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July 25, 2008

Time Notices Comments
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:47 PM *

Time magazine has noticed that comment threads exist.

The article is called Post Apocalypse (heh-heh, get it?) and it starts like this:

Last month a woman who worked for the Stranger, an alternative weekly in Seattle, quit in a huff. She had been writing for the paper’s blog, the Slog. The problem was the comments people were making on her posts. She couldn’t stand them anymore. “The word I would use is cruel,” she wrote in her sign-off.

Actually, if cruel was all they were, she got off pretty easy. …

In theory, it’s a great thing. We’re giving the people a voice! But the reality is that commenting either attracts loathsome people or somehow causes ordinary people to express themselves in a way that is loathsome.

The solution to the problem isn’t given in the article, or even suggested. The solution is strong moderation. If the Slog had had a moderator (Yog and his minions, for example), the Stranger lady wouldn’t have been driven out.

Here’s what moderators need to know:

a) Sure, there’s freedom of speech. Anyone who wants it can go start their own blog. On Yog’s board, Yog’s whim is law.
b) Yog is an ancient ghod of chaos and evil. And he doesn’t like people very much.
c) Moderation is a subjective art, and the moderator is always right.
d) The moderator may have minions. They need to have a private area where they keep the buckets of Thorazine and the cold-frosty bottles of cow snot.
e) The minions speak with the voice of Yog. Yog backs his minions up.
f) There is always someone awake, and in charge, when Yog isn’t around in person. The minions know who the Duty Yog is.
g) If someone starts off as a spammer, troll, or flamer, he is a spammer, troll, or flamer forever and is liable to instant deletion/banning with no recourse and no appeal.
h) If the moderator ever needs inspiration, he can re-read Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and recall that the posters are sinners and he is Ghod.
i) Rules? In a knife fight? Yog and his minions have standards, but they don’t need to tell the posters, lest some of them attempt to game the system. Attempting to game the system is, all on its own, a deletable offense.
j) ALL CAPS posts are deleted on sight, unread. Mostly ALL CAPS POSTS are ALL CAPS.
k) Anyone who doesn’t space after punctuation marks is insane, and can be deleted/banned on sight.
l) Personal attacks against Yog and his minions are ignored. Personal attacks against anyone else are deletable on sight.

Comments on Time Notices Comments:
#1 ::: Tim Walker ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:28 PM:

*nodding soberly*

What kills me is that any of this is treated in any forum (Time, The Stranger, etc.) as new. Your A-L list here covers it nicely, and this sort of wisdom has only been around since . . . Usenet.

You and I take all of this for granted, but why doesn't Time know this stuff? More to the point, how in the world could a writer for The Stranger (not exactly The Horn Book, mind) get to the point of writing on that blog *without* realizing all of this?

*sigh*

#2 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:29 PM:

I always worry that these articles are the slumbering beast wakening, realizing that the pesky Internet is too free, and bestirring itself to crush us.

Sigh.

#3 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:29 PM:

Sure, but as soon as you think about hiring a moderator, the thought that immediately follows is -- wait, is moderation actually going to pay for itself? The answer could be "yes" or "no", but most organizations don't even know how to go about answering that question. So they just throw up unmoderated comments and hope for the best.

#4 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:34 PM:

Small boards that don't have the resources to have someone always awake can resort to having all comments, or comments from new posters, held for moderation. The failure to do so killed a martial arts forum of which I was very fond--it was completely overwhelmed by porn spammers.

#5 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:40 PM:

I bow to Yog and his minions.

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:45 PM:

Yes, I'm advocating city-states ruled by philosopher kings.

The chain of command in the Sysops' Lounge, however, is pure US Navy.

#7 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:47 PM:

Also, while abusive comments suck, there might be a reason why some of these sites remain unmoderated (besides laziness or cluelessness about the web).

Take YouTube, for instance. YouTube's comments are raw sewage, but as far as we know, they might very well be *useful* raw sewage as far as the company is concerned. I'd be surprised if YouTube hadn't already made this calculation -- that A) on average, those nasty comments are in fact increasing overall engagement with the site, and B) adding a moderation team might improve the quality of the comments, but would not increase shareholder value.

#8 ::: SisterCoyote ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 04:59 PM:

I respect Yog and his minions.

However: cow snot?

#9 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:06 PM:

Cow snot comes in four flavors: Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and natural.

Yog and his minions drink cow snot in the lounge, because after a tall, frosty glass of cow snot there's nothing worse that'll happen.

(We also have a cooler full of six-packs of testosterone. Toss back a Test and you're ready to go ten rounds with a cut-n-paste 'bot!)

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:10 PM:

One wonders where Yog manufactures hir lightning bolts, and whether Yog goes for the Zeus or Thor standard.

#11 ::: joelfinkle ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:13 PM:

On the subject of punctuation and spacing, I can actually deal with a lack of punctuation or spacing better than "eternal elipsifiers."

On more than one board, including the occasional browse into Usenet, I have observed folks whose every sentence, nay, every clause, is followed by a series of dots, at least three but sometimes ten to fifty. It's as if they doze off on the period key during typing or something.

It makes a thread completely unreadable, and I won't even duplicate it here for the sake of your sanity, Yog.

#12 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Yog has sanity?

#13 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:20 PM:

I was talking to a clinical psychiatrist back in March who was saying that the eternal ellipsifiers were actually schitzophrenic: their punctuation was a direct representation of what was going on in their minds. They couldn't figure out how to end a sentence, because the next completely unrelated phrase had already presented itself to them, distracting them.

I'm not sure I buy it, because it seems too smug to call people who can't punctuate mentally ill, but it does go a way towards explaining.

#14 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:20 PM:

Yog does not use lightning bolts.

Keep facing the monitor. Don't turn around. It'll be quick(er) that way.

Screaming doesn't help.

==========

When a thread goes septic the only things you can do are either 1) shut it down, 2) delete everything from the first septic post onward (including the peacemakers, the folks telling jokes, the voice-of-reason explainers), or 3) both.

"Delete" may include "move to a specially dedicated flame area". As long as the septic stuff is is out of the threads where reasonable people go.

#15 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:20 PM:

Yog knows the gate. Yog is the gate. Yog is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog.

#16 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:21 PM:

There are people I know who to tend to overuse ellipsis.

Since they're writing porn fics, I wonder just what they're thinking of when they put that row of dots on the paper. Or, perhaps, I don't.

#17 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:22 PM:

There are people I know who to tend to overuse ellipsis.

Since they're writing porn fics, I wonder just what they're thinking of when they put that row of dots on the paper. Or, perhaps, I don't.

#18 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:23 PM:

abi #12: Are you not the Voice of Yog?

#19 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:27 PM:

While Jim Macdonald is a moderator on this board, as is Abi, Yog Sysop is not a moderator here.

The lovely and talented Miss Teresa is the moderator, and she has her own rules.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:30 PM:

Fragano @18:
It beats being the Mouth of Sauron, but it's less fun than being the long arm of the law.

It don't give me no information about sanity, though.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:32 PM:

abi #20: Sanity is in the mind of the beholder. I nominate you for Square Leg Umpire.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:33 PM:

My gaffe is blown; I am not the Voice of Yog, no matter how many goofy replies it gave me the opportunity to post.

#23 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Is Yog from Yugga, on the rock Yuthla, by the river Yogh, in the land of Yagg?

#24 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:38 PM:

abi @ 12: I hesitate to correct the moderator, but I believe the proper usage is "Yog can has sanity?"

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:42 PM:

The emblematic Thorazine is kept in buckets by the door of the sysops' lounge. When the minions come in from patrolling the threads, or when they're about to go out to do a sweep through the board, they grab a handful of Thorazine.

===========

Any gross punctuation abuse, I think, is a sign of insanity. Not the individual typo -- anyone can make a mistake -- but the consistent use of, say, fifty question marks. Or ending every sentence with an exclamation point.

Another thing to delete on sight (it falls under the category of "spam" even if it isn't advertising Natural Male Enhancements), is the cut-n-paste rant. You know the kind... take a key phrase from it, punch it into Google, and find that the exact same post has already appeared in 150 other comment threads at various newspapers.

Similarly, any off-topic post is allowed to stay only by the sheer grace of Yog. And in this election season, any post that mentions a candidate, if it's in a comment thread for a story that doesn't mention the election race, is off-topic. By definition.

#26 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:43 PM:

John @24:
That question translates to "Please can Yog have sanity?" It's a request.

Mine was a straightforward factual interrogative, with an undertone of surprise if the answer turns out to be affirmative.

If Yog doesn't have sanity, there is a whole world of interesting philosophizin' about whether that should be remedied.

#27 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:46 PM:

Dave Bell #17: There are people I know who to tend to overuse ellipsis.

Ellipsidosis can lead to bangophilia, which is a much more severe and overt form of the problem.... What I have trouble restraining myself from complaining about is the hideously outdated practice of typing two spaces after a period!!!

Support the Male Answer Syndrome Telethon.

#28 ::: Dimitrios ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:49 PM:

#22 Abi: "My gaffe is blown; I am not the Voice of Yog, no matter how many goofy replies it gave me the opportunity to post."

You are not of the Body?

#29 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 05:52 PM:

Dimitrios @28:

No, but I am an Archon. Don't tell the Lawgivers.

#30 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:01 PM:

Festival! Festival!

#31 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:04 PM:

The poster who constantly 'reports' other posters should be banned.

Never hard delete.

#32 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Hmmm....about the one constant of Time magazine that you count on is that when something makes their pages, the phenomenon has peaked. It's eerie.

#33 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Earl @ #27, it may be outdated to put two spaces after periods, question marks and colons, but it's ingrained habit taught by repetition (in my case by the long-suffering Miss Mokosh my junior year of high school).

(Wouldn't a high school typing teacher by definition be long-suffering?)

#34 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:12 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ 27:

What I have trouble restraining myself from complaining about is the hideously outdated practice of typing two spaces after a period!!!

Oh ghods. I've tried very hard to train myself out of that, but back when I learned to type and then, a couple of years later, I worked as a newspaper proofreader (AP stylebook), two spaces after a period was the requirement. So, apologies in advance if I slip and irritate you with that one.

#35 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:17 PM:

I not only type two spaces after a period: I LIKE IT! I LIKE THE WAY IT LOOKS!!!! BWAHAHAHAH!

'Course, html takes 'em back out. But *I* know I typed them!

#36 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:18 PM:

Earl @ 27, I learned to type two spaces after a period, in elementary school -- on a computer. I'm in my mid-twenties; I don't know when they stopped teaching that. It's still an ingrained habit; most things just quietly remove the second space now, so I don't have to worry about it. I know I've always done it here. I think the extra space gets stripped out. I'm doing it in this comment; let's see if it looks different from, say, glinda's.

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:20 PM:

Don't worry, glinda.  Unless you go out of your way to type   and a space after each period, html, she fix for you.  I have done so in this paragraph to show how it looks.

Don't worry, glinda. Unless you go out of your way to type   and a space after each period, html, she fix for you. I have not done so in this paragraph to show how it looks.

#38 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:23 PM:

The two-spaces-following-sentence-end was an easy habit for me to lose. Dunno why. I'd been doing it for years. Then I read it should be restricted to monospaced fonts, and shed it like a used skin.

[insert appropriate quaking in the presence of, and/or offerings to, Yog and minions]

#39 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:25 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @24

You beat me to it!

#40 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:25 PM:

I think I disagree with Jim to a large extent. If one thing has become abundantly clear over the last few weeks it is that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all moderation. Moderation needs to be tailored to the forum and to the kind of community that you are trying to foster.

Things like

c) Moderation is a subjective art, and the moderator is always right.

are great if what you're going for is a place where you and your friends (with "friends" defined very loosely) can hang out and engage in conversation without being bothered by much, but it's an awful, awful way to go if you're trying to foster a broader sense of inclusive community.

Ditto with

e) The minions speak with the voice of Yog. Yog backs his minions up.

Backing people up even if they're in the wrong is not the way to foster a broad community, it's the way to foster a tight nit but narrow community. It's also not a good way to behave in general, but the stakes are so low when we're talking about blog moderation that any comparison I could make would rightly be seen as over the top. Yog backs his minions up in borderline cases; Yog better not back his minions up if they're blatantly misbehaving. In that case, Yog needs to fire them and get a better class of minion.

And, lastly,

a) Sure, there’s freedom of speech. Anyone who wants it can go start their own blog. On Yog’s board, Yog’s whim is law

Once again, great if you want to foster a tight-knit but narrow community of you and your like-minded friends. Not so great otherwise. Certainly I tend to avoid places where things are deleted on a whim, and so do a lot of other people.

The big point I'm trying to make is what I said at the beginning; there is no such thing as universal laws of moderation beyond obvious things having to do with blatant spamming or whatever. Everything else depends on what you're trying to achieve, and Jim's rules as presented here would work well for accomplishing some things and work not at all for accomplishing certain other, equally valid, things.

#41 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:38 PM:

Dave in # 40 wrote:

I think I disagree with Jim to a large extent. If one thing has become abundantly clear over the last few weeks it is that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all moderation. Moderation needs to be tailored to the forum and to the kind of community that you are trying to foster.

Err . . . Dave?

Ever been a moderator? Ever modded a large forum?

Like one with over 20K of active members?

One of the reasons the Macdonald is right is that active moderation, of exactly the sort he's talking about, enables people to disagree safely and civilly.

And the kind of moderation Macdonald is describing is exactly the sort of moderation that makes a forum become an active, vibrant and living community.

Of course Macdonald isn't talking about backing up a moderator who does something stupid -- but there are ways of correcting that that don't involve public dissension, and, frankly, you don't mod people you don't trust and who don't have the nous to gain consensus.

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:40 PM:

David @40:
A Yog that does not back his minions up will very shortly have no minions. Half of them will quit because they know they can be cut loose for doing anything risky (and trust me, many acts of moderation feel risky at the time). The other half will quit because they're tired of the backtalk from people who know they can just run to Yog for a second opinion.

And Yog won't have time to appoint any new minions, because he'll be busy double-checking everything, at the request of the tattle tales.

Yog should choose trustworthy minions, and be in close enough touch with them (and the threads) to know if a minion is going sour or going off the rails. That is a matter for a nice cold glass of cow snot in the lounge, not for the public stage.

(Note that this is also a key skill of child-rearing. Start contradicting each other and the rug rats will forum-shop you to death.)

#43 ::: ed g. ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:45 PM:

abi #12: "Yog has sanity?"

Of course Yog has sanity. It is those who have looked upon Yog who do not have sanity.

#44 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:49 PM:

Is Yog of no earthly color?

#45 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:52 PM:

Further thoughts on Yog . . .

The one time I didn't just go with Yog's opinion re: a jerk / troll PITA, was all it took for me.

There are people who when they tell you a member/poster is Seriously Bad News, you should just take their word for it.

You'll have to listen later, and you can save a world of trouble by starting out right.

#46 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:52 PM:

I use two spaces AND lots of ellipses. I am the punctuation offender! I don't think I'm schizophrenic though, just... indecisive?

#47 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 06:58 PM:

"It's all right, that's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause."
"You can't fool me, there ain't no sanity clause."

#48 ::: ed g. ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:00 PM:

Xopher #44: "Is Yog of no earthly color?"

Yup. And I'm pretty sure the tuneless infernal piping of hideous flutes figures in as well.

#49 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:09 PM:

I not only type two spaces after a period: I LIKE IT! I LIKE THE WAY IT LOOKS!!!! BWAHAHAHAH!

'Course, html takes 'em back out. But *I* know I typed them!

I am hugging you so hard right now, Xopher. I feel this combination of comfort and and dismay re: the standard browser collapsing of adjascent spaces -- on the one hand, I'm free to willfully double-space after sentence termination without worrying about being pestered for it; on the other hand, it makes me a poor activist if folks have to View Source to see the truth.

Ever been a moderator? Ever modded a large forum?

Well, I have and do; for what that's worth, I agree to a degree with all of David's exceptions, though I figure that to a degree Jim's list was an exercise in style, and thus likely glossed some points that would need beefing up in a practical (and probably Yog-less) guide.

What's meant by "Yog backs his minions up" is clearly a matter of interpretation -- if it's clear to all that an unspoken "unless they do something dumb" disclaimer obtains, great, but again with the beefing up for practicality. I've seen Yogs back up dumb, dumb stuff before, and it's as a bad as a Yog who throws his minions to the fire at the first turn. Somewhere in between, in the salty lands of compromise, surely...

And the moderator is always the moderator, and always has the final call, but the moderator is sometimes wrong and needs to be willing to go to the film. Otherwise, the moderator isn't someone worth putting one's self in a position to be moderated by. Like Lisa said: never hard delete. That's not just a db issue, it's a moderator fallibility issue as well.

#50 ::: Gement ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:09 PM:

I agree in principle with deleting abusive and off-topic posts. I am just curious about how that applies on a large scale when you want to encourage different opinions and you might be unclear on how something is related, if you see what I mean.

The upcoming election might be very related to the topic, depending on the candidates' relevant stances. As long as it's not degenerating into obvious abuse (and it's not cut-and-paste), I'd rather see it stay and keep people talking.

While the basic common sense makes sense, I worry about giving pencil-pushers from Old School Media lists like this, lest a Yog-subordinate start overquashing legitimately dissenting opinions, and lest people run afoul of G, J, and K early in their time on the net and be left to wander forever in the outer darkness for the sin of being n00bs, no appeal, no reprieve.

I've been known to end every sentence with a bang, when the post was five sentences long and I was excited about the subject. I have friends who think in ellipses, because they think of their casual writing as "stream of consciousness." It's a bit irritating, but it doesn't impede comprehension, and they often have intelligent things to say.

Also, I like double-spacing after a period. Computer type-setting hasn't learned how to space things out intelligently after sentences yet, which is the necessary leap before we can get rid of the classic double-space, which lets me see when sentences STOP. It's not as dead an issue as y'all seem to think.

In short, yes, take control of your boards. But try not to turn into elitist pricks* in the process; you run the risk of throwing out the baby with the grammatical bathwater.

* I use this term acknowledging that I have sometimes caught myself being an elitist prick and therefore try to call it in both myself and others.

#51 ::: Ananke Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:20 PM:

I've just come across a ye olde speaker. Someone who types out 'ye' and other quaint little pseudo-celtic words.

Can they go in with the anti-punctuation crowd, the ellipsis abusers and the people who seem to think cryptic answers are actually helpful?

#52 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:24 PM:

Teresa's remarks here, since I just dug out the link for another site.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:29 PM:

Ananke @51:
the anti-punctuation crowd, the ellipsis abusers and the people who seem to think cryptic answers are actually helpful

...that depends...it is a matter between you and your shadow...

(I am afraid that I can't both skip all punctuation and overuse ellipses. Sorry about that.)

#54 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:29 PM:

Ananke Jones @ 51 writes:

I've just come across a ye olde speaker. Someone who types out 'ye' and other quaint little pseudo-celtic words.

Consign them to the outer darkness of AOL's public forums.

Ye is typographer for a thorn + e, or "the".

If said sinner uses double pp as in ye olde shoppe

OR

If said sinner claims any of the foregoing are Celtic then the individual must perform penance -- I suggest reading Lebor Gabala in its entirety, in the Irish Texts Society edition.

#55 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:30 PM:

One of the real problems we have here is that many web sites are turning into criminal hangouts. I was reading a recent /. discussion on spammers doing jail time, and it was obvious that some of the posters were writing about jail from personal experience. Now, the random creepiness we see is bad enough--these are wannabees--but the threats are crossing the line into assault and this isn't taken seriously by the police. Moderation is an excellent defense, but we also need some serious attention to net.crime, which does much more harm than, for instance, people buying pot.

#56 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:43 PM:

Lisa: Ever been a moderator? Ever modded a large forum? Like one with over 20K of active members?

First, I disagree with the idea that you have to have been a moderator of a huge community to have ideas about the role and effects of moderation. I've also never been President of the United States, but I can tell you when somebody is screwing it up. I've never run a multi-billion dollar company but I know how Enron screwed the pooch.

But if that's your thing I refer you to Josh Millard at #49, who has been a moderator of a large forum with tens of thousands of members and seems to mostly agree. Only he would be able to say how many of those thousands are "active". Speaking for myself, I've been a moderator but not of a forum of this size.

Have you been a moderator of a community with many thousands of active members?

In any case, I agree with Josh's caveat with regard to backing up your mods that it depends on what you mean by "Yog backs up his minions". Like I said, if that means you back up your moderators on close calls then I agree with it as would any right-thinking person. But if it means that you back up your moderators even when they are being abusive, rude jerks then I strongly disagree with it. And I've seen moderators be very inappropriate before and when the head mods won't rein them in it makes a very toxic atmosphere.

Which brings me back to my point; these are not universal rules. They require far too many caveats, and even then they don't apply to communities that aspire to be broad-based and inclusive of a wide range of opinions and styles of interaction. Communities such as those require a much lighter touch.

#57 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 07:49 PM:

Oh, and here's is Ms. Alvarez-Bell's quit post. The comments threat, er, thread indeed contains some mean material.

#59 ::: Huey ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:13 PM:

If someone starts off as a spammer, troll, or flamer, he is a spammer, troll, or flamer forever and is liable to instant deletion/banning with no recourse and no appeal.

Given that moderators and submitters are likely to have personalities, the solution that works on news.admin.net-abuse.blocklisting is the exact opposite of this. Each post, regardless of who it's from, is examined in light of "does this fall within the charter or not?", removing any possibility of personal axe-grinding on the part of either mods or submitters.

...course, it occasionally means that the mods are charter-bound to approve the rare on-topic posts from folks who are otherwise complete snapperheads who should die in a fire, but that seems to be a small price to pay for a much stronger overall impression of fairness.

#61 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:21 PM:

David T. Bilek @ #56:

Have you been a moderator of a community with many thousands of active members?

I'm generally staying out of this debate but, as a data point, yes. She has.

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:22 PM:

David T Bilek @56:
communities that aspire to be broad-based and inclusive of a wide range of opinions and styles of interaction. Communities such as those require a much lighter touch.

Allow me to make the next pre-determined move in this ceremonial dance by pointing out that too light a touch in moderation does not lead to a community that includes a wide range of styles of interaction. Too light a touch, as has been discussed extensively before, leads to the shouters and the arguers taking over, and the quieter and less confrontational people leaving.

In short, I am not convinced that you get a broader conversation with a lighter touch. I think you get a different conversation, and that each community's moderators need to find the sweet spot for their particular group. But I object to the idea that a community that I, for instance, can bear to be in is somehow narrower than one I can't.

#63 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:23 PM:

Yog has sworn to use his power only for good.

For "delete" you can substitute "move" or "disemvowel."

During my tenure on GEnie, I banned a total of one person, and deleted no posts at all (though I moved a metric shitload of them). (A metric shitload is equal to 1.2 Imperial shitloads.)

Also, you can't take any Joe off the street and make him the moderator of a large forum any more than you can take any Joe off the street and make him the captain of a ship and expect happy results.

Nor should any media outlet take that little list, give it to one of their folks, and tell them "go, moderate." Rather, the media outlet should hire Yog. And his minions. For money.

#64 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:35 PM:

There's a clear business opportunity here that lines up nicely with the continuing availability of yogsminions.com.

#65 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:41 PM:

I've recently become an author on a space and astronomy blog, courtesy of the Houston Chronicle. While I certainly don't expect the level of toxic commentary of a political blog, I've seen from the sci.astro.amateur community on newsgroups that idiocy lurks everywhere. Comments on Chronicle user blogs can't be posted unless the commenter registers, so that cuts back on the potential garbage.

However, if a comment offends, out damned spot! mwa-ha-ha-ha!

#66 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 08:46 PM:

Go, Yog!
Yog? Oy!

So much for palindromes.

Ellipses abusers have misunderstood the "don't overdo it" clause of the Three Dots of Irony. (It's an implicit clause, but the Laws are spelled out.) They think everything they say is ironic. They are wrong, and not even in an ironic way.

Another place I see constant ellipsing is in bad poetry, usually in commemoration of a tragedy, large or small. It's a way of getting a tone of voice into the words -- a whiny, sobbing, lachrymose tone of voice. And not at all ironic, either.

I had two spaces after a period drilled in. As soon as I learned it wasn't the current standard, I dropped it. Same with three spaces between two-letter state abbreviation and ZIP code.

I chewed out a boss once because they didn't back me up. I was enforcing the rules I was given, and as soon as somebody went over my head and appealed to my boss, they said they didn't have to obey the rules after all. After the dipstick had left, I went in and said I didn't appreciate having my legs cut out from under me.

ps: In the eight years or so since they were posted, the Laws of Irony I propounded have vanished, as has the front. As recently as four years ago, they were still the third hit for "Laws of Irony" on Google. Sic transit. This is sad. Not ironic, but just sad.

#68 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 09:20 PM:

Jon Meltzer @30: Festival! Festival!

I have an imaginary commercial made from that Star Trek episode, where the shout is 'Pledge drive! Pledge drive!'

#69 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 09:23 PM:

David T. Bilek @ #56:

Have you been a moderator of a community with many thousands of active members?

Yep. In the past, where I was the sys admin, mod, and general VoA for upwards of 50K of undergrads in the humanities. And in the present for a smaller 20K or so site, and a teeny just being born community, and a couple places where we've got about 5k, and one with 8k of active members.

I pretty much learned about the care and feeding of online communities in a gradual progression from UseNet, to Genie/AOL/higher ed, to a large forum where I am an admin and have been mod and supermod.

I've started communities from the ground up, as well.

The thing is, you back up your mods because you trust them.

The First Rule of Modding is that you don't hire the people who want to mod.

You hire/mod the ones who are doing it anyway, quietly, politely, without a title or special access, as members of the community.

And you press gang 'em 'cause they don't really want the responsibility--but they do take it seriously.

And you give 'em a place where they can consult with peers and ask questions and for help and gain consensus.

The thing about the Macdonald's guidelines, is that they actually work. It's not theory. It works, it creates a civil atmosphere for dissent, and the community will grow and become self-sustaining... and by that time, you have enough mods/minions, and an informed and engaged community, so that Yog can take off from time to time.

#70 ::: Ananke Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 09:24 PM:

Communities with inexperienced mods: I was part of the Ms forum back in the day. That was a real target for the predictable sort of trolls and spammers, who did get deleted. What took it down in the end was a mod intern who really really liked a few of the posters and really really hated another group. Who left posts referring to 'jewboys' up after complaints, but deleted posts for containing the word fuck, sometimes. Eventually it imploded, after a few months of really strange moderating. The excuses were about having a variety of posters and a broad base, but what it really meant was a kind of oligarchy, but for a really odd value of 'elite'.

#71 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 09:50 PM:

#62:

In short, I am not convinced that you get a broader conversation with a lighter touch. I think you get a different conversation, and that each community's moderators need to find the sweet spot for their particular group. But I object to the idea that a community that I, for instance, can bear to be in is somehow narrower than one I can't.

A lot depends on how you define "narrower".

Given that some people won't stay around in the presence of some other people, no one community can contain everyone. Therefore, they shouldn't try. Different communities with different rules producing different sets of people that are comfortable and welcome in them increase the probability that any given person will find at least *some* communities that they, individually, are comfortable and welcome in.

If the Ubercommunity is defined as the union over all communities that exist at a given time, maximizing the size of each individual community does not, in general, maximize the Ubercommunity. Making individual communities more different from each other so they stretch out in different directions does.

One size does not fit all. One size may fit most; but if every store has only the one size that fits most, the few whom it does not fit shall be very perturbed.

#72 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 10:16 PM:

Even newspaper types should have some experience with this problem. The late great Molly Ivins said that it was necessary as a reporter to have respect for your readers, and that to this end it was helpful not to read the letters page.

#73 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 10:17 PM:

Lisa: The thing about the Macdonald's guidelines, is that they actually work. It's not theory. It works

I didn't deny that it works; I said it isn't the only thing that works. That it isn't the one true way, and that it produces one particular sort of community. Other types of moderation produce other sorts of workable, interesting communities.

I feel like you're not engaging with what I'm saying at all. I didn't say that any of the "rules" were wrong, I said that they shouldn't be taken as universal or necessarily ideal depending on what outcome you want.

I agree that it is clear that the sort of moderation Jim was talking about works and produces a viable internet community. It's also clear that other kinds of moderation work and produce viable internet communities; I say it is clear because we see it happen.

I'm not sure how else to try and get my point across or how to be plainer; I'm saying that the style of moderation being discussed in the post works but it isn't the only thing that works or, depending on what you are looking for as a result, the thing most likely to produce the desired outcome. Saying "Jim's rules work!" doesn't really grapple with anything I'm saying because I'm not denying they work, I'm only contesting Jim's apparent presentation of them as some sort of universal axioms of moderation.

If they were universal, other styles of moderation would not work. Since other styles do work, they can't be universal.

#74 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 10:18 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg @ 54

If they're clueful enough to use the correct Unicode characters: "þe", then I say we ought to keep them around. If nothing else, they'll probably make good piñatas.

abi @ 42

It looks to me like Jim is modelling Yog after a section CPO, who is ghod. Moreover, if se happens to be a Master Chief, se is allowed by law and tradition to be arbitrary in hir decisions a certain percentage of the time, up to and including reversing previous decisions. The trick is to do all this without violating the 11th Commandment.

#75 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 10:35 PM:

For "delete" you can substitute "move" or "disemvowel."

Ban a commenter, delete a comment, move a comment—certainly. Your site, your rules.

But where does the right to disemvowel come from, without a contract giving the site's owner permission to copy the writer's words in a form that does not always allow faithful reconstruction? Is the message I'm now typing mine, or do I surrender the copyright by hitting "post"? Disemvoweling is usually done by a moderator to a writing's first publication--you could disemvowel your copy of something on another site and argue fair use, that the disemvoweling reveals a truth about the original, but can "fair use" apply to an act that destroys the original text?

An example of the loss of meaning: You can't know whether someone wrote "historical" or "ahistorical" if the vowels are gone.

#76 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 11:31 PM:

An example of the loss of meaning: You can't know whether someone wrote "historical" or "ahistorical" if the vowels are gone.

With sufficient context, even in disemvoweled form, you can. English has tremendous redundancy.

The other thing is this: If it's a post that I'm disemvoweling, I don't give a crap if someone can reconstruct if flawlessly or not.

It's actually easier for me to push the button and delete the post. So in that sense, disemvoweling is a mild sort of compliment--the acknowledgement that you might, possibly, someday say something worth hearing. Enough of a possibility for me to take the time to disemvowel instead of delete.

If you wanted an original copy -- keep it on your local hard drive. I can't touch that. All I can touch is the copy you left on my message board.

#77 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2008, 11:55 PM:

I went and read the hail and farewell post, and I think the person who wrote it, knows exactly what's wrong; knew it was a problem when she started, and hoped (for good or ill) that she wasn't going to be subjected to it.

And I think it's something we've talked about, a lot (the recent thread wherein we were all meta about comments).

I'm sorry Slog isn't better run. I'm sorry she was hit so hard, with so much vile.

I think it's going to be a problem for everyone who posts in places like Slog.

And Time is blooming clueless if they don't think to try and find the other side of the coin (places like this), because it's a soluble problem, and all the solutions share traits in common.

(p.s. I just went and looked at some of the comments, and what struck me about it; apart from the immediate level of nasty in the first couple, was the feel of it. It was a high school clique in metastasis)

#78 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:10 AM:

I am a compulsive punctuation abuser -- stop me before I ellipsidize (?) .... again!

#79 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:10 AM:

Will #75, where does a newspaper's right to edit letters-to-the-editor come from?

#80 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:17 AM:

Scott H., #61, that was David quoting Lisa who was replying to him.

I modded only about 2K people years ago, but it was on AOL, so their rules about language were stricter than mine. Otherwise, I spent a lot of time telling people to discuss ideas, not each other.

(Are we going to tell them who Yog is? It's kind of painful watching.)

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:18 AM:

Avram, don't engage Will on this. He posted that here because he got disemvowelled for posting the same thing on BB via a sockpuppet when he was in timeout.

He'd like nothing better than to derail this whole conversation into talking about his absurd notion that blog owners don't have the right to edit comments—because of, of all things, copyright law.

Please DNFTT. I know he's friends with some of you in meatspace, but if you read the same comment from a stranger you'd see that he's trolling right now.

#82 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:24 AM:

Okay, now more seriously --

Terry, your analysis sounds about right. The cases (not just this one) where people have been driven out by blog comments do tend to have a whiff of the worst elements of adolescence. Of course, some of the commenters may themselves be adolescents, but it's a pretty sure bet they aren't all.

#83 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:33 AM:

Jim: With sufficient context, even in disemvoweled form, you can. English has tremendous redundancy.

The test here suggests not. When an abbreviation like "AI" disappears entirely, you have no clues to what's missing--the possibility of typos makes deciphering even trickier.

I don't give a crap if someone can reconstruct if flawlessly or not.

Sure. But where's the right to alter someone else's writing come from?

All I can touch is the copy you left on my message board.

Aren't comments on a message board expected to be originals, not copies? If they were copies, wouldn't they be spam? We're talking about what's expected of first publication, I think.

Avram: where does a newspaper's right to edit letters-to-the-editor come from?

Newspapers do not have a right to change or obscure the meaning of letters sent to them. To quote LOCs and comment on what's quoted, sure. To edit the letter faithfully, sure. But to lose or warp meaning? The common practice when that happens is to run a correction.

#84 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:41 AM:

He posted that here because he got disemvowelled for posting the same thing on BB via a sockpuppet when he was in timeout.

That cunning sockpocket that I used was my own name. You're right that I'm still hoping for answers; questions of copyright and the web fascinate me.

I'm not here to argue why I think disemvowelling is wrong. I can sum that up in a sentence: I think comments belong to the commenters, and blog owners should post them or reject them, as they please. I'm only here to understand why people think blog owners have a right to disemvowel other people's words.

#85 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:09 AM:

Madeline @13:
I was talking to a clinical psychiatrist back in March who was saying that the eternal ellipsifiers were actually schitzophrenic: their punctuation was a direct representation of what was going on in their minds.

I have long wondered whether the capslock-crazies (who do it in hard copy, too) do so because they have to yell to be heard over the voices in their heads.

Almost as painful but not IMHO implicitly ban-worthy are the people -- in my experience usually young and female -- who use "lol" not less than once per paragraph, often once per sentence. I eventually figured out that what they're doing is *giggling* -- they're gigglers in RL, and their online speech is a faithful transcription of their air-speech.

#86 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:53 AM:

Mr. Shetterly has obviously not RTFA, the one at the top of this page.

Specifically, he appears to not have read Yog's Rule A. To whit: "a) Sure, there’s freedom of speech. Anyone who wants it can go start their own blog. On Yog’s board, Yog’s whim is law."

Surely this is not a hard rule to parse?

#87 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:20 AM:

Wirelizard, is Yog's Law greater than US Copyright Law? I mean, I wouldn't want to get in a fight between 'em, for both are mighty. But if Yog says Yog can do what Yog pleases with text submitted to Yog's blog, no writer should dare make a submission to any publisher. I'm no fan of modern copyright law, but so long as we live under capitalism, I'm grateful that copyright ensures that my prose, whether deathless or despicable, is mine, and can only be changed legally with my consent.

#88 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:50 AM:

will shetterly @ 87

Copyright isn't absolute, like the rights given by the Constitution and its amendments. You can sign a contract with a publisher that gives away some or all of your rights as a creator, including the right to require consent for changes. And I believe that a "terms of use" agreement can constitute such a contract. In fact, some of the terms I've agreed to on various blogs and other sites do contain language regarding ownership and rights to edit postings.

#89 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:20 AM:

Bruce, having site members tick a box at sign-up time consenting to a site's moderation policy would cover the legal aspect. At least, that's how I'd cast my I'm-not-a-lawyer-but-I-could-play-one-on-youtube vote.

[Resisting the urge to say they'll pry my vowels from my cold, dead fingers...]

Uh, apologies if I'm sounding like I'm sure about copyright and disemvowelling. I know I could be wrong. I just don't understand what aspect of copyright law permits it.

#90 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:31 AM:

Back to the fact that Time magazine is only just getting around to commenting on, er, comments--

It really weirds me out that I inhabit this parallel universe (the Internet, and the awareness of its traditions) that is so far away from the culture of folks who never go online. The bizarre thing is that in many other respects I share a culture with the folks who write Time. But there's this huge disconnect there, and it just...weirds me the heck out. Gah! How can they *not get it*? And yet it's not that they're necessarily stupid or uneducated or bad people--just living in a different century....

(Only just now realizing trolls exist? Really??)

#91 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:24 AM:

Copyright is not a guarantee in perpetuity of the UN-ALTERED REPRODUCTION and DISSEMINATION of one's words. Copyright law doesn't provide a guarantee against line noise or flood damage, for instance. If I thought there was ever, ever going to be a legitimate question as to whether a disemvoweled post was written that way by the author, I'd support a simple statement in the posting rules to the effect of "Posts may be altered after posting. If in doubt, ask a moderator and/or the original poster for clarification." But I don't see any reason to believe that there will be.

#92 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:28 AM:

I think I may also want to push the idea of "If you're not sure of the posting rules, ask, and if you don't want to ask, don't post", so as to encourage those inclined to suspicion to refrain from posting. Distrust corrupts communication; if you don't feel you can trust, don't post.

The rest of us can carry on.

#93 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:28 AM:

Carolina @ 36: I learned to type two spaces after a period, in elementary school -- on a computer. I'm in my mid-twenties; I don't know when they stopped teaching that.

I'd never heard of two spaces after a period before I got on Usenet, and I learned typing on actual typewriters (admittedly electronic ones) in the late 80s.

I'm pretty sure two spaces after a period has never been the style in Norway. Is it an American thing?

#94 ::: insect_hooves ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:58 AM:

Will @75: Publish the originals on your own blog. Publish copies elsewhere.

#95 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:59 AM:

Bruce: Copyright is not a guarantee in perpetuity of the UN-ALTERED REPRODUCTION and DISSEMINATION of one's words.

Sure. Once you've posted something, copyright allows it to be shared, selectively quoted, turned into pig latin, etc. -- anything that can be rationalized as fair use. Once you say something in public, you've got to expect any sort of response to it or use of it.

But should you expect your original statement to be altered by the person who controls the place of first publication? Without your clearly indicated consent, what gives the owner of a web site that right?

#96 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:01 AM:

will, #89: oh, probably the same one that permits editing. you sound like a complete noob, btw, and i know you're not. i wish you'd stop.

#97 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:10 AM:

It's a long time since I've seen a physical copy of Time, but surely people send letters to the editor?

Surely anyone in the newspaper/magazine business has some idea of the loonies who send letters?

So why the surprise about what they get as comments on a blog?

#98 ::: insect_hooves ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:25 AM:

Also, this post wins as many internets as there are trolls under the Internet Bridge.

#99 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:59 AM:

Personally, two spaces after an end-of-sentence period is an EMACS-ism; many of the EMACS modes for text allow you to jump sentence-by-sentence and use dot-space-space (or dot-whitespace?-newline) as the delimiter.

Even though I don't use EMACS anymore, it's now hardwired into my brain. I could take it out, but see no point; either (a) I'm typing in a fixed-width font and it is actually useful, or (b) I'm typing in something that will do the intelligent thing (e.g. HTML).

#100 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:00 AM:

The thing that puzzles me is how does copyright even enter into the discussion in the first place? It seems like a red herring. I would have thought that the right to disemvowel a blog comment comes from the fact that the moderator is either the owner of the blog, or is acting for the owner. And, it seems to me, the owner of the space gets to make all the rules. (The discussion of these issues at John Scalzi's blog struck me as very apposite on this point.)

(Okay, resuming lurking now.)

#101 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:02 AM:

The two spaces thing...I haven't put any effort into dropping it, so I'm inconsistant now. The hand goes for two spaces and on the rare occasions when I think about it, I put in one. It does make absolute sense that it used to be the method taught to typists if it is the preferred style for a monospaced font, because that is after all what typewriters do. I suppose the continuation of the style in more modern typing classes is a disconnect. The people who write the books might or might not know anything about setting typeface, and the people actually teaching the classes very probably do not. (My typing teacher also taught shop.)

I learned to type by accident because the art class I wanted didn't fit into my schedule for two quarters in a row, so they stuck me (without asking) into typing. That is the finest example of "you can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need," in my life. I was quite bitter at the time, but I loooove being able to type now.

#102 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:18 AM:

#97, Dave Bell -

It seems to me that they're surprised not by the loonies but by the meanies and particularly the petty meanies. (Honestly, I don't get why they're mentioning the comments on the Gawker article. Those strike me as neither loony nor mean. They're jokes. The subject isn't a particularly horrible or sensitive story. I think we'd make exactly those same jokes here, given the chance.)

With a magazine, you probably do have the people who look at the author's picture and think "I'd hit that," or "Jeez, what a pig, go on a diet you ******!" but they won't actually dig out pen and paper to say so. A magazine probably does get the loonies who'll write an antisemetic rant anytime someone with a vaguely jewish last name has a story, but they don't have the people who will deride someone as fat or make sexual advances to them. At least, not anyone whose letter isn't obviously from someone not sane.

An internet writer is also more likely to see interacting with the commenters as a part of the job/fun/point. Instead of having the comments on their article screened by laziness and the mailroom (at least), they get the slush with all these petty additions.

We're not surprised because we know that internet commenting is a legal and more importantly *easy* way for immature and bored people to destroy something in the community and get noticed, and that they like it. But the Times never had to think about it when all there was was letters to the editor. I imagine if framed in those terms, they'd think it was obvious, too.

I agree with Nenya though. They seem *really* late to the party.

#103 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:39 AM:

Sure. But where's the right to alter someone else's writing come from?

What part of "ancient ghod of chaos and evil" is unclear to you?

#104 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:01 AM:

Under copyright regimes that recognise authors moral rights, including the right to the integrity of the work, disemvowelling might well step over that line, given that it can alter the meaning of the text even if it doesn't always do so.

The Berne convention states:

"Independent of the author's economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights, the author shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the said work, which would be prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation."

I don't believe the US copyright law explicitly recognises 'moral rights' in this sense though.

#105 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:28 AM:

There are times when the right response is along the lines of "This is ludicrous. If someone thinks they actually have a case, make it. But I refuse to waste time, energy, and emotion on this." Part of good moderation, as with good leadership in general, is knowing when to say that. I am not a moderator here, and do not intend to usurp moderator rights, but this claim of Will's is one of those times for me.

Will, if you genuinely think that disemvoweling is a violation of your copyright, stake the claim. Since you already know that our hosts aren't going to give it up, press a claim of copyright violation, stop posting to places that practice it, or both. But this is just panic-mongering. It's wrong to get people pointlessly worked up. Make the claim and act on it, or admit that you aren't willing to act on it, but don't be coy, or hypothetical, or waffling, or anything like that.

Are you serious about this or not? Proceed accordingly.

#106 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:32 AM:

(I admit it. Post #105 carries some temper. But it's honest temper: I have seen places I care about get really tied up in knots over what turned out to be utterly BS hypotheticals. I have been victim to it myself. I refuse to do it again. The right response to any such consideration, when it's not being done purely for the spirit of play, is "Stand by your claim and act accordingly, or admit that you don't, and withdraw it." There are way too many real grievances for people to feel one drop of concern over claims that their own makers won't stand by.)

#107 ::: Ananke Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:47 AM:

I was under the impression that anything posted online wasn't an 'original', simply because it exists in multiple copies simultaneously (local/cache/server/backup). Not to mention the participation in conversation aspect.

But yeah, derailing because you have to show how smart you are with 'possiblilities' and hypothetical INVASIONS OF YOUR RIGHTS!!!! are terribly disruptive, particularly when they are about something as complex as copyright.

#108 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:02 AM:

While I'm at it...I have yet to meet a moderator of a successful venue who got worked up over someone simply saying, "Wait, I realized that I'm not comfortable with this. Let me back out, and I'll either talk about something else or move on." Personal tastes vary greatly, and psychological comfort is a real and important thing. There's nothing wrong with not liking a policy or its effects, and for that matter there's nothing wrong with well-raised questions.

All of that is vastly preferable almost all the time to unresolved threats that something is actually illegal or immoral. Those raise the stakes, because people ought to care about the law and about right and wrong. "This doesn't work for me" allows for peaceful coexistence in the larger world of multiple venues. Illegality and immorality allow for much less peaceful coexistence. And that peace is worth shattering only for the sake of real problems - thrashing without conviction is a form of trolling, and it is bad. It's good not to be bad.

#109 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:04 AM:

If Will sent me a street-mail letter, and I cut it into 1/4" strips, wove it into a mat, and pasted it to a lamp post, he might feel aggrieved, but his copyright wouldn't have been violated.

What gives me the right? Watch me do it.

The moderator is a despot on his board. A benevolent despot (it is to be hoped), but a despot none the less.

We know where mob rule gets us.

#110 ::: JimR ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:29 AM:

In Re: the two spaces after a sentence.
What the hell? When did that go away? I have typed that way ever since High School, and I have never heard otherwise. I knew that it wasn't like that in Britain, but since when has it changed in the US?
Oh Man.
Now I feel all...epistemological crisis-y.
I hate when that happens.

#111 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:39 AM:

I suspect there should be an M item to Yog's list:

m) Yog chooses his minions carefully not just for their agreement with his rules but also for their wisdom to know when to apply them deftly.

#112 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:47 AM:

1) I still use two spaces after periods. It all depends, I think, on where and when you learned to type.

2) Being a military officer, I feel, is good preparation for being a moderator. There's an art to getting a bunch of stressed-out, sleep-deprived, heavily-armed teenagers to do what you want.

Leadership by example is the first and best tool in the toolbox of Yog and his minions.

#113 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:18 AM:

Will,

I think there are two disconnects going on in this conversation:

Firstly, I think there's a bit of an epistemological disconnect here. You seem to be thinking of "copyright" as a sort of moral principle of ownership by the author.

Your interlocutors, on the other hand, see copyright as having no existence or meaning outside of the specific laws and regulations covering intellectual properties. For them, your question boils down to "could I sue and win?" (In this view, all questions about copyright basically boil down to this question and the related one of "If someone sues me, would I win?")

Of course, this is an epistemological argument that's been going on at least since Aristotle got kicked out of Plato's Academy. I come down with the Aristotelians here, but that's just my own personal bias.

Secondly, I think there's some conflation of the destruction of meaning as opposed to the alteration of meaning.

I think we all agree that a mod is well within their rights to make alterations that do not change the meaning. (Would changing the font the comments are displayed in violate copyright? clearly not.)

We also agree that the mod has a right to destroy meaning, on the principle that they can allow or disallow anything they want on the site they own. This even extends to selective destruction. For example, if I wrote a two-paragraph comment where the first paragraph was thoughtful and germane to the discussion and the second was a spittle-flecked rant about how George Soros and the Nazi financiers were plotting to destroy the world economy, then I think we can all agree that the mods would be well within their rights to delete the second paragraph and leave the first.

And we all agree that intentional alteration of meaning is a no-no. Changing "Barack Obama is not a Muslim" to "Barack Obama is ... a muslim" would be bad, possibly violating my copyright, and potentially running afoul of slander or libel laws if the alteration were public enough and vile enough, since it's placing words in my mouth.

But which of these is disemvowelling?

I just don't see much alteration of meaning in disemvowelling.

To the extent that the comment is still legible, there has been no alteration of meaning. To the extent parts of the comment become unreadable, there is destruction of meaning. The only alteration of meaning occurs when the disemvowelling produces ambiguity that can't be resolved by context. And even there, either there's a big alteration, in which case it should be clear to a careful reader which original meaning was intended, or there's a small alteration, ion which case, who cares? Especially given the fact that no alteration of meaning is intentional on the mod's part, I think the mod is well in the clear.

#114 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:26 AM:

The LA Times has blogs with comments. They say, right there above the comment box, that they moderate those comments, along with some other legal stuff, including the minimum age (13) for commenting. (They also use captchas, to keep out the spambots.)
Time has to be unusually clueless.

#115 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:32 AM:

Chris W: You greatly misunderstand my view of copyright, at least. I regard it as a very serious and important matter. Authors have just claims on their texts; copyright law is the balance struck between those and the interests of others in the society. The underlying rights, the limits on them, and the way all of this juggles into law and practice matter a lot. It's my livelihood just like it is Will's and our hosts'.

What I'm asserting is that I recognize to valid authorial claim that text posted to a venue like this be protected by disemvoweling. I grant that it may be a surprise to newcomers, and that it's good to mention in posting rules. I assert that Will is making pointless trouble by continuing to object but continuing to participate in places where he knows it's an issue and knows that he's not anywhere close to changing the moderators' minds about it.

I think Will's original words are indeed protected by copyright, and that if he wants them preserved, he should maintain an archive of them. What I don't see is his right to have them forever unaltered by the moderators. Posting them of his own initiative to a venue with known rules and customs should be taken as acknowledgement that they may be altered. He can refuse the terms of the venue just as he can refuse a bad contract. But once engaged, nah, this is just shit-stirring.

#116 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:45 AM:

#83: The test here suggests not. When an abbreviation like "AI" disappears entirely, you have no clues to what's missing--the possibility of typos makes deciphering even trickier.

A ridiculous "test." What was the post before the disemvoweled one? What was the post after it? What was subject of the thread?

Redundancy still rules.

#117 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Chris W #113:

ISTM that complete deletion or disemvowelment is much less of a concern than selective deletion, since that can also change the meaning of a post in radical ways. And in the midst of a disagreement, it's very possible for the deleted part to honestly not seem to be saying anything meaningful, as far as the moderator can see.

I see the issue here in terms of not wanting someone changing what you're saying to something that makes more sense to them, but less to you. In some contexts, that's valuable or even required (newspaper writers are constantly having their stories changed by editors). But probably not on a blog.

I have absolutely no idea (and only marginal interest in) how this interacts with copyright law. I'm interested in how it affects peoples' willingness to take part in the discussions going on, and the ability of the participants to build a community. I will post places (like Brad DeLong's site) where he deletes posts for apparently arbitrary reasons. I wouldn't post someplace where the moderators routinely edited/changed my posts in ways that altered their meaning.

The other thing I've seen a lot in failing online discussions is that the moderation becomes a major issue for discussion, with deletions of posts leading to flamewars about the deletions, leading to deletions of the posts about the deletions, leading to further flamewars.... That's an amazingly destructive cycle.

Here, we get a sort of alternative that seems to be a constructive cycle. We all discuss community rules and do a lot of informal community moderation ("don't feed the trolls"), but we don't seem to spend a lot of time flaming the moderators. Part of that seems to me to be that the moderators tend to be more tolerant than the community, which is what you want. To draw the meatspace analogy, it's easier to get shunned by your neighbors than it is to get arrested. Let your yard go to hell, and you'll feel the pressure from your neighbors long before the county sends someone out to demand that you clean up the trash and mow the grass.

#118 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:22 AM:

I'm occasionally tempted, when someone is complaining that disemvoweling renders their posts unreadable, to email them a re-voweled copy. I refrain because I don't want to get that close to someone who is that angry.

#119 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:23 AM:

I think lack of moderation is only half the problem. A blog also needs regulars: people who hang out on the site and follow ongoing threads. A community, basically, which tends to be a basic assumption when discussing blog moderation but which doesn't exist everywhere. The biggest reason Making Light attracts so few disruptive people is the community of smart regulars who engage with even the most dubious-looking people, argue back, expect responses, and politely dissect bad arguments. Trolls hate that.

My entirely subjective impression is that blogs grafted onto newspaper and magazine sites don't always have communities of regular commenters. People say their piece and move on. In a sense, everybody, good or bad, smart or stupid, is a drive-by. Susan Jacoby recently wrote a book called The Age of American Unreason. It has good parts but is often facepalmingly clueless, especially when dealing with the net. She seems to have derived her entire opinion of blogs from her participation on Washington Post and Newsweek blogs and their lackluster comments. In the midst of a sweeping condemnation of the blogosphere she accidentally hits on some truth: in a real conversation "identifiable people are held responsible for what they say and are even, on occasion, asked for facts to back up their opinions." Because Jacoby didn't bother to do any research, she assumes this never happens on the internet, but after moderation it's the second key difference between a good discussion site and a bad one.

#120 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:23 AM:

will 84: I'm only here to understand why people think blog owners have a right to disemvowel other people's words.

You're not here to understand anything. You're here to try to start a fight. You're a pretty good writer, so you know how to take a tone that seems reasonable, and yet take positions you know perfectly well are untenable.

Bruce 105: You're right, and he isn't. He's serious about trying to make this thread about him and divert everyone to arguing with him, but not about his idea that disemvowelment is a copyright violation. Think of it: he's taking the position that copyright law forbids everything except what it specifically allows. This is utter nonsense, and he knows it.

When you comment a blog, you sign over any rights to your text to the owner of the blog. If they alter your text to deliberately misrepresent your opinion, your remedies are based on libel laws, not copyright laws. Altering your text to obliterate your opinion, or make it impossible to determine, is completely within their rights.

Everyone here knows this, including will.

#121 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:27 AM:

Eep. I meant "antisemitic" in post 102. Should have checked the spelling on that one!

Worse, my misspelling doesn't lead to *any* puns. Darn it.

#122 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:30 AM:

Yeah, R. M., unlike the time someone meant to write "antisemitic vandalism" and wrote "antisemiotic vandalism" instead (a purely physical typo, I feel sure), and triggered a whole rant by me on semiotic vandalism, which is the destruction of publicly useful symbolic meanings. Maybe I'll hunt that comment down and post a link to it; it was great fun!

#123 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:34 AM:

will, #89: oh, probably the same one that permits editing. you sound like a complete noob, btw, and i know you're not. i wish you'd stop.

I don't think many noobs consider copyright and contracts and concerns about first publication.

The thing that puzzles me is how does copyright even enter into the discussion in the first place?

If you google "internet copyright", you'll find a lot of interesting material about the questions that come up. For example, Copyright and the Internet:

When creating a Web page, you CANNOT:
[snip]
Change the context of or edit someone else's digital correspondence in a way which changes the meaning

#124 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:38 AM:

I don't think many noobs consider copyright and contracts and concerns about first publication.

You appear not to have followed the recent boingboing controversy threads.

#125 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Xopher -

Maybe if I ask nicely, someone will disemvowel me. Then the mistake is gone!

#126 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:42 AM:

Wesley @119: It depends entirely on the newspaper. Some large dailies do "get" the idea of online communities. And like every other online venue, there are nutjobs who try to hijack any conversation. The site connected to the large local daily does a pretty good job of moderating. The site maintained by the paper in my suburb doesn't. The former site has some good conversations going, and often the reporters participate. The latter is rapidly turning into a haven for the nutjobs due to the lack of moderation.

#127 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:49 AM:

What part of "ancient ghod of chaos and evil" is unclear to you?

Hail, Yog!

I suspect that's the answer to another question I have, but I'll ask anyway: If Yog falls for a hoax about someone else and blogs it, should Yog post a correction on Yog's front page, so all of Yog's readers will see the truth? Or can Yog simply update the old post, knowing that only a tiny percentage of Yog's readers will go back in the archives to learn the truth?

#128 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 11:55 AM:

My entirely subjective impression is that blogs grafted onto newspaper and magazine sites don't always have communities of regular commenters. People say their piece and move on. In a sense, everybody, good or bad, smart or stupid, is a drive-by.

I generally agree, though like JulieB says there are certainly exceptions where publications have built in decent commentary communities after the fact. But your use of "grafted on" may be the key thing: when comments are treated as merely a sort of "extra feature", a widget they added to the website for their paper/magazine, it's not a good sign.

I find myself frustrated with that sort of thing on, say, Freakonomics, where the commenters in general are fairly bright, articulate people, and yet there's very little conversation (including essentially no communication from the principals back to the commenters). But the NYT blog comment model seems to be more of a Now with Comments! graft-on than an attempt to build a commenting community from the ground up.

(As a rare sort of direct A/B comparison: before the Freako blog became an official NYT organ, it ran as a standalone multi-author blog that had a smaller and in some way more typically dysfunctional collection of commenters, but they really seemed to know each other. The transition to the NYT model made it possible to actually watch that evaporate.)

#129 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:08 PM:

Eep. I meant "antisemitic" in post 102. Should have checked the spelling on that one!

I'd assumed you were trying to write "antimemetic" and were just bristling at all the LOLCAT haterz.

#130 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:11 PM:

Will,

If you want a legal opinion, hire a lawyer. If you want to foment a rebellion against the moderation style on BoingBoing, this is a singularly ill-chosen venue. And if you want to object to Teresa disemvowelling you on BB, you have (a) a blog, and (b) her email address, both of which I gather you have used, to, I presume, very little avail.

You seem to be griefing us, which is a sorely disappointing thing for a good guy, and a regular at Making Light, to be doing. Are you looking to lose your vowels here, too? Will that provide you with a test case, maybe, or just some moral point?

Or is there some other reason to be discussing this in the pointedly awkward way you're doing it?

#131 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:18 PM:

Chris W @ 113: I agree with your reasoning up to the conclusion. Then I'm with the Berne Convention. (Thanks, Phil!)

Jim: A ridiculous "test." What was the post before the disemvoweled one? What was the post after it? What was subject of the thread?

A reader of the original thread misunderstood the message after it had been disemvoweled. Still, I'd rather not sidetrack onto questions of disemvowelment and clarity--unless you want to, of course. I'd rather stick with first publication and the right of moderators to disemvowel.

#132 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:33 PM:

Bruce, Xopher, and Abi, I'm asking here because this is a smart community of people who support disemvowelling. I can't ask on Boing Boing; I was banned there. On my blog and at MetaFilter, the smart people don't like disemvowelling; they can't give me your side. So I'm asking you.

I completely agree that blog owners who choose to disemvowel should be able to: your blog, your rules. But doesn't copyright law require that to be balanced with "my words, my consent"?

#133 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:40 PM:

I honestly can't say what the copyright/etc. implications are, Will, and while I agree with you that it's an interesting question I think it's probably mostly just plain muddy and untested territory at this point. There may not be an answer, though taking the question to a forum of some sort dedicated to that area of legal thought might turn up more fruit.

So while I don't get the same impression as abi -- I don't think you are trying to grief here at all -- I do agree with some of the sentiment that the topic probably isn't going to advance in this thread in a useful way and might be better off set aside for now.

#134 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 12:49 PM:

Am I the only person who regularly posts "Blogcomment records", keeping track of the comments I've made on other blogs? Why? I mean, it seems a pretty obvious thing to do, to me. Does it violate an Internet Tradition I wot not of?

#135 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:09 PM:

Re two spaces after a period: When I was editing a newspaper, I learned that double-spacing will create huge, ugly gaps in justified text, especially when said text is poured into narrow newspaper columns. With ragged-right it's maybe no more than a matter of taste, but fully justified? A definite typographic no-no. DO NOT WANT.

I not only had to teach myself never to do double spaces -- the first step in editing articles submitted to the paper by other contributors had to be repeatedly doing a global search and replace on double spaces until Word came up zero.

The only thing I ever used Emacs for was programming in PL/1, so jumping sentence by sentence wasn't anything I needed. But, I've got to say, depending on the use of period-space-space to find the ends of sentences sounds to me like a really frail reed. You're surely going to miss some occurrences that way. The search assumes your habit is ironclad and will remain reliable even after you have added or deleted clauses, or combined multiple sentences into one. And if someone else wrote the original text, you can't count on double spaces at all. Many people are simply inconsistent on this issue, typing one, two, three spaces or more, as the mood hits them.

#136 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:14 PM:

Probably is a good idea to take the question elsewhere now.

[lurker mode on]

#137 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:20 PM:

Because the internet is all about seeing a need and meeting it, there's at least one kind soul out there who has a re-emvowelizing tool under development.

Also -- Will@#127 -- if you're putting forward a hypothetical, say so. If you're referring obliquely to some actual incident, don't be coy about it.

#138 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:21 PM:

Newspapers and other media which offer to publish letters of comment usually specify that the letters "may be edited for length or clarity", or words to that effect. I don't recall ever having seen such an advisory which specified "to decrease length or improve clarity". People just make that assumption.

If one feels that one's comments have been substantially misrepresented, one usually has several options. One would be to contact the editor/moderator and request an amendment or retraction. Another would be to seek legal redress. Doing the legal thing first... doesn't win brownie points anywhere, and usually also doesn't go over well in the legal process.

In local fandom, I have to deal with a few people who seem to think that it's appropriate to try to resolve minor social conflicts by legal action, or by threats of it. I regard this behaviour, and this attitude, as one of the factors that makes local fandom a lot more dysfunctional than it could be.

#139 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:38 PM:

abi #130: Or is there some other reason to be discussing this in the pointedly awkward way you're doing it?

I imagine tiptoeing through a minefield of moderation consequences during a search for clarity can be very easily seen as "pointedly awkward", especially if the owner of the minefield thinks that the huge "MINEFIELD" billboard printed in thirteen languages is clarity enough. heh.

#140 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 01:56 PM:

Joel@138: What that specification doesn't say is "may be edited to change the meaning" though, although editing for clarity might do that as an unwanted side effect.

Apropos of this, if you want a sample of a newspaper contributor taking the editing of their articles very seriously indeed, read the following link, for entertainment value if nothing else:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jul/25/pressandpublishing.thetimes

#141 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:01 PM:

I think some people reading here are taking this as Jim's assertion that there is only one way to moderate.

As he himself points out upstream, this is merely his way of running things, not followed here. As an observer of the GEnie SFRT days, I'd say it worked pretty damn well with what at times was a fairly difficult crew.

#142 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:03 PM:

[record fast delurk]

I'm so dense. Joel and everyone else who has suggested going to a lawyer: dear God, who wants to sue anyone over this? I'm only trying to understand why disemvowelers think they have a legal right to disemvowel. I'm almost tempted to go into all caps for this: I do not want to sue anyone ever! Seriously.

[relurking regarding the legality of disemvowelling]

Debra @137, sure, though I dunno if I can summarize the actual case in fewer words than the hypothetical:

At Tibet and human rights: New Amnesty ads, Xeni Jardin posted a hoax promulgated by some rightwing group. According to Federated Media, two million readers saw it. This issue is so important to Amnesty International that they put on their front page: "Amnesty International would like to make clear that it was not involved in the dissemination of a series of images that have been circulating on the web in relation to the Beijing Olympics."

That information was put into the comments at #243. I was disemvoweled @ #246 and #248. I can't decipher my #245: "Xn ws BB's rdrs nw pst s th rdrs wh fll fr ths hx wll knw th trth." (The reemvoweller suggests I wrote, "oxen was _bb's_ orders now past is the orders who full for this hoax will know the truth.") But I can decipher #247, which was, "Xeni owes BB's readers a new post so the readers who fell for this hoax will know the truth."

When I protested being disemvoweled, I was then banned.

As for how many readers went back to find out the truth about the hoax, I can't guess. Two million saw the lie. Did two hundred see the correction? In this case, the hoaxers won.

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:28 PM:

And now we get to it: Will is taking a dispute from BB here, under the guise of an "example."

Will, you make me tired. You were disemvowelled and then banned because you made one two many statements that began "Xeni owes..." or otherwise referred to the Boingers having some obligation to play your way. (My guess; I was not privy to the mods' decision-making process, before, during, or after.)

And I for one didn't believe your [lurker mode on]. You're famous for claiming you're leaving a thread and then coming back, over and over.

#144 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:35 PM:

Oh, man, I completely mangled the reemvowelling in the last comment! What I said was #247 was actually #246 (text thanks to Xopher @254 in that thread). The text for #248 was "If you have any respect for AI, please make a new post to let all BB readers know the truth."

Apologies for summarizing in haste.

#145 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:48 PM:

Xopher, I like to think I am *extremely famous* for saying goodbye and coming back. It's not what I'd choose, but you got to live with what you've got. In this case, I really hate leaving anyone thinking I want to sue anyone. I'm with Jesus here: stay out of the courts.

I asked that question as a hypothetical because the details don't matter in this thread. It's the issue that interests me: should blogging ethics be the same as those expected of the mainstream media? Yog, of course, is welcome to do as Yog wishes, but we're also free to suggest that, say, Fox News should meet higher standards than it does. We're not free to say that on the Fox News site unless they give us permission, of course: that's how capitalist ethics work.

#146 ::: M Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 02:49 PM:

New here. Two spaces. This thread is interesting.

#147 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:02 PM:

*starts to type* *pauses* Nah, not gonna throw another reply in Will's direction.

#148 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:02 PM:

Will Shetterly @ 145:

I'm with Jesus here: stay out of the courts.

Technically, you're not with Jesus; whether writing Aramaic, or Hebrew, I suspect Jesus would have left out the vowels to begin with . . .

:D

#149 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:05 PM:

Lisa Spangenberg @148:

Thanks. I needed an excuse to replace this keyboard. Really. ;-)

#150 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:05 PM:

Welcome, M Evans! The comments here are an ongoing marvel of both moderation and community self-discipline. People usually go out of their way to be civil and polite to one another, even and especially when they are really angry, rather than going out of their way to score snark points at the expense of the conversation. (See: will, Xopher, and others, this thread.) I think this has something to do with trusting that the mods will Deal With anything truly toxic.

I think you'll like it here. I like it here.

#151 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:05 PM:

JulieB, #126: The site connected to the large local daily does a pretty good job of moderating. The site maintained by the paper in my suburb doesn't. The former site has some good conversations going, and often the reporters participate.

Now that you mention it, moderation and community-building do feed into each other. Moderation makes the kind of non-toxic space a community needs before it can form. Ideally the community then makes things easier for the moderators by making the space more fun for conversations (and even honest arguments) and duller for trolls and bullies.

#152 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Technically, you're not with Jesus; whether writing Aramaic, or Hebrew, I suspect Jesus would have left out the vowels to begin with . . .

And so we return once more to the issue of repressing diacritical remarks.

#153 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Caroline 150: Can I ask you for a clarification? You write

People usually go out of their way to be civil and polite to one another, even and especially when they are really angry, rather than going out of their way to score snark points at the expense of the conversation.
(emphasis added) But then you say
(See: will, Xopher, and others, this thread.)
I hope you mean that will and I and the others are being civil and polite despite deep anger...but in context (explaining the usual environment to a new person) it could be read as "Please disregard this, these folks have lost their cool."

If the latter, I will reread my comments and see if I have snarked at the expense of the conversation, and contest or apologize as I think appropriate. If the former, thank you!

#154 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Lisa @148, may I just say I worship you now?

#155 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:27 PM:

If it's any reassurance Xopher, I read it to mean you and the others were models of the good behavior she was talking about.

#156 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:30 PM:

Will: Why do you think that a forum's editors/moderators do not have a legal right to edit content on their site as they see fit, including for length/clarity or lack of same, including content voluntarily submitted by other people? Assuming that that content is not edited in such a way as to misrepresent the meaning of other people, of course, and I would assert that in general obfuscation by removal of vowels does not misrepresent the meaning of text; the intention is clearly to obfuscate and not to change meaning. (Obviously it is possible in specific cases for removal of vowels to drastically change meaning, e.g. without context "typcl" would be read as "typical" rather than "atypical".)

#157 ::: M Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:30 PM:

xopher 153

I'm new to making light; not new to comments, nor to ellipses when I don't know how to end a sentence.

...

#158 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:31 PM:

I'd love to see more discussion of mediation techniques people think work well and maybe links to some posted discussions elsewhere, if you know of them. I've read just about everything I can find that Teresa has posted here and at BB about her methods. I was drawn to this post because I've seen James in action over at Absolute Write where I am a moderator, too.

I co-moderate the Politics and Current Events (P&CE) forum at Absolute Write with MacAllister Stone. That part of AW has been going through some interesting changes lately.

MacAllister and I have been attempting to create a place where there can be rough and tumble discussion by the members who like that sort of thing, but also create a more comfortable space for the ones who don't feel comfortable in that environment - a topic that the comments in "Got it in one" back on July 1st explored to my great edification at at time when we were just making our changes (the "new P&CE" began on June 30th).

It's been exhilarating, exasperating and exhausting at times to moderate there, and I'm always on the look out for discussions that will help me do a better job.

#159 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:38 PM:

Time Notices Comments. Time Notices' Comments. Time Flies Ceaselessly. Time Flies' Airspeed.

Sorry, the headline ambiguity has been driving me slightly mad.

#160 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:46 PM:

Joel (and anyone else who wants to ask me specific questions about disemvoweling), feel free to ask at my web log. Here, on that subject, I'm now a lurker. I lurk, I lurk, see how I lurk....

#161 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 03:57 PM:

And now Will doesn't get his answer, as he's blocked by banning on Boing Boing, and blocked by peer pressure here on ML.

Congratulations.

#162 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:13 PM:

I have read the comments so far, and it seems to me that no one has made the obvious point about disemvowelling versus other forms of comment editing: it is immediately obvious to the reader that the comment has been altered. The reader knows that the comment as disemvowelled does not reflect the commenter's meaning, and can email the commenter for the original if so moved. Editing for clarity or other content is not so apparent.

It seems that this makes disemvowelling superior to other forms of comment moderation (at least in the early stages before people get really out of control).

#163 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:16 PM:

@Doctor Science #134: No, you're not the only person on the internet who saves her own comments.

Long comments into which one's put a lot of work are writing. Before I blogged (which I do only fitfully), I saved some of those comments for the same reason as any writer keeps access to their own writing.

Only a small percentage of my comments are saved, but I've been glad of the ones that are there. After more than a month or two, it can be surprisingly hard and/or time-consuming to find them again at the original location.

Having been an regular commenter for much longer and much more effectively than I've been a blogger, I've found it useful on occasion to point someone to a past comment. The saved-comments file, which includes the url, allows me do that easily. It's also helpful for looking at the evolution of my thinking on some subjects.

Added motivation came from the painful experience of having been an active participant in blogs whose archives became unavailable on relatively short notice (Body and Soul and MaxSpeak among them).

#164 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:18 PM:

If the concern is to make it obvious that an edit has been made, disemvowelment doesn't have anything on any number of approaches to marking up a comment that don't involve outright munging the commenter's text.

#165 ::: Nell ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:43 PM:

Disemvowelment's an elegant solution to a common problem. Its one drawback is occasional ambiguity for those interested in reading the original. If the disemvoweled commenter can't resolve the ambiguity for anyone inquiring because they didn't keep an original, too bad for them.

Main posters who make significant retractions, corrections, or updates are not obliged to do so anywhere other than in the original post. Doing so in a more visible spot (in addition to the post itself) is commendable. Failing to do so is not grounds for demands or harsh condemnation in comments at the site, though a single polite request or suggestion shouldn't be considered out of line.

#166 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 04:54 PM:

Earl, I rarely mind peer pressure. I look at US politics and wish it was more responsive to peer pressure.

Pat, Reesa Brown offered a moderation tool that I rather like: Moderators could make comments they dislike the same color as the background. Readers who want to read them could select them. Readers who don't could skip over them, trusting the taste of the moderator.

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:06 PM:

Josh 164: No, but it's an optimization between that and wanting your readers not to have to read the disemvoweled comment at all, should they choose not to. Many of us can't look at written text without reading it, and can be shocked/hurt/disgusted by it too quickly to just skip it.

If it's disemvoweled, we can look and see that was judged as inappropriate by the mod(s). Then what we do depends on how curious we are, and how much we trust the mods' judgement on the topic. We can hunt for telltale patterns (for example if it says "fckng Brck bm" it's probably a political rant; if it contains the word 'nggr' even once, it's a racist rant, etc.), and make a decision about whether it's worth the trouble.

Also, it keeps its place in the numbering sequence and references to it by other commenters still make sense; and it's easy to do.

Of course, you assume that NOT "munging the commenter's text" is a goal, which I do not. The text has to be "munged" in order not to be read on autopilot, and someone who posts text worthy (YMMV) of disemvowelment loses the right to object to munging.

Some particularly egregious commenters here have had more dramatic lossy alterations made to their text. People who were banned and come back under transparent sockpuppets, for example, are not dealt with as gently as they are on Boing Boing. I remember one little snotrag whose text was disemvoweled, rot-13'd, and IIRC despaced. Deleting the comments wouldn't have given the rest of us as much of a laugh at his/her (I can't remember) expense, and remember, in a case like that the goal is to drive the person away.

Less extremely, ordinary disemvowelment is a clear deprecation in a way that outright deletion is not. If your comment disappears, you might just think there was some kind of system glitch and try posting it again; if it appears without its vowels you know someone did that on purpose (clueless as some of these trolllings are), even if you don't know what it means right away.

#168 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:14 PM:

Its one drawback is occasional ambiguity for those interested in reading the original.

I'm not going to argue that disemvowelment is without value, because I understand some of the arguments for it and agree with the notion that different things work for different situations. But in general I cannot start to agree that the putting of the onus on the deemv'd commenter to disambiguate their deemv'd comment to confused fellow commenters is deemving's only drawback.

To an extent I think it's going to be just plain difficult (bordering on quixotic?) for me to argue the degree to which I find it off-putting as a (generalized) approach to moderation in a place where it is more or less universally accepted, but, yes: the more I see of it, the less I like of it. I think it perpetuates a moderator/community dynamic that is just plain ugly outside of specific contexts.

However, I think it's much less of an issue on Making Light, where it has been an essentially organic part of the site, than it is on BoingBoing or would be in other places, and as I don't want to swing this into yet another specific discussion of BB I'll leave it at acknowledging that I understand my dislike for it isn't a universally held opinion or even anything more than a minority one here.

#169 ::: M Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:18 PM:

will @166, I like the invisotext idea.

Caroline @150, I neglected to thank you for your welcome.

#170 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:26 PM:

Earl @161:
Will has asked the question, and anyone here who is interested in discussing it can go to his blog, easily located by clicking on his name.

This is neither the place nor the time for it, in my opinion.

Remember that Will is not you. I moderate Will the way I moderate Will because I know that he is not easily put off. That is part of his charm, as well as part of his challenge.

Will:
I was once told of a case where the copyright line at the bottom of a blog has prevented an author's literary heirs from controlling his work. (The author in question was not the owner of the blog.)

My only information on the matter is hearsay, but it's a data point. Or, perhaps, an anecdote point, but IANAL anyway.

#171 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:26 PM:

The trouble with invisotext is that you have to decide whether to look at it based on too little information. By the time you highlight it you've read it already. And disemvowelment lets you get some of the gist of the comment without actually reading it. Invisotext would let you see the length, possibly commenter, but then you either read it or don't, with no middle ground.

#172 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:30 PM:

Josh, that's how to make a good constructive case for a position you know probably won't succeed. At least, I respect what you're saying, am pretty sure I understand what you're saying :), and find nothing in it that suggests you misplaced the red wig and big floppy shoes.

#173 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Xopher @ 153, I apologize for being ambiguous! You wrote I hope you mean that will and I and the others are being civil and polite despite deep anger -- and that is exactly what I mean.

#174 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Will Shetterly, #166: Pat, Reesa Brown offered a moderation tool that I rather like: Moderators could make comments they dislike the same color as the background. Readers who want to read them could select them. Readers who don't could skip over them, trusting the taste of the moderator.

A few readers would still end up inconveniently wading through trollery. Some people use screen readers. Some people override the colors on websites--sometimes because they can't read the text otherwise (i.e., people with vision problems may need a high-contrast color scheme), sometimes for other reasons. (For example, my vision is fine but I get eyestrain when I read white text on a black background. When I visit sites with that color scheme--or anything similar--I turn on "Disable Styles" under Safari's developer menu, or "Disable Page Colors" when using Firefox with the Web Developer extension.)

#175 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:49 PM:

To an extent I think it's going to be just plain difficult (bordering on quixotic?) for me to argue the degree to which I find it off-putting as a (generalized) approach to moderation in a place where it is more or less universally accepted, but, yes: the more I see of it, the less I like of it. I think it perpetuates a moderator/community dynamic that is just plain ugly outside of specific contexts.

You've really put your finger on what I find troubling about both disemvoweling and things like Yog's Laws for moderation; it seems to come from an essentially antagonistic view of the relationship between moderators and the community.

I don't think online communities are such Hobbesian state-of-nature place. If all that stands between a thriving community and the ravening hordes of trolls and nutters coming to destroy the place is a thin red line of dictatorial moderation then something is fundamentally broken. Moderators are, ideally, facilitators of community, not the guys on the battlements with pikes and boiling oil.

#176 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:52 PM:

No, David, it expresses an antipathy between determined violators of the rules and the moderators. The presumption is that most posters regard themselves as benefitting from such things in much the way drivers benefit from filled potholes and everyone benefits from the control of infectious diseases. It's generally a good presumption, too.

When one finds oneself at risk of it repeatedly, what this usually means is that one is in fact not part of the community, or that one has some other problem that is imposing a barrier on useful participation in this particular venue.

#177 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:53 PM:

Another advantage of disemvoweling over invisible text is that the disemvoweling makes the offensive text unreadable to search engines, while the invisible text is still the recognizable words to the automated readers.

I'm another one who can't see text without automatically reading it, and it's worse when I'm in the process of actively reading, versus, say, driving past a billboard and not having time to read the whole thing. With disemvoweled text, I can get the gist of it at a glance, at least enough to know whether or not I want to take the time to read and decipher it. And the effect of text intended to shock or scandalize, or otherwise create emotional distress in the reader, is blunted, because the reading becomes less immediate.

#178 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 05:57 PM:

Tim Walker wrote @ #1: What kills me is that any of this is treated in any forum (Time, The Stranger, etc.) as new. Your A-L list here covers it nicely, and this sort of wisdom has only been around since . . . Usenet.

Oh, I'm sure it's been around longer than that - at least since the church groundskeeper had to figure out whether to take down Luther's thesis for violating the community standards for using church doors as bulletin boards.

#179 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Bruce: It's generally a good presumption because that sort of moderation directly results in the people who hang around being people who like that kind of moderation. I know that's a little tautological but it's still true. I don't particularly care for it which is why I usually lurk on ML far more than I did on, say, RASFF and RASFW despite the conversations involving a great many of the same people.

I don't think I have any trouble avoiding disemvoweling. But certainly posting here feels less comfortable for me than posting in RASFF ever did. That was a bunch of folks hanging out and talking. This is a conversation which explicitly exists only on the sufferance of the hosts and one in which I know I (or anyone) could be shown the door at any time, for any reason.

Not will be shown the door, I realize, but could be. That kind of power dynamic just plain makes me uncomfortable.

Perhaps this is a good time to point out that I dislike blogs in general for that very reason; the platonic ideal for me was Usenet circa 1991-1992.

#180 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Ursula L #177: Another advantage of disemvoweling over invisible text is that the disemvoweling makes the offensive text unreadable to search engines

Not at all: I've noticed that Google indexes disemvoweled words fairly well, as if it were just another language.

#181 ::: Huey ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:12 PM:

#175 David T. Bilek +1, What He Said

Good moderation involves a fair, evenhanded application of a policy irrespective of either adversarial relationships OR sycophantic up-sucking. And this is especially true if the moderators actively insert themselves in the discussion, since the appearance of "I don't like what you have to say, so I'm going to turn your mic off" makes one look so bad.

#182 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:12 PM:

David @175:
If all that stands between a thriving community and the ravening hordes of trolls and nutters coming to destroy the place is a thin red line of dictatorial moderation then something is fundamentally broken. Moderators are, ideally, *facilitators* of community, not the guys on the battlements with pikes and boiling oil.

I think we are in violent agreement, in general, on the ML team at least. A moderation regime that relies on disemvowelment to keep the peace will fail. Correction: it has already failed.

Disemvowelment is an edge case, and a rare tool. I've been a moderator here for somewhat under a year. My first week included a gun control argument where Jim (a fellow mod) got...quite annoyed. We've hit a number of the other fun topics, with a varying degree of ill temper, since then. So it's not always tea with the pinky out. And yet I've disemvoweled maybe three comments. And those were spams where I thought, for various reasons, that it was worth doing more to than deleting.

The primary defense of this blog against trollery and ill-temper is the community. You've seen it on this very thread, where people who come in looking for a fight are told to settle down, while new people are greeted and made welcome. Even me stroking the handle of a gun still in its holster is part of the dynamic.

This community grew in an environment where disemvoweling is one of the penalties of being an egregious asshole. Most (but not all; cf the brtn discussion) of the times I've seen someone gnash and gnaw their way to losing their vowels, it's been long heralded by people well sick of their disruption.

I would say that being the facilitators of the community sometimes requires going to the battlements on its behalf. But using the pikes and the boiling oil on the body of the community is a sign of epic failure.

(This is not to say that long-standing members of the community have not lost their vowels. Just because someone has known us long and loved us dear doesn't mean they can't turn sour and blow up an entire conversation around them.)

#183 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:13 PM:

Will... there is a contract. The terms vary from blog to blog. Sometimes they are implicit (and that can be a fine thing, or not. Think of Community Standards and obscenity).

As to the assertion that one cannot modify other's content... the site from GMU, to which you linked says right up front that is not an authoritative list, further it says things which are untrue.

When creating a Web page, you CANNOT:

* Put the contents of another person's or organizations web site on your Web page
* Copy and paste information together from various Internet sources to create "your own" document. [You CAN quote or paraphrase limited amounts, if you give credit to the original source and the location of the source. This same principle applies to print sources, of course.]
* Incorporate other people's electronic material, such as e-mail, in your own document, without permission.
* Forward someone's e-mail to another recipient without permission

The thing is... you can. Some may see it as rude. It may (as with publishing a letter, or copies of a letter, rise from personal affront to actual libel, but none of those this is, ipso facto always true.

There are entire websites dedicated to publishing private correspondence (one dealing with rejection letters was posted about here; with lots of comments to it).

Perhaps more to the point... that document is dated 1999. That, given the flux of copyright law in the recent past, and the flux in questions of internet copyright makes it less relevant than the assertions of fact it makes.

The link to the US Office of Copyright doesn't mention anything about the internet as a special place, in terms of rules.

What that document appear to be (to me) is a codification of the guidelines of George Mason University.

I used to edit the opinion page of a small weekly. We held letters to be more important than editorials. We also (in a move you would approve) made zero modifications of letters; save in the case of libel (and the one libel scare we had while I was on staff, was because we didn't pay enough attention to letters. A topic of long-running dispute got a letter which accused someone of, at least, less than ethical; and possibly criminal behavior. We publised it, but I digress).

So, an English teacher wrote in, and made some typos. She was mortified that we hadn't corrected them. Rather than just blow it off, she sent in another letter, this one taking us to task for not fixing her mistakes. It too got published, and it too had a couple of typos.

By adhereing to the sort of thing you would have; in principle, she was offended (and she sent yet a third missive, this one so atrociously done; with hand written corrections and I forget what all else that we went so far as to make a photostat and publish that; because we couldn't figure out how to accurately set it in type. We were also feeling pissed off and petty).

You say you want to know how we feel about it, and how we reconcile copyright with disemvowellment. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but... if we are to use the argument of copyright, I don't see that deletion of the comment is allowed either.

And, you have created a tragic commons. Because if the principle of first publication is that sacrosanct, then I can't destroy the prose of the offender either. I can only ban them, or quit the field.


That way lies the mess at Slog, or the pre-moderation Boing Boing. From the point of view of building community and fostering conversation... I am willing to be a utilitarian. My blog, my rules. I can't (at Lj) disemvowel. I can (and have) when I guest post at Majikthise.

It lets the moderator say.. "hey.... that's not on". It works better (in my experience) than deletion. It shows the community what wasn't allowed.

A blog is not a book. It's not a magazine. You still have all the rights to your stuff (well, not if you use Facebook). You can publish somewhere else.

You can, probably, even make a comment which links to it.

I don't think disemvowelling violates the terms of the Berne Convention; because I don't think it alters content in a way which is damaging to the reputation of the writer.

#184 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:14 PM:

Earl @ 180: Not at all: I've noticed that Google indexes disemvoweled words fairly well, as if it were just another language.

It indexes disemvoweled text in its disemvoweled form - but someone searching in the normal way for the keywords in the original text would not be led back here to annoy.

So if a racist came and wrote something nasty about "nggrs", like minded folk would find nothing if searching fo the fully written out word, and are unlikely to search "nggr" and find us that way.

#185 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:14 PM:

Having been disemvowelled once - with reason, although not for offensiveness - I don't think disemvowelling mungs comments beyond commentness, although possibly beyond general legibility.
Trolls, OTOH, probably do deserve what they get.

#186 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:21 PM:

abi @ 182... me stroking the handle of a gun still in its holster is part of the dynamic

...and then it comes out.

#187 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:35 PM:

David T. Bilek (#179): This is a conversation which explicitly exists only on the sufferance of the hosts and one in which I know I (or anyone) could be shown the door at any time, for any reason. [...] I dislike blogs in general for that very reason; the platonic ideal for me was Usenet circa 1991-1992.

USENET in those days was just as capable of showing you the door in two separate ways: for individuals, via killfiles; for the network as a whole, by convincing your news site admin. (This doesn't even count the moderated groups, of course.)

The latter was difficult enough that it wasn't used lightly, but it was definitely there. It was only possible, really, because it was also just difficult enough to get USENET access that losing it was an actual hardship.

I will also note that one of the reasons what's left of USENET isn't what it was back then is the lack of control that led to it being overrun by trolls and spammers; good comment moderation is exactly what we need to have discussions that can continue in the face of their existence. (When access is as easy as finding an AOL disk in your mailbox, losing access is no longer a worry.)

#188 ::: David T. Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:51 PM:

I will also note that one of the reasons what's left of USENET isn't what it was back then is the lack of control that led to it being overrun by trolls and spammers; good comment moderation is exactly what we need to have discussions that can continue in the face of their existence.

I've said before that battling spam is one of the most justifiable and necessary uses of strong moderation. There is no downside at all to stopping drive-by commercial interests from swamping actual discussion.

"Trolls" are subjective; there is a rather fine line between fighting trolls and eliminating opinions you don't like. I've seen to many mods fall to the dark side of the latter to be sanguine about strong anti-"troll" moderation.

#189 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 06:56 PM:

David #179:

I think I understand what you're saying, but it sure seems like the current state of Usenet suggests something about its workability. In practice, I think unmoderated conversations which permit huge numbers of anonymous participants risk becoming pretty unpleasant places. Among other things:

a. Spammers and related scum can and will show up to try to turn a profit.

b. Trolls of various sorts (some intentional, some just not very sane or socially skilled) can and will show up and dump loads of sh-t on themselves and others to get attention.

c. A bunch of other stuff that happens in open discussion can drive some folks away, silence others on some issues, and destroy the sense of community that makes the forum worth spending time on.

In some sense, (a) and much of (b) are solveable with more-or-less rule-based moderation. That is, it's not so hard to come up with imprecise but understandable rules for what spam is, what at least the worst kind of trolling is, etc., and delete it.

The more subtle forms of (b) (trolling) wind up fading into (c). And this is where things get complicated. To avoid constant flamewars, bad blood, name-calling, etc., the moderators have to use quite a bit of personal judgement. They need to be willing to warn people to back off of some personal attack, or even to just say "we're not having this discussion here anymore." And that inevitably limits what's discussed, and how it's discussed.

The upside of that is that you don't have constant bad blood and people bailing entirely out of political threads from flamewar fatigue. (I remember this very well from alt.callahans!) The downside is that the moderators' beliefs and ideas, and the community's, will determine what level of discussion ever takes place there. Some interesting discussions will not be able to take place, some worthwhile ideas will not be discussed.

Another downside is that when the community and the moderators are in fundamental disagreement, there's a lot of potential for community-wrecking strife. (The analogy here is between someplace where the police are seen as part of the community, and someplace where they're seen as an imposition of someone else's values. These two lead to very different kinds of interactions with the police, and very different kinds of community.)

#190 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:00 PM:

David T. Bilek: Do you post at RASSF much anymore? It seems to me the Hobbesian state of nature has taken over all of the bits of USENET in which I used to hang out. The .mil boards are all so septic I don't even try to look at them, and haven't since about 1994, when they started to get too nasty for me.

It happens this co-incided with the rise of blogs.

#191 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:01 PM:

(And then David goes and says much of the same stuff I'm saying between when I start writing the thing and when I post it.)

#192 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:38 PM:

One of the reasons I have trouble seeing disemvoweling as a great abuse of power is that it holds the moderator(s) accountable to a much greater degree than moderation by, say, deletion. If the moderator disemvowels polite disagreement, readers - if they have a little patience - can see that for themselves. If my friend tells me, "I made a perfectly innocent comment at BoingBoing and it got disemvoweled, what?" then I'm perfectly capable of wading through the consonants to see whom to believe.

#193 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 07:56 PM:

David J. Bilek, #, 175: "I don't think online communities are such Hobbesian state-of-nature place. If all that stands between a thriving community and the ravening hordes of trolls and nutters coming to destroy the place is a thin red line of dictatorial moderation then something is fundamentally broken."

These are problems of place, any time, any place, physical or virtual. Without some regulation, the trolls take over, and this is as true in the physical world as in online space: "...to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

As to the difference between blogs and Usenet, I would say that Usenet, when it was a working concern, was a co-op; blogs are, as it were, privately owned, sometimes actual businesses. Usenet has, for the most part, become a poorly-policed commercial space, and is therefore only rarely useful. Personally, I am all for co-ops, but most people aren't willing to pay for them and aren't willing address the problems of governance, so we mostly don't have them.

#194 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:03 PM:

Will, as I think you know very well, "copyright, copyright, copyright," "censorship, censorship, censorship" are among the first complains of newbie cranks in online media. When you start saying these things, you sound to me like a newbie crank. I wish you'd stop. I think moderation and teaching the MSM about moderation are much more interesting topics.

#195 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:20 PM:

David T. Bilek (#179): This is a conversation which explicitly exists only on the sufferance of the hosts and one in which I know I (or anyone) could be shown the door at any time, for any reason. [...] I dislike blogs in general for that very reason; the platonic ideal for me was Usenet circa 1991-1992

For early Usenet, a lot of the control was a matter of lack of access. Few people used the internet, so there was less audience for spam, and generally less volume, so it was easier to handle unpleasantness as an individual without getting overwhelmed.

But the cost was less diversity - many people were kept out of conversations because they simply didn't have access, and some quality stuff never happened.

Having wide access, and moderation to keep out the abuse, strikes me as an overall better system. More people are allowed through the door, and lack of access is based on appropriate behavior for the forum, rather than social or economic deprivation.

(Yes, I know access is still far from perfect and universal. But it's getting better, certainly more people are active now than in the early 1990s.)

Moderation also allows some conversations and communities that would be absolutely impossible without it. For example, I'm active on a moderated forum which is for people who are growing long hair to discuss hair care issues. A big part of the moderation is keeping an eye on new members, because there are a lot of long hair ftshsts who keep trying to joint to have contact with women with long hair, but who have no interest in the actual issues the forum is for.

#196 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:26 PM:

Terry @183, a fine and thoughtful post. Thank you! I won't mention the GMU page again. If you want to offer an opinion of this in email or at my site, I'd be happy to hear it. If you'd rather let dsmvwlng drop now, cool.

I'm no longer a fan of printing things faithfully to show a writer's ignorance, though I smile a little when I remember stories of people treated that way who said, "They printed my letter and kept saying it was sick!"

Facebook's position initially seemed right to me, but only because I was comparing it to LiveJournal's. I stopped using both recently. I believe comments belong to the commenters, so I didn't feel right about quitting LiveJournal, which would've resulted in that LJ's deletion in 30 days. I liked Facebook's take that I could deactivate it without deleting it.

But what I really want is for writers to have control over their words. LiveJournalers and Facebookers should have many more options than currently, including the ability to delete their blogs and automatically generate replacement information at the old post links with code of their choice, ranging from "deleted by user" to "This web log has moved to another service. Click here to visit it."

#197 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Randolph @194, I'm not an absolutist on moderation. Heck, if I was, I wouldn't be here, eh? *g* And I've said all along that I believe in "your site, your rules," just as I believe in "your home, your rules."

I'm just wondering what rules are greater than the rules of your site or your home. If you claim that you can do anything you wish on or with anything you own, I'll have to disagree, first by pointing out that what comes onto your property is not automatically subject to your seizure.

So far, I've been very comfortable with the moderation at MetaFilter. It's curious; it allows for much rowdier behavior than you find here or at Boing Boing, but the freedom seems to result in fewer barbed insults. I dunno. I may just prefer a western saloon to an eastern drawing room. Which isn't to knock a nice cuppa, cucumber sandwiches, and a bon mot. There's much to be said for having many communities with many mores.

#198 ::: geek anachronism ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:13 PM:

Making Light was the first place I came across disemvowelling, and I thought it was great then, and years later I still think it's great. Partially because there is little of the rules whining here, partially because it is moderated for on/off topicness, which really really cuts down on the cliqueness.

#199 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:15 PM:

There's an idea that seems to be missing from the conversation about copyright, disemvoweling, et cetera. At the risk of continuing an annoying conversation, I do want to post it. That idea is "implicit copyright license".

The words that I am typing are copyrighted to me. In order for Making Light to post them to their board, they must therefore have a license to do so. And they do -- it is generally held that my typing it in in this comment box and clicking "post" gives them an implicit license to do so, as it clearly indicates my intention that they do it. (This may be augmented by explicit stuff in the terms of service document for this blog, if there is one.)

So, the key question from a legal point of view is whether this implicit license covers disemvowelling.

I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that the legal answer in the U.S. would be "there is no case law precedent for this, and so there is no reliable answer to that question." One could certainly sue and attempt to generate case law in one's local jurisdiction; if one were lucky, it would not get thrown out of court as being to trifling a matter for the law to bother with. At that point, it would still not be clear whether that case law applied in other jurisdictions.

The answer to Will's question of where this right comes from is (a) the authors of the site believe that the implicit license covers this usage, and/or (b) they believe that they will not be meaningfully be challenged if they take it to do so.

As support of that belief, I think from a moral standpoint that the fact that I have seen other posts disemvowelled on this site means that I am implicitly assenting to the possibility that that may happen to mine as well, when I post this.

Will, does that answer your question?

#200 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:31 PM:

I also want to add that I think it's a fairly reasonable question. Would it be okay for Yog to take the best of the comments posted on his blog and publish them in a book without mentioning this to the comment authors or paying them? Probably not, and probably a lot of people would quite reasonably object, even though they would defend "Yog is absolute dictator" within the context of the blog-as-website. And so it's reasonable to consider where the line is, and why it is there, and whether there are in fact the good sound reasons for it being there that we assume there are.

And the idea of implicit license is important, both that it exists, and that it is not unlimited.

#201 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 09:59 PM:

#174, Wesley -

You might like one of the bookmarklets on this page. The bookmarklet "zap colors" as written produces exactly the thing you don't want (black text on white) but I found it pretty easy to edit it to give me a light grey background and I imagine you'd be able to edit it to your preferences. Then you don't have to dig through menus to change the colors, but just click on a bookmark. The page reverts to its original colors when reloaded.

#202 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:03 PM:

Joel, #138, almost all of my letters to the WashPost were edited, and about half of them, they showed me first to make sure it said what I meant. The only one that wasn't was a letter where I made a quip about a homonym used improperly in a headline.

#203 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:07 PM:

Nell @163:

Do you post your comments to your blog, though? Poking around does not reveal them to me.

I regularly post my comments at my own blog, tagged with the blog where I made them. I find it curious that so few people seem to do this. More do it on livejournal (where I also post blogcomments under my other, Sooper Sekrit™ identity) -- I think because LJers are more used to thinking of comments as (a) something that might disappear at any time, (b) something that really belongs to the commenter, not the OP -- e.g. the ability to edit one's comments left in another's LJ.

will "ADHD!lurker" shetterly may wish to note that the culture of the general blogosphere supports the idea that comments are the property of the OP, while on LJ the culture *occasionally* supports the idea that comments belong to the commenter.

The more I think about it, the less I understand why most commenters *don't* repost their longer or more substantive comments at their own blogs, with notes about the conversation it was from, and a link back. Is it something about comments "not counting", somehow? Or do they seem too integral to the conversation they're in? Or do your comments, to you, seem to belong to the OP, to highlight or delete as ze sees fit?

#204 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:23 PM:

Doctor Science -

I think you were the first person I ever saw do it, and while it seems perfectly reasonable when you do it, I don't because I tend to feel that my comments are substantive enough to keep that way. It would feel self-aggrandizing all out of proportion to the value of the comments to do it. (Which doesn't mean I think it is self-aggrandizing when you do it, oddly enough.) If I ever did start, I'd probably make them private posts in embarrassment.

As I think about it more, I also realize that some of my more substantive posts have been about topics that I don't really want to have a conversation about on my blog. When I post something substantive here, it is usually on a fairly contentious subject, and I really like having the ability to pull back from the conversation and not engage with it if it gets too overwhelming. Which is another argument for making any blogcomment records I put on my own space private.

I'm not particularly good at having opinions and standing up for them yet. *grins*

You do make a good argument for saving them, though. I'll have to think about that.

#205 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:25 PM:

I meant to say "...I tend to feel that my comments are NOT substantive enough..."

Clearly, I'm up past my bedtime. I wish it wouldn't sneak up on me like that.

#206 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:35 PM:

Dr. Science @ 134:

You aren't the only one.

I do periodic "miscellaneous comments" posts in my LiveJournal. I started doing that for my own reference, after wishing I had a copy of one of my comments to a deleted post. (LJ is set up so the original poster can delete a post, and all comments go with it.) After a while, I started saving the ones I just liked, either because I thought the phrasing was particularly good or amusing, or because I felt I might want to be reminded of the thought.

Once in a rare while, I'll drop a comment I posted here or elsenet onto those, though they're mostly things I wrote on LiveJournal.

(If I were disemvoweled here, I would either figure the moderators had a point, or come over here, copy the disemvoweled text, and reconstruct it either just on my hard drive or on my LJ. I'm reasonably confident of my own ability to do that--not for any and all posts necessarily, but for my own recent writing.)

#207 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2008, 10:54 PM:

Vicki @206: LJ also now has the option to email you a copy of every comment you make. It's one of the for-pay features, and specificially the primary single feature for which I decided it was worth paying for a for-pay account.

(This is somewhat similar to the text editor I use, which I upgraded from the freeware to the pro version of specifically and solely because the latter had infinite-depth undo and the former did not. I seem to be in the class of purchasers who have strong opinions about desired features and in many cases will consider one of the aspects of an upgrade of that sort to be must-have and the rest completely useless. Though in both cases I have found several of the other upgrade features to be mildly useful as well, once I had them.)

#208 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 12:29 AM:

The two spaces thing again. Old habits, learned at a young age, die hard. Much in the same way that my default spelling mode is UK English, my fingers (having minds of their own) will type two spaces after a full stop (or should that that be a period?).

#209 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 01:16 AM:

I was rereading the EFF's Blogger's Rights section and came across some text that suggests to me that if disemvoweling a comment sufficiently ambiguates the content, the blog publisher may risk losing Section 230 Immunity over that content.

I am not a lawyer, but I doubt the catch-all "All rights reserved" text of ML's "Dire legal notice" (which presumably gives the ML publishers the right to do whatever they wish to user comments) would help much in that situation.

#210 ::: Jim Macdoanld ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 01:21 AM:

#127 Will: If Yog falls for a hoax about someone else and blogs it, should Yog post a correction on Yog's front page, so all of Yog's readers will see the truth?

That entirely depends on the circumstances. Here's another question: If Yog notices that one of the links in an old post has expired, should Yog silently change the link to another source for the same or similar material, or should Yog post the new link on Yog's front page so that all of Yog's readers can see the new link? How about if Yog notices a spelling error in an old post. Can Yog correct it in place, or must Yog repost the entire article with a new date, with the correction highlighted in red, so that Yog's readers can know that Yog makes spelling errors from time to time?


#131 Will:

A reader of the original thread misunderstood the message after it had been disemvoweled.

That's nothing. I've had readers misunderstand messages that still had all of their vowels in them.

I'd rather stick with first publication and the right of moderators to disemvowel.

Okay, then. First publication is a ridiculous claim, and the moderator has the absolute right to disemvowel.

Happy now?

#211 ::: M Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 01:40 AM:

#210 Jim Macdonald That's nothing. I've had readers misunderstand messages that still had all of their vowels in them.

ROFL

#212 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 02:11 AM:

I type two spaces after a period/full stop. I did it when I did journalism too.

The place I didn't was when I was doing the actual typesetting in HS (unless I was on the Linotype).

#213 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 02:44 AM:

Note to self: You can't lurk on only one subject in a thread. Lurk on all, or get back in the kitchen.

Brooks @199, in case you missed the link that gives limited support to your position, here's the pertinent bit from the EFF Bloggers' FAQ:

When a person enters comments on a blog for the purpose of public display, he is probably giving an implied license at least for that display and the incidental copying that goes along with it. If you want to make things clearer, you can add a Creative Commons license to your blog's comment post page and a statement that by posting comments, writers agree to license them under it.
The qualifications there don't leave much room for disemvowelling without consent.

Dr. Science @203, You made me realize I've gotten sidetracked on disemvowelling when my focus should be on the ethics of promoting a lie to two million readers and correcting it for those who hunt through the archives. Thank you! I owe you a drink.

Earl @209, I hadn't gotten to that section. It does seem to apply. Thank you--here's your drink IOU.

Jim @210, Yog is mighty! Yog does not fear puny copyright laws! But once that's clear, Yog would be a real sweetie if he went ahead and made minor edits with no fanfare, but made sure major hoaxes were prominently corrected. For Yog hates those who fool Yog, and Yog will see that their trickery does not succeed. All hail Yog!

Well, until something more definitive than the EFF info turns up, I'm going into full lurk mode for this thread. Xopher, I like you too much to suggest you start holding your breath; I'm planning to take Doc Science's observation to heart.

#214 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:51 AM:

I regularly post my comments at my own blog, tagged with the blog where I made them. I find it curious that so few people seem to do this.

I don't really do this at all. For one, I try to avoid substantial comments on forums where I don't trust my comment to live a reasonable life in perpetuity; for another, if I think my comment is really something worth developing, I'll usually take the ideas central to it and redevelop them from scratch as an entry to my blog or a piece of writing off-line, since my first drafts are often less than polished.

So I don't think it's a terrible idea or anything, but it just doesn't fit me. If I wrote something that's gorgeous for serendipitous, unreproducible reasons, it's not something that I want to crow about out of context because it's a fluke. If it's something worth keeping because it has genuine substance, it's going to be based on ideas that I can rework and present better and more completely later on.

#215 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 07:20 AM:

One reason Yog is wiser than I am is that I'd tend to quickly ban people who want to mutter about how this is probably illegal and if they weren't such swell people they'd shut it all down. This is the legacy of my time on news.groups, when I saw newsgroups destroyed by people doing that.

#216 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 09:04 AM:

Josh #214:

I like being able to find and reread my own posts, because it helps me evaluate whether I was making sense (often in light of what happened later in a thread), and it reminds me of my own thought processes and progression of ideas on some subject. But I rarely look at a weblog post or newsgroup post and feel like I want it saved for all time as an example of my writing or thinking, exactly. Somehow, these posts are something in-between permanent writing (what I try to do for academic papers and technical reports and such--stuff I want to be judged on, and that I hope to have people read and think carefully about) and casual conversation (first draft, full of thinkos and casual mistakes and poorly thought out ideas that will be shaken out before they hit any kind of print).

For me, writing is a part of thinking things through. I don't know how to explain that, exactly, except to say that I've often sat down to write a rebuttal to someone's idea (in political arguments, but also in technical discussions) and convinced myself they were right while writing the rebuttal (which then morphed into an agreement). So sometimes my posts are relatively polished finished bits of writing, but more often, they're using the net as scratch space for my thoughts, sort-of like the way I use notebooks during technical talks. At the same time, I *do* like looking back at them, and I *do* use the view all by feature on other peoples' posts to put their current posts in context sometimes. (And it's sometimes interesting to just read all or a lot of the posts by someone, to get a coherent sense of their thinking.)

I guess the thing that hits me, as I write this, is that I feel like the whole set of my posts here and elsewhere is much more interesting than any one of them. Does that make sense? It's a kind of correspondence, and one letter is usually less interesting to read (unless it contains some extraordinary thing) than a whole pile of collected correspondence, which can paint a pretty clear picture of a relationship.

#217 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 09:22 AM:

R. M. Koske, #201: Thanks--that's exactly what I need (it's actually white text on black that bothers me). I tried it on a white-on-black website I visit frequently and it worked like a charm.

Doctor Science, #203: I don't put my comments on my blog because I don't really think any of them would be interesting (or even, in some cases, comprehensible) out of their original context.

#218 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:15 AM:

I guess the thing that hits me, as I write this, is that I feel like the whole set of my posts here and elsewhere is much more interesting than any one of them. Does that make sense?

Oh, yes, very much so. I think that's why I don't generally mirror my own comments from the places I hang out, and why I don't usually hang out in places I don't trust to have longevity: most of what I say that might be worth reading is mostly worth reading in context (of my other comments; of the other folks discussing x, y, or z at the time), and in the worst case scenario that said place suddenly disappears or has a great big loss of data, the loss is going to be much bigger than that of just my own comments so who am I to worry about those?

Of course, I haven't been bitten on the ass by that yet, which allows me to be sort of blase in a way that might change if Matt Haughey accidentally erased Mefi and his backup tapes.

#219 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:46 AM:

Jim@9: that's an old misconception even when applied to live frogs; regurgitating it is certainly worse.

abi (various): what gaffe? I don't see any errors </snark>.

Matthew@99: RMS (author of EMACS), being my age, was probably taught double-spacing after periods just as I was. I never liked the resulting look even in terminal (i.e., monospace) fonts; I couldn't swear that EMACS still does it.

Bilek@73 (&prev): can you present a concrete counter-example, instead of simply saying "It ain't necessarily so"? (Note that even that song provides counterexamples). I have seen how even in-person groups can be slowly eroded (intoxicated?) by one person's toxic behavior; as far as I've seen (28 years on various nets), Gresham's law applies to electronic communications. I'm sure there are people who prefer a thoroughly Gresham'd ]community[, and I don't think such ]communities[ should be banned -- but replacing thought with screaming has serious costs, which I think you're pushing aside in favor of ]vibrancy[.
I could even allow that such groups are "interesting" (to use one of your words), but I have a number of definitions for that word. As for "workable" -- that's another subjective term; cf Teresa's reaction when someone said -"Isn't it nice to see people having fun!"- on seeing what T describes as a live Hogarth engraving. (The exact quote is much better phrased, but my copy of Making Light is not in its proper place.)
Your followup at 175 is ... interesting. Do you not see a difference between a Hobbesian place and a livable place where police are still necessary? In followons, does the mere existence of a police force in wherever you live make you feel uncomfortable? I acknowledge that police make mistakes; one of the lemmas (to Yog's Rules) that I see in the comments here is that honest dealing with mistakes is more important than solidarity, which latter looks like one of the most common failure modes of police forces.
wrt I've seen to many mods fall to the dark side of the latter to be sanguine about strong anti-"troll" moderation, how do you define "strong moderation"? Have you actually looked at what or how much has been disemvowelled? It seems to me to have been such a tiny fraction that any fear you have belongs somewhere close to Chief Vitalstatistix's worry rather than a reasonable case.

#220 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:59 AM:

Sometimes I write something which has standalone value. In those cases I may take it and make a post of it, but by and large none of it (even epic rants, full of substance; as well as the piss and vinegar) don't.

They need the context of the converstations which gave them birth to b truly understood. If I feel they need repeating I link to them.

Which is, I think, good for everyone involved.

#221 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 12:09 PM:

Josh @ 214:

There are different kinds of trust. I trust our hosts here not to voluntarily take this site down without warning, nor yet to go through and remove all my comments. That doesn't 100% guarantee that, if something goes wrong with the hardware ML lives on, everything will be restored.

For that matter, things get lost because hosting sites run out of money to pay for bandwidth. Links decay because people lose interest.

In some sense, my "misc. comments" posts in my LiveJournal are a form of backup.

Somewhere in this apartment is some not-really-interesting paper tape with really simple programs I wrote in high school. I don't care that I don't have a paper tape reader. But there's also a box of Macintosh disks from about 1985, with stuff Andy wrote, that might be worth retrieving, given appropriate hardware and assuming those floppies are still good. Some years ago, my friend Larry mentioned having gotten a call from one of his old professors. The content was basically "Can you fire up the PDP-8? I have some data I'd like to retrieve." This was probably around 2000 or 2001. Larry had that PDP-8 because he salvaged it when the physics department threw it and three like it out as obsolete in 1984, and happened to tell the professor he'd done so. (At the time, it was an obsolete machine, but not so much so as not to be fun to play with, especially since if you lived in the dorms, you weren't charged for electricity.) Having copies in multiple places and/or forms can be valuable.

#222 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 12:18 PM:

#219 CHip: How can you be missing David T. Bilek's point? He is saying "Places where the mods are always inevitably right are places where only people who are like the mods are welcome." In your police analogy, LA.

And he's right. I'm amazed you've never seen a forum where the mods become a clique and mark for banning anyone who dissents. They're all over. RPG.net is a big one, and there are zillions of tiny ones run by a single drama queen.

#223 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 12:25 PM:

There are different kinds of trust. I trust our hosts here not to voluntarily take this site down without warning, nor yet to go through and remove all my comments. That doesn't 100% guarantee that, if something goes wrong with the hardware ML lives on, everything will be restored.

Yeah, indeed -- and like I said, to a degree I'm shruggo about it just because it hasn't really knocked me on my ass in the past (and because the loss of a chunk of the db forever would dwarf the loss of only that chunk that represented my comments, anyway). I hate data loss with a kind of neurotic passion, but (at least when I'm not the steward of the data in question) it's probably healthier for me to allow for some catastrophic ephemerality in this stuff. When something goes wrong, I can tear my hair out about it for a week then go back to being shruggo.

To a degree, I have conversations online not for the sake of my writing but for the sake of what I internalize in the process of the conversation -- while I hate to see the data, the transcript, go away, the value I'm getting usually largely lives in the noggin, not the database, so that's another aspect of the equation.

#224 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 12:28 PM:

I was never a reader there, so I can't really offer this as anything other than a fuzzy lead, but: I've heard folks decry the recent shift in moderation over at Television Without Pity as being a primo example of mods run amok. Can anybody speak from better than vague third-hand experience there?

#225 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 01:25 PM:

CHip: (The exact quote is much better phrased, but my copy of Making Light is not in its proper place.)

Took me a minute, and a reread of the para, to realize you meant Making Book, my copy of which was not in its proper place either (me being fresh out of gilt-and-crystal display cases with tiny pin spots*), but I sang to the chaos and it emerged. Here is a chunk that almost certainly contains the bit you're referring to; Teresa has described Charlotte P____ as dressed in heels, pearls, and The Perfect Afternoon frock. Later:

The tenth-floor con suite party clearly visible across the atrium had definitely hit the howling-at-the-moon stage, and I [said to] Patrick "Quick, come look—there's a live Hogarth engraving going on out there." ...Patrick [said] that it reminded him of how one of the pleasures of heaven is supposed to be that you can go look out over the edge and watch the writhings of the damned souls below.
[...]Charlotte...sighed a little and said "Isn't it nice to see people enjoying themselves so much?"
As conversational pleasantries go, it had all the impact of a grape fizzy dropped into a glass of milk. I clutched at the railing for support, reflecting in a stunned fashion that I'd seriously midjudged this woman...
Does that cover it? I have the book right here.

______
*...the legs of which are golden pygmy mammoths, and they're all perched on top of a Van deGraaf generator, which of course goes All The Way Down.

#226 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 01:50 PM:

Chip: A concrete example of what, precisely? A large online community that uses lighter moderation than Yog's Laws? That's pretty easy: I'd point to Metafilter for one. I believe it has a slightly larger audience than boing boing. It may not be your cup of tea but it is clearly a thriving online community where a wide spectrum of views are represented.

If you mean an example of something else, you'll need to be more specific.

Have you actually looked at what or how much has been disemvowelled? It seems to me to have been such a tiny fraction

Because strong moderation acts not only as a remedy but as prior restraint. People who don't care for strong moderation are less likely to post, as are people with views that dissent from the prevailing viewpoints of the mods. About significant issues, I mean, not about trivia. Making Light has quite a few strong points but great diversity of viewpoint on a lot of topics is not one of them.

I refer you to Madeline at 222 for a reference to the end state of failing strong moderation.

#227 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 02:04 PM:

I just checked, and there are only a handful of copies of Making Book left in stock at Amazon.

#228 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 02:07 PM:

Will @196: But what I really want is for writers to have control over their words.

Will, you have control over your words. You may choose not to post them in a place where you know they are subject to rules of use that you disagree with.

You do not have an inalienable right to post anything anywhere you want to. You can't walk into a stranger's house and start a fight, and be surprised if you get punched in the nose. Or even shot. You can't even walk into an open-door room party at a convention, start a fight about the quality of the refreshments and decor, and be surprised when you get thrown out or have your drink taken away from you.

When you give your words to Making Light, you agree to the terms of use. Among those terms is that if you're being offensive, your words may be altered. This is not exactly a secret. It's not a secret at BB, either. It's right there in the rules. Their house, their rules. If you disagree with the terms of use, Don't post there.

The other way to avoid being disemvoweled is to stop trying to tell people what they should do in their own houses, on their own blogs. Generally, people find that offensive. It's not really hard to know what will offend people. All you need to do is think to yourself, how would I feel if someone came into my house and said something like this to me?


#229 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 02:25 PM:

#226, David Bilek -

I don't have a dog in this fight*, but I think that Metafilter may not be the best example for this. Isn't there an annual membership fee for posting privileges on MeFi? That will self-select out a potentially significant set of the most immature posters. Comparing behavior on a for-pay site to behavior on a free-access site may not give you valid information.

If I've misremembered MeFi's membership policy, then my point is utterly void, of course.

*I have no idea why that was the phrase that came to mind first, but it amuses me so I'm leaving it.

#230 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 02:56 PM:

David Bilek -- Just because moderation can fail doesn't mean that moderation is unnecessary or undesirable. And whether "strong" moderation feels heavy-handed, depends very much (though not entirely, granted) on personal experience.

Doctor Science asked the question we're still debating: is it possible to have a site devoted to "free speech"...that *doesn't* slide into the Jerkosphere? How? Bearing in mind that my definition of "free speech" is that of Bruce Baugh -- "the goal is to maximize actual diversity of voices and scope of participation".

My observation is that people aren't inherently interested in diversity. "Strong moderation" isn't the only thing that acts as "prior restraint." Lack of moderation can do the same thing. Humans gravitate toward comfort zones, and do their own limiting, so I suspect that a totally unmoderated forum where everyone *also* feels free to contribute is probably a Fata Morgana. You can't please all of the people all of the time.

#231 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 02:59 PM:

Isn't there an annual membership fee for posting privileges on MeFi? That will self-select out a potentially significant set of the most immature posters. Comparing behavior on a for-pay site to behavior on a free-access site may not give you valid information.

It's a one-time fee of $5. You're correct that it does work as a selective filter, a speed-bump as much as anything that keep our daily signups in the low dozens instead of the hundreds with all the concomitant reduction in random noise.

So you're half-right: we don't do a recurring fee, but we do use a fee, and I'm glad that we do because I think it works pretty well. (We also comp accounts when there's a decent reason to.)

However, the first few years of the site -- the first ~17000 user ids or so -- were free accounts, with signups throttled instead by periodic locking of the doors as well as at some points experimental throttling of one sort or another (e.g. limited available signups each day). And while I think Mefi has evened out a bit in town compared to what it was like five or six years ago, it's worth noting that a lot of what the site is today was driven by the community development that happened in those doors-are-wide-open early days when Matt was growing the site and its culture up from nothing. So the distinction between open-access and gated/filtered isn't as clear as all that, in terms of how and why mefi works.

#232 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:05 PM:

evened out a bit in town

I have no idea where "in town" came from. My brain must have been thinking "comma twenty bucks same as" or something.

#233 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:18 PM:

David T. Bilek: Does the threat of sanction restrain people? Probably.

I would say certainly, but I can't speak to anyone else's reactions. I know how I think, how I react, and how I communicate. By, and large, I tend to not drift to the level of offense which is likely to cause me to lose my vowels.

That said, I know the sentiments which lead to saying things which cross those lines. I have had those, running fair before the wind, and still posted, in the sure and certain knowledge that, did I cross that line, I'd be gutted, and left as an example.

It happens I have never actually gone that far (even when I was being offensive). I have been one of many who; not for offense, but because it was, in fact; a topic Teresa didn't want explored any further (in that time and place) were subject to a mass disemvowelling.

Said event wasn't unforeseen. She said, plain as day, "Keep this shit up, and I will make a hecatomb of vowels."

It didn't stop me.

I really think the reason we don't have more of what you term diverse opinion isn't the hand of moderation (be it heavy, or not). It's the sad fact of self-selection. There are some problems with diversity, and how like seeks like (read, "Making the Corps" for a dfferent community, with some of the same problems. Any one can apply/join, but not everyone stays... which changes the nature of the group and futher refines the sort who is likely to stay. My father was a Marine [and recall, with some very small exceptions, the Marine Corps has always been an all-volunteer force]. He voted for Jesse Jackson in 1992. There is diversity, but it's narrows as time goes on).

When someone like Public/Community Radio Vet shows up, s/he gets a slightly rough handling, not from the mods, but from the rest of us. Some of us will tell others to chill (look for Brenda, in recent threads), but the real measure of success here (which I am going to define, for the present discussion as becoming a part of the community, active enough to be recognised, liked enough to not be ignored) is being able to argue coherently.

Writing poems, making puns, etc. will carry one who can't argue, only so long as they don't try.

To take a recent example (and, though it sounds strained, I like them both) Will and Greg London have arguing styles which can make it difficult to keep a pleasant atmosphere in a thread. I don't see that stopping either of them from wading in; even when I am sure they know it will cause strife.

There are others of us who have similar habits on some topics. Places where the beliefs they have (or the ways in which they express them) are at distinct odds with the rest of the community.

They haven't been banned. They haven't been disemvowelled. Some threads have been closed; but that's because they had gone so far south they were painful for the participants, fruitless in result, and the risk of annoyance becming anger was so great that allowing it to continue was counter-productive to the community.

(I was in, and responsible for one of those shut downs, in the brtn thread. It happens I was in the majoritarian opinion there, but I was sanctioned just as firmly as those who weren't).

To quote Robert Frost, what we have here is the freedom of yoke in easy harness. Within a wide latitude, we can say what we please.

If we get personal/offensive, we will be smacked downl; no harm, no foul.

If we, as a group, get into bad places, we will be told to come back to better ones.

Is it perfect? No. Nothing is. But I think it works well as a model, and I think it will work for any group of people, to get a place something like this.

You won't, perhaps, have quite the raucus free-wheeling nature of MeFi, (and that's not certain... if the limits are set wider/the community wants that sort of place, you can get it), but you will have better than Fr** Repu*b***, or LGF, where they have both no moderation, and a fast hand with the ban.

#234 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:32 PM:

I have been one of many who; not for offense, but because it was, in fact; a topic Teresa didn't want explored any further

Which, when it comes down to it, is my problem with strong moderation in general and blogs in particular. I do not generally care much for investing my time and emotion in places where a single person (whether Teresa or someone else) gets to decide what topics are or are not appropriate to explore any further. The very fact that you use the phrase "a topic Teresa didn't want explored any further" is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

ML and blogs in general are not a many-to-many communication stream like usenet is (or was, anyway). They are a pulpit from which the blog owners can expound on whatever they wish and, if they so choose, allow you or I to contribute. So long as those contributions are not about topics that get declared verboten.

That's not an equal conversation, and if a conversation isn't equal it's not much of a conversation at all.

#235 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:39 PM:

David @234:
For the record, the topic that Teresa didn't want to host a discussion on was abortion.

#236 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:40 PM:

Terry: To put it in shorter, Monty Pythonesque form - my reaction to to "because it was, in fact, a topic Teresa didn't want explored any further" is as follows:

"Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system."

#237 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:42 PM:

Terry Karney @ 233... Writing poems, making puns, etc. will carry one who can't argue, only so long as they don't try.

Huh?

#238 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 03:55 PM:

A further followup on what Beth says, Will:

If one were to accept your thesis that there is no implied copyright license granted to the operators of websites where people post their posts, then every site which allows people to post is committing a crime. There is no clause in any nation's copyright laws, as far as I know, about freely allowing distribution only if unmodified. That implies that either every website and blog which allows comments is breaking the law, or that the authors have implicitly, by posting, accepted the proprietors' terms and granted the website proprietors a license to distribute their content.

If a court were to rule on it someday, there's no absolute guarantee that a court would decide that way, because sometimes the legal system concludes things that are absolutely nuts. But essentially, if one wants blogs with open comments to exist at all, one had better hope that a court accepts that one implicitly licenses one's copyright by posting.

This is what everyone else has been telling you, because it's blinking obvious, and this is why your posts sound so embarrassing to your fans and friends here. It seems as though you haven't thought in the least about the implications of the claims you're trying to make.

#239 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:00 PM:

A further correction to the "you may not discuss this issue":

Teresa did not say "you may not discuss abortion on this website." She said "you may not discuss the topic of abortion on threads about other topics", and then she created a thread specifically for discussing it.

What happened then was pretty typical for ML; everyone collectively decided they'd rather play than discuss it, and started a game of creating the most inventive misunderstandings of what b-r-t-n could stand for.

You could I suppose argue that that is collective censorship by peer pressure, but I don't think that's what you're arguing against.

#240 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:07 PM:

So, David, what moderator behavior would you recommend in the following circumstances:

  • discussions on topics which, in a sufficiently heterogenous community, will never resolve (eg abortion, evolution)? Remember that newbies will come in specifically to discuss these topics, and regulars may have emotional reactions as well. How do you deal with the endless and bitter arguments?
  • discussions which include libelous, defamatory, terrorist or paedophilic material? Can no good communities be hosted on servers in England, with its "batshit crazy" (per Charlie Stross) libel laws? How about death threats for the President?
  • particular individuals with hobby horses, who try to bend every conversation around to those topics, and exhaust their fellows in either the polite effort to engage them or the attempt to move beyond their disruption†?
  • the moderator of the blog has acquired a stalker, who posts comments threatening explicit violence?
  • one poster, in an argument with another, decides to post a large amount of private, but true, information about their opponent.

Please remember that the goal of your choices is to (a) preserve the community, and (b) suffer no legal penalties. Don't be heavy handed.

The principle that the blog owner is allowed to restrict the content of the discussion is based on sound legal and practical realities, no matter how much abstract philosophy it contravenes. Sorry about that.

Making Light, as a community, has often been compared to a long-running party in Patrick and Teresa's living room. Most of us have joined with the understanding that it's their house and their rules; if we don't like those rules there are many other communities out there with different ones.

This last point is the important one, by the way. A world with only one community, or one type of community, would be desperately poor. Making Light exists as it does partly because BoingBoing, Wikipedia, Metafilter, Absolute Write, etc, etc exist. It fills a niche that they, and many other communities, define; likewise, its existence affects who posts elsewhere. This happens both because it soaks up the time and energy of a certain set of people, and because membership in the community changes people in specific ways, which they then reflect elsewhere. We have some interesting alumni.

No community can be all things to all people. Really, the only feasible goal is to be a good place for some people, and to accept that other places are good places for other people. I think we do pretty well at that, frankly.

-----
† For the avoidance of doubt, I am thinking of a specific person. I knew a woman at university who was so fixated on the dragons of Pern that no discussion of either Tolkien or Le Guin could occur in her presence. She would pull the discussion around to dragons, and thence to Pern.

#241 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:14 PM:

Madeline @222: A group of moderators is, by definition, a clique, is it not? It's not as though anyone is likely to become a moderator (though that would be a catastrophic interesting experiment). But really, if I hear another moderator or group of accused of such quashing all dissent without a single shred of evidence to back it up, I will have to go and find a furry to kick. The plural of 'rumour' is not 'evidence'.

As it happens, RPG.net keeps a forum called Trouble Tickets, which is used for all sorts of forum problems, not just notices of trolling. You can go there and check out the ban notices, and usually trace them to examples of egregious misbehaviour. Not dissent, but bad behaviour. The issue can be confused by those who conflate their bad behaviour with strong opinions, but for the few years I've been hanging out there, you don't get warned, locked, deleted, timed-out, or banned merely for having an opinion that runs counter to the left-leaning, Exalted-loving, Big Model-hating majority. Why, they even let narrativists post there.* Other posters may mock or challenge one for holding certain views, but such mockery is itself constrained by the rules. Rule no. 1 is, of course, Be polite.

Back in the deep past of the internets, RPG.net was a wild and lawless place, before moderation was brought in. And while the moderation policy was being hammered out, there were doubtless mistakes made, some of them by moderators still extant. But today, RPG.net is in that place where the chat is generally well-behaved, interesting and varied, and I would hold it up as an example of a well-moderated and popular site to anyone.


*I'll leave the explanations of these obscure terms for the interested observer to pursue for themselves.

#242 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:16 PM:

David T. Bilek:

There is violence inherent in all systems: in the "unfettered" system. It's the violence of the mob.

That violence is why I don't participate in usenet any more, because there are people there who act (often in apparent concert) to make it terribly unpleasant for me to be there.

I can make my own blog. I can't make my own usenet, and even if I could/did, all I'd get is more of the same shit I can't abide in the present usenet, unless I installed moderation.

I've seen "one person" drive people from fora. They didn't have the justification Teresa does. They did it just because they felt like it. Look at the case referred to above. The commentariat at Slog, took to slagging, and made it so unpleasant for the guest poster she left.

Cui Bono?

So which is the the more problematic? I can have a place in which is is comfortable for me to hang out. It will be moderated. Either is is mine, and I wield the sword (I have one of those... just had some interesting discussions about fair use copying of photos [I don't think there is such a thing, practically] and the, "artificial scarcity of artworks").

So we have a major difference of both opinion (that an unmoderated space can stay productive of general comity) and philosophy (that moderation, is acceptable, and the right of free association to find people with whom the level of moderation is compatible is just ducks).

Because, as I read you, you are arguing that moderation; while useful, is; at best, an burden to all; more borne then desired, and the net would be better off without it.

As to Teresa not wanting to talk about... I have no problem with it. As you say, this isn't usenet. It's her place. If it were a loud argument, full of heat and passion and taking over a party she was running, she'd be within her rights to say, "take it outside, or can it." I don't see why it being on the net should supersede that. We all had the possibility of removing to our own room.

More to the point, she didn't tell us the topic was out of bounds. She said it wasn't meet for that thread. The reason we refer to it as "the brtn" thread is because 1: it was the only case of mass disemvowelment here, and 2: A new thread, where we could play whack-a-mole with all the bog-standard arguments that topic always causes, to our hearts delight.

So the complaint about her shutting it down isn't even all that strong.

Serge: I was saying that one who can't/doesn't like to argue, can be a valued member of the community, and many do so with puns and poetry. It was an attempt to show ML is more than just a debating society.

#243 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Terry Karney @ 242... ML is more than just a debating society

It is indeed more than that. Abi just referred to ML as Teresa & Patrick's living-room, but it has also been compared to a front-porch where people drop by. One thing I'd say in favor of moderation is that a community that doesn't police itself in some manner isn't likely to survive. Yeah, my use of the word 'police' is loaded.

#244 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:24 PM:

I object strongly to Madeline F's characterization of RPG.Net in #222 . As counter-example, I start with the example of Curt, who got permabanned, took time off, discussed the matter privately with the administrators (exactly as recommended in the rules), got reinstated, and eventually ended up becoming a moderator himself. There is no fuller expression of the idea "we made a wrong call, or we made a right one for that situation but there's more to say".

David Bilek: One of the reasons I gave up being a libertarian (this is relevant, seriously) is that I found myself more concerned about real-world life experiences than the purity of a particular role. I became a supporter of universal health care when I found myself wholly convinced by the statistics that the people in countries that have it live longer and better. I remain committed to the principle of the general welfare; I just see wildly different means as getting to the goal I share with all my libertarian friends of having as many people as possible enjoy as good a life as possible.

Same deal with moderation. I think that you belong to a category that's way out at one end of the spectrum when it comes to valuing the existence of a particular state of rules. Most of us are concerned much more with ongoing outcomes. It doesn't make you wrong, but you do need to understand that "I don't really care about some aspects of the rules if they get me reliably good conversations with folks I'm happy to hang out with" is not a gauranteed endorsement of any old tyranny. It's a different valuation of the rule as such versus the consequences of the rule as applied than you make.

One of the reasons I stopped being nearly so interested in rules formalism, actually, is my experience of Usenet, particularly watching groups form via news.groups and seeing how they did in practice. I found that attitude mattered a lot more than the rules on almost every point. It mattered that folks be aware of potential pitfalls and have something in place to handle them...but it didn't seem to matter much what that something was. What really matters is a match between the overall attitude of the moderators and of the users. If there's shared good will, virtually anything will work for a good long while.

#245 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Yes, the beration thread was an excellent example of what I like about this community. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the Spanish-settled planet IberiaTen.

#246 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:32 PM:

NelC: There are fora where everyone is a moderator.

I am thinking of most of the "Top 20" groups on Flickr. The rules are, only 20 photos on a specfic topic are allowed.

If the group is full, you may post, but you have to choose one to delete. If someone should make an overpost (be it to make more than 20, or; as is prohibited in some groups, keep re-posting a picture which was dropped, or post more than 1 photo [which last is poor structure, since limits on pictures in a pool can be made) one is supposed to trim the group back down to 20.

This one Top 20 Spiders is one I belong to.

The also have an admin (usually more than one; though the nature of flickr's admin structures make this both a bug, and a feature) who can remove moderators.

#247 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:44 PM:

It might be of use, for clarity, to link to the threads we are discussing.

  1. In the midst of a discussion about a politician, the topic of abortion came up. Despite the usual ways of defusing tension around here*, despite moderator comments both mild and firm, the thread started to go septic. So Teresa disemvoweled all abortion-related comments to halt it in its tracks, then discussed the matter with the moderation team.
  2. Teresa then re-emvoweled the comments and opened a thread entitled "That topic", with the following introit: If y wnt t tlk bt brtn, d t hr.
  3. The discussion covers Richard and Tim Burton (as well as Benjamin Britten), the several Matters of Britain, baritones, abrotine, Clara Barton, and, eventually abortion. But by the time that occurred, everyone was either done being angry or had wandered off elsewhere.

-----
* Geeky humor narratives, in this case an extensive roadrunner pastiche

#248 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 04:55 PM:

abi @ 247... an extensive roadrunner pastiche

Wasn't there something about a boulder about to fall on Xopher's head, a fate which he tried to avert with a cocktail drink's umbrella?

#249 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:05 PM:

I'd like to point out that there was at least one FarScape reference in that discussion too.

#250 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:17 PM:

Xopher @249:
I'd like to point out that there was at least one *FarScape* reference in that discussion too.

Well, yes, but I was trying to make the discussion look interesting and amusing.

g, d, r...

#251 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:19 PM:

#241 NelC: A group of moderators is, by definition, a clique, is it not? No, a clique is a group that claims to be better than other nearby groups.

NelC and Bruce Baugh: I get the feeling that you're assuming I'm characterizing RPG.net without having spent a long time there trying to throw in words of reason. If this is your assumption, it is incorrect. I gave it a couple-three years, ending January 2007, in which I saw with my own eyes subjects some mods cared about getting modded to silence antagonistic opinions, and subjects some mods didn't care about getting modded so they were cesspools. I consistently saw posters some mods liked getting slack that was denied to posters some mods didn't like. I watched people who said in Trouble Tickets "what he said wasn't that bad, and what the mods said was actually more dickish" get picked off, one by one. I tried pointing out unfairness and suggesting solutions.

Since any feminist thread was among the cesspool subjects, and since it bothered me that frex Curt got to be far more a jerk than any non-mod and the other mods he roomed with backed him no matter how far he went, I didn't have the ability to get along without eventually coming into conflict with mods and catching a ban. So I walked away. I'm not the only one.

Congrats on not encountering the areas of unfairness; RPG.net is a nice resource.

#226 David Bilek: Eh, our paths diverge here. I'm not against strong moderation, I'm against moderation that sets the mods as a priviledged class. I don't feel that ML does that: I get the impression that I can disagree strongly with mods without getting on a list. Community pressure is an ok form of moderation, and that's what most of the moderation here is.

#252 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:24 PM:

Xopher @ 249... The Browder Unit of Measurement?

#253 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:30 PM:

I have absolutely no experience with RPG.net, but I find the discussion of the differing perceptions of moderation there very interesting. And pertinent.

#254 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:46 PM:

Comment #239: the first point that I realized brtn actually wasn't "Britain".

Xopher@122: I would love to see the antisemiotic vandalism thread.

Terry@190:

It seems to me the Hobbesian state of nature has taken over all of the bits of USENET in which I used to hang out.

Usenet is still a pretty good place if you care about the faithful simulation of various 8-bit processing architectures, real and imagined. I've had six or seven newsgroups I've read regularly over the years, starting in 1996. The traffic is low enough and generally noncontentious enough that there's never been a problem larger than the occasional spam storm - and even those were only about a dozen posts at a time. Attempts to move discussions to moderated forums and the like tended to collapse under inertia.

Those are the only examples I can think of, though. rec.games.rpg.advocacy lasted past 1994, at least.

#255 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:48 PM:

abi @ 240:

I knew a woman at university who was so fixated on the dragons of Pern that no discussion of either Tolkien or Le Guin could occur in her presence. She would pull the discussion around to dragons, and thence to Pern.

Y knw, tht mks m thnk f Rbrt . Hnln.

#256 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 05:56 PM:

abi: This last point is the important one, by the way. A world with only one community, or one type of community, would be desperately poor.

I think it's important to point out that this whole line of discussion started because I was making a corollary to this very point. I completely agree that having more than one point of community is very important. My point was that Yog's rules of moderation are presented as incontrovertible facts but are only the rules of moderation that lead to one particular type of community and so should not be presented as universal.

Obviously the topic drifted to a more general discussion of various types of moderation and which people find preferable, but none of that should be taken as me claiming that types of conversation other than the ones I find optimal are without value or should be changed.

I was never arguing that ML should change; I was arguing that Jim's moderation policies lead to a community like ML and that, if certain other kinds of communities are desired, those moderation policies are harmful to that goal.

To your specific questions:

iscussions on topics which, in a sufficiently heterogenous community, will never resolve (eg abortion, evolution)? ... How do you deal with the endless and bitter arguments?

Keeping them confined to specific threads is a good way; I agree there was absolutely nothing objectionable to doing that. I recall the abortion thing; I didn't connect that to what Terry referenced for some reason. Moving hot button topics to specific threads is very different than a blanket ban.

discussions which include libelous, defamatory, terrorist or paedophilic material? Can no good communities be hosted on servers in England, with its "batshit crazy" (per Charlie Stross) libel laws? How about death threats for the President?

Things that could get the site host in big trouble such as pedophilic material are obviously targets for removal. Libelous and defamatory isn't the same thing at all in my opinion. To your question; No, I don't think a good community can be hosted in England. I became far less interested in Charlie's blog when he instituted those draconian policies. If I can't say that Scientology is a ridiculous cult there is something wrong with either the moderation or the laws of the country that require them.

Note that even communities I respect a lot have problems with this; Matt, the owner of Metafilter, pulled down a post about Tom Cruise and said it can't be discussed any more. Because he was legally threatened. Do I think that was the right move? I dunno. In an ideal world, no. But this is the real world and it wasn't me who would have to spend big $$$ and months or years embroiled in legal matters. Is one post worth that? Probably not.

That doesn't make it good. It was a necessary evil at best.

particular individuals with hobby horses, who try to bend every conversation around to those topics, and exhaust their fellows in either the polite effort to engage them or the attempt to move beyond their disruption†?

Hey, the Libertarian Attack Weasels on RASFW resemble that remark! This is a fine line; if it's remotely on topic, leave it. If it's completely on topic, tell them to quit it.

But this one of the issues I hate with regard to blogs. The one-to-many nature of them means that the site owner generally determines what the topic under discussion is. I prefer places where the users can decide what the topics under discussion are. So, yes, I think it is appropriate to keep some things confined to on-topic threads but I also think that the users should to a large extent determine what threads are about.

The Open Threads here serve that role to some extent. But only to a point.

the moderator of the blog has acquired a stalker, who posts comments threatening explicit violence?

Violent threats are illegal whether they are blog comments, notes in a mailbox, or spraypainted on a wall.

one poster, in an argument with another, decides to post a large amount of private, but true, information about their opponent.

I can't answer this one without more information. It depends on the relevance of the information. If somebody is arguing that age of consent laws are more harmful than good it would be relevant if googling revealed that person had been convicted of child molestation. If somebody is arguing that the band GREEN DAY sucks, it would not be relevant to post their place of work, home address, and where their kids go to school.

So: It depends.

Anyway, I want to reiterate what I said at the beginning; I'm arguing against the universality of the Yog stuff for the very reason that you bring up. Because I like a range of communities and I believe Yoggish moderation inevitably results in certain kinds of communities despite those rules being presented (to me, anyway) as universal.

I apologize for repeating that in several comments but it seems to keep getting lost as the thread gets longer. I'm not arguing that all communities should have looser moderation. I tend to prefer the ones that do, but that's not the same as saying they all should conform to my preferences.

I actually prefer barriers to entry to moderation after the fact; make it more difficult to join a community and only the people who really want to be involved will do so. That vastly reduces the problems with drive-by trolls, spammers, and the like.

The $5 one-time charge at Metafilter is one example of something that works, but not the only thing that works. It is also clear that it isn't only about a $5 charge. TOTAL FARK costs money but it sure as hell isn't somewhere I want to spend any time.

eep, too long. sorry.

#257 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:00 PM:

the second "If it's completely on topic, tell them to quit it. " should obviously have been OFF topic. That's what happens when I write too much.

#258 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:10 PM:

#231, Josh -

Thanks for the clear explanation, Josh.

#256, DaVid Bilik -

I didn't know that any part(?) of Fark had a membership fee. (Fark has a bad enough reputation that I just don't go there, pretty much ever, so all I know is the name and that it has a bad rep.)

Thanks to both of you for indulging me on bringing the fees question, as irrelevant as it apparently is.

(And nobody thought "no dog in this fight" was worth a joke? Rats.)

#259 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:14 PM:

Yes, of course the same rules have to apply to Mods as to all the other members.

But the living room model referred to by Abi and others is an accurate one.

If I pay the broadband/software/server fees, yeah, it's my rules, especially if I'm the one who gets sued / threatened with a law suit.

Which happens, pretty regularly on a decent sized forum/blog.

But I'd also like to remind people of what does happen, all too frequently, with lax / unequal moderation. Remember Kathy Sierra?

#260 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:17 PM:

Ah yes, Kathy Sierra. The reason I no longer read dailykos.

#261 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:30 PM:

TexAnne @ 260... The reason I no longer read dailykos

I stopped when copyright came up on his blog and my wife, who is a professional writer, posted her thoughts on the subject, and kos's response was, to say the least, dismissive.

#262 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:42 PM:

#256: I was arguing that Jim's moderation policies lead to a community like ML

Which is a rather odd thing to say, since my rules aren't the rules of ML. How do the rules from another community entirely lead to a community like Making Light?

#263 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 06:55 PM:

David: I think I see some of our difference: I don't think the list of principles/rules at the top of this post will lead to cookie cutter (or even made to general pattern) groups; unless you think a level of enforced civility (and that level set arbitrarily by the mods... viz metafilter which has both present hurdle, and active moderation).

So I don't agree the conclusion you make follows from the initia argument.

#264 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 07:05 PM:

I've been following this thread with growing bemusement for some time now. Various people seem to be complaining, so far as I can tell, that Internet Place A -- in the general tone of its discourse, in the usual behavior of its participants, and in the customary level of moderation -- is not like Internet Place B and that neither Place A nor Place B is like Internet Place C.

What I can't figure out is why anyone would think that this was a bug, rather than a feature.

(For that matter, I can't see what's wrong with would-be posters having to exercise a bit of self-restraint, at least for long enough to determine whether they've landed in the sort of place where "Bless your heart" is the equivalent of a slap across the face, or, conversely, in the sort of place where "Fuck you" is the equivalent of a friendly punch in the arm.)

#265 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Serge, 261: It's all of a piece. Women he didn't personally raise from the masses, à la Svengali, seem to meet with indifference if not scorn.

#266 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 07:12 PM:

Not at all, Madeline, about assumptions. The only person I can think of to make claims that are probably libelous had a longer history than I do now. I'm disagreeing, not assuming ignorance or anything.

#267 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 07:30 PM:

TexAnne @ 265... I thought that maybe my wife and I were seeing sexism when kos really is that way with everybody, what with his being an Olympian of the intertubes, but you appear to be saying that he is an MCP. (Does it date me to use that acronym?)

#268 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 07:57 PM:

Serge: It's possible that Kos has changed, but the reason I quit delivering my eyeballs to his website is that I believe him to be a sexist sshl.

#269 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 08:03 PM:

Lisa, #259: oh, yes. From longer ago on Usenet, I remember a person who had a default behavior of attacking psychologically fragile people; he seemed to have triggered several suicide attempts.

#270 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 08:35 PM:

abi 250: *fills abi full of little yellow bolts of light*

Serge 252: No, the reference to painting a wormhole on the wall and zooming through it.

Michael 254: It wasn't a thread so much as a rant on my part. That said, I'll see if I can hunt it down...later.

#271 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 08:46 PM:

TexAnne @ 260: I remember the incident well, but don't recall the involvement of dailykos? Could you refresh my memory? If it's worth the trouble--might not be, I suppose.

#272 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 08:49 PM:

John, 271: IIRC--and it's entirely possible that I don't RC--Kos entirely dismissed the problems that Kathy Sierra had, essentially saying that if she couldn't take the heat, she should get out of the kitchen, and that nothing that was said to or about her was because she was a woman. He strongly implied that she was making a mountain out of a molehill. You know. Like sexists do.

#273 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 09:16 PM:

David Bilek #234: ML and blogs in general are not a many-to-many communication stream like usenet is (or was, anyway). They are a pulpit from which the blog owners can expound on whatever they wish and, if they so choose, allow you or I to contribute.

Yes, this is true. Of course, that's what blogs are for. Way back in the twilight of the 20th century, when blogging was born, blogs didn't have comments at all! Blogging didn't come about as a way for hosting free-ranging conversations, and if some blogs have turned into such a thing, it's in spite of the nature of blogging, not because of it.

What you seem to crave is a discussion forum of some kind. There are plenty of out-of-the-box forum packages out there; go ahead and set one up somewhere and see who comes by to hang out.

There also seems to be some kind of discussion-oriented feature ("Conversations") at Tor.com, but I haven't figured it out yet. (The site could use a Help page.)

#274 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 10:27 PM:

One of the reasons I still read DailyKos, despite disagreeing with Markos on many points large & small, is that I don't think of it as a one-to-many blog, but as a many-to-many site. kos himself is only a small component of the site's culture at this point, and a microscopic component of its content.

#275 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 10:29 PM:

I see Will Shetterly did his level best to turn this into a conversation that at bottom was about how awful it was that he got disemvowelled. A good part of the reason he got banned at Boing Boing was because he did the same thing there, in three topics at once.

I found his comment #89 here striking:

Bruce, having site members tick a box at sign-up time consenting to a site's moderation policy would cover the legal aspect.
A site policy which users aren't subject to without their agreement isn't a policy at all.

In my experience, if a site has a box on its registration form that says "I have read and agreed with the [name of site] policies and guidelines," failure to click on that box means you don't get registered as a user.

As Beth Meacham put it, if you don't like a site's moderation policies, don't post there.

David Bilek, equality and freedom of speech are important political principles, but you're misapplying them in this context.

Any forum rule set will exclude some participants, including the rule set, "There are no rules." You underestimate how many participants are excluded by rule sets that don't enforce minimal civility.

The same goes for rule sets that hold that all participants and all topics are created equal. They aren't. Some potential participants enjoy wrecking conversations more than they enjoy having them. Some are just cruising for an excuse to get into a fight. Some think they don't have to read the previous messages in the thread, or have a quick look at Wikipedia if they don't understand the topic under discussion.

The people who trashed Kathy Sierra are still out there.

On banning topics:

Let's say that a blogger finds a particular subject extremely painful to read about or discuss. Is he obliged to host discussions of it on his site? I say he isn't. I also say that he's not obliged to put his wounds on display to the general public in order to have that preference respected. He's not even obliged to say in a general way that something of that nature is the basis for his preference. If he wants to talk about it, fine; but if he doesn't, it's nobody's business but his own.

There are other reasons site owners might have for excluding topics. Their occupation might make it indiscreet for them to host discussions of certain subjects. They might be currently embroiled in a lawsuit touching on some particular subject. They might have a strong interest in expert discussions of certain subjects that tend to be overrun and trampled flat by enthusiastic amateurs. They might have limited time and energy, and not want to have to expend it hosting unrewarding events like the internet's nine bazillionth amateur discussion of quantum physics, or the infinitely prolonged self-examinations of a major internet bore, or incursions of commenters from the Free Republic of Little Green Footballs bent on repeating their latest set of "global warming is just a theory" talking points, or three rhinos conducting an unimaginative exercise in head-butting argument.

I don't believe that site owners are obliged to screw up their professional lives, expose themselves to legal liability, sacrifice their free time to every idiot that comes along, or give up all hope of having the kind of conversations they would like to have. I also believe they're not required to tell us exactly why they don't want to host certain discussions. Therefore, I believe that if they say they don't want one or another subject discussed, we should either respect that, or go elsewhere.

===

Full disclosure: I once commented on a forum about my strong disagreement with its moderation policies -- but I carefully saved a copy of my comment before I posted it.

#276 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 10:49 PM:

Yog, that's a pretty good post. Item (h) made me laugh. You wouldn't believe how often I catch myself muttering darkly that some offensive commenter's foot shall slide in due time. When I spot myself quoting that, I delete it. No sense in giving too much warning.

For your amusement: I've stumbled across a thread that's a moderator's nightmare, but not in any of the usual ways. Have a look.

(Note: you should ignore the numbers quoted in the original entry. They're wonderfully optimistic.)

#277 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:03 PM:

#276: OMG!! I AM SO HAPPY TO COM ACCROSS THIS BLOG! I WAS TOLD THAT FOR $39.95 A MONTH I WOULD GET ALL MY VOWWELS BACK!!

... No, I can't go on with it.

That's quite a comment thread.

#278 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:14 PM:

Ha. When they're done typing for dollars, they can move on to canceling their google.

#279 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:22 PM:

That's one of the most...remarkable comment threads I've ever seen.

#280 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:27 PM:

Oh, and as to the septicity (septicism? septocity?) that can arise from unmoderation*, I offer you a local news story.

*as opposed to immoderation, which I don't recommend but which has always worked for me

#281 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:45 PM:

JAA, #280: "toxicity" is the word I use.

#282 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2008, 11:49 PM:

John A. Arkansawyer: Gods, that was horrid. I maanaged to read about 20 comments. The appalling sense of... I can't find the words. I do know that I am not planning to spend any time there; ever. Passing through is about it.

#283 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:01 AM:

Yog is mighty! Yog does not fear puny copyright laws! But once that's clear, Yog would be a real sweetie if he went ahead and made minor edits with no fanfare, but made sure major hoaxes were prominently corrected. For Yog hates those who fool Yog, and Yog will see that their trickery does not succeed. All hail Yog!

Yes, Yog is mighty. And since we've decided that the "copyright" claim is spurious, what Yog thinks of copyright is irrelevant. (Yog has the 100% right to crumple up a street-mail letter and throw it in the trash, even if it's a unique copy. Or black out all the vowels before showing it to his friends.)

Yog is seldom fooled, but if he is, he will blog about it prominently -- if he'd otherwise blog about the hoax prominently. That is, if it's interesting in and of itself. What Yog decides to write about is based on ... rule a) above, Yog's whim.

#284 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:02 AM:

Terry Karney @ 282: The awful part is that's the corner of the state that's considered (falsely, in my opinion) liberal, or at least to have the most liberal subgroups (true for some values of liberal).

It's also a real nice place, in most ways, and one which I love. I spent most of my adult life (and many weeks of my childhood) there. I may have to move back, if my parents' health fails in certain ways. If it comes to that, it might be that the dear wife stays with the daughter here in the Little Rock school system. Probably living up there again will kill me. Life insurance, yay!

#285 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:06 AM:

Josh in #278: I was keeping a straight face until I got to "In Soviet Russia, google cancels you!"

#286 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:28 AM:

elise @ 285
A lot of the comments there sounded like knowledgeable people playing along with the clueless.

#287 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:44 AM:

Jim Macdonald #283: And since we've decided that the "copyright" claim is spurious, what Yog thinks of copyright is irrelevant. (Yog has the 100% right to crumple up a street-mail letter and throw it in the trash, even if it's a unique copy. Or black out all the vowels before showing it to his friends.)

Blacking out of vowels leaves more information intact than full disemvoweling; for example, a flaming post defaming Circe as the "Wanton of Aeaea" would be made more ambiguous by removal of vowels than by blacking them out.

Did you look at the EFF's Section 230 protection information? I think it's low probability, but still relevant.

#288 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:39 AM:

The google-cancelry definitely takes a big turn around the time it blew up on the blogosphere -- Mefi had a thread, a bunch of other places as well -- and then what had been occasional pokes from the blogger and his friends amid the otherwise undiluted weirdness of google-driven complainants exploded into blog-savvy people making ironic pseudo-confused comments. Just check the timestamps for when it gets busy, basically.

Which ruined the magic a bit, but so it goes.

Regardless, "CANCEL MY GOOGLE" is now as useful shorthand behind the scenes at Mefi for classifying certain outlier segments of the stuff that comes into our mod contact form.

#289 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 04:27 AM:

Terry Karney @282: It's the comment-thread version of a BLIT. I managed to skim through the whole thing, but just barely...

#290 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 08:38 AM:

I can't be the only one who read that second link and thought of someone saying "Well, cancel my google" in a very Popeye sort of voice.

#291 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 08:44 AM:

NPR's fascinating media-watch program, On the Media, Friday ran an item about poisonous comments. They interviewed Ira Glass, of This American Life, who felt it necessary to turn off comments on TAL's site, but nevertheless has a nuanced view of the problem.

Maybe Ira should have a chat with TNH. Or Yog.

#292 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:11 AM:

John A Arkansawyer @280, my hometown paper recently started allowing reader comments on stories. I don't know why, because all they get is septic racist stuff like this. (No n-words, but it's really just as bad.)

I've decided that online newspaper comments are quite possibly lower than YouTube comments.

#293 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:30 AM:

The "cancel my google" link creeps me out. I couldn't read it far enough to find where there's a sudden jump in comments and they become jokes.

I think maybe my problem is that the first few are people who really honestly think someone got on their computers and installed something without their knowledge. Which means they're either innocents in great danger out on there the internet or really quite mentally ill. Enough of them are angry and repetitive that I feel threatened by them (yes, I know how irrational that makes me). I'm afraid *of* the ill ones and *for* the innocent ones, and I can't tell them apart. Plus, I feel sympathy for the ill ones too, but not enough to cancel out my fear.

It's so weird to be creeped out by people who can't figure out how to change their home page or turn off a pop-up blocker, but I am.

*shudders*

#295 ::: Chris W ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 11:11 AM:

Earl @ 287:

I think you're misreading the description of Section 230 in that link. Section 230 has to do with protection from libel charges, and nothing to do with copyright.

Under section 230, web sites with open comments or other types of open content submission are not liable for libelous material that appears through these routes. E.g. If I posted (falsely) "John Smith is a liar and a cheat. He stole a lot of money from me." John Smith might be able to sue me for libel, but he would not be able to sue our dear hosts.

The link just lays out what should be obvious: If I posted "John Smith is not a liar and a cheat. He never stole a lot of money from me." and our hosts edited that to read "John Smith is . . . a liar and a cheat. He . . . stole a lot of money from me." Then they would lose section 230 protection and be liable for the libel.

It would only be relevant to disemvowelment if the disemvowelment somehow added a libelous meaning to a comment which wasn't libelous when fully emvoweled. And even in that case, I'm pretty sure the ambiguity and the clear evidence that there was no intention to libel would get our dear hosts off.

#296 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 11:45 AM:

I think that Yog's Law, and other moderation schemes we've been talking about don't emphasize the smart, clueful moderator. It's easy to remove or disemvowel a post that says, "UR ALL FAGGOTS AND GOING TO DIE." But deciding what to do with a reasonable post by a pro-lifer about brtn is a lot harder. It's unlikely to go any good place, but the post as it stands isn't in the category of instant retaliation. Most of the objections to Yog's law have been objections about moderators misusing their powers. You have to have faith in your moderators to have confidence within the space. Bad moderators can destroy a place easily. But Yog's laws are assuming smart, clueful people as moderators, not just any couple of blokes picked up off the street. People whose judgment he can trust, which means he can back them up if push comes to shove.

I think of Making Light as having light moderation because it permits vigorous discussion to contine so long as it doesn't become personal, or a whirlwind that everyone is dragged into. And the methods of slowing these things down is far more delicate than many boards. She's done what, one mass disemvoweling, after having warned people that they'd crossed the line. And then promptly put up a thread for them to discuss it in a more appropriate place. Teresa has a great sense for when something is going to turn toxic, and how to distract and redirect conflict.

I also think of disemvoweling as a lighter piece of moderation than deletion. The persons's words are still there, and can be made sense of with work. It's perfectly possible to get caught up with the conversation without being subjected to the kind of blood-pressure raising prose makes one want to post an unreasonable response. That extra bit of work to make sense of it slows me down just enough that I don't get real angry over that particular post.

#297 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:02 PM:

Chris W #295: Section 230 has to do with protection from libel charges, and nothing to do with copyright.

Yes, that was actually my point, that disemvoweling can generate liability.

That wasn't a copyright question. Here's a copyright question: does moderation by disemvoweling constitute the unauthorized creation of a derivative work? And, does Making Light's terms of service notice (e.g., "All rights reserved") really protect them from that issue, in spite of it being potentially vulnerable to claims of being overly broad and unspecific?

It can take a long time to discover the nuances of Making Light's community standards, and, even if you think you know your way around the place, it is still possible to be tripped up by surprise.

#298 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:33 PM:

*drops by to deliver more bolts of yellow light to Xopher*

*goes back to read-only mode*

#299 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:34 PM:

Earl: Do you think proofreaders' marks and teachers'/graders' comments violate an author's copyright? This isn't sarcastic. I think it may help to turn the boundaries way wide, because if there is no kind of markup that doesn't violate copyright, then the discussion goes in a very different direction than if at least some kinds of outside action that change the displayed appearance of a work are okay.

#300 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:36 PM:

(For that matter, why isn't publishing the edited version of a work copyright-violating? I have an answer that serves all my needs in this regard, but then I'm not thinking disemvoweling is a problem, either. If the latter is, I think it's important to look at the former, too.)

#301 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 12:48 PM:

Here's a copyright question: does moderation by disemvoweling constitute the unauthorized creation of a derivative work?

No.

#302 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 01:26 PM:

*chambers new chakan oil cartridge from JESR, continues firing*

#303 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 01:44 PM:

I just read through all of the comments to this post in one continuous procrastination-based sitting.

David Bilek and a few others seem to me to be claiming (Please Correct Me If I'm Wrong) that moderation policies like those at Making Light, including the use of disemvowelling, lead to the development of (or only work well within) narrow, closed communities in which the community members and commenters either (usually) agree or are friendly with the moderators. The commenters who are critical of ML's moderation style prefer communities that feature lighter moderation styles in which there would be more, I don't know...disagreement? With the hosts and mods? Between and among the commenters? More tolerance of dissent and discussion about points of contention?

Hee. I'm sorry. Maybe you have to read all of the comments at once to get the joke, but having just now done so? I find it very, very funny, and the meta just made me bounce in my office chair.


#304 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 01:45 PM:

It would only be relevant to disemvowelment if the disemvowelment somehow added a libelous meaning to a comment which wasn't libelous when fully emvoweled.

With "a" working as a negating prefix in a lot of english words, deemv-spawned ambiguity is a legitimate semantic concern, however you want to rate the likely legal ramifications.

And even in that case, I'm pretty sure the ambiguity and the clear evidence that there was no intention to libel would get our dear hosts off.

Depending on how much of your time and money you feel like devoting to legal battles, being able to win out in the event of a lawsuit may not be as much of a priority as not being embroiled in one in the first place.

Again, whether or not this is something that's likely to produce an actual legal threat is another question entirely, but there are crazy, stubborn jerks on the internet, some of whom have talented lawyers and more free time than they know what to do with.

#305 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 01:47 PM:

*yawns at Xopher, slowly, like a cat in the sunlight*

#306 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:02 PM:

Here's a copyright question: does moderation by disemvoweling constitute the unauthorized creation of a derivative work?

No.

However, creative re-emvoweling might!

#307 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:10 PM:

*pulls the stem out of a chocolate-covered cherry, tosses it in abi's mouth, ducks behind the furniture*

#308 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:12 PM:

#306: That sounds like a potential contest to me. And I say we strive to make our creative re-emvowelling constitute comment, critique, and/or satire, and therefore fair use.

P.S. I can't type "IANAL," because I, um, AM a lawyer. But the above comment on fair use should in no way, shape or form be read as legal advice on what would or would not constitute fair use in re-emvowelling a previously disemvowelled comment. Srsly.

#309 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:16 PM:

Bruce Baugh #299: Earl: Do you think proofreaders' marks and teachers'/graders' comments violate an author's copyright? This isn't sarcastic.

No, because moderation can differ from copy editing in the matter of consent. Hmmm, I have, from time to time, committed FTFY comment replies; however, strike-throughs maintain the original comment's intent (while allowing the replier to make fun of it). That case is a bit of DIY moderation, I suppose. heh.

#310 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:17 PM:

My thinking is that copyright is a topic that people can argue about endlessly, like gn cntrl, the dth pnlt, or brtn, without ever introducing any truly new insights. I'm sorry will dropped it into this thread; disemvowelling may or may not infringe on the commenter's copyright (for the record, I think that's nonsense), but that has nothing to say about disemvowelling's usefulness as a site moderation tool.

I particularly appreciate Yog's Rule (i); there are people who will game the system just because that's their hobby, or their compulsion. In an online venue where I am a de facto moderator, one of the rules I set out is, "If I ask you to stop doing something, you need to stop doing it. I rarely ask twice." This covers bases without me spending lots of time I'll never see again thinking up rude or petty behaviours that should be explicitly forbidden.

Moderation is not a fun task, and can easily become a time and energy sink no sensible person will accept in their life. Yog's Rules go a great way to counter that. A moderator backed by those or similar precepts will not have to spend nearly so much time judging, and can thus spend lots more time participating.

#311 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:32 PM:

punkrockhockeymom #308: I can't type "IANAL," because I, um, AM a lawyer. But the above comment on fair use should in no way, shape or form be read as legal advice

Too bad there isn't a catchy acronym for generic legal disclaimer verbiage. heh.

Hmmm, reading the Creative Commons Licenses (although they aren't invoked here except for occasional special cases) suggests to me that, in general, blog comments might well be considered "collective works". Back in the BBS days (and early online services days) there used to be a lot of talk about "common carrier" vs. "publisher", and the use of "compilation copyrights". What I remember of that is probably sadly outdated, however.

#312 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Earl: How about IAALBTAINLA?

Pronounced eye A A ell bee tain lah, as in

Eye A A ell bee tain lah!
It's just to en-ter-tain ya!

#313 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:42 PM:

#306: "creative re-emvoweling"

I smell a challenge..no, wait, that's Xopher's cherry bombe. Sorry. Carry on.

Does this mean we can bring back the ancient vowels of thorn and eph? Make up our own vowels? Use (brace yourselves) Gaelic vowels?

I have a focloir gailge-bearle, and I'm not afraid to use it.

#314 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 02:49 PM:

I also think of disemvoweling as a lighter piece of moderation than deletion.

I think this may be a key part of my disagreement with the practice: "lighter" is an overloaded word here. One difference between disemvoweling a problematic comment vs. deleting it outright is the visibility of the moderation itself -- disemvoweling makes more of a show of the process than deletion does, and a conversation that is essentially between the moderator and the commenter is sign-posted in public rather than handled between those two alone on a back-channel.

In that sense, it's not lighter at all. It's heavy, in-your-face moderation; it's explicit public shaming.

I am not going to argue that that lacks utility -- I understand the arguments for the practice and agree at least in part with them, and as we've said a few times now already it's different strokes for different folks.

But if the goal is to make someone hush up or go away, the vowelplay is not a necessary component (delete and ban and drop in an editorial note, if that's what needs doing), and as an elective part of the process it reads to me as unnecessarily jabby and petty.

Again, I understand that folks here are generally okay with the practice; that it happens here rarely, regardless; and that some of this discussion is helplessly conflated with the question of BoingBoing in specific and other contexts in general, and so isn't precisely about ML.

I've been hesitant to dig too much into the topic because I don't want to make a big deal about it over here, but I do believe that there's a degree of shared acculturation here toward the practice that makes it hard to convey clearly how badly the practice comes across from the perspective of someone who wasn't, for lack of a more apt metaphor, raised in the church.

It strikes me as a very clever, elegant, but also badly flawed general moderation tool, however well it may work in the context of ML and however well-intentioned its use (or the mere Damoclesian threat thereof).

#315 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:25 PM:

Josh Millard: IANAL, but libel law is something I paid a lot of attention to, when I was a reporter, and editing an opinion section; to say nothing of the grief-filled pleasure that was being managing editor of my college paper.

In practical terms, there will never be a libel case from disemvowlling. The amount of money it takes to mount one (this isn't something which gets done on contingency fees) is a huge bar to pressing a suit.

For something as ambiguous as a missing negation in a post which is not trivial to figure out (this isn't calling Carol Burnett an alcoholic) is going to cause the att'ys who practice in this area to tell you to suck it up and move on.

Because (IMO) the context of the rest of the comment; when deciphered will make it pretty plain what was meant. The odds of a single (or even repetitive) reversal of some form of disavowal is so unlikely to be misunderstood as to make the other legs of libel (injury to reputation, etc.) almost impossible to show.

The argument would be, in effect, "it was so easy misread that Everyone who saw the disemvowelled comment thought I believed (insert terrible thing here).

If the host of such a place had a regular habit of somehow amiguating comments with selective editing, then perhaps they would be at risk.

But I'm ok with that.

#316 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:32 PM:

Xopher #312: Earl: How about IAALBTAINLA?

I think I'd pronounce it eeyah-alb-tain-la, invoking "iä" in its fhtagnesque sense. Very pronounceable.

#317 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:37 PM:

In practical terms, there will never be a libel case from disemvowlling.

Honestly, I agree. Never underestimate impractical people, of course, but the odds seem pretty dang slim in this case.

#318 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:43 PM:

Earl Cooley III and Xopher:

Oh my. You do both know me, right? I am NEVER EVER going to remember that. I'll mix it all up. I'll be posting IABLATLNIA, and IBALNITLAA and all manner of messiness all over the place, and then I'll end up accidentally affirming that some piece of sporky snark is, in fact, legal advice, and then someone will sue someone else for LIBEL of all things, probably related to the giraffe-free nutbags, and you know how they are, and soon I'll have violated someone's First Amendment rights, and copyright, and committed legal malpractice, all at the same time, in one comment.

And then Teresa will disemvowel me.

#319 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:47 PM:

Found it. How about just TINLA?

#320 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:48 PM:

Okay. That works sooooo much better.

But TINLA. YMMV. SRSLY.

#321 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:49 PM:

Josh: I like disemvowelling for the exact reason you decry it.

I prefer justice (to use a loaded term, bear with me) to be transparent. I don't like deletion because it is both secret, and creates ground for grievance.

If I see something which has been disemvowelled, I can judge the meetness of the sanction. If it just disappears, 1: I don't ever see it, and 2: when I find out about it, I can't evaluate the merit of it being removed.

It lets the person who was deleted complain they were abused; that they made a perfectly reasonable comment and were denied publication.

It also, in the case of things like telling someone to piss up a rope, leaves the actual insult there. This is of questionable merit (I might not like reading; even disemvowelled, that someone thinks me complicit in rape and mass murder; tortures and abuses). It may poison the relations between people.

But mostly that's ok. If someone thinks that of me (see reference to Skeptic at Hullabaloo in OT 112) they are not going to come to being fond of me because they are denied the right to abuse me, and I am not going to have a good idea of what they really think.

I prefer a police force to a kryptomeria.

#322 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:55 PM:

punkrockhockeymom: Is there a problem when I get a nutbag which has no giraffes? Because I just looked in my pantry, and I can't find single bag of nuts containing so much as a whisker of girraffe in it?

Josh Millard: re libel, That's why I said practical. It's possible for a case to have just enough non-frivolous grounds that someone who has a LOT of money lying spare can convince an att'y to undertake a suit.

But the odds are, as you say, so slim as to be not worth worrying about.

#323 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 03:56 PM:

Josh: interesting difference of opinion on heavy-handedness. I personally find that disemvoweling disrupts the conversation less than deletion. With disemvoweling, I can follow the thread of the conversation, without being subjected to sewage. I can see why my community members are getting riled up. In a deletion, all I see are community members getting more and more riled up, without context. I don't see disemvoweling as primarily about shaming someone, but rather about trying to keep the conversation intact without it going septic.

#324 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Terry #321:

I agree, though I'll note that I'm not sure how well disemvowelment would port to other fora in general. I think ML is an unusually verbally adept, wordplay-inclined crowd, and I suspect that a discussion forum full of people whose language skills were more limited might see disemvowelment as a bit more of a barrier to reading.

One thing that often feeds flamewars is when Alice says something that Bob feels he must respond to, and then Alice feels she must respond to the response. This is especially true for personal attacks and offensive trolling. *Seeing* that the post was disemvoweled diffuses that cycle, both by forcing Alice to read Bob's insults through a more mentally demanding process with some decoding, and by making it clear to Alice that a response has already been made and seen.

#325 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 04:02 PM:

Terry, I like disemvowelling for the same reasons.

And you know, I wasn't a Making Light regular from the beginning, so I wasn't exactly weaned on it. Heck, I am enough of a lurker/non-commenter that I'm barely a regular now. But when I stumbled across Making Light in 2005 or so (I think I am a slushkiller baby, via Neil Gaiman), I was immediately struck, in a positive way, by the utility and the transparency of disemvowelling. I liked it immediately. I far prefer it to deletion as a moderation tool, both as a potential recipient of the treatment and as a community member. I can read what was written if I choose to and judge for myself if I thought it warranted the treatment given (in the context of the thread). And I know there is moderation happening. The rest of the thread still makes sense.

#326 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 04:09 PM:

It seems that we as moderators are on a cleft stick, when it comes to the visibility of our actions. (This is not a pointed reply to Josh @314, just a meditation on what he raises.)

If we leave offending comments, the thread temperature heats up. People coming in afterward read them, and get angry before they start posting. It's simple basic monkey brain stuff that bypasses the rational altogether: a perceived threat leads to aggression.

If we simply delete offending comments, we screw with thread continuity. People react to comments that are no longer there, and later commenters are confused. If the deletion is not marked, then numbering continuity goes. If it is, then the deletion is visible and can seem sinister. In either case, we get the Stalinist "disappeared" narrative.

If we disemvowel or otherwise hide offending comments, we get accused of public shaming, the stocks, and the Salem witch trials*.

In short, there's no perfect solution. All we can do is find the best fit for each community.

(Yes, yes, more violent agreement.)

-----
* I am not making this up or inflating Josh's comment. This is a quote from a year or two ago. It was even on Wikipedia†.
† Did I just say that?

#327 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 04:50 PM:

Teresa @275, if a blog post is updated 24 hours after it appears, what percentage of the blog's readers will see the corrected version? The difference is the success rate of disinformation.

#328 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 04:55 PM:

Josh Millard @314 -- The people I've seen being disemvowelled* haven't appeared to be very interested in others' sensibilities. So if the "practice comes across badly", I find it hard to be extremely sympathetic, and it's also difficult to imagine that it would be a serious deterrent to commenting. It is a sort of a pillory, but also a sort of a mirror, for anyone who might be interested in some self-reflection. Potential for abuse? You bet. In the end, it all seems to come back to how well Yog and Yog's minions do their jobs.

Anyone know of other sites besides BB where disemvowelling is part of the moderation policy and/or practiced regularly?


*except for the mass case with brtn, of course.

#329 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:00 PM:

I wonder if there might be a procedure with all the benefits of disemvowelling (except the pun in the name), but that could always be converted unambiguously back to the original text?

My first thought is a pig-latinizer.

#330 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:08 PM:

will @327:
What part of Teresa's comment at 275 was that addressing, exactly?

Final warning. Be civil and on topic, be absent, or be operating with a 20.75* letter alphabet. If you have a problem with BoingBoing, take it up with the relevant parties. This is not the place or the time.

-----
* assuming 25% syllabic use of y; this may be high.

#331 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:10 PM:

Tim Walters: I don't think so. I can read Pig Latin (and a number of its variant forms), which defeats the major purpose.

ROT-13 means we get it full-force if we decipher it.

The trick of rearranging vowels is much the same as Pig-Latin.

What I think a disemvowelling sort of tool needs, is to be both something which isn't immediately apprehensible, and has to be reconstructable; without being required to acquire a new toolset/outside application.

#332 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:13 PM:

Tim Walters @329:
I wonder if there might be a procedure with all the benefits of disemvowelling (except the pun in the name), but that could always be converted unambiguously back to the original text?

Well, ROT-13 is already taken for spoilers*, but any Caesar shift would provide the same lack of immediate legibility. You'd have to specify the shift so people could reverse it (unless you want to really slow them down with a quick letter frequency analysis exercise every time).

-----
* Also, like many geocachers, I have been able to read ROT-13 unassisted on and off for years. The spoiler clues to caches are hidden that way, and who wants to sit and stew over a printout in a muddy field?


#333 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:13 PM:

It lets the person who was deleted complain they were abused; that they made a perfectly reasonable comment and were denied publication.

But an honest commenter is just as capable of defending a deleted comment as a deemved one, and a disingenous one just as capable of defending either in bad faith. The distinction between "what was deleted was not so bad" and "what was deemved is not so bad" arguments is one without a real difference if the complainant is either willing to take a breath and be cool or an unreasonable SOB who won't budge on their own self-perception.

In other words, someone who is going to be cool is going to be cool, someone who needs to be shown the door isn't, and it's not the deemv vs. the deletion that's going to make the difference there.

I personally find that disemvoweling disrupts the conversation less than deletion. With disemvoweling, I can follow the thread of the conversation, without being subjected to sewage. I can see why my community members are getting riled up. In a deletion, all I see are community members getting more and more riled up, without context.

Yeah, I dig it. My take there is that with deletion comes a responsibility on the part of the moderator to be clear about approximately what was deleted and why. Silent, unexplained removal of anything that is generating significant community heat is just asking for trouble, no question.

A practical example from my daily life: someone posts a reasonable question to Ask Metafilter, touching on a topic that is contentious. The thread goes off the rails when one person makes a side-comment on the contentious topic instead of (or in addition to) actually answering the question, and another user responds to the aside.

We clean it up. We excise the original derail, and the stuff that followed, and we drop a note in there as an explicit disclaimer (a) that comments were removed and (b) of what needs to stop happening. If it's a busy thread and a couple more volleys come in after, we delete those as well. And then: it calms down. There's the rare re-derail and followup moderation pass, sometimes an explicit reminder that metacommentary or side-conversations need to got Metatalk instead of taking place in thread.

It works. Now, AskMe is a different venue from Making Light (and even a different venue from Metafilter proper in some respects), and so there's more reason to excise off-topic content than just quelling arguments, but the same general procedure applies to Metafilter proper where the threads are conversational and not driven by utility. And it works there as well -- delete stuff that crosses the threshold, disclaim when the deletions stand a chance of either being disruptive (missing conversation) or recycling themselves (hot topic, hotheads who will keep at it).

I'm not saying this as an exercise in "what we do works, so you should be like us" or anything of the sort. The point is that there's more than one functional model for achieving the same result; what bothers me about deemving isn't that it doesn't work but that it doesn't necessarily work any better than a model that doesn't have the same ugly I'm Making An Example Of You overtones.

And it may in part be a matter of ownership and author/guest dynamics. I moderate on metafilter as an administrative agent within the community, not as the author of the site's content -- I'd be acutely uncomfortable with deemving mefite's comments, and some of that may be because I don't see it as my place but as theirs or ours. That's something that may be much less true in a sense for traditional single- or few-author blogs* than for more user-driven sites like MeFi, but user-driven spaces are just going to multiply over time and how moderation for those is applied is as has been noted the difference between awesome and awful. And I don't think the implications of deemving, and especially deemving in the context of mod-vs-user conversations in thread, is something that's all that viable for a healthy user-driven space.

*and the arguments recently at BoingBoing over the BB/user dynamic and whether BB is a personal blog or a community site or what I think tie in very well to that, into the perceptions that different groups have had of the site as being one thing vs. the other.

I don't see disemvoweling as primarily about shaming someone, but rather about trying to keep the conversation intact without it going septic.

And I see that intention and don't think it's wholly off the mark, but I see the public shaming aspect as nonetheless very much present and a big part of what's problematic in it as a general tool. We may just be doomed to disagree about whether it is an issue of public shaming or whether it does read as petty or antagonistic, and I'm okay with that, but I do think it's a real concern as far as deemving being applied not just to ML or similar places but to moderated areas in general.

#334 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:31 PM:

#314: ...disemvoweling makes more of a show of the process than deletion does, and a conversation that is essentially between the moderator and the commenter is sign-posted in public rather than handled between those two alone on a back-channel.

For myself, I have no desire at all to enter a back-channel conversation with someone who is (by definition) crazy, abusive, or both.

#335 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:35 PM:

Josh @333:
We excise the original derail, and the stuff that followed

So if Aloysius* posts a comment with a side-comment that Beatrice* picks up and argues with, which inspires Claudio* to some really insightful commentary, you delete all three postings completely, and leave a note?

See, I'm uncomfortable with that. Maybe Claudio put a lot of work into that insight; maybe it could have made peace between Aloysius and Beatrice, or between their silent sympathizers.

I realize some of that is because you're trying to keep the threads there particularly clear, but the data loss troubles me. If you're "an administrative agent within the community", then how are you comfortable removing things written by the community, not because they themselves are trollish or inappropriate, but because they're an attempt to deal with trollery and inappropriateness?

In my experience, some of our best insights have come from that kind of passionate argument, even ones where some of the participants lose their vowels.

-----
* Alice, Bob and Charlie are on vacation

#336 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Jim @334:
Amen, brother.

#337 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Terry @ 331: I don't think so. I can read Pig Latin (and a number of its variant forms), which defeats the major purpose.

I thought the whole idea was that it was (1) a signal to avoid casual reading and (2) decipherable without great effort or computer assistance if one does decide to read.

I can read disemvowelled text pretty easily (except in trouble spots), but when I see something disemvowelled I say "next!" and don't read it unless a later comment makes me wonder just exactly what happened. Pig Latin would work the same way (for me), but without the trouble spots.

I can imagine someone not being able to not read the pig latin, though.

#338 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:44 PM:

Josh Millard @314 -- The people I've seen being disemvowelled* haven't appeared to be very interested in others' sensibilities. So if the "practice comes across badly", I find it hard to be extremely sympathetic, and it's also difficult to imagine that it would be a serious deterrent to commenting.

Part of the issue here is that it can come across badly not just to misbehaving jerks (we'll assume for this argument that only misbehaving jerks get deemved) but to people who behold the mode of moderation (or even just the presentation of an argument for same) as new readers. It's something that gave me a bit of pause, and which I know from conversation has given more than pause to a couple of smart, thoughtful folks who might otherwise hang around.

For all that, I think ML is a pretty great place so far and I'm not quaking in fear of a crazed deemving, so I want to be clear I don't see it as a binary thing. I've got my concerns for whether the sense of author-driven moderation and the general dynamic on ML that makes it work translates so much to BB's current (poss. vs. intended) userbase dynamic, but that's a big discussion probably not best fit for this thread anyway.

I'll try* to leave it alone, here; I don't want to be a stinker, but I did want to be clear about some of what bothers me about the technique, in theory and in practice, especially coming from someone who seems to have a lot of really excellent instincts re: moderation.

*shettery clause applies.

#339 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:46 PM:

Jim @334:

For myself, I have no desire at all to enter a back-channel conversation with someone who is (by definition) crazy, abusive, or both.

Enough about the moderator, what about the commenter? Baboom-tish!

#340 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:48 PM:

Josh: It's not about the deleted comment: it's about the rest of the world being able to evaluate it.

And those who aren't acting with ill-intent, but merely gormless affront, may complain they were unjustly muzzled. The rest of the community has no way to judge.

They get the owner/moderator saying, "I did what was my right/privilege, because I thought it needful."

All the rest of the group can know is the one person disagrees.

Your MeFi example is very different. That is a (very active, and not exacly light-handed) insistence on staying in the bounds of topic you want.

My telling someone they ought to a drink a large cup of broken glass and amonion might be perfectly on topic. I might be responding to someone who was arguing for the utility of terror; and I lose it; they might (as has happened elsewhere) called me a liar, and a traitor (in that were I a REAL interrogator I'd know that torture has to be done, and therefore if I really don't believe in it I am betraying my friends).

My reaction would be over the top, no matter how much it might be justified, but so too would deleting it be justified.

I am not sure what to say abot BB, because what I see is a bit of the, "they are famous, so I own a piece of them," going on there.

It's not a "community" site the way MeFi is. They didn't have comments for ages (I recall having to poke about for some time to find Xeni's e-mail to send her a clarification on a point about photography, and that was back in 2005, or so)

I think the comment threads here are a mix of "blog-owned" and "user owned" (much as slackivist, and to some extent Pandagon). Apart from abi, I don't see the front pagers taking a large part in the conversations. That's not a slam at them, this is a lot of traffic to keep on top of, and I know how much effort it is to stay on top of the conversations on my blog which get hot and heavy (none of which usually top 50 comments). And the most active threads, tend to be the open ones (barring the outliers which bring in outside comment; and end up with short term flamage).

I see some of that at BB, but that might be (and supports some of the arguments about what this style of moderation does) because Teresa is moderating there.

I do think that the timing of the birth of ML/Electrolite had a lot to do with how it is now. A lot of the people who were here at the beginning came over from RASSF, some of that culture was portaged over. Ways of defusing tension didn't have to be imposed.

Then again, I see deletion as a sort of shaming too. I also see it as a much bigger threat; first the deletion, then the ban. I don't get that dynamic from disemvowelling.

#341 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 05:54 PM:

Tim: I can, by and large, read disemvowelled comments. I can't, however, just look at them and apprehend. I have to stop and find the vowels.

That sort of text isn't "transparent" to me.

With English, and Pig Latin, I don't have the option to not understand it. The words just "are".

Preventing them from being that transparent to people is part (a large part) of what it's for.

#342 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:00 PM:

So if Aloysius* posts a comment with a side-comment that Beatrice* picks up and argues with, which inspires Claudio* to some really insightful commentary, you delete all three postings completely, and leave a note?

In Ask Metafilter, if Claudio's awesome comment isn't actually answering the question? Yes, but maybe with an email from me to Claudio saying "hey, that was pretty awesome but totally off topic, blog that yo" or such. But that's AskMe: you're answering the question or you're in the wrong place.

On Metafilter proper, I'd probably nix the nasty stuff and keep Claudio's awesome response and make a note that some stuff was nixed, and then watch the thread like a hawk and do some followup nixing/steering if necessary. Two different moderation dynamics on the same overarching site -- it's an interesting ride sometimes.

I realize some of that is because you're trying to keep the threads there particularly clear, but the data loss troubles me. If you're "an administrative agent within the community", then how are you comfortable removing things written by the community, not because they themselves are trollish or inappropriate, but because they're an attempt to deal with trollery and inappropriateness?

I think the very best case scenario is that a nasty firestarter of a comment gets dealt with coolly and civilly by the community itself in comments. Many long-time members of the site feel the same way; "self-policing" was a watchword on the site from the very early days. When that happens, I generally prefer to let the whole thing stand intact, in fact -- I delete as little as possible.

But if it's an exchange that's getting or remaining out of hand, yeah, as much as I hate to delete stuff I'll do that sooner than let it remain in all its awfulness, and I'd do it sooner than selectively editing any comments as well. We just don't do that on mefi, period; like I said, the idea of deemving in that context, in that community, makes me acutely uncomfortable.

But I think we're dealing with very different places in both structure and scope, so I the differences in moderation strategy make sense.

Another point worth making on that, actually, and this is if anything in defense of some of the moderation choices that I (and David Bilek, on different tangents) otherwise object to:

Mefi is a full-time job for me. I understand that Teresa may not want Making Light or BB or even the combination of the two to be a full-time job for her. It's possible that I'm just plain willing to embrace a more time-consuming strategy that involves more daily email exchanges with ungenerous people as part of how I do my job, and I can't really fault anyone for preferring in fact to reduce that aspect of running a site as much as possible. To the degree that that could be an element of some of this, I can appreciate the difference.

#343 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:06 PM:

Abi, if you'll permit me, this'll be my final word on the issue: At 275, Teresa said this was about me being disemvoweled. But my first protesting of disemvowelment was over someone else being disemvoweled, and the issue was whether a hoax's correction should be as prominent as the hoax itself. It's easy to dismiss an argument by saying it's about the arguer, but passion for a position is not the same as pride.

#344 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:09 PM:

Josh: I really am trying to understand, but I am at a loss.

You say people have said it bothers them, disturbs them even; to the point they aren't comfortable posting here.

And I don't see why? I don't see why you (and by inference they) are less offended/worried about being disappeared, then they are about being otherwise sanctioned.

It really seems to come down to the idea it's a shaming, a really serious sanction/punishment.

Which I just don't get. Honestly, I find abi telling me to back off (even when it's a generic comment to the conversational tangent I am in) to be much more restraining than having her pull my vowels.

Everyone (and I mean everyone) crosses social lines sometimes, and offends the mores of the group. I really think I ought, in a couple of places, have lost vowels. I was that pissed. I seem to have not crossed the line, but I know what I wanted to convey, and if half of that anger had really come through...

Let's try this: I was out in public, doing some LAN gaming with friends, in the basement of his coffee house.

Some idjit started telling me how "things are in combat zones" and that sometimes you just have to shoot prisoners, and a whole lot of other crap.

He said this after he had been told (by others) that I had a better appreciation of combat zones than he did.

It got ugly. I was foaming at the mouth, shouting and screaming; I was rigid with anger.

My friend had to tell me to can it, to step outside.

It was needful.

He could have just grabbed me by the collar, hauled me out the door and told me to leave (wouldn't have been completely out of line).

The first feels more as disemvowelling does to me.

The second like deleting.

As it was, I got my bearings again, and went back down to play for the rest of the evening.

Had he given me the boot, I'd not have gone back; ever. Which is pretty much how I feel about places where the deletion policy is less clear than I like. I dislike the feeling that if I make a moderate transgression (much less a minor one) no one can see what it was. They can't determine if I was rude, didn't toe the party line, or started babbling utter nonsense.

So I feel differently shamed. I feel more shamed. I can't talk about it (because it's been given ultimate sanction) and I can't even apologise.

I've just been stripped of agency, and have to accept it, which is pretty close to unacceptable to me.

#345 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:16 PM:

Josh @342:
I think the very best case scenario is that a nasty firestarter of a comment gets dealt with coolly and civilly by the community itself in comments.

Agreed there. Any community that's not self policing isn't a community, IMHO. I'm starting to see more of my work here being to get people to lay off the borderline newbies, who may be not so much evil as misunderstood.

as much as I hate to delete stuff I'll do that sooner than let it remain in all its awfulness, and I'd do it sooner than selectively editing any comments as well.

And there we fork. I find the prospect of making a commenter's words inaccessible to the community painful to contemplate.

Out of curiosity, by the way, how would I be received at MeFi if I came in and ran up a comment thread about how badly deletion comes across?

#346 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:18 PM:

Terry, honey, if your nutbags come sans giraffes, I'd sue. False advertising. ALL nutbags have giraffes.

TINLA, baby, TINLA

#347 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:19 PM:

will @343:

Not relevant to this thread, despite your best efforts to drag the entire conversation to your grievance on another site.

Those were your final vowels on the issue. Your consonants are yours to do with as you please.

You've done better on this site in the past, and I fervently hope you will do so in the future.

#348 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:32 PM:

You say people have said it bothers them, disturbs them even; to the point they aren't comfortable posting here.

And I don't see why? I don't see why you (and by inference they) are less offended/worried about being disappeared, then they are about being otherwise sanctioned.

I think it's just plain difference of opinion. I'd rather have a comment deleted if it was considered out of line than have it mangled, period. You, vice versa. That's fine with me, I can live with (even zestfully revel in!) the differences between reasonable folks.

My impression is not that I am a singular weirdo in my reaction to deemving, however. I can't prove that's the case, but I've gotten the feeling over the last few weeks that there are both plenty of people who find it a totally acceptable practice (see: this thread), and plenty of people who do not (see: many commenters in the original BB mod thread, some conversations on MF, some [well, you can't really see this, I guess] private correspondence).

It's been instructive for me to hear from y'all why it is that you accept or even like it, and I appreciate that opportunity. Hopefully there's at least some value in me chattering here about why I dislike it, but I'm not doing so with any expectation that anything is obliged to change because of it, so, as far as that goes: peace, and shrug.

Out of curiosity, by the way, how would I be received at MeFi if I came in and ran up a comment thread about how badly deletion comes across?

If you picked a random thread on the blue, pretty poorly and being told explicitly to take it to Metatalk. If you jumped into the ongoing BB thread, less poorly -- it'd probably depend on who was around and how they read your argument, but you wouldn't be out of line in context.

If you started a Metatalk thread on the subject, you'd be in the most right place, especially if your intention was substantial criticism of the mefi status quo re: moderation rather than just conversational commentary re: BB and ML etc.

I could go into detail on specific aspects of the reception: probably some jokey early comments, possibly some folks noting -- if this would be done with an account you just regeisterd -- that you just signed up to start a Metatalk thread, really?, though for your part it'd help mitigate that to clearly reference the context from which you're coming in your post text itself.

But a lot of that involves hypotheticals, so I should probably not sweat the detail. But the short answer is: gamely, if you didn't pick the completely wrong place to start said conversation.

#349 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:44 PM:

Out of curiosity, by the way, how would I be received at MeFi if I came in and ran up a comment thread about how badly deletion comes across?

On the MetaFilter front page? The thread would be deleted almost before you hit "SEND" because it is so not what Metafilter is for.

On Metatalk? Depending on how you phrased the post I can see it being left to stand and the resulting thread would contain both a great deal of insightful commentary and a great deal of nasty snark heaped upon you. Metatalk is the least-moderated place and can get pretty rough. But it needs to be that way; that's where things like the appropriate level of moderation are hashed out.

On Ask Metafilter? Again, depending on how you phrased the question, I can see it being left to stand and resulting in mostly insightful commentary because on AskMe the snark and/or abuse would be deleted right quick.

So it would depend on where you posted it and how you phrased it and the results would range from a disasterous train wreck to a 2000 comment super-thread with lots of interesting discussion.

#350 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:45 PM:

But a lot of that involves hypotheticals, so I should probably not sweat the detail. But the short answer is: gamely, if you didn't pick the completely wrong place to start said conversation.

Curse you, Josh Millard. I should have figured you'd beat me to it.

#351 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:50 PM:

David @350:
Curse you, Josh Millard. I should have figured you'd beat me to it.

Of course he did. He's a moderator. He has super powers.

#352 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:50 PM:

Prompt, detailed answers to metafilter-related questions: my gift, and my curse.

#353 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 06:52 PM:

Those conditions at MeFi, feel much more coercive than disemvowelling. Here, the comment would stand.

If it was really off-topic, the person would be asked to move it to the present OT. If it were really interesting a front page post might happen.

But to just excise it...? No.

That feels as a slap in the face; a "we don't want your kind coming round here."

#354 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 07:01 PM:

I think the question of feel is mostly unresolvable, Terry. Just as much as some folks may not want to hang out here or BB because of the deemv policy, I can totally understand that some folks wouldn't want to hang out on mefi knowing they might have out-of-line comments deleted. To each their own, etc.

At mefi, we delete but have a whole user-driven, open 24/7/365 sub-site for folks to initiate their own discussions about deletions, moderation, site norms, etiquette, why things work the way they do and how they could work differently, etc. It's a different way of handling it.

#355 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 07:06 PM:

That feels as a slap in the face; a "we don't want your kind coming round here."

It's important to remember that anybody at all on Metafilter can make posts to the front page and not just post comments to existing threads. It would be if a random person made a blog entry here on Making Light just like Patrick or Teresa or Jim or Abi can. There would be no difference from their posts. Right at the top of the front page, with a by-line and everything.

If someone posted about the moderation policy in a comment rather than as a front page post on Metafilter almost the same thing would happen there as here; the person would be told to take it to Metatalk. Here they would be told to take it to the open thread.

So I think you're basing your reaction on a false equivalency; making a comment in a thread there is the same as making a comment in a thread here and would be treated the same. But there is no equivalent action here for making a front page post there. If I hacked MAKING LIGHT and made a front page post bitching about Teresa or Abi would it be left to stand? Somehow I don't think so; nor should it.

#356 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 07:09 PM:

I haven't read every entry in this thread yet, but wanted to chip in from my experience hosting and participating on the Well, where quite different standards and systems apply. I'm aware that posting about how great things are/were on X other system is a cliche, and the Well has its share of problems (mostly stagnation lately from the lack of new users, and a large amount of tedious processing and metadiscussion). But I thought they might be interesting here anyway. I know that both pnh & tnh have experience on the Well and other systems, but most people have not, and a lot of things have been worked out over the 20-ish years that the Well has been around (largely in those very tedious metadiscussions).

The biggest difference between the Well and most web discussions is that real names are linked to the logins used on posts. Those names are verified by credit card transactions.[1] This also means that the names used by people are consistent; there is no anonymous or one-time-pseudonymous posting. It doesn't eliminate impersonation or sock-puppetry but it does greatly reduce it, because to do so you need to hack someone's account or open a new account using a credit card with another name, costing actual money. The other main effect is that people's reputations are tied to their login and real name, which reduces drive-by bad behaviour.

There are various technical limits on what actions hosts can take in moderating their subject areas:

Posts cannot be edited by anyone except system administrators once posted. Hosts (moderators) cannot edit posts. System administrators edit posts extremely rarely and generally only for technical and legal reasons. I can only think of a handful of cases over the past 12 years that it's happened. Hosts have no direct access to the database and cannot make arbitrary changes.

Posts can be hidden, a status that requires you to manually opt to read them. The author is still shown in order in the thread, but not the text; in the web interface, for instance, you click to read the text. This is a step lower than deletion and is usually the first response to difficulties. It has the advantage of leaving the text intact but in requiring one more step to read it tends to defuse arguments. People usually take the hint once a post is hidden, so it's a very effective tool.[2] Disemvowelling has a somewhat similar effect but makes the original post much more difficult to read and has the additional disadvantage of changing what someone else wrote, which seems to annoy the original author more and also prevents people from judging whether the moderator is acting appropriately.

There is no tool that removes posts from a thread without trace. The deletion tool is called scribbling; it leaves the author name and posting time in the thread in the original order, but removes all the posted text. An auditing message is shown instead, showing who scribbled the comment and when, for instance: "Scribbled by (jacob) at 28th July 2008, 08:45"

Scribbling is usually by the original author because of typos or because they regretted the post. The ability to delete your own posts is another feature missing from many web forums and blog comment systems. The nice thing about the Well's system is that you cannot erase the fact that you once posted in the thread, even though you can erase the text. This helps in preventing people from popping in, posting scurrilous remarks, then deleting the original post and leaving only the outraged responses.

Scribbling by hosts is done only as a last resort and is quite rare. Hiding usually precedes it.

The most useful tool of all is the bozofilter (as charmingly named by Jef Poskanzer). As you might guess, this lets you filter out comments by a particular list of people.[3] Filtered comments show up a bit like hidden comments - you see the name of the author and time of posting in order in the thread, but you don't see the text unless you opt to do so. The value is huge, not least because participants in incessant flame wars can be told to bozofilter the other person instead of arguing with them. And if they don't stop, you can bozofilter both of them and have blissful peace and quiet. It doesn't completely prevent disruptive behaviour since you're still shown the existence of bozofiltered posts, so someone can spam comments and annoy you, but it's better than having to read them. This is my #1 missing feature in blog comments, although I know there are some Firefox add-ons or Greasemonkey scripts that make an attempt at it.

Some cultural differences are also apparent. Hosts (moderators) have a lot of personal leeway, but are generally very hands-off. When they do act, they almost always add a comment in the thread giving the reason for hiding or scribbling a previous post - this is on top of the automatic auditing that happens showing who scribbled what and when. Hosts do take a certain proprietary interest in the area they're moderating, but they don't usually act as if they own it and especially do not act as if other people are commenting only by their forbearance. The right to comment is assumed and only serious and prolonged disruption can result in, say, banning, and that usually only temporarily.

Open access and free discussion is (mostly) prized. Different areas have different levels of acceptable discourse, and for instance there are two conferences mostly dealing with politics and current events, one with a very loose policy on personal attacks and the other with a much tighter policy. This lets the people who hate reading bitter personal exchanges have a place to talk and those who love participating in bitter personal exchanges - hi! - a place where we don't get hassled too much.

There are permanent areas for metadiscussion where conversations can be shunted once they go off course. Transparency and process are prized (frequently and at extremely tedious length) and for instance any action by any host can be (and often is) discussed freely in an area that that host does not control. This also keeps threads from veering off into meta-territory all the time.

Hosts are generally well-respected, fair, and even-tempered participants, but they are not always assumed to be right. Hosts usually do not get into personal arguments with other posters, at least in the areas they host. Most areas have more than one host, so that the other host can act when one host has personal difficulties with a participant in their area. Often one host will have a particular person bozofiltered and the other host is the only one who deals with them. This helps to reduce tensions and avoid accusations of unfair treatment.

Not all of these technical measures are even possible in blog comments, say, where anonymous postings are common and there's no identity verification, but some could be - I particularly think that hiding posts rather than erasing them ought to be possible, as should a strong & visible audit trail for moderator actions. Bozofiltering would be an easy addition if there was just an agreed format for blog comments (maybe a nice microformat - maybe one exists that I don't know of). The social measures are virtually all available if you choose to - specific areas for meta and policy discussions are easy to add.

I think that blog comments - probably as a reaction to anonymous comment spam, drive-by trolls, and sock-puppetry - have unfortunately tended to emphasize control by the proprietor over free discussion, and I feel like some of the rules posted here are typical of that. Yes, the first amendment doesn't apply to privately-owned spaces, most people understand that; but freedom of speech is more than just a legal right to limit government speech, it's also a righteous principle to be applied in general. The balancing might be different for a privately-owned space, but free discussion is still a good thing.

Transparency is also important, as is the idea of moderator neutrality and due process. Of course no law requires you to pay attention to those things, but they're still a good idea.

In my experience discussion spaces with heavy-handed moderation behaviour tend to produce boring, groupthink discussions and pile-ons. And the fury and flame wars still tend to happen, just on other sites that can't be controlled. I'm sure we can all think of our favourite examples of that. A commitment to transparency, due process, and free discussion may keep small problems from blowing up. And if you keep those metadiscussions separate, the rest of us don't even have to read them.

I feel like there's a bit of a blind spot on this among people who would absolutely defend these principles in other situations, even when applied to private institutions like newspapers or even non-media corporations. I know that blogs are very personal in some ways, but bigger blogs and especially group blogs will always produce a community of involved readers, and one way or another they're going to talk about the blog. If you have a significant number of commenters, you pretty much have to start thinking about the meta issues, and I think a lot of places would be well-served by a bigger commitment to transparency, as well as better technical tools where possible.

Here's a shorter list of my suggestions:

* Where possible, require registration for comments to reduce sockpuppetry and drive-by postings. Make it fast though, because anonymous users often have something interesting to say and you don't want to discourage them.

* Establish a policy against sockpuppetry and impersonation, even if you can't absolutely prevent it. It's good to have something to point to when someone engages in it; people will often stick to stated rules when asked.

* Create a separate area for metadiscussion and policy discussion, with a commitment to keeping it open to all wherever possible, even people who've been problematic elsewhere. Shunt those discussions over there and let them get argued out. Pay at least some attention to the consensus of your commenter community.

* Make it clear that moderators - even if just the blog owner acting as moderator - have a commitment to transparency, fairness, open discussion, and due process. Try to stick to it. Allow discussion of moderator's actions and try hard to consider the possibility that you're wrong or biased, especially if people who you know and trust think this might be the case. Just allowing discussions can help to keep things calmer (and confined to your site), even if you don't change your behaviour.

* Respect the integrity of other people's writing, even if they are mindless trolls. Some of the following suggestions follow on from this principle.

* Consider implementing less-total methods for moderating comments, preferably without modifying the original text. Hiding comments can be just as effective as deleting them, with the benefit of being less inflammatory and more transparent.

* Do not allow editing of comments or even blog posts; at least, do not allow editing of comments without auditing. Keep the original version available. If something in the original post must be removed (e.g. contains credit card numbers or an SSN), delete the entire comment and repost an edited version rather than editing the original.

* Implement auditing for moderator actions like hiding and deleting, and a commitment to using only the auditable tools for moderation. That way people can judge your actual moderation actions, and not have to guess what they were. Guessing can turn into paranoia very quickly. Keep a permanent record of what was done, with in-place audit entries in the thread. This may not be practical if you have to delete a lot of comment spam, but pre-empting spam with registration or a CAPTCHA would be better in any case.

* Establish a tradition that moderators will note when they've taken action and give a reason. This could be by technical means, by including a required "reason" field when deleting or hiding comments, or just by the convention by having the moderator post in the thread. Might not be practical for lots of comment spam, as above.

* Where possible, have more than one moderator, and a policy that moderators should avoid getting into personal arguments with commenters. Moderators should not get into mocking or ridiculing even difficult posters, because it usually just makes everything worse. If you can't remain calm and neutral, get someone else to take care of it.

* Where possible, provide or enable tools for filtering, so that people can choose for themselves which of your commenters are too stupid and wrong to ever be worth reading, rather than you having to decide for them with deletions and bannings.

* At least recognize the possibility of groupthink and pile-ons. Some of your friends - even the really smart ones - may be telling you that your actions are righteous, but their opinions might be shaded by their loyalty to you. Sometimes you are wrong, even on your own blog.

* Have different types of moderation policy in different areas. Perhaps comments on specific blog postings are closely moderated to stay on-topic and flame-free, but metadiscussions are more open. A cesspool area where virtually anything goes may be useful if conversations elsewhere keep going there anyway.

[1] There have been a very few pseudonymous accounts for a few famous people but apparently none have been in operation for some time and I think are not permitted by current policy.

[2] You can actually unhide your own posts, but once hidden people virtually never do so - generally the response would be scribbling and then banning if the bad behaviour continued.

[3] You can be very specific, for instance filtering someone only in one area or even in one thread, or, say, filtering someone everywhere except in the UNIX discussions, if they're intolerable on politics but okay in technical discussions.

#357 ::: wll shttrl ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 07:18 PM:

b, n wrrs. ws wmn rcntly tld m, "t th lvl f fndmntl vls, y sm t b rgng tht dscssns shld b fr; bt y’r rgng ths n cmmnt whr th blf s tht dscssns shld b hrmns." 'll rtrn f vr fnd wy t rcncl ths. ntl thn, fr wll.

#358 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 07:28 PM:

James D. Macdonald at #6 writes:

> Yes, I'm advocating city-states ruled by philosopher kings.

Back in the Olde Days when newsgroups were all there was, I sometimes heard people boast that the internet was the world's only functioning anarchy.

And it was. But it was an anarchy of city states, each ruled by a sysadmin^H^H^Habsolute dictator.

#359 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 07:36 PM:

I really like disemvowelling, as I've mentioned before, but I also like what Jacob Davies says in 356 about auditable behavior and maintaining the original in some form.

One suggestion I made at Boing Boing (similar to a suggestion someone else had made) was the ability to show the disemvowelled text as a link to the original cleartext. This leaves what I see as the virtues of disemvowelling (which I understand others see as vices, and I get their point) but also maintains the ability for people (and not necessarily spiders) to see what was said.

#360 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 08:16 PM:

Kip W at #66 writes:

> Ellipses abusers have misunderstood the "don't overdo it" clause of the Three Dots of Irony. (It's an implicit clause, but the Laws are spelled out.) They think everything they say is ironic. They are wrong, and not even in an ironic way.

As a sometimes ellipse abuser myself, I have to say it's not always overdone, and can be harmless in small quantities. I tend not to use it for an... ironic pause though, but to provide a true and accurate picture of my lazy, rambling mental processes. And I've got to admit that though I love Lois McMasters Bujold's novels she is a chronic ellipsis abuser, and drives me slightly nuts with it.

But any number of ellipses are as nothing to me compared to one! perky! exclamation! mark!

#361 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 08:31 PM:

TNH @275:
Full disclosure: I once commented on a forum about my strong disagreement with its moderation policies -- but I carefully saved a copy of my comment before I posted it.

Does that mean you usually don't save copies before you post?

If I've got more than a couple sentences to post -- especially if links are involved -- I open Notepad, write in there, then paste into the blog's comment window. If my comment takes more than about 10 minutes to write, or if I have to go away & come back to it, I save the .txt file as a matter of course. I've had so many comments eaten by typepad, haloscan, blogspot, LJ, (not to mention crashes of my own system), etc etc, over the years that I save comment drafts reflexively.

This also, you see, makes it easy to keep a blogcomment record on my own blog, because the notepad file is right there. I'm still kind of befuddled that this isn't common practice.

#362 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 08:36 PM:

Will: A wise woman recently told me, "At the level of fundamental values, you seem to be arguing that discussions should be fair; but you’re arguing this in a community where the belief is that discussions should be harmonious."

What an imperial buttload of crap. There is nothing whatsoever fair about your demand to personally dictate the terms under which everyone everywhere may hold discussions. I can stand plenty of acrimony but not sanctimony.

#363 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 08:41 PM:

P.S. Abi, Jim, whoever, please feel free to disemvowel my previous comment if you think appropriate. My chain just got yanked, and I responded in heat.

#364 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 08:42 PM:

Does that mean you usually don't save copies before you post?

For my part, I make clipboard copies before hitting the post button on unreliable sites or in the case of Epic Comments, but stop worrying once the post makes it through alive. (I'm thinking here of the NYT blog interface in particular, which was eating comments for a while at one point, but the same goes for a lot of other places too.) If anything goes wrong, I'll drop it into Notepad or vi for temporary safe-keeping and try again.

I consider comments lost to incautious posting a combination of karmic punishment for being so verbose and handy negative reinforcement against not ctrl-c'ing when I ought to. Since it's become a more consistent habit, the karmic reward is slipping away, alas.

#365 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:02 PM:

will @ 357: You've not been shown 'fair' in this thread, no. Instead you've been given grace. You've an odd way of returning it.

#366 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:20 PM:

Josh: That's my habit, sort of. If I have a lot of thread, or expect to have a long, (or complex) post; should I think I might need to review it for some reason, I use notepad, cut, paste, and post.

When it shows, I close unsaved.

#367 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:24 PM:

Ah so. More alike than different, then. I think I'm just a willful sumbitch about typing within the confines of a given comment box, for whatever reason.

#368 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:29 PM:

punkrockhockeymom & others: TINLA

Possibly supplemented by IANYL. (Because it is true that you are not my lawyer, even if you are a lawyer.)

#369 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:30 PM:

Josh: It's easier to stay more on topic, if I can see the post I'm trying to respond to.

I've also had oddities have the window change, and lost all I'd writting. So I've taught myself to not trust the comment box.

#370 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 09:46 PM:

And sometimes working that way delays a post:

David T. Bilek: It's important to remember that anybody at all on Metafilter can make posts to the front page and not just post comments to existing threads. It would be if a random person made a blog entry here on Making Light just like Patrick or Teresa or Jim or Abi can. There would be no difference from their posts. Right at the top of the front page, with a by-line and everything.

I got that. It's no small part of why it feels as if it's telling the poster to bugger off. If anyone can post, but some unspoken set of rules exists, and a moderator can just disappear it...

Then they can't really post, can they?

Because it's not as if you hacked ML, it looks as though such a post ought to be allowed; but it's not.

#371 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 10:03 PM:

It's no small part of why it feels as if it's telling the poster to bugger off. If anyone can post, but some unspoken set of rules exists, and a moderator can just disappear it...

Well, that's part of the challenge of trusting so many folks with the keys to the place: 90% of the time they get it right, the other 10% they don't. That 10% gets divvied up into a lot of different pieces -- I can go into detail in another comment if you're interested -- but the rules aren't exactly unspoken, as far as that goes; and we do keep deleted posts visible at their permalink for anyone who wants to check 'em out, complete with our stated deletion reason to help explain what the issue was. We don't keep an official "graveyard map", but there are a few scripts and at least one blog that track the post deletions as well, for the curious. We also generally write to new users to let them know what's up, to limit that rug-pull feeling.

It's not so much a disappearing as a removing from the Really, Really Visible index of the site. Reminds me of something Teresa said: to paraphrase, posting to the front page of Metafilter is an ongoing series of auditions.

#372 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 10:05 PM:

I got that. It's no small part of why it feels as if it's telling the poster to bugger off. If anyone can post, but some unspoken set of rules exists

It's not an unspoken set of rules; it's a very clear set of rules. Multiple links to the rules appear on the posting page. One is highlighted and says "You read the guidelines right?" and warns your account can be banned if you link to your own site or a project you worked on.

The guidelines state, among other things:

"Make sure you're linking to something on the web. If you're posting a generalized question to the audience, or posting a comment as a main thread, either find an appropriate mailing list, or use MetaTalk."

So posting about moderation policies on Metafilter is explicitly and clearly addressed in the guidelines, and the guidelines are thrown in your face when you attempt to post.

So I really think you're greatly misunderstanding the clarity of the guidelines on this issue with regard to making a front page post.

#373 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 10:06 PM:

goddammit Josh, I'm going to cm vr thr nd pnch y n th fc ovr nd ovr for constantly pre-empting me.

#374 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 10:16 PM:

David/Josh: My apologies, but what I got from the comments you made was, "anyone can post to the front page". Requirements of linkage weren't clear to me in your responses (and the comparison to hacking the front page of ML was still ill-made).

Your explanation of what would happen didn't say, "it has to have a link to be a front page post," it said, "that's not what metafilter is for."

#375 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 10:51 PM:

will shetterly at #142 writes:

> I can't decipher my #245: "Xn ws BB's rdrs nw pst s th rdrs wh fll fr ths hx wll knw th trth." (The reemvoweller suggests I wrote, "oxen was _bb's_ orders now past is the orders who full for this hoax will know the truth.")

If you click on the blue words you get a list of possible words for that particular disemvoweled word. Click on one of those and the list of possibilities will collapse back down to a single word. Not that "Xeni" is in the disemvowelment dictionary, but perhaps it should be given how BoingBoing keeps coming up.

Xopher at #143 writes:

> And now we get to it: Will is taking a dispute from BB here, under the guise of an "example."

> Will, you make me tired.

Xopher - you're getting more and more willing to jump into the fray and attack anyone who has any sort of dispute with the owners of either Making Light or BoingBoing. And it's making *me* pretty weary.

I often agree with you, but I think you're automatically assuming people act in bad faith far too often.

#376 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 10:54 PM:

Terry @366:

I started out doing that, but went through a period of a year or more where my system was so radically underpowered and undermemoried that posting interface problems would often take down the browser which would take down the whole system, Notepad and all. So I got used to *saving* my long-comment files before I tried posting.

#377 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 11:05 PM:

Steve 375: will has a rep here as well. And I saw what he did there, and how he brought it here.

I may be overly willing to jump in as you say, but you picked a very poor example.

#378 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2008, 11:35 PM:

Albatross @ #324: I think ML is an unusually verbally adept, wordplay-inclined crowd, and I suspect that a discussion forum full of people whose language skills were more limited might see disemvowelment as a bit more of a barrier to reading.

Yup. Around here, it's mostly just a speed-bump to reading.

Jacob @ #356: Greetings, fellow WELLbean! What's your login? Mine is lioness. How's life on the old pseud farm? Still all popcorn and lawn chairs?

#379 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:01 AM:

Terry: I was more trying to answer the nonce "what if", specifically along the lines of abi's question earlier:

Out of curiosity, by the way, how would I be received at MeFi if I came in and ran up a comment thread about how badly deletion comes across?

(Which, bizarrely maybe, I took as "ran up a bunch of comments in a [possibly pre-existing] comment thread". I'm seeing now the reading of "post a thread about" as being maybe the explicit intent.)

In any case, I was more trying to give a quick what-would-be-the-site-reaction hypothetical than provide anything like a first-timer's guide to posting to the front page. I can give a little more detail on that if you're interested, though it'd probably be a good idea to spend some time on the site getting acquainted with the local tone before you jump into something like a Metatalk callout.

In any case, didn't mean to give you the wrong impression of how the site works -- I just wasn't trying to go into anything like that kind of detail when I answered abi.

#380 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:06 AM:

If you click on the blue words

Ah! You! You're responsible for disemvowelment.com! You broke my heart and made my day when I found out that already existed; I've been fiddling around with my own proof of concept regardless, but have been too distracted to get it up on the web.

Have you fiddled at all with bi-gram or tri-gram models to improve the lexeme selection? That's the next thing on my TODO list, but while I'm optimistic about it in principle I have no idea how usefully it'll pan out.

#381 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:36 AM:

Josh #380:

The obvious thing to try to make the re-emvoweler sensitive to the context of the discussion or site is to use some kind of statistics from text in the discussion or site. A really simple way to do that would be to build an index of disemvoweled/original words from the site, and search the disemvoweled words you're trying to decode in the index. Then, you'd get common ML or BB words, topics, etc., and perhaps even words and phrases used heavily in the thread.

#382 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:07 AM:

Yeah, a good scrape for a local tuning corpus would probably be the best way to handle it. I've done similar things with Mefi -- direct access to the db makes it easy to do so more ambitiously, of course -- and it's interesting to see what stands out against a baseline frequency table of English usage.

#383 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:29 AM:

Wll @357:
Enough already.

#384 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:45 AM:

Will, if you're still reading this thread, I want you to know that I'm very disappointed in your behavior here. I thought much better of you than that. That may not mean anything to you; you barely know me from a few exchanges on ML; but I'd like to believe that you will think about the reactions you've gotten on this thread, and come back at some later time with a better attitude.

#385 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:46 AM:

I've been reading Making Light and Electrolite since 2002, I think. I forget how I got here, and I've obviously found reason to return, and in my more interactive phases, contribute in some small degree to the discussions. The point is, the moderation of this website (one or more weblogs, two or more owner/admins) has always seemed to me consistent and even-handed: spam is smooshed, trolls are seen off, and everyone else is encouraged to express their opinions as long as it doesn't get ugly.

And yet, I've not seen a comment disemvowelled that I did not think should be handled so. Contrary to Josh's assessment, I've never felt that disemvowelling here equals shaming, or that it's used as a shame cudgel. Perhaps that's because I simply do not think of PNH or TNH or abi or Avram or Mr Macdonald as the sort of people who would do that. I think they're much more likely to say right out what it is they're not pleased with, rather than rely on vowel-trimming for such a hit-and-miss effect.

Thing is, if my vowels were cut from a comment I left, I could put them back in myself without much difficulty, using the posted text. Then I could wrap my re-envowelled comment in a précis of the topic-as-I-saw-it and post the whole on my on site. And then I could, since I'm not banned or other wise rendered mute come right back here and post a comment with a link to my post. For which I'm paying the hosting fees, which does not in the least bit apply to here, where I'm a guest and not paying a blessed thing.

If my comment were deleted in toto, I couldn't do that, not unless I were in the habit of saving all the things I write, which I'm not. It's a jolly good habit to have, but it's not one of mine. Anyway, if it's deleted, I'm out of luck. And if it's deleted and me banned from commenting any further, I'm so out of luck that I can't begin to mount a rebuttal in any venue.

Out of the alternatives available, the spectre of being disemvowelled strikes me as caring and respectful of everyone involved (site owners, other site visitors, and me) than otherwise. It likely wouldn't work at all well in MetaFilter, but it seems to work here.

#386 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 03:13 AM:

Jim Macdonald at #334 writes:

>> #314: ...disemvoweling makes more of a show of the process than deletion does, and a conversation that is essentially between the moderator and the commenter is sign-posted in public rather than handled between those two alone on a back-channel.

> For myself, I have no desire at all to enter a back-channel conversation with someone who is (by definition) crazy, abusive, or both.

By definition? Only in an environment where the moderators don't disemvowel capriciously. And on Making Light, they don't - but there are other sites where quite reasonable comments can be disemvoweled in a petty way.

#387 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 03:22 AM:

Bruce Cohen, #384: I don't know what it is about the net, but I know several people (perhaps I am one) who are perfectly decent in person, and turn into ...something else... under the wrong net.circumstances. I've actually had to revise my opinion of one person who I'd thought very ill of because of his Usenet behavior--it turns out that in other circumstances he's very decent. You've seen my remarks to Will, here. That's about as far as I'll go these days, unless it looks like the person is a net.disaster.

#388 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 06:47 AM:

Randolph @387:
I know several people (perhaps I am one) who are perfectly decent in person, and turn into ...something else... under the wrong net.circumstances

This is not a phenomenon unique to the internets. (I could only find this in Portuguese, sadly, but I think the original meaning comes through just fine.)

#389 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:21 AM:

We call that MIPD: Modem-Induced Personality Disorder. It's going to be in DSM-V.

Meanwhile, back to #386: And on Making Light, they don't - but there are other sites where quite reasonable comments can be disemvoweled in a petty way.

The only one I can speak for is myself. I don't disemvowel much, and it's only for abusive nuttiness. I'm not looking for Pen Pals from the ranks of abusive nuts.

#390 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:23 AM:

Jim @ 334: "By definition" is a definite problem phrase.

The tendency of pools cf comment threads is to turn into schools of fish all swimming in the same direction, especially if the commenters are at all numerous. Those with contrary views run quickly into the problem that it's almost immediately impossible to keep up with all the responses; the only feasible approaches are (1) to give up, (2) to ignore most of the responses, or (3) to toss of very superficial replies that don't require much time or thought. And to the degree that the commenters view themselves as a community, saying something contrary is seen as disruptive.

re the threads discussed in 247: The first thread was overheated almost from the beginning; the atmosphere of ridiculing R*n P**l was enough to poison every discussion of anything around him. But things really got started when someone posted a fairly passionate defense of one of the standard arguments about that subject, and Teresa came back with a post that simultaneously commended that post and threatened to quash discussions that didn't fit a certain mold. Now there is no way I'm going to let my true position on that subject out here. The climate is way too hostile, my views are far too complicated, and I'd just get caricatured and subjected to a pile-on. So I tried to stick to talking in a limited way about how that subject was discussed, be only to tagged by P J Evans as someone on the wrong side of the argument. At that point everyone gave up (including myself), and when the thread was forked, the new thread was sabotaged from the first post.

The thing is that it's really tough for moderators to rein in people they agree with. Especially of late it has been extremely hard on the moderators at TitusOneNine to try to restrain people on the "conservative" side of the Anglican fence from just filling the comments up with simple rants. Likewise, the bloggers at GetReligion have complained of late about how people want to rant about the issues the media is covering rather than how these issues are being covered, even though the bloggers themselves uniformly come from conservative Christian positions.

I personally would rather see problem posts blanked rather than mutilated.

#391 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 09:22 AM:

I don't know what it is about the net, but I know several people (perhaps I am one) who are perfectly decent in person, and turn into ...something else... under the wrong net.circumstances. I've actually had to revise my opinion of one person who I'd thought very ill of because of his Usenet behavior--it turns out that in other circumstances he's very decent.

Ah, The Weblog of Dorian Gray.

#392 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 11:29 AM:

Thing is, if my vowels were cut from a comment I left, I could put them back in myself without much difficulty, using the posted text. Then I could wrap my re-envowelled comment in a précis of the topic-as-I-saw-it and post the whole on my on site.

The same holds true for a rewrite, if you were saying something of substance that you believed in. I don't want to mock the idea of draft-loss, especially for a longer comment, because I know it's frustrating to rewrite from scratch, but a comment worth keeping, rebuilding, blogging, and bringing back to the original discussion circuitously ought to be a comment worth remembering the thrust of, yes?

Deemving as a service to the deemved is a weird shell of a courtesy, as far as that goes. It is certainly not the thing making it possible to discuss a contentious comment. (I'm going to use a couple of mefi examples to make my point, but not because I see this as a MF vs. ML issue at all -- it's just What I Know, and a ready set of examples. So, for what it's worth, anybody on mefi who wants a copy of their deleted comment can get one as quick as it takes to drop us an email, or a mefimail, or a request in the contact form.)

And then I could, since I'm not banned or other wise rendered mute come right back here and post a comment with a link to my post.

Where does banning come into this, though? The alternatives aren't "deemv and don't ban" vs. "delete and ban"; banning is a separate, last resort part of the process in either case, as far as I can tell. (Mefi example: when it's a case of someone trying to answer in good faith but presenting their information so badly that it's fightstarter/derail material that bears deleting, we'll often drop them a line to explicitly note that it's FINE if they want to cut the antagonism/etc and restate their point more civilly. Again: bans don't come into it as a standard part of the interaction; a deletion is not in general a prohibition against the subject itself.)

For which I'm paying the hosting fees, which does not in the least bit apply to here, where I'm a guest and not paying a blessed thing.

I can get behind the Host vs. Guest argument as a fundamental point about your house vs. someone else's, but I do not understand why people would want to invoke the "cost of hosting" thing like they have here and at BB. The actual cost of hosting vs. not hosting a given comment is nil. It is the very tiniest of blips against the sunk costs of monthly bandwidth, equipment, maintenance, etc. The principle is fine, but the cost thing is a bizarre red herring.

#393 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:07 PM:

Josh: If a comment is deleted, do all comments that quote it get deleted?

Because, in this very thread, we have disemvowelled comment, and the full text of the comment in a response.

So the various levels of "service" are different.

As to "thrust"... yes. I recall the thrust of comments/posts which have been eaten by the system, but that's not the same. I hate knowing I had some clever turn of phrase, (or cohesion of argument) which isn't the same, because the system stuttered and I had to reconstruct it.

#394 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:23 PM:

Josh: re hosting, there are several things going on.

If I am having a room party at a convention, the cost of each guest is small (and depending on just what/how I'm providing refreshment, may not be an issue), but I am paying for the room. My (and my guests) ability to enjoy themselves is something I am paying for.

Some of it also the "death of a thousand cuts" problem. None of the individual wounds is all that serious. They can even, apart from minor nuisance, be ignored.

But they pile up. And I don't want to pay (even fractions of a penny) to be annoyed.

When you get to a site like BB, where the number of people ends up (at all those fractions of a cent) to being real money, well that's what's being paid; real money.

It's a stretch, but it's not unreasonable, nor limited (as with a reception, what one more person when one has 500 showing up) to just online venues.

#395 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Josh: If a comment is deleted, do all comments that quote it get deleted?

Depends a lot on the context, actually. Sometimes yes, sometimes no; the more substantial (and less personally aggressive) the comment, the better the chance it has of surviving the cleanup; the viler the quoted portion of the deleted comment, the more inclination to remove a response to it if it's been itself deemed deletable.

Because, in this very thread, we have disemvowelled comment, and the full text of the comment in a response.

Which is something I'm curious about, actually. If the point of deemving is to throttle the response and protect folks form accidentally reading something they should have to read to evaluate (one of the stated objections to invisotext or, presumably, other functionally similar comment hide/reveal techniques), then leaving quotes in full seems to kind of undermine the value of the deemving in the first place.

Which may in part just be a game of admin catchup -- deemving is faster and easier than subsequent searches for quoted portions to also deemv, even if that's the intended practice -- and I've had that same sort of headache on mefi when I've missed some response while cleaning up a derail.

As to "thrust"... yes. I recall the thrust of comments/posts which have been eaten by the system, but that's not the same. I hate knowing I had some clever turn of phrase, (or cohesion of argument) which isn't the same, because the system stuttered and I had to reconstruct it.

Aye, and as I say, I can appreciate that. But I think there's a significant difference between complaining that one's clever turn of phrase is lost to the ether and complaining that one has been denied the possibility of presenting and discussing the substance of their argument or comment.

#396 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:32 PM:

But they pile up. And I don't want to pay (even fractions of a penny) to be annoyed.

But when what you object to is fractions of a penny, it is again the principle and not the actual cost in question.

A man says to me, "I would not pay you a single dollar for that". I understand that he is describing it to me as worthless, not that he is bargaining me down to fifty cents or a quarter.

The phrase "hosting fees" is hard to interpret as anything other than a monetary reference. I'm not saying I object to the principle, just that I find that -- the explicit invocation of anything like the monetary cost of maintaining a comment or even a thousand comments to be very silly and not helpful at all to the person's argument.

#397 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:52 PM:

The quoting of comments which have been, subsequent to reponse, disemvowelled is a function of community. I can't speak to its use elsewhere.

The venom in a comment tends to live in the comment itself. Where something is straigt up vile (ll y lbrls r nggr lvng fggts nd lk frwrd t kllng y n th d f th rp) no one is going to quote it.

Where it's crossing a line, the substance may get quoted. That's a judgement call; because the problem is (rarely) that something is verboten, but rather that something about the delivery was ill-done.

And that it's being quoted takes a lot of the sting out of insult (at least as it seems to me).

I don't recall any instance where someone reconstructs a comment to quote it, but rather that the redaction took place after the reply was made.

Yes, that's vague, and I'm sorry I can't explain it better; that is a cultural thing, and not completely explicable to someone on the inside. If an anthropoligist were to come in, with the ability to look at it from the outside could bring more clarity.

At it's heart this seems to be a very strong worldview difference. Given the choice, I prefer a place where the absolute loss of posts doesn't take place. I certainly dislike the way in which it makes me feel the poster has been "unpersoned".

I've gone back, in some places, and tried to find something. All I know; from the outside, is someone with the power, didn't like it.

Someplace it says, "comment deleted". I don't know if that was because the poster changed their mind, or the host was offended,

I prefer to be able to see the dessicated corpse, so I can perfom a forensic autopsy on the offense.

You see it as some form of shaming. Me, I find it more embarrassing to have something disappeared. I won't feel I can bring it up again. It was killed once, and to keep on in that vein might get me banned.

That's chilling. More chilling than the rebuke that losing my vowels causes (I know, because I am more restrained in places where deletion is the norm than I am here; even in places where I am a frequent poster and can assume I have some slack as a known entity).

Neither has ever kept me from posting someplace.

Your mileage, obviously varies (not, so far as I can tell on the question of posting, but on the question of comfort).

I guess part of it is I dislike being TOLD someone offended, when it's possible to SHOW me how. It makes me feel more as one who is involved in the process. If I can see the comment, I can judge it. If I disagree with the decision, I can say so.

If I really disagree, I have better grounds for leaving.

#398 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 12:59 PM:

Josh @396:

The failure to disemvowel the offending comment when quoted is, in this case, intentional.

This is one of those subtle, nuanced situations that you just can't automate. You see, the text of the comment was not strikingly offensive in itself, but only when combined with the entire body of Will's comments on this thread. Quoted by someone else, even in anger, the words lost a lot of their power to (further) provoke.

Thus were they left, because disemvoweling them further would have required more intervention.

#399 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:09 PM:

Josh: Perhaps it's more than just money. As you say, MeFi is a large investment in time for you.

So part of the cost of hosting something (yes, I know you don't pay for MeFi, bear with me) is the also opportunity cost.

I have a blog. It costs me time; time I might spend elsewhere. I have a busy conversation going on right now. There is actually some topic drift. I now have to monitor that, so as to avoid a spat I don't want people to have.

I saw its possibility when the seed crystal comment was made. I thought about making a comment to nip it in the bud.

I spent something to host the subsequent comments.

If it gets loud/noxious enough I am spending emotional capital as well (I made a comment at Hullabaloo. I knew I didn't want to spend the emotional energy to go back and see the reactions. From reports I was more than correct in my assessment).

Hosting somehing costs more than money. Otherwise your not a host

#400 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:11 PM:

The same holds true for a rewrite, if you were saying something of substance that you believed in.

Your memory for what you've written over time may be much better than mine (I wouldn't be surprised, actually), but I do think for many people, when one has built an argument over several comments, separated by hours or days, recreating them from scratch is at best a daunting prospect.

Deemving as a service to the deemved is a weird shell of a courtesy, as far as that goes.

It is, if one thinks of the courtesy as being only extended to the writer. My thinking of this as courtesy is based on balancing the sensibilities of not just the writer, but of the readers.

Where does banning come into this, though? The alternatives aren't "deemv and don't ban" vs. "delete and ban"; banning is a separate, last resort part of the process in either case, as far as I can tell.

I was just pointing it out. In the case of a disemvowelled comment, that's all that's happened. It hasn't been deleted. I haven't been banned. No skies fell. Nothing has been done that I, Ranting Net Writer du Jour, cannot cope with.

I can get behind the Host vs. Guest argument as a fundamental point about your house vs. someone else's, but I do not understand why people would want to invoke the "cost of hosting" thing like they have here and at BB.

Allow me to rephrase, then? If I simply must behave badly in public, I think it more meet to do so on my own dime. It's not that the actual monetary costs are so high in either case, it's that at least on my own site, I'm not forcing anyone else into my drama.

#401 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:24 PM:

Yes, that's vague, and I'm sorry I can't explain it better; that is a cultural thing, and not completely explicable to someone on the inside.

And though I'm arguing hard this morning, I truly do understand and appreciate that. I'm arguing more for the sake of understanding the local understanding of the process and principles than to try and draw out some sufficient-or-not-explanation, so if I'm coming off as overly insistent on any of this I apologize.

I continue to have this feeling that deemving is a practice that is somewhat overloaded with cultural meaning here. Which is not necessarily a problem here, since if everyone is more or less comfortable with the various nuances and implications of it on ML the overloading isn't a problem. But it does in my mind undercut the practical utility of it as a general tool -- I think it may be significantly harder to responsibly expect the average BB commenter to be fully cognizant of and down with the implications and theory behind deemving. And given that looser, broader group of commenters, I think it's going to much harder to avoid the specter of public shaming as a component of the mod/user interaction. But that's BB, not ML.

Hosting somehing costs more than money. Otherwise your not a host

Again, I totally agree. The costs of playing host to a community are real and not strictly quantifiable let alone reducible to accounting, and I live with them every day. Right there with you.

I don't want to beat a horse-corpse, so I'll clarify just this last time that it's objections tied to the unambiguously financial notion of "hosting fees" that I find weird.

#402 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:27 PM:

Sometimes a lack of disemvoweling can be an act of moderating. A little over a year ago, I made a bad joke that offended a lot of people here whom I respect, and I asked that it be disemvowled, and noted as "disemvoweled at my request" (since I couldn't just delete the post). That didn't happen, nor was my request even commented on by a moderator. I had hoped that disemvoweling my mistake would lead to a lessening of the ongoing unpleasantness.

#403 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 01:48 PM:

Earl @402:
Just went back and looked at that. Complex situation. I could dissect it for you, here, and re-hash a whole bitter argument that ranged over two long and angry threads, or we could let the dead bury their dead. I know where my vote is.

Indeed, I had forgotten the entire incident until you brought it up, as indeed had pretty much everyone else. Which brings me to a serious observation about, at the very least, this community.

We talk a lot here on Making Light. So, over time, regulars are known for the balance of their comments, the hump in the bell curve of their views and their civility. There may be specific incidents or threads that stick in the mind, but generally, people remember patterns of behavior. This means that any uncharacteristic oafishness will be as a feather against the weight of the long term trend.

In the unlikely event that anyone reading this ever does something ghastly here, try to keep this in mind.

#404 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Josh: I don't think you are, per se, beating a dead horse. I am taking your tone at face value (and your abandoning the lurkers went a long way to easing my mind on continuing, but I digress).

To go a trifle meta: The community here is comfortable with disemvowellments for a number of reasons (not the least is we think the name clever... words are, for many here, both serious tools and delightful baubles, to bend one to the role of the other; and make a plaything out of sanction is a wonder and a joy; that is a cultural issue).

The folks at BB, most of 'em, don't care. Most people don't care about deletions either. Not on their radar.

But there are some there who care a great deal. They've made it a bigger issue. There are those who think it rude, in a way just erasing their words isn't.

But there are also those who think it morally wrong to moderate (which is where we came into the dance). I think, honestly, the people who care most about disemvowelling are those who act in bad faith. Who are happier with deletion because it covers the tracks of their sins.

They dislike disemvowellment becuase it does shame them; because it lets others see they have done something shameful.

In that regard, Will's comment on harmony is relevant (and divorced of context it would have stood).

They have made a wikipedia page which has been (at times) derisive, if not dismissive of Teresa. It has, on occaision, bordered on abusive.

Why? Because she gored an ox. I think that's the real issue at BB. Moderation offends them. Moderation which shows what was reason for sanction strips the abusive of the role of Martyr. When they say they didn't cross any lines, and they were censored, well no; they have confused censor with censure, and they don't like it.

Me... I'm a big boy. Sometimes I screw up. If I do, I trust that those who care about things (even if they don't give a damn about me) will censure me. Some will do it in the rough and tumble of debate, some will do it by ignoring all I ever say again.

Some will do it by pointing out, in a situationally neutral way, that I crossed the lines of the local norms. For my sake, I'd like the rest of the world to see what I did.

Because the unknown is full of murky horror, and people may think worse of me, if they only know I was so wrong as to merit my words being slain aborning.

#405 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 03:49 PM:

(lioness, my login is "jacob", displaying my terrific creativity. There are a bunch of other current and ex Well people here, not least our hosts, so I don't want to claim some unique expertise. As for the Well, what can you say? The Well abides.)

I'm still wondering where there is room for due process, correction of moderator error, rehabilitation of problem users, and recognition and limiting of groupthink/pile-ons in the suggested model rules. Some blogs are more personal, where those rules might work better, but some are more about the comments, and I don't think the suggested guidelines are going to produce the best discussions anywhere that has a regular, reasonably large group of users. I mean in particular these kinds of things - "The moderator is always right", "Don't tell the users the rules", "Once a flamer, always a flamer".

The analogy that comes to my mind is, say, having a meeting of a large neighbourhood group in the garden of someone's house. But instead of pulling out a copy of Robert's Rules of Order to manage the discussion, the host starts by insisting on the right to silence anyone, designates some of his friends to have similar rights, makes it clear that everyone is only there by his forbearance, declares that his opinion is right by definition, and refuses to state what other rules might be in effect.

He might have the absolute legal right to do that. But it's not going to make for a very enlightening discussion, and you might choose to have the next meeting at someone willing to be more tolerant, or in a public space. Of course, blog comments have a long list of differences with real-life discussions, and there are no public spaces, but my point is just that there exists a whole body of knowledge about how to have productive discussions, including online discussions, and it's not just that they're missing from those model guidelines, but they're actively denied by them. There are places where the suggested rules might be appropriate, places with a lot of anonymous drive-by comments, maybe, but I really wouldn't hold them up as all-purpose model rules for moderation.

Wikipedia is an exemplar of the ideas of due process and accountability, probably to a level that would impractical at most smaller sites. A lot of metadiscussion arises as a consequence of that due process, but the place runs surprisingly smoothly considering that discussions aren't moderated at all in the sense we're talking about here. I think most smaller sites need more active moderation than Wikipedia, but it does show that the rules-and-process model can work even with anonymous users, sockpuppets, and very controversial subjects under discussion.

#406 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Josh: No one here is saying that one size fits all (even if it, on the surface appears that way).

But a meeting of the sort you describe is not the same as a forum on the web. A meeting, with an agenda is different from a free-wheeling place where there is often no one at the lectern.

Robert's Rules are pretty damned specific; one of them is the guy with the gavel gets to choose who gets to talk; which is exactly what you say isn't the way such a meeting ought to work.

It works because the participants all agree to play by those rules (there are aspects of coercion in that model too. If that's the way the city says things have to play; you can't talk without agreeing to the way they do things).

But there isn't a gatekeeper at Making Light (and there isn't much of one at MeFi). Anyone can talk; and they can talk over each other, because it's paralell, not serial.

That's a problem. A pile on in a face to face meeting is pure noise. One person can be saying the most offensive of things and be lost in the babble.

In something parallel, and asynchronous, every bit of vitriol is heard, every verbal punch to the face lands.

Unless I intstitute a policy of prior restraint (as some blogs do) I, as a moderator can't prevent that (with LiveJournal those psychic body blows land in the inbox of the person being attacked... it's a feature which has some buggy aspects).

Which leaves me nothing but post hoc solutions. I can either delete, or edit.

We differ on the nature of effect of the two methods.

#408 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 05:02 PM:

Terry, was some/all of that aimed at Jacob at #405?

#409 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 05:19 PM:

(#406: I think you're misreading my #405 as being by Josh Millard. Although I think I'm somewhat sympathetic to his point of view and maybe making some of the same points, so you know, not really a big problem.)

I agree that different places need different rules. I just don't think most places should start from the rules that were posted here.

Robert's Rules aren't workable online of course. The point was more by analogy, that some rules for online discussions have been developed that (I think) serve to protect free discussion while keeping the tone within whatever limits are desired. And I feel like those best practices are explicitly ruled out by the kind of rules suggested here.

I think most of us would agree that internal mechanisms for critical feedback are often a good idea: the CBO, appeals courts, letters to the editor, ombudspersons (now there is a word too awkward to live), customer advocates, impeachment, Team B, and of course we could list many more. They can be painful, or at least painfully boring, but they tend to lead to better decisions. So I think it's worth thinking about how you can allow for that when deciding on moderation policies.

#410 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 05:35 PM:

Josh: I'm sorry, yes that was me talking to Jacob Davies. I blame the Earthquake, that's it, the earthquake. :)

I still think it amusing your analogy is to say Robert's Rules are the way to go, and then decrying the very things Robert's mandate (one person gets to control who speaks, has a person/group to support him (the sergeant at arms gets to expell people the chair beleives are in violation of the rules), etc.

As for most places, that list wasn't for most places... it was for fora, such as Making Light.

On a different note... Wikipedia, with it's culture of secret e-mail lists, editors acting in concert to keep pages they have private interests in maintaining certain pages so they reflect personal interest, etc. isn't; perhaps, the best exemplar of places to emulate for moderation.

#411 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 05:39 PM:

Jacob Davies@409: "I think most of us would agree that internal mechanisms for critical feedback are often a good idea: the CBO, appeals courts, letters to the editor, ombudspersons (now there is a word too awkward to live), customer advocates, impeachment, Team B, and of course we could list many more." Actually, I disagree with this, and do so on the basis of my experience participating in newsgroup charter development at news.groups.

I started off strongly in favor of clear, preferably simple, but explicit guidelines covering the major known categories of problems with well-defined policies. Then I started noticing that the more extensively a group defined its charter like that, the more likely it was to die because of internal complications. The groups that thrived were very often the ones where people the community trusted were given the authority and only very loose guidelines, allowing them to evolve their practices without extensive re-consultation and re-approval and to deal with marginal cases simply.

The rules that I think necessary for monopolistic institutions with enforcement powers - like the police, or professional associations licensed by the state - just don't much apply to this kind of voluntary community which thrives or collapses based purely on readers' choice.

#412 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 06:01 PM:

The specialist website FiveThirtyEight.com has a simple comment policy. Don't. Be. An. Asshole.

Presumably if the moderators deem that you are Being An Asshole, they have the absolute right to delete your comment.

Works for me.

#413 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 06:02 PM:

Jacob @ #405: I was reading along just fine until the last paragraph, and then I had to go away and have quiet hysterics until the gigglefit subsided.

#414 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 07:11 PM:

Well, you don't find me spending too much time reading the endless meta threads on Wikipedia, but it demonstrably works because the whole place hasn't exploded. And most issues do seem to be worked out in public. So I think they do have an more open and accountable system than anything else online, even with the flaws. I'd be happy to use a better example if you can think of one, though.

#410: As far as the Robert's thing goes, I don't think the prescribed behaviour of a chairperson resembles the completely arbitrary behaviour that I contrasted it with. Robert's Rules set limits on everyone's behaviour, including the chairperson. But I'm not saying they're directly appropriate online. I'm saying that it demonstrates that even in private spaces, there's value in having rules and processes rather than just assuming that the host is always right.

Also, I don't think that having established rules and processes is the opposite of an environment where moderators mostly use their own judgment. Rather, having a process for grievances and acknowledging the possibility of mistakes helps to cement your legitimacy and your reputation for fairness. That means that when you intervene you can usually persuade people with a much lighter touch, without recourse to the letter of the law.

But in the end, rules always need interpretation, and someone always needs the final say, so individual judgment can't be taken away. No mere commenter can make the owner of a private site act in a certain way. But rules based on fairness and due process can lend legitimacy to your authority, which I think attracts people with more interesting things to say. Just my take on things.

All this civilization of course may be useless when we're talking about something like Youtube comments, where the flood of inanity is endless. But then I don't think Youtube comments are worth having or can be made worthwhile with any set of rules. Unlike Flickr, where people own the photos they upload, and therefore care about the comments posted on them, people on Youtube don't usually own the material they posted or have much reason to care what anyone says about it. Nor do most people care to read what random strangers have to say about a commercially-produced video clip. Again, unlike Flickr, where the only people who could possibly be interested in the 1,000th photo of my cat are my friends.

#415 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 07:15 PM:

Xopher at #377 writes:

Damn it's hard to keep up with Making Light these days. Too many people reading and writing.

> Steve 375: will has a rep here as well. And I saw what he did there, and how he brought it here.

> I may be overly willing to jump in as you say, but you picked a very poor example.

Yeah, I'm familiar with Will - at least as much as I am with other Making Light regulars. I'm slowly and painfully, but with a touch of relief, coming to the conclusion that I'm not annoyed by the same things as a lot of other people on Making Light.

In fact, I think I'm most annoyed by the annoyance of the people who are annoyed by the things that don't annoy me. And what a lovely little sentence that was.

#416 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 07:35 PM:

Josh Millard at #380 writes:

>> If you click on the blue words

> Ah! You! You're responsible for disemvowelment.com! You broke my heart and made my day when I found out that already existed

I'm glad to know someone likes it - it's not exactly the most popular site on the web. (Though I can tell from looking at my stats just when a flamewar has broken out on BoingBoing).

> Have you fiddled at all with bi-gram or tri-gram models to improve the lexeme selection?

That's definitely what I intend to do for the second version. Trigrams are particularly tempting as they offer the potential to maybe reinsert missing all-vowel words (i.e. "cn hlp" -> "can I help").

I've been too busy to do it myself as I've been putting all my time into a different quixotic project - [plugity]http://covertrek.com, which does the six degrees of separation thing with bands, connecting them by who covered which songs by other bands.[/plugity]

But soon, soon... (aargh - an ellip...sis!)

albatross at #381 writes:

> The obvious thing to try to make the re-emvoweler sensitive to the context of the discussion or site is to use some kind of statistics from text in the discussion or site.

I hadn't thought that far - I was just going to use a corpus of words from the net in general - scrape text of Making Light, Boing Boing, and maybe a few nastier places. I wonder how much it would help to make things site specific. It would need a lot more data gathering.

#417 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 07:35 PM:

Pericat #385: Contrary to Josh's assessment, I've never felt that disemvowelling here equals shaming, or that it's used as a shame cudgel. Perhaps that's because I simply do not think of PNH or TNH or abi or Avram or Mr Macdonald as the sort of people who would do that.

And yet, I do actually think there's an element of public shaming in disemvowelling.

#418 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 07:40 PM:

James D. Macdonald at #389 writes:

>> #386: And on Making Light, they don't - but there are other sites where quite reasonable comments can be disemvoweled in a petty way.

> The only one I can speak for is myself. I don't disemvowel much, and it's only for abusive nuttiness. I'm not looking for Pen Pals from the ranks of abusive nuts.

Just to be clear - I'm not aiming anything at you (or anyone who frequents Making Light). 'Learn Writing With Uncle Jim' in particular has given me much pleasure.

#419 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 07:44 PM:

Steve #415:

Wow, I think you just smashed my stack. If you'd just followed that last sentence with "send all your money to me....", I'd have been helpless.

Jacob #414:

I can think of a couple examples of physical-world moderation: editing news articles, editorial decisions about running and correcting (or not) letters to the editor, and academic peer review. Peer review has a lot in common with blog comment moderation in one sense: the fact that the PC at conference X doesn't like you doesn't mean the PC at conference Y will also dislike you, though there is often a lot of overlap. I've reviewed the same paper multiple times for different conferences, before, which is always kind of weird. ("Hey, they took the comments in my reject recommendation seriously and addressed them!")

All those systems also work, with more or less noise. I suspect we can learn from all of them to some extent.

#420 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:06 PM:

Avram, 417: That's certainly true for me. Once, in the dark days before ROT-13, T disemvowelled me for a Harry Potter spoiler. I felt really awful, until I got the email explaining her reasoning. (And look how I just said that--"T disemvowelled me," not "one of my comments.") OTOH, I'm not certain that your average griefer or troll will feel the same way. If a person's only goal is to disrupt a conversation, wouldn't disemvowelment be a sign of success? For me, and for most of us here, disemvowelment is a sign that we failed to live up to the community's standard of civilized discourse--but not caring about that is a troll's defining feature.

#421 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:16 PM:

Following up to #291:

Transcripts of the On the Media interview with Ira Glass are now up.

IRA GLASS:And truthfully, I and the whole staff, we just thought, like, that’s the last straw and we took down the bulletin board 'cause we felt like it was an act of bad faith with our interviewees. We don't need to create a forum for the audience to express their mean-hearted opinions about people who open themselves up to us and to them. There’s just no reason for that. We don't have to endorse that by giving it a space.

BOB GARFIELD: At that point in the conversation, I asked Ira a leading question, something along the lines of, how uncivilized the discourse is online, and I more or less invited him to sneer at some portion of his audience. He didn't take the bait.

IRA GLASS: I mean honestly, I hear you say that, and I just think that that is, that’s the way the royalty feels when they're not the only ones who get a voice. Do you know what I mean? Like, up until now, you’re old enough, and I'm old enough, that you were very comfortable with the one way communication.

And I feel like I hear you say this and I feel like you are anti democratic. You are a royalist. You are upset with democracy itself. I don't find it very comforting that there’s like a world of people who don't agree with my feelings about my own show, but that’s okay with me. Like, I don't have to feel good about that.

I should also have noted that the program had two other interviews about dealing with commenters, one with Lee Siegel and one with Carole Tarrant. Worth a look.

#422 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:29 PM:

abi, waaaay up there (yes, i just read this whole thread in one go, having just got back from comic-con),

* Alice, Bob and Charlie are on vacation

there's something about anytime a poster launches into alice/bob/charlie word problems that reeeally grates on me. maybe it's because they're such dead, white, european names.* i'm sure i'd like the problems better if they were about, say, ayesha, binder, & cho.

earl,

A little over a year ago, I made a bad joke that offended a lot of people here whom I respect, and I asked that it be disemvowled, and noted as "disemvoweled at my request" (since I couldn't just delete the post). That didn't happen, nor was my request even commented on by a moderator. I had hoped that disemvoweling my mistake would lead to a lessening of the ongoing unpleasantness.

just for the record, as iirc the person who first expressed offense at the joke, i want to let you know that i enjoy & respect you as a poster**. and maybe disemvowelling would have helped latecoming readers not be offended, but i can't really imagine it would stop the argument which occurred after the initial pile-on. hard to say.


* apologies to all the bobs, charlies, & possibly alices who post here.

** you didn't imply otherwise in this comment, but you did say something further up about how it can be easy to violate norms even if you are a regular reader, & i assumed you referred to the joke mess. i regret the pile-on you received, but tying into the race-minefield discussion of a couple weeks ago***, i don't regret calling you on the (inadvertent, but symptomatic of a sexist society) offensiveness of the joke. it did let you & others know that people get offended by jokes like that, & i can at least hope some of the ensuing argument/discussion may have helped some people understand why.

*** unless it's still going on. like i said, i been away.

#423 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:36 PM:

Rikibeth @ 422

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

People probably go for names like that because they're short and snappy. And, very important, everybody knows how to pronounce those names.

#424 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:43 PM:

serge,

And, very important, everybody knows how to pronounce those names.

unlike, say, the name MIRIAM? (cough)

(i would do a little winky face here if that weren't a violation of local norms.)

#425 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:53 PM:

Avram@416: I sit corrected!

Actually, I sat up early this morning, thinking "did I really mean that?" I hate that. I had to make coffee and feed the cat, no going back to sleep for me.

But while there may always be an element of 'shame on you!' present in a disemvowelling, I still don't see it as a primary purpose, in the sense of 'this schmuck has just pissed me off, I'm gonna make him cry like a little child.'

#426 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:55 PM:

abi, #388: LOL! JDM, #389: MIPD: Big grin.

#427 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 08:59 PM:

Miriam #422, thank you for pointing that out about Alice & Bob scenarios. I will admit that the first time I encountered them I was just pleased that women were included and didn't think about it in more detail. Since then I've tended to think of them as every bit as traditional as, and no more fraught than, "foo" and "bar" and, again, not given them further thought. I'll try to vary my name choices more in the future.

#428 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 09:01 PM:

miriam @ 424... Butbutbut... 'miriam' has three syllables. Still, let's see.

Fragano & miriam & Serge & Sajia

I can just see people rushing to the theater.
Not that they shouldn't.

#429 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 09:15 PM:

serge,

424... Butbutbut... 'miriam' has three syllables. Still, let's see.

actually, i was just trying to mock you for calling me rikibeth. it worked better in my head, i guess.

#430 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 09:23 PM:

And, really, Serge, I use capital letters in their customary places! Do miriam and I really look that much alike in text?

(My cousin Miriam and I do look a fair amount alike, but not enough to mix us up in family photos.)

#431 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 09:27 PM:

rikibeth,

(My cousin Miriam and I do look a fair amount alike, but not enough to mix us up in family photos.)

my cousin rivka & i look nothing alike. & i always imagine your hebrew name as rivka, even if it isn't.

#432 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 09:40 PM:

miriam,

Close. It's Reika Batya. My great-grandmother Rose was Reika. Which I think is just a Yiddish variant of Rivka anyway.

Actually I have two cousins Miriam. The paternal one and I look similar. The maternal one looks nothing like me.

#433 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 09:55 PM:

I've been typing two spaces after the end of a sentence since the dark ages of my old manual typewriter in elementary school. Let's just say that it likely predated Emacs...

As for the need for moderation in public forums (fora?), I'm for it. I've been burned by heavy-handed ideological moderation, and bitched to the moderator about it. Sometimes it was reversed, sometimes not. Sometimes the matador wins, sometimes the bull wins.

But as an example of just how foolish comment threads can get, and how quickly, allow me to offer an example.

This linked article is a story from a Worcester (MA,USA not UK)daily about training for court reporters. It includes a couple of pictures, including one of a woman who has been a court reporter for over two decades.

The comment thread exemplifies the toxicity that anonymity can bring. And this is a forum where comment contributors have to register, so registration still doesn't do other than cut down the quantity. Earliest comments are in the bottom of the page, newest at the top.

The comment thread has it all, the out-and-out animals with nothing better to do than insult someone from hiding (witness the very first comment in the stream there), the pearl-clutching, the concern troll, the pretender of the "no s**t, there we were" variety, the pretender of the "well, *I'm* one of those and...", etc, etc.

(by the way -- I'm pretty sure that at least one of the "well I was there" trolls is a troll because they complain about the court reporter's nails being too load on the steno machine's keys -- when the keys in question are padded with felt.)

Oh, there is also someone who is apparently complaining about some comments being deleted -- If there were comments deleted, I'm glad I didn't have to read them, considering what comments were left up...

(and now I'm in trouble from the ellipsis patrol, as well)

#434 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 10:05 PM:

The ellipsis patrol is nowhere in sight -- but the link patrol, it is coming...

#435 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 10:10 PM:

miriam @ 429... Rikibeth @ 430...

I have absolutely no idea why I slipped a cog there.
(Snort!)
I heard that.

#436 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2008, 10:14 PM:

Avram @ 417:

And yet, I do actually think there's an element of public shaming in disemvowelling.

I agree, and I think that is (depending, of course, on context) a good thing.

#437 ::: Garrett ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:03 AM:

This disconnection is likely just temporary. In another tenner, one side or the other will have won out, and then we will all be on the same page, and we won't have this kind of misconceiving anymore.
But I know which side I am doing it for. Sure Foxy Brown is with me.
-----------------------
Garrett

link deleted; comment body left as fodder for further dissection, or art. Art would be good. - Abi


#438 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:23 AM:

Since then I've tended to think of them as every bit as traditional as, and no more fraught than, "foo" and "bar" and, again, not given them further thought.

For me, Alice and Bob have some value because of that tradition -- when someone trots them out, I'm likely to read it as a clear indicator (possibly mistakenly, granted) that they're not only presenting an example but presenting what they want to be understood as an example in the purest hypothetical sense.

Foo and Bar aren't just nonsense words in that same sense -- if someone were to tell me about Fum and Grak, I wouldn't have the same instant confidence that we were talking about placeholder variables; even X and Y communicate a little less specific common knowledge, being a little more plausibly lay terms.

Which isn't to say that Abram and Badra aren't a good thing to throw into the mix, but I guess there's a difference between saying "let's talk about communication theory" explicitly and being able to introduce that notion just by bringing Alice and Bob up.

#439 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little sees an almost da-da-esque lack of contextual sense at 437 ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:38 AM:

With very little effort you could raise that to a clever facsimile of an artform!

Will the real Foxy Brown please stand up?

#440 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:44 AM:

When Alice explains to Bob that she's tired of the cliche of Alice and Bob stories to explain things, they find that they can't get to any kind of agreement, so they go to Trent (the trusted moderator) to resolve the dispute. Unfortunately, Eve has been listening in on the conversation (she's honest but curious, and her side of the story is seldom told). After some consideration of the issues, Trent calls in Carlos, Durbha, and Fatima for some discussion. Unfortunately, no two of them speak the same language, so Trent decides arbitrarily that any short common names are fine for examples, and Alice and Bob should stop bothering him about this trivial stuff. Just then, Eve bursts in, seeing her chance for vengance at last, and proposes Ann and Bo as even shorter example names. Trent reluctantly agrees, and publishes his decision on a public bulletin board. Crestfallen, Alice and Bob wander off, wondering how they are to feed their family, having apparently lost their cushy jobs in cryptography to some younger, shorter-named, hipper competitors.

#441 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:31 AM:

Lizzy L @412:
That sounds a lot like my fifth grade teacher's only classroom rule: Be appropriate. Despite the way that turned out, I still think it's one good way to run things.

miriam @422:
there's something about anytime a poster launches into alice/bob/charlie word problems that reeeally grates on me.

Me, too, mostly because my "oversimplification alert" goes off, and it's shrill enough to give me a headache. But it was useful in that limited context.

(Or, what Josh says in 438.)

The race minefield discussion ceased to make light. I made the heavy-handed, eeeevil moderator* decision to close it down for a timeout, and became convinced by subsequent events that it was best left closed.

-----
* I'd laugh horribly, but my voice coach says I'm not ready for that yet.†
† Yes, voice coach. The evil laugh is important, and a lot of guys neglect that. What, do you think Bad Horse didn't need to work on his whinny?

#442 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:53 AM:

Clifton @442:

Threat neutralized. SEO site.

#443 ::: Calliope ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:10 AM:

abi @ 441:

"Yes, voice coach. The evil laugh is important, and a lot of guys neglect that. What, do you think Bad Horse didn't need to work on his whinny?"

You mean, his terrible...death whinny?

It's all about standards, isn't it?

#444 ::: Praisegod Barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:44 AM:

ombudspersons (now there is a word too awkward to live)

Ombudsfolk?

#445 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 06:46 AM:

Calliope @ 444...

Mister Ed will be back in Mister Dread - Horse of the Apocalypse.

#446 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 07:31 AM:

albatross at #419 writes:

> Wow, I think you just smashed my stack. If you'd just followed that last sentence with "send all your money to me....", I'd have been helpless.

That's the second geekiest thing I've ever seen anyone write. And I mean that as a compliment.

The geekiest:

People are talking about parity errors.

- Person A (mild geek) makes a crack about "pieces of seven".

- Person B (strong geek, and a pedant to boot) points out that a parity/parroty error would cause the pieces of eight to be off by more than one.

- Person C (ascended master geek) says not if it was a grey parrot.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_code)

#447 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 10:36 AM:

#445

My mother's version: omsbuddy, omsbuddies

#448 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 10:38 AM:

But they pile up. And I don't want to pay (even fractions of a penny) to be annoyed.

To expand on this a bit:

The costs of a potentially disemvowelable/delete-worthy post isn't just the cost of keeping those few words hosted.

The hosts of a website aren't just paying to host comments, they're paying to create and enjoy an online community of the sort they like. A certain type of conversation (polite, witty, well-educated), on certain topics (of interest to the host.) The "hosting costs" are the costs of hosting the party, the total of the community, not just the individual comments.

The objectionable comment doesn't just incur the costs of hosting the post itself. It includes the costs of hosting comments made in response to the inflammatory/off-topic comment. It costs the hosts (and other readers) the time of reading through the objectionable post and its responses. It costs the hosts the valued company of people whom they like, who choose not to spend their time on sites frequented by commenters of the sort being objected to - the comments they have set the website up to cultivate.

Trying to limit the "costs" to the fraction of the hosting fees that apply to the words in a single point is artificially devaluing the economic (and social) effect that objectionable posts have.

#449 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 10:41 AM:

(Last comment posted too quick!)

If someone throws weed seeds into a garden, the damages they do aren't just measured by the cost of the seeds they thew. The damages are measured by the effect that the seeds have on the final crop.

#450 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 10:58 AM:

abi @ 441, completely tangentially, but there's something about the use and overuse of the word "appropriate" in school settings that just sets my teeth on edge. I think it's just that I find it condescending to get a lecture about "inappropriate behavior." I'd rather be told "You were eating lunch in my class, and I find that distracting and disrespectful. Don't do it again" than be told "Eating in class is inappropriate behavior."

It seemed to have become bureaucratese for "rule-breaking behavior" and I didn't like that. For example, "Students must wear appropriate dress" didn't mean "Wear something that will allow you to go about your daily activities unhindered" (which is what I think "appropriate dress" means), it meant "Adhere to the published dress code, some of which is quite arbitrary and appears to forbid things solely because they are current fashion trends."

This may just be me. I understand and appreciate what your teacher was trying to do with that rule. I just always felt like my teachers and administrators were trying to push rule compliance with that word, rather than critical thinking about what behavior would actually be proper.

#451 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 11:05 AM:

conversations disconnected
likely just temporary
conversations in another tenor
won't have this kind
in another tenner another tenor, now just eight
will sing at eighteen

on one side or the other of the same page
Foxy Brown is misconceiving
do you know which side she's doing it for?
she will give birth to disconnection
likely just temporary
or to the tenor (eight years ago)
who will have one page
who will have won one page
who will be on the one page out
of the misconceiving disconnection
likely just temporary

sure I know which side I have won
which side of the page (now just eight)
who delivers the new conversation
or Foxy Brown with the disconnection misconceiving
likely just temporary

but I know
one side or the other is with me
we won't have this kind of page
we will all be on the same side
likely just temporary

#452 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 11:07 AM:

Thanks, Nicole!

#453 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:40 PM:

Steve #447:

I'll have to try harder in the future.

Garett:


Markovistic text
Did not hide the spamming link
disconnection stays

#454 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:45 PM:

Lizzy @412, abi @441:

My kid, Puppy, is governed by very little in the way of what I would call "silly detail rules"--what he can watch, what he can listen to, the words he can and cannot use (well, we have a few of those)--but he does have one big rule he has to follow, or he knows he'll get it:

He is not allowed to act an ass.

I find that rule covers an incredible range of inappropriate teen-aged boy behavior.

(I am, of course, the ultimate arbiter on what defines "acting an ass," although he is allowed to present evidence on the subject; last night, for example, he and his best friend schooled me on their individual relationship norms and the use of the word "stupid.")

#455 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Caroline@ 451:

I agree with you. That's why I don't have a code. Lots of Puppy's peers have codes, and when they break them they are punished for being inappropriate...but when they are just acting like assholes, their parents seem disinclined to do anything about it.

Puppy is not a rule-follower; he just knows how to be polite, and how to break the rules he feels need to be broken without acting an ass.

This works for me. Other parents' mileage, of course, may vary tremendously.

(Some other rules we DO have involve: using manners, doing homework before videogames, doing chores before I get home, and not leaving your crap everywhere...many of these fall less into the category of "rules," and are perhaps better described as "best practices for not having your mom go bat-shit" )

I would expect (and I'm quite sure he knows this) that the "don't act an ass" rule would be (usually) followed in an online forum as well as in other folks' living rooms.

#456 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:02 PM:

prhm 455: So if he were cast as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, you would veto his participation?

#457 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:05 PM:

PRHM, 456: "Driving your mother batshit" = "acting an ass." Even if one is an adult and one's mother is helping one move. Ahem.

#458 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:15 PM:

Xopher @457: No. He could do that. I would determine in my ultimate arbiter role that acting an ass in public does not, in fact, constitute acting an ass in public.

TexAnne: Everyone lived. Just keep reminding yourself. You're moved, and there was neither matricide nor infanticide as a part of the process.

#459 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:24 PM:

prhm: or Dogberry?

#460 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Rikibeth@ 460: He just registered for classes for his freshman year of high school and took Acting I. So, it could happen!

#461 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 03:55 PM:

Lizzy L #412: "The specialist website FiveThirtyEight.com has a simple comment policy. Don't. Be. An. Asshole."

I tried that on my adult blog -- my phrasing was "don't be a dick" -- and it was a miserable failure.

What I discovered, to my dismay, was that "not knowing you're being a dick" is one of the common qualities of dickishness.

So now I moderate ruthlessly and with many silent deletions, so that my site remains a place I can, metaphorically speaking, stand to live in, or at least to visit, every day.

#462 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Steve Taylor #447:

So where does the following fit in your hierarchy: describing the rather unfortunate side effects of an allergy medication (later withdrawn for other reasons) as losing my stack pointer? To a doctor, no less? Back in the mid-80s?

#463 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:16 PM:

Actually, I reckon that spam was relevant to the resolution of online disagreements after all:

We will all be on the same page
in another tenner, and then,
we won't have this misconceiving.
One side or the other will win.

I know which side I am doing it for.
Foxy Brown is with me for sure.
This disconnection is temporary:
one side or the other will win.

#464 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 11:52 PM:

punkrockhockeymom @455: [..] he and his best friend schooled me on their individual relationship norms and the use of the word "stupid."

Anecdote: parents of a four-year old were concerned of her use of 'stupid'. She complained that Shrek said it, but they persisted in banning the word.

Later, she overheard Dad talking with one of his colleagues, describing another as 'stupid'. Hands on hips, she berated Dad.

His response: 'You're right honey, I shouldn't have said that. Can you forgive me?'

Her response: 'OOOkay. But when you said that, it really pissed me off'.

#465 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 03:07 AM:

There was a great line on Colbert the other day, and I'm not sure where to put it, but a thread on moderation seems like as good a place as any.

Speaking to an interviewee, he said, "Now, I don't want to sound sexist...but I have some sexist things to say. How do I do that?"

#466 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:21 AM:

Rob Rusick @465: Yes, we have had moments like that.

When he was about 3.5, I realized I might swear too much when I drive. I was picking him up from daycare, and some guy cut me off. I was outraged! "That guy cut me off! Did you see that?"

In response, Puppy, from his little car seat in the back, spoke up in a chirpy little voice: "F&*^in' Moron!"

I tried to be better after that.

#467 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 11:22 AM:

prhm #467:

I've had a similar experience with my 3 year old son. I got the clue that I needed to control my language while driving when he had some frustrating thing happen (a block tower falling over, maybe) and started muttering curses about the "stupid piece of sh-t".

Kids pick up all the parts of your language, not just the ones you want them to pick up.

#468 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 12:02 PM:

albatross 468: True; that's why the best way to get your kids to learn a foreign language is to use it to keep secrets from them.

I remember my mother driving home a whole bunch of Brownies (that is, little girls in brown uniforms with skullcaps) home; I was in the hatch space behind the third row of seats.* The girls were chattering like a treeful of squirrels.

Then my mother made a wrong turn, and exclaimed "Shitballs!"

VERY quiet car after that.


*Yes I now know this would have been instantly lethal had the car been rear-ended at speed. No one paid any attention back then.

#469 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 03:37 PM:

Clifton Royston sees spam #442: Despite its pleasingly Dada-esque flavor, #437 is almost certainly pumping an URL and should be liquidated as an enemy of the people.

Isn't that kind of futile for someone to try that here, though? I thought all URLs here had the "nofollow" attribute set, which makes ML pretty stingy with its googlejuice.

#470 ::: Josh Millard ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 04:54 PM:

Isn't that kind of futile for someone to try that here, though? I thought all URLs here had the "nofollow" attribute set, which makes ML pretty stingy with its googlejuice.

One of the charming constants of the web is that no spamming tactic is sufficiently pointless and self-defeating as to prevent someone from trying it anyway.

#471 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:45 PM:

Xopher@225: that was it. Now I just have to find my copy.

Bilek@226: I think your points have been answered (and in several cases corrected) by people who have more time and better writing skills than I do. I will admit to having issues with immoderation, these issues stemming from watching an unmoderated parvenu make a septic tank out of something I'd spent a fair amount of my life on, where I've never seen people who I wanted to have anything to do with strangle an interesting discussion.

Earl@227: That's Amazon's position; I won't try to discuss it here for several reasons, the most important of which is that I don't have nearly enough facts. However, MB is not one of NESFA Press's limited editions; unless the organization (which I'm still vaguely involved in) shifts radically, it will keep reprinting MB until books disappear or T pulls it.

#472 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:48 PM:

> prhm 455:
> So if he were cast as Bottom in A Midsummer
> Night's Dream, you would veto his participation?

We took our niece and nephew to see that at Ashland Shakespeare years ago, and they remembered it very clearly. It definitely helped them define what behavior to avoid. Recommended.

#473 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 01:29 AM:

Meditating on disemvoweling, and shaming.

I think the important thing to remember is that disemvoweling is intended to hold the actions of a given commenter up to censure, not the commenter him/herself.

Note that I disemvoweled Will's identifying information as well. Remember that our (view all by) function is keyed on email address. So when you click on the handy (vab) link beside his name in future, you will not see that comment*.

Although I do sometimes remember whom I have disemvoweled, I don't let that influence my decisions in future incidents. (I do tend to recall persistent bad behavior, but I don't care how it comes out in each given situation.) Teresa says that she forgets whom she's disemvoweled and whom she hasn't, which shows better memory management than I've got.

We have a forgiving commentariat, as miriam beetle showed in comment 422.

So the only people who care about being disemvoweled after the incident, unless it was so dramatic and horrendous that it defined their interaction with the community†, are the people themselves. Some find the sting of it unbearable, but that is a punishment they are inflicting on themselves.

-----
* Yes, you can generate a "view everything disemvoweled by" link by manually editing the URL, but I doubt many people do.
† Regulars can remember an incident involving and evangelist from the north of England whose interaction with us is summarized by his disemvoweled nick.

#474 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 07:22 AM:

#474, abi -

I think the important thing to remember is that disemvoweling is intended to hold the actions of a given commenter up to censure, not the commenter him/herself.

Ah ha! That's why I was so startled when people pulled out the shaming idea. After it was mentioned, I could see it, but it still struck me as an odd reaction. Now I realize that it is because I mentally attach disemvoweling very firmly to a particular comment and not to the person. Thanks!

#475 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 11:57 AM:

And now, apparently, the New York Times Magazine has discovered trolls.

#476 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 01:09 PM:

Sllq n Mdrtn

T dlt r nt t dlt: tht s th qstn:
Whthr 'ts nblr n th mnd t sffr
Th slngs nd rrws f trgs pstng,
r t tk rms gnst s f trbls,
nd b dltng nd thm?
T dlt: t frgt;
N mr: nd b dltn t s w nd
Th hrt-ch dn th thsnd ntrl shcks
Tht flsh s hr t -- 'ts cnsmmtn
Dvtl t b wsh'd?

#477 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 01:41 PM:

Debra 476: Jason Fortuny really strains my belief that the death penalty is wrong. In fact, my violent thoughts are right at the top of my brain right now. I really hope he dies this afternoon. It will save a lot of people a lot of pain, including (apparently) him.

#478 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 01:53 PM:

Xopher @ 478: I read that earlier, and all I could think of was "What a bully". Here we have a reporter allowing a bully* to expound at length about how much fun it is to bully people anonymously, and it's all because he was abused as a child.

Now it is true that many abusive people were indeed abused as children. However, the underlying pathology of their history is (1) shared by many people who do not become abusers, and (2) does not allow them to excuse their abusive behavior.

I also thought that I would never dare post anything on the Times about this article. How much do you want to bet those bullies are waiting to attack commenters? Who wants to risk being targeted by them?

They're sad and angry children, without any adult supervision, and they think they're all-important gods.

*More than one bully, actually.

#479 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 02:23 PM:

#477 Debbie -

Very nice!

Astoundingly enough, I think I see a typo. In the eighth line, shouldn't it be "nd" instead of "dn"? Or am I misreading?

#480 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 03:31 PM:

R.M. Koske -- indeed. *g* Unintentional, but not a bad coincidence. For the record, I'm not radically for or against either disemvowelling or deletion. Both are good tools, depending both on the mods and the community. Bacchus upthread uses deletion very, very usefully, but in discussions here, it would be disastrous (barring barely imaginable, appalling-but-necessary exceptions).

As far as the NYT article -- dear God. What a perfect example of how a subculture can adversely affect fantasies and actions.

#481 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 04:39 PM:

Debra Doyle @#476
And now, apparently, the New York Times Magazine has discovered trolls.

I'm glad the "am-phi-brach" thread was around today, I read that before I read the linked article, so I wasn't primed to fume. Interesting... The description of the "ruin lifestyle" promoted by the "Weev" character reminded me strongly of Rick Dakan's Geek Mafia.

At times, I've wanted to have the ability to live that sort of lifestyle. Every time I think about it, though, I remember that I don't want to be in a position where I *have* to live that sort of lifestyle... Kind of like wanting to be able to draw on and double-tap a "bad guy", but not wanting to live in the world where I'd need that skill.

Xopher #478: Anger is understandable. I have an extremely visceral and sympathetic reaction to the vigilante themes in the movie The Crow to the point I won't watch it again. Once was enough... IMHO people like Fortuny would be more "useful" if someone were able to study them and figure out how not to make more people turn out like them, or something. Kind of hard to do that if they're dead, though.

Ginger @#479: Just last night the Socrates Cafe group I moderate discussed the question "What are we responsible for?" and one thing that came up often was "what about people who got abused/etc. and have lots of rage bottled up?" We rarely reach an answer or a consensus (not the point...), but a useful way of talking about it was to split between "responsible for" and "accountable for". There was also discussion about how both can be shared by more than one individual.

IMHO, the individual who does the act is always responsible for that act, but may not be the one who is held accountable for the consequences of the act, depending on the legalities/etc. of the situation. That the person who does violent acts is the product of a violent upbringing mostly changes how they should be rehabilitated. (I prefer the idea of rehabilitation to just plain punishment, myself...) Their coming from a "bad" background may help explain why they did the act, but does not lessen their responsibility for those acts. Horrific backgrounds or diagnoseable mental illness makes it "easier" to get a "bad actor" put into treatment rather than jail under our current system, but I don't think our current system is all that great.

Cyber-bullying is a tough nut for me to crack - I prefer anonymity to be available and useful, but at the same time if someone does harm someone else or their property, I think the perpetrator ought to be found out and get the help they need and fix what they broke (if possible). Or something. Not too clear on this, and I'd rather not think about it overmuch right now...

#482 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 04:55 PM:

cajun, I know. I just want him stopped really. It's that his attitude that old ladies need to be safeguarded against being pushed under a bus and the best way to show that is to push an old lady under a bus is really kind of alarming. I think he needs to be taken down by a SWAT team, like Andrew Cunanan would have been if he hadn't killed himself instead.

#483 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 05:09 PM:

I thought it was interesting, for some value thereof, that Fortuny's reaction to getting threats etc was to remove all his identifying information - but he still seems to think it's okay to publish that information on other people.
It kind of kills any possible sympathy I might have had for him.

#484 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 06:09 PM:

Xopher @#483: It's that his attitude that old ladies need to be safeguarded against being pushed under a bus and the best way to show that is to push an old lady under a bus is really kind of alarming.

I also find that alarming. To be fair, though, that's not exactly what he was advocating:

Fortuny disagreed. In his mind, subjecting epileptic users to flashing lights was justified. “Hacks like this tell you to watch out by hitting you with a baseball bat,” he told me. “Demonstrating these kinds of exploits is usually the only way to get them fixed.”

“So the message is ‘buy a helmet,’ and the medium is a bat to the head?” I asked.

“No, it’s like a pitcher telling a batter to put on his helmet by beaning him from the mound. If you have this disease and you’re on the Internet, you need to take precautions.” A few days later, he wrote and posted a guide to safe Web surfing for epileptics.

He does use violent metaphors, yes, but he puts them in context: If you're playing baseball, wear a helmet when you're at bat. I don't like that he's essentially saying "get over it!" to people who get incensed or hurt by trolls/flaming/etc. I do like that the author of the article mentioned disemvoweling, though I disagree that the point of it is to "muddy the message" - IMHO it is to add some cognitive processing effort/focus requirement that engages the reasoning part of the brain before the words can ignite the emotional part, thus acting as a fairly effective damper in the reader's own brain.

I can't find his "guide to safe Web surfing for epileptics". That sort of poking at people's brains (those idjits who embedded flashing stuff in the Epilepsy website...) is well over the line, IMHO. That he thought it was justifiable does tend to push my opinion of him rather down, though, even if he did write a safety guide. (I'd like to read it, to see the level of snark he used...)

Fortuny's "theory of the green hair" is at least interesting.

I see that you want him stopped, and I do understand. My note about The Crow was meant to convey that I certainly understand having strong emotional desires that are counter to one's general philosophical leanings. Frex: I don't think killing people is right, but if some nut was going after my daughter/wife/family/etc. and a gun was available I'm not so sure I wouldn't use it, just to be able to truthfully tell my loved ones that "They can't hurt you anymore." I'm not sure I'd be satisfied with "The police caught them, they're in jail now, it's unlikely that they will be able to hurt you again." That's the tough part for me. I hope to never be in either position, but I do know how strong my "protect loved ones" streak is.

Hell, writing this is getting me worked up. Time to shut this 'puter off, head home and cool off. Gotta go shopping for supplies for the picnic this Saturday. Food, Friends and the Minneapolis Uptown Art Fair, definitely good things to look forward to.

Take care, all.

#485 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 06:45 PM:

cajunfj40: Horrific backgrounds or diagnoseable mental illness makes it "easier" to get a "bad actor" put into treatment rather than jail under our current system, but I don't think our current system is all that great.

In theory it does, but I'm not sure it does in practice.

Movies and TV and talk radio and such have created the widespread illusion that crazy killers are all'a'time being released from mental institutions and killing more people, and so juries are reluctant to return a verdict of "Not guilty by reason of insanity" even when someone is clearly 100% delusional and mentally incompetent.

My wife's psychology newsletter recently highlighted a mind-boggling jury verdict: a jury in one state found that a man who had killed both his grandparents was guilty of murder on one charge, and not guilty by reason of insanity on the other charge. Both of them were killed in the same instant by the same shot from a shotgun. I don't think it's possible to make that verdict make any kind of rational sense - could they really have believed that he was both sane and insane at the same instant? I think one can only interpret that as a fear by the jury that if he were sent to a mental institution he'd be released, so they should find him guilty of murder even though they didn't actually believe he was competent to be found guilty.

#486 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 07:08 PM:

Weev really made me think of the digital kid from American Gods. Car and all.

I dislike the idea that if you're hurt by hurtful things, that means you must secretly believe them to be true. I know for a fact I've never cheated on a test, but if I had tremendous numbers of comments calling me a dirty cheater, I'd still be upset.

#487 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 07:28 PM:

No, the purpose of disemvoweling is to leave the comment in place and readable, so that the person's obvious next claim that he was censored for his dangerous ideas won't fly.

#488 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 08:40 PM:

Caroline, #487: I dislike the idea that if you're hurt by hurtful things, that means you must secretly believe them to be true.

Related to this is the idea that words only hurt if you let them. Both load all the responsibility onto the person taking the abuse, and expect nothing from the abuser. And there's reason to believe victims really can't just set the abuse aside, any more than they can ignore a punch in the face:

The pain of rejection is more than mere metaphor. A team of scientists have found that to the brain, a social snub is just like stubbing a toe.
Brain scans carried out on volunteers showed that when they suffered a social snub, the brain's "pain centre" went into overdrive. The finding suggests that any emotional stress, such as the demise of a relationship or the loss of a loved one, might be far more closely linked to real pain than previously thought.
#489 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 09:14 PM:

Debra - #476 --
I read that at lunch time today, and I was just seeing red at the time -- cowards all, not willing to stand up and take responsibility for their vandalism.

Tonight, during the drive home, I was thinking that, if these people were to really have to live in the world they advocate, they would be among the first to be put against the wall.

Also, like the old meme (if that is the right usage) of the debt that conservatives and pseudo-libertarians owe to the despised liberals -- health care, food safety, product dependability (think what it would be like if the wheels *really* came off your car at highway speed), the government-subsidized infrastructure that actually allows them the opportunity to practice their sorry hobby without having to have the net worth of at least some small country, the ability to be able to bump from condo to condo without a police state that would treat any attempt to move without express permission as a crime.

These people are, really, vandals in the classical sense -- destruction for its own sake, dressed up in some pseudo-justification that they are burning the village in order to save it.

(and likely someone from their little group will follow the link back here to ML from the link posted and discover us anyways.)

Again, without the people that this group claims to despise, they would be reduced to grubbing in the dirt.

#490 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 10:29 PM:

Wow. The "trolls" in the NYT article aren't our usual net.trolls; they're more like the criminals I mentioned all the way back in #55. Brings me back to my old Usenet days. I only skimmed the article; I've done my time with some of these people, and I don't need more of it. One thing that surprised me is how little context I saw the reporter had. I think a prison warden, or someone who studied mass violence like lynchings, would recognize the personalities, though not the specific behaviors.

Canjunfj40, #485, quotes a troll comparing himself to a pitcher telling a batter to put on his helmet by bean-balling the batter. That can lead to death. If it's a metaphor, it's a metaphor for violent crime. One of the things that most discouraged me, back in Usenet days, was how willing people were to defend these horrific abusers, and not people who were themselves were in that group. I wish you wouldn't go there.

#491 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 10:44 PM:

#491, 495
Tony Conigliaro. Johnny Roseboro. If these guys want to compare themselves to beanball pitchers, they should be aware of the possible consequences. (Or, from another sport, Darrell Stingley.)

#492 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 10:47 PM:

#491, 495
Tony Conigliaro. Johnny Roseboro. If these guys want to compare themselves to beanball pitchers, they should be aware of the possible consequences. (Or, from another sport, Darrell Stingley, or Theisman.)

#493 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 10:48 PM:

damn cr*ppy connection.

#494 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 09:10 AM:

Wesley, #489: Related to this is the idea that words only hurt if you let them. Both load all the responsibility onto the person taking the abuse, and expect nothing from the abuser.

Yes, exactly. This is the bully's Get Out Of Jail Free card -- if this thing that I said with the specific intent of hurting you works, not only do I get the pleasure of seeing you hurt, but I get the secondary pleasure of claiming that it's your own fault that you're hurt. It's the verbal-abuse equivalent of, "I wouldn't hit you if you didn't MAKE me do it!"

Craig, #490: Word. *standard rant about Libertarianism being a refuge for bullies and abusers deleted*

#495 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 10:34 AM:

Clifton Royston @#486:

In theory it does, but I'm not sure it does in practice.

I was alluding to that (though not clearly, it seems) when I said "...but I don't think our current system is all that great." I should make my distinctions between theory and practice a bit clearer next time.

Wesley @#489:

Caroline, #487: I dislike the idea that if you're hurt by hurtful things, that means you must secretly believe them to be true.

Related to this is the idea that words only hurt if you let them. Both load all the responsibility onto the person taking the abuse, and expect nothing from the abuser.

That old saying/singsong "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." was taught to me when I was rather young. I tried to make it true for me, but it didn't work. I don't think I'll be teaching that particular ditty to my daughter. I wrote "I don't like that he's essentially saying "get over it!" to people who get incensed or hurt by trolls/flaming/etc." I'm sorry that when I mis-paraphrased the troll on the subject of advocating violence, so that he seemed to be doing something less bad, that doing so pulled down the level of my objection to emotional harm.

Randolph @#491:

Canjunfj40, #485, quotes a troll comparing himself to a pitcher telling a batter to put on his helmet by bean-balling the batter. That can lead to death. If it's a metaphor, it's a metaphor for violent crime. One of the things that most discouraged me, back in Usenet days, was how willing people were to defend these horrific abusers, and not people who were themselves were in that group. I wish you wouldn't go there.

I agree, it is not OK to advocate criminal behavior like this. I guess I was trying too hard to see *something* redeemable about the character I quoted, so I mis-paraphrased what he said and gave it a lighter intent than was apparent. Getting hit by a baseball will reinforce the idea that you should wear a helmet while batting, but it is not OK for the pitcher to "teach" batters that they should wear helmets by aiming for the head. I most emphatically did not want to encourage the bullying/criminal behavior, and I apologize if my post seemed to do so, or even to tacitly approve any level of it.

I think we agree more than we disagree on this one, I just wasn't clear enough.

James D. Macdonald @#488:

No, the purpose of disemvoweling is to leave the comment in place and readable, so that the person's obvious next claim that he was censored for his dangerous ideas won't fly.

OK, I see that. I like it also for the effect I mentioned - I can see the "hot" words if I want, but having to focus to read them damps their fire a bit.

Time to get my daughter ready for the picnic, so I'll maybe get back to this later. Take care.

#496 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 03:02 AM:

cajunfj40, #496: "I think we agree more than we disagree on this one, I just wasn't clear enough."

It does seem so. I'm sorry. My threshold for this, like many Usenet veterans, is very low; Teresa once compared hanging out on the later, corrupt Usenet as similar to living in Sunnydale. Peace.

#497 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:02 AM:

Boing Boing had a post on the troll article which included some "advice" from one of the trolls. It was bad enough to be more trolling, or perhaps an indication that he doesn't understand his own kind as much as he thinks he does.

The comments reminded me why, despite Teresa's moderation, I tend not to hang around in the comment threads there.

#498 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:09 AM:

Randolph #497:

It does seem so. I'm sorry. My threshold for this, like many Usenet veterans, is very low; Teresa once compared hanging out on the later, corrupt Usenet as similar to living in Sunnydale. Peace.

Peace. As corrections and/or "lumps" go, on the internet, that was quite mild anyway! And it led me to the unconscious flaw in my argument, which is always a good thing to learn.

Now there are other threads with many comments to read, so off I go for now.

#499 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:17 PM:

Intimately related to this whole thread - William Patry, one of the major authorities on US Copyright, just shut his blog down and apparently has removed access to many of the old pages.

One of the two major reasons he cited included as a major factor the non-stop comments from crazies, and how wearing it was to deal with them.

I asked myself last week after having to deal with the craziest of the crazies yet, "why subject yourself to this?" I could come up with no reason why I should: My grandfather chose to be a psychiatrist, but I chose a different professional path, one that doesn't obligate me to put up with such nonsense.

He also noted that he finds the current state and trends in copyright law to be just too depressing to continue writing about; this from one of the US's foremost authorities!

Groklaw post on the Patry blog shut-down

#500 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:42 AM:

Clifton Royston, #500: on Patry's withdrawal from the fray. What can I say? Relentless verbal abuse is one of the things that leads people to withdraw from public life. If one is going to blog on controversial subjects, one needs a good support network or a staff to handle public relations like a pol. Patry realized that he doesn't have to deal with the abuse, and who can blame him?

#501 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:26 PM:

Caroline, #487:
I dislike the idea that if you're hurt by hurtful things, that means you must secretly believe them to be true.

Yep, that's schoolyard taunt crap. It's amazing to me that anyone over the age of 12 would buy it even for a moment. Of course, you can get people mad or hurt them by telling lies about them, as well as half-truths or hidden truths.

#502 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 11:55 AM:

albatross @ 502

Unfortunately the schoolyard remains in all of us, and many people's emotional growth stops there because of serious trauma, or on the other side, of great emotional rewards for inflicting that trauma. Most interpersonal relations in the workplace are at that same level, perhaps because the circumstances are similar: supervisor == teacher, alpha worker == popular kid / bully, etc.

#503 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:17 PM:

Bruce #503:

I suspect it's because of the kind of creatures we are. We broadly find being the alpha male and demanding deference (ranging from polite attentiveness to cringing subsurvience, depending on our personalities and situations) from our inferiors pleasant for the same sort of reason we find sex, or games involving throwing or kicking balls around, fun--it's the sort of stuff our ancestors had to be pretty focused on, in order to reproduce and have (ultimately) us. We find coalitions and cliques interesting (on the playground, in the office, at the academic conference, in reality TV and soap operas, etc.) because obsessive interest in that stuff paid off for our ancestors. We divide up into "us" and "them" readily and automatically because tribes and individuals that didn't do that stuff were largely killed off by the ones that did it.

#504 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:05 PM:

albatross @ 504

I'm not convinced that primate pecking order was selected for at the inter-troop level, or at least that it was not selected for strongly at that level. My own guess* is that any sort of behavior that increased cohesion of the group, and created a social order that institutionalized standards for dividing up food would have minimized energy spent on activities that didn't involve finding food or insuring that all members of the troop got enough food to survive. I think finding a metastable** social order would be an advantage to a troop over others which didn't, even if they never came into contact.

* I'm sure S. J. Gould would have disparagingly called this a "just-so" story, and he'd have been right; but I'm not a professional ethologist or evolutionary biologist, so I get some room to show off my ignorance.
** Combat to determine who the alpha is tends to destabilize things temporarily; on this view that should be net positive for the group if it prevents more chronic instability from constant competition to unseat the alpha.

#505 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:35 PM:

My memory of basic primate troop structure is that the subadult and beta males take the outermost positions where the leopards get to them first, and the physical and social struggle is to move further into the center with the breeding females and infants.

Applying this model to internet trolls is a source of some sly amusement.

#506 ::: JulieB ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Scratch what I said in @126. The big city daily just instituted a new comments system, and it has become overrun with idiotic postings.

Makes me weep.

#507 ::: Serge sees doctoral SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 02:27 PM:

"Nice article you got here. Would be awful if something happened to it."

#508 ::: P J Evans sees stranger ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 12:24 PM:

possibly comment spam?

#509 ::: Rob Rusick agrees stranger is spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2010, 07:37 PM:

Definitely spam. A Google search on the phrase "It is extremely interesting for me to read this blog" turns up hundreds of hits reproducing the entire comment.

#510 ::: Clifton Royston sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2010, 01:03 AM:

URL spam - in the form of bad pickup lines?!?

#511 ::: David Goldfarb points out more spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2010, 01:06 AM:

Pretty clearly SEO spam for a loan quote site.

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