On Fighting Trolls and Going to Have to Ask Kevin Standlee

I exchanged a couple of tweets this morning with Damien Walter who has been suggesting that Midamericon II throws the ballots with the complete Rabid Puppies slate out of the window. Then, he thinks, Midamericon could reinstate the works that were pushed off the list by Theodore Beale’s slate-voting effort.

I’m not expert on WSFS constitution or legal matters, but my guess is that a particular Worldcon cannot just simply do what Walter proposes. Or can they? It stands to reason that the Hugo administrators can only do the things that the WSFS constitution says they can.

Am I right? Is Damien right? Who knows? Gonna have to ask Kevin Standlee? The rules that you can ignore when you feel you have to are not very good rules (or rules at all), are they?

However, that got me thinking: Is there anything else that could be done in this situation?

Rules could be changed, even though it will take a while. Another problem with this approach is that persistent trolls have a tendency to dig up the loopholes, wherever they are. E Pluribus Hugo that I hope will pass this year is going to take some wind off the slate-nominators’ sails, especially if the campaign is built around a small number of people sending in identical ballots (which probably describes this year better than last year).

The rules guru Kevin Standlee and others have talked about intituting a third voting round in order to stop undesirable candidates before they get onto the final ballot. That would probably stop all puppy takeovers (and there may be other good technical solutions floating around), but I’m not certain that it would feel worthwhile during normal Hugo years.

In my opinion, nominating, voting and caring about the Hugos should be as easy and simple as possible, and it’s already too complicated as is (because of the arcane categories). In the very least, extra voting rounds and such should not be the standard procedure but rather something that a significant number of Worldcon members could initiate as a safety measure in case of exceptional circumstances (like a hostile takeover by trolls who have stated explicitly that their intention is to destroy the award).

On the other hand: Would an easier solution be just to grant the administering Worldcon a right to disqualify a candidate that is put on the ballot through means that are clearly in conflict with the spirit of the awards? I don’t know.

Rule changes are slow, however, so they don’t help in the current situation — where we indeed have a hostile takeover by trolls who have stated explicitly that their intention is to destroy the award. Among the Hugo finalists, there are works that include blatant hate-speech, fat-shaming, misogyny et cetera. Overall, it’s more horrible than last year, when the voters had to mostly just stomach bad writing (this year, the level of writing is probably much higher).

The works I’m referring to here are of course the short story “If You Were an Award, My Love” and the related works SJWs Always Lie, “The Story of Moira Greyland” and “Safe Space as Rape Room” (and maybe the work of the fan artist “Kukuruyo”). These are ugly works manufactured to harass individual members of the SFF community or groups of people that the Rabid Puppies contingency happens to love harassing (women, LGBTI community and so on).

So, what could be done about them? Unfortunately, not much.

After reading the WSFS constitution, I came up with only two things. If I was running the Worldcon (which I’m not, of course), I would:

  1. Not include them in the Hugo voter packet. (There are zero rules about the voter packet, so it would be completely possible for the Worldcon to exclude the works mentioned above.)
  2. Insert onto the online voting form a statement that says “Midamericon II condemns the hate-speech/whatever featured in Finalist X”.

That’s my 5 cents for the Midamericon II. Cheers!

kitten rulebook

Kitten reading WSFS constitution

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21 thoughts on “On Fighting Trolls and Going to Have to Ask Kevin Standlee

  1. kastandlee

    I do not think that a Worldcon can arbitrarily discard ballots just because they don’t like how they were voted. As long as each voter is an individual natural person, they have the right to join and to vote. To the argument that “They’re a voluntary private organization and could deny membership to anyone they please,” the response is that the individual Worldcon might decide to refund and cancel the memberships of any of their _own_ members, but they can’t deny the rights of the previous and subsequent years’ members to nominate, because it’s a right granted by the WSFS Constitution, which is the terms under which they got the right to hold a Worldcon in the first place. Each Worldcon is a legally independent entity operating under the terms of the WSFS Constitution, which can only be changed by the members of WSFS. Now I suppose technically the previous and subsequent years’ Worldcons could also cancel the relevant memberships and refund the members’ money, but I don’t see that working out in practice.

    Here’s the problem. He (and others) want a Strong Man to come in and Make Decisions. Essentially, he’s saying, “Daddy! Beat up the Bad Man for me!” But WSFS doesn’t work like that. There’s no central authority. There’s no Board of Directors. There’s no President. There’s no Big Boss With a Big Stick. And the members of WSFS for over 70 years have strongly resisted any attempts at creating any sort of central authority.

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    1. spacefaringkitten Post author

      Thanks, Kevin! Damien is suggesting that a Worldcon breaks the rules, then.

      On Twitter, I asked what would happen next, and Kevin’s answer was:

      “Well, there’s not a lot of enforcement mechanisms. Worldcon committees just follow the rules.”

      And:

      “I think disenfranchised members of prev/next Worldcon would have grounds for lawsuit. #IANAL”

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      1. kastandlee

        Yep. Angry people don’t care about law. They want Strong Man. They want Daddy.

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      2. spacefaringkitten Post author

        I’d label it as anti-authoritarian rather than authoritarian tendency. The little anarchist in me is a bit sympathetic to Damien’s suggestion (because it’s moral, as opposed to legal, thing to do), but nerds do like to play by the book eventually.

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  2. Laura

    Much as I hate the effect of the Rabid Puppies slate, no. Just no. Where do you draw the line? Does a ballot have to be 100% slate to get thrown out? Wouldn’t we have to look for any other signs of bloc voting too? How many similar ballots would be considered too many? And how similar would they have to be? Maybe it is something to think about for the future rule changes, but not without serious and careful deliberation first.

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    1. spacefaringkitten Post author

      That’s a good question. Actually, we don’t even know if there are any similar ballots, even though I guess it’s likely that there are at least few. Even those who voted for everything Beale ordered may have filled in the one almost empty category by other nominees differently. In case we start disqualifying, the better approach would perhaps be to disqualify certain finalists, not ballots.

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  3. Cat

    I feel very uncomfortable about the idea of throwing out ballots, because it would be too easy for WorldCon volunteers to become the monsters the Puppies insisted they were fighting. The Hugos really have to be impartial–the advantage of EPH is that it works automatically without any secret cabal needed. Three stage voting allows the membership as a whole a bit more control over what goes on the final ballot–either of those I am okay with. But “disqualify ballots” –then they really would be a secret cabal controlling what gets nominated for the Hugos.

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      1. spacefaringkitten Post author

        Voting in the semi-final stage sounds like a shitload of work, though. You’d have to read 15 novels, novellas etc. to make an informed choice.

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      2. kastandlee

        “Voting in the semi-final stage sounds like a shitload of work, though. You’d have to read 15 novels, novellas etc. to make an informed choice.”

        No. It’s still a nominating round. Vote for up to five things you like. Don’t feel you have to read everything. I’d be astonished if most people had read all fifteen semi-finalists in each category.

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      3. Laura

        As Kevin said, you wouldn’t need to be completely familiar with all 15 in all categories. These would be works/people that had already gotten the most nominations. You’re just saying these are the ones you think deserve a chance to move on to the final voting. I would check off any of my 1st round nominees that made it. Then any others I had already read which I thought worthy but just weren’t in my top five. Then I might include any I had heard enough about to know they were highly recommended (not merely slate voted into the top 15). It’s *up to* 5 (which could mean none), and you wouldn’t be ranking them.

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      4. spacefaringkitten Post author

        I see your point. Maybe it would be the best way to go.

        On the other hand, I feel that having the semi-final round would change the way that works are nominated. It drives people to choose five finalists among the 15 semifinalists, instead of just nominating their own favorites and hoping for the best. Reputation and recommendations would maybe come into play more, as your example of what you would nominate indicates.

        That’s somewhat against the spirit of the award. The current FAQ states explicitly that you should under no circumstances nominate things you haven’t read/seen. (That’s not something that can ever be enforced, though.) I also fear that on semifinal round, the safe choices would always beat innovative and interesting works.

        From this perspective, the simple elimination round which Kevin was first thinking about might be better than full semifinal stage.

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      5. kastandlee

        It’s a tough call. Both versions of a second round have reasons for and against them. I keep waffling back and forth between them myself. In the end, I suspect that if either one gets into the system, it will come down to the practical politics of what supporters can convince a majority of the members of two consecutive WSFS Business Meetings to vote for.

        I’ve had to cut deals and make compromises myself. I wasn’t thrilled with the version of Popular Ratification that went down to defeat in Spokane, but one of the things that was used against it (it lengthened the change period from two years to three) was something to which I had to agree in London the following year (because people were certain that we needed the “house of revision” aspect of the second Business Meeting vote) in order to get it passed the first time. Politics can be like that sometimes.

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      6. Laura

        I look at both versions of these proposed semi-final rounds in basically the same way. Either way, you’re vetting the top 15 choices. In the “double nomination” version, you’d be saying yes to up to 5. You simply wouldn’t choose anything you didn’t know enough about or felt was less deserving. In Kevin’s 3SV version, you’d vote against, for, or remain neutral on each one.

        It’s the down-voting that bothers me though. I’d rather say, “Out of these 15, I think these are the best 5 (or fewer).” Rather than, “Hey, you people that nominated this are wrong!” Or perhaps more that other people would possibly have the power to say that about my choices!

        In 3SV, you’d also have people voting for and *against* things they hadn’t read in the second round. But this is much different than nominating something in the first round that you haven’t read. It’s a chance to say, out of the top 15, I want to consider these more closely. Then you have the final voting period to really evaluate and rank the 5 that made it past that round. Hopefully with much less need to place things under no award.

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      7. kastandlee

        3SV is effectively moving the No Award vote to the second round. And if you don’t object to any work, you can either vote Yes or Abstain. Because of worries over Griefers trying to sabotage the second round, the current version includes a quorum requirement: a minimum number of members (the same electorate as votes on the final ballot, incidentally, not the larger nominating electorate) would have to vote (or register an Abstention, which is voting “Present, but not taking a position”) in order for the vote to be valid. If, for instance, the quorum was 500, if 400 members voted no and nobody else voted at all, the DQ wouldn’t count because there weren’t enough people participating. What the quorum should be is under discussion.

        The advantage of 3SV is that there is no pressure to read all fifteen works, particularly if you want to defer to the judgement of the other members. It would only come into play in cases like what we have right now, which is Griefers deliberately trying to sabotage things. The drawback is that we might find ourselves running a voting round that doesn’t matter in most years because in most year there won’t be a strong feeling of No Award the way there was last year and that I think there is this year.

        Conversely, for some people, Double Nominations makes some people feel like that unless they read everything (difficult, especially in the longer categories), that they’re not “deserving” of nominating anything. This is a variation on the people who convince themselves that they’re not worthy because they didn’t read every single work published last year (a fallacy we try to debunk on the Hugo Awards web site). Also, while I include write-ins at this stage because there are people convinced that you just need write-ins to fix everything (they want write-ins on the final ballot, which is quite problematic), some have pointed out that “slates” could game that as well.

        No system is perfect. There are going to be flaws in anything we don (including doing nothing). But we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or the better. We can revisit any changes made after seeing how they work. That’s the good thing about a democracy: if the members want to change things, they can do so. (Some of the Griefers or their sympathizers seem to think that rules must never be changed, ever, ever, ever. Except for No Award, which Must Be Removed Immediately. These are probably the ones who only read about the nomination ballot and were unaware that there was an option for the rest of the membership to outvote their aggrieved minority and they’ve been smarting ever since.)

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      8. Laura

        I’d be in favor of trying either version of the second round. And I’d be open to hearing other variations as well. But so far, I prefer the more positive nature of Double Nominations. I like the focus on putting the best things into the top 5, rather then concentrating on getting bad stuff out. Hopefully, there will be less need to weed out unworthy nominees in the future. But in any year there might be deserving things in the long list that simply didn’t get enough awareness at the right time to make the top 5. I like the idea of allowing more of the top choices (maybe 10 instead of 15?) a chance to be finalists.

        If people felt strongly about only picking things that you have read in the second round, I could certainly accept that and abide by instructions to do so. (Obviously, there’s no guarantee everyone would, but that’s true of the first round too. I believe the majority nominate honestly. It’s harder, but definitely worth it!) If there weren’t 5 choices I’d already read and thought worthy, I’d try to get the ones I was most interested in read or refrain from choosing them.

        It’s quite possible that the initial top 5 would stay in the top 5 if they are really strong choices. But I don’t think it would hurt to give more of the top choices a shot at becoming finalists and winners.

        I also like the fact that having a second round would make the process between nominations and final ballot more open and transparent.

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  4. Lurkertype

    Dear Cosmic Cat:

    I think your points 1 and 2 (better yet, 1 plus 2) are very good ideas that don’t run afoul of any of the rules at all. I hope the Admins see your idea.

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  6. Pingback: Year’s First Review of Vile Nonsense — “Safe Space as Rape Room” by Daniel Eness | Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Kittens

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