Just a few days ago I’d published an Announcement noting the millionth comment at our small webzine, and mentioning that stylistic standards would henceforth be tightened up a bit for commenters. In particular, poor spelling, grammar, or punctuation might cause comments to be trashed, as would the use of profanity or ethnic/racial slurs. We do allow the expression of highly controversial sentiments, but I see no reason why these cannot be couched in reasonably respectable language, with proper use of spelling and punctuation, if only out of respect to the writers and your fellow commenters.
I’m pleased to see that there seems to have been a considerable improvement in these two areas since that notice appeared, though obviously the length of time involved is too short to draw any firm conclusions.
However, despite these stylistic improvements, numerous commenters have also been complaining about the substance of comments, namely how worthless, crazy, or troublesome other commenters tend to be. Given all the extremists and fanatics that our webzine attracts, some of these difficulties may simply be insoluble. Often, it’s exactly the same commenters who simultaneously decry the censorship of their spewings on other websites and then criticize this one for failing to censor their opponents. Frankly, we’re a small operation and given the enormous volume and length of our comment-flow, if we took time to judiciously weigh the censorship of too many comments, we’d never be able to get any serious work done. Anyway, our software system allows readership to set up their own personal “censorship lists,” partly ameliorating the problem.
- Flagging Trolls to Discourage Misbehavior
However, given all the complaints, some not unreasonable, I’ve added a new feature that may partly address this problem. There are widespread complaints about “trolls,” namely commenters who deliberately seek to provoke or annoy as many other commenters as possible, while adding little useful content of their own. Therefore, along with the previous Agree/Disagree/LOL buttons, I’ve also added a “Troll” option, that allows regular commenters to flag such “trolls,” in effect “responding” to them but in a way that doesn’t otherwise clutter up a comment-thread. Commenters who are particularly badly behaved or irritate their fellows may similarly attract these “Troll” warnings.
Although these “Troll” markings would have no direct effect, if a particular named commenter receives too many of them, especially by established, substantive commenters, the individual might receive various sanctions. The easiest to implement would be to “muzzle” all his accumulated comments for a day or two, in effect defaulting them to appear on everyone’s “Ignore” list. They could still be read, but each would require a positive action. Continued, serious misbehavior might result in longer-term or possibly even permanent “muzzling.”
Since the “troll” flag would be indicated by the name of accuser, it would be relatively easy to distinguish egregious misbehavior from people being falsely accused by their particular enemies, and false or widespread accusations would themselves constitute misbehavior.
- An End to Shape-Shifting Commenters
Checking a bit through the records, I’ve discovered that quite a number of commenters have made a habit of repeatedly changing their handles to hide their identity, which is NOT acceptable behavior. I repeat: Commenters must pick a SINGLE handle and stick to it, or use Anonymous/Anon whenever they choose. Using a single handle prevents “drive-by attacks” from disrupting discussions, thereby assuring better behavior. Furthermore, it allows readers to “ignore” particularly annoying or worthless commenters, as well as supporting the new “global ignore” feature I may be implementing in conjunction with my new Troll button.
I get a sense that some commenters seek to make up for the lack of original or interesting thinking in the body of their comments by attempting to transfer their creativity to their handles. This is NOT acceptable. Handles should preferably be short and simple, utilitarian in design. Your handles and other commenting information can easily be saved by using the “Remember/Update My Information” checkbox.
I think the easiest means of deterring false-flagging and other handle misbehavior is simply for me to correct it by unifying all of a commenter’s handles into a single one, and I’m planning to start doing this, including for all the accumulated comments of the last year or two. Commenters have been endlessly warned to use a single handle, and have only themselves to blame if others discover all the things they’re previously said under their false handles.
- Avoiding Perennial Topics on Unrelated Threads
As numerous readers have noted, this webzine offers commenters the opportunity to discuss all sorts of highly controversial topics that would typically get them banned at most other places on the web. I don’t have a problem with that, but it is sometimes irritating when particularly fanatic commenters choose to raise those same issues on almost every comment-thread, even those for which their is little connection. For example, on my most recent TWA Flight 800 article, much of the commentary instead focused on 9/11 leading a longtime commenter called “Rurik”—who himself greatly enjoys discussing the 9/11 attacks—to make these thoughtful points:
at the risk of every thread even remotely related to conspiracies or government cover ups being skewed into 911 debates, perhaps there could just be a running thread on 911, where all the people interested in that stuff could hammer out the ‘no planes’ theories and other such chafe, because all the minutia regarding that particular theory is just that- minutia. And can all too easily be a distraction, and also distract from the point of the threads, like this one on flight 800.
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(I wouldn’t normally presume to make suggestions to the esteemed Mr. Unz and his team, but it seems to me a separate 911 (perhaps Holocaust too) running thread might be a positive thing to help clean up the other threads?).
Perhaps this suggestion of providing permanent “open threads” on 9/11 and other perennial topics would be a good means of preventing such discussion from cluttering up the discussion of other, generally unrelated articles.
- Your Thoughts and Reactions
The Troll Button is already available, but before I begin implementing these other ideas, I’d welcome your thoughts and reactions. In particular, I’m VERY annoyed at the number of commenters who have been regularly violating the One-Handle rule, but before I begin going through and “unifying” the handles of all their past comments as a combined form of correction and punishment, I’d be glad to hear if anyone can think of a reason that important step should not be taken.