9/18: Due to repeated violations of Terms of Service by one poster, as soon as Blogger administrators have a chance to examine the posts in question, there will be a deletion of a number of posts. During the cleanup of this recent incident, all posts that might be considered abusive will be removed. We apologize to those who characterized the primary offender with creative and probably very fitting epithets.
Among other points, Blogger Terms of Service state that:
Member agrees not to transmit through the Service any unlawful, harassing, libelous, abusive, threatening, or harmful material of any kind or nature. Member further agrees not to transmit any material that encourages conduct that could constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any applicable local, state, national or international law or regulation.
Granted, political forums often involve the exchange of hard words. Each of us has our opinion. We think others ought to share it. Few of us have the legal background to understand what constitutes abuse or libel; indeed, libel on the Internet is a matter of legal debate.
So, here's the simple solution: Mercury Rising will set and enforce its own guidelines:
1. All posters should register with Blogger. Registration requires that they agree to Blogger's Terms of Service, which covers most situations.
2. Hosts do not promise the same level of courtesy to unregistered posters that are granted to Blogger members. For example, hosts may at their discretion, delete or edit the posts of unregistered posters.
3. Mercury Rising discourages abuse, even if it does not rise to the level of a Terms of Service violation.
4. If the hosts say, "Stop," stop. Anything further is harassment.
5. Mercury Rising does not encourage the gratuitous abuse of political figures. If you have the time to post something inflammatory, you have the time to post substantiation for it.
6. We are human and not perfectly consistent. Policing the blog is not our day job. So, when we say that behavior does not pass muster, that's the end of the discussion. Violations will be dealt with through TOS, abuse reports to ISPs, and/or by removal of or editing of posts.
What is abuse?
The unsubstantiated labeling of others with negative labels is abusive. "Racist," "Anti-Semite," "Nazi," and "Communist" are very hard labels, associated with mass violence. They ought to be used sparingly. And yet political discussion necessarily involves discussion of these categories. Therefore, one should ask:
* is the labeling relevant to the debate?
* could a random group of people be persuaded that there was a reason to use the label?
* is the labeling a single incident, or is it repeated to the point that it might be regarded as harassing?
* is there any mitigation, either by ambiguity or humor, to the labeling?
"Racists hate Keith Ellison" is not abusive, even if addressed to someone who hates Keith Ellison, since there's no logical connection to the poster. For example, non-racists might hate Ellison for other reasons.
"You hate Keith Ellison, so you are a racist," might not be abusive if the motives of the person attacking Ellison cannot be explained as normal partisan feelings. If an inference can reasonably be drawn that the unstated reason for the attack is racialist, it might be acceptable.
"You're not a racist. You just haven't yet met any African Americans you like." is probably not abusive, since it employs humor.
"You are a communist," in a thread on electoral fraud is probably abusive even if directed to a communist, since it clearly has nothing to do with the topic at hand. The point of debate is to discuss ideas, not the personalities of the posters.
Gratuitously accusing others of felonies is not simply abuse. It is a crime.
Making threats, veiled or not, is not simply abuse. It is a crime.