Comment policy in flux

trollI have been concerned for a while about the low quality of discussion going on here. It’s basically arisen because of participation of the occasional persistent troll – and others getting trapped into troll-feeding. The result is a “pissing” completion, put-downs and emotional reactions without anything of value being added to the discussion.

One result is that genuine commenters  find it difficult to follow a proper discussion. I myself find  participation difficult and I know others who have participated in the past have been put off recently. Comments get buried so why make them? Yes – I have even had a compliant!

I know some people use blog comments as a sort of forum and would not like to discourage this or to prevent  genuine off-thread comments. Nor do I want to get into the arbitrary deletion of comments, especially those I disagree with. However, I will try a few things to see if I can improve the discussion and behaviour of commenters.

Step 1

I will now close off discussion on any post where the list of comments gets too long and/or people are caught up in obvious and pointless trolling/troll-feeding loops. Sure – the malicious troll might see this as an opportunity to move to new posts with the intention of getting them closed. But they will end up looking silly if no one feeds them!

Step2

Depends on the results, if any,  of step 1 – genuine feedback is welcome.

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16 responses to “Comment policy in flux

  1. No troll-feeding?
    Hmm.

    Ok.
    I can live with that.

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  2. I’m not certain how effective this policy will be, but I welcome it tentatively. Honestly, I think vague, flighty paragraph structure has more do with the ‘difficult to follow’ threads than anything else. I’m really enjoying this blog, but I most enjoy the comments that are polite and substantial.

    This is certainly the last place I’d have expected to see that Dragon Quest troll, too!

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  3. I’ve had some excessively rude commenters and I’ve considered restricting comments to those who leave real email addresses. No email, no comment. I haven’t gone their yet, but for me it would bolster some accountability.

    You could also moderate and reject anything that has no productive value to a discussion (it is your own blog).

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  4. Ken,

    I can understand your position here.

    Seeing that the “Does science involve faith?” thread has also veered completely off the tracks, I will discontinue further posting there if you ask me to.

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  5. Its a tricky issue to deal with. A friend that popped around last night (bugger, I forgot to ask him about the origins of the German MMP system) mentioned that he was a bit put off by the degeneration here bought on by trolling etc…, also, its quite easy for the interesting posts to get buried under noise, so that can be bad. On the other hand, I must say that I now understand a bit more about different philosophical stances courtesy of Iapetus, but I suppose that I could have addressed that myself by asking for an opinion on the subject and then he/she would not need to have reiterated each point from 10 different angles:-)

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  6. @4 I didn’t see your post until after I had posted @5. Just to reiterate, I at least have learnt some stuff from your posts, and find that you describe these concepts very clearly. Thanks.

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  7. It’s a difficult line to draw between censorship and clarity but I think the occasional interjection from you might also do the trick where you see a thread descend into pointless back-and-forth. Looking at the “What is your purpose in life?” post we can see that you were talking about your initial reticence of the concept of the ‘selfish’ gene and how you’d come to understand it better through Pinker’s explanation.

    Stavros kicks his comment off with perhaps a slightly trolling “misinformed religious lunatics” but Heraclides delves very interestingly into the various processes involved from the gene through to the organism. James simply read the headline and trolled with “To Glorify God, and enjoy Him forever…” and the whole thing went downhill from there between James and his personal feeder, Cedric.

    I wanted to talk to Heraclides to get a better understanding of how genes interact but sixty comments later it lost its continuity. The downside of closing comments is that we can no longer have that topical conversation.

    James and Cedric, you must see that you are not achieving anything when you talk to each other. You’re both treating this blog like a personal pissing ground and I think it’s quite rude. If there was one thing that would make this blog a more enjoyable experience it would be for James to not interject with a banal “prove you can have morals” any time the word “moral” is used regardless of context or with “To Glorify God…” on a topic of genetics. And for Cedric not to ever talk to James again. Both of you would probably benefit from some time outdoors eh?

    Sorry to be a grumpy old bugger but those of us who have been reading Ken’s blog for a while have noticed a marked decline in the quality of conversation since the advent of The James and Cedric Show. (I realise that you guys aren’t the only ones but you’re certainly the most prolific).

    And that’s my rant over with! ;)

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  8. “And for Cedric not to ever talk to James again.”

    Suits me.

    Will the trolling stop?
    Let’s hope so.

    Nick said…”On the other hand, I must say that I now understand a bit more about different philosophical stances courtesy of Iapetus”

    Seconded.

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  9. I know I’ve been guilty sometimes. I try to restrain myself to correcting points of fact and then letting it go, but it is annoying to face someone who thinks its a joke to treat others the way they do.

    I have to admit one of the things putting me off blogging, apart from the wackier (and more persistent) Creationists, is trolls. I’ve been trying to think what I’d use as a policy myself. In my case simply avoiding articles that address religious issues would probably make it less of an issue to start with. I’ve noted that most blogs that deal only in science itself rarely seem to have any trouble. My own interests in blogging are more likely to lie more with the science itself and a number of anti-science “natural health” issues so in principle I might get little trouble, but even so me being me I’d want a policy set up from day one. (That said, “natural health” tend to attract its own brand of well-meaning-but-overly-persistent types.)

    I’ve considered all sorts of silly things. Most are fun to think about, but probably unworkable. One idea I had was to award “troll points” to trolls, with little troll icons next to their name (showing points/month) and as their troll rating rises, lighten the colour of the text of their posts… the point being if they persist they’ll end up unreadable! :-) Of course, the idea is that it’s driven by their own behaviour and if they back off, they’ll put themselves right in time and if they don’t they have themselves to blame. Strictly speaking there are ways to work around this, but not too many people would know how to or go to the effort to. This would only work if I can manage the trickery needed (it is overly elaborate…), but then one my too many hats is supposed to be web developer/programmer…

    I’ve seen other blogs do “disenvoweling”: filtering troll posts, removing all vowels in them. The poster’s name stays. Its a similar concept. While its a bit of a laugh to see, I’m not sure if its as effective as it is a bit of an “all or none” approach.

    [Off-topic: http://www.stuff.co.nz/4788940a11.html "Kiwi kids behind Kazakhstan in science"]

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  10. Thanks for the feedback.

    I’m going to be out of town for a week so we will see how it all goes when I get back. (Hopefully there won’t be problems with comments being held in spam).

    meanwhile – I certainly don’t want to inhibit proper discussion – as Nick said we can actually learn from each other.

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  11. I stumbled across this insightful article by Cory Doctorow on overcoming trolling.

    I was especially tickled with his “Many’s the time I’ve found myself neglecting a warm bed, a hot meal, or a chance to go out for a cup of coffee with a friend in order to answer some mean-spirited note from some 16-year-old mouth-breather who achieves transcendence only through pointless debate with strangers.”

    Safe travels Ken and thanks.

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  12. What an amazing article.
    I had no idea that people had given such serious thought to Internet trolls.

    I liked this part especially…

    “A friend who’s active on the Wikipedia community once summed up her approach to life: “Don’t let assholes rent space in your head.” That is, don’t let the jerks who crash your community turn it into a cesspool. It’s easier said than done, though. “

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  13. Cheers Ken for this post. I’ve not really followed any of the comments too closely for a while now. Sooooo many of the comments were simply antagonistic. Any hint of a goal of mutual self-understanding (let alone patience) had disappeared. People appeared shocked to their very core that anyone would dare disagree with them.

    I agree with Damian’s suggestion of the odd moderating comment from you. It’s hard, of course, as you’d want to be unbiased… The key distinction is (of course) not what is said, but how it’s said.

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  14. I agree with all the above :-) I’ve learned a lot from reading the comments of others, especially those not in my own specialty (thinking especially of Stavros & Iapetus here) who’ve taken the time to talk past the troll to the uninformed lurkers, but it’s been frustrating wading through the general verbiage to get there. And I’d be the first to admit that I’ve contributed to the verbiage at times, when provoked! I’d hope that ignoring the trolling & concentrating on the topic will work for us all (except, perhaps, the trolls!) :-)

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  15. Спасибо. Прочитал с интересом

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