Monday, August 25, 2008

On Moderating Comments

For those of you who have been following my journey since the inception of this very young, still naïve, rather simple blog, you may have noticed that a slight chill of negativity has been steadily creeping into the comments I’ve been receiving. No doubt, some of these comments are being made by people who are genuinely uncomfortable with the content of some of my posts. Others are clearly misinterpreting the writing of this rather amateurish, yet well-meaning devotee of voluntary simplicity. Still others may actually have an agenda and would criticize pretty much anything posted by yours truly.

So, here I am, my dear reader, pondering the need to moderate comments. I’ve always though that if I was egotistical enough to expect that people would read about my journey, then I should be happy to read any comments, positive or negative, that this humble little blog receives. I’m definitely a JS Mill “On Liberty” type, which basically means that my instinct is to let people post what they want, in whatever form they want; freedom of speech is paramount; yada, yada…

And yet…


I’ve noticed that most of the other blogs I love to read are, in fact, moderated, and with good reason. The content (and subsequent comments) on awesome blogs like Conversion Diary (formerly “Et, tu?”) and Hobo Stripper are ripe for misinterpretation and negative comments. My guess is that a reader of those blogs should be thankful that their authors can sift through comments and post those that are most pertinent while chucking anything that appears naughty. Comment moderation can focus commentary and provide readers with a more in-depth, uncluttered perspective of topics at hand.

And yet…

This all just sounds like a BS way to justify censoring people who, for whatever reason, aren’t big fans of Jack or his hopelessly honest, warts and all, brand of voluntary simplicity. Even if I were to start moderating comments, what criteria should I use to sift through comments? Should I reject only the patently offensive ones? What about comments that are critical but insightful? More importantly, how do I distinguish between the two. This conundrum is precisely the reason why I am against censorship.


So, what do you think, my dear reader? Would really appreciate your input, both pro and con, positive and negative.

34 comments:

Eating Dust said...

I moderate my comments for the simple purpose of eliminating drama from where it doesn't belong.

Miles To Go Before I Sleep...... said...

John and I don't moderate our comments.... John says, "there's enough big brother in the world" :-)

That said.... if someone is negative... oh well, it's a view point... from a stranger... not like it's your neighbor or someone you see everyday... blogs that are public should have public readers and public comments...

In my opinion, if you want to censor, then make a blog private and invite readers... then you will only have fans...

Keep writing jack!

heather said...

As a native English speaker in a mainly non-English speaking environment, I've learned to take many things with a heavy grain of salt, chalking things up to cultural or language differences, when often the intention is pure but the delivery is muddled.

It would perhaps be boring if we all agreed with everything you said, (although we apparently find it interesting enough to follow along on your adventure). :-)

If the purpose is to promote healthy discussion based on a different view point, ok. Or if the purpose is to give Jack a little 'tough love' to help him to progress toward his simplicity goal, well, ultimately it's positive.

So I'd say to keep the honest writing coming (as well as the comments) until such time as you've determindly had enough.

My Eco Self said...

I moderate mine because I get a lot of spam - people trying to advertise their wares etc - I just find that annoying.

Jennifer F. said...

I've had the exact same dilemma many times -- I am NOT a fan of censorship. I prefer to just let all the ideas get out there and let people decide for themselves who's right or wrong. I had a policy of never moderating / deleting comments and that was important to me. People often remarked with surprise at the type of comments I'd let get by.

Then, things changed...

For a while readers had been grumbling that my laizzes faire attitude about comment moderation, saying that it impacted their enjoyment of reading the comments. It all came to a head in this nasty thread, where I realized that one angry person (who was a frequent commenter on other threads) ended up wasting a lot of well-meaning people's time. I saw it play out again and again that readers would try to reason with people like this, only to spend tons of time getting sucked into pointless arguments. I think that that might have actually been the goal of some of these "trolls."

So now I have a different calculation: I have comment moderation on, but I let pretty much anything get through. However, if a comment seems "troll-ish" -- e.g. more anger than substance, intentionally misconstruing something that I or other commeters said, etc. -- I'll let it through but then post a comment (or send private email if I have it) saying that they need to change their tone or I won't approve more comments. They do *not* have to agree with me and/or anyone else or say nice things, they simply have to be reasonable and have some basic level of good will.

I've found that this policy has worked really well. In fact, since I turned on comment moderation months ago I've only rejected two comments. It seems that people are less likely to say questionable things when they know comment moderation is on.

Sorry for the long comment...

IN SUMMARY: I still think that a free flow of ideas and information is important, but I also realize now that it's important to respect the time of my other commenters by not allowing people to hijack discussions and waste everyone's time with angry rants.

Anonymous said...

I am all for moderating comments -life is too short & there are too many great blogs & comments to read - I am not interested in the disgruntled voice, looking for an argument. For example, some people just won't get not driving a car BY CHOICE (for instance) and luckily it's not my job to convince them otherwise - Keep up the good work!

Heather's Moving Castle said...

A friend of mine seems to have done well for herself with these words posted below the LEAVE Your comment words above the box I am typing in now. Good luck! I hate trolls and it is a time eater for you. Do whatever seems right for you:

We respectfully ask that, if you know our family, please do not reveal our personal information in your comment. Thank you!

Also, if you are a troll and post something mean and hurtful I will exercise my powers that be and delete, delete, delete! Wah ha ha!

Anonymous said...

If you're getting negative posts, I'll leave a positive one. I've only been reading for a few weeks, but I like your writer's voice. Keep the constructive criticism and delete the ones that are just out to ruin your day.

Amanda said...

Don't feed the trolls! Ignore or delete them, and they'll eventually go away. Greenpa (littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com) has some good rules. And don't feel like you have to respond to every single comment -- it's a fast way to get overwhelmed with blogging and an unintentional way to feed the trolls. Respond when it moves you -- leave the rest alone! :)

Sharon J said...

I don't like comment moderation and believe it should only be used as a last resort by those who are being spammed by either a troll out to cause trouble or strangers posting links.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about negative comments. As I've said before, you can't please all of the people so better to concentrate on those who do share your values instead.

Betty Ann said...

I like how you are trying to find a simple way of living........I agree with the last commenter... only start moderating if you get a TROLL. I was on an another blog and there was troll and the Blogger stooped to his level and said really low class stuff back (it was better to ignore and delete than to respond to such hatred). I think some people want someone to get all heated and respond to hatred; and others were responding and giving this Troll attention (which he was loving).

Again you have a great site..........and they say you become popular when you don't just get positive comments but some kind of negative ones. It is good to make people think about simplicity... do I really need a 4 bedroom home for just my 12 year old son and me.. now that the 24 and 22 year old graduated college?? Do I need a superhigh mortgage??

It is better for the environment if I rent out downstairs or even the spare upstairs one to a nice student???

You are making me think.. why am I staying as part of a ratrace working more and more. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

you are a boring lawyer who fights his most heated battles on the internetz. With delusions of grandeur and self-righteousness, you write about what you lack the courage to simply do for its inherent and personal good(s). You want others to read about how noble you are, how tortured you are, how sacrifical you can be, etc. because you don't have the strength or dedication to just be noble, be tortured, or be sacrificial if no one is watching/reading. In other words, this entire blog is a mastabatory fantasy, and I believe that everyone has a right to set the agenda in their own fantasies... thus you should moderate comments or you will continue to risk the self-pleasure you derive from this blog.

Fifty-One-Fifty said...

Only if the comment is meant to defame.

Even then, I would use caution because you are alienating your audience.

When you write a blog, you are willing to put your life (what little is in the blog) into the light, willing to take criticism.

Someone called me a "whore" on my blog. I left it there. It says more about the commentor than it does me.

However, I think you, as a trained lawyer, are logical and should use your own judgment.

I'd leave comment moderation off, and then delete comments as I personally saw fit.

If you are no longer comfortable with the level of exposure, then I suggest making a personal blog that is invite only.

Fifty-One-Fifty said...

And Jack, what I think happens is the fact that people are fixated on what is written here, but they don't know you, as a person. Try to keep that in mind. It will help.

Alecto said...

I don't moderate but I have been known to block IP addresses if I've got a known troll. I have also been known to chastize commenters publicly for bad behavior, i.e., if you don't have something nice to say, shut up and... (my favorite) nobody asked you to read this blog and nobody asked for your opinion.

Anonymous said...

By posting a blog on the internet, you are implicitly asking for all comers to comment if you leave comments on.

Anonymous said...

Although the comment stream is appearing on the net, it is also, more importantly, taking place in your living room. Moderate your comments. Allow the speech that you would allow in your living room. It's not big brother, it's just human decency.

LiveWorkDream said...

How sad that some people have such little going for them in life that they have to troll blogs like yours and post annoying, stupid comments. Ugh, get a life!

A journalism prof once told me that if you aren't inciting angry letters from readers, then you aren't doing your job. I tend to agree with that, somewhat.

Our sabbatical travel blog has had it's share of negative comments, mostly occurring when I decide to throw in my left leaning political viewpoints. When the comments are to the point of harassment, or what we feel are just plain stupid, we reserve the right to delete them. This doesn't happen much; most deleted comments are from spammers.

With that said, I think you have every right to moderate your own blog. If someone doesn't agree, and they harass or annoy you, they can go take a leap.

It's YOUR blog. Keep being honest, keep writing the way you do. It's great.

Jerry Critter said...

I wrote a very insightful (yeah,right!) reply last night that disappeared into the ether when I tried to publish it. I am going to assume that you did not moderate me out of existence. :)

Instead of repeating it all, just let me say that jennifer.f's IN SUMMARY says it all, at least for me.

Moderate (what your writing says to me), don't censor (what your pictures say to me). Allow discussion but keep it on topic and relevant.

Mark Groen said...

Go ahead and moderate, don't read the comments much anyways - they are not why you are in my feed reader.

Buddy said...

Moderate schmoderate!

BTW, the crap has started. Living in Stressville..

But yeah, you should moderate your comments.

As you get closer to your goal, you will start doing it more and more intuitively.Hopefully.

2 Weeks... that's what I need....

Buddy

Elizabeth said...

I delete spam, links to porn, comments meant to offend, and comments left by someone who is pretending to be someone else (in the last two cases, it's because it's always done by one particular person and I consider them to be trolling to cause drama - so yes, I would delete trolls).

The written word is prone to misinterpretation so I think that's a given. Criticism is a given on almost any topic, it's generally good to read/think about, and sometimes I think that's what generates the more interesting dialogue on comment threads.

However, I am not a fan of anonymous and very negative comments - if I disregard anything, it is those ones. I figure that if I am willing to say something, I should be willing to attach my "name" to it. If they aren't willing to do the same, I'm not sure I need to have further dialogue on it on that point.

Hobo Stripper said...

My comments are mostly just moderated for spam. I get a lot of it. I've deleted like four comments ever, mostly because they were getting abusive to other commenters. And there was the one guy who went stalkerish and I blog banned him. I get negative comments all the time. Mostly I ignore them.

Jack said...

Eating dust,

Agreed. Have only experienced a little drama so far, but can see how it could get out of hand.

Miles,

Will keep that in mind. My only issue is that it would be cumberson to do a private blog. We shall see...

Heather,

Ummm..I'm with you, specially the tough love part. What's hard is distinguishing those comments from just 'troll' comments.

Jack said...

My eco self,

Weird. I've never received spam, or at least never recognized a comment as being such.

Jennifer,

You comment is probably the most on point and most helpful. That thread is definitly nasty! I'm leaning in that direction at the moment. But, how about putting up regular posts with comments that were actually rejected? Umm...would depend on volume of course.

Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment. Yeah, life is too short for drama.

Jack said...

Heather's moving castle,

That's hilarious! Umm...believe it or not had to look up the term "troll" on google. That's how blog-ignorant I am still.

Anonymous,

Interesting idea to just delete. On the other hand, I can't be looking for comments 24-7...possible that while they are posted, mischief could ensure. Umm...

Amanda,

LOVE your idea on not responding to each comment. Been feeling much the same lately. But I like it, so far. :)

Jack said...

Sharon,

Very wise. I think at this point I'm probably most worried that trolls seem to sidetrack conversation and are just there to cause mischief. Otherwise, let everyone be as critical as they want.

Betty ann,

Thanks for the comment and the offline suggestion. Let's hope you keep on coming back for more :)

Anonymous,

What’s weird about your post is that it straddles legitimate critical thinking and uninformed, unfounded crap. Since I am not completely sure which way it goes, I would probably let this through in a world where I moderate comments.

As for substance, I’m probably only going to do this once just to prove a point. Here it goes:

1. “you are a boring lawyer”= Unless you are one of four people that actually know who I am I have no idea how you come to that conclusion. The worst you can probably say is that I am a boring writer or that the stuff I have written about doing thus far is boring.

2. “You want others to read about how noble you are, how tortured you are, how sacrifical you can be, etc. because you don't have the strength or dedication to just be noble, be tortured, or be sacrificial if no one is watching/reading”= I would take that statement more seriously if people who read this blog actually knew who I was. I think the person who donates $500 dollars to a charity for a chance to make a speech about it is a bit self-serving. Not sure the same analysis applies to me. But that is just an opinion.

3. “you should moderate comments or you will continue to risk the self-pleasure you derive from this blog.”= Not sure I understand your logic here. If I moderate comments wouldn’t I still receive comments that would risk the self-pleasure I supposedly receive?

4. As for this blog being a “masturbatory fantasy,” all I can say is that I hope that the results of my efforts can speak for the themselves. It’s early in this process. I just hope I can accept the failures and any successes I share on this blog, as I slowly make my way towards genuine simplicity.

Jack said...

fifty,

All good point, though I am leaning towards moderating comments but letting all but the most obviously offensive in. Gotta let people say how they feel. Your second comment is, I think, key! Will keep it in mind.

alecto,

Excuse the ignorance, but can you figure out IP addresses?

Anonymous,

Yeah, I think that is at the heart of my dilemma. Just need to figure out a good balance.

Jack said...

Anonymous,

Point taken. Good barometer, though I may actually go further and allow more in than what would be appropriate in my living room.

Liveworkdream,

Definitely all good points, and thanks for the comment. See above. Looks like some level of moderation makes sense to me. What's weird is that I've yet to get hit with any spam. Maybe I'm lucky...so far.

Jerry,

Ditto, Jennifer hit it right on the head. Probably going that way.

Jack said...

Mark,

Thanks for the comment. Will do.

Buddy,

Good luck with all the crazyness. don't forget to report back with how it turns out.

Elizabeth,

Yeah, that's one thing I'm not sure what to do about: anonymous comments. I guess for people who don't have blogger accounts it's just easier to click anonymous. But I've found that many are legit and very interesting.

Cage Free Family said...

Outside of being called a "disgusting fake hippie" LOL on my blog I've never much given thought to moderating comments. I'm with you all the way and agree with your other readers...just keep writing...it all balances itself out.
Trolls move on and fans stick around.

xo

Hobo Stripper said...

Also, I think some of your negative commenters stick around because you keep answering them.

Cynthia said...

i like your honesty,
and that you welcome honesty from others... even when it's just obnoxious.

try not to allow the negative comments to transfer onto you as you are working your way through your own "funk" (the word I use for my own... whatever it is... negative energy)

maintain the integrity which is clearly your strength =)

Jack said...

Cage Free,

Yeah, I've sort of adopted that philosophy since I put this comment up. no need to moderate and let people post at will.

hobo,

Good point. I think I only answered this one guy just this once. Made me feel good!

Cynthia,

Thanks!