Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

Content Moderation Case Study: Knitting Community Ravelry Bans All Talk Supporting President Trump (2019)

from the knitting-politics dept

Summary: When people think of content moderation and political debates, they may not think about knitting. However, the knitting community at the online site Ravelry has become a fascinating place to explore content moderation questions. This actually goes back many years, as Ravelry’s content moderation practices (handled by dozens of volunteer moderators) were studied for a PhD dissertation by Sheila Saden Pisa that was published in 2013, entitled: “In search of a practice: large scale moderation in a massive online community.

Knitting and Ravelry have also been quite political at times. All the way back in 2009, a blog post was written by someone who was kicked off of Ravelry, and she believed it was because of her conservative political views. After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Ravelry was where the initial plans for the now famous “pussyhats” (for the Women’s March protesting Trump’s Presidency) were first released and shared. Ioana Literat and Sandra Markus studied Ravelry’s role in online participation, civic engagement and “craftivism.”

Still, it caught many people by surprise, in late 2019, when Ravelry declared a new policy, saying that it would no longer allow any posts supporting Donald Trump. From the announcement:

We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry.

This includes support in the form of forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and all other content. Note that we will not destroy project notebook data. If a project needs to be removed from the site, we will make sure that you have access to your data. Even if you are permanently banned from Ravelry, you will still be able to access any patterns that you purchased. Also, we will make sure that you receive a copy of your data.

We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.

The Community Guidelines have been updated with the following language: “Note that support of President Trump, his administration, or individual policies that harm marginalized groups, all constitute hate speech.”

The company noted that this was not a statement of support for other candidates, nor was it saying that it would ban people who (outside of Ravelry) supported Trump. It also made clear that it was not banning other political topics or statements in support of other candidates. Instead, it said: “We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.” The decision created quite a lot of attention with many supporters and detractors.

Decisions to be made by Ravelry:

  • How do you decide when one politician’s positions are so problematic to your community that you ban any support of that candidate?
  • How will this policy be enforced? Should it apply to earlier statements of support or just future ones?
  • How will attempts to get around the ban (such as with hints or euphemisms) be dealt with?
  • Can volunteer moderators be supporters of Trump?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • What are the pros & cons of banning support for Trump v. banning all talk of politics?
  • Would other approaches -- such as moving all political talk, or all talk about Trump, to a specific area -- work as effectively?
  • If, as has been suggested in some Section 230 reform bills, the laws change to require “political neutrality” in content moderation, how will Ravelry’s moderation practices be impacted?
Resolution: After Donald Trump left the White House on January 20th, Ravelry reiterated that its policy remained the same, even though Trump was no longer President. A year and a half after Ravelry’s decision, the New Yorker published a long, and detailed article about the decision to ban Trump support on the site and how it is going, entitled “How Politics Tested Ravelry and the Crafting Community.

On the day of the ban, Kim Denise, one of the volunteer moderators, told me, “I was, like, I’m so psyched. I’m so proud to be part of Ravelry.” Then the ban happened. “And it was, like, Oh, my God. I wish we’d thought this through.” Right-wing trolls began signing up for Ravelry accounts and spamming threads with anti-Ravelry or pro-Trump sentiment. Denise described it as “hordes of screaming people lining up to sling feces at us. . . . It was terrible.” Users scurried to help moderators by flagging posts for deletion. They recruited a retired moderator to help deal with trolls. Within a couple of months, most of the activity generated by the Trump ban had subsided. Conservative users banded together, in a movement hashtagged #RavelryExodus, deleting their accounts and shifting to other platforms to sell patterns.

The company’s founder also admitted that after the ban was announced, she realized the difficulty in figuring out the exact boundaries of enforcement:

Jessica admitted that Ravelry has struggled to pinpoint exactly what constitutes inappropriate content. “Some of this stuff is so nuanced,” she said. “Think about what tweet got Trump banned. It was not about attending the Inauguration.” She went on, “We went through some pretty crazy rabbit holes: ‘O.K., this is an eagle, but it isn’t really the Nazi eagle. Or is it?’ It’s just, like, ugh.”

Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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Filed Under: content moderation, donald trump, knitting, politics
Companies: ravelry


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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 2:04pm

    No such content moderation worries for another group of textile-affinity hobbyists: the "Tiny Pricks Project" created a worldwide group of embroiderers who, presumably using tiny pricks, added inane quotes from The Orange One and his henchman to vintage pieces of embroidery they'd found at tag sales and thrift shops. At times, new submissions appeared within the hour of their utterance, mostly on Instagram... crafters working overtime to soothe their collective outrage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 14 May 2021 @ 3:57pm

    I guess they will need to knit asshats for Trumpers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 May 2021 @ 12:54am

      Re:

      "I guess they will need to knit asshats for Trumpers."

      I think the red cap they wear on their ass already makes a knitted cap redundant. I'm a little rusty with my anatomy but I'm pretty sure the bit the shit comes out of is the asshole.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Koby (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 4:02pm

    Not Really

    Still, it caught many people by surprise

    Many of us are not surprised at all. This is a clear example of left wing fascism, and has been much more common in recent years. When any difference of opinion is labelled as "hate speech", tolerance and diversity will fly out the window.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 4:10pm

      Re: Not Really

      Kolby, are the Klan purveyors of hate speech? Answer yes or no.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jojo (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 4:20pm

      Re: Not Really

      “Left wing fascism...”

      Bruh. Read those words again, but slower so you could realize the immense stupidity of what you just said.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      AC Unknown (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 4:55pm

      Re: Not Really

      Why do you lie?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 15 May 2021 @ 10:11am

        Re: Re: Not Really

        He doesn't have an argument if he stick to verifiable facts.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 May 2021 @ 12:56am

        Re: Re: Not Really

        "Why do you lie?"

        Because hewon't get any sympathy if his argument of non-moderation is backed by what he really thinks; That he's sad that nazis and Proud Boys are being kicked off Twitter and Facebook for chanting racist slogans the same way they're being booted out of most bars.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 17 May 2021 @ 1:25am

          Re: Re: Re: Not Really

          The sad thing is it's not like he'd get less sympathy if he was at least honest about it as it's not like he's fooling anyone about who/what he's really arguing for at this point with the very telling silence anytime someone tries to pin him down on specifics about what exactly he thinks people are getting banned for that's such a problem.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 18 May 2021 @ 7:34am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Not Really

            "The sad thing is it's not like he'd get less sympathy if he was at least honest about it..."

            Yeah, the problem the "alt-right" of today has is that they're both stupid and cowardly. They are just bright enough to realize people as a whole don't like their views and too scared to fess up to what they really think because they're so pathologically desperate for non-white-trash company they wriggle away like bloody pill bugs every time someone shines a light on the topic.

            The original nazis were at least monsters who inspired the design of Bad Guys in filmography for generations. They had the fsking chutzpah to stand for what they believed in. Along with their fashion sense just about the only admirable thing about them.

            The neo-nazis of today? Utterly pathetic. Semi-literate chimps afraid of their own shadows with Cadet Bonespur "leading" them by shouting encouragement from a safe distance. At least Hitler led his Beer Hall Coup from the front.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 5:13pm

      any difference of opinion

      Which opinions, pray tell?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 8:07pm

      Re: Not Really

      "...left wing fascism..."

      Nearly as bad as Christian Satanism but not quite as bad as vegan cannibalism...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 6:57pm

    When I've helped moderate topic-specific forums, our rule has been to delete all off-topic posts. I can understand moderators not deleting inoffensive posts--but if a gang of spammers offended the community, the moderators' JOB is to STOP the spam, and to review the rules to make sure all moderators understand the problem.

    If the posters had been doing nothing more aggressive than post patterns for trump-faced pumpkins (or vice versa) or MAGA caps, I am sure there would have been no rule changes. But that is not what happened. This isn't about being political. This is about being deliberately offensive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 10:14pm

      Re:

      If the posters had been doing nothing more aggressive than post patterns for trump-faced pumpkins (or vice versa) or MAGA caps, I am sure there would have been no rule changes. But that is not what happened. This isn't about being political. This is about being deliberately offensive.

      I've no idea why you'd say that, as demonstrated post-ban the poor victimized Trump cultists are the height of class and civility, something I'm sure was the just as much true before the ban as it was afterwards and leaves the justification for said ban based upon nothing but hypotheticals with no basis in reality.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 7:12pm

    "content moderation"

    And Techdirt still calls this blatant censorship "content moderation".

    Shameful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 7:17pm

      Yes or no: Could the people who were affected by this moderation decision espouse pro-Trump speech elsewhere?

      • If “yes”: The decision wasn’t censorship.

      • If “no”: You’re being intentionally ignorant, and the decision still wasn’t censorship.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 14 May 2021 @ 8:10pm

      Re: "content moderation"

      [Asserts facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2021 @ 2:11pm

      Re: "content moderation"

      Really? You're really bitching about them limiting Trump's audience of the knitting community? I'm sure that's what cost him the popular vote twice.

      What in the fucking fuck do you think that ignorant piece of shit or his mail-order whore have ever knitted?

      This is why people like myself think you're fucking stupid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2021 @ 10:00pm

    If you ever find yourself being consistently moderated out of a particular venue--change your choice of topics, or your concept of an inoffensive approach to persuasion ... or your venue ... or expect everyone who knows you online to think you are stupider than yeast--at least yeast evolves to thrive in different environments, eh?

    Your choice, your fate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wmbl-2 (profile), 17 May 2021 @ 6:13am

    I posted there, let's see what happens

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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