Sort of Like the Wisdom of Crowds

by Henry on August 23, 2006

Blogger.com’s “flagging policy”:http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=42517 seems decidedly peculiar to me.

The Flag button is not censorship and it cannot be manipulated by angry mobs. Political dissent? Incendiary opinions? Just plain crazy? Bring it on. … The “Flag?” button allows the blogging community to easily note questionable content, which in turn helps us take action when needed. … We generally do not review the content posted through our service but our responsibility extends beyond Blogger users to casual readers of Blog*Spot. The “Flag?” button is a means by which readers of Blog*Spot can help inform us about potentially questionable content, so we can prevent others from encountering such material by setting particular blogs as “unlisted.” … We track the number of times a blog has been flagged as objectionable and use this information to determine what action is needed. This feature allows the blogging community as a whole to identify content they deem objectionable. Have you read The Wisdom of Crowds? It’s sort of like that.

It’s not entirely clear to me how much human intervention there is in this process. If it’s semi-automated, as seems quite possible, it clearly lends itself to abuse. It involves a real penalty; as best as I can tell from Blogger’s FAQ, unlisted blogs aren’t going to be “trawled by search engines”:http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=41373 without rejiggering the blog’s template. Even if humans have the final say, it seems to me to be inappropriate, especially given the lack of information on what might be considered to be objectionable content. The blogs located at blogger.com don’t constitute a community, in the proper sense of the word, with thick shared norms over what is appropriate or inappropriate. Nor should they – one of the attractions of the blogosphere at the macro-scale (as opposed to denser communities within comments sections or elsewhere in the blogosphere) is its openness to profound differences of opinion. Relying on mass action to signal what is appropriate, and what is inappropriate content among the large subset of blogs hosted at Blogger is a bad idea. Nor is it justified by the arguments in Surowiecki’s book, which as best as I remember is pretty careful to limit its claims about the kinds of things that crowds do well. If Blogger’s actions were confined to spam blogs, it would be a different matter, but they’re not.

(thanks to Seth Edenbaum for emailing me about this).

{ 8 comments }

1

Theron 08.23.06 at 10:19 am

So, The Wisdom of Crowds is a good way to set standards for speech? I think that’s what the First Amendment was meant to prevent. Of course, Blogger’s Google overlords can do what they want – they are footing the bills, as Blogger is a free service – but I would hope they stick to preventing Blogger from turning into Porn Central, and stay out of politics.

2

tps12 08.23.06 at 11:51 am

Wait, what’s wrong with Porn Central?

3

Nonny Mouse 08.23.06 at 12:49 pm

Unless you are a geek with no life like me, you probably haven’t heard of Fanfiction.net.

But this system reminds me exactly of one of the major problems of Fanfiction.net: their “Report Abuse” system has little or no human oversight, and stories are deleted based on how many people report them, not on whether or not they actually break the rules.

Because of the flamewares and incessant idiocy inherent in online fandom, popular stories are at serious risk of being deleted at any time. People will report stories for reasons from hating the author, to hating the relationships in the story (many hate homosexual relationships and will report any story that contains them, and even more have “pet” relationships that they hate seeing broken up in others’ stories, and so on and so forth), to actual breaking of the rules.

Of course this doesn’t really hurt Fanfiction.net, and probably never will. It only hurts the feelings of the authors whose stories are deleted or whose accounts are suspended, and there aren’t enough of them to make a difference to Fanfiction.net’s bottom line.

If there’s not enough oversight on the blogger system, then I don’t see how it matters whether or not the rule is only targeted at porn, rather than at political speech. People *will* lie just to get content that they don’t like pulled.

4

H. E. 08.23.06 at 4:43 pm

Different blogs have different corporate cultures and some seem to have huge populations of list-nannies, always on patrol for posts that aren’t sufficiently nice, including those that are just argumentative, and always ready to report them to the Administration to get them zapped.

I used to read some boards on Beliefnet.com where that dynamic was in play. Moreover regulars were insistent that anyone who posted identify himself, put up a profile and become a “member of the community.” The wisdom of this crowd made the discussion so vapid and repetitious that it wasn’t worth reading.

I suppose it mirrors life outside where there are ostensibly public places that are really private spaces for like-minded people who’re interested in schmoozing. You discover that what looks like a public forum is really a “community” and beat a retreat.

5

Theron 08.23.06 at 5:49 pm

I think Porn Central is a great idea, just that Blogger may not be the best place for it.

6

greensmile 08.24.06 at 9:11 am

Half of my hits are from google searches that include the potentially steamy word “thong” which is in my blog title. This is not the half of my hits that involve any reading of content. Another way to reduce traffic to blogspot pages is to set font color for some of the text to the background color: Google considers that a hazard for hidden and nefarious links and omits such pages from its inventory of the web. Some questions are not answered by Blogger’s explanatory page:
1. just certain posts or the whole blog?
2. once flagged, always flagged?
3. how does the proprietor become aware that they have offended? Since it could be accidental or simple bad spelling, shouldn’t blog owner have a chance to make corrections?
4. If it is only the single bit of data [offesive/inoffensive] when there are so many kinds of offese we can offer, how are we to guess the nature of the offense? We don’t even know who is offended. Clearly, our cyberselves are subject to far harsher and more arbitrary rules than the standards of justice by which our physical persons can be denied the right to be out among the public.

7

AA 08.24.06 at 6:47 pm

Maybe a “not objectionable” flag would be better.
This is how forest paths get made.
Not a bad idea to have a marked trail through
blogistan for the morally obese.

8

Jacques Distler 08.27.06 at 9:56 pm

One word: splogs.

There are thousands, if not millions of robotically-created blogspot blogs, whose sole purpose for existence is search-engine spam.

These days, most of them make some feeble attempt to hide the Flag button. Which, I presume, is because the Flag button is a somewhat effective way to combat them.

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