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How does one flag potentially offensive usernames like "Anti-American Anti-Zionist".

And more importantly, should we be allowing such usernames in our community?

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    Seems sufficiently to simply flag any of their posts using the In Need of Moderator Intervention reason, and use the provided box to highlight their usernames. – Semaphore Jul 26 '19 at 15:12
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As sempaiscuba said, the words themselves are kind of a marginal case on offensiveness. If I were to try to make a hard rule, I'd say the first half is out of bounds since its referring to a nationality, while the second isn't since its referring to political opinion. However, if I take into account the history of the words, the first half tends to be used in some rather benign circumstances, while the second has historically been used as a label to both promote and justify mass murder. So no matter which way I look at it, half of it is probably offensive. I can chose to interpret the whole thing as benign, but I have to do some mental gymnastics to do so. (I'm inclined to think this may have been by design)

I went and discussed this in the moderator chatroom, and was pointed to this post as the canonical source for dealing with offensive user names.

I believe that if you're asking and answering questions or leaving comments around with your name attached to it, then it is better (and I would go far as to say make it a policy) to not have any objectionable/vulgar content as your display name.

...

There is a place for reasonably vulgar words used in a non-offensive, targetless manner. That's in your profile in the "About me" section.

The executive summary is that user names are special, as they are plastered over every post the user makes, and other users are forced to type those words to interact with your posts. For that reason, if anyone plausibly finds a username offensive, it should probably be flagged and reset. We are trying to be a welcoming community, and people should not be forced to type things that they consider slurs to participate.

If the user wants to baldly state that they are anti-Zionist and anti-American in their profile that's OK. If they want to put those exact words in a post, its debatable. But if someone flags that as offensive in a username, I'd feel compelled to reset the name.

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    Which brings the question: is there any standard way to flag the username? – Denis de Bernardy Jul 26 '19 at 15:06
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    @DenisdeBernardy - I think the only way is to flag a post by that user, and in the flag explanation say its for the name being offensive. Same as with offensive profile contents (although there the standard isn't going to be quite as tight, of course). – T.E.D. Jul 26 '19 at 17:56
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    Assuming you did it, thank you for doing the right thing and resetting the username. There's more than enough hate out there, and this site in particular is one where it makes the least sense to turn a blind eye on dog whistling. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 26 '19 at 18:12
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    @DenisdeBernardy - I figured it was safe to consider the meta question itself as a flag. I will note that the user self-reports as a resident of central Asia, so its quite likely those terms don't have quite the same connotations to them that they do in the US and Europe. IOW: Its possible this was an innocent misunderstanding, now corrected. – T.E.D. Jul 26 '19 at 18:31
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    I've serious doubts, given the well organized nature of international hate rings are, and the proximity to Afghanistan (which has a long history of resisting Western interests), that this was an actual innocent misunderstanding -- unless, perhaps, the OP was some prepubescent adolescent. But let's leave the conversation at that. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 26 '19 at 19:08
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This has been asked and seems to have been addressed in this question on Meta:SE.


Personally, in this specific case, I'm not sure that the username is actually offensive. For all we know, it may simply be an accurate description of that user's views. In any case, it does give some advance warning of potential bias that might appear in questions or answers from that user, and perhaps might also highlight that we should be aware of the possibility of 'push questions' from that account.

If questions or answers posted by that user (or any other user for that matter) violate the SE Code of Conduct, simply flag them for moderator attention.

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Due to a recent occurrence to enforce this policy on usernames:

Please be reminded that this is an international site.

The recent incidence itself is not the issue here.

But:

This policy needs a much sharper definition.

Example case, minimally altered:

  • a username reads: 'god will be with us'

  • username gets reset for 'being a religious billboard'

This is for example Eurocentric in the way it is handled an explained.
And this is quite difficult to enforce evenly.

Why?
Multiple reasons.

One of the biggest:

Theophoric names.

Is Mohammed OK? Are any real given/frist names OK? Are 'Christian names' OK?

Michael is a masculine given name derived from the Hebrew phrase מי כאל‎ mī kāʼēl, 'Who [is] like-El', in Aramaic: ܡܝܟܐܝܠ (Mīkhāʼēl [miχaˈʔel]). The theophoric name is a rhetorical question – "Who [is] like [the Hebrew God] El?",1 whose answer is "there is none like El", or "there is none as famous and powerful as God."

More to the point of illustrating the slippery slope that needs proper railings and the correct angle to avoid making that too slippery:

Immanuel is a name originating in the biblical Hebrew name עִמָּנוּאֵל‎, meaning "God with us".

No amount of "any reasonable user…" can rectify this. Taking the perspective of 'the claimed-to-be-offended calls the shots' is an unreasonable approach. Arguing pro-bono and preemptively in that direction makes it worse. All atheists may take offense at any username praising any deity. So are they all off the board? Even if that's what is to be read in the real-world passports?

Just today I read a whole string of very pro-Catholic apologetic answer pieces from a username with such a 'billboard'-/-theophoric name, Hebrew origin, Italian spelling (to avoid directly calling out any obvious user for this it is roughly "God will raise").
It is indistinguishable whether it's a real name, only a made up one, but in any case it's meaning is unquestionably of the billboard type.

We need to define this in a logically deductible manner:

  1. State the reason for the rules. There are more cases to be considered, with specifics of varying qualities.
  2. State the manner in which this is judged, with precision (which is totally absent now, things like "any true scotsman finds that offensive" or "blatant" are very much in the eye of the beholder)
  3. State the steps of consequences that should follow from this (are users contacted first, with chance to explain or self-action; are they notified of a reset; is there room for appeal)

There are other examples for perhaps problematic usernames.

The above does not necessarily say that all usernames must be allowed. (Although I would be in favour of allowing almost any such names, not only those like Amadeus, Bogdan, Christian, etc)

This answer says we need better though-out & better written rules, more 'positive law', to guide the course of actions to be taken.

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  • First, I wonder if we could discuss this in a tone that is more conducive to solutions; the tone of this post is somewhat challenging. Second, in my opinion, this is a "bad case makes worse law" issue. There are competing principles at play here, multiple potential interpretations of "right". I would prefer not to constrain the outcome to the minimum common denominator, which would be "no username may carry any meaning other than identification". – Mark C. Wallace Mar 24 at 14:08
  • It certianly doesn't seem unreasonable to me to allow "Jesus" (a quite common name in the Hispanic world), but not "Jesus is Lord" (a common statement of faith). Perhaps I'm being wrong-headed here, but I think our non-Christian users should not be forced to type "Jesus is Lord" to respond to another user. If you'd like, we can start a new metaq on this, since it is admittedly a half-step past this one? – T.E.D. Mar 24 at 14:24
  • @MarkC.Wallace "Solution" is of course a goal. The aim of the post is to challenge (assumptions, pre-formed notions, perspectives), but your usage of "tone" suggests to me that there might be something 'wrong', in the 'form', style or maybe even things present considered themselves 'to be offensive'? That is certainly not the intention — and on re-read I'm still unable to even see that. Please point those potential issues out in more detail or edit directly (src-code/edit-view comments welcome). – LаngLаngС Mar 24 at 15:02
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – T.E.D. Mar 25 at 14:39
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Two caveats in advance:
(1) What follows is my personal opinion, submitted for feedback. <PITD: Please Ignore The Diamond>
(2) @LangLangC feels (if I interpret the above correctly) that we need to clarify the policy on acceptable usernames.

First and foremost, "bad case makes for worse law" - Positive law tends to the lowest common denominator. Although SE written policy is relatively neutral, SE behavior has made it very clear that the presumption is on the side of offense; it is far more important that we avoid offense than that we tolerate diversity/expression/etc. Moderators have signed an agreement that basically states that we can be held accountable for inaction in the case of offense; there was no mention in that agreement, or in any other SE policy that says that we will be held to account for suppressing things down. At the moment, I'm assuming that commentary in this thread that my username is offensive is rhetorical hyperbole; if someone is truly offended by my username, please make that clear and I will change my username.

The request is for positive law - but I think positive law is most appropriate in regime's with a deliberative body dedicated to, and accountable for, making positive law. SE is more akin to a common law framework where action is taken based on precedent and referenda.

Second, I think the answer above is relatively clear:

user names are special, as they are plastered over every post the user makes, and other users are forced to type those words to interact with your posts. For that reason, if anyone plausibly finds a username offensive, it should probably be flagged and reset.

The current discussion arises because we changed a username that articulated a religious opinion; responding to that user or referencing that user required me to type out that religious creed. I happen to have a great deal of respect for that creed, and that is why I am uncomfortable using it in this context. For the adherents of that creed, that it sacred; for me it is not, and I personally feel that it is not appropriate for me to usurp semiotics that others find sacred. It makes me uncomfortable precisely because I feel that doing so is disrespectful. I also believe that another person of faith might reasonably construe my use to be less than respectful; I'm not fully cognizant of the requirements for respectfully using the semiotics & symbols of that faith. Some members of our community may legitimately adhere to faiths which would make it difficult or impossible to refer to a username which incorporates a statement of faith without violating the precepts of their faith.

Right now usernames are assumed to be in good faith, and exceptions are handled by the moderators on a case by case basis. I defer to community decision on this, but in my personal opinion, that is the correct approach. The alternative is to assert that the username is an identifier and should not be used for expressive purposes. Erosion of the margins is likely to reduce all usernames to meaningless strings.

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I'm going to offer a second answer in which I will speak with my moderator voice. When I am acting as a moderator, the following are (some of ) the factors that I will consider as I contemplate whether a given username is appropriate for the community: (these are capabilities, not standards; factors for consideration, not thresholds)

  1. Is the primary purpose of this username to identify the user, or to articulate some viewpoint? is this a name or a billboard?

  2. Is there precedent that this username (or one like it) has been found offensive?

  3. Is the username prima facie a violation of the Code of Conduct?

  4. Does this username plausibly evoke terms/words/concepts that have previously been determined to be inappropriate for this community. Let's call this the "fellow traveller/dogwhistle" rule; this is rare, but there are communities of trolls who tenaciously try to find marginal cases where they can articulate their viewpoints while remaining within the rules.

  5. Does this username reference an intrinsic characteristic? (race/religion/gender/nationality/etc. - not things we choose, but things that are intrinsic to us) Are there contexts in using the username with the intrinsic characteristic might plausibly be presumed to be disrespectful to the community referred to by that characteristic? Are there contexts in which it will not be clear whether the username refers to the individual or the community? Note: This is very difficult to express clearly. This is the best I can do to summarize the years I've spent thinking about diversity and inclusivity. I'm very well aware that it is incomplete, but the topic of how to respect diversity can quickly rise to book length. please accept the above as a litote rather than as positive law).

  6. Does this username reference a political opinion which might be damaging to the community? Is this username likely to give rise to debate/discussion/rancor/argument that is not germane to the community? (this one is really subjective; I tend to be very tolerant and apply Stewart's razor)

  7. Is this username a common identifier? Would I expect to find this in a phone book? (although this may sound trivial, there are a couple of usernames that are uncommon for me personally, but I'm aware that within their communities, they are quite common. This is here to ensure that I remain inclusive, and to avoid assuming that the entire community must be bounded by my personal experience).

I reserve the right to extend that list as situations merit. I'm not going to articulate thresholds for the above; they are what computer scientists call capabilities, not requirements. While there are cases of clear offense where I'd be comfortable acting immediately, in the normal course of affairs, the process of reaching a discussion involves dialogue with the relevant user, closed debate and discussion with other moderators. , but

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