I’ve noticed that people really like to write rules that sound objective. Seems like a good enough idea, right? Lets everyone know exactly what the line is.

The trick is that human behavior, and especially human language, are very… squishy. We gauge each other based on a lot of unspoken context: our prior relationship, how both of us seem to be feeling, whether or not we skipped lunch today. When the same comment or action can mean radically different things in different circumstances, it’s hard to draw a fine distinction between what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not.

And rules are written in human language, which makes them just as squishy. Who decides what “swearing” is? If all caps aren’t allowed, how about 90%? Who decides what’s a slur? What, precisely, constitutes harassment? These things sound straightforward and concrete, but they can still be nitpicked to death.

We give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ll try to respect what we clearly mean, but there’s nothing guaranteeing that.

Eevee on the problem with rules.

This is specifically about attempting to create and enforce “objective” rules in online communities, as opposed to, say, outright banning assholes just because.

It’s not an easy issue. It’s also worth pointing out that the entire legal system–from the wording of legislation, to precedent, to the professional of “lawyer”–is designed to try and deal with it. And even that fucks up a lot of the time…