At OnlySky, we are trying to generate a respectful and interactive community to give voice to the nonreligious. Help to achieve that aim!
Dear cherished readers,
This is something that needs to be said ahead of some changes in terms of dealing with conversations that veer into insult grudge matches.
The first thing to say is a reminder that this column is no longer a blog but a media column. Though I will still be writing on philosophy, religion, exegesis, and on the all topics I used to write, there will also be general reporting from a secular perspective. OnlySky is, after all, a media organisation—the first of its kind in the world. We are a media organization designed to give voice and representation to the nonreligious.
Blogs are a different kettle of fish, with a much more personal, in-group mentality. This column is designed to be read by all, so there is a slight change that should be reflected in my writing.
That said, discussion and interaction are still absolutely vital. Vital to generating a meaningful community, and a community that can have respectful and inspiring conversations. If you want to attack this aim as some kind of “tone-policing,” then so be it. But think about wanting to visit a café in order to have an enjoyable and engaging time, discussing hot topics of the day over a decent cup of coffee. Do you choose the one over there where people are shouting and swearing, throwing insults, and piling in on each other? Or do you choose the one over here where people are enjoying calm and engrossing conversations, showing each other respect?
Why should the internet be no different to “real” life? The internet is real life.
I am truly grateful to so many of you who continue to contribute to rich, interesting conversations on my articles. Honestly. My only regret is that in my insanely busy schedule in now being a journalist, an author, a publisher, a YouTuber, working a regular job 24 hours a week, a father of demanding twins, and a partner to a woman who sees precious little of me even when we are in the house together, I don’t get to survey and interact with the comments threads as much as I would like.
At OnlySky, we’re a participatory civic media company working to build a community that embodies the values we stand for. We want our platform to be an inclusive, welcoming community for everyone. While there’s a ton of great conversations happening here and always have been, there have been a number of debates that have escalated negatively and violated our community guidelines. Remember, as mentioned, this is a different space to my previous blog. And I also need to own up to this because, upon further reflection, I also recognize that I too have at times fallen into the trap of violating the guidelines, and I am now using this appeal as an opportunity to grow with this new platform.
So, moving forward, I will be changing the way I interact with those with whom I disagree, including those who are antagonistic toward me. I will not take the bait, and you can hold me to that. This will be challenging for me to begin with as there is often a lot of history with some commenters.
We at OnlySky need to hold all of our users, regardless of their views, to the same standard. This is absolutely pertinent to both sides of the debate. We do not tolerate personal attacks, including snide or belittling remarks, and we expect our readers to go after ideas and not people.
The guidelines exist not as a constraint on those who hold vile opinions, but as a way of maintaining a productive and civil space for discussion. We want to be that nice, attractive café.
We don’t say “Personal attacks are not allowed, unless you are right.” We don’t give a green light to belittling remarks “so long as the other person deserves it,” or “he started it.” If someone is being insufferable, refrain from engaging with them, consider muting them (this is a feature we are working on and may have been inadvertently missed), and/or flag the comment (but only if they actually violated the guidelines, not because they hold opinions with which you disagree).
This is not about “who started it.” It is critical that the bad behavior of some users is not mirrored in response, because this not only results in a toxic commenting environment, but also make it difficult to step in cleanly to remove harmful participants.
That’s not to say that there isn’t an impossible-to-solve tension between freedom of speech, liberty, inclusion, diversity, respect, tolerance, offense, truth, and open discussion of difficult ideas. Sadly, all of those things struggle to realistically coexist, especially in a world of misinformation and disinformation. But if we do discuss difficult ideas—and that is something I wholeheartedly endorse—we must really try to do that in a healthy and respectful way.
So please, review the community guidelines, take a step back and a deep breath, and join me on this journey to building a better community for everyone. Let’s all work to take ownership over our own behavior and comments and be the change we want, working towards a deeply intellectually and culturally stimulating environment.
The guidelines can be found here: https://onlysky.media/community-features/
I believe that from this weekend onwards, moderators will be working much more robustly to ensure that this kind of community is achieved, so please, please take the time to read them.
Yours respectfully (I hope and intend),
Jonathan MS Pearce