Comments, Trolls, and Moderation

It was an early winter’s morning in 2009. The participants of Science Online 2009 were slowly, wearily emerging from the haze of the night before — the reputation that marine science bloggers had livers of steel was not yet a stone-carved edict. We sat down for a session, I don’t remember which, that was ostensibly about managing commenters. This was they heyday of Web 2.0, the nascent social media ecosystem was in its early successional stages — no longer larval, but still bursting with untapped potential. Blogs were still king. There were earnest debates about whether Twitter or FriendFeed was a better platform.

Someone stood up, I don’t remember who, but they were certainly qualified, and made the startling (thought paraphrased) statement: “If you moderate comments, your legally liable for anything said in those comments. You’re only protected if you let all comments through.” This is not true, but it was certainly the mentality of the 2000’s, where comment threads were fast and loose. Newspapers took this advice to heart to such a degree that even the spam was left exposed to the world. Even today, articles on your local news site may boast more comments about how much money Freddy Fakename makes working from home than actual responses to the article.

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Anonymity, Pseudonymity, and a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Since the outing of one of reddit’s most notorious trolls last week, the internet has been buzzing with issues of anonymity, pseudonymity, and privacy. Joe Scalzi’s discussion of the larger issues of privacy is the best I’ve seen, so rather than rehash, I’ll just point you there. What I would like to do, is take a moment to review Southern Fried Science’s policy as it applies to our own community. We welcome both anonymous and pseudonymous commenters, and, of course, we post under pseudonyms (granted, our real identities are literally one click away). Our pseudonyms are a matter of convenience, consistency, and tradition, but we recognize that our commenters may have other reasons to use a pseudonym, including, but by no means limited to, protecting themselves from physical, social, and emotional harm as a result of voicing their opinions. Southern Fried Science strives to create a safe space for people to discuss science, politics, conservation, and any of a thousand issues related to our oceans, our planet, and our future.

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Brief Blog Notice: Changes to the Comment Policy

We’ve updated the ever-evolving, often changing comments policy and added a link to John Scalzi’s excellent “How to be a good commenter” article. As an experiment, I cleared the moderation queue giving previously banned commenters a second chance.

Here is the current policy in its entirety:

Commenters (including blog authors) are asked to adhere to the philosophy laid out by Wayne C. Booth:

“Intellectual understanding is one of the best versions of the Golden Rule: Listen to others as you would have others listen to you. Precise demonstration of truth is important but not as important communal pursuit of it. Put in terms of Kant’s categorical imperative, When addressing someone else’s ideas, your obligation is to treat them as you believe all human being ought to treat on another’s ideas.”

~Wayne C. Booth (My Many Selves: The Quest for a Plausible Harmony)

We also ask that you read Joe Scalzi’s excellent article: How to Be a Good Commenter.

We strive to provide an open environment for the free discussion of ideas and ask that you respect the opinions expressed by the authors and by other commenters. Dissent is an essential part of the discussion; we ask only that you provide evidence to support your views and respond thoughtfully to comments challenging those assertions. We reserve the right to moderate any comment and have a low tolerance for spam, trolling, ad hominem attacks, and sock puppetry. We ask that you not dwell on typos, as it is an unnecessary distraction. Commenters are encouraged to strive for clarity and brevity. The authors of Southern Fried Science may remove any comment they deem objectionable, off-topic, or annoying.

Comments are community moderated through Like/Dislike buttons. Comments that receive 10 net likes will be highlighted so that new readers can find the best comments. Comments that receive 10 net dislikes will be placed behind a link wall so that spam, off topic, and incomprehensible comments won’t clutter the discussion. If you do dislike an otherwise legitimate comment because you disagree with its content, we encourage you to leave your own comment explaining why. Comments that contain 3 or more links are automatically held for moderation.

We employ a variety of spam filters to stem the tide of robotically generated comments. Sometimes those filters mark real comments as spam and hold them for moderation. If you comment doesn’t appear within a couple of days, send us an e-mail and we’ll take a look.

Avatars are randomly assigned and keyed to individual IP addresses. If you would like to use a custom avatar, we sync with the Gravatar network. You may visit their website to sign up for  globally recognized avatar.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments are welcome.

If this is your first time commenting on the blog, please acknowledge that you’ve read this policy by declaring you favorite style of barbecue in your comment. First time commenters must have their comment approved by a moderator before it appears.

We are going to use a much heavier hand in comment moderation from this point forward. Comments should be constructive, relevant, and add something to the conversation. Think of the comment thread like the Letters to the Editor for our blog. Everyone has a chance to submit comments, but not all unsolicited comments will be published.