A Quick Note on the Malleting of Comments

John ScalziFolks:

I’ve recently begun to see an upswing in comments which begin with some variation of “I expect this comment to be deleted/malleted/otherwise expunged, but…” I think this is done for two reasons. About five percent of the time it’s someone genuinely not knowing whether what they’re about to write is going to cross the line with regard to my moderation policies. The rest of the time it’s a warding spell and/or pre-emptive smugness at transgression; either “not in the face!” or “see, I told you.”

Either way I find it passive-aggressive and annoying, so here’s a new guideline I’ve begun implementing: When I see some variation of “I expect this comment to get the Mallet,” I’m going to stop reading the comment there, and will most likely then Mallet the comment — not necessarily because the comment was in itself mallet-worthy (although it might have been, who knows), but simply because I’m a people-pleaser and don’t want to disappoint the person making the comment.

This is a policy in line with my policy for people who start comments with “This is off-topic, but…” in which I also stop reading and then just delete the comment, because the site policy asks people not to post off-topic comments in threads, too.

Basically, if you acknowledge that you are likely about to act in a manner contrary to the rules of discourse on this site, and then go and do it anyway, you probably deserve to be malleted, and you need to think about why it is you believe the rules are different for you. Also, and related, if you are using these phrases as warding spells or reverse psychology, you haven’t really paid attention to how I run this site.

But what if I genuinely believe my post might transgress? Well, you have two options: Either revisit your desire to post the comment and reflect what it is about you that is making you post a comment you strongly suspect I will not allow to stay up on the site, or, alternately, just post the damn thing, and I will decide whether it stays or goes, and either way you will have learned something.

I do understand some of you really do come from a place of being concerned that you’re about to be a problem. While I appreciate you putting your concern up front, please understand that the cautionary phrasing you’re using is often co-opted by people trying to psyche me out into letting their terrible comment stay. So honestly, just post your comment without preamble. If you go over the line I’ll let you know. It’s not really that big of a deal.

Also: resist the temptation in the comment thread of this entry to put snarky “I BET YOU WILL MALLET THIS” or “Off topic but –” comments. I am on to you, people.

Great chat everyone! Now let’s go out and have some fun!

— JS

52 Comments on “A Quick Note on the Malleting of Comments”

  1. This is a really useful procedure in general. Listen to what people say right at the beginning; it often saves considerable time and effort.

  2. I don’t really care if you give me the mallet. It is your blog. I should not be offended by the way you run it. In fact, you did that once on a joke I made and I didn’t take offense. It would be rather like being offended that you don’t let me park my car on your lawn.

  3. I think it is also a form of ‘the lurkers support me in e-mail’. People imagine that there is much more moderation going on than there really is and the only reason there isn’t a lot of posts supporting their position is that they’ve all been deleted.

  4. Are you ok? Lots of your posts recently are more cross than you have been historically (been reading for about 10 years). The world has gone to shit a bit so it’s completely understandable! I hope your ok though, partly because selfishly I love your books and want more of them, but also just because you seem like a really decent human. Anyhoo it’s your blog so you can be as cross as you like obviously, and I do like reading a rant…. so either way good with me 😬

  5. Actually, I’m pretty great at the moment, thank you for asking. This is a reminder that the blog does not equal or encompass the whole of my real life. Also, housekeeping posts are often cranky.

  6. I moderate a FB group and I HATE the posts that begin, “Moderator please delete if not allowed.” I mean, the guidelines are right there at the top of the feed, they’re not complicated, so just read them and follow them, okay?

    That said, the hardest posts to moderate are not the ones that obviously break the rules, but the ones in the “gray zone” that adhere to the rules but are obnoxious or otherwise unhelpful. Those take a while to think through, and then (bc it’s that kind of group) to compose an explanation for the offender that’s honest but won’t chase them away.

    Your post also reminds me of a writers group when, after a bunch of nitpicking, we established a “no nitpicking” rule. And then people would start their comments, “This might be a nit, but…”

    Of course, I’ve probably guilty of all of these offenses, at one time or another. :-/ People are weird, and social media makes them weirder.

  7. Phew! That’s good to hear! 🙂

    Most of the people I work with are being made redundant currently and 90% of the industry i work in is on hold. Not to mention everything else going on in the news….so I’m probably just being over sensitive at the moment!

    Glad your all good! Really love your books …. hoping your new audible book comes out in the UK soon! Can’t wait!

  8. I’ve noticed a lot of posts in Facebook groups recently that start with “Admins: please delete if not allowed” (as if they wouldn’t delete the post without permission), I wonder if there’s a more general internet trend right now of attempting to ward off moderation by mentioning it.

  9. Aren’t kittens just the softest and most fluffy things you ever did see? I love them so much!

  10. Hi yall, I’m a long time lurker, first time commenter, but what Scalzi is attempting here seems um, big? But hey John, what if a big enough fraction of this… call it ‘flavor’ of comment can be generated by whatever the latest rage ML engine is, including adding an implied seemingly special snowflake personal experiental profile, and disseminated globally or targeted microscopically via the god like capabilities of the computational cloud?

    On your platform, how can the mallet scale? Asking for all of us.

  11. This strategy reminds me of a widely useful Maya Angelou quote: “When someone shows you what they are, believe them the first time.”

  12. When the power of the mallet is wielded by more than one person, it helps to have a few guidelines carved into stone tablets. That way, certain common problematic comments can be summarily removed because “rules”.

    It won’t prevent you from malleting a diatribe because you don’t like the cut of their jib, of course.

  13. This is also a reminder of how this space is different from some spaces: if you mallet someone once, this is not inherently an expression that the comment author is Unacceptable or Not Human, and it’s sort of a no-harm-no-foul no-tortured-decisions thing.

    Other spaces, if you run afoul once of a norm or preference, then you may in fact have made the blogger go through a torturous decision as to whether to snip your comment and possibly lose a reader via offense and/or potentially get a rash of “you stifled free speech!” attackers, or leave it up against their preference.

    Or, in still other spaces, if you leave a comment that is disliked once, you may be banned from commenting permanently. (this happened to me, and it was… weird, especially since I was only noting that modern hospital architecture is heavily influenced by ventilation and other regulations, on a post lamenting modern hospital architectural aesthetics vs. the old stone-built hospitals. And it was also inconvenient, since the blogger marked me as spam and it took me a while to get free from the spam flag to be able to post comments anywhere else using Akismet!)

    So! It is good to read comment policies. And the way things are done here is good, and I appreciate you putting the effort into fairly clean moderation that still allows some disagreement/pushback/whatever.

    (I will admit I sometimes leave “please delete this comment” comments in some places, but only when a post has an important broken link or a *really* bad typo. I want them to know so they can fix it, and then delete my comment so that conversation can happen in the comments section! I do not think I’ve ever done that here, though – your cranial or extra-cranial copyeditors are generally of high quality.)

  14. Hey Jerome, me too. For both a comment and my blog post, I like to go back right away and say, “Yep, that’s what I wrote.” I also like to look in the mirror and say, “Yep, there’s that handsome man.”

    Which means if I do a stupid comment, it just ain’t no fun.

    …Meanwhile, for folks with motivations like John mentions (smug, passive aggressive) it might help if they would do whatever it takes to find people to talk with in the real world, face to face, because then their silly motives might melt away in the face of sane real people. But that’s just my opinion, as an amateur psychologist.

  15. I strongly suspect this post & the one the other day about sending you stories are both like warning labels on ladders. Those who need them are the ones that don’t read them or don’t think it applies to them.

  16. Your house, your rules. I almost wish there were a mallet-swing gif to go along with the Big Red Button. That would be fun.

  17. @Hillary:

    This brings to mind the “feel free to delete” remarks that pop up when people suspect they’ve committed a mallet-worthy offense.

    I tend to cringe when people grant John permission to moderate his own threads.

    I’ve seen it a million times.

    I don’t understand why.

    Why not just beg the host’s pardon and leave it at that?

    Better yet, why not refresh the page and see if the whip has been cracked?

  18. I have been ignorant in the past; I will (sadly) likely be ignorant in the future. My only hope is that generally ignorance is fixable, and I try not to repeat stupidity.

  19. I do see honest “feel free to mallet” comments here that aren’t about giving John permission to moderate his own site. They’re generally “I may have gone down a rabbit hole and am too emotionally engaged to tell whether I’m still contributing anything useful to the conversation”, and “I may be engaging with a troll and if John decides to mallet the troll he usually removes the comments responding to it”. It’s a pre-emptive acknowledgement that a) John and only John gets to decide whether a comment makes a useful contribution to the conversation, b) John generally mallets a post, not a poster, and you’re not going to sulk about it if that post is yours.

    John has addressed that in his post – don’t worry about it. He’ll delete if he thinks it necessary. And one of the things I see about those sort of comments is that he says why he’s malleted a post, and if it’s simply one of the above he will say so.

    I very rarely comment because the time zone difference means that anything I might want to say has usually already been said by someone else. I’d be very tempted to do the “feel free to mallet” thing because I also hang out in places where it’s safer to do so if delurking. But I’ve been reading Whatever for long enough that I can trust John to mean it when he says “you don’t need to do that”.

  20. I don’t say much here, but have to comment how nice it is to feel part of an institution where the rules are so well made, publicised and patiently explained, in an age when both our governments (I’m reluctant Brit / passionate Scot) have lost sight of Rule One: the people have a right to know the laws they’re being held to! No risk of ambiguity here, never has been, nope.

  21. I just want to say “Thank you!” for including the bit about understanding that some actually say this because they are unsure and do NOT want to offend.
    I also agree with you, and your careful prodding (“just post the damn thing”) WRT to the question “to post or not to post? Will I offend or not?”.

    All too often well-intentioned people are being smacked because they dared not to know that others have perverted phrases and gestures that were meant to be harmless.

    Especially your: “If you go over the line I’ll let you know. It’s not really that big of a deal.” is a very nice touch.

    (Hrm. All that writing, and I start it with “I just want to say”. One day I’ll learn to be concise. Not today, obviously…)

  22. I appreciate the thought and effort you put into writing guidelines and policies, conducting housekeeping, and enforcing the rules you’ve set. None of that is necessary. It’s your house and you can remove anything you don’t like for any reason. But documented guidelines and clear expression of those house rules helps encourage participation. I’m aware it does involve some degree of effort and attention, though. I appreciate the time you spend curating this site. Thanks!

  23. Good policy. I appreciate (and am always sort of amazed) that you take the time to read and moderate all the comments – your new policy should make the process a bit more efficient :-)

  24. Do you find that you’re more likely to mallet a comment in defense of Athena? I have a daughter of the same age, and I find it difficult sometimes not to be overprotective of her with people. Even though she’s married and lives two states away from me now. (Her husband is in the Army.) I am just wondering since I’m sure there were many trolls on her post yesterday. I just stayed out of the comments on that one.

  25. Efforts much appreciated. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been Malleted, but I have definitely ended up posting off-topic things once or twice, and once put an extensive comment in the wrong thread (a tab mix-up), so am comfortable with the idea that I probably was!

  26. I have no expectation that you would allow expectoration over potential expungement, and fully support this policy.

  27. pandorasdadca:

    I don’t think I’ve moderated her posts more than I do my own, but I might not be the one with the best perspective on that. When she decided to write a directly political post, I did mention to her that it would get a lot of comments and that the responses would be “spirited,” to use a euphemism, and that some would require malleting.

    She has her own mallet (i.e., she has moderating capabilities), but she also had things to do yesterday and hadn’t handled a political thread before, so I took the lead on that one and she’s seeing how I do it. It’s a learning experience for her. Most of the malleted comments weren’t going after her directly, they were just garden variety pointless or off-topic.

    There have been a couple of trolls who tried the “be a dick to the girl” tactic, and I malleted those, but I will also note that Athena, as a member of Gen Z, doesn’t let them get under her skin much; that generation grew up with people being real shits on the internet and calibrates accordingly.

  28. Often, you guys set things up so you don’t need to mallot commonplace objections. I appreciate seeing the craft.

    Case in point: Your response to Doug on Athena’s Political post: It was like you were ready for someone to make the argument that she couldn’t possibly know who her ancestors were.

    Just the matter-of-fact, “Spoiler: He’s an embarrassment to his bloodline.” was so delightful that I’ve shared it with a few friends.

    It’s almost as if you’ve been doing this for a while. Or are a professional writer / celebrity.

  29. I look forward to one day attending con’s in the flesh… if only so everyone who has been mallet’d can proudly stride the hallways wearing the tee-shirt: “The Mallet Got Me!”…

    everyone is going a bit squirrelly not just the isolation but other longer trending stressors… there are ever more trolls because folk are slipping their social conditioning from kindergarten… does not help when Trump ain’t the POTUS we so direly need…

  30. Jerome wrote:
    > I expect every post I make to be enlightening and echo in the halls of greatness forever.
    > But that’s just me.

    Not just you. As Elizabeth Bennet said at the Netherfield Ball: “We are each… unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.”

  31. I would be TICKLED to wear a shirt that said, “The Scalzi Mallet Got Me”.

    I’m kinda perverse that way…

  32. I am so glad I resisted the off-topic comment I wanted to make the other day. (I can’t remember what it was so it can’t have been that important, but it was related to something on your twitter.) Go me!

    On our blog we love off-topic tangents. :) But different rules for different places.

    I would totally wear a “Malleted by Scalzi” shirt. (Once because he said to stop talking about some topic after I started replying but before I hit “post comment”, so I got a “no worries” deletion and once because I wouldn’t let go of something, but I still think I was right, though I can’t quite remember what it was that I was right about.)

  33. It’s the online equivalent of “Sirs: I am sure that your rag of a ‘newspaper’ will not dare to publish my letter…..’ and has exactly the same smug, self-important energy. And deserves exactly the same online equivalent of round-filing.

  34. Just wrote and deleted a completely Off Topic comment about Gen Z triggered by John’s comment about Athena above… after remembering the point of the post, among other things, is that off topic comments get the mallet. I’m a slow learner, but I do learn…

  35. I’ve been an in-and-out reader and sometime commenter here since 2006–even before “bacon cat” (and by the way, thanks for that). I have often held your blog to be the high standard of the intelligent comment section, since, you know, before our society became completely taken over by trolls.

    What this site represents is crucially important for social discourse, that we acknowledge some guidelines for truth and respectful behavior. We really need it right now.

  36. Dear Mythago,

    A print magazine I used to work for had a different way of handling those “I bet you won’t print this…” letters that amused us more than deep-sixing them.

    If it was an otherwise-reasonable letter, we ran it with the only editorial response being, “You lose.”

    If it wasn’t, we mailed it back to the sender with a note that read, “You win.”

    I came up with a different response for the (only very occasional) obnoxious letter that ran in the vein of “If Ctein knew his elbow from… then he’d know…” —

    “Dear Sir or Madam,

    “My deepest apologies.

    “I seem to have inadvertently created the impression that I am obliged to respond to any and all correspondence, no matter how insulting or rude it may be.

    “I am not.

    “I do sincerely regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.

    “Ctein”

    Alternately (courtesy of Steve Jacob) —

    “Dear Sir or Madam,

    “I am writing to thank you for your detailed and heartfelt critique of my work. It is very encouraging to know that someone with your level of taste, eloquence and intelligence finds it so challenging.

    “Most sincerely yours,

    “Ctein”

    The Miss Manners passive-aggressive nuclear response. We never heard back from a reader after we sent out one of those.

    pax / Ctein
    ==========================================
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery http://ctein.com
    — Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
    ==========================================

  37. Never really had a problem in nuking/deep sixing comments when I was blogging. Most of it happened in my early days, when I used to also to participate in the now-defunct extremely noxious Topix chat rooms. I would have people troll me from there from time to time, which necessitated in nuking their presence.

    Beyond that, I was pretty open to what people would be allowed to comment with, and as it said quite succinctly on my comment box, I have an incredibly thick skin when it comes to barbs/insults/bad snark.

    I think I did one of those “feel free to mallet” comments on one of your political posts the other day, and I’m not/wasn’t worried if it did get nuked. As the saying goes, your blog, your rules (genuinely). I’m not losing sleep over if it did, because to be honest, life is too short to worry about whether or not someone agrees with you.

  38. @ G. B. Miller:

    “life is too short to worry about whether or not someone agrees with you.”

    Appreciate the time you took to let everyone know that you don’t care.

  39. suggest: tee-shirt “I’ve been malleted!” as fundraiser for getting laptops into hands of impoverished students… only thing better would be “I’ve been blocked by Trump on Twitter” or “banned on Facebook by the GOP” OR…

    right now I’m looking for where to get myself tee-shirt with
    “I’m a Cat and Bill Barr Let Me Vote Three Times!”

  40. I would also like to vote for a ‘I’ve been malletted….’ t-shirt official merch, as long as they can get mailed to the UK.

    A long time ago, you malletted a comment of mine, where it came across differently than the comment was meant, which was fine because,
    a) it’s your blog.
    b) it’s very hard to convey tone and body language through pure text, and without those communication tools, it is very hard to properly convey information. I didn’t add enough context and so you took offence.

    Have a nice weekend.

  41. I bet you would have malleted this if it had been off-topic, but since it’s not, I suspect you won’t, despite my semi-humorous attempt to pretend to challenge the rules!

    As for off-topicness: geeze, folks, at least start with something on-topic before jumping to the off-topic thing you can’t resist saying! Give John a chance to practice his editing skills instead of just hammering the mallet button! ;)

    Off-topic: I really like kittens, and I relish the chance to make it look like you’ve kittened me. Which almost makes this on-topic again. :D