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This is an update from the moderation team that tries to clarify and formalize some norms around revealing personal information on the Forum. You can see the full Guide to Norms here. Please note that we might update these norms.

The line between “private information” and “public information” and the line between “personal information” and “relevant information to the EA community” can get fuzzy. We expect that there will be judgement calls about where an incident lies on these spectrums. However, there are some broad principles and some clear-cut cases. We outline them here. 

TL;DR: personal information is sometimes ok to share, depending on how sensitive it is, how relevant it is to a discussion important for effective altruism, and how public the information is elsewhere. We may encode or remove some kinds of information. 

A few important notes: 

  1. We think a very good norm is to check unverified rumors or claims before sharing them — especially if they might be damaging or if they relate to sensitive or stigmatized topics. 
    1. If you’re not sure whether you should check something (or how to check), you can contact the moderation team to ask. 
  2. If you think that some information should be removed, you should flag this to us. We will probably not remove information that no one has asked us to remove. 
    1. (We don’t read everything on the Forum, and when we are reading, we’re not always thinking about everything through the lens of our policies.)
  3. Why we don’t just default to removing all private/personal information: we think there are cases when some personal information about people who are highly relevant to work in effective altruism is important to share (like discussions of potential conflicts of interest (COIs) or reasons for why someone in a position of power shouldn't be in that position). We also want to keep the potential for censorship from the moderation team low. 
  4. The way we enforce these norms isn't about whether we think a specific comment is "overall correct" or helpful, etc.; we're trying to outline policies that will help us make these calls more objectively.  

How to ask for information to be removed

There are instructions on contacting the moderation team here. One easy way to get in touch with us is to email forum-moderation@effectivealtruism.org. (Please share a link to the content that you believe shares overly personal information, explain what the information is, and consider explaining why you think it’s better to remove if you think it won’t be obvious to us.)

Considerations, examples, and what we might do

  1. Broad principles
    1. Certain kinds of information are much worse to share. In general, the more personal and further away from professional work the information is, the worse it is to share. We will err much more on the side of removing the following kinds of information (and if people override our decisions by reposting removed information or reverting our edits in these cases, we will take further action, like bans):
      1. Information about stigmatized but victimless characteristics, like sexual orientation
      2. Information that poses a danger to the people discussed, like street addresses, or anything that sounds like a call to harassment 
      3. Information that might well be inaccurate or is based on rumors and has the potential to seriously harm someone’s reputation, although this doesn’t mean that all such discussion is banned (note also that we think it is a good norm to check unverified rumors before sharing them)
    2. Relevance to EA is a key consideration.
      1. (How public or influential the figure is in EA will affect the relevance to EA of discussions about specific people.)
    3. How public the information is elsewhere is a factor. 
      1. When information is easily accessible elsewhere, we will err on the side of keeping it. 
      2. If information was accessible at the time of posting but isn’t anymore, we might encode it.[1] 
      3. The range is something like: “[PERSON] told me this privately,” to “[Here’s a screenshot of an old Facebook post that happens to be public]” to “[Here’s their public personal website, where this info is clearly shared.]” 
  2. Examples, and what we might do (or other thoughts):
    1. “Here’s someone’s home address,” or “By the way, this person’s brother’s name is [NAME], here’s his email, let’s send him angry letters” 
      1. Remove immediately, and likely ban the poster immediately.
    2. When the information is clearly relevant to the person’s work, which is relevant to EA
      1. E.g. suppose it turns out that I (Lizka[2]) used to have connections to a cigarette company and am suddenly featuring posts about how cigarettes aren’t harmful, actually. People should be able to post that on the Forum and say that I should be removed from my job. (Although in this example, you should consider starting by emailing my boss.)
    3. When information is very public elsewhere, even if it’s less obviously relevant
      1. E.g. if it turns out that I (Lizka[2]) have clear ties to a cigarette company, based on my public LinkedIn and the photos on the company's website, and you’re not totally sure how it might be relevant, but you’re a bit worried and you want to bring it up. 
      2. We will probably not remove the information. Note that the extent to which the information is actually public, how relevant it is, and how potentially harmful it is, are all important factors.
    4. “[PERSON A] is dating [PERSON B], based on their comments [here].” 
      1. We will probably remove this kind of information if we think that it’s not very relevant or is sensitive, but e.g. if there is reasonable evidence, and there are reasonable grounds to worry about something like a conflict of interest that is relevant to EA, we may leave it up (or encode it). More generally, it will depend on the context and the importance of the people involved to a specific conversation that is relevant to EA.
      2. Consider just writing that you think some people have conflicts of interest without being specific about the type of COI they might have if you're not sure how private or sensitive this info is. Alternatively, consider checking with the moderation team, or with the people involved before posting this kind of information.
  3. In general, actions we might take:
    1. In some cases, we will fully remove information from the Forum, and prohibit it from being posted in the future unless something changes significantly. If people decide to override us by reposting removed information or reverting our edits, we may ban them. 
    2. In some cases, we will encode[1] the information to make it less discoverable via search. We are more likely to accept requests for personal information to be encoded. 
    3. In some cases, we will ask someone who is considering posting something to delay posting. 
    4. In some cases, we will remove or hide information immediately, and add it back if we reconsider. 
    5. In some cases, we will leave ~personal information up. 
    6. If we edit or remove information, we will always either post a comment explaining what we did, or get in touch with the poster directly. 

If you have any feedback, we’d be interested in hearing it. You can comment on this post or get in touch with the moderation team

  1. ^

    We generally "encode" content using rot13, which means that it's hidden from search engines but anyone who's actually reading the article can read it.

  2. ^

    Note that if this is about me (or someone else on the moderation team), I (or whoever it is) will not be involved in any decision-making around this. You can discuss an issue like this with the moderation team without involving the person by emailing or messaging one of the moderators directly, or emailing the whole team and asking for individual ways to contact people. 

    Also, I feel that I should say that I don’t have any ties to any cigarette companies that I know of. 





More posts like this

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

I'm unenthusiastic about a policy of suppressing unverified rumours. I think the FTX scandal and the recent concerns about sexual harassment are both cases where we could honestly have benefited from more rumours. I know that false accusations can be damaging but I think currently instances of harm from false rumours are outweighed by harm that has gone unaddressed because people feel anxious about speaking up about it.

Any policy in this area should take into account the fact that many bad stories are unverifiable by nature.

Thanks for posting this! I appreciate the legibility and insight into the process here, especially during a stressful time in EA/on the Forum. 

When in any doubt on whether to encode names vs. leave them in plaintext, please encode to limit search engine visibility.

That seems pretty strong! Do you think I should have done that, for example, with the names in my When Did EA Start? post?

(Possibly I have a lower threshold for "any doubt" than you?)

Fair point -- some of the difference in meaning may actually be "in". If the thought that rot13 was necessary never crosses my mind, I wouldn't say I am in a state of any doubt on that question; having thought about the question seems to be a prerequisite to experiencing doubt.

If the argument for rot13 were sufficient for me to have thought about it, I think it is better to err on the side of doing it.

"Any plausible/reasonable/etc. doubt" would probably have been clearer, though!

I did consider leaving people's names off, or limiting them to first names only like I did in Research Deprioritizing External Communication, mostly because I think this is generally good to think about before using people's full names publicly. But the bar I normally use is more like "does including the name seem harmful", and this was clearly not.

We generally "encode" content using rot13, which means that it's hidden from search engines but anyone who's actually reading the article can read it.

If there ends up being a lot of encoding here then some sort of built-in support where you click the marked-up text and it decodes for you would be nice. A lot like spoiler handling on other sites? But I don't think it's needed yet.

Is that possible to do without the plaintext appearing in the HTML of the page?

*I've no idea how either websites or search engine indexing work

If you have to click a <button> and not an <a href=...> to make the text show up, and the text is stored encrypted of obfuscated until then, it will stay off (current) search engines because the crawlers won't trigger it to show up.

I think it's probably also more future proof: I expect search engines understanding rot13 (via AI integration) probably comes before crawlers clicking buttons.

Moderator Comment9

Coming back to this (a very quick update): we're going to start responding to anonymous posts and comments that make accusations or the like without evidence or corroboration, to flag that anyone can write this and readers should take it with a healthy amount of skepticism. This is somewhat relevant to the policy outlined above, so I wanted to share it here.

Thanks for creating and posting a clear policy on this. Makes it much easier to see that you've weighed the relevant tradeoffs, and to check that you're enforcing it in an unbiased manner.

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