been dealt with effectively by other countries of far less means. The people are too pacified to hold anyone to account, even as they seethe with impotent rage. The power is so entrenched it can brutalize its own people and even commit treason with impunity.

America is totally FUBAR. Why would you expect any comments section to be otherwise?

The question you have to ask yourself is how does the comments section serve your goal “to provide a platform for robust discussions where everyone feels valued and welcome.”

In my opinion, the comments section, as it is now, is definitely standing in the way of achieving your goal. As a fellow person of privilege, I don’t feel unsafe. But I do believe it is not a welcoming place for other people (or me). And I do not want to participate because of that.

A lot of Americans seem to hold a really extreme view of what constitutes “free speech” as a human right, and I think this culture affects your judgment. Allowing people to post racist comments, for example, is not the same as fostering “robust discussion,” because the purpose of the site is not to discuss whether racism is acceptable.

I think you need to be much more selective about what you allow people to post on your site to meet your goal. I also think it’s a moral responsibility, and I think that’s at the heart of the question you are posing. I also think doing so would really improve the site. Unfortunately, it seems like it will involve a lot more work for you.

Whatever you decide to do, thanks for asking. And keep up the great work.

Ovid Boyd
Subscriber
Ovid Boyd

If it’s a vote, I vote for no comments. Carefully edited, composed and written journalism has a lot of value; reaction comments not so much. There’s plenty of more private and personal places to react to the world.

I think news comments mostly just make people feel miserable, and I can go on Facebook if I want that

Chopwatch
Guest
Chopwatch

Just like the articles, you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. If comments section can be put under collapsible tab, you won’t have to open it.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I don’t agree with the views of the two commentators but it’s really hard for me to see what exactly Tony is complaining about or why he thinks it should be deleted. It’s a critique of Hardesty but not an attack. I’ve seen a lot worse written about Hales, Wheeler, and Eudaly. I’m also not opposed to de-platforming when appropriate. It’s just hard for me to see what Nadia wrote there that would warrant you to delete the post. I’ve often wondered why the comment section here is so conservative, but I think it’s just the nature of comment sections that aren’t part of social media.

FWIW, I actually think you do a pretty good job at moderation, especially in that you don’t delete whole posts. It really comes down to what you are trying to do with Bike Portland. If your goal is to create a community based on shared social values, it makes sense to say “these are my values and I’ll get rid of anyone who doesn’t share them”. But if your goal is to facilitate discussion on bicycling between people who have differing social values, you can’t just delete posts because they bother you (or in this case bother Tony) personally because the end result is an echo chamber.

Part of it is progressives have to stop saying “I think what you are saying is wrong and therefore you are a bad person”. Like I said, I don’t agree with the comment that was screen capped, but I don’t think Nadia is a bad person, just wrong, and that reader isn’t going to change their mind just because you delete their post for having the wrong opinion.

I do appreciate that Tony is having that discussion on Twitter, a site which famously doesn’t moderate content and gave rise to the disaster that was trump.

Karstan
Subscriber
Karstan

I really appreciate that you’ve engaged with the criticism and clearly put a lot of thought in to how to move forward.

Al
Guest
Al

Who’s to decide what members of the community get to have a voice, regardless of how it reflects on the community as a whole? If the voices/comments of single users are drowning out others, e.g. frequent posters such as HK, why not limit to one or two comments per reader? If someone interprets an internet comment section as a homogenous “bike community,” that reflects much more so on their limited perceptions than on a larger group of people who ride bicycles. Moderating every single comment sounds a whole lot like the “sanitized version of reality” you mention wanting to avoid.

Jon
Guest
Jon

Why don’t we try an experiment. If you are a white male, stop commenting for the rest of this week. I’m willing to give it a try. No more words from me this week.

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

BP tried this before for attempting to raise the voice of women, it was triggering for white males, go figure.

Hickeymad
Guest
Hickeymad

Why is anyone surprised that the marketplace of ideas is fraught with chances to take offense? When has this ever not been the case? Yet freedom of speech (as a general rule; not only in the first amendment sense). Yet it’s only recently that offense has been monetized; it’s now a sort of currency and confers moral status. This imho is not a healthy development for any society. We should be building strong citizens; citizens capable of critical thinking and debate. Portland seems to want to take the lead in the creation of a culture entirely the opposite. Our progressive bubble I think is to blame for this; it inhibits the realization that your own train is going off the tracks when everyone on board is blinded by their ideology. This, in a nutshell, is why free speech is so important; warts and all. Without it we will come closer still to the same ideological excesses that have destroyed so many societies before us.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I find a lot of people use their power of free speech on blogs as a poor substitute for the direct community activism they ought to be doing. I advocate among groups, bureaucrats, politicians, and my fellow human beings beyond this blog, and I fully respect the others who also do so.

That said, I also get ideas from others here, other viewpoints that may be uncomfortable but that I do also encounter in the non-blog world, and I find this blog, warts and all, a useful virtual testing platform for dealing with uncomfortable issues before I have to deal with them in the “real world” of community politics.

Hickeymad
Guest
Hickeymad

David I think what you describe also has real value. The abysmal level of critical thinking you see in any intellectual monoculture is evidence of what you speak of. I think we are all better off exposed to ideas that challenge us. I also think that the infatuation that the left has for restrictions on speech has more to do with power than it does any true concern for “the disadvantaged”.

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

Hickeymad – Could you cite your examples on the restrictions on speech that the left has placed on us?

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

Usually when people make this complaint it isn’t that their speech was restricted in any way. In fact it is the opposite, they were allowed to say whatever they wanted but don’t want to accept the consequences of their words.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Yes! I also don’t agree that there’s an “offense culture” created by progressives. Yes, there are parts of society that take it too far, but I find that less of an issue than those who go too far the other direction. I believe what’s happening is that people are being called out for language/opinions that are shown to be oppressive, but since it’s been so normalized in their life/society they themselves are offended at the idea that they could have been a part of said oppression, so they push back/lash out. And then they claim they’re being “cancelled” for being called out and held accountable.

It’s ok if you grew up unaware and uninformed about these oppressive and offensive behaviors that are finally being called out for what they are, but it’s not ok to completely disregard that information or claim it’s false just because it isn’t something you’ve had to deal with before and the implications make you uncomfortable.

Matt P
Guest
Matt P

You run a private site and you can delete and moderate as much as you want that’s your right. But honestly deleting the comments pointed out in the post at least imho will just lead into the increasingly common conception of the dude bro Portland Biker who is overly aggressive and not open into ideas, compromise, etc.

I think the Twitter user you quote as being particularly offended may just have the increasingly common problem of living too much on Twitter and isn’t used to seeing a particular viewpoint that may actually be quite a common view (even if that view is distasteful to that particular user).

I don’t find anything particularly offensive about the quoted comments that would raise it to being deleted. There is of course an undercurrent of bias with them, but there’s nothing preventing someone from calling that out if they are offended by it and any further discussion would be more useful than it being deleted and ignoring any problem that may exist. Deletion / ignoring a viewpoint, especially not a particular egregious one, is just how one gets pushed further and further into echo chambers (or Twitter bubbles).

P.S. I keep thinking of the discourse around Eudaly. If you looked at certain parts of Portland Twitter you would think she was going to get 70% of the vote. But consistently on the comments of stories re: PBOT, etc. There was a constant undercurrent of dissatisfaction with her, problems with the tone she had, work ethic, etc. It may come across as sexist by some in the way those comments were stated but then months later that opinion of her was reflected in the election results and I think a surprise to many who tend to ignore certain viewpoints and just ‘delete’ them from their mind or quite literally from their computer screens.

Brendan
Guest
Brendan

I reckon that no comments can often be better than moderation. Many websites have gone this direction. If you look at willamette week, they are a holdout on comments and a cesspool. Even with the discus login there are tons of bad faith actors and scammers.

I think the problem we have with the internet is that it’s too easy to comment and run. It doesn’t promote discussion. It instead allows for drive by trolling.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

As someone who has participated in a number of discussions on BikePortland, I’ve noticed that bigoted comments written in a civil tone tend to be left alone while angry comments in response to those bigoted comments are moderated. I think the bigoted comments would almost bother me less if the comment section were left entirely unmoderated (I’m not suggesting this as your approach, by the way!). That name-calling type of comments are moderated quicker than bigoted comments makes it seem as though you are siding with bigots, even if that isn’t the intent behind your action, and that can feel demoralizing.

You stated in this article that you would “also be moderating with an even keener eye for instances of meanness, bullying, misogyny, homophobia, or racism,” but while I find this commendable, the order in which you stated those problems is important. I find it problematic that you put “meanness” at the start of the list, instead of misogyny, homophobia, and racism, which are arguably much more harmful than simply being mean.

One of the problems with emphasizing mean comments over other types of problematic comments is that an angry response to a transphobic or racist comment could, through a certain lens, be seen as mean despite the fact that the bigoted comment causes more harm to more members of the community.

Perhaps a useful framework in changing your approach in moderating comments could be Popper’s paradox of tolerance: that a tolerant society requires being intolerant towards intolerance.

I look forward to seeing the upcoming changes.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

I don’t disagree with any of your ideas here other than the one concluding that which one says first is what they most emphasize. Some minds emphasize the last position. Some minds alternate between the first and last. Some minds emphasize whatever stands out most, regardless of position.

soren
Guest
soren

“I’ve noticed that bigoted comments written in a civil tone tend to be left alone while angry comments in response to those bigoted comments are moderated.”

This has been my perception as well. And, I’ll provide an example:

Not too long ago, Rachel Cameron responded to overt transphobia in the comments section and was moderated even though her comments were not personal attacks (ad hominems).

zuckerdog
Subscriber
zuckerdog

Monitoring comments seems like tedious and thankless job. And it only you? More power to you, Jonathan.

It’s always amazed me how much courage a keyboard, a monitor, and/or a phone gives some people to say things they wouldn’t have the guts to say to someone in person.

If only we could harness this mystical power for good…

Adam
Guest
Adam

Jonathan, I think zuckerdog has a point. Monitoring every comment is an enormous amount of work, even if you are already effectively doing that.

I really appreciate a healthy comment section. It is honestly my favorite aspects of sites likes this and provides a sense of community. However, I too have reduced reading them here because they seem to be dominated by a few people with repeated arguments written with unpleasant tones.

Perhaps have a chat with the people at Pink Bike. Their comment section is amazing, for the most part. They do have a few key difference that I can see and probably have some behind the scene things as well. A big difference is the need to login to comment.

The key difference I see are the need to login to comment (no longer anonymous), only a single depth of reply (easier to read), and the ability to like and unlike a post. That last one might be big. Posts that have a net negative score are hidden from the public and can only be viewed by members who have logged in. Either way, that comment section is so health, that is can often times be just as interesting (or more) than the article itself.

The most recent article that got some negative comments was titled “Nerding Out: The Most Successful Downhill Bikes from 2000 to 2020 – DH Bike Week”

Matt
Guest
Matt

It does often feel like the voices of reason are outnumbered by the trolls and the snarkers. I wonder if the Dunning-Kruger Effect (stupid people not realizing they’re stupid) plays a large part in who shouts the loudest in a forum. And I say this as a person who has had one of my comments deleted in full by Jonathan due to my writing from a position of anger.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

I agree with your approach to moderating the comments section. I believe that we should have a wide latitude for commenters who want to critique norms, sacred cows, and paradigms but little tolerance for those who abuse,bully or intimidate other members of the Bike Portland community.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

I’ll comment quickly here to add a little of my personal context and reasons for tweeting that. I didn’t know the tweet itself would end up as a post, but that’s fine, the discussion on twitter has actually been very civil and robust.

My sentiment is aimed at the forest of comments on this site, rather than any specific tree. One of the difficulties Jonathan has is that any one comment is innocuous enough that it doesn’t cross a line. But taken as a whole, the comments on this site are exhausting and frustrating to many.

Whether Jonathan likes it or not, many people consider the tone and type of comments on this site as somehow exemplary of Portland’s transportation advocacy community. That’s not a fair assessment, I push back on it. But it’s a real one. The truth is, though, that most of the comments on the site aren’t coming from the people active in the advocacy community. Many of us have chosen to spend our time elsewhere, where we don’t have to argue whether white privilege is a real thing, or whether racial justice is a lens worth applying to civic decisions.

For the most part, I don’t read these comments, even though I have been a subscriber since day one, but occasionally the stuff said here impacts my advocacy efforts when I come across someone who has a poor opinion of the “bike community” because of the things they see in these pages. So I said something about it.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

The truth is, though, that most of the comments on the site aren’t coming from the people active in the advocacy community. Many of us have chosen to spend our time elsewhere, where we don’t have to argue whether white privilege is a real thing, or whether racial justice is a lens worth applying to civic decisions.

When one looks at how ineffective the bike and transit advocacy folks are in Portland, perhaps it’s time to rethink your strategy. At some point, if you want to be successful, you have to engage people who have slightly different view points.

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

I’d be more than happy to have a real conversation about this specific issue, please reach out. As one of the folks that you are calling ineffective, I’d be happy to share thoughts about where it goes wrong. I can say, it’s not the advocacy folks.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I can say, it’s not the advocacy folks.

Isn’t the point of advocacy to overcome “where it goes wrong”? Bike advocates in this city are small tent as they come.

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

Yes, we are trying. It’s not easy work and the wins aren’t as frequent as we’d like. My offer still stands.

soren
Guest
soren

“it’s not the advocacy folks”

as someone who was a founding member of bikeloudpdx and was once deeply involved in “advocacy”, i could not disagree more. the nonprofit gatekeeping (FTE $$$$s), revolving committee positions/jobs (W2 $$$$s) and resulting insider culture of active transportation advocacy has, once again, ground any semblance of grassroots politics to dust.

Aaron
Guest

i don’t know man, you say nonprofit gatekeeping, i see providing the means so that people without intergenerational wealth and privilege are able to meaningfully commit time and resources towards participating in our democracy. I’m deeply sympathetic to the need for strong grassroots advocacy, but when the constituents we’re hoping to uplift don’t have the resources or time to spend hours bickering on bikeportland, professionalizing nonprofits means that people with different backgrounds are provided a platform to be heard.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

On a practical level, how would one use, say, The Street Trust as a platform to be heard on a topic like, say, getting better bike facilities on Hawthorne?

I can see how its board and/or paid leadership might use a non-profit as a platform for their issues, but those are folks who spend lots of time focused on their role, and, arguably, those in leadership positions at non-profits are more elite than many who post here.

soren
Guest
soren

i was specifically thinking of the historic failures of advocates to ally themselves with more grassroots-oriented non-profit orgs led by people of color and indigenous people when i wrote the above. if bike advocates retreat to advocating for hawthorne, better naito, ne 7th, clinton (mea culpa), andkeny (mea culpa) because engaging with people outside of inner PDX is difficult then how are we going to be taken seriously by those who actually live transportation infrastricture deserts.

imo, authentic grassroots advocacy requires putting the interests of those with the greatest need first.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

Honestly, as much as I want things to be perfect, our city has consistently improved, in my opinion, over the decades I’ve lived here. It’s been clear for some time, to me, that the agenda of the city has changed and, as I said in my endorsement of Hardesty on this site:

“ My passion is parking reform and I believe strongly that we should charge market rates for on-street parking. I am also a car-free everyday cyclist who knows that charging people to drive on congested roads during peak hours works. I’m endorsing Jo Ann Hardesty even though I know that we will have to work hard to earn her support for those policies. Jo Ann Hardesty will hold the transportation advocacy community accountable to propose solutions that truly consider the people who aren’t at the table. I think that’s a very good thing and I know that we are up for the challenge.”

I think that holds up. The field we play on now is different and if we’re gonna continue to make progress in this city then we have to take Hardesty’s concerns seriously. She’s a popular commissioner and I think she’s going to stick around.

Longtime listener...
Guest
Longtime listener...

JM, I’ve always been very impressed by how you’ve navigated this. Generally when I see a site owner in the comments I feel it’s a big mistake and generally makes me enjoy them and the site less. I’ve been a daily reader for over ten years and to be honest I dislike the comment section immensely. Sure, I could/should just not read them, but it is my community too and there’s always the hopes to see someone other than the same 20 people having the same one of about ten different arguments applied to a new topic. Seems like more of a masturbatory debate club than anything else. If you think it has value to the community to publish this comment that is fine, but it’s true intention is just communication from a long time reader to an editor and I’d rather not have it be more comment section fodder.
Thanks for being part of my daily life,
Tom

David LaPorte
Guest
David LaPorte

This is the only online forum I’ve ever really commented on, as I’m not a very online person. But this site and its comment section make me feel like I am part of a community, even if we have internal squabbles. Biking was a huge reason that I moved to Portland a few years ago, and I wanted to chat with everyone I biked by when I first got here! The comment section here is like the modern version of chatting about bike stuff with strangers you meet on the road. I understand moderating a welcoming discussion is difficult, but I love that you do it.

Cyclekrieg
Subscriber
Cyclekrieg

First, I’m not sure why Tony Jordan picked this thought out. To me the most offensive thing in it is: “I do like that picture of her on the bike though. Lookin’ good!” There is no need to discuss a viewpoint about Hardesty’s leadership, or perceived lack thereof, or blinds pots thereof and make a flippant comment involving physical appearance.

Second, the comment does make a valid point. As an example, others, including myself, have mentioned her comments regarding mountain biking before which were some version of ‘Its about reinforcing privileged white guys’, which is pretty much the opposite of what any city that creates those kinds of experiences in town finds. (Example: https://bhamnow.com/2021/02/18/mountain-biking-in-birmingham-went-from-being-a-novelty-to-world-class-how-did-it-happen/ ) The point of mentioning that isn’t to have discussion about mountain biking in Portland. The point is, whether you agree or disagree with her belief, its informed by a racial argument over evidence.

Third, here is what I would suggest for the comments section, both in moderation and user comments. The Daryl Davis rule – if someone makes a point, whether you like it or not, react with questions and conversation, not hateraide or ridiculous slogans. Bring the ban hammer down on the people who deserve it, not someone who isn’t on the bleeding edge of whatever woke groupthink is hot today. Look, bigotry is like pornography, you know it when you see it. Someone in comments gets here asking about the good things Hitler did, that guy has to go. But arguing a particular politician views EVERYTHING through a racial lenses, maybe to the detriment of actionable policy, that isn’t hate, that is an opinion.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

You have pilloried the “other side” by painting it as a ridiculous overraction to make the opinion seem less valid: “if someone makes a point, whether you like it or not, react with questions and conversation, not hateraide or ridiculous slogans. Bring the ban hammer down on the people who deserve it, not someone who isn’t on the bleeding edge of whatever woke groupthink is hot today.”

And then you’ve normalized your own view: “But arguing a particular politician views EVERYTHING through a racial lenses, maybe to the detriment of actionable policy, that isn’t hate, that is an opinion.”

So, perhaps you should take your own advice.

And you should know that, from my perspective, YOU view EVERYTHING through a racial lens. How do I know that? You use phrases like “the bleeding edge of whatever woke groupthink is hot today.” To me, you seem like a clueless privileged white male whose unwillingness to honestly engage is the epitome of the problem we are discussing.

Cyclekrieg
Subscriber
Cyclekrieg

The Dude – Thank you for your reply. A few things about me personally. First, due to some family history in middle of the 20th century, many of my family members (and myself) are very skeptical of any absolutism in any belief. Absolute belief historically worked out not so great for members of my family, far less so for others. Second, I’m actually a pretty liberal person, likely even to the left of most of the readers/commenters on BP. We can tick boxes, if you wish, but suffice to say, save for a specific areas (the aforementioned bleeding edge of wokeness) I’m in what the Fox News personality would call the “woke crowd”, though I’m pretty hard to offend. Third, you actually sort of proved the larger issue with BP comments that I was referencing. You don’t know me or my views and assumed a whole series of personal beliefs, perceived ethnicities and socio-economic standing based on your interpretation of what I was saying. Instead of using the aforementioned Daryl Davis rule and asking a question to understand why I might have said what I did, it was a some version of ‘this guy isn’t woke enough’. (If you don’t know who Daryl Davis is, stop here and watch “Accidental Courtesy”.) Fourth, to the point I was making, the commenter Tony Jordon was calling out was suggesting that in his opinion Hardesty viewed things through a racial equity lens it was clouding judgement in various ways. That opinion, whether you share it or not, is not one that is sexist or racist. So what is Tony Jordon calling out? He disagrees with that opinion? Good for him. Disagreeing with an opinion doesn’t make the other person some kind of subhuman. My only thought regarding that commenter’s opinion is that on at least one other matter, that seemed to an accurate portrayal. Which led be to broader statement discussing the commenter’s statement (“arguing a particular politician views EVERYTHING through a racial lenses”) as a defendable and legitimate opinion. Lastly, I truly wish this article was about the perception of race, where it would be appropriate to discuss my views in more depth. Short version: I’m a believer of actively erasing racial conceptualism in personal, social & political life. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach basically invited race, specifically whiteness, as we define it, so lets all work as hard as he did making it to destroy it. Both as a concept and through more children from people with differing phenotypes. Well, The Dude, its been good talking to you. Hope you have a great day.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

I sincerely appreciate you explaining your personal background and how they relate to your comments, which I criticized. But it does not change my opinion that they sound like the comments of a clueless privileged white male. I didn’t assume anything, I just gave my perspective, saying plainly what it seemed like to me.

You saying things like, “I’m actually a pretty liberal person” only reinforces that perception for me. You might as well say, “I’m not racist — I have black friends.”

On the substance of the matter, you said, “[T]he commenter Tony Jordon was calling out was suggesting that in his opinion Hardesty viewed things through a racial equity lens [and] it was clouding judgement in various ways. That opinion, whether you share it or not, is not one that is sexist or racist.”

I disagree. It implies that considering racial equity in community decisions leads to a systematic bias that is bad. And I think it is bad for some people, specifically those who wish to preserve the status quo of white supremacy. Racists on BikePortland aren’t able to come out and say, “I hate Jo Ann Hardesty because she’s black,” so they say things like, “I think her obsession with racial justice clouds her judgment.” When placed into its context, the comment undeniably has racist meaning, in my opinion.

But what is the factual basis for asserting that Jo Ann Hardesty’s views on race have led to bad decisions? How could you possibly know this? Are there any specific decisions one can point to that would illustrate this? Perhaps discussing a concrete example where you could point to specific comments that seemed to be the justification for a bad decision, rather than just speculating about Ms Hardesty’s views on race and how they affect her decisions, would be slightly less racist.

But when you think critically about the comment, you realize that it’s not just racist. It’s also not very smart.

“So what is Tony Jordon calling out? … Disagreeing with an opinion doesn’t make the other person some kind of subhuman.”

We anti-racists are really tired of racist apologists such as yourself pretending that you are being persecuted. No one called you or anyone else “subhuman.” We are saying your words are racist. If you don’t like being called racist, then don’t say racist things. But definitely don’t come and complain about being morally judged while you’re waving your free speech talisman, because that is the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Maybe I’m the only person, but though I’d like to join the anti-racist movement, when I encounter people such as yourself who’s attitude is either your way or the highway and there’s no room for discussion keeps me away.
My life’s experience may not be correct (in your opinion) or not good enough to reach your high level of social warriorness but thankfully I’ll just continue to be anti-racist in my own way.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

So you thought you were anti-racist, but then someone made a comment on the internet that upset you, and now you’re not sure how you feel about it. That feels very disingenuous to me. I think perhaps you don’t dislike racism as much as you thought you did.

marisheba
Guest
marisheba

“Racists on BikePortland aren’t able to come out and say, “I hate Jo Ann Hardesty because she’s black,” so they say things like, “I think her obsession with racial justice clouds her judgment.” When placed into its context, the comment undeniably has racist meaning, in my opinion.”

So, wait a minute. Are you specifically saying that Nadine’s comment is, when “placed into its context,” evidence that she hates Jo Ann Hardesty because she is black? Or are you saying that because she said something that a racist person could conceivably use as a cover for racism (with zero evidence that that is the case here) that that makes it a racist comment? I hope you can see how problematic either of these things is.

And what do you propose someone say if they are not racist, but they genuinely think that JoAnn Hardesty’s focus on racial equity has compromised her judgment in other areas (just as one could opine that a politician’s focus on, say, climate change compromised their economic policy and other areas). I don’t agree with this opinion, but I don’t understand how it is an unreasonable opinion to have. And if someone has it, then is it just not an acceptable opionion to express, while the climate change opinion would be acceptable?

aaaa
Guest
aaaa

Also think the site would be better off without the comments. I feel like they got a lot worse when olive shutdown their comment section and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where some of the current trolls came from.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

Can i address at least one elephant in the room?

How is it not a bad look that when a contributor to BP, who has written political endorsements for Hardesty, encounters 2 rather bland critiques of Hardesty he accuses elitism and misogyny and threatens that BP risks consent if it doesn’t delete the comments?

Jordan (through his work and other writing) seems brilliant on some level and certainly impassioned – would love to see something other than him trying to blanket censor the counter voices.

In his note above Jordan seems genuinely exasperated and is perhaps spot on in his note that:
“The truth is, though, that most of the comments on the site aren’t coming from the people active in the advocacy community. Many of us have chosen to spend our time elsewhere”

But isn’t this the very elitism that he claims to be fighting, because it seeds a “poor opinion” of the bike community? There is a ton of brain wattage on this site regarding urban planning and transportation which is immensely beneficial, but he seems to imply that since i’m not an active advocate that my opinions and questions are not worthy of a real advocate’s time. He may be right.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

This is a valid concern, honestly. I am absolutely a supporter of JoAnn’s and I have advised her campaign and her office on some issues. I am also not always happy about the things she says or the decisions she makes.

I saw comments on this site that I thought were not only untrue, but framed in a way that aim to delegitimize Hardesty’s position and which I also found were likely to have a genesis in feelings about women and people of color which I strongly disagree with. I’m certainly not the only person that felt this way and I know probably at least 1/2 the general population disagrees with me, too.

BikePortland’s relevance extends beyond the recreational bike scene, though and has had a strong and measurable impact on the city’s successful advocacy community (both in housing and transportation). That relevance is important to me, it’s helped achieve things I like. When I see that relevance at risk because a handful of people have stunk up the room with reactionary opinions, it’s a bummer. So I said something about it to my relatively modest Twitter channel.

I’m not even wiling to go to the mat about the particular comments I screencapped. Anyone can spend some time reading comments on other posts and judge for themselves. They can look at who remains here to comment. There’s a lot of people who I know who don’t post much or at all anymore.

Because those voices, which are counter voices to the type of post I called out, aren’t here anymore, then the lack of pushback implies consent, not of the site itself so much as the broader advocacy and bicycling community for which the site has a reputation of representing. If the site is going to continue to wield that power and relevance, then something has to be done, IMO; to make the site more welcoming to voices that aren’t here. Either that or surrender the role and reputation the site has enjoyed.

It’s not elitism, it’s a political reality, and I also happen to think it’s just morally the right thing to do, but again I understand that lots of people don’t believe that we have racism and sexism that needs to be addressed. And yeah, if that’s your opinion (not sayin it is) then I’m not wanting to spend my time arguing about it here with you.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

get it. got it. appreciate.

I would say:
1. censoring commenters that ARE here in order to unilaterally balance out with the assumed opinions of people who ARE NOT here is a hell of a slippery slope.

2. if social media has taught us anything, agitation and disagreement bring more interaction (and dopamine release) than an environment curated to be “more welcoming” to people who aren’t present.

Kelley
Guest
Kelley

Hi Tony,

I hope you don’t mind me adding my comment here because just the sheer number of comments on here is already is a bit overwhelming.

First of all, I appreciate you for bringing up this topic and agree with you that despite Jonathan’s best effort, removing the comment section is the most equitable thing for everyone at this time.

As someone who’s probably on the moderation list (prior to the recent change), I can’t help but wonder how many folks were on that list simply because of their tone/style Jonathan wasn’t comfortable with, as he mentioned in a tweet over the weekend. There’s a term for this – tone policing. I know that this has caused many folks (many spoke up via Twitter this weekend), myself included, to stop commenting on Bike Portland altogether. Worse yet, I see many of my cis white male friends also dismiss the BP comment section. I commend Tony and Clint for speaking out and acknowledging that there are many people who are not comfortable commenting on here.

Steph Routh
Guest
Steph Routh

Plus one to Kelley. Thanks Clint and Tony. I rarely rarely read or engage the comments for reasons already mentioned.

Steph Routh
Guest
Steph Routh

In the interest of brevity, I fear I obscured my “why.” I appreciate Tony because we don’t agree on everything (what a boring friendship it would be if we did!), and I always learn from and feel respected within a chat with him. I appreciate Clint (for many reasons, and also) because he is vocal in standing for others with less power when needed and is quiet when it is not. And I find listening to Kelley is usually a rather very good idea.

I used to read and engage in the comments regularly. Over time, it seems the comment culture here has become…mean is the word that comes most readily to mind. As if it’s more important to be bold than to be kind (which is not the same as nice; I will never advocate for nice). It’s more important to be right than to seek understanding. Jonathan allowed me to write a contributor series highlighting people whom I admire a few years back, and I’m here to tell you that some of those comments broke my heart. That is when I stopped reading the comments regularly. When I’ve dipped back in since then, I’ve found enough ad hominem comments to feed my confirmation bias. Jonathan, I hope you know I love you, and there is surely nothing I have said here that we have not spoke about in person. If so, you know where to find me. 🙂

I hope to see you in the streets and/or on a ride someday soon, team.

marisheba
Guest
marisheba

“I saw comments on this site that I thought were not only untrue, but framed in a way that 1) aim to delegitimize Hardesty’s position and 2) which I also found were likely to have a genesis in feelings about women and people of color which I strongly disagree with.”

Your first point is valid, the comment did aim to delegitimize Hardesty’s position. And….so what? That’s the nature of policitical discussion. Of course this would bother you as a Hardesty advocate, but that’s not the commenter’s concern, nor should it be.

Your second point: the words “which I also found were likely to” are doing so much work here. I suppose the whole argument over Nadine’s comment comes down to this. Some people agree with you, some people don’t. But I genuinely don’t understand your logic. On what basis is this “highly likely” from the comment? And censoring people, or calling them racist, based on hidden meanings that we read into their words is not a sustainable way to manage public discourse.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Some other elephants not yet addressed, out of many:
– Anonymous commenters making comments, and others trying to call them out for being anonymous; and
– Most of the most frequent commenters still haven’t commented about this discussion about comments; and
– Discussing the difference(s) between snark, sarcasm, humor, and satire on this blog; and
– Commenters who later retract their comments and ask them to be deleted, thus messing up subsequent comments by others; and
– Subtle forms of bullying, including subscription and paywall news sites that discriminate against low-income users, BIPOC users, and anyone who isn’t in the political “mainstream” of whatever is being discussed; and
– Mansplainers who aren’t necessarily men versus explainers who are men.

beckyjopdx
Guest
beckyjopdx

– Mansplainers who aren’t necessarily men versus explainers who are men.

uh. yeah. no. doesn’t work that way in a patriarchy.

J_G
Guest
J_G

I’ll be moving to Portland in a few months for a new job, and one of the things I’m looking forward to most is the bike community. This site has been an excellent primer and educational tool for me, and I have found the comment section useful in gaining additional context for your stories. Mr. Maus, you seem even-handed and fair, and I hope you can moderate with clear-sightedness even when you disagree with a comment (the evidence I’ve seen would point toward your capability in this regard). Others use such influence to create echo chambers, but I’m a new reader that hopes to continue to be able to hear all sides of the issues.

 
Guest
 

There’s definitely not one clear right answer with how to moderate the comments section. And I think it’s safe to say that no site in the history of the internet has devised even a good method. It’s more of figuring out what the least bad method of comment moderation is.

Regardless, I agree with the “comment on content, not the contributor” approach to commenting here that others have already highlighted. I believe that comments attacking another commenter’s views are distinct from those that attack the contributor themselves. There’s a big difference between a comment like “your views help perpetuate systemic racism” versus “you are a racist”. I believe that comments like the former should be encouraged, while those similar to the latter should be disallowed.

I also think maintaining anonymity is incredibly important. I have Facebook and Instagram accounts, but I would never comment on any political post publicly or anything because there unfortunately are crazies out there with the potential to harm me in real life. It’s why BikePortland is one of the only sites I choose to comment on, and it allows people to be more honest with their opinions, which is always a good thing.

John L
Guest
John L

Reviewing every post before it is published sounds exhausting and likely to take time away from writing. I’m not aware of any active site that does it, and I imagine there is a practical reason for that.

SD
Guest
SD

Somehow, I remember a time where this comments section was more positive, more bikey, more idealistic, more supportive and more community-oriented. Admittedly it was more of an echo chamber and less conservative. But, it was more effective in bringing people together around bikes, generating creativity and inspiring people to participate in Portland bike culture.
Did that time actually exist?
I would rather have a comment section that is inviting and creative even if it is an idealogical bubble. I, personally, don’t need to get my politically diverse perspectives from the Bike Portland comments section, and I don’t think having a contrarian commentariat validates this platform. People outmaneuvering each other or out-opinionating each other rarely seems to result in positive actions.
I also don’t think that the comments here are truly diverse. It is a relatively small percentage of people who are motivated to comment, and that number grows smaller, the harsher the environment or the greater the risk of being invalidated or misunderstood. It is not a representative sample. Sometimes we mistake argument for being more broad-minded and critical than agreement or loose association.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Was that before or after the “interested but concerned” 28% of the population started participating in the blog?

SD
Guest
SD

Ha. I feel like the “interested but concerned about riding a bike” crew were mostly scared off long ago, leaving those who are “fearless and thick-skinned about commenting.”

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Agree! I hate to say that while reading most articles (and it can’t hurt to again mention how these are wonderful, researched, balanced articles from Jonathan) the back of my brain is saying “Well I bet this will lead to another ARGUMENT about City Council/Enforcement/Idaho Stops/Helmet Usage/ODOT/PBOT/Better Naito……” Can anyone not replay both sides of these jousts verbatim in their sleep? The comment section is just tiresome.

And as SD was saying, I get it. Democracy. Debate. Love it. Correcting historical inequities, yes please. But it is just brutal to have everything, and seriously, try finding an article that doesn’t head this direction, turn into a 50/50 debate where every single phrase must be contested. Not to mention by the same people. I picture people with Word docs copy/pasting their favorite points daily.

I’m a long time reader, 10+ years, and occasional commenter. But I tend to chime in when I have an actual bit of experience to add (“I actually bike down this street yesterday and….”), versus my stance on whatever. That’s kind of my guiding light: do I have a new piece of information to add here?

Chopwatch
Guest
Chopwatch

How about providing an option to log-in and save “Comment awaiting moderation

” for users not logged in and the first few posts of a new account? Whenever I post, I was getting pending moderation, then it stopped, and it’s doing it again. Spam filter is a necessity, but it can get too aggressive in filtration. I’d like to log-in, but that’s not even an option.

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

I’ve had numerous friends reach out to me today to tell me that they do not feel comfortable commenting on the site because of the lack of self-awareness that many of the regular posters possess. I absolutely agree with them. I see hateful comments about our city’s houseless residents, dog whistle racism, and anti-trans behavior from these folks. For those of you expressing concern about censorship or blaming progressivism for a lack of debate, I just don’t know how you can make these arguments in good faith. We’re missing out on vital voices in discussions here because folks are not willing to put up with the hateful comments.

Zach
Guest
Zach

FWIW, I’ve been reading the comments here for years and don’t recall ever seeing anyone say anything negative about trans people. Honestly not even sure how that would even come up on a site where 95% of stories are about biking.

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

Just read through the comments on these stories: https://bikeportland.org/tag/transgender

I’m not going to do the work to point out each individual transphobic comment and why exactly they’re transphobic. Just know that it’s not a welcoming place for trans folks.

Zach
Guest
Zach

I see what you’re talking about. There’s a three-post series from 2019 about a trans person, and there are some comments with strongly-worded opinions.

However, I don’t think it’s fair for you to say BikePortland is “not a welcoming place for trans folks.” I know at least one trans person who probably wouldn’t mind those comments; and besides, it seems somewhat infantilizing to say *all* trans people feel that way.

Maybe you personally know trans people who still feel uncomfortable commenting to this day after reading those comments from back in 2019. But again, I don’t think it’s fair to trans people or to BikePortland to say with such conviction that *all* of them feel unwelcomed.

joan
Subscriber

Zach, please see my comment below. 2019 might feel like ages ago, but it was 15 months ago. The transphobia here is quite awful. I was going to suggest that you share those posts Clint linked with your trans friend, but that seems extraordinarily unkind to them. You can like Bike Portland and be supportive of it, but please let’s not deny the raging transphobia in some pretty recent comments.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Random idea – food for thought… make the comments section for subscribers only (and still moderate). That way the moderation work is paid, and if people want to try to troll they have to pay for the privilege of attempting to do so.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

A subscriber-only comment section would discriminate against low-income folks from participating – and let’s face it, many bicycle advocates out there are dirt poor.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Great point, which crossed my mind as well. Maybe there’s a ‘comment subscriber’ level that’s affordable, or maybe there could be a ‘sponsor an advocate’ function.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

To those lamenting the descension of the comments here, how do you feel about this (posted recently elsewhere on this sit upe):

Most good people don’t want to be cops because they don’t want to spend their lives hurting their community and destroying peoples lives

That’s as ugly and overtly prejudiced as anything that gets posted here, but it’s probably generally compatible with your political framework.

What I’m getting at is is the problem ugly comments, or the fact that you disagree with the sentiment they express?

Speaking for myself, I welcome a diversity of viewpoints as long as they are respectfully presented.

And, I’ll add, I think most people keep things reasonably civil here most of the time. For those comparing these comments to OregonLive, well, I never commented there, but it was a cesspool. At it’s worst, this place is a freshly cleaned motel bathroom.

Hickeymad
Guest
Hickeymad

Brilliant observation kitty. In fact it’s not the tone or supposed hate expressed that’s being called out here; it’s that fact that a different political opinion is being voiced. The claims that different opinions constitute hate speech is completely overblown by progressives because they want to dominate the narrative. That’s it; that’s the game; weaponized offense. There’s only one way out of that trap and it’s to simply not care about others taking offense; because someone will ALWAYS take offense if you deviate even a little from whatever woke nonsense is most fashionable in the moment. Speaking the truth bluntly and without fear is now a civic duty. If portland truly wants to be a model for alternative transportation they aren’t going to inspire many if that model is based upon the opinions of an insular elite incapable of dealing with the real world.

Phil M
Guest
Phil M

Upvote this 100 times.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

You are both absolutely correct. It’s the “I’m offended” approach to a debate.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I was just accused of being “offended” because I didn’t agree with someone. I was not offended at all. I think this idea that someone is so “offended” by someone else is just a false narrative and one pushed by people who often don’t take the time to deeply look into issues. In this case, I just thought the person wasn’t worth listening to, but he just sat there and cried like a child, wanting to be heard. I think there is a lot of that here.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

In this case, I just thought the person wasn’t worth listening to, but he just sat there and cried like a child, wanting to be heard.

This is the sort of mean-spirited comment that I find far more destructive to this community than respectful disagreement.

Alex
Guest
Alex

It’s not mean-spirited. Not everyone is worth listening to, imo, and I don’t owe that to everyone.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

That’s as ugly and overtly prejudiced as anything that gets posted here, but it’s probably generally compatible with your political framework.

You should look up the definition of prejudice! My statement wasn’t ugly, it’s juts factual. You, like Tony, are projecting your own feelings onto other people. I don’t hate cops, I just don’t have any respect for anyone who chooses to spend their lives harassing others and feeding the prison industrial complex. It’s the same way I feel about Ted Cruz or coal lobbyist. My problem isn’t with who they are inherently, it’s with their ugly actions.

joan
Subscriber

That’s as ugly and overtly prejudiced as anything that gets posted here, but it’s probably generally compatible with your political framework.

It’s certainly a generalization, but there’s a big difference between criticizing folks in power, like cops, and challenging the identity and existence of trans women who want to race their bikes. There are many former cops who have left for exactly the reasons cited in that quote.

(I’m wading in knowing full well a pile-on will likely ensue but I did not want to let this stand unchallenged. It’s a completely false comparison.)

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

there’s a big difference between criticizing folks in power, like cops, and challenging the identity and existence of trans women who want to race their bikes.

I wholeheartedly agree. But this whole conversation was kicked off by a criticism of someone in power.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

It’s quite impressive how HK can trot out such intellectual dishonesty to cheers from the All Lives Matter Club while purporting to be here for the sake of vigorous debate. NBD, just poisoning the discourse with some What About…

Doug Hecker
Guest
Doug Hecker

I think what is missing when we hear about advocacy in Portland is that advocates should raise people up to whatever it is they want common folx like myself to agree with and/or vote for. If that isn’t happening then the advocate probably needs to look in the mirror and ask how they can do better to get their message out. This page offers myself and many others the opportunity to interact with advocates. Clearly, some people would like to spout off and say inappropriate things. Maybe having a report button would help? Maybe it would just add more work that you don’t need? But this forum has personally helped me learn more about this city and how it perceives and acts on its convictions, whether it is perceived as good or bad. If advocates don’t want to offer their goals or experiences then that’s fine to as they could be more busy on the front lines but I would also imagine that this could be the front line, rallying the troops.

Ps, nobody is requiring anyone to interact with trolls. But the same could be said with dogged elitists who are worn out from being on the front lines.

JM, I appreciate your efforts and the comments section even though every comment I make has to go through moderation 🙂 haha

Clint Culpepper
Guest
Clint Culpepper

I’d ask each and every commenter why they are here at this website. Is it to further the progress of bicycle advocacy? Or I s it to point out what others are doing wrong?

It’s always going to be hard to tell who is posting anonymously but I can say that I don’t hear your voices testifying at city council. I don’t hear them at committee meetings giving PBOT sand ODOT staff constructive feedback. I don’t even see you at bicycle events in the city. If you’re not doing those things, what is it that you’re doing to improve our city for folks riding bicycles?

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

CC-
Above you seem to be advocating for people who don’t feel “comfortable” posting on BP, and now you seem to be suggesting a litmus test for who should be allowed on the board?

Are some animals are more equal than others?

I don’t testify at PDX city council meetings…kind of see them as useless
i’m not trying to give odot/pbot constructive feedback nor do i call them to rally for causes.
u won’t see me at bicycle events — most of those smiley feel goody things frankly i find trivial and sad.

I’m on BP to learn a perspective that’s foreign to me.
I’m on BP to benefit from the generally very informed dialogue in the comments section.
I’m on BP to help guide my perspective on investments in community and infrastructure in other cities outside of PDX where I am involved in housing issues

do i make your cut?

aaaa
Guest
aaaa

I’m curious where you currently live and what your bike riding is like there?

If you’re looking for a guide on community and infrastructure investments, I would recommend looking at other cities as a model. Portland has fallen far behind. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Utrecht all have infrastructure light years ahead of Portland.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

i live in sw pdx and moved here maybe 15yrs ago but rarely have I (until covid) spent more than 6mos at a time in pdx – spending substantial chunks of time on east coast + asia. The community i’m trying to impact is in SE US and would be perfect for biking in theory, but is a low income area and for all the progressive activism in the bike community, i’m more and more understanding biking to be the domain of a somewhat privileged set who don’t see themselves as such.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I now live in the SE. There are lots of cyclists here, but most tend to be rural low-income blue-collar workers, Black, Hispanic and white, biking into town for low-paying jobs on junky Magna or Next bikes, on narrow shoulderless rural highways that have 45-50 mph speed limits. Many cannot afford a car and live in rural areas because that is where housing is cheapest. Not a good situation, with lots of deaths and injuries, especially at night. Most are not counted by the census, and in fact try not to get counted.

There are urban cyclists too, including many Blacks, in all cities, but especially in college communities. And there are a very few thriving cities with expanding progressive bike infrastructure, good public transit, and healthy bike share and/or scooter share such as Charlotte NC, New Orleans, Memphis, and Birmingham.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

brilliant catch on your part…thx for responding…i had noticed over the last year or so that u are in the SE….do you have a public email?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

JM has my email. Tell him I’ve given him permission to forward it to you, if he’s willing.

Adam Woodard
Guest
Adam Woodard

I’m here to read local news stories about bicycling and transportation issues. I’m interested in reading these stories because I’m a daily bike commuter and have been since I moved back to Portland after college in 2004. I’m not a paying member of this site, even though I’m a frequent reader, because even though I like to think of myself as middle class in the broadest sense of the term, my income and job would strongly indicate I’m really working class and have to be pretty frugal.

I cast my vote in every election trying to choose candidates and measures I think will advance non-car transportation policies, among other policies I support. I’m honestly not interested in engaging in bike activism or public policy processes beyond voting because I have higher priorities in my life. I’m glad there seems to someone out there who seems to be my antithesis in this regard, so thank you.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

To answer your poll, I participate in this blog to further the progress of bicycle advocacy and to receive new ideas, new perspectives, and new arguments from other advocates and commenters (like much of life, it’s often hard to tell the difference between the two.)

I could sit on my laurels of 17 years of advocacy in Portland (1997-2015) and my success in working with many other community members and advocates to get over $400 million in projects in Portland funded, including several that are under construction right now. And while I have in fact left Portland, involuntarily displaced because I’m still unemployed/ unemployable and could no longer afford to even live in East Portland, I still actively advocate. I chiefly advocate here in Greensboro NC for bike, transit, and ped improvements, periodically cornering civil engineers and having pleasant monthly meetings with our local incompetent city transportation planners, but also in statewide NC meetings with other advocates of the NC Sustainability Coalition and APBP on a quarterly basis, and on a federal level with USDOT and FTA staff. And thanks to Zoom, I can again attend Portland BAC and EPAP meetings. I also serve on my local transit advisory commission – in fact I have a zoom meeting with them later this evening.

Zach
Guest
Zach

David, just want to say I enjoy your comments a lot and often find them tremendously insightful and interesting (especially because they’re based on your experience and not just speculation). I’m glad you’re here!

Fred
Guest
Fred

Jonathan, I hope you will not change anything about the comments section. Well, maybe one thing: I don’t like how someone, anyone, can drop a bomb with no repercussions – seems like every troll out there has permission to make one terrible post. Have you thought about using Disqus as a backbone for your commenting section? I don’t know many deets on Disqus but I recall that it requires moderation of new commenters until they have built up some credibility with the moderator and the community, and the person can post w/o moderation after that.

I feel as though Tony’s response to Nadia’s comment says more about Tony than it does about anything else: Tony wants to be shielded from comments he disagrees with. Nadia was making the very valid point, which others also made, in other ways, that the photo of Jo Ann on the Nie-key Bie-key is essentially false, since no one has seen Jo Ann on a bike in Portland outside of a photo op. That’s a really important thing to know about a political leader who is – by the miracle of Portland’s dysfunctional commission-style gov’t – now in charge of transportation in Portland.

BP is invaluable to me as a cyclist in Portland, and the comments are also invaluable. Please keep up the good work.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

I like comments and read them frequently. The community here is passionate and in my observation overwhelmingly respectful. People are going to people though. Don’t let a rush to protect everyone spoil a good thing. My views would be narrowed without all you wonderful people.

It doesn’t matter what your name is
Guest
It doesn’t matter what your name is

I remember when there was a dislike button for people to downvote the comments they didn’t like. That could help give agency to those who feel like they need to remove content for being “mean”. But I also remember you taking away the downvote because it hurt peoples feelings?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

The problem with the Downvote button is that bigoted, intolerant or just plain mean content mostly isn’t how it got used.

It was more often used by people to downvote opinions they didn’t agree wit, including constructive ones. The effect was to further marginalize people whose point of view didn’t align with the dominant outlook. I saw a lot of comments get multiple downvotes that were not offensive in any way.

James S
Guest
James S

I used to be very “free speech” when it comes to comments. Like you, I find it easy to brush off the trolls. But many don’t.

One problem with internet moderation is that moderators/staff has seen their job as purely taking out the trash. That is, removing only the really bad stuff.

But heres an analogy I like. Imagine if every day someone dropped a fresh turd in front of your door. And every day you had to step over it to go out. When you got home, the poop was cleaned up. Stepping over it is not actually difficult. But how much better would it be if there was no poop at all?

The toxic people never get tired of dumping their crap on our comment sections every day. But the normal people get tired, pack up, and leave.

I think the job of a moderator should actually be to curate a conversation. That means booting out the toxic people, even if they’re doing an excellent job of sticking to the rules. It’s your website, and having poop on your front door degrades the whole experience.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

That is brilliant. Best poop analogy ever.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I dunno, I find it sort of stinks.

As an transportation advocate, I have to regularly deal with shit from public engineers, administrators, elected officials, and other advocates I’m trying to work with. If all you are exposed to is a clean step in front of your door, you end up being one of the numerous passive advocates I constantly have to work with – utterly clueless, very naive, and ultimately disappointed over their long string of failures. The odor we have to smell in the comments section is a relatively benign virtual reminder of the real world – it stinks, one person’s perfume is another person’s racist comment, and that politics is complicated.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

None of that makes any sense to me.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

What if your comments were viewed as poop by others and you were unaware of it?

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

This comment illustrates my point perfectly. Note that it uses the old racist trope of false equivalency: Everyone’s opinions are all morally the same, and no one should judge them. We should uphold the value of free expression above the value of anti-racism and creating a welcoming community.

That simply is not consistent with the goals for the BikePortland comment section. It enables posting of racist views and lacks any intellectual value whatsoever.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

That’s one way to look at it. The other is that some folks feel their moral superiority is such that other’s opinions are not of similar worth.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Yes, that is correct. My anti-racist views are morally superior to your racist-tolerating views. Your endless equivocation of these views enables racism, which is doing considerable harm to our country. Your views add nothing of value to the discussion here, and only serve to alienate others. You are Wrong, you have no right to post here, and I hope Jonathan ends this nonsense sooner rather than later. I have confidence he will.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

It’s the moral superiority which turns people off to you.
You appear to have a great goal in live, the elimination of racism.
But in trying to achieve that goal you’d rather use a sledgehammer to bludgeon people into anti-racism and censor speech when you could be trying to teach people to be better.
I can’t speak for everyone but I know I’m not perfect and I do slip or naively say things that are racist. Fortunately I have a group of friends and family around me who tell me when I’ve done something wrong and I learn from it and don’t do it again. Of course to you the mere mention that I have minority friends means I’m automatically a racist which of course is only a tactic to shut down conversations.
You seem to think everyone should be as morally superior as you and have no slip ups. If you slip up then that’s iron clad proof that you are an evil racist person with no redeeming qualities. That kind of attitude is why I’ll never learn from people who think they are morally superior to everyone else.
You have a great opportunity to teach people.
Put away the sledgehammer and carefully point out when people who are trying to do their best to be non-racist when they slip up. That’s how people learn.

I wish you luck in your life’s mission.
You are free to reply, but I won’t be coming back to this topic.

Sigma
Guest
Sigma

Agree 100%. I have never seen anything remotely racist in MOTRG’s comments. (Addressing The Dude here) Instead of just yelling “shut up racist!” perhaps pointing out those things, however subtle and unintentional they may be, that are problematic would be a better approach. I seem to recall that approach was a key takeaway for white people in How To Be Anti-Racist. I missed the chapter on shunning and censoring.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

I appreciate your feedback. I really do feel it’s an important moral issue and people need to catch up. I’m sorry you find it heavy-handed. I feel the same way about what you and others have written as well. I will not be apologizing for bluntly speaking truth to power or for being anti-racist.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Just chiming in here to support what The Dude said.
The type of comment that sealed it for me, that caused me to quit BP, were exactly of this type: false equivalence, know-nothing, trollish posts that never led anywhere useful, interesting; that thwarted the interesting conversations that did once upon a time reign here on bikeportland.

The fact that the handful of folks who engage solely in that type of comment don’t recognize the dispiriting effect their posts have, can have doesn’t make it any less problematic.

James S
Guest
James S

Then having my comments deleted or not approved would be a wake-up call to me. The internet is a toxic place, and sometimes even the best of us get sucked into the endless snark and bashing. Its not healthy and not productive.

joan
Subscriber

Content warning: I’m about to share some of the comments that contribute to this place being hostile, especially to trans folks and non-binary folks and queer folks and women. I completely disagree that this is about gatekeeping by established bike advocates. Folks who engage sincerely and are “rough around the edges” are not the problem here.

I’m with Inga T. on this. I really don’t understand the Transgender thing it makes zero sense to me and I am disturbed by it. ***portion of comment deleted by moderator*** You’re born the way you are and we live in an open and inclusive society. Fighting to compete with the opposite sex is crude and it should not have gone as far as it has. ***portion of comment deleted by moderator***

Her efforts to keep women’s sports fair by excluding trans athletes is appreciated! Great to see that even in a overly politically correct city like Portland that common sense can sometimes override irrational gender sensitivity rights.

Its a religion. It has nothing to do with transgenderism other than that transgendered people are their sacred cows.

My anti-trans athlete stance isn’t at all transphobic, in fact it’s the feminists who are keeping women from racing.

makes total sense and doesn’t at all sound like the ravings of a ***insult deleted by moderator***

Ladies, you are no longer “women”. Transgender women are “real women”, you are “cis” women. Welcome to the “oppressor” class.

The point of language like “cis-women”, doesn’t even have anything to do with transgenderism. It’s about indoctrinating people to surrender and accept what they’re told. Cult leaders re-name their followers for the same reason- accepting the new name is to psychologically “kill” the former self. They know they’ve got you then.

Biological men should not be able to steal medals from women.

No. No. No.

I have trouble understanding how biological males think it is okay to compete against biological females. Can anyone help? If the women’s category is going to be the catch all for anyone, perhaps it should be renamed? Instead of giving advantages to those biological males who wish to compete against biological women I think there should be categories added rather than lumping everyone into 1 of 2 categories and that it is not transphobic to discuss it.

Lulz. I read a story last week about gay men in England being called “homophobic” for not wanting to have sex with biological females who’ve decided they’re men.

None of this has anything to do with “gender”, it’s all about power and how much idiocy we can all be made to swallow in the name of “progressiveness”.

I’m torn; one part of me wants to defend biological women, because they are the physically weaker sex and deserve some protections; including the right to compete in sporting events on a fair playing field. Of course saying this causes progressive heads to explode, but I’m old enough to still value chivalry even if it is in effect a form of misogyny.

There were plenty more but I stopped looking. There are also strong currents of sexism, racism, and homophobia in the comments, but the transphobia really rages. I suspect that’s when a lot of women and LGBTQ folks and their allies checked out. It’s not about being offended; it’s about being exhausted at constantly defending your basic humanity and identity.

Jonathan, you said, “My version of inclusivity means all voices have value and deserve some space, even the ones who are new to this arena, might say the wrong things sometimes, might not know all the lingo, are rough around the edges, and so on.” This is the fallacy of free speech. The kind of comments like I’ve shared above make this site hostile and unwelcoming for many people. I can’t imagine many trans athlete wanting to chime in on those posts and share their perspective.

I welcome nuance and debate. This isn’t about not wanting folks to disagree with me. This is about a pattern where more progressive ideas are challenged at nearly every turn, especially when shared by a woman. The sneering and sarcasm are exhausting. In the posts about trans athletes, there were plenty of things I disagreed with but people shared opinions in respectful ways. The current moderation policy does not allow for all voices nor give space to them, which then further encourages the comments like above.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

Thank you for that, Joan.

It seems many people here do not want to look in the mirror and address this very real problem. Instead, they are fixated on worshipping their alleged absolute right to say whatever they want without any complaint or repercussion. The lack of focus on the experience of our fellow humans hearing these despicable views speaks volumes about the lack of compassion of many of the BikePoirtland commenters.

Jonathan, it is time for you to lead us out of this tired and broken debate of explaining to bigots why they are bigots and utterly lacking in self-awareness. It is time for you to implement as policy what you know to be true: These racist-enabling views have no place in a robust discussion of any topic relevant to BikePortland.

marisheba
Guest
marisheba

“Instead, they are fixated on worshipping their alleged absolute right to say whatever they want without any complaint or repercussion.”

Can you point to a single commenter in this thread who has advocated for anything even approaching this position? This is complex topic that Jonathan is rather bravely putting a lot of energy into, and there are surely going to be thoughtful, well meaning people who disagree with his approach on either side. Debating where the lines need to be drawn is important and fraught, because there are competing values and considerations at stake. But grossly misrepresenting the aims of the people you disagree with is hardly helpful.

Oregon Mamacita
Guest
Oregon Mamacita

Jonathan- many of those comments above were easy calls. That’s your bad. We had a falling out when you posted a drawing by Hart N. showing a stick figure cyclist shooting a stick figure motorist back in 2015. If you are not hearing the dog whistles, get a moderator who does. Remember that this community really screwed up in 2015 and lost sponsors because people were blind to Hart N.’s deep. deep problems. Now, we still get stuff that comes off as racist or is actually sexist.

soren
Guest
soren

Another thank you from me, Joan. I really appreciate your comments here.

con_tot
Guest
con_tot

I really appreciate the comments section of the website. I don’t always agree with others and they don’t always agree with me, but I do ALWAYS appreciate the dialog. Though I agree that personally hateful sentiment should not be permitted to remain. I am sure this change will entail quite a bit of work for you, Jonathan, but I hope it helps to make the comments section more welcoming to a larger community.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Obviously you can’t personally screen all the comments indefinitely. Somehow we need to get to something that is less effort to manage, and promotes spirited discussion.

I will echo others in requiring site registration in order to post – and emphatically in allowing anonymous pseudonyms.

There’s another suggestion below to bring back the Downvote feature. I strongly disagree with this, because I think the Downvote actually increased negativity, for reasons I’ve described further below. But what you could do is enable Flag/Report This Post feature (as seen on many online forums). The flagging would NOT be publicly visible, so if a post is flagged merely because it expresses an unpopular opinion the poster doesn’t automatically get shamed.

But YOU would see when a post is flagged, particularly when it’s been flagged by numerous people, and then you can decide whether it violates BP’s standards and you need to act on it. You would be the ultimate moderator, but this would help crowdsource a screening/filtration mechanism to highlight offensive comments, and you could spend more time reporting, and less time interpreting every single comment. Of course the flagging mechanism could be abused, but the with site registration requirement you could censure/ban/disable flagging by people that flag everything they disagree with.

It doesn’t matter what your name is
Guest
It doesn’t matter what your name is

It really seems like the “downvoting caused more negativity” crowd can’t explain how it caused more negativity. It appears more to be an issue with people being upset at the ratios of votes they get based on how viewers of the comments feel. Even just having an upvote feature essentially causes the same harms. People can “pile on” upvotes to comments as is. How much more hurtful can allowing the option to downvote something really be!?

Give me downvotes back as well as a report feature. I’m sure that this comments section having more tools to self regulate couldn’t be a bad thing.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

How does downvoting increase dialog and understanding?

IanC
Guest
IanC

Jonathan, I think you do a great job with the comments section. I appreciate the views of other readers and, although I get annoyed by some of the trolls, those views help expand my understanding of the issues we explore here.
Managing a comment section is hard, thankless work. As you touch on, various online publications do the job better than others. I follow the New York Times and I think their comment section is the gold standard. It’s well moderated and there is a minimum of just ranting and flaming. The ‘reader recommended’ comments almost always exist as an informative, elucidating side-car to the articles presented. Even the Washington Post can’t seem to keep the random, schlocky comments away from their site.
The Oregonian’s former Comments section and the current one over at Willamette Week are/were just a cesspool!

Personally, I feel like the Comments Section and online chat rooms, etc are our new public square. As such, they have the most value when citizens discourse fairly and in plain site. Although I know it’ll never happen, I’m a huge proponent of everyone having to register with all common identifiers to become commenters. No anonymity. Free speech is a right for CITIZENS. A citizen should have the decency to stand behind their comments and take the consequences of lies, insults, and other pejorative speech.
That said, I won’t be signing my name because I don’t believe in unilateral disarmament;) !

Thanks again for all you’re doing for our community. I look to BikePortland for a keen insight into local news I care about.

Michael Andersen
Subscriber

This is such a difficult problem.

Speaking as a former BikePortland writer and comment moderator from 2013-16, I have to say that I hope the solution here doesn’t become killing the comments completely. Dealing with the difficult decisions of which comments were and which weren’t worth their costs was really exhausting sonetimes, especially (for me) when there was a predictable popping-up of the same handful of folks to complain about any post that mentioned the existence of either race or gender.

But I simply can’t imagine this work and this community without comments. They were also one of the best parts of the job. You have to take them with a big grain of salt because they’re such a small share of the readership, you have to put up with the the fact that many are tedious and some are hateful, but the good stuff is so good!

I kinda liked the idea of limiting people to 2-4 comments per post or whatever. Dunno what’s technically possible.

D'Andre Muhammed
Guest
D'Andre Muhammed

Is the comment section of BikePortland really adding to the quality of life (and cycling) in Portland? Doesn’t seem like it. I agree with the sentiment of others here, just do away with it. Jon puts out good stories and the comments just seem to taint everything. But that’s only my two cents. Peace.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Some feel that it does add to the quality of life. Many people have mentioned how they appreciate the lively discussions. If you don’t feel that way, feel free to stay out of the comments. There are websites where I avoid looking at the comments because I know they will be a cesspool. I guess they could add a hide/show comments feature, with comments hidden until you click Show. Many websites do that.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

IMO Bike Portland comments are better moderated than on most web / blog sites. Sometimes I don’t understand why comments are held for moderation, but that is the site owner / manager’s prerogative.

Ben DeJarnette
Guest
Ben DeJarnette

Hey Jonathan, have you looked into the Coral Project comments platform? I believe it’s open-source, and it has some really strong features for sorting / curating comments.

Details here: https://coralproject.net/tour/

I know the project lead at Coral if you’d like an intro — just let me know.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

Neurodiversity.

I worked in a field that was steeped with brilliant people, most of whom were somewhere on the spectrum (if u’ll allow sloppiness in terminology). Building a particle accelerator or beating u in chess in 4 moves, no problem…social interaction — much more of a problem.

BPs comment section by its nature is a hotbed for social misfits. No doubt some people feel their agency is muted or crowded out by what they perceive as “mean” interaction…but through all the crass interaction or blind accusations of RACISM!! etc that get lobbed about, i see few sociopaths but a ton of neural wiring on full display.

Hope u don’t lose the comments, either explicitly or by over-pruning.

Charley
Guest
Charley

Yeah. I think I probably come across as “on the spectrum” when I write in online forums. I enjoy that form of debating, because I like playing with logic and reasoning. I mean, I’m not a Vulcan, I do go in with an ax to grind: I value the environment and I value social progress, and I think that policies that are good for bicycle riders enable improvements in the environment and social progress. When I am thinking about that really heady, really logical argument, but writing about some nitty-gritty detail of transportation wonkiness, especially in regards to peoples feelings, I’m aware that it might come across that I don’t actually care about their feelings. In fact, I do care about their feelings, but I’m trying to think ahead to what actually might make their life (ultimately, their feelings) better.

I think the Williams bike lanes are an example of such an issue. I can understand the pain and mistrust of the community in question, but when the only solution is for the City to not invest in safety improvements… that defies logic.

Of course since this is an online “debate,” it’s probably a low quality conversation. I’m not remotely connected to the tech industry, so I don’t have details on how to encourage overall quality of the conversation, but I have heard a few things:
– A time delay between typing and being able to post (because people type and post for instant gratification).
– A move to confirmed, not anonymous accounts.
– A prompt on certain kinds of comments “Are you sure you want to post this?”

I really value BP, and I think Maus does a great job at moderating the opposing values of free speaking and kindness. If he hasn’t figured out yet how to make it any better, it’s only because this is a hard problem that no one has figured how to solve.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

“A move to confirmed, not anonymous accounts.”

I propose an alternative that may or may not serve the same end to which you aim that proposed shift. I follow a political blog whose sole author moderates all comments. The author does not publish comments from anonymous users until he emails them, they give him their real name, and he confirms they are a real person.

That approach clearly doesn’t address all problems anonymous commenters can create, but it at least shields anonymous commenters from offline backlash.

rick
Guest
rick

Because comments are removed from people who respond with a different point of view compared to the negative so-and-so who wants to remind people, on a topic of the Alpenrose Velodrome’s closure and obviously softball and baseball fields closing and theater closing and the adjacent outdoor bathroom closing, that velodrome racing is white male elitist. As if the velodrome has the history of say, golf courses, that excluded people based on religious views?

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

A couple ideas:

1. Comment cool-downs: Limit people to one comment per day or week. Maybe this could create a comments section that’s more like “letters to the editor” than the predictable and tiresome back and forth between known-entities.

2. Require money and moderate the comments: This is the “metafilter” model. Metafilter requires people pay a one-time-fee of $5 before they can participate in dicusssions. The $5 fee is low enough for most anyone to participate, but is enough of a bar to filter out a lot of crap-posting. The moderation tends to keep discussions civil (off-topic-comments, abusive-comments, ad-hominems, …). Of course, moderators aren’t free. This would be a non-trivial investment. https://www.metafilter.com/guidelines.mefi https://www.metafilter.com/content_policy.mefi

Nina
Guest
Nina

I love the comment cool down idea! Like when has the third or fourth tweet or comment ever changed someone’s mind?

casual observer
Guest
casual observer

Jonathan, thanks for all of your work. I’ve been a long time reader and limited commenter. I have noticed the changes in the comments over the years. I cringe, laugh, and ignore many of them. I also gain valuable insight reading people’s opinions and points of view and the responses. I’ve learned how different people can read the same comment and feel differently and that has helped me be more aware of my actions and words in life. There is no place for hate on here for sure, but I do feel that overall the comment section is a bit more open to other perspectives then it was 10 years ago. I like riding my bikes for many purposes, but I always felt unwelcome here in the past because I own a car and I like to ride a road bike. I’m also not an advocate so I had no cred. To me, you had to be part of the hard core PDX bike scene club to be on here or you were run off. A great example was the article that ran off the poor guy that people thought was a cop showing up on a ride (https://bikeportland.org/2013/04/01/activists-suspect-ride-participant-is-an-undercover-portland-police-bureau-captain-84949). You are in a very difficult position for sure and I don’t envy you, but if anyone has the temperament and skills to pull this off and make everyone happy its you.

Jim Labbe
Subscriber
Jim Labbe

I super appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that Jonathan puts into managing comments and his decision to highlight the issue here. As much as I disagree with the original comment that Tony highlighted, I actually didn’t think it is worthy of being deleted. How a comment “reflects on the community” shouldn’t be the basis of deleting a comment. There are better reasons that strike a better balance. But / and I do agree with much said here and the issues raised by Tony’s comments. I hate to admit it, but I have frequented and commented less on Bike Portland in part due to growing maliciousness of a lot of the comments and the how much the threads are dominated by the same people. So there are lots of good ideas here including limiting the number of comments by individual commenters and perhaps not allowing anonymous commenters (Sorry Hello Kitty). Requiring people to put their name behind their words would seem to make them accountable in the real not just the virtual community.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

If I had to use my real name, I would not participate in this forum at all. I suspect others would not as well. Maybe that’s ok, but when it only takes a few clicks to strip the context and publish someone’s words on twitter, I’ll go elsewhere.

One thing that would keep me around but reduce my participation would be if my comments got fewer upvotes. I pay attention to that metric as a gauge of how the community feels about what I write, and I try to adjust accordingly. I don’t pander, and what I post is true to myself, but I try to put things in an amusing or clever or different context when I can, and I try to avoid the easy cheap shot and the snarky response. If my posts were always stuck at 0 or 1, I would definitely write less.

Barney
Guest
Barney

If you don’t simply do away with the comments section then perhaps you could limit it to one comment per person per topic. That way you would end the running arguments that are so tedious.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Here’s an idea that is both feasible and novel. What if there were two comment sections, one above the other. The bottom one would be moderated in a similar fashion to the one we have today, and the top one could be very strictly policed for anything edgy or potentially offensive to anyone. People could participate in whichever section they chose (or perhaps both), but their posts would be subject to the rules of the section they were posted in.

That would give folks who wanted it a more sanitized comments section, while providing room for those who prefer today’s comment section room to discuss issues more freely. It would also provide an interesting experiment to see if different levels of strictness produced different qualities of discussion.

I imagine the total number of comments wouldn’t change, so the moderation work would be similar to what it is today.

D Hogan
Guest
D Hogan

As far as the comments section, I don’t see any problem with diverse opinions etc.. I just don’t see why any commenter should be anonymous. If you want to weigh in on a topic, lets see who you are so we can respond.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

I see nothing wrong with the comments section as is. Just look at t/he comments after this story: over 200 people have commented and engaged in a worthwhile, civil discussion! Sure, we may disagree on some things, but clearly the dialogue is working well.