I often see discussions about what level of civility should or shouldn’t be allowed in communities phrased as “censorship”, especially by those who are opposed to moderating civility.

I’m starting to dislike the term as it it’s carelessly thrown around far too often. Every community has social norms, and online communities are no exception. If I’m an asshole to my friends then at some point they’ll start shunning me. If I join a football club (or scout group, or choir, or whatever) and act like an asshole then sooner or later I’ll be asked not to come next week. Would you call this “censorship”? I wouldn’t.

Most of the time no one is preventing you from making your point. We’d just prefer that you’re not a dick about it. But okay, let’s call it censorship. Whatever.

The problem with allowing people to be as uncivil as they please is that people who would rather not be insulted will stop coming back, and now those people (and their views) are “censored”.

I mostly stopped posting on Reddit’s /r/programming after being called a “moron”, “idiot”, “retard”, “you must have an IQ lower than 65”, “fucking suck at making software (and I guess generally anything)”, “you’re like the anti-vaxxer of front-end development”, and was told that my opinion was “hate speech” in two separate recent incidents (both over a technical disagreement, wtf?!).

It’s not that I’m that sensitive, but if you spend a lot of time writing an article, make some software, or even spend some time making a (hopefully thoughtful) comment and you get told any of the above (which are all real quotes) then that’s … not great. I don’t get angry or “offended” but it’s also not my idea of fun. If it happens a few times I’ll stop coming back, as happened on /r/programming.

Constructive dialogue can only happen if everyone feels respected, and can participate without the fear of being mistreated (belittling, aggressive replies, insults, etc.) If there is such a fear, then I will guarantee you that some people simply won’t post at all. Simply put, people don’t enjoy being treated like shit. Who knew?


This is hardly a problem on just reddit, or just the internet. You see the same in YouTube comments, the commenting sections of many local newspapers, on the workplace, and pretty much any other group/community setting.

I stopped engaging on my local newspaper’s website years ago because the same small super-active group kept ranting about “the Muslims” on what felt like every fucking story, even when it had nothing to do it. I engaged in good faith at first, but it got very tiresome very fast. For these people, everything seems to be about the Muslims, and there seems little interest to engage in constructive discussion. So at some point I just gave up. I’m almost certainly not the only one.

The general pattern is something like:

  1. You have a diverse community.
  2. Toxic people are toxic.
  3. Non-toxic people leave because they’re tired of it.
  4. You’re left with just the toxic people and those that can tolerate them.

It’s no more or less “censorship” than anything else.