Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Spencer and his Readers: Ideas for Improving Jihad Watch

In an article today on Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer notes how three different readers notified him of censorship of Jihad Watch occurring on the computer servers at their three different places of employment (all in the U.S.A.). At the end of his article, Spencer issues a plea to his readers for a favor:

“So if anyone reading this knows of any way to contact the relevant authorities at the city of Chicago, Bank of America, and/or "Site Coach," please pass them along. We are not going to be silenced without offering resistance.”

This is another example of solicitation of help from his readers that Spencer has occasionally fielded on Jihad Watch. I have alluded before in my blog to this as one of four features of Jihad Watch that require modification—to wit: his failure to sufficiently acknowledge his interdependence with his reader population.

My suggestion is that, were he to try to do two things (which I will get to in a moment), he would greatly increase, in turn, three things that are in his (and his readers’) interest:

1) the chances of receiving such help as he occasionally solicits

2) an increase in fame and book sales


3) an increased likelihood of the success of his noble mission.

Now, as for #2, there is nothing wrong with a person trying to garner fame and money. I am all for it—even if the agenda behind it is not particularly beneficial to society. But Spencer’s agenda, I believe, is beneficial for society, and since I am a supporter of modern Capitalism, I find it only natural that socially beneficial causes will have proponents who combine their philanthropy with their perfectly ordinary appetites for notoriety and money. Beyond that, of course, there is the further point that the more famous Spencer becomes, and the more money he makes, the more likely his mission will succeed—and that is a result, as I have said, that I along with most of his readers, dearly hope for.

So not only would it be good for Spencer himself to try to augment the three things noted above, it would also be good for his cause, and for his readers who support that cause.

The purpose of my essay today is, again, to suggest that Spencer is not doing everything he could to maximize the above factors, and there are a couple of things he could do that would help, basically revolving around treating his reader population with more respect:

1. Procedural management on Jihad Watch:

a) Ban, and/or temporarily suspend, the people who should be banned (and/or who should be temporarily suspended);


b) Don’t ban the people who should not be banned: at worst, temporarily suspend them for 24 hours with a monitory explanation for why they have been suspended.


The people who should be banned from Jihad Watch we have discussed before on this blog (though the records of those discussions had to be expunged because their exemplar went postal with threats against me)—basically people who disrupt threads by attacking other readers with threats and verbal abuse; people who indulge in blatant racism and/or excessive profane language; and people who spam (including repeating posts verbatim too many times or posting off-topic or irrelevant posts too many times). The people who should not be banned from Jihad Watch include people who present “hobbyhorses” that are otherwise on-topic, fairly intelligently and maturely expressed, and reasonably brief in presentation.

Furthermore, our readers here will note my introduction of a new concept into the management of Jihad Watch comments: the temporary suspension. Currently, there seems to be only the ruthlessly binary option of banning, or not banning. Temporary suspension for 24 hours or so would be a way to refine penalties and would reflect the fact that most of the readers of Jihad Watch are neither angels nor demons, but belong to some point along a spectrum between (and many individual readers may vary from time to time).

Now, all of the above suggestions about banning, and not banning, would of course necessitate some expenditure of time and labor on the part of Spencer and his staff—time and labor spent to design the parameters, and time and labor spent to manage and enforce them. Spencer, as the head of a burgeoning organization that, as I said above, depends greatly for its notoriety and financial well-being upon its reader population, has no real leg to stand on to protest that he cannot be bothered to expend such time and labor for such a basic and necessary management protocol. It’s a matter of respecting his readers—which leads us to our second overall suggestion.

2. More interaction with, and input from, the reader population:

At certain junctures, and with respect to certain topics, Spencer should have more interaction with his readers and show that he is concerned about their input. This can be done in a variety of ways:

a) Certain Jihad Watch actions should be less unilateral and should try to involve the reader population more. For example, when Spencer announced from on high that a certain Muslim “reformer”, Tashbih Sayyed, had become a Jihad Watch Board member, it would have been a nice occasion for Spencer to solicit—in a thread especially devoted to this—from his readers their reactions, and even to throw open for a day or two the thread (or another thread) to questions from readers for Sayyed himself to respond to. Another example would be what we alluded to above: should Spencer decide to incorporate my suggestions about banning and temporary suspension, he could also solicit from his readers, on one thread especially devoted to this, their suggestions and reactions, and this thread, when finished, would become one important datum for Spencer and his Board Members to review when designing their management protocol.

b) Twice a year, Spencer should publish a thread as an open forum for readers to ask him questions and to offer their suggestions. Ditto for Hugh Fitzgerald.

c) Open up a third site directly connected to Jihad Watch and Dhimmi Watch, with perhaps the name Readers Watch—where Spencer will publish one or two essays daily written by readers of Jihad Watch who have otherwise never had an essay published on Jihad Watch or Dhimmi Watch. The essays can range all over the map—from being intelligently written and well-researched articles, to being rants. Certain rules would apply, of course. In addition, this third site would provide a “pressure valve” that might help to redirect and reduce some of the overwraught emotions that tend to cause some of the problematic postings that require banning in the first place—or that, at least, require monitoring for same by the Jihad Watch staff. The fact that Spencer maintains rules about who will be permitted to comment and who will not, and about what kinds of comments he will or will not allow, at such an aloof and mostly inscrutable distance from his readers, does not foster a climate conducive to maximizing his reader support.

In addition, this new third site, Readers Watch, could also provide an arena for a phenomenon I have seen occur frequently on Jihad Watch: the extended dialogue between Jihad Watch readers and some apparently Muslim reader who has dropped in to make some claims or to pose some arguments. Most of the dialogues have been very interesting and potentially fruitful for sharpening our rhetorical blades for the War of Ideas; and yet, they occur in a largely ignored vacuum, with Spencer, Hugh, Marisol and other Jihad Watch Board Members standing completely aloof. With a new third site, Readers Watch, such dialogues can find a proper venue in the official light of Jihad Watch, and rules can even be set to encourage the Muslims to participate more conscientiously—for example, the Muslim participant can be warned that if he or she does not answer any particular question after two reminders (an important problematic feature of those dialogues, I have noticed), he or she will be banned.


If Spencer wants more fame and more money, and if he wants his mission to be more likely to succeed, and if he cares about his readers and wishes to treat them with more respect, then what’s not to like about my suggestions above? They will help him, and they will help us. And they will help the anti-jihad cause. Win-win-win.

1 comment:

Nobody said...


Not bad suggestions. Some thoughts on this:

- On one hand, I'm willing to assume that Spencer is busy with the books he's writing, the articles he does for FPM and the various radio and TV interviews that he occasionally has lined up. OTOH, he does his special bit on blogging the Quran on hotair, and the same piece surfaces on hotair on Sunday, and JW on Monday. While JW does have a header link to the Quran blogs, this seems to give the impression that he reserves better treatment for other sites than for his own. Given how difficult it is to get registered on hotair (I just managed it last week when that window was open), JW should certainly get the priority on this if he's to expect questions on the surah being blogged, rather than more general questions;

On Procedural Management @ JW:

- I like the idea of having a new status called 'suspended', where a poster has the opportunity to fix whatever needs fixing. I also agree with you that they need to do a better job of determining who's ban-worthy, and not crack down on somebody simply because of a disagreement. The idea of letting other posters weigh in on whether someone should be banned or not is a good idea - and the moderators/owners still have the option of overriding them.

- I'd also add that given how posters sometimes tend to get their posts deleted or edited, the rules for posting need to be explicitly spelt out, and not left to some vague interpretation of a one time thread 'Komments Kraziness' that discussed this issue. If they don't like the use of the term 'Muzzie' to describe Muslims, say so in clear terms. If nuking dar-ul-Islam or burning the Quran is off-limits, say so, and in some cases, like the latter, explain why. A few days ago, there was a thread about Mohammed's effigy being burned in Denmark, and I posted a question as to why calls for burning Qurans are treated differently. Instead of responding, someone there simply edited out my question in that post, and ignored it. If they don't want to spell out the rationale behind their rules and regulations, fine, but at least spell out the rules and regulations.

- Given how busy Spencer is with his books and interviews, and Hugh is with his essays, I think the extra employees/volunteers they have - Marisol, Anne, whoever - should handle the task of this management. Note that that would also involve empowering them to ban posters that they determine need banning, instead of the call being exclusively reserved for the head honcho. And when they do ban somebody, their decision should be final: if it gets reversed by RS, it has an undermining effect on their authority.

- On expanding the site for 'Reader Watch', I have a different suggestion. Right now, if one goes to the site, and has a story on, say, Russia, that one wants to contribute and comment on, they are forced to post something off-topic in one of the threads. Conversely, most of the threads on JW are 'timeless': let's say there was a thread 2 years ago on the Armenian genocide, a new poster who wants to weigh in on that can't because the thread in question is frozen. My suggestion: don't freeze any threads.

Instead, have a community-server like forum, where the topics are classified properly - something like this. That way, off topic posts are minimized, and those who willfully offend can be suspended or banned. Also, say a new poster weighs in on an old topic with a new look, that topic will come to the fore, just like in my example above. (Incidentally, I'm not suggesting that their classification of topics and structural layout is the right way, but just illustrates an example of how it can be done. One could have different things - jihadi activity split out by geography between continents, discussion on Islamic texts, dhimmi activities by Western institutions, Hugh's essays, JW housekeeping like this article above, and so on)

An added advantage of that is that when a news story breaks, the first one in can post it in the right place. In such an event, what the JW moderators would have to do is prevent replication, but RS would no longer have to glaze through 500 e-mails a day. Once this is established, most posters would post things to the relevant threads, and those who spawn too many redundant threads could be disciplined after warnings.

This also can accommodate your 'ReaderWatch' suggestion - have a section dedicated to that. Also, have a section, maybe for Muslim comments - those who send their inane hate mail to RS - and let them vent there, and let the troll-bashers in JW take them on. At the end of the day, management can determine whether to keep or flush those threads - typically, they'd be more noise and less signal.

- On the question of who sits on the JW board, I'm content with leaving that to RS and his board. I don't know how exactly 501C3s work, and what needs to happen, but it's a fair assumption that those who fund such organizations directly (not by buying Spencer books) are the ones making the calls on that. On Tasbih Sayyid, it would have been nice of him and others to have participated in those discussions. Another disappointing aspect of this is that some of the guest hosts (oxymoron?) like Greg just ignore the comments section: I've posted questions to him about his video 'Islam: what the world needs to know', and just seen it ignored.

- I agree with the suggestion that he should open up an open forum for readers to offer their feedback and suggestions.

Only thing I don't see - how do all these above suggestions promote the anti-Islamic cause in the larger public?