Est Modus in Networks ‒ The Language of Moderation on the Internet


“Un caffè corretto, grazie”: the Ambiguous Semantics of Correctness in Digital Conversation.

Massimo LEONE, University of Turin

“Caffè corretto” is an Italian expression designating a kind of coffee that is commonly ordered in Italian bars. In this expression, “corretto” does not mean “correct” (that is, a coffee that has been prepared according to the best standards and procedures), but rather “corrected” (that is, a coffee to which a small quantity of strong liquor has been added).

The impression that one gathers from analyzing the present-day digital conversation is that, in it, political correctness (a well-prepared coffee) is constantly mistaken for political ‘correctedness’ (a coffee to which an intoxicating substance has been added). The rhetorical ideology that blurs these two semantic readings of “correct” is detrimental, the paper will argue, to moderation in digital conversation.

Moderating one’s participation into a conversation means curtailing one’s verbal and non-verbal expressions in relation to that which one feels, believes, or plans to perform through language. In general, not everything that speakers feel, believe, or desire to obtain through language finds expression in conversation. Learning how to become the cooperative member of a semiotic community means also accepting that a part of one’s feelings, beliefs, and plans of action are concealed from public exposure. That is not necessarily a lie, but it is a form of secret.

In political correctness, in particular, one holds internal views whose public exposure would be inappropriate and probably incur in collective or even legal sanction. With the progressive digitalization of both public and private conversation, an ideology of immediacy and transparency in communication has increasingly taken place, an ideology according to which any attempt at concealing from exteriorization what is in one’s mind is not only a despicable secret but also an utter lie.  According to this view, which bashes political correctness, it is better, for instance, to be racist inside and outside that to be racist inside while appearing politically correct outside. Such view, however, forgets that two other options are available: in this case, being a racist outside but not inside (which would be awkward, a kind of feigned racism that is nevertheless sometimes manifested in ironic conversations), but also not being racist, either outside or inside.

The problem of the present-day, intoxicating rhetoric of political ‘correctedness’ is to consciously or unconsciously forget that this fourth option is available, and that being a non-racist transparent person is socially preferable to be a racist transparent person, although transparency is a value per se. The paper will therefore seek to dismantle the current rhetoric of digital (and, as a consequence, also non-digital) transparency, claiming that, in order to consistently and effectively moderate conversation in the internet, one should constantly distinguish between the value of how opinions are voiced (it is good to be transparent) and the value of opinions that are voiced (some transparent opinions, while being praiseworthy transparent, are still socially despicable).


The Moderate Anarchy and the Mediated Freedom of Speech behind Twitch Plays Pokemon

Gianmarco GIULIANA, University of Turin

Twitch Plays Pokemon was a social experiment and phenomenon of 2014, during which the video game *Pokemon Red* was played simultaneously (through a chat) by thousands of players on Twitch.

At a first glance, this can look like a true anarchic experiment, in which different members of the web, with different goals, took individually control of a game with almost total freedom but acting as one player. An experiment that resulted, on one hand, in a senseless gameplay that became viral because of its “funniness” and, on the other hand, in the creation of a self-organized community and culture. In this paper, however, I will try to show how the whole experiment was moderated by three invisible mediators: the semiotic structure of the video game, the semiotic structure of the Twitch platform, and the common cultural knowledge of the Twitch community.

Thanks to a semiotic approach I will be able to see how the web community tends to moderate itself, how the incoherent action of players can become meaningful, and how the community created viral content very coherently with the game and conforming to the “ethics and aesthetics” of the Twitch platform.


In Media Stat Virtus. A Semiotic ANT Perspective on Moderation in Online Discussion Systems.

Vincenzo IDONE CASSONE, University of Turin

Since their inception in the 80s, online-based communications have substantially changed, weaving together technological progress with sociocultural needs and trends. Through the development of new features, forms, and functions, a whole range of different communication solutions has spread: chat systems, message board, forum, up to present social network and integrated comment platforms. This wide range of different communication frameworks and solutions can be observed and used in the present-day ‘mediascape’.

Interestingly enough, despite the continuous development in the field of speech control systems and features (human moderators or moderation algorithm, indirect automatic censorship, visibility-based comment ranking) the contemporary mediascape is characterized by increasing polarization of language, discourse and opinions.

Through the interaction of Actors Networks Theory and Semiotics of technological artifacts, it is possible to outline the general interaction dynamics between individual and non-human behaviors, focusing on moderation dynamics, sketching the chain of delegations, prescriptions, and co-operations underlying discourse management, moderation filters, writing interfaces, online communities discursive practices, frames, and contexts.


Karagarga, or Treasure Island: On Moderation as a Knowledge Engine in Secret Online Communities

Bruno SURACE, University of Turin

Karagarga is the online heaven for cinephiles, a website where, without any problems, you can find a Turkish movie shot in 1983, which is otherwise untraceable – and therefore in some way “inexistent” – in the outside world. The website’s simple homepage welcomes you with this warm message: “If you want the love, you have to log in”. Unfortunately, in order to log in you need the access credentials, and in order to obtain these you cannot but meet a single requisite: get an invitation. This is the basis of one of the most secret online communities, a place extremely difficult to enter, built on strict behavioral rules. The invitations are very limited, and the users can obtain them by improving the quality of the community itself. You can download movies (or books, music, or plays) only in proportion to the quantity (and quality) of material you upload on the website. You must comply with precise video/audio and encrypting quality standards. And, above all, you can upload only a certain kind of movies: Spielberg is not allowed, while a Czech movie from 1927, just projected once during an unknown film festival in Prague, is more than welcome. All this is well explained in several sessions (“Manifesto”, “Rules”) and there are an internal forum and a chat where users can dialogue with other users within a rigid hierarchic classification (admins, moderators, vips, etc), defining day by day the aesthetics of Karagarga: that which is allowed, that which is prohibited, and borderline contents.

The aim of this paper is to analyze this extremely fascinating online ambience from the inside (a “luxury” I can afford thanks to sources I cannot reveal), examining how a strictly ruled and codified community can become an authentic treasure (a treasure unfortunately destined to the “members of a Covenant”, or maybe a treasure precisely on account of its exclusivity), how moderation works in this kind of context as a tool to enhance shared knowledge and at the same time to construct a semiotics and an aesthetics.


"Can Someone Please Help Me Make a Nice Lasagna for My Niece’s 7^th^ Birthday?” - The Bizarre Politeness of *PornHub* Comments Section.

Mattia THIBAULT, University of Turin

“Its odd that PornHub’s comment section is less dumb and more friendly than YouTube’s” notes redditer Wolfy21\_. “Some of them are surprisingly polite too.” replies midbuzz. The comments section of the famous pornographic streaming site has become famous online for its bizarre conversations, ranging from rather explicit jokes and comments, to extremely friendly and polite comments – so rare in other comment sections. PornHub comment writers are particularly productive (see Brodesco 2016, who also grounded an anthropological on this comment section) and some of their comments become meme and go viral, gathered on the subreddit /r/PornhubComments and spread by websites such as buzzfeed and imgur.

This presentation, at the intersection between semiotics and porn studies (Atwood and Smith 2014), aims at analyzing this virtual space, its etiquette and the reasons behind is apparent safety.


Hilfe! Gender Gaga! - The Moderation of Emancipation Through Language

Amir Dizdarević, University of Potsdam

It might be well known that advocating the rights of women or LGBTIQ* is often a controversial matter. Depending on the locality, the jurisdiction or culture in question, several layers of interpretation apply which go beyond just a democratic and factual discourse. A plethora of rhetorical devices can be used to derail a legitimate voicing of minority grievances. In this presentation, we will look at how opponents of feminist and LGBTIQ* suffrage use conceptual framing in order to mark the campaigners as fringe fanatics trying to disturb a culture of moderation in discourse. In this way, the aforementioned grievances are branded as over-reaction and extremism, while their possible effects are interpreted as a profound and detrimental change to the fabric of society. Thus, going with Lakoff et al., we will observe said political/ideological framing through language as it can be seen on various Internet portals catering to such political stances.