Crooked Timber comments: a big change

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2016

We Timberites have been chatting amongst ourselves about our comments threads. Recently, and perhaps even not so recently, our threads have been dominated by a few commenters who are rude, abusive and dismissive to one another and others. This creates an environment where other commenters get squeezed out and where many of us feel reluctant to post on the blog because it isn’t fun exposing yourself to such gratuitous hostility and because housekeeping comment threads (and arguing about housekeeping decisions) is frankly exhausting. We want to create an environment where we feel more willing to write for the blog and where a wider spectrum of people feel encouraged to participate in discussions. There are no perfect solutions here. Abolishing comments threads altogether is an option, but that excludes people who have been good citizens at CT over the years.

Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to enforce our comments policy more rigorously (including the requirement that you supply a valid email address), and not just the part about comments that are racist, sexist or homophobic, but also the part about comments that are personally insulting. Specifically, commenters should abjure ostentatious displays of contempt towards other participants in the thread and commenters should not write in a manner that clearly presupposes that they do not believe the person they are engaging with is deserving of intellectual engagement. To pursue this policy, we’re going to try out putting everything into moderation by default. This will requires more work on our part to scan potential contributions as well as making it more difficulty for people to engage in the kind of to-and-fro that is characteristic of good conversation. That’s a pity, but may be the price we have to pay. We’re planning to review our policy in a couple of weeks, to see how it is working.

{ 243 comments }

1

Marc 10.19.16 at 6:28 pm

I am, in general, a fan of moderated comments. So these changes sound reasonable. One other thing that might be valuable, if technically feasible, would be to meter out the rate of comments from a single person (x or fewer per day). Generally speaking, someone who writes a dozen comments a day in a thread is arguing tit for tat and not engaging in a thoughtful dialog.

2

Waiting for Godot 10.19.16 at 6:47 pm

CT blogposts are the most intelligent and interesting on the internet. CT will continue to be my “go to” everyday regardless of whether or not you are successful in your efforts to keep the trolls, sociopaths and unhappy bigots out of the comments. I read CT because the postings are honest and provide access to real research and intellectually honest and challenging work. When I first started reading CT, some five years ago, I scoured the comments almost as thoroughly as the posted articles but in the last couple of years looking for the pony requires so much digging through the horse manure that I don’t bother anymore. If you are successful in cleaning out the charletans and lunatics from the comments so much the better but if not, as Fritz Perls said “it can’t be helped”.

3

SamChevre 10.19.16 at 6:51 pm

May I suggest that disemvowelling is a useful technique, and that <a href="http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006036.html“> TNH's guide to moderation remains the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject.

Also, I hope this gets Dsquared to post more: I miss posts on why Budweiser is Good.

4

divelly 10.19.16 at 6:56 pm

I find that this site is one of the very few wherein the comments are mostly civil.
Yes, there are some who will not let it go, but compare this to e.g. Huffington Post, which devolves into a flame throwing troll fest within 4 comments.

5

Omega Centauri 10.19.16 at 7:23 pm

Moderation resembles justice, if it is delayed too long it gets in the way. A couple of moderated blogs I sometimes comment in, has a delay that can be a day or too, and that really inhibits conversation. Reasonable turnaround time is the key. I guess an alternative is to tentatively allow a coment in as soon as it is posted, but to reserve the right to delete it. I do like some sort of limit on how many comments by a given person, the worst trolls/bores have a tendency to try to overwhelm comments sections.

Perhaps those who have been good citizens get comments immediately posted -but still potentially deleted, that could be another method of trying to have conversational turnaround, but still moderate out the bad actors.

6

jake the antisoshul soshulist 10.19.16 at 7:31 pm

Hopefully this will prevent me from going into moderation regularly. I assume that snark is still acceptable.
Generally, I find commentary here to be unusually civil. I know I try to be on my best behavior.

7

Daniel Klenbort 10.19.16 at 8:09 pm

I’m wondering whether people who comment should be able to do so under false names. In an ordinary conversation, one knows who is saying what. I can see it either way. I might prefer, for various reasons, to be anonymous, but there is something less than honest about hiding behind a made up name.

8

Eszter Hargittai 10.19.16 at 8:16 pm

SamChevre, we’ve tried disemvowelling in the past, and Omega Centauri , we’ve also deleted comments in the past. The problem is that disemvowelling or comment deletion more often than not then results in a large portion of subsequent comments addressing the act of disemvowelling and/or deletion. It’s never pretty. This is our attempt at getting around that. To be sure, we know that many commenters play nice. We’ll do our best to monitor comments regularly so that we can let them through quickly. Timberites are spread across many time zones so we hope to be able to keep a steady flow of approvals going.

9

Sebastian H 10.19.16 at 8:17 pm

Unless you are very on top of releasing comments, this is going to be the end of conversations here. If responses to questions (especially for clarifications on difficult to parse points) goes below two or three times a day the conversations peter out and people lose the thread.

“We want to create an environment where we feel more willing to write for the blog and where a wider spectrum of people feel encouraged to participate in discussions. “

There is likely to be an interesting balance–a wider spectrum of people aren’t likely going to be encouraged to participate in discussions if discussions aren’t likely to be available. More posting isn’t likely to drive interest without discussions for very long. (But I may be projecting my own interests, so that could be wrong). There may be more pronouncements from a wider spectrum of people, but that is a different thing.

Part of the ongoing stratification of the internet I’m afraid.

10

Eszter Hargittai 10.19.16 at 8:23 pm

Daniel Klenbort, indeed, that would help. But we want to give people the option of commenting pseudonymously in cases where there are legitimate reasons for not wanting to out their identity. Some threads discuss sensitive topics where disclosing one’s identity may prevent people from adding important contributions to a discussion. For example, let’s say we have a thread about abuse and someone with personal experiences wants to take part, but understandably may not want their name attached forever on the Interwebs to that particular experience. We would want that person to be able to contribute even if they don’t use their real name.

11

Stephen Johnson 10.19.16 at 8:28 pm

I’d like to second Marc’s request for time or frequency limited posting, with possibly a sliding scale from members / known good actors down to one or two per day for identified resident trolls.

Not sure how technically doable / how much work compared to 100% moderation that would be, but it would be nice. Personal obloquy notwithstanding, the biggest problem IMAO is the folks that flood threads with endless comments.

12

Moz of Yarramulla 10.19.16 at 8:33 pm

Having intermittently had comments held for approval, it does tend to prevent replies. But that is also a result of the vigorous discussion between the active commentators, which means that by the time a comment is approved it’s well up from the bottom of the page and likely not relevant to the current discussion.

I would very much like to see a better stream of comments under posts here. Best wishes.

(and now I have to find the password the the email address above. CT, it’s not you, it’s all the spammers. Sorry)

13

Brett 10.19.16 at 8:41 pm

Can you do selective comments moderation? It’d be nice if you could have regulars with a record of behaving themselves comment immediately, while anyone new who isn’t approved has their posts sit in moderation until approval (with the possibility of upgrading them to regular status later on with good behavior).

14

Eszter Hargittai 10.19.16 at 8:44 pm

We appreciate the various suggestions on how to deal with comments moving forward and will consider them. Do feel free to keep the ideas coming.

In the meantime, here is a cartoon I just came across (as I browse through dozens of cartoons searching for illustrations for my lectures) that is a good reminder of why we need to revisit commenting on CT:
http://unearthedcomics.com/comics/love-me/

15

Paul Davis 10.19.16 at 9:08 pm

If participating in discussions is really the goal, then it’s hard to see how this is a clear step in the right direction. It appears that the maxim “the best approach to bad speech is more speech” turns out to be less desirable in the real world than in theory.

One point I’d like to make is that limiting the comment rate is a sure-fire way to kill at least half of the most interesting discussions. When there’s a real back-and-forth going on between even just two commenters, the last thing anyone wants (I would assume) is to throttle that for no particular reason.

What would work a lot better is if your comment system was threaded, and then you could just wholesale delete entire threads or subthreads that go off-topic or become excessively personal. Right now, that’s too much work, so you’re forced to work on either individual posts (a lot of work) or specific commenters (sometimes too crude of a tool). Still, the comment system isn’t threaded and I suspect it may not be trivial to make it so.

16

Older 10.19.16 at 9:19 pm

I was going to recommend that you follow the practices of the blog masters at Making Light. But it sounds like you have done that and found them not sufficient to your needs. They might still have some suggestions for you. I am continually dazzled by the success of M L at reaching and remaining at a level of civility rarely seen elsewhere.

17

Chris Mealy 10.19.16 at 9:30 pm

I think the best moderation is simply deleting comments from tiresome commenters, with no explanation and no stated comment policy. It doesn’t take long for the trolls to find somewhere else to play (If you try to design the perfect comment policy, the trolls work overtime to game it).

18

BenK 10.19.16 at 9:35 pm

We need respectful comments? That will exclude the current politicians!

Changing the policy so that respectful -ist comments are permitted might be an interesting experiment. Sort of like the imposition of manners.

https://fee.org/articles/the-social-value-of-manners/

19

The Temporary Name 10.19.16 at 9:56 pm

This all seems reasonable to me. I have been disemvowelled once (over what I think was a misinterpretation) but it’s not my house, it’s yours and you do good things.

20

PatinIowa 10.19.16 at 10:18 pm

Your house. Your rules.

Good luck.

21

Ronan(rf) 10.19.16 at 10:20 pm

I suppose Im in the minority in that I actually enjoy the boisterousness. (I guess that would imply I add to it) The vast majority of this type of (upper?) middle brow content is not particularly enlightening these days, so at least you get a different perspective around here. There’s a real sense that people genuinely hate eachother, but still they choose to spend time in eachothers company. Which is nice, if odd. But it’s not everyones cup of tea, which is understandable.
Why not just tell people hogging the threads to knock it off, privately or publicly? Im sure most would abide. I would with no hard feelings if ever it was said. If you look at the threads that dont degenerate as much (ie JQs) it seems to be because he also has the most active involvement. Which isnt to say the mods should spend their time policing threads, but it seems much of a muchness in comparison to the proposed changes
(Personally, My impression is that the biggest influence on current commenting trends is that threads no longer have have a time limit, ie afaicr they used to shut down after a week. Go back to that and Id guess you’d resolve 80% of your problems)

22

LFC 10.19.16 at 10:31 pm

(1) As someone who has probably contributed — though no more than a number of others — to the atmosphere decried in the OP, I can understand the motivation behind the proposed changes. I’m not sure they’ll have the intended results, but I guess we’ll see.

(2) Daniel Klenbort @7 raises the issue of “false names” without bothering to distinguish between someone’s real initials or a real partial name (e.g., first name and last initial), on the one hand, and a pseudonym on the other. I’ve used my initials here rather than my full name for a couple of reasons. First, when I started blogging on my blog (which I no longer do), I decided to use initials and it just seemed easier to stick with them for commenting elsewhere[*]. Second, I feel that use of a full name can exert psychological pressure to phrase something just right, which in turn can detract from the tentativeness, or the thinking-out-loud quality, that was and still is one of the attractive things about some blog comments and threads. I would be happy to go with my first name and last initial, the way, for example, ‘Sebastian H.’ or ‘Peter T.’ do, but at this point I’ve commented so long under my initials here that I’m not inclined to change.

—-

[*] With one eventual exception, not worth going into.

23

engels 10.19.16 at 11:08 pm

I agree with Paul Davis and Sebastian H.

24

Steve 10.19.16 at 11:10 pm

I am a long time reader who very, very rarely comments. I don’t have any objections to changing (or more stringently enforcing) the rules, but, apropos some of the comments above, I would note that there is some academic research which suggests that sites which allow pseudonyms, rather than demanding real names, actually end up with comments which include more ‘argument’ words (in the good sense of ‘argument’ – because, etc!) I will happily admit that such research is tricky to interpret, but it does suggest that there is some advantage to not being able to google your interlocutors too easily!

25

Alan White 10.19.16 at 11:11 pm

Even as an infrequent commenter, I’m very much in favor of this. Many years ago I often commented under another name or initials and found that I was much more likely to abuse my privilege as commenter (though I was never vile or the like–sarcastic parody was my worst offense, though I came to see that as still offensive). So now I only comment under my own name, which makes me much more reflective about what I say and tends to make me respect my audience a little bit more. CT is a valuable resource. This to my mind will only increase its value.

26

Kiwanda 10.19.16 at 11:19 pm

The death of comment threads is not generally lack of civility as such, but intellectual dishonesty and meta-discussion. If commenter A doesn’t address what commenter B actually says, but rather a misinterpretation or misrepresentation, then real discussion is difficult. Similarly if beliefs are assumed based on false dichotomies, or on prejudices (“In my experience, people who believe X, as you do, often believe Y, so I’ll assume you believe Y). Accusations of patterns of misconduct, and defenses against those accusations, fill up threads and make real discussion difficult.

27

engels 10.19.16 at 11:29 pm

My prejudice is policies like tend to deter people who are:
A) further away from the OPs ideologically
B) more personally affected by the issues being discussed in a given post (hence less cool-headed and ‘reasonable’)
C) less academic and/or middle-class
(I can see there might be plus sides in terms of gender balance and for members of marginalised groups).

If the motivation us improving diversity perhaps you should collect diversity information to assess its effectiveness (possibly as a one-off or time-limited exercise)

If there is evidence on the connection between enforcing civility and diversity in discussions I’d love to see it

28

Doug K 10.19.16 at 11:29 pm

Moderation is a lot of work and I do appreciate your efforts. I have learned a great deal from CT comment threads – thank you.

To ease the work load:
– a way for commenters to flag behavior that violates guidelines. The flagged posts could be put into moderation. This way not all posts would have to be reviewed.
– as ML does, appoint some trusted commenters as moderators.

Jeff Atwood built the spectacularly successful website Stack Exchange, which is very nearly self-policing. Then he built a comment system called Discourse, in an attempt to replicate the reputation-based system on Stack Exchange. As he describes it,
” software to help online discussion communities moderate themselves. ”

https://blog.codinghorror.com/please-read-the-comments/

Unfortunately it is fee-based, for the administered version. There is a cheap version which requires self-support of the Discourse software in the cloud. I suspect that might be more work than just moderating..

29

Trevor 10.19.16 at 11:31 pm

I applaud this move

30

marek 10.19.16 at 11:40 pm

If my name were as indeterminate as to actual identity as Alan White’s, I would be relaxed about using it. But as it happens, my real name is google-unique, which is one reason why I choose to use a pseudonym. But there is, I think a critical difference between pseudonymity and anonymity. A pseudonym can be consistent and, as such, attract a reputation – and since none of us can readily tell whether an apparently real name is any more or less of a real identity than the more obvious pseudonyms, those reputations are just as good or bad as any others.

And as another fan of Making Light and its moderation, I also observe that they manage civilised discourse without needing to restrict pseudonyms.

31

Moz of Yarramulla 10.19.16 at 11:43 pm

In response to Alan@25: Any argument that real names mean better behaviour is hard to sustain. I give you, as examples, Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher and Lawrence “Yogi” Berra… clearly it’s Yogi who is most notoriously rude and antisocial in that group.

I’m rarely able and willing to comment under my legal name, and there is no circumstance in which I would provide any evidence of that name to a site like CT (or, for that matter Google or Apple). I have been repeatedly booted from discussions when someone with a “real name” fetish decides that mine isn’t (Sheldon Brown booted me from his bicycle-science mailing list, invited me back, then booted me again when he realised that I wasn’t ever going to give a “real name” that seemed plausible to him – there was never any suggestion that my contributions were other than welcome, the issue was purely the name fetish).

Any “real name” policy runs very quickly into the problem that not all countries have legal restrictions on names, and those that do are not consistent between countries (good luck getting China and the USA to agree on a character set for names, let alone anything past that point). So a “real name” policy also founders at the first hurdle – “what is a real name”.

32

The Temporary Name 10.19.16 at 11:54 pm

Similarly if beliefs are assumed based on false dichotomies, or on prejudices (“In my experience, people who believe X, as you do, often believe Y, so I’ll assume you believe Y).

While that’s true, there’s also the familiar “Why won’t you have an honest discussion with me about UFOs?” from the person who just wants to talk about UFOs and won’t leave it alone. That person believes X and is never ever dissuaded no matter how much not-X they’re swimming in (or how boring X might be). It’s really hard to reset the conversation every thread to grant that person what is ideally their due, an honest hearing on whatever the actual topic is.

33

Ben 10.20.16 at 12:00 am

Great call.

Just please no threaded comments, they are the devil.

Other solutions:

– volunteers to handle real-time moderation; this would allow for back-and forth discussions while keeping the “nuke problems before they start” mechanism

– a nominal one-time fee to register to post ($5 or something) a la Metafilter. This might go against the spirit of the free web which a few posters are working toward, but it does do wonders for online communities to have even a small barrier to entry. (Metafilter in general has had lots of open discussions and research as to what makes effective curators for discussion, as well as moderation-on-the-cheap techniques. It’d be a good resource going forward.)

Plus there would be a gold-rush for pseudonyms, which would be fun. Dibs on “John Holbo’s Exasperated Editor”.

34

megamike 10.20.16 at 12:05 am

Thank You!

35

Alan White 10.20.16 at 12:19 am

Moz–

I was not arguing for a real name policy at all. I was providing an autobio account of my own psychology as a commenter. Using my real name has overall made me much more careful and I think reflective about what I say. That’s all. If others see this as a pattern to follow, fine. But there are many reasons for others not to do so–including potential for real or at least strongly believed persecution. My only point was that some degree of moderation will only improve this site.

36

Omega Centauri 10.20.16 at 12:21 am

As a person who works for someone whose political philosophy is the polar opposite of mine, and I am known to comment from work. I value a certain degree of anonymity. I’m sure you know a few people who feel they should be reticent in certain situations. Using a pseudonym at least
provides the illusion of safety.

37

Omega Centauri 10.20.16 at 12:24 am

Ben,
Sometimes threaded is needed. For instance in Kevin Drums blog, there is a tendency for too many comments, and for certain threads to devolve into pointless ad-hominems, so being able to easily skip over them is almost essential. I don’t CT is popular enough to need it, but in some situations it becomes useful.

38

MIJamison 10.20.16 at 12:37 am

CT is one of the most thoughtful sites around. I have learned much from both posts and comments although the point expressed on the OP seems reasonable.

Real names – I imagine some commenters may have professional reasons for commenting under a pseudonym. The use of a regular identifier so a commenter develops a reputation seems sufficient.

Threaded comments would be useful in a number of ways. Some posts generate several lines of discussion which can be difficult to follow under the current system. It might be useful to the contributors if they could simply delete or short circuit threads that have degenerated into ad hominem or pointless situations of commenters simply talking past each other.

Full moderation can short circuit discussion but it does have advantages. Allowing specific commenters to bypass moderation can be frustrating to those of us who comment infrequently – the NYT system can be maddening.

Whatever you do I will continue to be a regular reader. Thank you all for your time and efforts.

39

SC 10.20.16 at 12:53 am

As outsider . . . CT comments have looked generally more civil, more thoughtful, less troll farmed than most. However, the few highly moderated forums I’ve spent time on have been some of the best. Yay! CT will be even better.

If real names were required, I’d never comment. I don’t care if CT knows who I am. I don’t care if someone can figure it out. However, I don’t want my comments showing up in a quick google.

40

Moz of Yarramulla 10.20.16 at 12:57 am

I follow a couple of authors who seem to manage comment threads fairly well (Charles Stross and John Scalzi), and both have long comment threads pretty often (Stross has a rule that after 300 comments the rules relax a bit… to give you some idea of how many “lots” is to him that threshold is reached frequently and looked forward to by many). Scalzi often posts a comment to the effect of “Off to bed, comments on hold”, then edits it to “I’m baaack”. Both moderate firmly, frequently and to the admiration of their readers. Reading Charlie’s “YOU – yellow card, do not bring up UFOs again” or Gamma-Rabbit’s “MRA raving deleted… goodbye” is usually more entertaining than the material removed.

As with others above, I read every CT post and comment on the ones that appeal to me (or appall me), and will probably continue to do so. FWIW Discourse and other tracking systems annoy me, and I’m less likely to comment as a result. If I wanted to sell my identity I’d do so directly, thanks.

41

JimV 10.20.16 at 1:27 am

Thanks very much for the concern and effort. In my unscientific opinion, comment threads here have gotten significantly more acerbic over the several years I’ve been reading them. It could be a cyclic phenomenon, a reflection of the political climate, or just my imagination.

Trying to think of a constructive suggestion: maybe have some designated debate threads with light moderation for those who like to beat a subject (and each other) to death – since some seem to relish that sort of thing and feel restricted by moderation.

42

T 10.20.16 at 1:46 am

Please take a look at the first 30 or so comments on the Locke + Nozick = Locke thread a couple of posts ago. That conversation would likely be impossible under the new regime unless moderation is nearly continuous. The OP responds to several comments. Another CT member chimes in. Regulars are interacting with the OP and each other. Likely gone. I don’t know if the proposed policy is a result of a systematic review of comments or a reaction to a troublesome few. But consider carefully what is gained and what is lost by the proposed rules after reviewing the comments to this post.

43

MANOEL GALDINO 10.20.16 at 2:22 am

I rarely comment here. I don’t have any strong opinions on what you should do. But I’d like to say good luck and that you have my support on whatever you do.

44

engels 10.20.16 at 2:24 am

People who are pining for the civil and productive CT comments threads of yore should perhaps read a few like these:
http://crookedtimber.org/2004/11/04/shining-city-on-a-hill/
http://crookedtimber.org/2004/07/24/tariq-ramadan/

45

F. Foundling 10.20.16 at 2:31 am

Re screennames – I would absolutely never express about 90% of my political opinions under my real name. I’d rather keep my job and not be ostracised by my peers, thank you very much.

Re writing in a manner that presupposes that the interlocutor is not deserving of intellectual engagement – well, let’s not forget that sometimes, the interlocutor *is*, in fact, acting in a way that makes him undeserving of intellectual engagement, and is de facto refusing intellectual engagement himself. It seems a bit unfortunate that this will not be penalised (and identifying it and penalising it in each particular case would, in fact, require an impracticable level of engagement and an unlikely level of objectivity on the part of the moderator), but the most honest reaction to it will be. In fact, there will always be a way to signal that this same situation is occurring, as long as the situation itself occurs, and I doubt that the situation itself will disappear any time soon. That is, of course, if conversations continue to take place at all – I agree with those who have pointed out that a policy of putting everything into moderation would discourage and reduce them a lot.

I’ve suggested previously that most of the recent trouble in comment threads has resulted from the gratuitous use of ad hominem attacks and arguments, so I’m inclined to think that, if something needs to be targeted by moderators, it’s probably them. Still, I’m hesitant to call for that either, nor am I an optimist with respect to the likelihood that the current change will improve things. This is because, with all due respect, I’m not a big believer in authority, and I don’t believe that bloggers are perfect human beings any more than commenters are. The more the bloggers’ power to moderate is used, the more I expect conscious or unconscious favouritism and double standards based on ideological agreement or personal sympathy.

46

Philippe 10.20.16 at 2:52 am

My view is that the first 40-50 comments are so in ea thread are genuinely interesting and offered in good faith and then threads quickly deteriorate with the same 5-6 characters obsessively fighting it out and rehashing the same arguments over and over again , with increasing aggressivity. Perhaps the solution is to , say , set a fixed number of comments after which a thread is automatically closed. This will force commenters to state their positions with more responsibility, urgency and clarity and provide enough fodder for everyone to make up their own minds.

47

floopmeister 10.20.16 at 3:11 am

The use of a regular identifier so a commenter develops a reputation seems sufficient.

I would second this. My pseudonym is one I have been using for nearly two decades now, through a range of various blogs and newspaper chat rooms (my former participation in both Atrios’ and Billmon’s blogs springs to mind).

I feel (however rightly, wrongly or pathetically), that this blog pseudonym has a reputation which is valuable to me, and which inspires a level or restraint not far different from my own real name.

Furthermore, my own privacy is important to me online – only in the last year has a google search of my name been able to be linked to a personal photo of me. Yet if you google my pseudonym you’ll find an easily traceable history of generally civil* online participation going back well over a decade.

*With the exception of snark and sarcasm, I’m sad to say :)

But anyway – as others have said – this is your house and if I want to keep visiting I’ll abide by your rules.

48

Sebastian H 10.20.16 at 3:44 am

See also http://crookedtimber.org/2016/08/15/against-locke-part-3/

That conversation doesn’t look likely under the new system, especially with JohnQ monitoring when most of us are asleep.

I sort of wonder which comment threads you especially think are bad ones? Or is it sort of a survivorship bias? You’ve already removed the bad comments so what remains doesn’t look so bad?

49

peter ramus 10.20.16 at 3:47 am

I see some comments of mine down at the end of the second post engles linked to above. I do not necessarily disavow whatever point it was I was trying to make back then. Yet.

Cheers.

50

Bill Murray 10.20.16 at 5:14 am

I don’t comment that much so, probably the change wouldn’t alter my commenting behavior, but I will probably read even less as I think the change will make things slower and more boring.

Also, will the policy be enforced on the poster and the other CT bloggers? I would contend I have been insulted gratuitously by the poster. I clearly must have rankled me a little as I still remember it, but not enough to complain.

In the end it is your decision, but I don’t think the problem was particularly bad but I probably won’t be around to see the results.

51

Val 10.20.16 at 6:05 am

Recently, and perhaps even not so recently, our threads have been dominated by a few commenters who are rude, abusive and dismissive to one another and others.

I think an important word here is “few” – there do seem to be only a few commenters on CT who are consistently like this, even though there are quite a few (occasionally myself, with apologies) who are sometimes like this. So it did seem to me that an occasional intervention by a CT blogger would have helped.

However you’ve chosen this way so I hope it helps and doesn’t create too much extra work for you. I don’t think the delay is necessarily too important, because we are already conversing across time zones, which inevitably creates delays.

I’m glad you didn’t stop comments altogether – I’ve been the target of some pretty unpleasant comments at times, but I’ve also had some really good conversations and received good reading recommendations.

52

derrida derider 10.20.16 at 7:10 am

Yep – your house, your rules. But delay does kill a lot of good things.

And I suspect it will severely disadvantage posters and commenters from parts of the world who live in inconvenient time zones. And not just we Antipodeans – one of the things I’ve always noticed that is CT is rather deficient in non-Atlantic commenters generally.

So I’m with a couple of others – instead of trying micromanagement just summarily execute transgressing comments, with no argument and no apology.

You’ll definitely end up hanging innocents along with the guilty but your regulars will find occasionally losing a few second’s or minute’s work a small price to pay for a more productive dialogue. And this way people – both the occasionally thoughtless and the hardcore trolls – soon learn by experience where you want to set the unwritten boundaries (though it doesn’t hurt to also write them up).

Pseudonyms are essential for some of us as our employers do not believe in freedom of expression. But use a consistent one – no sockpuppets please.

And oh yes, dsquared – please come back. We miss you. An awful lot of those comments back in 2008 – including some from the hosts – should certainly have been summarily executed.

53

maidhc 10.20.16 at 7:51 am

I look at the length of threads. Ideally maybe about 30 or 40 comments is a nice pleasant read. If the thread is at 150 comments already I may perhaps glance at it, but if it doesn’t catch my interest right away I’m out of there.

I find that if you get up to around 100 comments, most of them are not adding much to the discussion. There may be occasional gems, but it’s not worth wading through the dross to find them.

I don’t know know how practical this would be, but I would enjoy, for those long threads, having the moderators select “Best of Thread” selections which I could peruse at leisure. No opportunity to reply, but just to make sure you don’t miss anything interesting.

Another option might be a more complex data structure than just a list. Maybe a tree, where people’s replies can be attached below the pertinent post. That way you could ignore discussions that trail off into parts unknown. I don’t know, this may be hard to implement.

54

reason 10.20.16 at 8:23 am

I vote for what Omega Centauri said:
“Perhaps those who have been good citizens get comments immediately posted -but still potentially deleted, that could be another method of trying to have conversational turnaround, but still moderate out the bad actors.”

Of course that depends on the capabilities of the software.

55

J McGowan 10.20.16 at 8:29 am

Bravo! I am a long time reader who has seldom commented. But I have often found your comments section very informative. When it gets high-jacked, however, I stop reading–and also stop reading comments for a while. I think you are letting yourself in for some tedious work, but it will keep a very strong blog a must read.

56

Zora 10.20.16 at 8:46 am

I’m an admin for a low-volume moderated Facebook group. What works for us is allowing some group members (members who have demonstrated good citizenship) to post without going through moderation (no problems so far) and making sure that we have enough admins to make moderation speedy. It helps to have folks scattered around the globe. Our admins span Honolulu to UK.

57

sanbikinoraion 10.20.16 at 8:56 am

First, a new idea:

There is very often a problem here with comments getting renumbered, leading to misunderstandings. It might be an improvement to replace or “enhance” the comment number with a 5-character hash of the comment text. That way, you can refer to “LFC’s comment #hre4D, and be guaranteed that you’re both referring to the same thing, regardless of how many comments get moderated out in between. This addition would be a trivial change from a coding perspective.

Then to respond to others:

AUTO-MODERATION – this is either an enormous amount of work or a way to kill all conversation. I would much prefer the combination of the above solution for uniquely naming comments, and a ruthless no-reason-required deletion of offending comments. That way, mods only need to log on every hour or two, scroll through the comments and nail the ones they don’t like – and people can manage to hold a conversation through reference to comment-hashes, instead of the constantly-changing comment number. Otherwise, to keep the conversation going you need someone “on duty” basically all the time.

THREADING – I think Facebook actually have it right with single-depth threading, which allows a diverse set of conversations to take place easily without making a visual mess like Reddit can. For CT being able to click to fold up uninteresting threads would make for a very readable experience. I suspect that depth-2 threading would be more appropriate for CT considering the volume of comments but AFAIK there’s no out-of-the-box system that allows that.

PSEUDONYMS – it is virtually impossible to enforce on a blog site that people use their real names. Are you going to demand that people video-chat with the moderators to display their passport? There is no point having unenforceable rules. It is more important – and possible – to demand *consistency* of naming, but astroturfing doesn’t really seem to be a problem here.

58

Conor O'Brien 10.20.16 at 9:28 am

Philippe at 46
“the first 40-50 comments are so in ea thread are genuinely interesting and offered in good faith and then threads quickly deteriorate”

Why not have the OP pick the 7-10 most salient posts from the first 30-50 ones and pin them to their opening post.
Philippe is right that there seems to be a pattern. After all, how often do we re-read the OP; we are probably much more likely to read the previous 10-15 posts and assume we know what the OP was talking about anyway.
Also, rather than a single common approach for a few months, why not take a variety of approaches and review them. Reviewing our own performance in avoiding train-wreck debates would surely be more fruitful, and interesting, than thinking or reading about that other train-wreck.

59

Lee A. Arnold 10.20.16 at 10:30 am

Maybe a Styles guideline? You don’t get banned for violating it, but other comment-potaters may refer you to it:

1. Don’t write more than 2 things a day! N0body but nobody has that many good thoughts!
2. Don’t tell us something we already know!
3. Don’t use the first person singular “I”, unless you are telling us your favorite foods or reporting a real event!
4. Don’t use words ending in “-ism”, unless it’s historically well-established, e.g. capitalism, socialism! (–This would discard 1/2 the academic papers ever written in the world, but hey! — clear thinking has to start somewhere!)
5. Don’t plump more than once for a political candidate!
6. Just remember: everybody, including you, is an egregious knucklehead! Own up to it!

60

Collin Street 10.20.16 at 10:40 am

Not sure I like full moderation. Cuts out negative feedback, see: without actual physical object lessons of “this person went too far, don’t be this person”, learning where the boundaries are is left to individualised exploration / self-discovery, gradually creeping away from a known-safe area into the unknown.

This is slow, of course, but it’s also stressful as fuck. Post-facto moderation leaves reasonably-accurate indicators of where the boundaries are, but also it communalises the learning experience, so that everyone can learn from the stumbles of others.

61

Collin Street 10.20.16 at 10:43 am

I mean, suppose my post doesn’t go through. Is it because I swore? Is it because it’s too trite? Is it just an oversight? I won’t know, and even this leaves me up on everyone else who won’t even know it happened.

[this one needn’t go through, btw]

62

NickM 10.20.16 at 11:04 am

I do like JimV’s suggestion of retaining light (how about very light?) moderation for comments on a few designated posts. Perhaps two per week would be sufficient, if the comments were allowed to go on until they reached, say, the 1000-mark.

This could kill two or more birds with one stone. On the threads with more hands-on moderation, no-explanation deletion or disemvowelling of “antisocial” comments could become the norm. This ought to reduce the time and effort of moderators a little, as well as greatly increasing the pleasure of readers (the silent majority?) who don’t enjoy eristic slugfests. But if some “open threads” were preserved, there would be less justification for (and, just possibly, fewer instances of) calling such measures “tyrannical”.

And I don’t think I can be alone in both wishing that those anarchic free-for-alls could occupy much less commenting space than they do, and feeling that I would miss their energy if they disappeared entirely. I often find illumination in them, even if – or just because – this tends to come in very sporadic flashes.

63

engels 10.20.16 at 11:06 am

Hi Peter Ramus: just to be clear, I wasn’t dissing anyone and I regard them both as works of (aleotoric?) art in their own way. (If “That Plato bloke was no good, Jimmy, I’ve been to Athens!’ was printed on a T-shirt, I’d probably buy it…)

64

Neville Morley 10.20.16 at 11:30 am

Bloody hell, this is going to be a lot of work. Is it a condition for the forthcoming IPO? Otherwise it’s going to need a high level of regular input for it to work properly – presumably, not just monitoring the author’s own threads, but keeping up with all the others (whether or not you’re especially interested) to avoid excessive delays in approving comments.

Like others, I worry about the impact on conversations. I don’t comment here much, and generally my comments are allowed to pass by without further discussion, so it’s not that I’m going to miss out personally on the opportunity for a good argument – but I do read them, and often find them illuminating. If there’s going to be a substantial delay in responses being approved, there’s a clear risk of a dialogue of the deaf and of a lot of repetition; A makes a contentious point, there’s no response for x hours and then suddenly a whole batch of comments making pretty well the same point appear all at once – or no one answers it because everyone assumed that someone else would.

The best case scenario is something rather like Harry’s idea of the ping-pong seminar discussion, in which everyone addresses the OP rather than each other; maybe that’s a good thing, or at least is a worthwhile sacrifice for the other advantages of the change, but I do fear that CT will lose something important. With all due respect for the authors, for me it’s never been just about the main posts, but also the discussion around them.

65

chris y 10.20.16 at 11:39 am

Good. Thank you.

66

Lynne 10.20.16 at 12:41 pm

This policy sounds like a lot of work for the moderators—good luck.

I would prefer to see offending commenters warned rather than summarily disemvoweled or deleted, which can feel pretty hostile, and is also mysterious.

Thanks for your efforts—I hope that whatever you decide makes the bloggers here feel like blogging more often (Belle, I miss you!)

67

Eszter Hargittai 10.20.16 at 12:43 pm

Some people commenting about concerns over this new approach don’t seem to have issues about what comment threads have looked like on CT. They are entitled to that opinion, but the consensus among Timberites is that things needed to change. We value many commenters’ input and know that others do as well, which is why our very strong preference is not to shut down comments altogether. This is indeed a radical step, believe us that we didn’t take it lightly, it does take more effort on our part, but we needed to do something and this is what we are trying out now.

68

magari 10.20.16 at 12:45 pm

Thank you in advance for making this move. I think the quality of the discussions here has significantly declined in recent times. It’s become about personalities and defending one’s political turf rather than (god, I’m about to sound Habermasian) engaging in a mutual dialogue centered on reason giving and achieving, together, greater knowledge and perspective. Perhaps it’s because I’m an academic, but I vastly prefer this type of dialogue than reading Plume vs. Brett Ballmore Round 93.

69

Eszter Hargittai 10.20.16 at 12:46 pm

Lynne, the problem with the approach you suggest is that it (a) gives anyone room to be difficult; (b) usually results in at least half of the remaining thread being hijacked over the act of warning. Those are *precisely* the types of interactions that turn people off from posting here and I suspect many from commenting as well.

70

magari 10.20.16 at 12:58 pm

Can I also add my name to the DSquared Please Come Back petition. I disagree with 95% of what you say, but you do make me think.

71

Lynne 10.20.16 at 1:02 pm

Eszter, I hear you. I’m glad you are tackling this problem, and I’m wishing you good luck with it.

72

Stephen Johnson 10.20.16 at 1:22 pm

Lee A. Arnold @59
+1 for you, sir!

Managing commenting is hard, eh?

Hope you come up with a solution that works well and isn’t too onerous.

73

Peter K. 10.20.16 at 1:24 pm

And this is how the Internet died. The trolls won.

74

Matt 10.20.16 at 1:41 pm

I have come to comment a lot less than in the past (when I was a real regular, I guess.) That’s probably as much due to changing obligations as anything else, but the comments do seem to have degenerated into repeated posturing by particular posters (few of whom I’ve seen comment on this – I wonder if they know they are a problem or not?) mostly about their own political beliefs, which do not seem to be up for reconsideration in any way. That’s really, really, boring, even when it doesn’t degenerate into insults. I’d be glad if that stopped.

The threads engels linked to above were troubled by trolls, of course – abb1 (whom I think is sometimes still around under his 5th or so different name), and D^2, who is able to troll his own blog (though not his own post in that case) like few others when he wants to. Of course, that’s not all that he does. Those are problems, of course, but somewhat different than the ones suggested here, I think. I’m not sure if the changes would make me comment more now or not, but I hope we can at least get some more interesting threads, rather than the same incredibly dull shows of political purity and the like from the same tired group of 4-5 guys we mostly get now.

75

mjfgates 10.20.16 at 1:57 pm

I see quite a few people worrying about the possible horrors of moderation. I’d just like to remind y’all that this is moderation by the front-page posters here, who have demonstrated the ability to keep an honest conversation going on the Internet as well as anybody. Have some confidence in these guys. I, for one, welcome our moderate overlords.

76

Dave Maier 10.20.16 at 2:12 pm

I respect the management’s decision to change things, but I would prefer that the change be minimal, even as minimal as more frequent moderator warnings like “I’m giving *you* one more chance to make your point and then I’m shutting you down” or “You two – take it outside.”

77

SusanC 10.20.16 at 2:26 pm

I agree CT discussion threads have a problem. They’re probably the most bad-tempered thing I bother reading on the Internet. (It’s probably not the most bad-tempered thing that exists on the entire Internet, but anything worse I wouldn’t bother reading).

Part of it may be that it’s a political blog. The usual contributors are reasonably civil when (e.g.) recommending science fiction novels they liked, and aren’t likely to descend into a flame war on whether The Book of the New Sun is fantasy or science fiction. But the political threads start out bad-tempered and rapidly get worse. Issues such as BrExit, or Trump vs Clinton start off with polarized partisan communities who totally hate each other. On CT, it is likely that the opposing faction that the original poster is demonizing will actually be represented by someone among the commenters, and so vicious argument results.

I’m not sure about disallowing pseudononymous posts. It may have the inadvertent effect of discouraging posts from members of minority/”out group” communities who are reluctant for their real-world name to be too publicly “outed”. It does occasionally come up that discussions of issues related to minority groups could do with more input from members of the actual groups themselves, rather than the usual white-male-professor in a philosophy department, and it would be a shame to make this even worse by scaring people off.

78

ZM 10.20.16 at 2:28 pm

“Also, rather than a single common approach for a few months, why not take a variety of approaches and review them. Reviewing our own performance in avoiding train-wreck debates would surely be more fruitful, and interesting, than thinking or reading about that other train-wreck.”

I like this idea. You could see what moderation techniques work better than others that way.

Thinking about how the threads sometimes get sidetracked a bit, or taken up by a tangentially related argument that comes up (I know I am guilty of this sometimes), John Quiggin has quite a good technique on his Australian blog where he has an open thread and he sometimes asks commenters to take arguments to the open thread to stop the argument sidetracking the main thread on his topic.

79

bob mcmanus 10.20.16 at 2:57 pm

74: few of whom I’ve seen comment on this – I wonder if they know they are a problem or not?

Not a problem for me, if I am a “usual suspect” referenced in the common manner that insults while avoiding ad hominem. Are all those who haven’t commented here yet hiding?

Whatever. Working up my North Korean analogies. I frequent one reddit sub-thread, and besides the threading, I like the recommendation system, where every comment gets a plus or minus from the other commenters, and comments that get negative scores get hidden. Democracy!

Making Light commenters are really really really nice…to each other, but I find little there entertaining or educational. LGM manages to moderate anyone disagreeable away, so as usual in nice communities, anyone not like them ideologically is driven away.

I look forward to lurking bitterly, with just a touch of schadenfreude.

80

bob mcmanus 10.20.16 at 3:56 pm

Okay, 80 comments in and the thread has yet to get interesting. There ain’t no real arguing goin on, and I don’t feel no feeling here, not nearly as much as the FPers are showing and deserve in response. All very civil and restrained, polite and measured, as if we were strangers or distant colleagues.

Some of us have 15 years of daily presence here.

So what do we y’all want here? Peer-review academic forum? An adjunct providing feedback for your day jobs? Do you see yourselves doing this 5 ten years from now, if so why, what has been fun or useful here? Do you want to see the same ole friendly faces in your comment sections, everybody growing old affectionately with each other? That could be nice.

The reddit thread I lurk, r/anime, seems very successful, with regular posts getting 300 comments, and popular posts getting thousands. Uses that democratic ranking system to hide troll posts. It is a community of shared values, including sadly overt objectification and other sexisms, arguments and insults, jokes, mutual assistance.

Do you want to pin a “Values Statement” at the top of the blog?

81

js. 10.20.16 at 4:19 pm

I totally support this (and I’ve made my share of intemperate comments of course, some of which I certainly wouldn’t have made were they not going to show up immediately). Also, there’s value to slower conversations.

82

bob mcmanus 10.20.16 at 4:26 pm

Three in a row, can I get some amae here?

Okay yeah, that reddit I lurk, r/anime, is also 93% male.

I get it.

I also lurk LGM and Making Light, reading every comment and visit places like Jezebel and Slate/Salon, and many others, reading all the comments. A weird hobby, but I find comment section styles, interesting, because it is essentially observing communities. Fun! I can work up a booklist.

r/anime is almost entirely young median 20-year-old men, wildly international, community-moderated, and would probably be intolerable for many of the feminist inclination. I find r/anime interesting, besides anime, because these educated multilingual adventurous kids are although offputting in their aggression cursing casual sexism libertarian politics are also constantly and energetically in their own limited way fighting the good cause, among others, against sexism and misogyny.

So CT bosses have a community here. Sorry, here we are. Do you want to trade it in, ala Brecht? Get a sparkling pretty new one, all civil and useful? Like LGM? Jezebel? Is there a menu?

Shall we vote?

83

William Timberman 10.20.16 at 4:28 pm

Greater diversity in the comments would be welcome, but I’m by no means sure that a more careful moderation would foster that outcome. I’d also note that acerbic commenters often have a lot to offer despite their unwillingness to suffer fools.

For me D2D is the Musterbeispiel of irritable brilliance. I want him back as much as anyone, even though in the past I’ve apparently not been smart enough, or well-educated enough, to avoid his slings and arrows. A marvelous interlocutor he is nevertheless, and if I’m to be chastised, it’s at least some comfort to anticipate that it’ll be done with wit and verve.

Furthermore…. In this age and these circumstances, the grinding of ideological axes (axe, axis, oh, my) is to be expected, and given the raw nerves exposed by the implosion of all we’ve come to assume as the normal universe of discourse, ad nauseam probably ought to be accepted as the rule rather than the exception. For those on the front line, like our hosts, this is easier said than done. Speaking only for myself, then, I say to the CT principals fiat voluntas tua.

84

Michael 10.20.16 at 4:30 pm

Thank you thank you thank you. I used to read CT every day I could, and in as much depth as I could manage. But the insulting comments had begun to resemble the US presidential campaign more and more. And while I feel it necessary to monitor ill-humour in the campaign, I cannot bring the same grim determination to CT, even though CT is always more informative and thoughtful between the dyspepsia than the campaign has been. So yes, please, moderate freely. In whatever way is best and easiest for yourselves. Thank you thank you thank you.

85

Jared 10.20.16 at 4:41 pm

Makes sense! Here’s a thought that might strike some as very inegalitarian, but…

Let me submit that comments threads are sublunary for another entirely different reason: information overload. As a reader, I avoid the comments because I know that I’ll lose entire workdays in them once I get going.

Here’s a slight variation on that idea that I’ve seen done elsewhere to great effect: no comments, but allow readers to email CT with their comments if they have something they want to say. Then yall could curate them and post “Emails from Readers”-type posts on occasion–maybe just for the threads that really got people going, or where someone made a really insightful comment–that had a VERY limited selection (like, 4 longish comments or a dozen two-sentence ones).

(I’m assuming this blog is just a mutual hobby, but you could always hire someone part-time for this if there’s any money to go around.)

Now, I’ve never run a blog so I don’t know how that’d compare work-wise to just moderating the comments more stringently. But I do know that where I got the idea–The Dish–was actually enhanced by this policy, big time. It really helped maintain a sense of community and dialogue (you felt yourself vying to send in a *really kickass* comment that would get picked! and you also felt like the bloggers actually *read* your stuff, which isn’t often the case with comment threads) without the toxicity + information overload of comments threads.

Just a thought.

86

Barry Freed 10.20.16 at 4:47 pm

Just saw this post and thought: Hallelujah! It’s long past due. Maybe I’ll take to reading the threads here more often on account. I miss them.

87

Brett Dunbar 10.20.16 at 5:41 pm

If you are going to moderate it probably makes sense to use a white-list, so commenters who are normally civil get their material posted immediately as they can be trusted not to abuse this. After all if a commenter is always going to post acceptable comments than hand moderation introduces unnecessary delay. The downside is that the lack of delay might mean that the discussion is monopolised by white-listed commenters, which could bias the discussion more so than it already is.

88

Igor Belanov 10.20.16 at 6:05 pm

I’m not sure that there are too many problems with the comment threads on here. I’ve seen much worse elsewhere for a blog with a wide-ranging focus, and many of the people who moan about the etiquette of other commentators don’t seem to be put off commenting frequently themselves, or adopting an unfriendly tone in their own posts.

One of the advantages of the internet is that people feel that they can let themselves go sometimes. I think moderation such be akin to a boxing referee, and resist stepping in unless things are getting too dirty. (Personal abuse, deliberate misrepresentation, etc.)

89

Marc 10.20.16 at 6:17 pm

It’s also fair to note that different topics should be treated differently. US presidential election topics are going to draw contention in a different way than philosophy discussions do.

So, if the posters here don’t like the discussions, there is an extra burden attached to starting discussions that are likely to provoke strong passions. This includes some clear guidance on the nature of the discussion that you want to have and some active effort in channeling it.

90

roger gathmann 10.20.16 at 6:37 pm

sounds good. I also agree with 46 – limit number of comments per post. Maybe at the 100 point. If there are a lot of comments on a post past 100, maybe this means the content of the post is of such interest that another post might be in order. That would make the comments more useful to the CT-ers, I think.

91

engels 10.20.16 at 6:49 pm

I would prefer to see offending commenters warned rather than summarily disemvoweled or deleted, which can feel pretty hostile, and is also mysterious.

Unless I have misunderstood, it’s not that they’ll be deleted, they’ll just never show up in the first place, no explanation will be given, and no-one but the owners of the discussion space and the individuals who have displeased them will ever know.

92

Lynne 10.20.16 at 7:29 pm

Engels, of course you are right. No one else will know. I was thinking of other experiments.

93

Martin Bento 10.20.16 at 7:30 pm

It seems to me you are addressing a problem you have let fester for years, and now you feel drastic measures are needed. I’m not sure drastic measures are needed, and I think you may be creating a lot of unnecessary work for yourselves, which over time will weaken your motivation to participate in the blog. Also, I think delaying comments will inhibit the flow of conversation.

If you all feel you’ve made your decision, OK, but I would have tried first just enforcing the civility policy seriously. Maybe one warning (per commenter, not per post), then comments just get replaced with “insulting comment deleted” to keep with your policy of censoring publicly (are you going to maintain that with pre-moderation?), and to notify others that this is happening. If a commenter keeps it up, he or she is banned. A lot of the incivility comes from the same small group of commenters, after all. And if the norm is established that incivility is unacceptable, people will conform or leave.

I would like to object to the proposal that absolute numbers of comments per day be limited. I sometimes argue views here that are locally unpopular, which means simultaneously debating 7 or 8 people. That’s fine, but you can’t do it with your hands tied behind your back by a 2 or 3 comment-per-day ceiling. That policy will mean minority views get ganged up on and extinguished. Ganging up in a real phenomenon on this blog.

94

The Temporary Name 10.20.16 at 7:34 pm

I also agree with 46 – limit number of comments per post.

I dunno, some of the book events threads have been long and contained a lot of good stuff. Here, though, I think I’m wishing for endless stores of energy from the moderators.

95

Patrick 10.20.16 at 7:41 pm

Why not include a comment system like disqus? It adds a lot of features for commenters(and I’d assume for moderators as well) that the crookedtimber comments don’t have.

96

Ronan(rf) 10.20.16 at 7:52 pm

This seems to have been an issue for a long time, for example you can find intermittent “cleaning up the comments ” posts going on a decade. Such a deep seated, consistent problem would imply it’s not an issue with “4 or 5” commenters.

97

Martin Bento 10.20.16 at 8:26 pm

Ronan, by small group I didn’t mean that small. But a lot has to do with norms. I’ve seen commenters here launch one vicious personal attack after another with nary a peep from the moderators. That sets a standard. If another standard is set, people will get the message. The few who cannot stand treating their fellow human beings with respect will leave.

98

F. Foundling 10.20.16 at 8:44 pm

Several people have mentioned that commenters, instead of searching for the truth collectively, simply express their political positions and never change their minds. IMO, there is no clear boundary between the two – in both cases, commenters express their opinions and put forward arguments on the subject discussed, and these arguments may or may not convince their readers (other commenters or lurkers). This is valuable regardless of whether other commenters end up being convinced by these arguments or not. A public debate doesn’t need to end in the participants’ reaching consensus to be informative and useful; the very fact that the arguments have been presented gives everyone the opportunity to consider them and make up their own mind as to ‘the truth’. I also don’t think that people can reasonably be expected to change their minds easily when it comes to their core political beliefs or issues that they care strongly about, all because of a relatively brief online discussion. And, of course, such an expectation would be even more unrealistic if applied to those who post only a single comment or a couple of comments and don’t participate in the discussion any further for various reasons, including lack of time.

99

Mike Furlan 10.20.16 at 9:39 pm

As a former usenet moderator, I approve of this change in moderating policy. The folks here will be doing more work for our benefit.

If you need instant gratification, there is always twitter, reddit, 4chan, or other places of equal quality.

100

Shmoo 10.20.16 at 10:38 pm

Eh.

Moderation will kill this community, I’m pretty sure.

Like many, I’m an occasional commenter who has seen the quality of CT comment discourse descend from its normal heights recently. But personal insults haven’t been the problem, for me; as someone else noted above, it’s the same damn people having the same damn arguments in any thread that’s even slightly related to the US election. The Bernie vs. Hillary debate has been done to death, and people still can’t let it go – you know who you are. Have the conversations been polite? Not so much. Have they been a YouTube-level festering swamp? No. They’ve committed the cardinal sin of being boring.

Also, can you fix the comment reference number problem, finally? Someone above suggested using hex codes, but that’s crazy; ordered numbers that humans can read are crucial. Just stop removing and renumbering comments after they’re posted, for heaven’s sake. If you have to remove a post, just replace the body with “this post has been removed” or something. I can’t tell you how many comment threads I’ve lost because of this.

101

Layman 10.20.16 at 10:52 pm

For what it’s worth, I agree with Martin Bento @ 93 & 97. Enforce the rules by warning people, then by censoring offending comments publicly, then if necessary by banning the offending commenter. That can’t be more time-consuming than reviewing every post.

102

engels 10.20.16 at 11:08 pm

The Bernie vs. Hillary debate has been done to death

Maybe it’s just me but it seems like Sanders has hardly ever been discussed with any real interest or depth.. My impression is that the most furious and drawn-out battle has been between people (including some OPs) who have been about 90% full-on for Hillary and a smaller but prolific faction who have been perhaps a bit unjustly labelled the ‘Trump curious’—two sides I have found almost equally unappealing, as Ive said elsewhere. (I’m aware that a lot of people have said that given the choice they’d vote for Sandees but imo that really hasn’t come across in the comments. Granted I’ve only skimmed most those threads although I’m sure I’ve contributed to the snark.)

103

Guy Harris 10.20.16 at 11:40 pm

Shmoo@100

Also, can you fix the comment reference number problem, finally?

It’s more work, but you can link to a comment, and I think those links continue to work even if a comment’s number changes. If your comment gets a new number, “Shmoo@100” will look a bit silly, but at least you can click to get to the comment. (The link also obviates the need to scroll up to find the comment – just click.)

104

Smass 10.21.16 at 12:24 am

More firmly enforcing house rules seems like a good idea but I don’t think this requires putting everything into auto-moderation – just being a bit more vigilant about enforcing the rules when arguments get excessively personal (or, more often, just long and boring).

More generally, like some other commentators here, I don’t really think personal insults or intemperate argument are a major problem with most commentators or in most threads. It is more that on a few recent topics (i.e. Brexit and the US election) a few people are ceaselessly prosecuting the same arguments. A bit of this is fine but it just goes on and on and is really boring and crowds out other voices.

That said, I really don’t like the white-listing idea that some people have suggested: there isn’t a major problem with trolls or bad faith commentators here. Most of those who have recently been monopolising the comments with their endless rehashing of the same arguments about the US elections also make insightful comments (especially on other topics). They just need to shut up once in a while. In the past this has been accomplished by moderators stepping in and asking them not to post again that day – this seems to work just fine.

105

Faustusnotes 10.21.16 at 12:27 am

Re:anonymity, I have been threatened at my work and had my family’s pictures posted on hostile sites. I absolutely would not comment under mybeeal name – at least now only truly malicious and dedicated people will do this, rather than anyone who can copy paste. I know most CT regulars – even those I furiously disagree with – wouldn’t be so nasty, but e.g. I stopped commenting on one thread here because the conversation was tending towards a topic I thought might attract thebalt right. I don’t comment on climate change blogs (even friendly ones) in any way because of this threat.

I think the bad comment threads will stop once the election. Is over. Maybe you could run the comment moderation only on those threads? I think that is the strategy wehuntedthemammoth uses – some threads are protected, some aren’t.

Also, thanks for all your great work here. Even when the comments are a shitshiw this place is awesome.

106

derrida derider 10.21.16 at 12:36 am

Thinking about it I agree with shmoo @100 – its the monomaniacs, not the rare trolls, who are the trouble on this particular blog. But they’re not really big trouble, and I think you’re overreacting.

If you’re going to note why posts are deleted “Comment deleted – heard it all before” or “Comment deleted – evidence free rhetoric” ought to be more common than “Comment deleted – personally insulting”. And the very occasional “Comment deleted – TL;DR” wouldn’t hurt either.

CT is actually pretty good on all these compared to other fora, which is why people stay in the community. Some clear guidelines, a regular open thread to divert commenters’ obsessions into (JQ’s really works well), and a willingness to shut a thread down if it goes off the rails badly is all that’s needed. IME hardcore trolls are not a problem here but if they do appear just summarily delete ’em.

107

js. 10.21.16 at 12:51 am

I agree with Schmoo that the biggest problem (to me) hasn’t been incivility (tho there’s been that, including from me), but rather the same few commenters going on (and on and on and on) about their pet peeves no matter the topic under discussion. Boring sounds about right.

On the other hand…. people have been complaining about comment renumbering for as long as I’ve been commenting at CT (less than a decade, more than half). But if you give two of (a) the commenter’s name, (b) the original comment number, and (c) a bit of quoted text, it’s easy enough to find the comment in question. (There’s also the superior option given by Guy Harris @103, but at this point searching for some mentioned comment is almost part of the charm of CT.)

On the other other hand — there was a time that Textile used to work in comments. And that was awesome! (Except when you didn’t realize it, with hilarious/incoherent results.)

108

Chip Daniels 10.21.16 at 1:37 am

You know who else moderated comments?

(C’mon, the thread is over 100 comments, its practically mandatory)

109

Marco 10.21.16 at 2:24 am

I read CT all the time, but I don`t comment often so maybe my feedback will be helpful in some way.

When I feel I have something to say about the thread (which is not rare) I usually feel that perhaps so much has been said already, taking the discussion in so many different directions, that the overload of information just gets into my head and I end up giving up. The few times I do comment is when I catch the thread early on, or when the last few comments do bring something interesting to the table and I feel I have something to contribute. But then moderation delays things, and the flow of communication is broken.

So, you know, this is a tricky balance you`re trying to achieve. I applaud that you`re trying to make the comment section better and my general understanding is that you`re moving in the right direction. But I agree with the other commenters who has brought up the vital part played by speed in communication and how moderation can hinder it.

As far as I can see, moderation works better when there are different lines of conversation going on and you can comment either on the general thread or ” inside” some other comment, as other sites do. I would very much appreciate if CT did this, although I suspect you guys have good reasons not to follow this direction.

Anyway, once CT is discussing the comment section, why not try a little bit of experimentalism? The idea of moving selected comments up the list is great and should be given a shot. Of course, there may be some complaints like “why does that other person comment is picked instead of mine” but that shouldn`t stop the experiment. If the OP found the comment interesting, and people come here because what the op posts is interesting, it makes total sense that we would, as a collective of readers and community of commenters, like to read first comments the OP found interesting, enlightening, provocative (or even just plain funny, why not).

110

Val 10.21.16 at 2:29 am

http://crookedtimber.org/2016/10/19/crooked-timber-comments-a-big-change/#comment-696062

I’m just trying the linking thing – thanks hadn’t thought of that before

111

Val 10.21.16 at 2:32 am

Oh but I guess you need to hyperlink to commenter’s name to make it look sensible
– which is a bit of work. I think I’ve only ever once hyperlinked to words here because it’s a bit complicated (I’ve forgotten how to do it in fact)

112

Martin Bento 10.21.16 at 5:17 am

I don’t think complaints that some people’s comments are boring should have much weight. It is too easy to skip a comment. I mean, it’s perfectly obvious where it ends and the next begins. And people think others agree with them on what is boring, but it is rarely so.

Abusive comments are a legitimate issue, though, and have been a real problem here.

113

Guy Harris 10.21.16 at 5:33 am

Val@111
One thing Crooked Timber doesn’t have, unfortunately, is a “preview” mechanism, to see how the HTML formatting actually shows up, but try doing something such as Val.

114

Guy Harris 10.21.16 at 5:35 am

OK, that didn’t work.

Try something such as <a href=”http://crookedtimber.org/2016/10/19/crooked-timber-comments-a-big-change/#comment-696074>Guy Harris</a&rt;.

115

Guy Harris 10.21.16 at 5:36 am

Guy Harris@113
…but with the ampersand r t semicolon replaced by another greater than sign.

116

ZM 10.21.16 at 6:35 am

Thinking about it I like the threaded comments idea in a lot of ways, I think WordPress blogs are capable of threaded comments 2-3 deep.

Also I have been cyber stalked on Crooked Timber and am trying to get the police to investigate at present, so why I understand why some commenters don’t use their real identities — and I currently only use my initials myself — I also want to point out that Crooked Timber isn’t actually at present a safe or secure site if you have issues with persistent cyber stalkers.

117

Loki 10.21.16 at 7:00 am

I’ve been a active member of a few online communities and they are a fascinating microcosm of how society in general creates and enforces norms. The process usually goes like this:

1. A few people set up a digital arena to discuss things.
2. As the community grows there starts to be a problem with antisocial behavior- online this amounts to abuse directed at members of the community, or against outsiders (who may complain or take legal action in extremis).
3. There then follow lots of angst ridden threads about acceptable behavior which result in a set of norms that people are expected to follow. One fascinating aspect is the use of swearing -which words are acceptable or not.
4. People break the norms.
5. The norms then have to be policed. I’ve found that the best combination for this is that whoever runs the site acts as a benign dictator, but who delegates day to day responsibility to some moderators who have the respect of most of the members of the community. That way the moderators are all powerful but act in the or winterests of the community. It’s a bad idea for moderators to have a detailed set of rules – that leads to endless discussions on whether an act actually broke the rule.
6. This amount of moderation takes a lot of time. If the community can’t come up with the resources needed (usually from volunteers) then the community folds.

That brings up to a form of enlightened feudalism. I guess that the next stage occurs when the resources needed to run the online have to be raised by some sort of tax. At that point there might need to be some sort of democratic government over the community.

At all points lots of people exclaim that everything would work well if people would only be reasonable and respect each other. But a minority never do.

118

bruce wilder 10.21.16 at 7:02 am

If you have a Google account, use blogger.

Blogger has a nice little editor, which will let you format your little heart out, including, of course, creating links to Guy Harris @ 115 or Guy Harris @ 113.

Still hard to know exactly what it will look like.

119

Manta 10.21.16 at 8:32 am

The idea of making people use real names is terrible, since many people may be fired or not find a job or be deported due to their opinions (not everybody is a tenured professor, or a citizen of the country where he lives).

I second Marc proposal @1.

Finally, I think the best way to improve the quality of comments is to wait that the USA election is over.

120

dax 10.21.16 at 8:37 am

As someone who has militated in the past for a discussion of Comments policy, I am disappointed with how the discussion has been framed.

My biggest problem with Comments up to now has not been with commentators but with what seemed to me overly controlling behaviour by moderators. Their deletions, or threats to delete, seemed to me to stifle legitimate debate. Other people have said, “Your house, your rules,” but I do think this should be up for discussion. Because the corollary of this is “Their house, their rules, I’ll stay home.” There is something of a two-way street here. Instead, it sounds like there will be even more controlling behaviour, and so I guess some of us will simply be staying home.

I have more of an aversion to boring comments than most I guess, and this probably puts me again against the desire of CTers. After putting in the work to write a long and thoughtful post, the poster understandably would like to see comments to the effect of, “What a wonderful way to put it,” or, “I admire you.” While the expression of approval by someone who usually disapproves has interest, otherwise, these kind of comments are just boring.

As to the part about “racist, sexist or homophobic” comments, I fear this is too open for abuse. “You slut” for me obviously should be forbidden, but someone who writes, “Women (or for that matter men) should not have equal rights” has said something far more interesting than the normal, and *my* regret is that when people do make comments, however thoughtful, of this nature, they are shouted down with insults or likely to be deleted by moderators.

Anyway, my two cents…

121

James Wimberley 10.21.16 at 8:46 am

Without subthreads, the only way if keeping track.of comments is the comment number. Retroactive deletion plays merry hell with the sequence. Universal ex-ante moderation deals with this of course. An alternative is to leave the deleted comments as empty shells, with their number. And, why not, the name.

122

engels 10.21.16 at 9:31 am

The fact that ‘your house, your rules’ could be uncritically and even joyously accepted by most members as the normative framework for approaching membership decisions and speech rules for a supposedly left-wing political discussion forum is perhaps itself worthy of another thread. (Just a couple of threads below this there’s a post attacking Locke—hmmm…)

123

kidneystones 10.21.16 at 10:18 am

‘When the fish stinks it starts in the head.’ (Insert caveats, praise for site and commenters)

The principals are free to do as they please and I will certainly abide by any new dictates. My comment is not a critique of any of the OP folks, or their work. Quite the opposite.

My own view is that they are already spread to thin at least in terms of providing original posts. I do not see any particularly mean-spirited, or acrimonious people posting here, but agree there’s too much repetition and drum-banging.

I suggest that at least part of the reason for principal unhappiness and that of some long-time readers is not the comments, but the fact that there’s been very little in the real world for the CT community to enjoy discussing.

Imagine a happy discussion of the choice between Trump and Hillary, if you can. I can’t. Ditto after-action reports on the UK election, the EU elections, Brexit, the FARC vote in Columbia and the upcoming election of right-wing parties in Europe.

Most here want Hillary to win and when/if she does practically nobody will see her election as a victory for the left. There’s enough out in the open about Trump to make it difficult to keep down one’s lunch. When/if Hillary wins, the CT community will have helped elect one of the most bellicose, secretive, and corrupt Democrats to ever hold the office. That’s not the stuff of happy discourse. I see no reason to expect an uptick in mood, or quality of discussion whatever the outcome.

So, rather than place the focus on the commenters and whatever minor, or major role we play and add to the workload of the folks producing the OPs, I suggest the nomination of a few brave, capable souls to share the burden of producing OPs. I’m sure the site principals can think of a few.

124

chris y 10.21.16 at 10:34 am

James, plenty of people manage to maintain the sequence in both of those ways- We all know excellent sites which use one or the other, but I don’t think leaving the name is a good idea, nor in keeping with what I understand to be the FP posters’ intention with this change. I would have the effect of hanging the commenter out to dry, which might not matter in the case of a committed troll, but would be unfortunate if a comment was simply phrased badly without malice aforethought or if somebody simply lost their temper on a single occasion.

Chris is, I notice, applying ex-ante moderation here, which puts him in company with Mary Beard, the best company you can keep. I infer that this is the approach the owners of this place have decided on, and good luck to them.

125

F. Foundling 10.21.16 at 10:53 am

On boringness and pet peeves – this is extremely subjective and frequent deletion based on it would be perceived as arbitrary. One person’s ‘legitimate/important concern’ is another person’s ‘pet peeve’ or ‘boring stuff’, and what is familiar to one person may not be so to another (Commenter A: ‘2 apples + 2 apples = 5 apples!’; Commenter B: ‘But 2+2=4!’; Commenter C [or even A]: ‘I already know that. You’re boring me. Shut up!’). The same applies to the things expressed in the cartoon linked to by Eszter Hargittai @ 14: a critical comment may seem unjustified (petty, mean or over-the-top dramatic) to one person (especially to the person of whose post/comment it is critical) and justified to another.

126

dax 10.21.16 at 11:15 am

Also I usually find the comments more interesting than the original post. I wouldn’t visit CT if there were no comments, and I don’t think I’m the only one of this persuasion.

127

Cranky Observer 10.21.16 at 11:26 am

= = = James Wimberley @ 8:46 am
Without subthreads, the only way if keeping track.of comments is the comment number. = = =

Possibly there are other ways to identify comments? If not wanting to use the link, which can be a bit of a pain to type.

128

Manta 10.21.16 at 12:09 pm

Is it really possible to have a civilized discussion (in the way the OP describes) between people that are convinced the other side is Evil?
Would you (Chris Bertram, but also the commenters) “abjure ostentatious displays of contempt towards other participants in the thread and … not write in a manner that clearly presupposes that they do not believe the person they are engaging with is deserving of intellectual engagement” with someone e.g. advocating that women are inferior to men and should not have be given the right to vote?

I also agree with what has been said before: what makes reading tiresome is not the occasional barbs and squabbles, but the repetitions of the same few points over and over (and I plead guilty on all counts).

129

reason 10.21.16 at 1:36 pm

I sort of agree with the general view that there are probably better solutions than universal moderation (particularly for an international blog where time-zones play a significant role – do we really want conversations spread out over 3-4 weeks), but the limiting factor is the software capabilities (threading, voting, whitelists, unique tags etc.). It might help the discussion if the technical limitations are listed up front.

130

Martin Bento 10.21.16 at 2:06 pm

Manta, I can “abjure ostentatious displays of contempt” towards people holding views I consider odious because such displays are superfluous to and detract from any argument.

131

engels 10.21.16 at 2:12 pm

Well now I’m unsure why my last comment (after an 18 hour wait) didn’t make it past the editor. It wasn’t insulting or even directed at any individual (apart from Dax, with whom I was agreeing) and seemed to me to make a substantial point. So I suppose it was either an error, or someone’s opinion that I have already spoken enough…. Actually I wanted to write a more thoughtful response to #120 but I certainly won’t bother if it’s likely someone is just going to zap it.

132

kidneystones 10.21.16 at 3:06 pm

@128 Manta raises a good point. As I noted earlier and elsewhere, I do not think people producing OPs need to self-censor, or otherwise avoid any topic. Chris Bertram offered a provocative description of a significant subset of Brexit voters as ‘racist.’ I can’t frankly think of a more cutting, or hurtful charge.

I’ll go further and suggest that those on the receiving end of such an accusation might well believe that Chris painted with an extremely broad brush in his if the shoe and the pain fit – wear it OP. The resulting discussion was illuminating in many ways all the same.

The banality of ordinary invective clutters threads. The more inventive is a delight. There’s far too much of the former, most would agree. As I noted earlier, I really don’t see any amount of lipstick changing the fact that we’re living through some of a pig of times.

I really do believe the best solution is to increase the number of people producing OPs – the Science Fiction post is a good example. I like Corey’s stuff, but I’m not that happy when he uses his posts to promote his books. He can do better. Double the number of regular contributors and, perhaps, try to broaden the content either as series, or as theme-based posts.

Providing better, more focused and better-researched OPs on a broader range of topics by different authors will help.

133

bianca steele 10.21.16 at 4:15 pm

If my opinion as a no-longer commenting one-time sometime commenter is desired: I’ve posted or commented on a bunch of different kinds of Internet groups going back to 1990 or so, but CT is unique in a lot of ways. Though there have always been a few commenters whose posts I enjoy reading and get a lot out of, I personally have never felt comfortable in the CT comment section for more than a couple of months at a time. Of course, others’ mileage will vary. My own half-serious suggestion has long been that commenters be required to identify their geographic location, at least, in a general way, which is sometimes required on listservs I’ve been on. I absolutely would not comment here if commenters were asked to declare that they were using their real names. I would still read the blog if there were no comments.

134

basil 10.21.16 at 5:03 pm

a) You don’t have to be a radical anti-propertarian to agree strongly with with engels. It beggars belief that anyone who’s studied the internet and blog culture would pronounce ‘your house, your rules’. I assume this wouldn’t be open to public participation were that the case. The btl is, to be generous, at least as important a draw for traffic as the OPs. It is what actually defines this space. Doubtless, this makes commenters co-responsible for ensuring a space that both atl and btl producers treasure and keep returning to.

b) It isn’t yet clear to me what the problem to be fixed is. A set of examples of offensive conduct might be useful, as would nudges and warnings in the course of a debate. Even the most excessive bloviators and trolls want an audience and should, I think, be saddened to read that there’s many who’re put off participating. It is important that we value the old internet norms that sought equality, freedom and breadth of community.

c) As with long books, papers, so with long threads and repetitive arguments. No one’s quite in control of when they can read or contribute, or when their interlocutors make comments that draw the best responses. I’ve sometimes found long debates useful, or thought to post my contributions really late in the thread. If it is accepted that btl commenters are (as) valid contributors, and that atl contributors mightn’t post as regularly as they wish, long threads are an important way that the community is sustained, and that content keeps getting generated, no matter how unfresh some might think it. It’s unclear by what means anyone’s forced to read comments after a point. The burden ought to be on those who’re bored to stop reading, rather than on those still willing to engage to be silent.

d) FWIW, I don’t think the problem is personalisation or aggression. The OPs permit themselves considerable latitude when shooting at the enemy, and that agonistic culture is vital for the life of a political space on the internet. With Manta, I think the elephant in the room is the stark, internal, ideological difference here. Unlike kidneybeans, I’m certain there’ll be tears of joy and celebrations when HRC wins.

Likely, as with BHO, his regime’s policies and actions, there’ll be a rehearsal of the rages, and hatreds here and elsewhere for the next 4-8 years – particularly between liberals and the left. This is by no means inevitable. It may be useful to accept how great a chasm this is, and so emphasise persuasion over pugilistic displays, attempts at conversion instead of the vitriol and enmity reserved for the perfidious comrade.

e) On reflection, I think a bit of solidarity and kindness towards besieged commenters, even across ideological faultlines would help. It isn’t always easy, but a little generosity when another is distressed would help to ward off the ugliness.

135

Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 10.21.16 at 5:16 pm

-I don’t read here half as much as I used to. Partly because the comments tend to turn to ping pong. I hope that a change will encourage more of the FPP to post.
-There is frequently an extra dosing of patronising and bile in the comments to posts by female FPPs. So, ditto.
-The OP doesn’t say anything about instituting a real name policy and I doubt there are any plans to have one.
-I wouldn’t be all that keen on threaded comments. I notice that Charlie Stross’s blog doesn’t have threading but does have a feature to reply to comments, enabling one to click to see what is being replied to. It might be useful but I have no idea whether this is a technical feature that is easy or hard to introduce.

136

Matt 10.21.16 at 6:26 pm

It seems like a lot of these problems are symptoms of inadequate tools for managing comments and commenters. I remember that some years ago CT had previews for comments — they were often flawed, but better than nothing. Instead of getting fixed the preview functionality was eventually removed. The eternal comments-renumbering issue also seems to rely on human effort to make up for flawed software.

It’s easier for software systems to track things like the time frame and number of comments posted by a particular identity and flag its comments as not requiring manual review in the future once enough have passed the initially require manual review. Only new or proved-troublesome commenter identities need to be manually reviewed every time. (For CT, I think identity is the private email you attach to your comments.) A moderator should easily be able to reset/revoke trusted status, of course. It should also be easy for a moderator to issue a time-limited or permanent ban to a certain identity, optionally with the side effect of deleting comments.

I had to make changes to software like those I’ve outlined above to deal with link spam and abusive commenters on a discussion forum I’ve run since 2002. Without software tools to help my moderators they were going to get burned out and either let all the trash through or let nothing through. Now it’s a comparative pleasure to deal even with the most obsessive rage-posters. Someone keeps re-registering with a new email just to call me names? Fine, I can permaban that identity and delete all of its posts and comments with one click. (Actually, at first it’s just a “soft” deletion that hides all of their data from public view; a cron job makes the deletion permanent after a month. I did this in case someone ever accidentally deleted a legit account and we needed to undo.) I can nullify the efforts of jerks faster than they can acquire new IP addresses and valid email addresses to register with. Dealing with this sort of antisocial behavior used to be exhausting before I had proper tools to counter it.

137

Guy Harris 10.21.16 at 8:14 pm

Eimear Ní Mhéalóid :

-I don’t read here half as much as I used to. Partly because the comments tend to turn to ping pong. I hope that a change will encourage more of the FPP to post.
-There is frequently an extra dosing of patronising and bile in the comments to posts by female FPPs. So, ditto.

First past the post?

138

kingless 10.21.16 at 8:37 pm

MetaFilter gets along without threaded comments but it does have Preview so it’s easy to tell if the link to a previous comment is correct.

Watching the moderators handle the large, contentious election threads has been instructive for me. During catchup reading it isn’t unusual to come across a comment like [couple of comments deleted: we don’t need to re-litigate the primaries, talk about Twitter being down, make it personal, etc.]. That is, the mods make their presence felt and provide a brief explanation for the takedown. It may be easier for TPTB here to moderate that way instead of bottlenecking the site. Whatever, best of luck and I’m sure I’ll keep checking CT.

139

None 10.21.16 at 9:02 pm

Very infrequent commenter, fairly regular reader here. I think it’s a good decision, & about time too.
I would recommend threading as the “deplorables” seem to self-sequester into threaded conversations. It will make the moderator’s work easier.

140

nastywoman 10.21.16 at 9:23 pm

Test – this is just a test!

141

roger gathmann 10.21.16 at 9:28 pm

The mix of comment and post is one of the great things about blogging. It is all il n’y a pas de hors texte. I do like it that CT knows this and is concerned with the comments section. Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View used to be one of my favorite blogs, but then two or three commentors started trying to own the comment section. I suspected that they were employed by some political lobbying group to do just that. It became bad, and I left. I sometimes go back and they are still at it, still calling other people names, still making the comments pretty much their conversation. I don’t blame Thoma, who has a lot to do. But without the comments section, the site became pretty much a bulletin board for things I could find elsewhere. I learned a lot from the section, though – Bruce Wilder, who used to comment there and now comments here, taught me a lot, fr’instance. The NYT has a favorite comment thing and you can sort by that. Perhaps that is too expensive to implement, but it would be one way to make the comments section more user friendly.

142

Jerry Vinokurov 10.21.16 at 9:45 pm

First past the post?

Front page posters, I assume.

I’ve mostly stopped commenting on threads for two reasons. One is that too many threads simply tend to lose the plot after the first few dozen comments. I realize that this is inevitable to some degree, but it’s still disappointing when e.g. Corey posts something interesting about Hobbes and instead of talking about Hobbes we’re relitigating the primaries. The second, and related, reason is that this derailment often turns into endless back-and-forth between various small cliques who have it out for each other; it’s pretty tiresome to try and tackle a 500-comment thread that consists mostly of interpersonal sniping whose roots go back to other threads I haven’t even read.

I don’t know if enhanced moderation will fix these problems, and wouldn’t presume to suggest that anyone should change their comment policies based on my personal experience. I’m just throwing this perspective out there as another thing that our blog hosts might care to take into account.

143

Jerry Vinokurov 10.21.16 at 9:47 pm

Oh, and since I’m here, let me cast my vote, such as it is, against threaded comments. I find them extremely difficult to read. On a non-threaded comment section, to get the latest content you just have to refresh, and now you have however many more posts, in chronological order. But with threads, you have to follow all the threads individually, and they may appear in whatever order on the page, since it’s the threads that are sorted by time, not the whole section. I much prefer this layout.

144

William Berry 10.21.16 at 10:33 pm

@Guy Harris: FPP = Front Page Poster (?)

I think the changes will be an improvement, for the most part. I do have my doubts, however, about the feasibility of one-hundred per-cent moderation.

145

Kiwanda 10.21.16 at 11:25 pm

Le Guin was mentioned, and maybe this, but ICYMI: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/the-fantastic-ursula-k-le-guin

146

Landru 10.22.16 at 2:26 am

So, it has come to this. (see also http://xkcd.com/1022/ )

More seriously, as a matter of simple, non-partisan observation: I have seen this movie a few times before and it usually doesn’t end well. That is, I’ve seen websites that I used to read regularly start instituting active policies to weed out trolls, personal attacks, vile and assaultive language, vitriol, etc., often necessitating bans on a range of commenters. While these changes were, I believe, usuallyh undertaken in good faith and with the desire to have thoughtful and productive commentary flourish in a more welcoming milieu, the result was never what they wanted: within a few months, at most, the site had devolved to little more than an echo chamber, where nearly all comments were variations on agreement with the OP or declarations of mutual support for other commenters. Yes, these things were not bad, in themselves. But the sum product was essentially empty, with all vitality was drained out of the operation and no longer worth the time to read.

Now, I’m not claiming to understand any cause-and-effect relationship in these cases. Maybe people erred greatly on the side of self-censorship to keep out of trouble, like the old East Germany. Maybe the trolls and pugilists packed up and left, as requested, and then many of the “moderate” commenter/readers found they missed the gladiatorial verve and went elsewhere. Maybe some amount of “uncivil” behavior is actually necessary in order to flag the appropriate level of severity when someone else has really committed an egregious act, and the really passionate writers couldn’t work without it.

(As a related point, who will moderate the moderators? I’m not naming any names right here, but in my experience reading the site for a number of years some of the worst, most bigoted and offensive comments in certain threads were written by the CT poster/authors themselves. I don’t think an ethic of “I get to say whatever I want, but you are restricted in reply; my site, my rules” is going to attract and hold a very thoughtful or intelligent crowd.)

So in the opinion of one pseudononymous reader and only very occasional commenter, for whatever that’s worth, I predict this will change will result in a CT that is much less interesting and much less valuable, and ultimately much less worth the time to read, at least in the comments portion. It’s not a sure thing, and I hope you are spared this fate, but that’s the way I would bet at the moment.

147

Val 10.22.16 at 2:43 am

Jerry Vinkurov
I’ve mostly stopped commenting on threads for two reasons. One is that too many threads simply tend to lose the plot after the first few dozen comments. I realize that this is inevitable to some degree, but it’s still disappointing when e.g. Corey posts something interesting about Hobbes and instead of talking about Hobbes we’re relitigating the primaries.

I would like to respond to this, because while I realise it’s difficult to understand the intricacies of ongoing arguments and boring if you don’t understand them and haven’t been involved, it highlights an important misunderstanding.

The bitter political arguments on CT recently haven’t been about ‘relitigating the primaries’. They’ve been between one group of people who broadly think that class/ income inequality/the wealth and power of corporate America is the central political issue, and another group who actually agrees this is a central issue, but also asserts that racism and sexism are equally, if not more, important (in my case, ‘more important” only in the sense that I think historically sexism and racism precede and create the grounds for income and wealth inequality).

Unfortunately the first group has used the argumentative technique of presenting themselves as the true left and their perceived opponents as “liberals”/”neoliberals”/practitioners of “identity politics”/”dopey”/stupid/not worth reading, etc.

I know that’s going to be controversial, but I think that’s where the heat stems from. I would strongly suggest the CT bloggers should look at this, rather than (or as well as) adopting the labour intensive approach of pre-moderating all comments. Possibly you could get someone independent to research this?

148

ZM 10.22.16 at 2:57 am

bianca steele,

“I absolutely would not comment here if commenters were asked to declare that they were using their real names.”

I hope you keep commenting — I always think your comments are thoughtful and there are too few female commenters.

My issue with being cyber stalked doesn’t really mean that onscreen names have to be people’s real names — but I would like the emails to be linked verifiably to a real person’s identity so the bloggers have commenters real names even if they don’t appear on screen. At the moment the bloggers don’t even know the real identities of people.

To be honest I would not go into a real world public venue to discuss politics or academic things like this, when its like a masquerade ball and you don’t know who people are and you can’t identify them by faces or something.

I know this isn’t actually possible at the moment with how the internet is structured, since not everyone has access to an email account that is verifiably linked to their real identity.

Possibly making this a site with a charge like someone suggested could help with proving people’s identities, since its harder to get a credit card with a fake name, than get an email address with a fake name.

149

Guy Harris 10.22.16 at 3:53 am

William Berry:
I guess I’m too old or not enough of an internet comment board person or something, but what is a “front page poster”? Teh Google didn’t find anything obvious.

150

js. 10.22.16 at 4:36 am

Seconding Jerry Vinokurov @143 re threaded comments. I think I’ve called them the Zika of comment threads in the past, and I’ll stick to that.

Frankly, I welcome this change (as I’ve already noted above). I’m already more inclined to look at and participate in comment threads here than I have been in recent weeks, even months (tho of course I have participated in that time). Yeah, it’s a slower process, but… you could think of it as an extremely fast epistolary exchange. Maybe?

151

Bruce B. 10.22.16 at 5:20 am

My two bits…

I think that Shmoo’s #100 is very much on the right track. “Sterility” is the word I’ve used to describe comment threads here when talking with friends about blogs with good/bad/other comments. For me, the classic failed Crooked Timber comment thread is one where the comments end up being 90% the same half-dozen or so people conducting exactly the same arguments they do all the time, with less and less to say about the original post, more and more about what they all had to say in previous comments thread, garnished with a couple of the usual trolls and assholes.

There’s been a lot of that lately.

It’s not super clear to me that screening all comments in advance is actually going to help with that…but it’s not clear to me that it won’t, either. Seems worth trying, at least.

When it comes to punishments, by the way, there’s an elegant thing some computer game companies are doing with their forums: cumulative silencing. First act of harassing or abusive behavior gets you silenced for 24 hours. (That is, you can still play, but can’t post on the forum, or use in-game text or voice chat.) Silencing time doubles after that. It didn’t some dedicated abusers long to rack up more than a year’s worth of silent time.

I don’t know if that can be done with your blog’s moderation software. Obviously it requires some record keeping. But it would be nice if it could, combined with whitelisting for folks posting worthwhile stuff.

152

Jerry Vinokurov 10.22.16 at 5:25 am

The bitter political arguments on CT recently haven’t been about ‘relitigating the primaries’. They’ve been between one group of people who broadly think that class/ income inequality/the wealth and power of corporate America is the central political issue, and another group who actually agrees this is a central issue, but also asserts that racism and sexism are equally, if not more, important (in my case, ‘more important” only in the sense that I think historically sexism and racism precede and create the grounds for income and wealth inequality).

Unfortunately the first group has used the argumentative technique of presenting themselves as the true left and their perceived opponents as “liberals”/”neoliberals”/practitioners of “identity politics”/”dopey”/stupid/not worth reading, etc.

I think you are broadly correct, but I’m referring to more than those debates. In general, any thread that’s touched even tangentially on the US presidential election has been unbearable. I don’t want to call posters out by name; I just think that these threads could be more focused and less rancorous, and such disagreements as arise can be settled without immediately assuming the worst things about one’s interlocutors. Most of the people posting here probably deserve some measure of interpretive charity, long-time trolls and drive-by threadshitters notwithstanding.

I’m not the referee here and I don’t expect people to necessarily adopt my discursive norms. I just think it’s really hard to carry on a conversation when there’s a lot of crossfire going on. Like, we could actually probably have a really good, serious conversation (I hope!) about a topic like “identity politics” and the discourse around it, but we don’t, we just have fights over whether voting for Clinton is tantamount to personally enlisting in the front ranks of the enforcers of American empire, or whether third-party voters are actually secret fascists who love Putin. That’s the kind of stuff that I think is totally unproductive, in the sense that no one is being moved anywhere by these arguments other than toward retaliation. Maybe this will all die down after the election.

153

maidhc 10.22.16 at 8:02 am

I am a government employee, and I am loath to use my real name because of potential back-contamination. I have a couple of handles that I use consistently in various forums, and I think people who are interested can figure out from that what kind of a person I am. I believe that should be consistent. No one knows if you are a dog, but if you are woofing good sense then have a biscuit.

For a while I was a regular poster on a local politics blog, and I adopted the handle of a prominent local citizen from 150 years ago. I felt bad though when I realized that my posts were eclipsing information about the original person on Google.

154

nastywoman 10.22.16 at 8:54 am

it is just a test because the intertubes were built on chaos and the idea that everybody could write anything – and in any whichway one likes – and then – the grammar and moderation police showed up – and that was a good and a bad thing.
A good thing – because moderated websites tell so much about the moderators – think NYT – and a bad thing – because there is not much fun and creativity in a moderated comment sections if the moderators are not creative themselves – and reading the comment section of this blog for years -(without ever commenting) – it’s the repetitions which have become so… do I dare to say ‘boring’?

So just moderate away every comment which doesn’t have anything new to say – now I would like that – perhaps?

155

engels 10.22.16 at 9:01 am

I would personally be very happy if I were to never read another contribution to the ‘whitebros v. neoliberal feminists’ debate. I still don’t think tasking OPs with arbitrarily silence commenters before they speak is the answer and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe requests/warnings to a few individual commenters wouldn’t have worked.

156

Val 10.22.16 at 9:54 am

Jerry Vinokuroff

I think you are underestimating the complexities here, particularly the ‘staying on message’ and ‘mud sticks’ complexity.

Almost 20 years ago, when I was an adviser to the Labor party here in Victoria, Australia, the political principle of ‘staying on message’ was explained to me by a funny, warm, witty woman mamed Julia Gillard*, who put it in roughly these terms ‘about the time you feel you’re going to vomit if you say this one more time, is about the time the general public starts hearing it’.

So if, for example, I want people to realise that income inequality is bad for health and wellbeing, I have to keep saying it again and again. But on the other hand, staying on message can be used in a completely different way, in terms of association of ideas. So if you keep connecting ideas that have no necessary logical association, some people will see them as related. So for example, if Trump keeps saying ‘Crooked Hillary’, even if he doesn’t produce any evidence that she’s crooked, the association will influence people – mud sticks, in other words.

So if someone here repeatedly says that my comments are dopey, anti-Semitic, neoliberal and not worth reading, I’ve got limited options. I can ignore it, knowing that some of the mud will probably stick and some people will associate ‘Val’ with dopey anti-Semitic neo-liberal. I can contest them, knowing that some people will see it as boring “crossfire”. I can appeal to the moderators, knowing that the thought of having to trawl through 1000s of comments trying to work out who is right and wrong will be as appealing as cold porridge. So what would you do?

In that context I think slowing things down and subjecting comments to pre-moderation for a trial period is reasonable, because then the CT bloggers could see whether there is any justification for those kinds of claims.

(*Not trying to name drop by mentioning Julia Gillard, but it’s just that she was subjected to a lot of the same stuff as Hillary Clinton, and even though I criticise many of her policy positions from the left, I do like to point out that she was a funny, nice person)

157

Val 10.22.16 at 9:56 am

She was, and is, a funny nice person, as far as I know! Not an epitaph!

158

Lee A. Arnold 10.22.16 at 12:11 pm

I am strongly against the blog owners/moderators doing any more work! It will kill their spirit. It was obvious that some of them haven’t been posting here because of the “dumpster fire” of comments which sometimes ensues. Ask them to do more than post at the top? This will be the end of it!

Instead they might approach it like teachers who have somewhat unruly students. The best way around this is simple rules, easy enough for teenagers. A Style guide with a list of simple suggestions which encourage good thinking and good writing and are palpable & easily identified, such as:

1. Don’t write more than 2 or 3 things a day. (And next, since this may encourage logorrhea:)
2. Don’t write more than 1000 words per comment (which is about the maximum length of a newspaper op-ed).
3. Don’t use the first person singular “I-me-mine” more than once.
4. Don’t use an abstract neologism, without your own definition.
5. Don’t repeat your points.
6. Don’t advocate for a political candidate more than once.


Breaking a rule ought not constitute sin. But, if a commenter is distracting or annoying, he/she coincidentally may be breaking such rules (or other ones which way be simply identified). If so, then the other commenters can bring it to the attention of the moderators — and only then do they need to become involved: a warning, then banning.

It is perhaps a sad state of affairs that the standing “Comments policy” needs to be amended, but consider that this blog was started by academics.

Academics have a somewhat curious view of the world! They tend to think that, after people have found the classroom door, then people are intellectually capable of walking in and finding a seat — and that people do their homework, and that people are here to learn and not preach. Ain’t so! The internet thwarts the hope for a civil classroom conversation.

The internet makes the world a different place in many ways, and it is still panning out, obviously. Here are a few ways we don’t think about much, when in combination — but which Crooked Timber combines, and so it needs to keep in mind:

A) For the grad level and upwards in many academic subjects, new thinking and lateral thinking is taking place via blogs. B) The internet also allows accessibility to the public, without responsibility. C) There have always been independent intellectuals, intellectuals-in-training, “diamonds-in-the-rough” who never made it to school or else never fitted in and the world never heard of, and they can now emerge and shine — yet they still need to learn how to think and express themselves clearly.

Thus it is, that Crooked Timber is running at two levels at once: a discussion among seasoned academics and a new kind of school for a new kind of matriculant.

So therefore, make a new kind of Style guide, to add to the Comments policy. List things that most people already follow, but which are nuggets hard enough to capture the understanding of the newby, the unruly, & the recalcitrant.

Have a periodic “Open Thread”, much less restricted, for people who wish to pose side topics, ask new questions, or who need/want a lot of give-and-take in lengthy public conversation.

Instead of chasing away top posters, Crooked Timber may even find more good academics who want to join their collective!

159

Manta 10.22.16 at 12:25 pm

“moderate away every comment which doesn’t have anything new to say”

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

160

nastywoman 10.22.16 at 12:39 pm

‘I can ignore it, knowing that some of the mud will probably stick and some people will associate ‘Val’ with dopey anti-Semitic neo-liberal.’

If you believe that ‘the mud’ is discrediting any writer who throws it – you probably would welcome it as much as I welcomed ‘the mud’ Trump was throwing.
(especially the ‘nasty woman’ comment) –
And there is a lot of evidence right now -(especially on the internet) – that funny, warm and witty ‘staying on the message repetitions’ can be counterproductive -(if they are not as cute as cat or dog pictures) – and please excuse the cynicism – but as Trump completely destroyed himself -(thank’s god) – the most joy a lot of readers now get from reading comment sections on the internet – is commenters deconstructing themselves -(especially if it is done in a ‘creative’ way) – and why would you save such commenters from themselves?

161

Lynne 10.22.16 at 1:16 pm

engels, I’m curious whether you think there is a problem to be addressed since you don’t agree with the proposed solutions. If you do think there is, what would you like to see done?

162

Lynne 10.22.16 at 1:18 pm

basil: “Even the most excessive bloviators and trolls want an audience and should, I think, be saddened to read that there’s many who’re put off participating.”

I wonder if that’s true. I’d like to think so, but I doubt it.

163

nastywoman 10.22.16 at 1:50 pm

‘The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.’

How true – and my bad – as there are these software programs which recognize if ‘something’ – ‘anything’ – already had been said -(and how many times) – so it was completely wrong to write: “moderate away every comment which doesn’t have anything new to say” – but what’s about:

“moderate away every comment which has been said as often as a bible quote?

164

engels 10.22.16 at 2:04 pm

Lynne, without having given it a whole lot of thought, I think a vaguely democratic approach might be to:

– have an open, egalitarian discussion of the problems different members of the community are facing
– agree on a clear statement of them and a new policy to address them
– enforce it first of all by pointing out violations, then by escalating sanctions in a way that is transparent to the community rather than arbitrary and secretive

I’m sure that could be improved upon but it’s already a pretty stark contrast to what’s being done imo.

165

Manta 10.22.16 at 3:41 pm

158 Lee A. Arnold 10.22.16 at 12:11 pm
” It was obvious that some of them haven’t been posting here because of the “dumpster fire” of comments which sometimes ensues. Ask them to do more than post at the top? This will be the end of it!”

Actually, some of the most interesting comment threads I’ve read on CT were the ones the moderators deemed a “dumpster fire” (actually, they used another turn of phrase, but I forgot it) . And I think I know why: the OP started with some unspoken assumptions and went from there, while many commenters strongly disagreed with and about those assumptions (see again my comment @128).

166

William Berry 10.22.16 at 4:04 pm

@Guy Harris: ‘what is a “front page poster”? ‘

See the list of “Contributors” in the right margin of every CT page.

167

Belle Waring 10.22.16 at 5:09 pm

33: taken.

168

Guy Harris 10.22.16 at 5:27 pm

William Berry:

@Guy Harris: ‘what is a “front page poster”? ‘
See the list of “Contributors” in the right margin of every CT page.

I.e., it’s a longer way of saying “contributor”. OK.

169

engels 10.22.16 at 6:13 pm

(I had posted a reply to Lynne in three comments—apologies for that but I was on my way out. One has now appeared but the others have vanished altogether. The comment I mentioned disappearing yesterday did reappear after I pointed it out though—thanks.)

170

Manta 10.22.16 at 6:19 pm

engels@163:
“have an open, egalitarian discussion of the problems different members of the community are facing”

But the problem they are trying to solve (as far as I understood it) is mainly how to make an “open egalitarian discussion” possible (and maybe how to attract and retain new commenters)

171

Lupita 10.22.16 at 6:50 pm

First the WTO, then the UNSC and the global financial system. More recently, the EU, assorted free trade agreements, the International Court of Justice, and the Republican Party. And now Crooked Timber wants to commit suicide. I feel like crying, but only for CT. I never thought of it as one more Western institution, but I guess it was.

I will miss you, bros and sisses.

172

Lee A. Arnold 10.22.16 at 7:03 pm

Manta #165: “deemed a “dumpster fire”… the OP started with some unspoken assumptions and went from there, while many commenters strongly disagreed with and about those assumptions”

Not sure I understand this. There are ways to disagree without the hypothesis that the other side is Evil (#128).

Meanwhile, the current Comments policy already forbids “advocating that women are inferior to men and should not have be given the right to vote” (your example #128) in the third sentence of the policy, “If your comments are blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic we will delete them and ban you from the site.”

173

nastywoman 10.22.16 at 8:19 pm

‘But the problem they are trying to solve (as far as I understood it) is mainly how to make an “open egalitarian discussion” possible (and maybe how to attract and retain new commenters)’

I just started to comment because I’m curious how the moderation might be handled? – otherwise I would love to go back just reading the comments – and perhaps the idea to go back to business as usual after ‘teh erection’ might be the best idea?

174

novakant 10.22.16 at 8:32 pm

I think there are only about 10 people who regularly engage in destructive, annoying and/or obsessive behavior, and maybe another 10 who do so from time to time. (Add to that 2-3 OPs). It’s really not very hard to identify them, so why not save yourself a lot of trouble and put them into auto-moderation now. Or do so immediately the next time they fight dirty. You can always lift this restriction once they play nice (and of course add new offenders). I think moderation for every poster is neither fair nor feasible.

175

hellblazer 10.22.16 at 8:42 pm

I’m not saying the proposed changes would definitely draw me back, but if it dissuades some commenters from their current practices, that might clear the air for me to try again. Currently, not only do I not want to join in the “discussions”, I want to avoid reading them.

176

Lynne 10.22.16 at 8:43 pm

engels @ 164 I agree with your point three, as I’ve already said. I do think there is a need for some change: do you? I think your first point would be interesting, but since this is a private blog with guidelines already, I can see why the posters didn’t do that. I tend to think this two-week period of everyone-in-moderation is probably an experiment, and will be so much work that the bloggers will do something different at that point.

177

Collin Street 10.22.16 at 11:09 pm

Just as a followup from novakant.

If we assume reasonable good faith we ipso-facto can’t assume any significant ability to improve from any individual actor: any change in the overall mix has to come from a change in the actual contributors, not from a change in what they write from any individual contributor.

The actual effect is either going to be “some people who usually post useless shit stop posting” or “nothing”; “the people who usually post useless shit suddenly start posting intelligent contributions” isn’t something that’s going to happen, because if it could it would have happened already.

[you solve problems by finding the people who benefit from the status-quo and altering the situation such that their perspectives are disregarded.]

178

Martin Bento 10.23.16 at 1:14 am

Collin, I think a lot of people here have been abusive because this has in fact almost always been tolerated. Most people can refrain from that, but won’t necessarily if they don’t have to, because they derive pleasure from being snotty.

179

engels 10.23.16 at 1:48 am

I do think there is a need for some change: do you?

Most of my reply to you went missing. Assuming it’s not coming back—I would say the main problems I’ve personally noticed are
—abuse (esp. from groups of commenters with similar views) but I’d distinguish that from incivility
—misrepresentation (past the point of reasonable error)
—politically or personally motivated banning/deletion
I’ve got a lot less sympathy with people who just find other people’s conversations boring and in general I agree with Basil that the onus should be on them to read something else rather than trying to shut other people up. That’s just one person’s experience though.

The blog seems to have been a victim of its own success to some extent, in that the huge number of comments posts regularly attract make meaningful conversations very unlikely.

I agree with Kidneystones’ suggestion that the OPs could consider inviting submissions for front-page posts from commenters. A side benefit could be allowing the topics of their own threads to be policed more strictly (bexauae there’d be other spaces for the other issues.) Val, Bruce, RNB and Rich all seem to have more than enough ideas and I think would write things I’d be interested in reading.

I don’t think I have a lot personally invested in this as I’m trying to wean myself off CT and the internet a bit but I do agree with Dax and Basil that this seems like the wrong approach and the wrong way to frame the discussion.

180

Smass 10.23.16 at 2:37 am

Collin Street, but is anyone complaining about people posting useless shit? I see complaints about a particular social dynamic that has developed amongst a few people on a few specific topics.

181

kidneystones 10.23.16 at 3:02 am

Hi Engels. To clarify – I do not recommend that commenters be invited to contribute original posts.

I suggest the current gang double their number on a permanent basis, to reduce the workload and increase content diversity. I also see no reason why CT should not organize more theme-based series in which notables of ideally international stature would be invited to contribute.

182

Val 10.23.16 at 4:41 am

Thanks engels, interesting that you have picked people who have crossed swords so much (well I haven’t with RNB, I agreed with or at least saw his point of view most of the time, even though not agreeing with the mode of delivery) – I guess if we all had a chance to put our respective views without fighting it might be much better! However I should put something on my own blog really – I have a bit but not in depth really- about some of the contentious issues, such as why I think patriarchy is an important category of analysis that is generally overlooked on ‘mainstream’ blogs such as this.

It would be a lot of work and possibly people could get a lot of it from Wikipedia if interested (I’ve looked at Wikipedia on patriarchy, it’s not too bad) but I have often thought even a time line covering things like monotheistic patriarchal religions, couverture, married women’s property acts, rape in marriage laws, proportions of women in parliament etc would be useful – stuff that I would think most people here would be aware of in a general sense, but not necessarily front of mind. Anyway that’s just musings but it would be useful to refer to in discussions of how the history of patriarchy affects contemporary ideology and epistemology I guess.

183

Val 10.23.16 at 10:37 am

So c’mon engels, was it a joke? I can’t work it out :)

184

engels 10.23.16 at 4:49 pm

No, I was being serious. I think you’ve all got interesting ideas and lines of critique which aren’t touched on by the OPs and probably wouldn’t be heard here if you weren’t around. It would be good to see them presented in a more structured and self-standing way, and in a more respectful environment (assuming you were able to moderate your own posts or have someone sympathetic moderate them).

Of course the ‘libertarian’ rejoinder would be ‘put it on your own blog’. I find that glib because those blogs don’t have the same networks of readers and commenters CT has (and part of the reason CT has those networks is because of the informal labour of its commenters over the years…)

Kidneystones, apologies for misunderstanding you. I think ‘notables of international stature’ is setting the bar a little high—despite having a high opinion of our hosts, I don’t think it’s true of all of them, and personally I wouldn’t want it to be. If you do want to invite a (relatively) well-known (and very interesting) academic I’d vote for JW Mason, who commented here anonymously for many years.

185

Val 10.23.16 at 8:53 pm

Well thanks again engels. I should write something on my own blog though, as it’s a central issue for my own research. The CT bloggers might wish to get a more prominent scholar than me to write about these issues, it would be great if they did. Feminist philosophers blog has good stuff about unconscious bias in politics, which CT could link to at least.

I’d love to see someone like Marilyn Waring here deconstructing the patriarchal basis of mainstream economics – she does such a good job of that.

186

floopmeister 10.24.16 at 12:51 am

The fact that ‘your house, your rules’ could be uncritically and even joyously accepted by most members …

In no way was this assertion made ‘joyously’ by me (can’t/won’t speak for derrida derider).

If I don’t like the results of this policy, I will (regretfully) stop coming. Last I checked this wasn’t an anarcho-syndicalist commune, and frankly I don’t have the time to participate in one (other might -good luck to them).

People put time and effort into blogging here – I like reading their posts and participating in the comments. How they want to run the place is their business.

187

engels 10.24.16 at 4:30 am

People put time and effort into blogging here… How they want to run the place is their business.

Or as Locke might put it:

Though the Earth…be common to all Men, yet every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property. It being by him removed from the common state Nature placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other Men.

188

Kiwanda 10.24.16 at 5:40 am

So far, the moderation is…curious. My comment made here by mistake, mentioning Le Guin and intended for a different post, was approved. My followup comment apologizing and explaining for that comment, not approved. My comment for the “secret masters of fandom” post was approved quickly. My utterly innocuous comment for the “mystery behind a group of electoral maps” post is still in moderation after at least six hours; a later comment for that post has meanwhile been approved. Commenting here looks like it will be a haphazard and unpredictable process.

189

Greg 10.24.16 at 8:08 am

Just read entire week-old 180-comment thread on CT about moderation. Am stuck on the internet. Pls send help.

190

RINO economist 10.24.16 at 10:58 am

Val,

I haven’t read any Marilyn Waring (tho’ had heard the name via her well-publicised views on government census & official statistics etc), but another feminist economist well worth reading is Nancy Folbre, e.g. her overview of the history of economic thought, Greed Lust & Gender. I do think it would be good if the Crooked Timber management invited you to write a guest contribution from time to time.

Also second the suggestion that occasional commenter JW Mason be invited to contribute, though he does have his own blog that economists at least might be aware of.

More generally, a new CT commenting policy is worth trying as an experiment, but I tend to be pessimistic about the future of commenting in websites with large readerships. Sometimes I think there needs to be an equivalent of a “Tobin tax” to inject a bit of sand into the gears.

191

engels 10.24.16 at 12:46 pm

(Seconding Kiwanda: I had two comments disappear from ‘moderation’ on Saturday —both seemed inoffensive to me and their gist was the same as #179—and another one just now—which I wrote just after #187 and am pasting below in case that was an error.)

engels 10.24.16 at 5:18 am
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
But the problem they are trying to solve (as far as I understood it) is mainly how to make an “open egalitarian discussion” possible
The idea that the way to promote an ‘open egalitarian discussion’ is to empower the initiator of said discussion silence and/or eject respondents without anyone else’s knowledge or oversight is… interesting (there must be more than a few historical regimes who will be delighted to learn their reputations for open dialogue have been unfairly tarnished…)

192

Sumana Harihareswara 10.24.16 at 2:35 pm

I read CT (I subscribe via RSS feed). I sometimes skim the comments and rarely comment. (I have often seen that my comments have been moderated for multiple days such that people responding to the most recent comments probably don’t see mine.) I rarely come here for the comments. I’ve guest posted a few times. I post under my own wallet name but am a supporter of commenters’ ability to use persistent pseudonyms particularly in systems where it’s easy to look at a commenter’s comment history.

I’m super glad that the people who run this blog are trying out mod-everything-by-default. I often have found comment threads here unattractively replete with tedious bad-faith arguing.

I like it when a range of potential kinds of conversations is possible, like sharing of personal experiences, teaching each other, persuading each other, and more. I don’t think “people agreeing” equals “boring”. As a MetaFilter commenter said, “I guess if you go looking for some kind of debate in every single thread you pop into, it can be pretty disappointing to see people just, you know, *talking* about the subject at hand.” That comment is pretty interesting and you should consider reading it.

Thanks again, CT bloggers. I hope the new policy helps you feel more welcomed, more motivated, and more supported.

193

JanieM 10.24.16 at 4:32 pm

I quit commenting at CT several months ago (not that I was ever prolific to begin with), and for the most part I quit reading as well, although I do glance over here now and then to see what the posters are posting about.

I was going to stay out of this thread too until Sumana’s comment appeared. What she said is so valuable, and so on point for me, that I have to chime in to give it a big thumbs up.

For the record, other people who have written some of what I’ve been feeling include Jerry Vinokurov and Bruce B.

One of the reasons I left CT was the increasing degeneration of an increasing number of threads into oneupsmanship, sneering, and, as Sumana said, bad faith arguing. Oh, and did I mention sneering?

There’s always been some of that – I’ve been known to spew a little snark myself now and then – but when entire long threads get that way, it’s time, for me at least, to remember that life is short and there are lots of great ways to spend one’s time, and it might be time to look at some of them.

The other reason, which is inextricably entwined with the first, is that the list of commenters I just quit bothering with got longer and longer. If people want to say the same things over and over again until I could write a bot that would write their comments for them, more power to them, I suppose, if that’s how they get their jollies, but life is short, etc., and I don’t have to give them an audience.

Finally – I *love* the point Sumana made about how not everything has to be a debate. Most of my participation in CT has been of the other variety – life history, anecdotes, “just talking.” I did click through to the Metafilter comment and I’d give that a big appreciative thumbs up too.

Once long ago I had a friend who was a vocal, angry, activist feminist. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t also a vocal, angry, activist feminist. I was younger and in some ways dumber then, and I tried to say something about the value (however nebulous, however seemingly “simply” personal) of living the way I was living, in an open relationship within a chosen tribe of friends and housemates, blah blah blah. Her response was: “Well then, why aren’t you out there proselytizing for tribes?”

In so many ways, and ever more as I get older, I object to the idea – so thoroughly woven through our culture and especially prevalent online – that the only noble activity in life is convincing other people to see it your way.

194

Maria 10.24.16 at 4:57 pm

+1 JanieM (and good to see you). I just clicked through to Sumana’s link. ‘Just talking’ isn’t the only kind of ideal thread out there, but it describes the ones I’ve learnt most from and changed or enriched my thinking on the topic at hand.

195

hix 10.24.16 at 5:28 pm

ZM: “but I would like the emails to be linked verifiably to a real person’s identity so the bloggers have commenters real names even if they don’t appear on screen. At the moment the bloggers don’t even know the real identities of people. “

????? So you would want to force everyone to get an email adress that does postal or passport copy verification of the email adress holders idenitity. Do such providers even exist anymore? I remember one from over a decade ago? Either way, that is a rather big no go.

By the way, ive been asked more than once by psychiatrists if i fealt like someones stalking me on the internet. So far that has not been the case, but its always worth considering that when it happens, the fealing mightg be incorrect.

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engels 10.24.16 at 5:36 pm

In so many ways, and ever more as I get older, I object to the idea – so thoroughly woven through our culture and especially prevalent online – that the only noble activity in life is convincing other people to see it your way.

Could you point to one comment out of the previous 190 that you interpret as advancing the point of view that ‘the only noble activity in life is convincing other people to see it your way’?

For the record, I agree that not ‘everything should be a debate’. I could be mistaken but just had a quick look at the six threads on the front page prior to this post (and the change in policy)—only one in fact appears to me be a debate.

197

bob mcmanus 10.24.16 at 5:42 pm

192: Assuming, for sake of example, that the generalities and implications are directed at me, I find almost every paragraph in JanieM’s 193 incredibly insulting and snarky.

Is the new policy to make our insults in the form “Some people round here are really ugly, but I won’t mention names.” or “I find it contemptible and wicked to have X opinion, though I am not talking about anybody here, and anybody who thinks I am is paranoid and vicious”

The aggression, insults, and competition is constant in all people, just different styles of exclusion and marginalization, some styles considered more civil and civilized, yet usually harder to defend against without appearing to initiate the attack. That is the point and purpose.

Get rid of the rugby match and turn it into a quilting bee. Of course the problem and solution is gendered, raced and classed (Weber and Marx). Reading about China 1911-1949 the constant pattern was the initial activists being replaced by more articulate skillful and opportunistic managers. They had a Cultural Revolution to address the problem.

LGM comments threads are not exactly nice kind places welcoming to strangers and dissenters. It is a ecstatic pit of rage and hate, directed against “people not like us,” dynamically adjusting their ideologies to discover new targets. Loomis appears to be traveling the country, looking for gravestones to pee on.

Fine. I have been expecting it for a long time. But it is not about safe spaces, or civil intelligent conversation, it is, and always is, about hegemony and power. And just because x group is not powerful in Pakistan or Mobile doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the hegemony here. All politics is indeed local.

Bye.

198

engels 10.24.16 at 5:48 pm

PS. I think one idiosyncrasy of CT is the way the blog jumbles about four categories of threads initiated a dozen different people. Roughly speaking: politics, academic, personal and open threads. Very different norms are appropriate for each and some of the friction has been a result of crossed wires about which is which. It is perhaps reasonable to eject someone from a personal thread if you don’t like them for example; it isn’t in a politics discussion; it’s reasonable to restrict contributions to an academic discussion to those who have the necessary understanding of the subject; it isn’t for an open thread; etc. Distinguishing them more explicitly from each other and the kind of behaviour expected for each might be an idea worth considering. Just a thought.

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Lynne 10.24.16 at 5:52 pm

Sumana, I followed your link and I find that to be true, too. “You actually can, as hard as it may be to believe, agree with one another on the fundamentals of a particular subject and still have not only something to talk about but something to learn.”

200

Val 10.24.16 at 7:33 pm

RINO economist – thank you. I will also add Nancy Folbre to my reading list. Btw is RINO in your nym an acronym for ‘Republican in name only’ (I googled it)? As an Australian/non-American I find some things about your political culture strange and intriguing …

Sumana H – I also clicked on the thread you linked to and found it interesting. There was one comment from a guy talking about how he’d sometimes like to just say what he thought/felt and that too much internal filtering made comments like processed cheese, that made me think about ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’. A lot of concerns expressed about moderation are about freedom to – like that guy’s comment – but what I’ve been experiencing at CT since the moderation change is ‘freedom from’ which isn’t talked about so much, but I’m really enjoying it.

I was experiencing so much misrepresentation and personal insults that I was getting quite anxious here. I didn’t want to stop commenting because that seems like being chased out of public spaces, but I was feeling anxious and a bit depressed about the seemingly endless denigration and misrepresentation. Knowing that it is very unlikely to happen under the current moderation does give me a real sense of freedom. All I need to do now is try to ensure that I stick by the rules (knowing that I too don’t always do the right thing), rather than either continually trying to defend myself against unfair attacks or giving up altogether. It’s liberating.

201

MPAVictoria 10.24.16 at 8:11 pm

I don’t comment as much as I used to but I support the managers here in doing whatever they think necessary to make the space work for them.

202

Sumana Harihareswara 10.24.16 at 9:53 pm

Get rid of the rugby match and turn it into a quilting bee.

Oh wow that sounds AMAZING. I would love that! I literally just two days ago got out my sewing machine and remembered how to thread the lower bobbin (with help from online videos). A friend came over and we worked on sewing projects together and helped each other out. I have never been to a quilting bee but I am super jazzed about the idea of working on my own patch of stuff, and connecting it to other people’s work in a collaborative environment, and teaching each other, and showing off the cool stuff we’ve made, and maybe even having some friendly competition about, like, stitches-per-inch or fancy designs. And people can come in and out, form “teams” or not, and you get to know people by making stuff together. How awesome that sounds!

203

Val 10.25.16 at 1:08 am

RINO economist
Apologies mods, I realise this conversation is now going off-topic (in so far as there is a clear topic here I guess) but I just wanted to respond again to RINO economist’s suggestion about the Folbre book – I’ve read several reviews and ordered a copy of the book from the library here, it sounds very interesting and relevant to my work. I do wonder why feminist economics has not been more influential on mainstream economics (I’m trying not to be cynical here!) but I guess this may be a topic for another thread and another day.

204

engels 10.25.16 at 2:07 am

Well now I can’t post at all it seems. No explanation. No moderation message. Nothing.

205

engels 10.25.16 at 3:50 am

National unity timber
Take back our wood
Timber which arrived before the cut-off will probably be permitted to remain
Timber which shares out values will be permitted to enter after being screened on a points-based system based on straightness, smoothness and not being too left-leaning

[Note from the management – John Holbo, in this case. I’m turning this one on but I am noting, for the record, that we object to comments not for left-wingedness but for patent trollishness. Engels obviously thinks we need to be conspicuously condescended to, because we suffer from various character flaws and moral deficiencies that can only be alleviated in this manner. That is his considered opinion, expressed variously over the years. Yet it is not our opinion. We don’t see that it does us any good. So, going forward, I would request Engels either not to be trollish or not to comment.]

206

Bruce B. 10.25.16 at 5:12 am

I like the irony of engels demanding who JanieM has in mind as being all obsessed with conflict as the essence of commenting and then immediately Bob shows up to act conflict as the essence of commenting.

JanieM: Good to see your handle again, and to see great comments under it.

207

ZM 10.25.16 at 8:29 am

his,

I already said that “I know this isn’t actually possible at the moment with how the internet is structured, since not everyone has access to an email account that is verifiably linked to their real identity.”

I think its a problem that even the bloggers don’t know who people are. If I went to a restaurant most people would have some form of ID and also you could identify them with faces, since people can’t turn up to restaurants in masks really, unless its a special masquerade ball or something.

I don’t know what the bloggers could do about it. The only thing someone suggested that might work would be making this a site with a charge, since credit cards have people’s names on and fake ones are not as easy to get as email addresses. But I wouldn’t want CT to have a high charge, and also I would guess any charge might be off-putting for readers wanting to make one off comments or occasional comments.

I know that this isn’t a concern for most people here, but I just wanted to add it to this discussion. I think its a general problem with how the internet is currently regulated and policed really, rather than specific to CT, its just that I comment here not elsewhere.

208

ZM 10.25.16 at 8:33 am

Of course the bloggers do this for free, its not a business like a restaurant is. But in public spaces in real life often people have ID or you can identify them by their faces.

209

ZM 10.25.16 at 9:00 am

” I am super jazzed about the idea of working on my own patch of stuff, and connecting it to other people’s work in a collaborative environment, and teaching each other, and showing off the cool stuff we’ve made, and maybe even having some friendly competition about, like, stitches-per-inch or fancy designs. And people can come in and out, form “teams” or not”

or not, bob mcmanus would quilt a complicated design and make gruff comments from time to time, he won’t join a quilt team I don’t think

210

Lynne 10.25.16 at 10:22 am

Speaking of sewing bees, I have fond memories of evenings crocheting while friends did their own handwork—crocheting, sewing, knitting, cutwork. And once we were making an afghan for charity (details are hazy), so many women knit or crocheted squares, and I was one of the people crocheting the squares together—a challenge!

211

Lynne 10.25.16 at 10:22 am

Val, I’m not surprised you were getting anxious during that conversation. I was feeling by turns impatient, angry and sad just reading it.

212

Val 10.25.16 at 12:02 pm

Thanks Lyn, I was thinking about it today and about the fact that I’m readily identifiable, and how I’d feel if my students read that stuff. I remember another thread when I had just started teaching in the climate change and health unit and there were some people on CT suggesting that I didn’t really understand climate change and was just interested in individualistic solutions and virtue signalling. I think I lost it a bit in that case, but it was humiliating to think of my students potentially reading that stuff.

Anyway I think I’ve probably talked about this enough at present, but it does reinforce the issues around vulnerabilities in commenting under a real name. I don’t know if I’d do that again, but I feel it should be possible.

213

engels 10.25.16 at 12:41 pm

Engels obviously thinks we need to be conspicuously condescended to, because we suffer from various character flaws and moral deficiencies that can only be alleviated in this manner. That is his considered opinion, expressed variously over the years.

Nice mind-reading John. Actually it was a slightly drunken over-reaction to the fact that my more polite and rational arguments had been ignored (I won’t say ‘ostentatiously’), the random deletion of about 30% of my comments, and the fact that on the evidence of this thread it is clearly your more left-wing commenters who feel targeted by this while those with political views closer to yours are already engaging in the same behaviour (cliquishness, misrepresentation, ad hominem attacks) the policy is supposed to prevent.

My considered opinion is that you were all very much worth reading, learning from and engaging with as equals; I hope that will possible for commenters in future.

214

engels 10.25.16 at 3:22 pm

(Come to think of it, in ten years of commenting I don’t think I have once suggested that any of the OPs suffered from a ‘character flaw’ or ‘moral deficiency’… But yeah—like Lupita, Bob, Basil, Dax, Landru and others, I’ll take a break.)

215

Martin Bento 10.25.16 at 4:47 pm

I think what John Holbo did to engels in 195 is a better approach than pre-moderation. Evidently, engels had made a number of objectionable comments in this thread, which had gotten pre-moderated out. This resulted in complaints from engels that his comments were getting blocked. engels apparently lacked the self-awareness to realize he was enacting the very behavior under discussion here. He didn’t get it. I would guess he gets it now.

But even better, now everyone else has an example of what is not considered cool here. Well done, John.

I would suggest separate comments, though, rather than inserting editorial into a comment. Delong used to do the latter and use it to debate commenters in their own comments. It came off as an abuse of moderator privilege.

216

engels 10.25.16 at 5:36 pm

Evidently, engels had made a number of objectionable comments in this thread, which had gotten pre-moderated out. This resulted in complaints from engels that his comments were getting blocked. engels apparently lacked the self-awareness to realize he was enacting the very behavior under discussion here. He didn’t get it. I would guess he gets it now.

No that isn’t what happened—they never went into moderation, just vanished, and were less ‘objectionable’ than the one that went though.

217

engels 10.25.16 at 6:18 pm

(Also they weren’t ‘comments’ but one comment, which I tried to post two more times after it disappeared without explanation. But I’m flattered that you’re still following me we argued about something five or ten years ago Martin. Anyway, as I said, I’m going—cheers.)

218

Collin Street 10.25.16 at 7:50 pm

> I would guess he gets it now.

You can’t introspect your way to correctness, at least not reliably enough for it to be worth the effort: no matter how many times you think about it you’ll come to the same answers, whether they’re right or wrong, and nothing about “thinking it over again” will flag the conclusions that are errors.

Which means: to work out what your mistakes are you need the help of other people. But what if you don’t listen to other people?

[most of “intelligence” is learned skill, not talent]

219

LFC 10.25.16 at 8:27 pm

Since the idea of a charge has been mentioned (though not necessarily endorsed), for example by ZM @207, I’d like to say FTR I think that’s a very bad idea.

220

Kiwanda 10.25.16 at 10:28 pm

“Get rid of the rugby match and turn it into a quilting bee.”

I have no interest in rugby matches *or* quilting bees, in real life, or metaphorically in comment threads. I dislike attempts to “win” by making personal attacks on others, then whining when they respond, and other such tactics. I don’t have much interest in comments that only agree with other comments; too often such agreement amounts to “yes, is horrible”. I like discussions that challenge me to think more about the topic, and to come up with substantive reasons for my opinions. I don’t like arguments from anecdote about claims for which there is data.

221

engels 10.26.16 at 1:30 am

You can’t introspect your way to correctness, at least not reliably enough for it to be worth the effort: no matter how many times you think about it you’ll come to the same answers, whether they’re right or wrong, and nothing about “thinking it over again” will flag the conclusions that are errors.

So how do eg. mathematicians make discoveries?

222

Martin Bento 10.26.16 at 4:44 am

engels, I could see why you would be flattered, but I am not following you. I read the thread and you are in it. You are the only one, I believe, who earned an explicit call-out from one of the moderators. The call-out was something worthy, I thought, of comment in itself – because of what it suggests for the policy, not because of you. I looked back over your comments in this thread. In 131, you say that two more comments in addition to the first have gone missing. And then in 191 claimed another, which you reposted within another comment. In 204, you said you couldn’t post at all. In 213, you claimed about 30% of your comments had been rejected. That’s why I thought it was more than one comment you were complaining about. Presumably “disappeared from moderation” is what is supposed to happen under this policy when a comment is rejected, maybe immediately if the moderator is reading as it is posted. I wouldn’t expect the moderators to just keep it in “awaiting moderation” indefinitely.

223

Bruce B. 10.26.16 at 9:37 am

I do agree, by the way, that separate comments from moderator feel better than inserting them into other people’s comments.

224

Origami Isopod 10.26.16 at 12:31 pm

Shorter dax: “It’s fine to question the worth of more than half of humanity, so long as you’re polite about it. And women who comment at CT are obliged to take such an assertion seriously, rather than object to it as the bigoted garbage it is.”

I simply can’t imagine why more women don’t comment here. I suppose you’d be okay with dragging the “human biodiversity” sewage in as well, so long as it were argued “civilly”?

As for any dude here about to start harrumphing about “defending unpopular opinions” or “challenging the status quo” or “echo chambers” — the alleged inferiority of women is the status quo, and it is far from an unpopular opinion.

225

Lynne 10.26.16 at 1:16 pm

From the OP: “This creates an environment where other commenters get squeezed out and where many of us feel reluctant to post on the blog because it isn’t fun exposing yourself to such gratuitous hostility and because housekeeping comment threads (and arguing about housekeeping decisions) is frankly exhausting”

This is the perfect time to highlight what someone said upthread, which is that posts by women seem to regularly attract a high degree of hostility, which I would imagine is indeed exhausting as well as disheartening to moderate. I miss Belle’s posts, and Tedra’s, and if this reality has anything to do with their not posting so much, it is indeed a shame (though I assume they are also busy with other things).

I’d like to suggest to the CT collective that while you are thinking about moderating, you might consider how the load of moderating is shared. Is every poster responsible for his/her own thread? If so, those who get more hostility have a much more unpleasant task, and might understandably be more reluctant to post.

Just a thought from the peanut gallery.

226

Lynne 10.26.16 at 2:18 pm

I’d also like to say I’m surprised that John Holbo is stomping on engels, and if indeed engels has written a lot of offensive comments in this thread, I haven’t seen them (presumably they’ve been modded out). The one JH earmarked sounded to me like exasperation after many of his comments didn’t appear.

If you would prefer commenters not opine about your moderating experiment, maybe you should close the thread.

227

Manta 10.26.16 at 4:26 pm

I don’t understand if the aim of the new comment policy is more politeness towards each other, or if Origami@224, and its aim is mainly to restrict the range of allowed opinions.

228

Manta 10.26.16 at 5:31 pm

Since my comment is still in moderation, maybe I can edit it?
If so, this is definitely an advantage of the new policy: comment editing!
Here is the new (and hopefully improved) version:

I don’t understand if the aim of the new comment policy is more politeness towards each other, or if Origami@224 and engels (@27 and others) are right, and its aim is mainly to restrict the range of allowed opinions.

229

engels 10.26.16 at 9:27 pm

[John Holbo misrepresented my argument, declared that it isn’t permissible to discuss free speech on a thread about Tom Hayden, and deleted my reply, so I attempting to post it here. Delete or not as you wish; I hope I can be my last.]

engels 10.26.16 at 8:44 pm
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

All we are doing is asking people not to be like that. … It’s just asking people to turn it down a notch

The entire dissenting wing of the other thread was people saying they’re okay with you asking them to turn it down (and even enforcing that with bans if necessary) but not with you coercing them into doing it (in a Kafkaesque way which creates a massive power imbalance between OP and commenters [fans?] and chills disagreement generally—a consequence which was noted, and applauded, by many of the supporters…).

So maybe turn it down a notch, even if you don’t want to, but you value commenting all the same. Up to you.

Cf. we own the factory/university so we make rules—if you don’t like them then work/study somewhere else (and multiple more careful elaborations on the other thread)

But apologies for trying to discuss participatory democracy and free speech at CT in a CT thread about Hayden and SDS when the point was clearly to recuperate them to shore them to shore up just the oppressive power structures they were trying to fight—I won’t make the same mistake again. Thanks for the conversation.

230

engels 10.26.16 at 11:28 pm

I don’t understand if the aim of the new comment policy is more politeness towards each other, or if Origami@224 and engels (@27 and others) are right, and its aim is mainly to restrict the range of allowed opinions.

To be clear, I don’t think that’s the aim (at least for most people, Sumana and a few others above seem keen on their not being disagreements in future) but I think it will inevitably be used that way in the heat of an argument and will also deter people who are of a different political persuasion to the OPs from commenting in the first place, because getting into a debate with someone on these terms is a mug’s game.

Anyway, I think it’s quite clear at this point that none of those exercising this power will be drawn into any kind of discussion of it (apart from a few paragraphs of parenthetical snark from Holbo–participatory democracy FTW!) so I’ll leave it there.

231

Kiwanda 10.27.16 at 1:04 am

From the OP: “commenters should abjure ostentatious displays of contempt towards other participants in the thread and commenters should not write in a manner that clearly presupposes that they do not believe the person they are engaging with is deserving of intellectual engagement. “

Dax 120: “As to the part about “racist, sexist or homophobic” comments, I fear this is too open for abuse. “You slut” for me obviously should be forbidden, but someone who writes, “Women (or for that matter men) should not have equal rights” has said something far more interesting than the normal, and *my* regret is that when people do make comments, however thoughtful, of this nature, they are shouted down with insults or likely to be deleted by moderators. “

Origami Isopod 224: “Shorter dax: “It’s fine to question the worth of more than half of humanity, so long as you’re polite about it. And women who comment at CT are obliged to take such an assertion seriously, rather than object to it as the bigoted garbage it is.”
…..”

If you Timberites were looking for examples of “ostentatious displays of contempt”, here’s one for you. Although for me, the main problem with the comment is not its tone, but its willful misrepresentation. [Both qualities are pretty much a sure bet for “Shorter X:”s.] NB: I’d prefer an open forum, the cure is worse than the disease.

232

ZM 10.27.16 at 1:45 am

Lynne,

“This is the perfect time to highlight what someone said upthread, which is that posts by women seem to regularly attract a high degree of hostility, which I would imagine is indeed exhausting as well as disheartening to moderate. I miss Belle’s posts, and Tedra’s, and if this reality has anything to do with their not posting so much, it is indeed a shame (though I assume they are also busy with other things).”

I agree with this, and also miss Belle’s and Tedra’s posts. I thought Tedra got a really hard time from people actually sometimes when she used to post. Belle gets a hard time as well but I do miss her comebacks almost as much as her posts I have to say, now she isn’t posting as frequently.

I like engels and hope he keeps commenting, he isn’t that offensive but he is a stirrer, I think John Holbo maybe just got fed up

I also mentioned above a technique John Quiggin has on his blog, which is running open threads that he can move arguments and commenters too. I think this works really well on his blog, and also means commenters don’t feel shut down as much as if they are just told to stop commenting on the thread. He just says X and Y take your argument to the open thread please.

233

John Holbo 10.27.16 at 1:59 am

Sigh. I agree that the pre-moderation approach is not great. Obviously not. How could it be good to have to wait like that? But the alternative is bad, too. There are so many reasons why we can’t have nice things …

But let’s not overthink it. The main reason why pre-moderation won’t work well – if it proves a failure – is not that we CT’ers are motivated primarily by fear and hatred of openness and free discussion. I submit that it’s way more likely that the trouble will be that we are lazy. There are lots of comments and we don’t always get to them. And we make snap judgments, in turning on or deleting. And often those snap judgments would not hold up in the face of rigorous, open review process. But we don’t really have time or inclination for that. It’s a dilemma. Probably we are going to have to try different things. Try to explain things in different ways. Try to lay down some clear rules. We all want good comments. None of us wants a full-time job, weeding them.

234

Sebastian H 10.27.16 at 3:02 am

At obsidisianwings we used to make one day bans fairly frequently, with a quick note about why the ban happened and discussion about the ban happening only via email to the moderators. We didn’t have serious problems except during the last presidential election (Obama II).

235

Sumana Harihareswara 10.27.16 at 3:10 am

engels: Hi there!

Sumana and a few others above seem keen on their not being disagreements in future

I’m not sure you saw where I said:

I like it when a range of potential kinds of conversations is possible, like sharing of personal experiences, teaching each other, persuading each other, and more.

Maybe you and I disagree on the question: what is the point of disagreeing? I presume that we’re trying to teach each other, understand each other better and, maybe, persuade each other — basically, activities I mentioned. Maybe you are interested in something else, or there’s some other misunderstanding here?

Also, hi and hope you are doing well! I hope you’ve had a pleasant day, wherever you are.

236

John Holbo 10.27.16 at 3:40 am

I agree that we haven’t gotten it right yet and would be in favor of things like open threads that function as a kind of curse wall if people feel the need to yell about something other people are using their inside voices to discuss in some other thread.

The Kafkaesque moderation mechanism, such as it is, is purely a function of which CT author is awake and checking the comments at the moment. I suppose we have different ideas, we CT’ers, so that isn’t exactly a recipe for consistency.

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Sebastian H 10.27.16 at 3:44 am

To expand on the philosophy, a forever ban seems drastic so it gets used only when people go waaaaaay out of line, and you are more reluctant to use it on a regular commentor who is usually ok. A one day ban is just a short time out, so as a moderator you don’t have to feel as bad about using it, even with a regular commentor. Regular predictable reinforcement is usually better than infrequent drastic punishment.

Most people don’t even bother contesting the one day bans, but if they did we asked that it happen by private email (especially if third parties wanted to contest it).

This would probably combine well with a whitelisting system, where regular commentors can post immediately and only new posters get temporarily stuck in moderation.

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Ronan(rf) 10.27.16 at 10:48 am

“This is the perfect time to highlight what someone said upthread, which is that posts by women seem to regularly attract a high degree of hostility, which I would imagine is indeed exhausting as well as disheartening to moderate. I miss Belle’s posts, and Tedra’s, and if this reality has anything to do with their not posting so much, it is indeed a shame (though I assume they are also busy with other things).”

I don’t intend to pick on Lynn specifically, because I always enjoy Lynn’s comments. But this really doesn’t seem true to me. The posters who have received the most abuse (rightly, a lot of the time) seem to be male (dsquared, Corey). The main poster whose threads often go most off topic (encouraged by him, mostly) is John holbo. Female posters might get certain types of hostility (specifically the “why are you posting about x when there are people starving in the world”, x generally being a “feminist related” issue ) buy I don’t think they get more hostility , on average.
Indeed I don’t think the posters get more abuse and condescension than the commenters(for example, since the new guidelines we’ve had a clearly good faith interjection by a commenter on another thread get written off as “classic mansplaining”), so I’m not really buying the premise of the OP and following comments anyway. (I also don’t buy engels overwrought theorizing about the decline of participatory democracy in comment threads, but that’s a different story)

To back up a bit, to a claim made above about the treatment Val received on other threads. What happened in that case was that arguments made in support of a position (ie that the threat from trump was overstated) were responded to with ad hominems (white male privilege etc). This is a common enough theme among liberals these days, to imply (or outright state) that someone’s position (no matter how coherent or well supported) is a result of their x,y and z privilege, not the fact that they’ve thought about the issue and come to a different conclusion. This is exasperating and extremely patronising. The responses by some commenters to this line of argument was to show how easily it could be reversed(I’m.a Jew, you’re making arguments that could be construed as dealing in anti Semitic tropes, therefore you’re driven by anti semitism). So I think this is a two way street, tbh
People(myself most certainly included) tend to overestimate the insightfulness of their contributions and how civil they are. There can also be a thin line between being perceived to be talking down to someone and genuinely trying to make a point/ask a question that might (to others) seem trivial, hostile etc. I don’t know how you counter that. I personally find a lot of liberal rhetoric(not necessarily here) incredibly patronising (either stating banal points as incredible insights or asking you to engage in an unreasonable, quasi religious, amount of self reflection/or engage in group apology rituals to cleanse yourself of the sin of having a slightly different viewpoint ). This is good for creating group solidarity and policing group boundaries, but less for engaging in a conversation (and I.assume most of us aren’t looking to join a cult) And there are quite clearly OPs which are more or less designed to get a hostile, or at least spirited, reaction. The fish does rot from the head, (as a literal matter. As an analogy, you could say it rots from the head 50% of the time)
So , imo, everyone, not just the usual suspects, could afford to not to think more highly of himself than he ought. As the bible says.

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John Holbo 10.27.16 at 11:53 am

“The main poster whose threads often go most off topic (encouraged by him, mostly) is John holbo.”

Ain’t it the truth!

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Lynne 10.27.16 at 2:00 pm

Oh, and thanks for the kind words, Ronan.

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John Holbo 10.27.16 at 2:16 pm

There is now a big pile up of comments in the queue, rehashing CT comment history. Before I am going to turn on any more comments I am going to consult with my fellow CT’ers about whether we want this thread to turn into some sort of freeform, no-holds-barred truth-and-reconciliation commission on past commentary injustice. Couldn’t we just let the dead bury dead threads, guys and gals?

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John Holbo 10.27.16 at 3:22 pm

Just to be clear: I have indeed just stopped turning on comments for this thread, be they of whatever quality. An eight hour cooling off period, let’s say, after which Chris – author of the OP, hence proprietor – may announce last call. Or turn on your comments and let y’all hash it out. I leave it to him. I’m gonna go off now and learn a Father John Misty song. Seems the right thing to do.

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Chris Bertram 10.27.16 at 3:28 pm

Yes, I’m closing comments now and killing all the unposted ones. It was supposed to auto-close some time ago and I’m not sure why it didn’t.

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