Truth Policing: Yay or nay?

So, there is a little known rule on NAR. In fact, many probably don’t realize that there are rules at all. But the rule I’m thinking of specifically prohibits the act of “truth policing” stories.

I’m sure many of you have seen the comments. “Sure, that totally happened” “This would have been more believable if…” “I’ll take things that never happened for 300” These sort of doubting comments fall under the umbrella of ‘truth policing’. I’ll confess, I’ve been guilty of making them in the past when faced with a really egregiously exaggerated story. But they are against the rules currently.

So, I wanted to open up a thread to talk about this. Do you ‘truth police’ stories? Why or why not?

I’ll post my full thoughts as a reply below.

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So, my thoughts on truth policing are split in two. Specifically, I believe that calling out actual inconsistencies or falsehoods in a story is valuable, as it helps fight against misinformation. At the same time, I feel that there is value in considering a story as a possibility, even if you have reason to doubt whether it actually happened.

To illustrate the first point, you might have a story where the author describes a conversation that happened after they claim to have left the area, with no explanation for how they found out what was said. Or they could make a claim about the law in a given area that is very obviously false. In both cases, I don’t think this reading should be expected to simply swallow what is told them without question. People should be allowed to read critically and verbalize specific issues they have with a story. This can both help to expose flaws in the story, and expose gaps in the knowledge of the reader. Because it is entirely possible that what one reader thinks is ‘implausible’ may actually be a common occurrence outside of that reader’s limited experience.

Which brings me to point two. Considering a story overall, even an implausible one, can be valuable, because it allows the readers to consider their position on the situation as a hypothetical. For example, I can have strong opinions on how wrong it is to skin a live animal, and those opinions and my reasoning for holding them will not weaken or become less valid, just because a given story of such a thing happening turns out to be false.

That second area is where I feel truth policing is most damaging, because in a lot of cases, those who indulge in it will try to claim that, since a given story is ‘obviously false’, that no discussion of the story should be done or taken seriously. It stifles discussion, rather than encouraging it.

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I agree. I have a habit of just taking what an OP says at face value, but I’ve found a lot of narrators are unreliable. I like when people in the comments point out the holes in a story because it helps me see what I wouldn’t notice on my own. I’m probably not the only one.

On the other hand, a lot of people just comment “this seems fake” with no explanation as to why, and that isn’t adding anything to the conversation.

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Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with “Truth policing”… I want NAR to be a site of actual recollections of stories, and not a creative writing outlet (Try fanfiction(dot)net for that)…

BUT… and this is a big but… I have a huge problem with how some people are doing it. “I’ll take things that didn’t happen for 300” contributes nothing. “FAKE” contributes nothing. I think that if you don’t believe a story is true, and want to express that, you should give your reasoning behind it.

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I don’t like the truth rule. It’s broad and it’s prejudiced against free comment: it forbids us from disputing that the Editors report to us only what they know has actually happened, when really they can’t. There are people in the world whose full time job is to construct and circulate anti-social fictions, and if the Editors manage to stop 99 percent of stories constructed for political reasons (including not only parties but anything that parties argue about), some will get through. (Not to mention what is claimed to have happened in comments.) We should get to say so. Even sarcasm, “That happened”, is not allowed; I rack my brains how to express doubt - except by flagging a story, which is a blunt tool. We are not allowed to hold truth to account.

And if I doubt wrongly, may someone tell me so. I will have said why, usually.

If a story isn’t true then it’s a mistake to discuss it as though it is, because any point it makes is by fraud: whether about the conduct of police officers during traffic stops, or animal welfare, or Teamsters.

For that matter, a story or a comment may contain a mistake or a misinterpretation, without necessarily invalidating the whole
thing. To say, “That was probably 1996, not 1966” or “Indian from India, not the other kind” is also Truth Policing.

And, oh, the geography!

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I just wish all stories which might involve skin colour did say it involve skin colour. Because there’s a couple of stories (I can only think of one example at the moment) where the story didn’t mention skin colour… but the actions of the other people make me think “must not be white”.

And when I do something like that people say “I’m jumping to conclusions” or “I’m racist” The other week there was a story (Can’t remember what it was) and someone in the comments who wasn’t me asked if the OP could be BIPOC

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yeah, the problem is most of the time people who do it have no proof, it’s just their opinion, often based on they’ve never seen anything like what happened in the story personally.

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I generally tend to regard stories on here as like tales from a not-completely-sober friend at the bar. In other words, it’s meant to entertain first and foremost. Although it isn’t being done maliciously, it’s very likely that the buddy has gotten at least a few details wrong, left out something important, and/or told too much. Plus, the line between an organizational error in plotting and a factual error in writing is often blurry.

So sit back and enjoy, but take it with a grain of salt and don’t be afraid to politely voice concerns. People who have a problem with a respectful mention of an inconsistency aren’t really friends anyway and you probably don’t want to listen to them anyway. On the other hand, just shooting people down for supposedly lying isn’t productive and doesn’t tend to actually teach anybody anything.

For that matter, some of the reasons for calling fake are really concerning. For example, there seems to be a small contingent of users here who call fake on just about every story where a non-white person is racist to a white person. They tend to do that with overtone that racism somehow doesn’t occur against white people or isn’t something that non-white people do, and any instance mentioned online is therefore obvious right wing propaganda (often with the overtone that only an idiot or a right winger would see it in any other way). There’s only one or two people who do this regularly, but it’s still grating and obnoxious. It is also, ironically, very bigoted in its own right to act like any group of people is exempt from being bigoted or receiving bigotry. Sadly, prejudice and bias are part of the human package, and even when done with the best intentions, exempting groups entirely from those things denies those groups something fundamentally human.

There’s got to be a balance somewhere between discussing inconsistencies or falsehoods in a story and being respectful, realistic netizens

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Well… I like a fantasy novel series called “Rivers of London” - although I’ll warn you, some disgusting things happen in the stories. (And not just sex.) There’s comics, which are less disgusting… Peter Grant, the hero, is a young police officer in London, who gets assigned to the small department which deals with magic and supernatural crime. Anyway, Peter’s mother is from Africa - she’s Black - and Peter tells the reader the race of everyone he meets - humans anyway. There’s ghosts, the very important river spirits, trolls, talking foxes… My point is: he notices. It’s partly being police, but I think it’s mostly being (treated as) Black.

The stories are written by Ben Aaronovitch, with Paul Cornell in comics, and they’re white, but I think I remember Ben in particular saying that he grew up in and had friends in a mixed community in London, so he’s drawing on that.

So… I don’t think that gets left out of stories.

…With one possible exception: some stories in NAR are borrowed from elsewhere, such as the “Reddit” online forum. So a story might be published first in a story category about race, say “Fear of a Black Planet”, but I made that up (well, it’s an album title from 1990). In that case, everyone telling a story there would be Black, so you wouldn’t say that in the story. But, this is only me guessing.

So, I agree with you that we should be allowed to call out falsehoods, but I disagree with this specific sentiment. The fact that a story ends up being fictional doesn’t mean it can’t be discussed in terms of reality, unless it is actually impossible for the story to occur. Using a singular anecdote as proof of some widespread ‘truth’ about a group would certainly be dishonest, but discussing the anecdote as if it actually happened and providing opinions on what is shown is fully useful in helping to express beliefs and face challenges to them.

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I can’t remember all the stories which skin colour isn’t mentioned. But I mentioned this in the other thread in “Moderation question.” The only one I can call off hand is the “Sarge” one.

The actions of the and the manager made me think it was racism. The employee following “Sarge” around when Sargge was going to buy something for his mother. When “Sarge” got the purse he wanted to buy the employee said “You can’t afford that!” When the manager got involved he (the manager) also accused “Sarge” of “not being able to afford it” and also “that Sarge wanted to steal it and sell it for something” and the manager also accused him of “being a homeless bum” and was surprised the cop who arrived kept calling the ‘bum’ “Sarge” and “Sarge” was the cop’s boss.

The actions of the employee at least follow very closely the actions of employees in stores across North America that BIPOC have reported for over 150 years.

Honestly I’m of the opinion that truth policing (specifically the “FAKE!” or “fake because I’ve never seen it” variant) should be considered spam and moderated as such. If someone can provide honest arguments against a story being real that isn’t just “It doesn’t feal right” then the discussion of the validity of the story should continue on. HOWEVER just screaming fake is no different than going to a youtube video and going “like if you’re viewing in 2020” or some bull, it’s just karmafarming and is a horrible waste of everyone’s time and should be functionally a banned action.

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I try my best to avoid doing so - the only reason I bring it up is if something horrific happened in the story and I pray it’s not real because no one should have to go through it. Otherwise, I try to comment as if I’m reading the truth, because hopefully, even if the base story isn’t fully there, someone reading who might be going through something similar knows they would have some support.

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Agreed, reason[s] given for disbelief helps more often than hinders discussion.

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I’m not a fan of the “truth policing” rule. If someone has good reason to think a story is made up–or even if they just have a hunch–they should be able to say so. I find comments that just say “FAAAAKE!!1” without explaining why annoying too, but I don’t think they’re bad enough or common enough to justify banning them.

Instead of spending time on this comparatively minor problem, I’d much rather see rules against hate speech, harassment, Covid disinformation, and abusive comments directed at other users enforced.

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I agree with many others. Some of the stories here are clearly made up or obviously embellished after the fact. I don’t expect any story told by anyone to be a perfect objective recording, I recognize that these are primarily for entertainment, but I really hate stories designed to make the OP look good, or designed to make a certain group of people look like crazy unreasonable straw men (see Sarah Z’s video on “Oppa homeless style”). I don’t think it is entertaining when OPs lie for their egos, or pretend a racist also kicked a puppy/a persecuted minority screamed that a normal rule was oppression and also kicked a puppy. It makes me think OP is more interested in painting a certain picture than in telling us what really happened.

In my opinion it’s the job of the editors to catch those stories that are clearly fake/embellished, so when they miss them it feels weird to be asked to ignore the Emperor’s new clothes. Sometimes there is good discussion about how common a story is in the real world, but how many OPs know martial arts??

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Another great question! This is actually a rule we’ll be clarifying soon as well.

As many of you have pointed out already, there is a difference between fact checking and truth policing. Open discussions work when it can be civil and productive. Calling out inconsistencies in a story is fine when done in the way that promotes discussion. I like to think this also opens up the floor for the story submitter to step up in the comments and answer any questions.

However, shouts of “FAKE” or “Yeah, like THAT happened” just because a story is implausible or the commenter hasn’t personally experienced it – it doesn’t help anyone and makes for a toxic environment.

And to clear up a misconception that gets brought up a lot, the editors actually don’t embellish any stories voluntarily. I’ve asked them this myself multiple times. They will remove extraneous details that don’t contribute to the story though. Personally, I think all good storytelling will tend to have a little embellishment. While the editors will actively delete any stories found to be fake, the site probably wouldn’t qualify as a journalistic news source. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

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Agree with @RR8. I also check out reddit AITA, and that sub is filled with clearly fake revenge fantasies or where minorities (gender and skin) acts completely unreasonable all the time. So far I haven’t come across too many of these stories on NAR, though I’m not too fond of stories taken from Reddit since on average, they seem to be far more embellished (comeback/revenge stories) compared to original submissions.

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I remember specifically one story, and in general a few more, where the editors had left out so much details that the resulting published story was generally deemed fake due logical inconsistencies. While the OP in comments provided those bits left out by editors it was actually more believable and better story. Sadly I don’t remember the name of it. It was about a person who was filling in another location and caught someone trying to do something wrong pretty much by chance/guessing while in the details they said they had included was much more reasonable explanation for how it happened. But I guess the “by chance” looked to make better story. While embellishing is bad, omitting doesn’t always make favours for the story either.

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the only story which I recall something like that happening is the two related stories about a fellow Canadian. The first story was linked or something in the 2nd story but the editoirs took out the link to the story.