Another post on blog moderation.

datePosted on 14:14, August 27th, 2009 by Pablo

When Anita and Jafapete invited me to join this blog collective, I agreed on condition that we assiduously avoid descending into the flame wars and rant fests so prevalent in the blogosphere, and that we be non-partisan (as I do not want to be seen as a Labour party toadie).  It turns out that we are unanimous in our opinion on both conditions. Even so, in the first few months of operation I took much flack because of my attempts to impose a “zero tolerance” approach to vulgarity and ad hominem attacks (and yes, some of my early attempts at moderation were quite crude). This included, not surprisingly, personal attacks on me (complete with the usual cheap shots about my well known employment dispute) on other blogs. But proof of the worthiness of that stance is now evident.

On the one hand, many well-known blogs–be they right or left–that do not practice moderation of posts and comments have descended into what colloquially are known as “troll farms:” places where the unhinged, cowardly and blindly zealous (as well as purposeful stirrers and trouble makers) trade insults and threats behind pseudonyms working from the safety of their keyboards. This has taken a toll particularly on the right side of the spectrum, where absent Helen Clark (“Klark,” in the right wing lexicon) and Labour in government, the more rabid commentators have taken to fighting amongst themselves over who is most pure to conservative principles and espousing a variety of conspiracy theories borrowed from US nutters and their media facilitators. Several right-wing blogs have simply shut down or splintered. The overall effect is to damage the brand of those that remain. This is particularly the case with DPF’s showcase, in which his reluctance to censor the hateful and vitriolic has seen many of his reasoned commentators decamp entirely, leaving a number of the threads to fester in their nastiness.

The Left side of the spectrum has its own version of this decline. Besides the overtly and blindly partisan scribbling of party mouthpieces, some of the major “independent” Left blogs allow their own version of flaming, to say nothing of serving as conduits for anti-Semitic rants posing as critiques of Zionism and Israel, blanket hatred of the US and hyperbolic attacks on National and its policies (which, if I oppose them in general, are not quite the “fascist”  measures that some of the Left blogs claim them to be).

Which is why I feel quite vindicated in holding the hard line on comments. Over the short life of this blog the commentary and debates have been notable for their (general) civility and intelligence. In fact, the level of discourse is such that the comment threads are often more insightful than the original posts. A regular cadre of highly informed commentators contribute to the discussion, and in the case of Pascal’s Bookie, joined the collective. Meanwhile the ranters (both Left and Right), after initially trying to inject their venom into our arguments, and given up and moved back to their (respective) caves. Even so, we continue to have to moderate the commentary, now mostly for vulgarity (as it is a NZ cultural feature, it seems, to be reflexively profane). But the larger point has been proven: if one wants to have reasoned commentary and debate on political and social issues in a blog format, then moderation is absolutely necessary so as to ward off the inevitable intrusion of trolls (be they ideological or by nature). Over time the need for moderation subsides as the commentariat becomes self-enforcing in its expression (as has been the case here), but it remains as the default principle for newcomers and established commentators alike.

There may be a place for flaming and trolling on other types of blog, but when it comes to political, economic and social matters, reason and grace in expression are the standard by which we live.

34 Responses to “Another post on blog moderation.”

  1. Scott Yorke on August 27th, 2009 at 14:25

    This has become one of my favourite blogsites, partly because I’m not afraid to read the comments sections. With some well known sites the comments sections can be truly sick-inducing.

    The main reason I like Kiwipolitico is that the writing is (as well as being damn good) non-partisan. I don’t feel as if I’m being subjected to a party-political broadcast.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. SeaJay on August 27th, 2009 at 16:18

    Kia Kaha K.Politicoes.
    Agree about comments threads often illuminating and fleshing out posts.
    It is one of the certain joys of this blogosphere.

  3. George D on August 27th, 2009 at 21:29

    as it is a NZ cultural feature, it seems, to be reflexively profane

    ****ing aye it is!

    Keep the hard line and editorial moderation, it makes this place worthwhile. I won’t send others to posts on other sites, even when they get it right, for the reasons you mention here.

  4. jarbury on August 27th, 2009 at 21:41

    This blog has developed its niche at the academic end of political blogosphere – and that’s great. It’s good to comment here and know that I’ll be engaged in a well thought out debate.

    Sometimes I feel like I need a politics degree to participate, but not always ;)

  5. Pablo on August 27th, 2009 at 21:59

    Ha Ha George D. I was wondering if anyone would take the mickey out of me on that score. I appreciate you, Scott, SeaJay and jarbury for their support, but will say that we/I are trying to tone down the academic tone in favour of something that is intelligible as well as intelligent. I have some way to go….

  6. Sagenz on August 28th, 2009 at 02:39

    Genuinely liberal blogs don’t moderate. They allow free speech and practice what they preach. That is why rightie blogs tend not to ban that said your authoritarian approach makes for more reasoned and intelligent debate

  7. Anita on August 28th, 2009 at 03:01

    Jarbury,

    I don’t have a politics degree or, in fact, any related qualification – so you’re in good company :)

    Pablo,

    Yeah, the slippery slope seems very real in blogs. Once good blogs go bad it seems practically impossible to recover :(

  8. StephenR on August 28th, 2009 at 09:14

    as it is a NZ cultural feature, it seems, to be reflexively profane

    Just spent several weeks in the US, heard almost nothing until i sat down with a table of Aussies and Poms – along with the big shiny buildings is something i’ll remember about the trip. Shocking I tell you.

    But good job, you risked a stullifying atmosphere but seem to have mostly avoided it.

  9. Lynn Prentice on August 28th, 2009 at 09:23

    Yeah, the slippery slope seems very real in blogs. Once good blogs go bad it seems practically impossible to recover :(

    Not impossible though. That was where we were at on the standard at the end of 2007. It took a lot of work and considerable usenet and BBS experience to know where to strike the balance. Our balance is somewhat more umm robust then here. But that is where we wanted it. It suited the personalities of the moderators – think of Irish, tane, and myself – we like revving people up while making our points.

    The biggest hassle was really getting the other posters to agree to have a policy. Everything after that was just hard work and organisation, something that some blogs don’t seem to like doing.

    It pays to moderate right from the start, and it pays dividends not only in the comments section but also back at the posts, which is all that the vast majority of readers read. A better level of criticism on the posts helps develop the posters.

    Anyway keep up the work. You’re on my iphone’s front page for the limited time I have for online reading (ie the bus)

    Lynn.

    Over time

  10. h on August 28th, 2009 at 09:42

    I best start reading the comments as well as the blog then.
    Pablo I think growing up in the America’s you’ve learnt about politics in a different manner to other NZers. Here we learnt everything political from an English sit-com called “The Young Ones”, in particular from the character Rick, a pretentious sociology student who called himself “The People’s Poet”. One enduring lesson was that everyone to the right of Trotsky is a “fascist”.

  11. marty mars on August 28th, 2009 at 10:06

    I like this blog, the quality of the posts and the fact that i can add my contribution without being abused.

    It is hard work running a blog – kia kaha kiwipolitico

  12. Lew on August 28th, 2009 at 10:08

    Phil Sage, we’ve covered this before, and your prescription doesn’t match reality.

    L

  13. Pablo on August 28th, 2009 at 11:48

    h:

    Just to clarify. I was raised in Latin America by American parents, so my political socialisation was indeed different, but not US-centric.

    PhilS: Although Lew has already steered you in the right direction, surely you do not believe that people are free to say whatever they like on a blog. Otherwise it would be a shouting “fire” in a crowded theater type of thing…incitement to violence and defamation being two obvious consequences.

  14. Scott Yorke on August 28th, 2009 at 12:29

    It constantly surprises me how many blog visitors believe it is okay to say anything they like, no matter how offensive or malicious.

    When you visit someone’s blog you’re a guest in their virtual world. It’s kind of like being in their house. If I went into a house and yelled abuse at the host and other visitors, I’d be booted out and told to stay away. If someone doesn’t like the house rules they should go somewhere that will tolerate their behaviour.

    If the host sets rules that are too restrictive the number of visitors will drop and the conversations will become dull. Those things don’t appear to have happened here, so you’ve probably managed to get the balance about right.

    On the few occasions I post comments on Kiwiblog I almost always end up getting pissed off with someone and losing my cool. I find it better to either stay away, or look on with a detached serenity.

  15. frog on August 28th, 2009 at 14:04

    Decent moderation is very challenging indeed. I salute your efforts and your success. While I would never pretend to be anything other than overtly political, without apology, I (we) have never found that balance in the moderation queue. Good on ya!

  16. Pablo on August 28th, 2009 at 14:44

    Lynn and Frog:

    The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that our relative success with moderation partially stems from the fact that we are explicitly non-partisan ( as an example, you may recall Anita’s post on not mourning the Fifth Labour government).

    Clearly partisan sites such as yours invite invective from partisan and ideological adversaries, no matter how reasoned your posts on matters of policy. Issues of personality and character of party leaders are bound to enter the discourse on partisan sites, but are not given room to breathe on such as ours simply because they are not part of the purview.

    Thus, it is not just the “hard line” on moderation that allows us to escape the descent into troll farms. It is also due to the very nature of this blog and our commitment to being a forum for the critical and non-aligned Left.

  17. Madeleine on August 28th, 2009 at 17:36

    On my blog, which deals with topics one would think would invite trolls and flamers, we don’t generally end up in degenerate flame wars. Yet I do not share your views on moderation we don’t moderate. We achieve that by setting a particular tone in our posts and in our comments. If someone comes in and tries it on we just call them on their logic, their arguments and their facts – tie them up in knots if necessary. One of two things results, either they just go away looking silly or they up their game and replace their slogan and abuse for reasoned argument and we end up having a civilised discussion.

    That said, your blog, your property, your platform, your decision.

  18. Sagenz on August 28th, 2009 at 17:54

    Let me clarify a quickly written comment. I like the debate here and attempt to abide by it’s social mores. It is the difference between a crowded public sports bar and an upmarket restaurant. You will get away with load raucous behaviour in one but not the other But your approach is authoritarian and I am calling it that. The blog right is simply practicing what it preaches. Light touch regulation.
    I am simply explaining the reality that seems to be unclear. This is a public space in private ownership. You are entitled to enforce whatever standards you like.

  19. Pablo on August 28th, 2009 at 18:05

    PhilS:

    I see your point but think that you are guilty of conceptual stretching when you call us “authoritarian.”
    “Sensible” is more like it.

    Madeleine:

    Consider yourself lucky. We have had persistent trolls who do not respond to logic or reason. It was better to sin bin them than to indulge their rage, with a view towards the “greater good/lesser evil” inherent in our moderation policy.

  20. Lynn Prentice on August 28th, 2009 at 18:23

    Clearly partisan sites such as yours invite invective from partisan and ideological adversaries, no matter how reasoned your posts on matters of policy. Issues of personality and character of party leaders are bound to enter the discourse on partisan sites, but are not given room to breathe on such as ours simply because they are not part of the purview.

    Plus we tend to write posts that are designed to get under peoples skins and in their faces, but are usually not simple rants. But it is all horses for courses. Blogs are nothing if not individual.

    As far as I’m concerned, the main reasons for moderation are to allow people to express viewpoints without the kind of lynching behaviour that sometimes prevails, and so I don’tget bored reading our own site. Trolls are the primary target for me, and I rather Anjou toying with them when I have time

  21. Neil on August 29th, 2009 at 06:41

    Plus we tend to write posts that are designed to get under peoples skins and in their faces, but are usually not simple rants.

    you don’t see the contradiction there? Your site is just a whole set of rants that are the left-wing equivalent of the more obnoxious kiwiblog thread comments.

    stir things up all you want but there isn’t a lot intellectual or interesting or entertaining going on.

  22. Ruth on August 29th, 2009 at 09:39

    as it is a NZ cultural feature, it seems, to be reflexively profane

    You can say that again. I commend you for moderating gratuitous profanity – on right wing blogs in particular the vulgarity from the women and well as the men is out of control.

    Moderating for vulgarity is not being authoritarian – it’s showing a bit of class.

  23. Tom Semmens on August 29th, 2009 at 12:40

    It constantly surprises me how many blog visitors believe it is okay to say anything they like, no matter how offensive or malicious.

    I pitch my comments to the intended audience of the site I am on.

    There is a difference between sites. Take Kiwiblog and The Standard for example. Kiwiblog is the home of some people who I think may have mild mental health issues. The Standard, whilst occassionally descending into a partisan farce even a partisan hack like me cringes at, is more a rollicking rendition of an old time public meeting with heckling than the John Birch society rally that Kiwiblog often becomes.

    The tone and style of my comments are quite different on kiwiblog from they would be elsewhere. I frequently just post on Kiwiblog to annoy the sewer and enjoy the show if I get one. DPF’s moderation policy hardly encourages anything else. OTOH, some of the “serious” stuff I post on my “local” site of biggie I wouldn’t dream of posting on that bastion of high brow urban political correctness that is Public Address. Similarly, I typically take a lot more time over my posts on kiwipolitico than I do on the Standard.

    I consider myself an experienced denizen of the virtual space, I’ve been around under various handles for over ten years now. I have no problem making distinctions between what I say and how I say it dependent of where I happen to be saying it. To think that blog sites should all have the same standards or posting policies simply because they are all on the internet is fallacious. It is like claiming all news publications should be the same because they are all printed on paper. Some sites are faster paced and edgy; Some are lifestyle and gossipy; Some are high brow and frown on squabbling and shouting; Others are for fringe looney tunes and best avoided.

  24. QoT on August 29th, 2009 at 15:26

    You can say that again. I commend you for moderating gratuitous profanity – on right wing blogs in particular the vulgarity from the women and well as the men is out of control.

    I find it fascinating that you seem to place the “vulgarity” from women posters/commenters as a higher crime than that from the men, Ruth. I’m a frankly foul-mouthed lefty girl myself and while I totally get why other blog moderators want a different tone/style of discussion in their own places, I really dislike the idea that women should be held to a higher standard of non-cussing.

  25. Ruth on August 29th, 2009 at 15:33

    Where did I say that women should be held to a higher standard? *All* vulgarity is totally unnecessary in the battle of ideas, whether it is from men or women.

    I am pleased more and more blogs are figuring that out.

  26. QoT on August 29th, 2009 at 15:39

    The phrasing in your initial comment, Ruth, is “the vulgarity from the women [as] well as the men is out of control.”

    This explicitly divides the vulgarity of posters-who-are-men (or identify/are identified as such because this is The Interwebz, after all) and posters-who-are-women (ditto) into separate categories to be condemned by you. So your comment reads, at least to me, as drawing a distinction between Men Who Cuss and Women Who Cuss.

    Then the two are connected by “as well as”, which subordinates the cussing of the second group. The sentence could just as easily read “the vulgarity from the women is out of control” – adding in “as well as the men” comes across as saying “the women’s vulgarity is out of control, oh, and the men should also not be vulgar.” Point is, vulgarity uttered by women seems to be the key problem you want to draw attention to.

    Otherwise, why not just say “the vulgarity on right wing blogs in particular is out of control”? As the comment author, perhaps you could explain why you felt the need to divide vulgarity by assumed online gender?

  27. Ruth on August 29th, 2009 at 16:27

    It was a throwaway line – not something I sat around thinking about before I typed. Don’t put words into my mouth.

    If you feel you need to curse to state your ideas then that doesn’t say much for your ideas, but the choice is yours.

    I agree with Pablo that “There may be a place for flaming and trolling on other types of blog, but when it comes to political, economic and social matters, reason and grace in expression are the standard by which we live.”

    I have often fallen short of that standard, but it’s what I aim for.

  28. George D on August 29th, 2009 at 17:09

    The Standard, whilst occassionally descending into a partisan farce even a partisan hack like me cringes at, is more a rollicking rendition of an old time public meeting with heckling than the John Birch society rally that Kiwiblog often becomes.

    And those meetings tend to drown out those who aren’t shouters, but who might have something to say. I hate those meetings, because I can’t say things with nuance or express uncertainty without being attacked and demolished.

    Oh, and thanks to the moderators for not allowing linkwhoring or persistently bad grammar. I refuse to comment at Frogblog because Phil Ure’s comment’s give me headaches. Glad to see he doesn’t appear here.

  29. QoT on August 29th, 2009 at 21:58

    It was a throwaway line – not something I sat around thinking about before I typed. Don’t put words into my mouth.

    I can only suggest, in all sincerity, that maybe you might get some benefit from reflection on why your throwaway comment came out that way.

    <blockquote"If you feel you need to curse to state your ideas then that doesn’t say much for your ideas, but the choice is yours.

    And see, this is what rips my knickers. Some people like to swear. Some people don’t. Some blogs, especially feminist ones, deliberately flout conventions about what’s “appropriate” or “ladylike” or “polite”, and some blogs, including sometimes my own, are tools for venting and letting off steam that the kind of reasoned, in-depth debate enjoyed here at Kiwipolitico. They are all equally valid, and as long as people respect the conventions of each place I don’t understand the need to slag off people whose style or verbiage isn’t the same as yours.

    Just like I don’t respond to anti-”vulgarity” comments with a frankly condescending “If you can’t handle a few naughty words that doesn’t say much for your ability to see the bigger picture, but the choice is yours”.

  30. Pascal's bookie on August 29th, 2009 at 23:28

    I’m with Tom S and QoT.

    This from Pablo;

    Clearly partisan sites such as yours invite invective from partisan and ideological adversaries, no matter how reasoned your posts on matters of policy. Issues of personality and character of party leaders are bound to enter the discourse on partisan sites, but are not given room to breathe on such as ours simply because they are not part of the purview.

    is very true I think. As well as the party leaders, it’s the posters and commenters that get attacked, usually in the form of ‘hypocrisy’ or motivation style ad homs.

    I suspect it’s part and parcel of the fact that where a site is partisan, commenters, rightly enough, feel that they are not going to make much headway in convincing other commenters or posters to change their views on issues. It then becomes a less of a conversation and more of an almost stylised debate, where the aim, if there is one, is to convince readers that you are right.

    And there is nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s recognised for what it is.

    Partisanship gets a heck of a bad rap, but it’s necessary. Not everywhere, and not at all times, but it needs a space and those spaces are just as valuable as other spaces where partisanship is not appropriate.

    On the cussing, heck. It has it’s place.

  31. Tom Semmens on August 30th, 2009 at 21:00

    And those meetings tend to drown out those who aren’t shouters, but who might have something to say. I hate those meetings, because I can’t say things with nuance or express uncertainty without being attacked and demolished.

    There is nothing wrong with politics – and online debate about politics – being a rude and robust process. Rowdy meeting, pushing, shoving, and uproars requiring the police to be called are to my mind all signs of a healthy democracy. To think otherwise betrays an elitist view of how political debate should take place.

  32. Pablo on August 30th, 2009 at 21:31

    Well Tom,

    it looks by your view that I am one of the (kiwipolitico) kops. If so, just call me “occifer”. >>play on words, in case it is not apparent<<

  33. Jafapete on September 1st, 2009 at 09:36

    Ah well, too late for this thread I guess. Still… Great post Pablo and great comments by all. Illustrates the point about the quality of debate perfectly.

    “Authoritarian”? Well, yes, in style, especially in the early days. But the idea is to ensure that views — whatever their political substance — are expressed in ways that do not cause undue offence. So, PhilS, I can’t see why “free speech” should extend to the gratuitously offensive, when people are free to express the same views in a socially agreeable manner.

  34. Anita on September 1st, 2009 at 09:46

    Pablo writes,

    it looks by your view that I am one of the (kiwipolitico) kops. If so, just call me “occifer”. >>play on words, in case it is not apparent<<

    Good Afterble Constanoon!

Leave a Reply

Name: (required)
Email: (required) (will not be published)
Website:
Comment: