Community Note

I am not a content-generating machine.

Certainly, in the abstract, everyone who participates in the community here agrees with that. But, in practice, there seems to be some confusion about it.

Let me begin here. Shakesville has four parts:

1. The front page. Shakesville is a blog about stuff. Its content published on the main page is written by people. Most of it is written by me. I write around 20,000 words every week for this space, including comments. By nature of the subject matter central to this space, much of what's written here is personal to its authors.

2. The comments section. Shakesville is also a community, in which a percentage of the readership wants to actively participate. The comments threads and their hundreds of daily comments are moderated by people. Because we run the community as a safe a space as possible, moderation entails reading every comment, editing/deleting comments that don't adhere to the safe space guidelines, and being actively involved in comments as participants.

3. The community outside comments. As I have previously noted, I actively care about the people who spend time here, and I do the business of caring on-blog and off. I communicate privately with Shakers who are seeking advice, who have lost a loved one, have lost a job, have suffered an injury or trauma, are going through a relationship crisis, are having surgery, have just come out, have just had a baby, have just gotten engaged, are considering an abortion, a divorce, self-harm, need advice or just a sympathetic ear on any one of a million different subjects. I mentor Shakers just starting their own blogs and looking for help; I commiserate with Shakers who are themselves established bloggers and share ideas. I have reviewed résumés and served as a reference. I have loaned Shakers money. I have found local (to them) psychiatrists, victims' advocates, a gay-friendly wedding planner, a trans-friendly doctor, a tax attorney, plus-sized clothiers, breed-specific rescues. Caring about this community is not an abstract concept to me. It is concrete and it is personal and it is an active practice.

4. The back office. Shakesville is a virtual space made possible by the hard work of people. This is my full-time job, and the contributors and mods volunteer their time and talents. In addition to writing content, I serve as editor-in-chief for all content including guest posts, design the space, maintain the technical parts of the space e.g. commenting system, pay all of the outgoing costs, including consulting fees for all the technical shit I can't do myself, and do all the general management, like coordinating between writers who's going to cover something. The three other parts of Shakesville are not a magical kingdom created of pixie dust. It takes lots of time and lots of work to make this space happen.

Not everyone appreciates all aspects of this space. Many readers just want to read the content here and don't give a fuck about the rest of it. Which is fine, and this post isn't really for or about them.

It's for and about the people who actively participate in the community aspects, particularly those who enjoy the safe space made possible by all the hard work that goes into creating a space they ostensibly love, but nonetheless casually ignore the humanity of the people behind it.

* Content isn't produced by "Shakesville." Shakesville is not a person.

* If you express your dismay, anger, sanctimonious judgment about some news story not being "at Shakesville," you're not indicting a blog; you're indicting the people who write it—and you're ignoring all the possible reasons something hasn't been covered here, like the possibility we're waiting for further developments, that we need to do research, that it's a distressing topic none of us have the spoons to address right now, that we don't have the mods to cover what will probably be a contentious thread, that no one wants to write about it, or that none of us has heard about it because we are not news machines that get every piece of information in the world Matrixed into our skulls in a constant feed.

* Comments don't exist in a void. If you quote and respond to a part of a post, you are not responding to "this sentence written on Shakesville." Without any caveat or qualification indicating otherwise, you are responding to the person who wrote it. At a blog where every contributor is active in at least their own comments threads, and where we are expected to be there as much as possible, pretending we aren't there in order to imagine you're commenting into a void is impolite. To put it politely.

There are blogs where content is posted and authors disappear and commenters discuss the ideas in the abstract. In fact, that's what happens when, for example, I write at The Guardian. My piece is published and then comments are made on the piece without my participation. Often people have asked me how I can stand the frequently critical and unfair comments there, but it's very easy for me to not be bothered by those comments. I'm not there in a capacity to be accountable to commenters. I'm there to produce content for The Guardian.

There are plenty of blogs that are primarily or strictly about producing content for discussion, but this isn't one of those blogs. It can't be, if the community is to be run as a safe space. That requires investment by its authors in the community, beyond just responding to the occasional commenter.

Thus, commenters don't get to have it both ways: If you want us to be the sort of space where contributors are in comments and immediately accountable for every idea and every image and every word in every post, then you don't get to pretend we don't exist when it suits you.

And if you want us to be the sort of space where contributors respect the individual humanity of each of our commenters, where we make a serious if imperfect effort to use inclusive and respectful language, then you don't get to treat us like shit in return.

When commenters insist that they're just responding to "something written on Shakesville," as if I am not there, that obliges me to remove myself from my own space. I'm meant to put my time and energy and talent and self into writing enormous amounts of content for everyone, then I'm supposed to detach myself from that content as if I don't exist, so people can just "react to it," without being inconvenienced by my humanity.

It is unfun to invest myself to create a community of which I'm not allowed to be a part, where my authorship and ownership are only recognized when someone wants to hold me personally accountable for failures.

This is a dynamic between author and reader about which a lot of bloggers complain, privately. It's the thing, this being treated like a content-generating robot with no humanity except when being criticized, that makes a lot of bloggers burn the fuck out. It isn't the trolls that really get us—it's the dehumanization by our own readers.

And talking about it, like I'm doing now, is considered uncool, whiny, pathetic, needy, whatever, even (and often especially) by people who feel exactly the same way. It's perceived as weak to ask for and expect more of your community, but, suffice it to say it is never easy for me to write anything that I know will garner the usual eye-rolling from the places that think what we try to do here is stupid.

If other bloggers want to not acknowledge it, or chalk it up to that's just how the internet is, that's cool, but I'd rather address this and try to avoid flaming out.

If you're going to participate here, you need to respect that this space is built by people, its content written by individual people. I frankly don't believe it's too much to ask that, in a space dedicated to social justice, we center the humanity of both its users and its architects.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

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