Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Our readers respond below...
March 12, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Have online comment sections become 'a joke'?
posted by Artw (185 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Metafilter: Have online comment sections become a joke?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:45 AM on March 12, 2012 [35 favorites]


A really bleak and dark joke that causes wails of empty, desperate laughter.
posted by The Whelk at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Were online comment sections on news sites ever not a joke?
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


Make $$$ with FREE IPAD
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2012 [21 favorites]


Well Nick Denton aure knows a lot about turning decent comment sections into crap. We should listen to his views.
posted by Uncle at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


The comment section of this article about comment sections is a joke.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"become" indicates a transition from something else, so no.

On preview, damn you, DU.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


selflink
posted by fistynuts at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2012


Three online comment sections walk into a bar...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


More seriously, though: Yes, they totally have. Metafilter is actually the exception; I tend to learn a lot from comment threads here. However, you have to pay your $5, and that alone seems to filter out an awful lot of bullshit.

Most media story comments I ever see tend to just boil down to "raargh stoopid Democrats" and "rraaarrgh, fucking Republicans" anymore.

Also: http://xkcd.com/481/
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


Rather rich coming from Mr. Gawker.
posted by kmz at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I appreciate that MetaFilter, for all its snarkiness, is a valuable resource and online community.
posted by SPrintF at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


tl;dr - Nick Denton says he doesn't know how to fix the comments section on his sites. "[Denton] said that commenting on his own sites (which he's seen make reporters cry) has gotten so bad that he doesn't engage."

That right there is part of the problem. Sure, moderating discussion on high volume sites is labor intensive, but if you want decent conversation it has to be done. The only reasonably large site I've spent time on that has non-cesspool levels of conversation is this one, and that's because there's a whole team of moderators dedicated to protecting and improving conversation here (oh, and the $5 entry fee). If you can't put in the effort, then you get the free-for-all comments most sites seem to have.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:50 AM on March 12, 2012 [33 favorites]


"'If you put it to a vote, 90% would vote to ban him. They hate that guy,' Denton said. 'If Dov Charney went into the Jezebel comments, he'd be torn limb from limb; his limbs aren't all that would be torn off.'"

For those of you who may be confused by such subtletly, Denton is saying that if Dov Charney were to make comments on Jezebel, not only would it be his arms and legs that are torn off, but his penis as well. They would tear off his penis because they are not fond of him. Dov Charney's penis would be a casualty of his trying to defend himself in the comments section. I just want to make sure everyone understands that because CNN didn't really bother to explain that particular mot juste although they felt it necessary to include the fact that Dov Charney's penis would be torn off in the comments section in Jezebel. I hope we're all on the same page here, regarding the matter of Dov Charney, his penis, and the Jezebel comment page.
posted by griphus at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2012 [61 favorites]


They certainly are at CNN -- like YouTube, they follow the idiotic convention of putting the most recent comment at the top (so the casual reader can't see what's being responded to).
posted by Rash at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm concerned that anyone is reading something on CNN.com.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:52 AM on March 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


I've noticed that the Globe and Mail comments section has actually become tolerable over the past few years.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:52 AM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Makes you appreciate the work that Matt and the rest of the mods do here, doesn't it? Comment moderation isn't easy, but look what happens when you don't do it.
posted by tommasz at 11:53 AM on March 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


However, you have to pay your $5, and that alone seems to filter out an awful lot of bullshit.

Which is completely weird. $5 in Western countries (which is the majority of MeFi demographis) isn't a lot of money, people will drop that much on all sorts of frivolous items.

Yet as one time fee for a website? HELL NO seems to be the common response. So strange.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:54 AM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


The thing about Gawker sites is that they already do filter comments to show "featured" threads, which are generally the most interesting comments: giving backstory, providing useful links, best blind guesses on rumors, etc. So Gawker does a better job already than many sites. I wonder why Denton's downplaying that?
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:54 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


REMEMBER THAT THE DAY BEFORE BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA WAS INAUGURATED GASOLINE WAS $1.65 A GALLLON
posted by Burhanistan at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


clearly everybody commenting on the CNN site thinks not. Should this not already be on the Meta?

An Irishman walks past a bar.
posted by fistynuts at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Become?
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:56 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worry that much of the decline we've seen in 21st century political dialogue can be blamed on us learning what sort of assholes we really are through online comments sections and falling into a state of societal apathetic shock. But I tend to exaggerate.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 11:57 AM on March 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


Welcome to the human race.
The majority of human conversations is off topic and toxic.
posted by Flood at 11:59 AM on March 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


*surprisingly unapologetic racist sentiment*
posted by shakespeherian at 12:00 PM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Knock knock!!
posted by the painkiller at 12:00 PM on March 12, 2012


I have actually seen reasonably interesting comments over at io9. Sometimes I've even commented there if I had some fact or link that seemed relevant. Generally a waste of time but hey, whatevs. Never been really tempted to get into a conversation as such.

And io9 is of course the far nerd reaches of Gawkerstan, elsewhere is vastly different.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just pretend all awful comments online comes from one person who is a safe place and not a threat to themselves or others and has been given a laptop as an outlet. Keeps me sane.
posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


*surprisingly unapologetic racist sentiment*

*Strong response that manages to be inflammatory in it's own way, and even more offtopic.*
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


*Nonsensical statement involving plankton*
posted by griphus at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


*meta joke comment about bad comments*
posted by The Whelk at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


::Unnecessary nostalgia about the general demeanor of AOL chatrooms::
posted by griphus at 12:05 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


*Words of praise for fishfood*
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 12:06 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought that Anil Dash did a fine job of defining the issues and offering a solution last year.

Why other sites haven't figured out that they only need apply a bit of common sense is beyond me.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 12:06 PM on March 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I was just thinking, last night, how truly obnoxious some mefi comments can be, but the only reason I think that is because I bother to post comments on mefi. Most sites, I wouldn't even consider it. So this puts things in perspective; certainly, whether or not some mefi comments are really annoying, I have to join the chorus of praise for the mefi mods. Also, yes, the $5 fee is a great way to weed out the pure trolls.
posted by Edgewise at 12:08 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Honestly, the comment sections at my local newspapers have for-real, no-shit destroyed most of my faith in democracy. Or, at the very least, they've made me rethink my position on Alexander Hamilton.
posted by COBRA! at 12:08 PM on March 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


The worst part is that that nice gentleman who you just had a brief, pleasant exchange with in the lunch room while getting coffee just left a stinking turd about how the wetbacks are ruining the economy on your local news site.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:08 PM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ooh, is this the toxic and inflammatory comment thread?
Dov Charney would have his penis ripped off by Jezebel commenters because they all hate penises and want to extort money from him by falsely accusing him of rape, even though more men get raped than women.
posted by charred husk at 12:09 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ta-Nehasi Coates over at the Atlantic has a great comments section. He keeps it that way by actively participating in the discussion, and by being absolutely merciless about banning people who cause problems. But yeah, the comments on most (non-Mefi)sites are totally worthless.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


C=:-| Meta-meta discussion of proper punctuation to use to indicate meta comments, arguing for nonplussed chefs. |-:=3
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:11 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never read the bottom half of the internet.

Every site goes through a period of eternal September if they can't turn off the flow of new users.

Reddit, Digg, Slashdot all tried different models of moderating comments, and all devolved over time.
posted by notseamus at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


In the near future, when the first wave of scandals erupt and it's conclusively shown that there are organized astroturfing campaigns occurring far beyond what anyone realizes, we'll be unable to talk about it civilly, as the levelers will have won. It's the Yahoo Questionification of the Internet and it's too late to turn it back.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neither of my local papers have comments on articles and I've been very happy about that but I notice that one of them has a banner on the top of each page saying "Coming soon: The next generation of post-gazette.com!" I'm terrified that they're going to try to be all social and have comments and I'll find out how truly racist/sexist/homophobic/etc the people around here are.
posted by octothorpe at 12:14 PM on March 12, 2012


*uninspired attempt to revive metatextual in-joke*
posted by gompa at 12:17 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


RON PAUL
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 12:17 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I'm concerned that anyone is reading something on CNN.com.

I'm just glad that people are reading, period.

Somewhat reversing the trend of 50+ years of television.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:18 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]



Never read the comments. Absolutely goddamn right! Unless you were goin' all the way...

Kurtz read from the comments. He split from the whole fuckin' program.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:18 PM on March 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


First!
posted by Mchelly at 12:20 PM on March 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


First!

First is worst
Second is best.
Third is the nerd
With the hairiest chest.
Burma Shave.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:22 PM on March 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


My God, its full of nothing (when you fail to apply a minimal fee entrance filter).
posted by Slackermagee at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2012


Our city paper has some guy who is ALWAYS the first comment on every article. He very obviously lurks around just waiting for them to be posted. The best part is he is a staunch conservative in probably one of the most liberal cities in America and every comment makes this VERY. CLEAR! I'm guessing it's some retired guy and spouting conservative talking points on this site is his current life mission.
posted by Defenestrator at 12:25 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


We're fairly liberal around here, but the comments section of the local fish-wrap is a seething mass of ultra-right wing douchebaggery. Hm.

Also, the local telephone company was going to put up a cell tower near some rich people's place--and said rich person copy and pasted in a woo-woo article about cell radiation more than ten times into the comments once it because clear they were the only one who cared (and their original comment, which they erased, just moaned about their reduced property value). But, being rich, they were able to block the tower, so we still have awful service down here.
posted by maxwelton at 12:26 PM on March 12, 2012


Aw, man. I've got all the Gawker sites mapped to 127.0.0.1 in my hosts file, and with no warning you get me to click to a Nick Denton story like that. Not nice, Artw, not nice.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:26 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The missing dash in my "ultra-right wing douchebaggery" makes me wonder what "wing douchebaggery" is and what would make it "ultra-right"--presumably as correct as it could possibly be.
posted by maxwelton at 12:29 PM on March 12, 2012


I've sadly come to expect this from my local paper, but a part of me burns with schadenfreude fueled delight when the comment sections in The Chronicle of Higher Education devolve into vitriol and personal attacks.
posted by Mr Mister at 12:31 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our city paper has some guy who is ALWAYS the first comment on every article. He very obviously lurks around just waiting for them to be posted.

I think we've got a few of those guys too.
posted by neroli at 12:31 PM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


One of the useful features of the "safety" setting on YouTube (we do this so kids can watch YT without encountering any random weirdness) is that it automatically blocks comments. Such a relief.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:33 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've noticed that the Globe and Mail comments section has actually become tolerable over the past few years.

Agreed, and I would say comments on the Internet in general are getting better and more tolerable. The anonymous asshole phase is like the talking on the cell phone, texting, etc. phase. It will wear off eventually.

For example, the comments on the Yahoo fantasy sports article are generally more useful than the articles themselves.

Trying to group all online commentary in one bucket is impossible, imo. Some comments on sites are horrible; others aren't.

I'm guessing it's some retired guy and spouting conservative talking points on this site is his current life mission.

Or else she's some poor old gal getting paid 25 cents a post by Koch Industries.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:34 PM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


*humblebrag*
posted by thinkpiece at 12:35 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Gawker and GawkerMedia site comment sections certainly did become a joke.
While they used to be entertaining, they have turned into a hive of snark-upsmanship and a cult of personality--for the Gawker writers and even cults based around other comment-section-stars. All while throwing out what made Gawker-style writing good in the first place (at fault: both the writers and comment section).

Frequently, I will open up the ol'comment section on some interesting story on Gawker, and find that the only thing people are talking about are themselves and the person who posted the link to the article.

Their biggest problems seem to be the fact that the comments are defaulted to only showing the "featured" comments; and the fact that people can get a comment promotion gold star: literally a gold star next to your avatar picture which grants you the ability to have a gold star on your name AND be a pseudo-moderator to recommend featured comments and such. It is like the Slashdot karma system of yore, where a hundred geeks try to out-geek each other for every story in order to get the coveted (+5, Funny) top comment in the sorted thread.

We do the same thing here, basically, with our version of karma being favorites and we have our own celebrities and enough site-specific jargon that there's wiki pages about it. I find it mostly just as irritating as Gawker, but at least here, all the comments are in-line and nothing gets hidden unless it is deleted because it is truly horrible.

LONGBOAT GRAR HURF DURF I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE CAT BUTTER EATER DTMFA CABAL
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:35 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is similar to why reviews on sites like Amazon are routinely worthless.
Great product!
Horrible product!
I had this problem!
I never had a single problem!
Cures cancer!
Causes cancer!
He said!
She said!
I'm a marketing troll!

Ugh.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:36 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good comment sections or forums require cultivation and moderation. This was true even before the web when BBSes and Usenet were all the rage. These kind of comments, and the thoughts behind them, were never new. It's the internet facilitating the broadcast and sharing of these comments by literally anyone that's new.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:36 PM on March 12, 2012


My local paper has gone to requiring logging in with Facebook to comment. Racist, homophobic commentary by anonymous trolls is not a surprise. However, I am a little surprised at how willingly people tie their real identity or even their businesses to the ignorant, hateful stuff that they post on the local paper website. I've made note of several local businesses that will never, ever see a dime of my money, because the owners are ignorant, racist trolls.
posted by COD at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2012 [26 favorites]


The worst part is that that nice gentleman who you just had a brief, pleasant exchange with in the lunch room while getting coffee just left a stinking turd about how the wetbacks are ruining the economy on your local news site.

I like the fact that my neighbors will never tell me straight out what they truly think. I can avoid comment sections on the internet and keep thinking them all upstanding and thoughtful citizens. It would be too hard to live around folk if you knew how they really saw the world.
posted by Jehan at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apropos. (Why no, it isn't surprising that comments at Fox News are so awful.)
posted by octobersurprise at 12:39 PM on March 12, 2012


Part of my job is moderating comments, and it breaks my spirit more and more each day.
posted by whitneyarner at 12:41 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


World Invents System of Open, Unfettered Communication for the Common Man; Instantly Regrets Doing So
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:42 PM on March 12, 2012 [28 favorites]


In the early days of the Internet . . . A decade and a half later . . .

Aaaand, we're done.

ProTip: The Internet is not 15 years old. The Internet is not the web, and even the web is 20 years old.
posted by The Bellman at 12:42 PM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Having just posted a comment on my local newspaper website calling another commenter "a cringing, cowardly dog eager to be thrown scraps from his master's table" I cheerfully admit to being part of the problem.

The head rush of trolling right-wingers is just SO ADDICTIVE, though. Wind 'em up and watch 'em go.

I should rethink my life.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:42 PM on March 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


*sensible comment about the need of members in a community of diverse viewpoints to establish and self-police a base level of decorum in order to not alienate potential participants that somehow involves a religious slur*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:43 PM on March 12, 2012


I appreciate that MetaFilter, for all its snarkiness, is a valuable resource and online community.

MetaFilter is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful web site I've ever known in my life.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:48 PM on March 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


Apropos. (Why no, it isn't surprising that comments at Fox News are so awful.)

Holy crap, it's been years and years since I last read LGF and he used to be as wingnutty as they come...and now he's sounding rather sensibe. What the hell happened?

posted by daniel_charms at 12:49 PM on March 12, 2012


From the trashcan of the Daily News Herald office in March 14, 1962:


DEAR EDITOR,

THE COMMUNIST JFK TAKES HIS ORDERS DIRECTLY FROM THE ANTI-CHRIST POPE!

A CONCERNED CITIZEN
posted by perhapses at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2012


Brandon Blatcher said: "$5 in Western countries (which is the majority of MeFi demographis) isn't a lot of money, people will drop that much on all sorts of frivolous items. Yet as one time fee for a website? HELL NO seems to be the common response. So strange."

Strange, I agree, but thank God for it. It keeps the real idiots at bay, but costs the rest of us very little. Genius!

Burhanistan said: "The worst part is that that nice gentleman who you just had a brief, pleasant exchange with in the lunch room while getting coffee just left a stinking turd about how the wetbacks are ruining the economy on your local news site."

And the reason he behaves better in the lunch room is that he can't hide behind a silly alias there.

I do think a system requiring people to using their real names would hugely improve the intelligence and courtesy of internet discussions. There's the occasional whistleblower case where anonymity is justified, but in a western democracy these are very much the exception. Making anonymity the norm leads to predictably infantile and spiteful results. Anything you wouldn't be prepared to sign your real name to is probably something you should have the sense not to be saying in the first place.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2012


Holy crap, it's been years and years since I last read LGF and he used to be as wingnutty as they come...and now he's sounding rather sensibe. What the hell happened?

This
posted by zabuni at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2012


Reading online comment sections is what I do when I'm determined to make myself feel more depressed about something. It beats drowning myself in whiskey, I guess.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


As much as comments sections, particularly on news sites, are awful, it can sometimes be interesting to watch how the awful varies from site to site.

For example, in the summer, I was reading an article about the city of Calgary attempting to build a ring road that would cut through First Nations land. The article on the Edmonton Journal's website had a lot of crappy comments, mostly to do with the cost of infrastructure and TAXES ARE BAD!. The comments on the exact same article, on the Calgary Herald's website, contained racial slurs almost exclusively.
posted by asnider at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who thought 'commentification' was smart in the first place? Just because it's so easy to do in things like Drupal doesn't mean you should. I understand how the Medicine-Wagon Web Seminar Guru said it builds a community, but unless you are going to hire your nephew to batch-delete users when he gets home from school don't bother turning it on.

If you must turn it on, be it for 'Spank-Water Times' or 'Kaylie's Kustom Kat Hair Koffee Kozies' make it HARDER not easier to register. Last thing you want is someone who can post his ire instantly, especially if he's wearing his ill fitting racist pants. I think Metafilter's $5 entry fee with two day cooling period is so great I'm planning on ripping it off.

Finally ask yourself why you want people to give their input. If you believe it is a cheap way to get returning page-views for 'dat ad money' you deserve the cesspool you create. It's not cheap and easy, you need full time staff with the +5 banhammer to whack-a-mole the comments section. Is cultivating an active community a big enough part of your business model to warrant paid internet babysitters?



TL;DR
Comment sections are EXACTLY like public restrooms. You need to pay someone to clean them or they will end up covered in sh*t.
posted by The Power Nap at 12:55 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sturgeon's law applies. Plus, anyone who wants a conversation online doesn't go to the (say) Youtube comments, so there's bubble sort effect driving decent discussion towards places where it will be heard.

Though actually the 'two best comments' feature at Youtube does a decent job of plucking the occasional pearl out of the mire.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:58 PM on March 12, 2012


Who thought 'commentification' was smart in the first place?

SOCIAL! WEB 2.0! CONTENT CREATION! PARTICIPATION!

Someone convinced people that the buzzwords were gospel.

As it specifically applies to news sites, I think there was a perception -- at least among tradition media that was making the move to the web, like newspapers -- that a comments section would work kind of like the letters to the editor page. That perception was horribly, horribly flawed. I'm not sure why newspapers don't just turn their comments off. They almost never add value (I have, occasionally, read good comments in response to editorials, but never in response to "pure news." I mean, really, what value can comments possibly add to a news report of a brutal murder?).
posted by asnider at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


My local paper has gone to requiring logging in with Facebook to comment. Racist, homophobic commentary by anonymous trolls is not a surprise. However, I am a little surprised at how willingly people tie their real identity or even their businesses to the ignorant, hateful stuff that they post on the local paper website.

For a while, one of our major local papers actually required you to log in with your national ID card to comment in order to reduce trolling etc. It didn't quite have the effect they had hoped for, though: some people had no problem with tying their real identity with ignorant, hateful, bigoted stuff, although I guess none of them ever said anything that could get them prosecuted. The paper has since reverted to (optional) Facebook/other social media login. The level of the discourse has only improved from this.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:02 PM on March 12, 2012


> Who thought 'commentification' was smart in the first place?

It gets people hooked in and coming back. It's all about pageviews and click-ads. Nothing at all to do with social democracy in the digital age or some such nonsense.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:02 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We don't really believe in the democratic process of decision-making when it comes to discussion," Denton said. / The answer? Denton said his sites are planning to post some stories that allow only a hand-picked, pre-approved group of people to comment on them. That, he said, would make the comment section an extension of the story and allow people, like Charney in the above example, to have their say without fear of being piled onto by others.

Bullshit. These are called panels. Call it what it is.
posted by polymodus at 1:06 PM on March 12, 2012


does Nick Denton know how to make Gawker not suck anymore and be relevant, smart, and entertaining like it used to be?
posted by ninjew at 1:07 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The point of a comment section has never seemed to me to be about intelligent discourse, I've always assumed it was just a cheap way for websites to increase traffic by tapping into some people's need to be part of a conversation.

If you're unintelligent enough to espouse dogmatic viewpoints, you're probably also unintelligent enough to distinguish intelligent conversation from idiotic conversation, and you're into those dogmatic viewpoints to begin with because there's something attractive to you about combative conversation.

So, here's an outlet for you, just do it at the bottom of the page so it doesn't get in the way of people who are here for actual news.
posted by alphanerd at 1:08 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


A right wing commenter on the local paper's site turned out to be a high up county employee, doing it on the county's dime. It's lead to much bigger here.
posted by drezdn at 1:09 PM on March 12, 2012


does Nick Denton know how to make Gawker not suck anymore and be relevant, smart, and entertaining like it used to be?

Bring back Elizabeth Spiers?
posted by orrnyereg at 1:09 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're unintelligent enough to espouse dogmatic viewpoints, you're probably also unintelligent enough to distinguish intelligent conversation from idiotic conversation, and you're into those dogmatic viewpoints to begin with because there's something attractive to you about combative conversation.

Hm, it seems like you have a set of rigorous beliefs that you hold to be true, and you are commenting about these steadfastly-held beliefs on the internet.

"Only Sith deal in absolutes."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:12 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I try to make comments without reading posts so that I might be objective in what I say
posted by Postroad at 1:14 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sure there's a Lorena Bobbitt/Jezebel comments section/Dov Charney meme here that is not implicitly misogynistic. And Metafilter is the place to find it.
posted by Chuffy at 1:18 PM on March 12, 2012


Not so. I consistently try to falsify my beliefs, and my theory here is consistent with research.

Feel free to point me to some intellectuals who enjoy posting in CNN's comment section or point to it as a good source for intelligent opinion, or, alternatively, to some birthers who regularly post here, and I'll happily reconsider.
posted by alphanerd at 1:21 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're unintelligent enough to espouse dogmatic viewpoints, you're probably also unintelligent enough to distinguish intelligent conversation from idiotic conversation, and you're into those dogmatic viewpoints to begin with because there's something attractive to you about combative conversation.

This. In any conversation, the people most eager to talk, and those who talk the loudest, are usually those with the least to say.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:23 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still waiting for the punchline.....
posted by srboisvert at 1:23 PM on March 12, 2012


Not so. I consistently try to falsify my beliefs, and my theory here is consistent with research.

Oh, I get it. Your dogma is right.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:25 PM on March 12, 2012


HITLER!

I lose. Thread over.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:27 PM on March 12, 2012


Nick Denton owning community sites online is like a person who hates children owning a zoo. Get out of the online industry and get into tv, Denton, where you can control what people see and sell ads to your heart's content. The reason (one of them) that the Gawker sites went down the tubes is because of all the overly controlling posting rules that Denton instituted. The featured comments being visible by default has made it pointless to post if you're not one of the in crowd already, since you have no idea if anyone can even see your post.
posted by the big lizard at 1:28 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Literally Hitler.
posted by Quack at 1:32 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point of a comment section has never seemed to me to be about intelligent discourse, I've always assumed it was just a cheap way for websites to increase traffic by tapping into some people's need to be part of a conversation.

Yep. And those same people will often come back to see what other trolls have posted in response to their trolling, thus increasing ad revenues for the site. On some sites, feeding the trolls is exactly what the site owner wants you to do.
posted by asnider at 1:39 PM on March 12, 2012


"Only Sith deal in absolutes."

You know this statement is an absolute, right?
posted by alphanerd at 1:42 PM on March 12, 2012


Oh, try "two there are" if you're gonna nitpick that.
posted by Artw at 1:43 PM on March 12, 2012


I do think a system requiring people to using their real names would hugely improve the intelligence and courtesy of internet discussions

Some of the most horrible and hateful things I have seen posted on the Internet were posted by someone using their legal name. Seriously, moderation is far more effective than requiring people to use their legal names. Have you seen some of the crazy-ass hateful shit people post on Facebook, or that they post on sites like TheSmokingGun.com under their Facebook login (and yes, I always check to see if the Facebook name is actually the legal name, and it usually is unless people have gotten their siblings and/or parents to use the same pseudonymous surname)?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:44 PM on March 12, 2012


You know this statement is an absolute, right?

All Jedi are Sith. That's the true secret of the Star Wars universe.

I think that was kind of Threeway Handshakes comment.
posted by asnider at 1:49 PM on March 12, 2012


Wait, are we discussing Star Wars in this thread now...

Stay on topic... Stay on topic... Stay on topic...
It's no good, gold leader, this thread has gone off topic...
posted by Flood at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


$5 in Western countries (which is the majority of MeFi demographis) isn't a lot of money, people will drop that much on all sorts of frivolous items.

Yet as one time fee for a website? HELL NO seems to be the common response. So strange.


I was thinking about that a while back; what people are paying for, here, isn't the ability to see the website -- it's the ability to participate in the website. And, really, they're not setting editorial policy, and spending the $5 doesn't give you a 100% shot of getting your front page post up for longer than a few minutes. So at the end of the day, you're paying $5 to let your voice be heard, in a place where letting your voice be heard is much, much easier by virtue of most folks not being willing to pony up $5. It wouldn't work with a pay-per-comment model, because $5 feels like a lot to make one comment, and if you're going to make enough comments to justify the $5, you will probably make halfway-decent comments just to make sure your voice is heard often enough to justify the $5.

I find myself thinking that I should do various random creative things, then post them to a website, asking people for feedback -- but instead of a comment section, I'll have little votey buttons, where you can pay fifty cents to give me positive or negative feedback, straight to my mailbox. Then I'll play around with the numbers and the creative content until I get a steady stream of hate mail in my inbox, and get paid for the privilege.
posted by davejay at 2:10 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Think how much better MetaFilter would be if the signup fee was $10.
posted by mazola at 2:13 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're not on Metafilter Gold?
posted by Artw at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


I had to stop reading news sites altogether after I read a news story with a 14 year old kid who had been shot and was near dying. They never mentioned his nationality, but I went to the comments seeing if someone had posted a "We're setting up a fund" comment, only to find people saying they were glad he got shot and hope he did die. A 14 year old kid! And people were thumbs upping the comments calling for more of his friends to die or "go back to their own country."

That same day there was another article with a missing mother of three, who people were worried was suicidal. First comment? "Maybe they should look by the donut shop." Because she was overweight.

And then I found that through even the best research, finding out who these commenters were was impossible. It was easy to hope they were trolls in someone's basement somewhere, but really, they could be my coworkers. My neighbors. my friends. And it scared me to death that people I might interact with daily, in person, were advocating the killing of kids and suicide of overweight people in their spare time.

So I disagree with his demand that commenters be kept anonymous. If they are brave enough to post things like that online, then I should be allowed to know how horrible they are if I am ever unfortunate enough to meet them in person.
posted by haplesschild at 2:21 PM on March 12, 2012


Here's a good example of the bullshit star/featured system on Gawker.

The starred superstar comment person gets "featured comment" on a blind item post. The comment is about the Gawker writer that posted the story.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:22 PM on March 12, 2012


That makes a little bit more sense, but it still doesn't address my point.

It's not the fact that the beliefs are strongly held and being commented on that I object to, or even the content of them. It's the process that gives rise to them and the existence or non-existence of circumstances under which they could be changed which is the point. That always seems to me to be the essence of the difference between sites like Metafilter and comment sections on CNN, etc.

If Threeway Handshake or anybody else wants to make the case that the difference I'm pointing to isn't relevant, I'm open to it, but I still view what I'm advocating here as being a very different thing indeed from dogma.
posted by alphanerd at 2:23 PM on March 12, 2012


And then I found that through even the best research, finding out who these commenters were was impossible. It was easy to hope they were trolls in someone's basement somewhere, but really, they could be my coworkers. My neighbors. my friends. And it scared me to death that people I might interact with daily, in person, were advocating the killing of kids and suicide of overweight people in their spare time.

Sometimes they do get tracked down.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on March 12, 2012


You know this statement is an absolute, right?

Jeez, it is not funny if I have to explain it. I put that as like a tagline to illustrate what I was saying. Which was telling the person saying that basically "only stupid people talk about their dogmatic beliefs" which is, itself dogmatic. The Sith thing is exactly the same, saying only "these other people do this ___" when the act of saying that makes you guilty of the same thing.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:24 PM on March 12, 2012


See my comment above. I didn't watch Star Wars, but I think you're pulling some sleight-of-hand with the definition of dogmatic here.
posted by alphanerd at 2:26 PM on March 12, 2012


I love sites that use Facebook for comments since Facebook Disconnect will automatically block them for me.
posted by octothorpe at 2:26 PM on March 12, 2012


See my comment above. I didn't watch Star Wars, but I think you're pulling some sleight-of-hand with the definition of dogmatic here.
posted by alphanerd


Worst. Name. Ever.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:28 PM on March 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


Comments were better in the days of BBSes... they neverÉçŲďſſ˜»⌠∃√∏úď⍓⣿ōâŻ┿▚▓ș┚├➝∡⊓⁼ž#₩

NO CARRIER
posted by starman at 2:29 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


but I think you're pulling some sleight-of-hand with the definition of dogmatic here.

I honestly wouldn't say I'm doing that. A dogma is a doctrine or belief held by a certain group of people. Here, you are specifically siding with "intellectuals" as a group, and your belief is that people that espouse "dogmatic beliefs" are not intellectuals. Which itself comes off as pretty dogmatic.

I think what you mean by"dogmatic beliefs" that "not intellectuals" use are things like "We are pretty sure that Jesus rode dinosaurs" and such, but there is all sorts of dogma out there, including what you typed above, which is really ironic. You can see examples here all the time: "Macs cost too much," "Android is 'open.'"
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:35 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have a solution to newspaper comments: every time I read a newspaper's comment section, I just think to myself "This person's vote counts for exactly as much as mine does." Within a minute or so, the tears have blotted out my vision, and I can't see any more comments. Problem solved.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:35 PM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The comment section on stories these days serves the "Jerry Springer" audience of stories -- the ones who like to throw chairs at each other and come up with new ways to trick the obscenity filter. For the mild-mannered intellectual, the comment section is an entertaining reminder of why it's nice to be a mild-mannered intellectual. For the "Jerry Springer" viewers, it's a hotbed of fun worth diving into.
posted by cbsnewsjunky at 2:36 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given enough comments, every single article on my local paper's site turns into a rant against black people. It can be about the weather, the new city park, a cupcake recipe, anything.
posted by desjardins at 2:40 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


@mazola $10 is good, but if you really want to curb bad posting, how about $20 and they have to provide a written application and evidence of having acquired a high school degree

@homeboy trouble i agree, we should make it so they can't vote

I'm not saying there's anything privileged going on here, though!
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:41 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gah! The internet is hard! I give up!
posted by lumpenprole at 2:43 PM on March 12, 2012


It's linked above, but anyone who hasn't read Anil Dash's great poke at online community owners from last July should take a look; it's great: If your website's full of assholes, it's your fault.

We talked about it here at the time. It's worth noting that *none* of the solutions Denton "shoots down" in the CNN article (and presumably in his talk) are among those Dash suggested. Here's Denton:

So, what's the solution? When it comes to improving open discussion threads, Denton seemed quicker to shoot down ideas that others are trying than to provide proposals of his own.

Having editors and reporters engage their readers in the comments? "The writer of the piece has to move on to the next piece. They don't have time to moderate all those comments."

Require readers to post using their real names? "My own view is that anonymity is at the heart of the Internet."

Give other commenters more power to "up-vote" or "down-vote" posts? "We don't really believe in the democratic process of decision-making when it comes to discussion," Denton said.


So hire some damn mods whose job it is to mod, Denton. Jesus, not rocket science. Again, here are the strategies Dash offered last summer; they seem to me very specific, highly effective suggestions for keeping comment sections from devolving into steaming piles of garbage:

You should have community policies about what is and isn't acceptable behavior.....And then back them up with significant consequences when people break them: Either temporary or permanent bans on participation.

Your site should have accountable identities. No, people don't have to use their real names, or log in with Google or Facebook or Twitter unless you want them to....Let users pick a handle that is attached to all of their contributions in a consistent way where other people can see what they've done on the site....But you'll find "real" identities are no cure for assholes showing up in your comments if you aren't following the rest of the principles described here.

You should have the technology to easily identify and stop bad behaviors. If you have a community that's of decent size, it can be hard for even a sufficient number of moderators to read every single conversation thread. So a way for people to flag behavior that violates guidelines, and a simple set of tools for allowing moderators to respond quickly and appropriately, are a must-have so that people don't get overwhelmed.

You should make a budget that supports having a good community, or you should find another line of work. Every single person who's going to object to these ideas is going to talk about how they can't afford to hire a community manager, or how it's so expensive to develop good tools for managing comments. Okay, then save money by turning off your web server. Or enjoy your city where you presumably don't want to pay for police because they're so expensive.


Sound familiar? That last one is the kicker, of course. I wonder if Denton mentioned the paid moderator solution at all in his talk. If not he sure should have.
posted by mediareport at 2:47 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Semantics shouldn't be muddling this. Let's replace "dogmatic" with something else (the alphanerd-Threeway Handshake adjective, or a3whsa) and say it applies to people who don't vet their beliefs by checking them against opposing viewpoints, or whose beliefs can't be falsified, and/or to the beliefs that result from this process.

And we'll say that people who are un-a3whsa research both sides of the issue, and there are circumstances under which their beliefs are changed, and this word can also describe beliefs that result from this process.

Maybe we need a new word for intellectual, too. If so, we can invent one. But what I'm saying is that intellectuals are un-a3whsa, and view this as being true by definition, not by anything dogmatic, a3whsa, or whatever you want to call it, and yes, I side with them.
posted by alphanerd at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2012


So hire some damn mods whose job it is to mod, Denton. Jesus, not rocket science

it may not be rocket science, but is it cost effective and scalable?
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on March 12, 2012


It would be nice to see a discussion of that, instead of straw men like "writers don't have time to mod" and "but anonymity is important."
posted by mediareport at 2:54 PM on March 12, 2012


I don't find that mandating a Facebook login makes things any better at all. First, stupid people will say stupid shit under their real names if they really believe in what they're saying. Second, trolls can just make fake accounts.
posted by desjardins at 2:55 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never leave me, MetaFilter. I'd be lost without your love.
posted by ColdChef at 2:56 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like CiF on The Guardian, because it takes a lot of skill to make a comment that's as provocative as possible yet just manages to avoid deletion by the incredibly immoderate "moderators" there. There's hours of fun to be had with that, and once a comment site has become as restrictive and petty as theirs, that's pretty much the only fun to be had.
posted by Decani at 3:02 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would guess that every single example of a terrible comments section is on a site that skimps on community management.

Or, what mediareport says. :)
posted by rhizome at 3:11 PM on March 12, 2012


Site Owner: "Comments are terrible and there's nothing that can be done!"

Successful Online Community Moderator: "Well, actually, there is, but it will cost you time and money."

(...)

Site Owner: "There's nothing that can be done!"
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:11 PM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are exactly 2 places on the internets where I read comments:

1) Metafilter. The $5 fee keeps out a lot of rabble, because trolls can go just about anywhere for free. Unfortunately, there's no comment threading, so lots of worthwhile stuff goes unread (unless you take the time to read every comment).

2) Slashdot. There are A LOT of trolls, but the community moderation there lets the cream rise to the top (and I can ONLY look at highly modded posts if I want). But this requires a very large community.

The ideal site would use both of these techniques (HINT!HINT!).
posted by coolguymichael at 3:18 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good god no threaded comments FFS.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:21 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Making folks pay to play increases the signal to noise ratio, in my opinion.
posted by Renoroc at 3:21 PM on March 12, 2012


Micropayments.

Each comment costs 2¢.

Each favourite reduces your tab by 2¢.
posted by mazola at 3:25 PM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


only let rich people talk
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Huh. It appears the talk wasn't just Denton talking about the failure of internet comments; it was Denton and Anil Dash together. That sounds like a good talk; someone please let me know if it goes up somewhere. Kinda horrible of the CNN reporter to erase one-half of the conversation. Ugh.
posted by mediareport at 3:31 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the record, I do not support my own initiative.

Though I am pleased my comment, at this time, is revenue neutral.
posted by mazola at 3:31 PM on March 12, 2012


Anyway, I think the main things keeping Metafilter as good as it is (aside from Anil Dash's excellent analysis) are 1.) the five dollars, and 2) that the comments are the only real content provided by the site. I mean, I read AVClub and Cracked, but not for their comments. I read them because the articles entertain me. Cracked's comment section is generally a cesspool, and the AVClub's ranges from bad to "meh" most times.

But while there are certainly lurkers who read the front page of MeFi for the fun links, and don't bother with the comments, the comments are sort of most of what MeFi brings to the table. We don't create new things on the Blue, so the value of the site more or less lives and dies by the value of the conversation. Like it's a community weblog of some sort.

I know that sounds simple to the point of being obvious, but I think it's important. There's a LOT of self-policing that goes on here, because if the comments here go to hell then what really do we have here?
posted by Navelgazer at 3:33 PM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


obligate sites by law to release their financial info; 85% of all money that does not go toward operation and maintenance must be donated to red cross etc.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:34 PM on March 12, 2012


@mazola $10 is good, but if you really want to curb bad posting, how about $20 and they have to provide a written application and evidence of having acquired a high school degree

Hurfdurfery about raising the price* aside, a really short "essay" question is actually my primary thought to what we'd do if we wanted to add a little more positive friction to the signup process. Not a knowledge test or a writing test in any real sense—a couple of casual sentences would be fine, perfect English not required—but a basic engagement test.

As in, are you willing to stop for a minute and write up an answer to "hey, so why do you want to join Metafilter?" If that's a dealbreaker for you, participating on Metafilter is going to be a real horrorshow anyway. If you're hugely confused about what the site is, maybe we'll find out and be able to give you that guidance before you sign up instead of after. If you're signing up for a peculiar but totally fine reason, you can let us know and we'll be cool with that. But show that you got here on purpose and are signing up for a reason, even if it's just "I like the comments and have something to say."

I think that basic idea, of capturing specifically and only the new users whose attitude is "I am here because I have an idea of what this place is and I want to be here", would be implementable in a whole lot of places fairly friction-free entirely aside from the question of having a signup fee. But it's another thing where you have to have an engaged moderation team to actually make it work.

*I maintain that it could be $1 or $20 and work just about as well; the important bit is the speedbump. $5 is a good low non-hardship number and we're happy to comp people who really can't spare it or swing it for some reason. Having to jump through that paypal hoop or write us an email, and to in any case stop and make an active decision to do a little bit more than is normally required for driveby commenting, is the core thing.
posted by cortex at 3:34 PM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh you've got to be kidding:

Gawker Will Deputize Commenters, Says Sheriff Nick Denton
March 11, 2012 at 10:32 am PT

Gawker plans to launch an ambitious new commenting model within the next couple months, said its founder, Nick Denton, at SXSW today. The company aims to recruit commenters to elevate the level of discussion on its blogs by segmenting them and giving them moderation tools. So the first person to leave a comment on a Gawker network post will now be in charge of policing the thread of commenters who reply, maintaining a high level of discussion and recruiting other voices to participate and bring more page views. And there will be multiple comment moderators and threads per post. Free labor!

In a conversation with longtime blogger Anil Dash, Denton said he’s tried throughout his entrepreneurial career at Moreover and Gawker to cultivate good conversations online, at scale. Lots of things haven’t worked. For instance, the gamification of comments — basically, giving people badges for repeat participation — were a wrong turn, because they encourage insular communities and aren’t a motivator for the most interesting people.

And while Facebook’s embedded comment system might help control for blog-comment trolls on sites like TechCrunch, Denton said, it makes conversations more boring by discouraging new and anonymous commenters. Those people often share the juiciest information. “The most interesting comments, they don’t come from people with Klout scores. They don’t come from people with a history on our sites,” Denton said.

The ultimate goal of the new system, Denton said, would be to attract people like American Apparel’s Dov Charney or NBC’s Brian Williams — who are at the center of news on Gawker sites — to chime in themselves.

posted by mediareport at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


in the wrong hands, that could become a tool for ideological vetting, though

there seems to be a kind of anti-populism that people get, and it worries me
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just can't see this working at all:

So, to fix the problem, he said, Gawker will launch a new commenting program in six weeks that will turn an elite cadre of Gawker-selected commenters into moderators.

“The core of the Gawker idea,” Denton revealed, “is that everybody owns the thread that they start…and the discussion that they trigger.”

He didn’t disclose too many details about how the new approach will work but said it gives the first person who comments on a story responsibility for the quality of the resulting conversation. The new system, he hopes, will bring out interesting and juicy comments from first-time contributors and relevant experts and personalities who might otherwise be too intimated to participate.

posted by mediareport at 3:41 PM on March 12, 2012


in the wrong hands, that could become a tool for ideological vetting, though

Anything that ever involves any kind of gate could become such a tool, though. Deal with corruption by highlighting when it actually occurs, not by moaning about the toolset in abstract.
posted by cortex at 3:46 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every comment to a news story that you read decreases your IQ by 1 point. Once you've read 100, you feel qualified to comment.
posted by scruss at 3:46 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The ideal site would use both of these techniques (HINT!HINT!).

Actually this mindless upvoting compared with Mefi's tea-grawr-and-hugs-in-metalk method of maintaining social cohesion is why I jumped ship. Upvoting serves the popular consensus, but does not preserve minorities, and I adore not being in a boyzone.
posted by Phalene at 3:51 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


^Jumped ship from the little red alien, I mean.
posted by Phalene at 3:53 PM on March 12, 2012


^Jumped ship from the little red alien, I mean.

ONE THOUSAND INTERNETS TO YOU GOOD SIR. YOU HAVE MY UPVOTE.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 4:00 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem is clear: too many people posting comments. MetaFilter has deteriorated for this reason, too many users. The more people commenting the more of a morass it becomes. People know their comment is just one of a zillion and so go for attention getting tactics rather than deep thoughtful engagement. Your comment is throwaway because it is just one voice among many, instead of one among few. The solution is simple: restrict commenting. MeFi already restricts to one FPP a day and one AskMe every week or month. It keeps the noise ratio low. The same principal can apply to comments, as the guy in the FPP article says they will be doing at their site. Optionally, make it a feature in certain threads by the discretion of the poster or as a separate service.
posted by stbalbach at 4:10 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reading the comments on a news site is one of the classic blunders (like getting involved in a land war in Asia). The only worse places are YouTube or IMDB.

Some days I wish that Vinge had been right and you needed a license to operate the internet, but then I see how mandatory licensing has not stopped my fellow drivers from becoming maniacs behind the wheel. For trolls and commenters, any attention is good attention.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:14 PM on March 12, 2012


Another take on the Dash-Denton interview, which includes this:

Denton...also said that current approaches like moderation or a reliance on third-party sites like Facebook to identify commenters were inadequate.

I suppose I'll wait for the video, but I hope Anil pushed Nick as to why he thinks moderation is inadequate to Gawker's needs (aside from the obvious - he doesn't want to pay anything for it). How many mods would it take, e.g.? I'd be curious to hear what Matt or Josh or Jessamyn have to say about the scalability issue. Would the logistics of moderating a site like Gawker (which is nowhere near Reddit-like comment numbers, right?) really be that horribly difficult? What about a local newspaper site? I mean, I get that they'd rather not pay anything at all and just let comments remain a shitpile, but I'm still curious about what these site owners are counting as "cost-prohibitive."

What are the actual numbers here?
posted by mediareport at 4:15 PM on March 12, 2012


i wonder if other countries, non-english-speaking ones, have this kind of problem?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:18 PM on March 12, 2012


Cortex (or really any mods, I guess): I've gotten the feeling that the SEO spam has dropped of significantly over the past few years. Am I crazy and y'all have just gotten so quick that I don't see the FPPs pop up and get shot down anymore, or have they actually gotten the message?
posted by Navelgazer at 4:18 PM on March 12, 2012


If the heart of the matter is indeed anonymity - curiously enough I've seen the opposite happen in some communities, when this anonymity gets stripped away - between the two extremes, having a happy medium is probably the best. Discourse gets crippled with complete anonymity, as we have seen, but it can also be crippled when there is no anonymity.

It's like the saying goes: you can't talk about the weather at dinner if there's a meteorologist at the table.

I'll take the World of Warcraft forums as an example, where at some point forum accounts got linked to user accounts. Suddenly it was really difficult to participate in the forums unless you had a top 1% account - any opinion you had was rubbished because the first thing people would do before reading your post was check your credentials. If you were talking about PVP balance, they'd see how good you were at PVP, and if you were not in the top 1% most skilled in the game, you'd be accused of muddying the discussion with irrelevant opinion. Arguments could now be won simply by saying "You are wrong." and letting the fact your rating was higher than theirs speak for itself.

In a way, you could argue that anonymity made things more equal: where every poster was judged on the quality of their arguments and insights. But it's probably not a price worth paying.
posted by xdvesper at 4:31 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Tragedy of the Commons turns itself inside out and becomes the Tragedy of the Comments.

i wonder if other countries, non-english-speaking ones, have this kind of problem?

Here in Korea, it's the law that you must have a your online handle verifiably tied to your real identity. It's evil and wrong, in my humble, and it doesn't mean there's less of the stupid, but it does cut down to some extent (as much thanks to the built-in shame culture in general) on the nastiness.

Given a choice, I'd prefer anonymity to be available and to just limit my internet activities to places that aren't filled with shrieking morons. I'm already misanthropic enough that not seeing how awful and dumb people can be isn't going to somehow make human sunshine start to beam out of my butt.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:35 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd be curious to hear what Matt or Josh or Jessamyn have to say about the scalability issue. Would the logistics of moderating a site like Gawker (which is nowhere near Reddit-like comment numbers, right?) really be that horribly difficult? What about a local newspaper site?

If you want to look at it in terms of straight-across scalability, you could take it in terms of comment traffic: we see probably on the order of a couple thousand comments a day across Metafilter, between the various subsites. And we have four full-time paid moderators to handle that across what is now essentially a 24/7 shift.

Which in a very strict sense is four slightly-longer-than-40-hour work weeks to cover those 168 hours a week, but in practice what we actually have is overlapping coverage during peak hours (US daytime on weekdays) where there are probably two or three pairs of eyes on the site (me and jessamyn at least), and then something closer to solo coverage on the weekends (restless_nomad) and at night (taz). And in practice, there's usually more eyes than that except at night, because we're internet people and like to hang out here. But our shifts in any case aren't eight hours in and out, but more high-traffic times getting lots of attention and low-traffic time getting less attention (e.g. I go eat dinner when it's dinner time and check in less often in the evening, but tend to at least check in now and then outside of peak hours).

But, right, how do you figure out scaling? Four mods to cover a week around the clock gets us basically always-on coverage, which means we can get away with not forcing comments or posts into a queue. If you want to hire folks to work something more resembling a strict clock-in, clock-out eight hour shift you might need to hire at least one or two more folks, or hire a larger set of half-time folks, in order to get non-nutty scheduling.

Do you do that even if you're only getting 200 comments a day? Paying moderators costs money, but if you scale down a team past this sort of 4-6 minimum, you're either talking loooong hours or being unresponsive during portions of the day. So in a sense a team doesn't really scale down.

What if you're getting 20,000 or 200,000 comments a day? I'd say with our staff we're well-equipped to deal with the volume of comments mefi currently gets, and thankfully that volume hasn't been growing rapidly over the last several years, so we're in pretty good shape for the foreseeable future as well. I'd guess we could deal with twice the volume as is; if we had ten times as many comments, I don't know. I think you are hiring more people at that point. But not just because a larger number of comments is more work by itself; it's more that bigger orders of magnitude means different dynamics. It means more threads or more threads that move very fast, both of which are demanding logistically because it's not just how many comments you can take a look at but also how many discrete things you can reasonably track. I can keep up with a couple of different contentious, busy threads in a day and that's a busy day; if I had to juggle ten different serious messes I'd probably lose my mind.

I think you can scale up a bit and keep something like mefi moderation working; maybe full order of magnitude, maybe that's really pushing it. Because a bigger team means a different dynamic too. Can you do 200,000 comments a day with a team say twenty or fifty times the size of ours and still be doing anything like what we're doing, or does the sheer scope of the commentariat applied there mean it just won't work? It's not as simple as saying "what would it cost" to pay fifty times as much for moderators, it's a question of what you can actually accomplish at that point.

If Google decided they wanted to give the Metafilter treatment to youtube, it's one thing to say "it would cost X million dollars a year to put a butt in a seat for every 1000 or 5000 comments", and that is a big pile of sticker shock in the first place. But even after that, would that turn Youtube into Metafilter? Is having enough eyes on the comment stream to look at the trouble (at metafilter rates of comment trouble) enough? Or is the problem with youtube the fundamental commenting culture and utility? What if youtube threw up significant barriers to commenting instead, and wildly reduced the volume of comments, and then looked at moderation in those new terms instead?

Scaling this stuff is really non-trivial because it's not just one thing, it's not just "pay moderators to look at comments". There's the question of prevailing site culture, of how much you're willing to let that culture define the comments, of how disruptive you're willing to be of people's commenting instincts, of what you actually are willing to work on with your commenter/moderator relationships, even of whether you're willing to accept a drastic reduction in comment traffic as an outcome.

For my part, I don't comment on Gawker sites or read the comments there because (a) the comments suck and (b) the content rarely makes me feel like I should expect the comments not to. Sew a sort of trashy/gossipy/mean-spirited attitude, reap t/g/m comments. You can hire mods to try and make people cut the shit there, but there's a lot of dissonance that comes with that idea.
posted by cortex at 4:44 PM on March 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


ONE HUNDRED FIFTY EIGHTH!!
posted by andreaazure at 4:50 PM on March 12, 2012


Cortex (or really any mods, I guess): I've gotten the feeling that the SEO spam has dropped of significantly over the past few years. Am I crazy and y'all have just gotten so quick that I don't see the FPPs pop up and get shot down anymore, or have they actually gotten the message?

We've gotten quicker and our tools have gotten better, is part of it. More eyes helps; better systems for getting in front of spam helps a lot (we're far less likely to be surprised by spam today than we were five years ago).

That said, I think there actually has been a significant reduction in the rate of self-links on the front page over the last few years. Part of that may be just a shift in SEO habits, or people got cheaper and don't want to drop the $5 as easily, or the revised posting-page emphasis on no-self-linking and the pointer to Projects has scared off or redirected the stuff, or Mefi's gotten a reputation as a waste of your $5 because we delete that stuff a lot, or whatever. Possibly just a mix of all those things adding up.

But we still see the self-links, and I wouldn't say we've seen really any decrease in the other main SEO/spam vector, which is askme comments. We're quicker about killing those too and our toolset for forecasting spammy behavior based on signup information has helped us be much more preventative, but it continues to go strong. This may just be a reflection of how well AskMe performs in Google, that even if the economics of front-page spamming has changed for whatever reason the economics of "subtle" linkfarming in highly-placed comment threads seems as attractive as ever.
posted by cortex at 4:55 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The ideal site would use both of these techniques (HINT!HINT!).

Actually this mindless upvoting compared with Mefi's tea-grawr-and-hugs-in-metalk method of maintaining social cohesion is why I jumped ship. Upvoting serves the popular consensus, but does not preserve minorities, and I adore not being in a boyzone.


I was specifically referring to Slashdot's comment threading (we already upvote comments here -- it's the little plus sign next to the posting date).
posted by coolguymichael at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2012


we already upvote comments here -- it's the little plus sign next to the posting date

A system which has literally zero effect on the presentation or order of comments. I would never suggest that the question of what favorites are for or what they mean is a settled one, but one thing they are not in any meaningful sense is "upvotes" when compared to systems like Reddit's votes or Slashdot's karma. A comment with a million favorites gets the same display treatment in a thread as a comment with none.
posted by cortex at 5:09 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, this post finally made me sign up and take myself off longtime lurker status. Thanks, Nick, for reminding me why I come here and not Gawker every day!
posted by learnsome at 5:23 PM on March 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Speaking as someone who used to read Gizmodo and participate in the comments threads, I think a fair bit of the problem there is that the writers and moderators don't actually run by the site rules. Always a large amount of banning/muting for disagreeing with an editor (especially Jesus Diaz). Try reading this post, and then reading Gizmodo's community guidelines: http://gizmodo.com/5687692/you-write-bias-journalism-and-i-read-derp
posted by MattWPBS at 5:48 PM on March 12, 2012


A comment with a million favorites gets the same display treatment in a thread as a comment with none.

And don't think I don't appreciate that.
posted by mazola at 5:56 PM on March 12, 2012


Gene Weingarten once likened a newspaper article with comments to a steak with a side of maggots, but more often it's like a frozen Salisbury steak dinner with a side of maggots. The original article isn't likely to be very good.
posted by bad grammar at 5:59 PM on March 12, 2012


The phenomenon also reminds me of an old Stanislaw Lem story, "Altruizine," featuring a drug that induces telepathy. It accidentally spills into the town water supply.

How nice we'd be to one another if we could automatically perceive each other's thoughts and sensations. Not.

Wait till we get the internet connected directly to our frontal lobes (for people who have frontal lobes, that is; others have to make do with the reptile brain).
posted by bad grammar at 6:09 PM on March 12, 2012


What does it say about your media empire's journalistic standards if Dov Charney is forced to supply a response to an article in the comments section?
posted by smithsmith at 6:47 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sigh. It's the same as it ever was. Sometimes it's a little better.

Youtube, Facebook, blog outlets and such aren't uniform either. Individuals can choose to moderate content on their pages in different ways, and companies will do the same or contract out moderation.

Part of my job is moderating comments, and it breaks my spirit more and more each day.

People are going to say stupid things. Once I lowered my standards and relaxed a bit, it became easier to just not be affected. I'm also not invested in what I moderate these days, and not trying to run a community, so that makes it easier.
posted by zennie at 6:50 PM on March 12, 2012


Heh:
Many of Gawker's sites aren't known for being particularly delicate (One of today's top Gawker headlines: "Arnold Schwarzenegger's Son Injures Ass Skiing, Tweets Photo").

"It's certainly true that nice sites run by nice people ... that encourages good behavior," Denton said. "But it's not as if it's entirely the writer setting the tone for the comments. Sometimes, it's the comments setting the tone for the writer."
The obvious implication is that you run a crap site run by assholes, you'll get bad comments. I wonder if there's perhaps a causal explanation there w.r.t his difficulty getting good comments.

Anyway, yeah sure Jezbel would probably ban Dov Charney if they had a democratic forum. So what? It's not like can post a response on any of other million sites on the internet. Of course Nick Denton would like it if Charney came into gawker comments and gave him shitloads of pageviews, but that's not needed to have a 'conversation'
Brandon Blatcher said: "$5 in Western countries (which is the majority of MeFi demographis) isn't a lot of money, people will drop that much on all sorts of frivolous items. Yet as one time fee for a website? HELL NO seems to be the common response. So strange."
---

At least for me personally, it's not the "$5" it's the "Paypal" thing. I signed up before the $5 fee, and I don't have an active PayPal account. And I certainly don't want one. My first account was banned, like, 8 years ago. I signed up for another one in order to buy something off ebay at one point, but I used two or three times and forgot the password.

I don't know if Matt ever added any other payment options besides PayPal, but I think the site would really benefit from adding google checkout. I ended up signing up for it to pay a bill, and since then I actually have been using it to buy stuff on the android market. If something is just a single click and a few bucks (or 50¢) It totally changes the dynamic. Instead of "Oh, do I want to go grab my credit card and give paypal access to my bank account?" It's "Oh, $3? Why not?" (as far as trust goes, I signed up for google checkout maybe 6 months ago? Before the whole G+/privacy policy stuff. But "less horrible then paypal" is a pretty low bar" I think Amazon also has an online payments system.
posted by delmoi at 8:50 PM on March 12, 2012


I think even in addition to the $5 theory and the "any speedbump" theory, mefi standards on post quality filter down to comment quality. Deleting outrage filter and thin posts indirectly contributes to the sir culture of not being gaping morons, which is then reflected more or less in the comments. Experts are welcome and treated fairly respectfully, well written personal stories are well received... This isn't a big fortunate coincidence and it isn't all mod-driven comment culling. It starts at the front page.

Link bait tabloid sites aren't going to be able to match that starting point, ever. Their mods would be stuck in crap filter mode 100%, which is a loss from the get-go.

I often chuckle at how even the mean-spirited snark that gets deleted here is frequently at least witty, as opposed to tired old make me a sammich/I'd hit it garbage.
posted by ctmf at 9:32 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, you know I kind of think that all these horrible comments sections actually have some value, in aggregate. They provide some interesting sociological data. If people had 'figured out' how to moderate things properly from the beginning, or just not had comments, or whatever then we would never see this stuff. Youtube used to be the worst, but now they're a lot better (still lots of trolling, but the stuff that gets voted to the top tends to be pretty funny)

But it provides an easy counter when people say "people are fundamentally good" -- you just have to say "Just look at these newspaper/youtube comments sections? What are you talking about." It forces us to confront the fact that while people may be nice face to face, they are less likely to be so when the saliency of the interaction is reduced to pure text.

If you look at the Milgram experiment, some of the variations they did it turns out that people were more likely to hurt someone when the person telling them to do it was in the same room with them. On the other hand, the lowest compliance levels were when they had to physically touch the 'learner' in order to apply the shocks.

Anyway, most people don't know these studies but they can clearly read youtube comments.
Honestly, the comment sections at my local newspapers have for-real, no-shit destroyed most of my faith in democracy. Or, at the very least, they've made me rethink my position on Alexander Hamilton.
The problem with this being a problem with democracy is the idea that the rich and powerful are somehow more enlightened, more intelligent, and more fair, instead of simply being more rich and powerful. In fact, there was a recent study in the news that showed if you could make people feel rich, they became bigger assholes then they otherwise would be.

Plus, are there any examples of oligarchies throughout history that treated people better then modern democracies? It's certainly not the case today.
I honestly wouldn't say I'm doing that. A dogma is a doctrine or belief held by a certain group of people. Here, you are specifically siding with "intellectuals" as a group, and your belief is that people that espouse "dogmatic beliefs" are not intellectuals. Which itself comes off as pretty dogmatic.
Definitions aren't dogma. It isn't "Democratic Dogma" to claim that "Democrats are people who vote for candidates from the democratic party", nor is it "Intellectual dogma" to claim that "A precondition of an individual being an Intellectual is a belief that they hold fixed beliefs without evidence" - It's just a definition of a term. No claim needs to be made about anyone but self-described "intellectuals"
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this where we submit our raccoon musicals?
posted by Algebra at 6:15 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you look at the Milgram experiment, some of the variations they did it turns out that people were more likely to hurt someone when the person telling them to do it was in the same room with them. On the other hand, the lowest compliance levels were when they had to physically touch the 'learner' in order to apply the shocks.

I also saw another recent "follow-up" experiment, where the variant was you had two people "working together" to administer the shocks; one of the "shock-ers" was also an actor, who was scripted to refuse to continue administering the shocks after a certain point, and to "quit" the test. In that variant, the test subjects were more likely to also refuse to continue.

Which I suppose means that we're all a lot more likely to listen to our conscience and stand up for the side of the right....if someone else goes first.

Except in the case of comments, most of the people who WOULD be of the sort to speak up and say something have long ago given up and abandoned the comment sections to the wolves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:31 AM on March 13, 2012


Forums still seem to be a cut above comment sections, I've found. I moderate a vBulletin forum that has a no-holds-barred free-speech philosophy, and despite being free to join and also attracting its fair share of racists and so on the majority of posters who go through the rigamarole of registering, providing an email address and confirming it are usually worthwhile and sincere contributors. We get far more problems from spambots hawking generic Viagra and iPads than from trolls. I think newspaper articles and other topical pieces get far more troll attention because they figure they get much more page views so they're maximizing their zeitgeist-monkey-wrenching bang-for-buck by posting there.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:11 AM on March 13, 2012


Actually, you know I kind of think that all these horrible comments sections actually have some value, in aggregate. They provide some interesting sociological data.

But evidence that some people will behave like assholes when there are no visible consequences for doing so (and no visible consequences for not doing so) isn't interesting; it's a truism. Besides that, I don't think there's many broader lessons about humanity in general to be drawn from internet comments. Now if you could plot internet comments by gender, location, local times, income, education, etc., then you might learn something that wasn't obvious.

People are going to say stupid things. Once I lowered my standards and relaxed a bit, it became easier to just not be affected.

In other news, Rick Santorum wants to outlaw teleprompters.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:07 AM on March 13, 2012


In other news, Rick Santorum wants to outlaw teleprompters.

Are we entirely certain he isn't an Onion mole?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:02 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


From previous observation of conservatives I believe this means he has a massive secret teleprompter habit.
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on March 13, 2012


No it's that he never learned to read.
posted by The Whelk at 9:13 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


He'll be caught with a teleprompter in a rest stop in rural Virginia.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:15 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


@mazola $10 is good, but if you really want to curb bad posting, how about $20 and they have to provide a written application and evidence of having acquired a high school degree

$200 and a PhD.

Seriously, though, I don't think the "written application" is necessarily a bad idea, as cortex mentioned upthread. Keep the barrier low: no need to write an essay or even use perfect English, just make enough of an effort to prove that you want in and that you're probably not a troll. This would likely work just as well as having to pay the $5 fee.
posted by asnider at 9:21 AM on March 13, 2012


When I ran a yahoo list that was my accept/decline criterea: A single human sounding sentence in the message field that was in any way relevant to the list.
posted by Artw at 9:24 AM on March 13, 2012


And then I found that through even the best research, finding out who these commenters were was impossible. It was easy to hope they were trolls in someone's basement somewhere, but really, they could be my coworkers. My neighbors. my friends.

Way back in the day (early 90s), I was asked to set up a Lotus Notes feedback board for my team, a relatively small group of folks. I was a firm believer in the value of the anonymous comment -- still am, to a certain extent -- and so I fought for and got permission to allow anonymous comments.

Fairly quickly, there were a slew of negative posts; not negative feedback, but just horrible, mean things, attacking people for no reason. Of course, this was a corporate Lotus Notes network, so it wasn't *really* anonymous, not to an admin -- something I had actually warned people about when I opened the board up for business -- so I checked and, sure enough, it was one person in the office making all of those comments.

I went and talked to her, and her response was "I think it's funny, and I don't see what the big deal is." Meanwhile she'd brought at least one coworker to tears, through her comments.

then again, this was the same woman who complained that I was too cheerful and liked my job too much, which came up in my performance review as "unprofessional". I refused to sign it until my boss reworded it to say that I was "too happy."
posted by davejay at 11:42 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The comment section for my local paper of record is nothing but antiintellectual jingoists, racists, and general reactionaries. I don't know why they bother having a comment section at all, because it seriously detracts from the reading experience.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:12 PM on March 13, 2012


MeTa
posted by delmoi at 5:53 PM on March 13, 2012


My single data point regarding MeFi: I paid $5 because I wanted to pay $5, the ability to post is a side-effect (I never write anything very worthwhile anyway). And in fact I already had another account before the $5 fee came into effect.

I don't know if we can say for sure whether it's the small fee or the nature of the existing community that keeps MeFi nice.
posted by dickasso at 10:37 PM on March 13, 2012


« Older It is not very often that we have the opportunity ...  |  Simon Cowell (aka 'Karaoke Sau... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments