I’m very pleased to announce that our small webzine has now broken the million comment mark, with readership traffic also growing very nicely. Further, the comments are hardly the short and totally trivial dross so often found elsewhere, with the accumulated comment text being well over ninety million words, the equivalent of perhaps 500 good size non-fiction books.
As most of you realize, although our comments are moderated, they are generally moderated with a very light hand, although some particular bloggers may have stricter policies.
The results of such very light moderation are that we attract a considerable number of lunatics, crackpots, extremists, and fanatics, whose comments usually contribute almost nothing to the discussion, and would surely get their authors quickly banned at most other websites. But on the other hand, we also tend to attract a considerable number of exceptionally erudite and knowledgeable individuals, whose extremely valuable contributions clearly outweigh and justify the worthless chaff of the first group. And since individual visitors can choose to permanently “ignore” any commenters they dislike, they can easily “ban” members of the first group, while retaining the second.
Still, given the huge inflow of daily comments, I do think it’s time to establish somewhat stricter guidelines for commenting, thereby improving the experience for the overwhelming majority of the discussants and perhaps seeing off those who refuse to comply.
First, although the form of the vast majority of comments is reasonably good, a certain number of commenters tend to be too lazy or ignorant to write in good English, instead producing comments that lack proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, spacing, or capitalization. This is not acceptable and tends to detract from the perceived quality of the website. If commenters are just too lazy to write proper sentences, it’s much less likely that their thoughts will contribute much to the discussion. Therefore, there’s a reasonable chance that such comments will just be trashed instead of posted, and once this happens enough times to comments that required considerable time and effort to produce, perhaps certain hard lessons will be learned and behavior will change. Thus:
- Comments lacking proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, spacing, or capitalization may be summarily trashed.
Similarly, our comment threads allow all sorts of extreme and controversial ideas to be expressed under the safety of anonymity, and I doubt that too many other webzines can match these freedoms. However, I’ve recently noticed a considerable increase in the use of profanity and egregious racial/ethnic slurs, which tend to degrade the tone of the conversation, and perhaps by proximity even injure the credibility of far more respectable comments. So henceforth, use of profanity or racial/ethnic slurs may very well cause a comment to be trashed rather than published, though this result is merely a possibility rather than a certainty, and will depend both on the overall quality of the comment and totally unpredictable factors.
I should emphasize this restriction is merely on form rather than on content since even the most extreme positions can be expressed in reasonably polite language; “freedom of thought” is hardly being restricted. But someone who takes the time to write a long and detailed comment only to see it trashed for including a trivial word or two has only himself to blame for having taken that risk. In the immortal words of Dirty Harry: “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Thus:
- Comments containing profanity or egregious racial/ethnic slurs are at risk of being summarily trashed.
Finally, commenters have been repeatedly warned that they are NOT allowed to use multiple handles to conceal their identity. Commenters must pick ONE handle and stick to it, or freely use Anonymous or Anon whenever they wish to drop into deeper anonymity. This constitutes the last and final warning regarding the use of multiple handles, and commenters who suffer because they disregard this prohibition have only themselves to blame.
One very fitting punishment for violators would simply be to have their new comment handle replaced with their regular one. Thus, if a commenter is trying to use a throw-away handle to express a particular unsavory or contradictory opinion without “tainting” his established persona, he may suddenly discover that his new comment is actually posted under his regular name, perhaps causing him considerable problems or embarrassment. But he has only himself to blame for his violation of the rules. If necessary, this handle replacement process can even be automated, but I hope things will not come to that. Thus:
- Commenters must pick ONE handle and stick to it, or freely use Anonymous or Anon at any point; multiple handles are not allowed.
So long as commenters follow these simple rules, things will go smoothly.
- Commenter authentication problems.
Given the endlessly contentious disputes between angry commenters, an obvious risk would be “false flagging,” in which individuals post damaging comments under the handles of their enemies in order to discredit them. Therefore, a year or so ago, I added an automatic “handle authentication” feature, in which the handles of reasonably frequent commenters are checked against the real or fictional emails they selected, and rejected if those (and also their IPs) do not match. These emails and other commenter information can be saved as a permanent cookie by using the “Remember/Update My Information” checkbox, which I strongly urge commenters to do.
The problem is that some commenters may refuse to use the checkbox (or their cookies get erased) and then also fail to remember their fake email. That’s why I would suggest that people use real emails, even if these are merely of the throw-away type, since these are much easier to remember or locate.