Moderation Matters

Charles Stross, apparently seeing a recent uptick in general obnoxiousness in his comments thread, has sensibly posted a moderation policy for his blog. Good for him: I approve of it as a general concept and in its specifics. It’s a bit more detailed than my current moderation policy here, but in both cases it boils down to: “Don’t be a dick, or I’ll cut out your (virtual) tongue.”

This is my policy because I don’t have either the time or the patience do gently encourage a keyboard-mashing spazmoid to act like a reasonable human; Charlie, aside from (I assume) this reason, has the extra added misfortune of living and having his blog server in a country without an explicit constitutional right to free speech, not to mention a country where the libel and slander laws are not nearly as hard to activate as they are here in the US. It behooves Charlie to ride herd simply to protect his own backside.

This moderation policy works here; I suspect it’ll work reasonably well with Charlie as well. In both our cases, our commenter base (which has some overlap) is generally comprised of grownups who value actual conversation, and the few folks who can’t or won’t play nice with others are generally easy to rope out. And once people see you’re willing to hook out the obnoxious, the commenting community generally becomes better — not because they’re wary of being yanked themselves (or not just because), but because now they know they’re in a place where signal is valued over noise.

This is why I think a) it’s important to have a moderation policy somewhere on a blog, and b) it’s important to actually enforce it. Also, having high-profile folks like Charlie openly present and implement a moderation policy is encouraging to the folks down the long tail, as it were, who may still be under the impression that they need to tolerate dickheads in their comments because not tolerating them is censorship or them being oversensitive or whatever. It’s certainly possible to overmoderate (you can always tell who is insecure this way), but in the grand scheme of things, the Internet’s comment threads hardly suffer from suffocating blankets of overmoderation, now does it. Anyway, it’s easier to recover from moderating too much than not moderating enough.

I doubt Charlie will overmoderate in any event; I suspect he’ll thread that needle just fine. His blog, already excellent, will be that much better for it.

17 thoughts on “Moderation Matters

  1. I like it here. I havn’t seen anybody be a “dick”. I’ve only been visiting this site since april but the good natured conversations is what brings me back. It is possible to disagree but still be nice. No one’s feelings need to get hurt. I can’t but help to realize that every word written here is from a living feeling human and I’ve been places where peoples comments make me down right uncomfortable. Not here. I enjoy following the comments here. Thanks everyone.

  2. “…who may still be under the impression that they need to tolerate dickheads in their comments because not tolerating them is censorship…”

    Very well put. I think the sooner bloggers and other webhosts learn this the better for everyone’s browsing experience. It isn’t censorship to kick an asshole out of your house.

  3. I think if I got spam comments on my blog I would definitely approve them if only to make me feel like someone is getting something out of it… lol I’ve only had one real person comment on my blog… aside from myself!!! But I guess I like the anonymity of reading other people’s blogs without commenting so I would understand if only the spammers have something to say and I kind of just made it so that I would have someplace to document the things that made me happy a la “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music so I guess it’s more for me than anyone else and wow I’m gonna stop rambling now =)

  4. Sadly, there are people who don’t or won’t care about being polite on a blog. I try to keep it simple on my blog when it comes to my policy. It’s “be polite”. That’s it.

    The longer story for it is on my blog.

    Looks like we pretty much agree here.

  5. I think one reason I like to be here is because of your moderation/censorship policy. Also, of course, the high quality of the comment threads, which is probably due to the moderation policy.

    True, the government is constrained from censorship. That constraint does not apply to individuals. Censor away, and let the rest of us participate in intelligent conversation. We appreciate it.

  6. who may still be under the impression that they need to tolerate dickheads in their comments because not tolerating them is censorship or them being oversensitive or whatever.

    Here, here.

    I always liked Warren Ellis’ moderation policies. Whitechapel has some glorious and simple rules, written up in his inimitable style.

    I’ve been idly toying with some of my own, but as I haven’t had to bring out the iron glove yet (due to a large passage of nice people over my blog and only one very weak-willed troll so far) I haven’t done it yet. I really wish we didn’t need these things.

    I’m thinking of settling on a combination of TheEngine.net’s old policy and Whitechapel:

    This is not your personal arguing machine.

    It bores me, and it’s easy to ban you.

  7. Moderate any way you want, John, it’s working just fine.
    I actually have my own policy. I don’t post on blogs that allow flamethrowers on the site, I just take my toys and go home, or somewhere else.
    I’ve been reading along quite awhile here and noticed that it might get a touch warm, usually on the politics threads, but in general everyone that posts here regularly allows for personal opinions.
    Heck, the only reason I got here in the first place is because of Androids Dream, then OMW and so on. Actually reading and participating in the blogosphere was the furthest thing from my mind, having heard horror stories of how anonymity breeds contempt.

    Nice to find a place where I was wrong

  8. Weird. People have to have a policy on blogs? I could see forums where there is no clear owner or the owner is a corporation, but a personal blog?

    Heck, I can’t even register here so I could go back and delete or edit a post. As blog owner, you could even edit this post so it said something entirely different.

    Complaining about censorship on someone’s blog is somewhat akin to someone breaking into a house and then suing because they got shot.

  9. Patrick M @#8:

    “Complaining about censorship on someone’s blog is somewhat akin to someone breaking into a house and then suing because they got shot.”

    You know, I don’t have access to LexisNexis, but I’d be willing to wager that with a little digging you could find a case where that’s happened.

  10. @Patrick M #8:

    Weird. People have to have a policy on blogs? I could see forums where there is no clear owner or the owner is a corporation, but a personal blog?

    Oh totally. Anything that even slightly hints at “I can post stuff, even a tiny comment” starts to give some people airs of “the site owner TOTALLY owes me for the content I put on their site, and the attention I give to them, for I comment, and therefore am IMPORTANT.”

    The other symptom I’ve seen is, “Free speech applies everywhere of course, and this site doesn’t really look different from every other site out there, therefore I can LAMBASTE this person for having an opinion I deem stupid.”

    I know a mom with a bicycling blog that I advised to Akismet spam block some mothers who were upset she was having her kids bike. Like, really, really upset. Profanity-stalking-capslock-upset. The joyful thing about Akismet is that a single block also blocks the IP address for the future.

    Also, forums also have owners, where owner == “whoever foots the hosting bill, web development, and time spent dealing with idiot users and trolls”. Lots of people, for some reason, do not understand this (hence “this is not your personal arguing machine” statements that must be made).

    Basically, anything that has community tied to it at all, personal blogs encouraging such things included, is vulnerable to the, ah, self-entitled. It’s so much more helpful to have a policy to warn some of them off.

    I expect the first troll to come along in about a month due to my “Like this site? Buy me a coffee” Paypal link. Because it is *sacrilege* to offer up a link for people to tip you for content.

  11. Well, my website/blog isn’t popular enough (yet?) for me to have to worry about this issue, but I like your casual attitude about it, John. Myself, I guess I feel even a little more casual about it, because even if my blog starts to get more comments, I don’t feel the need to post a moderation policy. At this point, I think that the general rules of the game are known to those who would comment at all in the first place. Especially the dickheads and spammers.

    And, to be honest, I’m just not the kind of guy to care all that much about the opinions of the typical whiny complainer. Just let them bug off and live with it.

    And as for the “law”… I’m a little confused? We have free speech in the US? When did that come back? ;)

  12. I don’t think there’s any actual question about whether it’s reasonable to ban the uncivil. Reasonable people might differ on whether to let a first-time offender off with a warning, or ban immediately. I tend to feel that all my users have visited forums before, and no trash-talker is legitimately unaware that he’s giving offense.

    Re #15 – The “disemvowel” schtick is awfully cute, and amused me no end when I first encountered it, but it’s a half measure.

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