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April 9, 2010 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Does the immediacy of the internet tend to make people more bad-tempered and ill-mannered than they would have been otherwise? Theodore Dalrymple seems to think so, but is comment moderation the answer? (via)

The readers of The Washington Post offer up some moderation guidelines.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy (52 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
the riter is a left wing nut job who favors socialism and big govt and taking our taxes and helping those on welfare and ignoring the needs of decent honest citizens and he ought to be censored for being anti-american and if he doesn't like the internet in america let him move to some opther country cause we can do without him. how dare he say comments are from people with sucky
manners? what does he know?
posted by Postroad at 7:05 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I forgot to add: The original 2007 article, Online Venom Or Vibrant Speech, by Deborah Howell which is referenced in my second link.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:06 AM on April 9, 2010


But to be fair, no one could be more bad-mannered and ill-tempered then Theodore Dalrymple.
posted by The Whelk at 7:08 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


TD's article reminded me of a well-written discourse on the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:08 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Go fuck yourself, Ted Dalrymple.
posted by Mister_A at 7:12 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Does the immediacy of the internet tend to make people more bad-tempered and ill-mannered than they would have been otherwise?

Of course it doesn't, you insidious douchenozzle.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2010


OMG he was right!

Actually he is though. You can mouth off all you want to people you've never met and will never meet and wouldn't know if you did meet 'em. Worse than that, though, are people with itchy trigger fingers on their work emails. I am still amazed at what people send in their work email. I live by a simple rule I learned in 2001, working my first job that was electronic communications-driven:

If you wouldn't show it to your mom, don't send it through company email.

Comment moderation can be great, but time-consuming and labor intensive. Also, if applied unevenly, it can destroy your site.
posted by Mister_A at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the places that just dropped comboxes under their articles that let anyone say what they wanted. It just invites bandwidth wasting, useless chaos.

People complain that if some news site doesn't have a comments section that it isn't keeping up with the times. But why should they? Their site is a news site, not a discussion forum. It just isn't what they do. If people want to talk about the articles then they can find a place where that sort of thing is handled well. They would be better off having some sort of affiliated site for discussion of the articles that is properly moderated and has some sort of barrier to entry.

I understand that a lot of this is about keeping eyeballs on the site, but I think the "everything to everyone" web portal days are over (if they ever existed anywhere but someone's head). These days you need to focus on something you're good at and find a way to monetize that, not waste capital on stuff that won't help. If you do news articles, the be the best damn news site you can be and let everyone else handle the other crap.
posted by charred husk at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2010 [14 favorites]


I think that's very well put, charred husk.
posted by Mister_A at 7:39 AM on April 9, 2010


I feel sorry for whoever has to moderate the comments of a typical newspaper website. On the GlobeandMail site, besides the usual cranky, obnoxious hateful comments, commenters often call out copy editors by name to pillory them about editing mistakes. The editors will often defensively lash back in the same thread. But it must be a soul-destroying job for some junior staffer to have to review comments by little more than a bunch of trolls.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:40 AM on April 9, 2010


yes. next question?
posted by caddis at 7:46 AM on April 9, 2010


haha... someone just got trolled

u mad dal-wimple?

lol
posted by codacorolla at 7:48 AM on April 9, 2010


Not many sites need comments under their articles, but many do. In some cases the idea of direct feedback is completely spoiled by a flood-wave of nonsensical gibberish (i.e. Youtube). In other cases the there is much less noise, and comments evolve from one hit feedback to actual discussion and conversation.

That is why I come here.

Maybe it's because feedback from total strangers is not all that useful to begin with. Not only do people change into complete jerks, most are too lazy to spend more than 30 second reading the article, let alone spend 10 seconds to write their response.
Without a somewhat coherent user group, there is no way to easily moderate the responses (blacklisting of words / phrases, really?). And frankly, there is no reason for me to read the comments at all.

Again, that is why I come here.
posted by Zigurana at 7:50 AM on April 9, 2010


I've never understood the places that just dropped comboxes under their articles that let anyone say what they wanted. It just invites bandwidth wasting, useless chaos.

Cargo cult web design. You put comments on your content, because that's what everybody does. Comments-by-default is the going paradigm for blog software and to at least some degree CMSes in general. And if you're a paper, maybe you think "it's like letters to the editor!", or "we need to build a community rapport!" or maybe something more primal like "anything, anything that gets people coming to the site!".

Comment moderation can be great, but time-consuming and labor intensive.

Exactly. It's easier to spend the nothing on providing commenting space than it is to spend the something on moderating that place.

You can try and approach the problem in terms of leveraging community resources—using a shared social ethos to discourage bad behavior out of a sense of involvement in a place, or tapping the volunteer energy of your regulars to provide moderation of some sort for free—but those ideas depend in no small part in having something resembling a cohesive, self-aware community in the first place, which isn't something that driveby commenters are likely to coalesce into by default.
posted by cortex at 7:54 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are personal blogs, community blogs, open forums, and news articles. Should they all have the same moderation rules? What should those rules be? When I moderate the comments at my blog, for example, I allow for disagreement and opposing viewpoints but not for childish rants (by which I mean lack of punctuation and grammar.) However, as it is a personal blog, I can change the rules anytime I want to; we have seen that happen here on MetaFilter with moderation being "tightened-up." When is it moderation and when is it censorship?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:58 AM on April 9, 2010


Theodore Dalrymple? Oh for butt's sake.
posted by Termite at 8:03 AM on April 9, 2010


Maybe this is a little off-topic, but why not "reading comprehension CAPTCHAs"? When you write a blog post or news article, you also come up with three or four multiple choice questions about the article. When someone wants to post a comment, they have to answer one of these questions selected at random. If they get it wrong, they can't comment.

I suppose all a troll would have to do is skim the article for the answer, but that's more a feature than a bug, right? At least the creeps are spending more time with the meat of the article than they would be otherwise.

I'm only sorta joking.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:09 AM on April 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


Secret Life of Gravy: "When is it moderation and when is it censorship?"

See, I've only considered something to be censorship when the perceived standards of a place would allow you to say something and then you are silenced. MetaFilter has a focus on civil discourse, so moderation tends to lean more in the "don't be a dick" direction than the "unwelcome opinion" direction. If I were to go to some conservative site and being posting Democratic talking points it wouldn't be censorship since there was no expectation for me to be able to say that sort of thing to begin with.

These websites are owned by someone - their house, their rules. We're all free to say what we want but no one is obligated to broadcast those words. So in the case of moderation, it comes down to the expectations of the community you are posting at and whether those expectations are being met or not.
posted by charred husk at 8:10 AM on April 9, 2010


What do you reckon? Why not email or text us and tell us what you reckon? Later, we'll be hearing some of your vapid, ill-thought out and reactionary reckons.
posted by Electric Dragon at 8:21 AM on April 9, 2010



posted by Vindaloo at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2010


someone called him ‘a suppurating rat’s rectum.’

lol
posted by Greg Nog at 8:28 AM on April 9, 2010


I think I speak for many of us here when I say shut the fuck up you fucking albanian
posted by clavicle at 8:33 AM on April 9, 2010


The immediacy of the response which the internet makes possible also means that people are able to vent their spleen in a way which was not possible, or likely, before.

If broseph wants to come down to my local bar and start talking shit about how
One might think that to descend from the aesthetic to the ideological plane would be distasteful for a woman of such languorous, highly strung, thoroughbred equine beauty as she; but under the influence of a general idea, Mrs. Woolf revealed herself to be a thoroughgoing philistine of the most revolutionary and destructive type, quite prepared to bring the temple crashing down about her ears, that her grudges might be paid back. Let my ego be satisfied, though civilization fall!
then I would be thoroughly fucking delighted to express my non-internet-facilitated immediate response at his casual dismissal of protofeminist reactions to patriarchy in a way that I guarantee will be at LEAST as ineloquent as anything he can find in the fucking comments section of The Fancy White Male Review or wherever the fuck he's writing
posted by Greg Nog at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Civility, and social norms in general, only exist because there's some form of negative feedback or punishment for violating them.

Michael Charles Williams:
Validity here signifies what Leon Duguit called "the intensity of the social reaction brought about by its violation": a norm is only valid, is only "real", if it is backed up by an enforceable sanction.
MetaFilter is civil for a number of reasons:
(a) Your entire comment history is visible from your online identity. When you post something stupid or rude, it's there forever. And your online identity isn't disposable: you can't easily drop your identity and create a new one, because it costs $5 each time, and the moderators watch out for sockpuppets.
(b) There's a very active community, which provides a great deal of feedback, both positive and negative. Many of the active members have been here for years.
(c) There's three full-time, paid, and experienced moderators. They have a range of sanctions (warnings, timeouts, banning), and they're not afraid to use them.

On an Internet forum which has none of these things, it's not surprising that social norms are weak or nonexistent. The same applies to e-mail: if you get a venomous e-mail, all you can do is ignore it.
posted by russilwvong at 8:53 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think I speak for many of us here when I say shut the fuck up you fucking albanian

I am only speaking for myself here when I say I think flogging "edgy" memes makes you look an ass.
posted by Wolof at 8:55 AM on April 9, 2010


I think Mr. Dalrymple, like many people, can dish it out but can't take it. (One of my favorite literary examples for this perpetual human foible is Alexander Pope.) Maybe it is confirmation bias, but it often seems to me that the harshest critics are the most thin skinned.
posted by bearwife at 9:06 AM on April 9, 2010


languorous, highly strung, thoroughbred equine beauty as she

Did he just call Virginia Woolf a sexy, sexy horse?
posted by edbles at 9:08 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dead English Author Furry Fan Fic. Orwell is some kind of otter or something.
posted by The Whelk at 9:17 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think this is really that much of an "internet" problem. Even before the internet, some people yelled in the car about what some jerk just did in front of them or they yelled and argued with the radio and tv when they didn't like a particular opinion. They normally didn't have that kind of reaction at the movies, or while on the phone. I'm not sure what to make of that, but for some reason I tend to lump internet yelling with the car/radio/tv yelling.
posted by forforf at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2010


JG Ballard is a friendly and witty vole, perhaps?
posted by Mister_A at 9:28 AM on April 9, 2010


Oscar Wilde is some kind of large cat.
posted by The Whelk at 9:35 AM on April 9, 2010


Under the headline "Online Venom or Vibrant Speech?" Deborah Howell said that in the old days, readers who wanted to complain had to write signed, civil letters to the editor. Online comments are immediate, allow the writers to be virtually anonymous "and can be raw,
racist, sexist and revolting," she wrote.


Nope. Try this on for size:

Deborah Howell said that in the old days, readers who wanted to complain be published had to write signed, civil letters to the editor.

I assume that in the old days someone was screening and picking which letters to the editor to publish? Why isn't this an obvious parallel to people?
posted by edbles at 9:36 AM on April 9, 2010


Also I want to make a W. Somerset Maughum bulldog comparison, because he looks real jowly in that famous portrait, but bulldogs aren't really effete enough.
posted by edbles at 9:37 AM on April 9, 2010


Well you could put a foppish hat on the bulldog, and it will be mad effete.
posted by Mister_A at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not the immediacy that fuels virulence; it's disconnection from the other writers as humans, and the lack of context that results. I think the civility of Metafilter is as much a result of meetups and other non-virtual connections between people in the community as of those other 3 elements.

I know I react differently to people I've met, and I've had MeFites I've partied with either "explain" me to others to tell me, in a topic or MeMail, "Buddy I know but you need to relax here." Pro tip: you can do this using private email with people you've never actually met. Getting out of the spotlight a little really helps reduce the GRAR
posted by msalt at 9:39 AM on April 9, 2010


Okay, but with respect, "...fucking albanian" is about as edgy as a potato. It made me laugh out loud regardless and on further consideration I still feel pretty ok about that.

As for TFA...

Moreover, the fact that one can vituperate using a virtual rather than a real address promotes such verbal intemperance.

You know what, I actually think the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is a way more cogent take on online discourse than this article. The "virtual/real" dichotomy that he's taking as a given here has so little relevance to my reality, I just don't know why I should take it seriously. It reminds me of this breathless John Seabrook piece that I didn't think much of when it was published. In 1994. When I was fourteen. Who started this "virtual" meme anyway? It's so strange to me that we were thinking of the people at the other end of the network cables as less than real before there was any such thing as a reasonably convincing bot.
posted by clavicle at 10:08 AM on April 9, 2010


the riter is a left wing nut job who favors socialism and big govt and taking our taxes and helping those on welfare and ignoring the needs of decent honest citizens and he ought to be censored for being anti-american and if he doesn't like the internet in america let him move to some opther country cause we can do without him. how dare he say comments are from people with sucky
manners? what does he know?


Theodore Dalrymple is as far as possible to the other end of the political spectrum as is possible in the UK. He is idolised by Tories and their supporters, mostly on account of his experience as a Dr in the British prison system and his disgust with modern liberal social policy failures.

Unless of course Postroad is being ironic, in which case, never mind.
posted by longbaugh at 10:08 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


C:\users\TedDalrymple\My Documents\SuperPrivateNOTOUChIES
Open V_WoolfBernard_Shaw.txt

…George stroked Virginia’s trembling flank with his leftmost tusk. She whipped her mane into his muzzle and whispered softly to him, “Neigh, baby.” All of George’s insecurities about his harpoon scars fled away from him. He let out an emollient growl of walrusy attraction. He could hardly believe that their relationship which had started because of a bitter fight over George’s animadversion of Woolf’s famous work, “A Stall of One’s Own.” Had led into this night of carnal satisfaction…
posted by edbles at 10:12 AM on April 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think Mr. Dalrymple, like many people, can dish it out but can't take it.

I didn't get that at all. The tone of the article as a whole and especially the sections dealing with attacks against himself seemed objective rather than truculent or touchy. Diagnostic. This is not to say that the man can't get his dander up, but this article is not much an example of it.

By the way, for those interested in his short pieces on his work in prison hospitals, go to the Spectator prior to 2004 and search at random.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:36 AM on April 9, 2010


got damn you edbles, god. damn. you.
posted by The Whelk at 10:39 AM on April 9, 2010


I had to look up "emollient"...
posted by ServSci at 11:24 AM on April 9, 2010


I think Mr. Dalrymple, like many people, can dish it out but can't take it.

I didn't get that at all.


Sorry to be unclear. I meant that Dalrymple's own criticism (in other pieces, not this one) is not mild. He's complaining in this piece about the reaction that has drawn. I am sure Virginia Woolf, for one, is smiling about his sensitivity.
posted by bearwife at 11:35 AM on April 9, 2010


If you do news articles, the be the best damn news site you can be and let everyone else handle the other crap

Very rarely will you ever see a newspaper actually publish 'news'.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:44 AM on April 9, 2010


I mean, assuming Virginia Woolf is in existence on some plane or other and capable of smiling.
posted by bearwife at 11:54 AM on April 9, 2010


and is not a beautiful horse right now
posted by The Whelk at 11:56 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


My view is that people compensate for the impersonal nature of electronic communication by using much stronger word than they would in person. Even in a written letter it is easier to express strong feelings than through electronically-displayed letters. Of course, in person, it is the tone of voice, the stance and the facial expression which convey most of the feeling. When these things are absent, the person wishing to send the message feels frustrated. I think this is why emails and forums posts are so often filled with angry words - because the tone of voice and accompanying body language which would usually convey most of the feeling are absent. Think about it, even the most innocuous sentence can be made just as harsh as any online insult with the right tone of voice and aggressive facial expression/body language. I think this is all we are seeing in angry online messages - compensation for the sheer lack of an expressiveness which we ordinarily make extensive use of. Insults delivered face to face can be less elaborate and use less colourful language because the emphasis can be conveyed through the tone of voice.
posted by rubber duck at 12:01 PM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also assuming that she’s not cheating on her walrus boyfriend with a lovely ostrich named Vita, because she probably wouldn’t have had time to read his article then.
posted by edbles at 12:33 PM on April 9, 2010


rubber duck: good points. Also, in threads there's the added element of having a "crowd" watching, which makes people more sensitive to slights and encourages grandstanding.
posted by msalt at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2010


"When is it moderation and when is it censorship?"

Easy, if the government does it, censorship. Everything else is moderation of a privately-owned media platform under no obligation to post or publish your bile.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:32 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the places that just dropped comboxes under their articles that let anyone say what they wanted.

Because you get several pages worth of ad impressions each time the user comments, then each time the user comes back to the article to argue with the other commenters.
posted by Evilspork at 6:00 PM on April 9, 2010


Great post. I was just chatting with my house-mate about this very topic for the newspaper he works at. Literally, right after that conversation about how newspapers should handle moderation, he went to cover this story. Just a little anac-data for ya.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 6:56 PM on April 9, 2010


Sorry to be unclear. I meant that Dalrymple's own criticism (in other pieces, not this one) is not mild. He's complaining in this piece about the reaction that has drawn. I am sure Virginia Woolf, for one, is smiling about his sensitivity.

Noted, but I think he's making a large point on the general loss of civility. There is a good deal of bile out there these days, I think in part because of anonymity, in part because people are ill equipped to argue what their emotions (anger, usually) demand that they argue. So they get rude. Then too there's a taste for cheap drama at play - just listen to talk radio.

Seems to me that Dalrymple's work comes in two types - dispassionate observation as in this, and, just sick to death of what he sees as nonsense, for which latter he pulls out the hammer and tongs. "Not mild", as you say. But not mere bile, either. He has his point of view, but he does at least try to bolster his arguments and not just say "you're stupid and wicked".
posted by IndigoJones at 11:45 AM on April 10, 2010


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