Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Note on comments policy

After this experience, and then reading this post, this post, and this post and this post, and especially this comment thread, and especially this comment (from Sarah, whose wonderful blog, Cafe Turco, I was surprised to find was not already on my blogroll)...
The fact is that, by banning bullies, I have created an environment where people who [are] usually very reticent to express themselves feel comfortable enough to participate.
...I have decided to formulate a very simple comment policy. Basically, from now on, I will delete from now on all personal comments about other commenters. If you call someone a "douchebag", for example, then your comment will just be deleted, so all the effort you have gone to, if any, to formulate your thoughts will be wasted. (I will tolerate such comments aimed at me, unless they are made persistently and repetitively, in which case I will consider it harassment.)

I will also delete comments that link to fascist or racist websites, although on occasion I might ct and paste these comments without the links.

Basically, much as I have ambitions to one day be a superstar blogger (?), I want this blog to be a space of conversation and debate, among people who respect each other. I want to be persuaded to think differently, as I want others to be persuaded by me. I want to make connections. I started blogging as a means of making a very small political intervention (and this remains a goal), but I have found that one of the pleasures of blogging has been the sense of a community, of new acquaintances. The word "friend" is cheapened in the age of Facebook, but I have come to consider at least some of my virtual acquaintences as friends, and I value that more than I value winning an argument.

37 comments:

ModernityBlog said...

Well, I disagree with deleting abusive comments I'd just remove them as spam, but keep a copy as a record. Wordpress is good at that.

Will Elf return ?

fleshisgrass said...

Couple of things - is it the act of insult or who is being insulted? Why have a double standard with respect to yourself? Won't this just set a precedent...? The other thing is maybe it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Wordpress lets you filet out the bad parts of a comment if you see fit.

Not sure if Blogger does that - let's see: Mark Elf is a goblin's gonad.

ModernityBlog said...

Funny, I'd never delete comment for purely an insult, against me, particularly if it is witty or to the point, but I positively hate when I have to restate things 3 times (for Elf's benefit) and he still misrepresents my views.

But Elf's attacks on Bob were just plain nasty, and deleting Elf's views doesn't detract from the wealth of human knowledge :)

fleshisgrass said...

Sorry Bob, sorry Mark. That was obviously quite an unhelpful contribution. How contrary that my self-censorship should go awol as soon as somebody makes a positive step like that.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Bob: I do not share your position on this though I respect your considerations. The likes of Gert and Levi thrive on the delusion that they are righteous and brave and therefore persecuted by not being allowed to have a voice. So they gain a certain shiny reputation from the mere fact that they are being "censored", or "silenced". What better way to make the truth of
their vile substance be manifested by leaving their comments as is. They damn themselves whenever they try to argue by insults and distortions. They act as their own prosecutorial witness.

A better method would be to strike out, visibly, all the noisy parts of an offensive and lying comment, by way of demonstrating the meagre noise to signal ratio after all that noise has been identified and marked. The only thing is I don't know if this kind of formatting is technically possible in the comments.

ModernityBlog said...

TCC,

Agreed, but they only need to do it once?

Elf and Co have made fools of themselves once too often, there is no novelty or is it profitable to allow them again to be disruptive and so offensive.

Giving them enough rope is a good idea, but they've already taken about 3000 miles worth.

So I'd say, if you like, let them do it once and then curtail their stupidity on other people's blogs, what they do on their own blogs is their choice, but not on other's.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'So they gain a certain shiny reputation from the mere fact that they are being "censored", or "silenced". What better way to make the truth of
their vile substance be manifested by leaving their comments as is.'

I understand where CC is coming from, but I must say, I don't agree. I don't think anyone is going to get much of a reputation for martyrdom just because they are banned by a private individual's blog. A reputation with whom ? Not with anyone who matters, surely ?

The difference between a comment you allow and a comment you ban, is that you may not agree with a comment you allow, but you accept that it represents a legitimate viewpoint or a positive contribution to the discussion. You ban a comment that does neither. Otherwise, you are giving publicity to, and bestowing respectability on, a viewpoint that does not deserve it.

sarah correia said...

Well, I'm glad you found my opinion worth considering. It's all a matter of balance and common sense, in fact.

I do as modernity, I spam some comments. The most offensive ones I have decided to keep so that in case those persons strike again under a different nickname I can track them down through their IP.

Regarding insults against me, the reason why I also delete them is that, in case I don't one of my readers will waste time defending me. Usually when I do it i leave a comment saying that such comment has been erased because it doesn't follow the rules. On the top right of my blog it is clearly stated what are the rules.

I think that, in what regards an eventual excess of language due to a more passionate discussion, it is enough to remind the person who did it that such tone is not welcome. It is important not to go beneath a certain level. It also happens sometimes that a reader calls the author to his/her senses, when it is the author who is going a bit too far.

Also, we should always pick our fights, instead of getting dragged into them. However, we must also remember that the ability to feel outraged is something to be nurtured.

But, in the end, we should channel our outrage in a way that won't backlash. Literature and intellectual life is full of examples of big nasty controversies that resulted in excellent pieces of writing. Fine irony can be a lethal weapon against poisonous assaults.

sarah correia said...

Reputation based on playing the victimization game always has short legs, be that in the case of commenters or blogs' authors.

If not for anything else, it is tactically much wiser not to engage in a certain style of exchange...

Of course, there is a market niche for those who play victim, but on the long run, they will find themselves discredited.

On the other hand, one has to be careful, because some of those 'victims' are pretty good at making those who are dealing with them look like bullies. One more reason to keep one's temper and not go beneath a certain level.

In the end what keeps a blog going is that people visit it regularly because they know they will find there things that are stimulating. Fist fights all look alike after a while (although I have to admit I do enjoy a good fight).

bob said...

One of the reasons I didn't have such a policy for so long was precisely as CC says, not to give them the sense they are righteous victims. I feel that whatever they say (and the "they" here is the Elfs, the BNPers, the Kahaneites, the anarkismo-nationalists, whoever) can and should be countered rationally. That is why I have left some rather antisemitic comments (e.g. in my Is David Cameron Jewish post), to expose their narsihkayt.

On the other hand, I don't want to become a place where people come for mudslinging.

jams o donnell said...

A sensible policy Bob, after all it is your blog, therefore your rules

Rosie said...

I’m with you, Bob.

Norm has a piece about what should be allowed on comments threads.

http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2009/11/because-they-can.html

"Bob: I do not share your position on this though I respect your considerations. The likes of Gert and Levi thrive on the delusion that they are righteous and brave and therefore persecuted by not being allowed to have a voice. So they gain a certain shiny reputation from the mere fact that they are being "censored", or "silenced". What better way to make the truth of
their vile substance be manifested by leaving their comments as is. They damn themselves whenever they try to argue by insults and distortions. They act as their own prosecutorial witness."

Well, can’t the likes of Gert and Levi learn to discuss things civilly? If you were addressing people at a public meeting and then at question time Gert & Levi started saying, listen you **** ***** ****, they would be told to shut up or get out if they can’t ask questions or start discussions without swearing and abuse. Gert & Levi presumably don’t go on like that at work or they wouldn’t keep their jobs. Accusations of censorship are absurd. If Father Jack turned up and said Feck! Arse! 53 times you’d delete him, even if at the same time he was making intelligent points. If people think they can show you facts you’ve got wrong or faults in your logic, they can do it without being insulting and abusive. Gert & Levi & Father Jack are free as birds to go and start their own blogs if they want to shout abuse.

There are blogs where the most politely expressed disagreement will still be deleted, and they are known as such. There are others, like Butterflies and Wheels, where abuse is banned while disagreement is not and there’s a good standard of debate.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Bob, I usually agree with you on most issue, you know it. I also agree that wars between commentators on someone's blog could be irritating. However, choosing to erase only the strong verbiage and not the whole war is a bit of a ill-fitting prudery, besides you will be missing the main target, which is other folks fighting on your home turf without your permission.

Otherwise: nothing wrong with a strong expression or two when it fits.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh, as an illustration, that thread on HP:
http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/11/24/nuj-conference-still-quite-mad/

Clarification here:

http://simplyjews.blogspot.com/2009/11/confession-i-am-anti-semite.html

Now tell me that this character is not what was said about him, please. Notice I respect your rule ;-)

ModernityBlog said...

Just a few ideas whilst my mind is fresh.

The problem with comments policies is that they have to account for a wide range of circumstances, and in an ideal world be implemented impartially and without favour, rather hard for us frail humans.

Any policy has to cover 1) argumentative but mature people; 2) argumentative and immature people; 3) cranks who continually behave badly; 4) decent enough people having a bad hair day 5) people who are drunk or on drugs; 6) piss takers and jokers; 7) the malicious; 8) the juvenile 9) and finally those who enjoy an exchange of views but might misread what you type, that a many more.

That's why with the human condition any policy should ideally be fairly brief or you end up arguing about it all of the time.

I suppose it ultimately comes down to (as others have remarked) providing an environment where there can be an intelligent exchange of views, plus a bit of give and take (that means acknowledging your own errors before that of others).

So I think it's probably easier to say what a comments policy shouldn’t be, rather than what would be suitable for all circumstances and all people, which I suppose is pushing it a bit.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'Now tell me that this character is not what was said about him, please. Notice I respect your rule ;-)'

Calling someone a 'cunt' who genuinely deserves it is like convicting a guilty person through a kangaroo court. Anyone can be called a cunt, irrespective of what they said. If you permit that kind of language, even if you feel it's sometimes justified, it will inevitably be used against people who don't deserve it as well as those that do. Who decides when it is justified ? It just poisons the debate. I wouldn't permit that kind of language even against people who arguably deserve it.

bob said...

Hmm. Now I'm in disarray. My new policy would (a) require me to delete Flesh's first comment above (although "goblin's gonad" is borderline compared to "cunt"), and (b) require me to delete Francis' comment at HP. Now, if I was using the far superior Wordpress, I could simply edit out the offending portions, and leave the sensible parts. But I think that editing people's comments is somehow more authoritarian in feel than deleting them. I guess with Blogger I could cut and paste, and explain what's been left on the cutting floor.

As Mod says, the trouble with policy is the need for a sufficient level of generality to cover the range of specifics. For example, there is no objective scale by which I could say "goblin's gonad" is OK and "douchebag" isn't.

The c-word is generally seen as the most offensive, and would certainly be the one I'd be quickest to censor. I think that Francis undermines his very sensible point by using it. When he uses it, Stanislaw stops seeming like an irrational or foolish person, and seems like the victim of gross incivility, and my sympathy for Francis diminishes. (It returns when Stanislaw plays the "antisemite" card.)

I like Norm's piece that Rosie mentions. If I was chairing a public meeting and Francis called Stanislaw a cunt, I would stop him immediately, and if he persisted I'd ask him to leave. Why should we allow it on-line?

Before the Gert/Levi act, my main test case up to now has been Will, of whom Francis was a victim a while back. I'll go and comment on the Flesh thread now about that.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Marko,

I understand what you are saying, although on the point of strong language we may have a difference of opinions. However, take a look at the thread I have brought up as an example. A few points:

1.The absence of a moderator who should have by rights excised the stupid statement by that character and (at least) cautioned him/her.

2. Insistence of the character to continue the discussion on any unrelated subject and refusal to acknowledge his/her guilt.

3. Attacks on a person who was (relatively) mild in his response, the word "c**t" a sole exception.

4. Impossibility and pointlessness of continuing the discussion.

Isn't it better (for at least one side) to sign off with some vengeance?

Oh well, I guess you'll say no. Then it's a matter of temperament.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"The c-word is generally seen as the most offensive, and would certainly be the one I'd be quickest to censor."

I guess I shall never understand the weight Brits put to that specific term of endearment and, indeed, its use as an insult. But that's my personal problem.

"I think that Francis undermines his very sensible point by using it."

Sorry, there is no way I would agree with this statement. Different upbringing and all that, but I think that putting form that high above substance is missing the point.

Oh well, again this is very personal, and I am closer to above mentioned Will (well, in moderation) in this regard. Anyhow, I will not erase a comment that contains strong word or a few of them, provided that the author was inventive and that the insulting sequence was to support some statement of substance.

bob said...

Out of interest Snoop, do you delete any comments?

I'm not sure why the c-word is considered so offensive. Is it a Brit thing? Twat is pretty mild, even though it is basically the same thing.

I think that substance is more important than form, but that when you start with personal abuse that has nothing to do with the issue at hand, then you immediately up the ante, and the atmosphere gets more toxic, and the substance starts to fall away.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

Snoopy, I agree that the fault primarily lay with Stanislaw's initial disgusting comment and the failure of the moderator to reprimand him or delete it. Sedgemore was therefore provoked into saying something that demeaned him and that further demeaned the discussion. But yes, the primary fault lies with the moderators for permitting the type of disgusting comment that Stanislaw made.

nationofduncan said...

I don't think anyone is going to get much of a reputation for martyrdom just because they are banned by a private individual's blog. A reputation with whom ? Not with anyone who matters, surely ?

I agree with Mark Attila Hoare here.

My blog regularly attracts persistently abusive commenters and for a long time I held to a comment's policy of 'anything goes' and simply allowed people to post anything.

After a while I realised this prevented any form of meaningful debate and the comment thread were simply a long exchange of insults. However, I was still resistant to the idea of deleting stuff so as not to allow people the chance to claim they were righteous victoms whose views were so controversial and irrefutable that they had to be deleted.

Then I realised that people like this don't matter in the slightest and if they do claim the status of 'righteous victim' it won't be acknowledged by anyone who actually matters.

Bob,

Now, if I was using the far superior Wordpress, I could simply edit out the offending portions, and leave the sensible parts. But I think that editing people's comments is somehow more authoritarian in feel than deleting them.

I was going to suggest Wordpress as the solutions to your ills when I read this post.

I still think it's a good idea and disagree with the above. I don't think there is anything overly authoritarian about editing offensive or potentially libellous material out of comments as long as you note that you have removed some stuff and give a decent reason explaining why you have done so.

Many people commenting don't helpfully leave insults and sensible points in separate posts so I think deleting comments that contain offending material will simply limit the debate.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"I think that substance is more important than form,"

I agree but sometimes the form of delivery is so intrusive and takes up so much space within a certain comment, that it ends up not only overwhelming the substance but also becoming part of the substance. It is not always easy to tell the dancer from the dance.

It is one thing to disagree with someone on foundational premises. Quite another to suggest through this kind of unceasing compulsive profanity and ad homs that your interlocutor is evil, contemptible and what not because they disagree with you.

ModernityBlog said...

Bob,

That is the problem with overly elaborate comments policies, they can be taken too literally and you end up tying yourself in knots.

I keep mine fairly simple: no neo-nazis, bigots, etc, abusive cranks, etc

Obviously it depends on the size of the blog what goes on in small blogs is easier to "police".

Taking the examples above, I wouldn't get particularly bothered if someone made a one-off comment in the heat of the debate, but if they were persistently abusive that's a different kettle of fish because (as others have pointed out), it closes down discussion.

A friendly warning should be more than sufficient to anyone really interested in debate, and genuine people will tend to apologise if they think they've stepped over the line.

I've only banned two people: a neo-nazi wannabe and Elf, for another, excessive poster I gave him an open thread and let him have his own rant.

Wordpress allows a finer granularity on banning, by part or full name, IP address, etc

I have been lucky, Will doesn't come to my blog, but I think it's perfectly acceptable to put up a little notice:

"Excessively abusive comments will mean that the comments will get deleted, and/or the commentors banned even if I agree with the contents."

I certainly wouldn't censor anyone simply because I disagree with their politics, aside from my own exceptions, but I might not choose to engage with them if they are particularly obtuse, confused or otherwise incapable of responding to reasoned argument.

I had a few Atzmon apologists posting, ages back, I let them carry on, not because I agreed with them, rather I wanted to give them enough rope to hang themselves, I think I stopped part way thru and let them continue on, I couldn’t be bothered.

I think we all have a limited amount of energy and it is possible to get sucked into meaningless, unnecessarily aggressive exchanges (yes, I have done it and regret it)

I don't bother much nowadays with certain blogs, not because I don't agree with some of the arguments that are put forward, but either the atmosphere is a bit too toxic for my tastes, encourages racists or I have found that some are not amenable to reason and I'm not going to argue with a brick wall.

I think you find the mark of people not when you agree with them, but when you can disagree with them - in a reasonably civil fashion and bitterness doesn't creep into it. Then again, some argumentative types will make a big deal over utter trivia and its not worth the effort, if like me you have limited brain power and energy nowadays.

So in the end, I suppose it is about finding a balance that you are comfortable with.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"Out of interest Snoop, do you delete any comments?"

Yes, from time to time: spam, of course, senseless/unreadable junk, foreign language I can't guess, repetitive and boring stuff. In a few cases I have stopped two commentators from going at each other too energetically. But nothing in the line of major censorship.

"I think that substance is more important than form, but that when you start with personal abuse that has nothing to do with the issue at hand, then you immediately up the ante, and the atmosphere gets more toxic, and the substance starts to fall away."

Then it's up to your judgment whether to let the thread run or stop it, isn't it?

bob said...

So what I'm moving towards is to apply my new policy in as light a way as possible: that is, only when abusiveness becomes an issue. (At Duncan's place, because all the BNPers were constantly harassing him, the abusiveness was an issue, so he was right to crack down.)

Trying to define even the simplest terms can be complex: Lee Barnes is a fascist bigot, Gilad Atzmon too, but then there are people I find unsavoury but can't say are exactly fascist bigots, like Gert, or The Exile. But then, it's my house, so I'll apply my rules in an idiosyncratic, biased, unsystematic and subjective way. Thank god I'm not Alan Rusbridger's daugter, or even David T, and don't have to consider these issues too often!

Waterloo Sunset said...

To throw another spanner in the works (sorry Bob) aren't there times when linking to a fascist site is legitimate? In a discussion of current fash strategy, say. Possibly with a broken link so you don't get an influx of fash trolls.

If that's never legitimate, wouldn't that also mean that quoting from fascist publications is also forbidden.

Know your enemy etc.

I feel that whatever they say (and the "they" here is the Elfs, the BNPers, the Kahaneites, the anarkismo-nationalists, whoever) can and should be countered rationally.

Hmm. I do see where you're coming from. But I can't help feeling that trying to rationally counter something like Holocaust denial runs the risk of giving it a legitimacy it doesn't deserve.

(And can I still make fun of Ian Bone?)

KB Player said...

Waterloo - I've quoted from Stormfront but I wouldn't link to them. That's because I don't want the fash to climb hand over hand up my link from their dank fash-pit. That does seem to be a convention on leftish/liberalish sites though specialist anti-fash sites like Edmund Standing's provide links.

ModernityBlog said...

Far better to just quote them, either provide a link with a big warning, indicating that it leads to neo-fascist material or better still just point to the google cache.

nationofduncan said...

I never link directly to far right or otherwise hostile sites, mainly because I don't want to improve their Google ranking or let them know instantly that I'm talking about them (I generally look at incoming links to my own site that I haven't seen before).

This is a useful little tool for linking to hostile sites you don't want to

http://anonym.to/

Directing people to Google Cache is useful as well, as Mod points out.

fleshisgrass said...

Just to catch up, late, with what is perhaps rather a boring side-point. There are many things I wouldn't put up with at a meeting I chaired. I wouldn't put up with people cussing other people, I wouldn't put up with them prosecuting long-standing feuds either. Overt flirting might be embarrassing for everybody (I'd be vigilant!) and so would not answering a question. Talking past each other at once would be bad form. I would want to close the meeting and go home at some stage, not leave it open-ended.

So this isn't really a question of expecting to map it onto what we'd put up with in a face to face meeting - it's about what we are prepared to put up with on the web.

Them rules is new. That's why we're having a conversation.

Look at this: http://doteduguru.com/id3712-the-great-keynote-meltdown-of-2009.html

bob said...

Flesh - absolutely right. It's a different medium, different rules.

Which is why, Mod/Duncan/WS, I have changed my mind over the years about fash-linking. A decade ago, I was involved in an early internet anti-fascist project that came to nothing. I fiercely argued against any linking to fascist sites at all, on a "no platform" principle. However, I have come to think that the rules have changed with the internet, and we need to be aware of what is out there. And there are plenty of ways of avoiding the direct link (blogger comments boxes make direct links hard, while wordpress comments boxes you can easily put an asterisk before the url, and there are caches etc). Does anyone know (I'm sure Mod and Flesh do) if tinyul and bit.ly add to google juice, and is it easy to trace back from them?)

I think that fascism has changed as well, and that makes the old "no platform" rule a bit complicated. Euro-nationalism and right-wing populism on one hand, Islamist fascism on the other, the terrain has shifted. Fascism 2.0?

ModernityBlog said...

"Does anyone know (I'm sure Mod and Flesh do) if tinyul and bit.ly add to google juice, and is it easy to trace back from them?"

Sorry Bob, I don't know, but you could test it on your own sites and see, should be easy enough.

I think Duncan's suggestion was best http://anonym.to/

ModernityBlog said...

"Does anyone know (I'm sure Mod and Flesh do) if tinyul and bit.ly add to google juice, and is it easy to trace back from them?"

Sorry Bob, I don't know, but you could test it on your own sites and see, should be easy enough.

I think Duncan's suggestion was best http://anonym.to/

fleshisgrass said...

As far as I know any URL shortening / redirect services that use 301 permanent redirect will contribute to that site's search engine ranking (Google juice). Tiny and Bitly use 301 - not sure about http://anonym.to/ so wouldn't use it. There are other kinds of redirect but nobody in the search engine world, bless them, seems concerned with diluting ranking, only improving it. All I know is that links are the currency of the web, much more than hits, so I'd say they need to be subject to the same ethical consideration as how I spend my money.

Also URL shortening services make your pages prone to link rot if the service stops, so I'm coming to the conclusion it's best to provide the full address (somewhere - footnote?) and give readers a chance to find it in the Internet Archive.

Also search engine's caches are refreshed every time the engine's robot crawls over that particular site, so Google's cache is a temporary thing (unless I'm out of date and Google is archiving these days - Mod?).

Google have an attribute you can add to a link - rel="nofollow" - which you can use to tell Google to omit it from pagerank calculations, but that's just Google - its rivals e.g. Bing are said to be indexing the nofollow links.

Upshot - I reckon it's best not to link to sites I don't want to help along, but quote and cite instead, and encourage copying of any links and pasting into the address bar.

This lite geekery has been most pleasant.

ModernityBlog said...

Concerning Google cached pages, I believe it's about 30 to 60 days, but surely the point of referencing even to a cached reference is to validate that the quote is bona fide, so even if the link in the Google cache is out of date (which could equally happen to a direct link) I don't see that as much of a problem.

I wouldn't get hung up on it, just provide a quotation and suitable reference, the reader can then throw those certain words into Google and ultimately find the fascist page, if that's what they want.

bob said...

Thanks for the lite geekery guys. Very helpful.