March 11, 2013

"Awful online comments hurt understanding of news, reports local news site filled with awful online comments."

Interview with the UW scientist whose report on the effect of nasty online comments got mocked in The A.V. Report.
I turned my conversation with [Dominique] Brossard to the digital Capital Times....

Her reaction to our plan to scrutinize comments for relevance and taste? “I’m so happy to hear you say this because I’ve been speaking with different people who (think) we should stop allowing comments. I say, look, it’s a great opportunity for us to engage, where well-meaning citizens may have something important to say and can add to the discussion.”
The trick is to figure out who is "well-meaning." Sharp criticism and biting satire should count as "well-meaning." The term we use monitoring comments on this blog — to the extent that we get into the comments, which is always an incomplete process — is "good faith." We get to apply our subjective judgment about that, but it keeps us from drawing the line over notions of "civility." A mainstream newspaper will have trouble being intuitive about the good faith of the very best creative and comical comments, and their monitoring is likely to slide into insipid enforcement of a civil tone, which makes the comments almost pointless. I say almost, because there is some point to the look and the feeling that comments are accepted.

Brossard's "well-meaning" might be the same thing as our "good faith." My commenting instructions  seen above the window where you compose your comments — say:
We value all comments made in good faith. I love different points of view and even edgy modes of expression. What we delete are bad faith comments, comments that we believe have the ulterior motive of destroying the conversation and driving people away from this forum.
Here's the post where I announced the "good faith" standard.
There might be a commenter who impresses us with a clever form of expression, even as he hurls insults. My orientation toward free speech has made me very tolerant of people like that, even when they attack me and the commenters here. I've gone very far defending edgy and harsh expression. That's part of why my new policy is about the good faith/bad faith distinction. That distinction depends on the writer's purpose, and purpose can be hard to discern, especially in clever writers.

92 comments:

Lyssa said...

What we delete are bad faith comments, comments that we believe have the ulterior motive of destroying the conversation and driving people away from this forum.

I don't understand how Ritmo gets through this standard. He's killed so many conversations that could have been insightful and good, and he has admitted that this is his intent. I don't know if he intends to drive people away, but he's certainly driven me away with pure boredom multiple times.

Farmer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Farmer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Farmer said...

Now that's funny!

Meade said...

Ha ha ha - just kidding, Farmer.

Farmer said...
I don't see why this has to be such a problem. Before the Internet did anybody sit around wringing their hands about whether to give assholes and kooks an open forum? Hell no they didn't. If somebody acts like a jagoff, send them packing. What constitutes a jagoff? Whatever the owner of the content says. This isn't complicated or difficult. When in doubt, ban the dimwits. It's not like you're going to miss out on the cure for cancer because some otherwise well-meaning loudmouth didn't get to troll your comments section.

3/11/13, 9:31 AM
Farmer said...
I just can't believe the bullshit people put up with.

Life's too short!

3/11/13, 9:32 AM

m stone said...

Brossard is a social scientist: "science communication" a discipline not especially scientific. She basically counts words and identifies them as negative or positive. Even AAAS is a general and not professional organization. Take measured doses of what Brossard writes.

Michael said...

I co-started a food related discussion board which is now in other hands. One of the things that was hard to accept was that the price of quality was sometimes allowing things that at least pushed the line of civility-- we wouldn't let you call someone an a-hole, but the cutting remark, the sarcastic gibe was an important tool for encouraging people to try harder and say something more meaningful. Once my successors started running it on an "everyone is a special flower" basis, the quality went downhill and it became dominated by people who had nothing to say at length but the time to say it a lot. Then the most interesting people went away because no one could hear them in all the repetition and regression to the mean.

Erika said...

Agree with Lyssa.

There are also a few others--we all know who they are and they come from both ends of the spectrum--who seem congenitally unable to post a comment without insulting someone personally. I think that crap should be shit-canned, not to save feelings (anyone who is hurt by dumb stuff that strangers on the internet says needs help) but because it doesn't expand anyone's understanding of anything and leads to boring flame wars that kill threads.

bgates said...

Brossard's "well-meaning" might be the same thing as our "good faith."

I think a more likely synonym for her use of "well-meaning" is "Obama voter".

Patrick said...

I don't understand how Ritmo gets through this standard

I think Ritmo just provokes, and he sticks around just because of the response. When I see his comments, I figure the thread is going downhill, because as the comments are either about or by only a couple of people, they tend to bore me. I tend not to agree with him, but if this were my blog, I doubt I'd ban him even if he is predictable.

YoungHegelian said...

The Althouse forum, even with some of its nastier members, is positively soothing compared to my Facebook friends.

Some of the miscreants are extended family members who are always whining about how life has done them wrong when the wounds are self-inflicted.

But who hacks me off the worst are college classmates, many with advanced degrees, who spout off with the most uncritical nonsense du jour like it was Gospel. I'm sitting there going "Wait, wait! You were in my classes for four years! How did you turn so stupid between then & now!?

Lem said...

“Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.”

That's a jump I cant see myself making on account of uncivil comments.

Bob Ellison said...

The monitoring role is more challenging than most people know. You are doing a good job, consistent with your clearly stated policies.

I know a guy (yeah, right) who ran a very active forum with probably about half the traffic you get among commenters here. The forum attracted mostly technical discussion, but inevitably some people would get all nasty. The moderator guy's response was simply to be smarter, more on-point, optimistic and positive to an amazing degree, and absolutely unwilling to take any crap. When someone got really out of hand, he took out a big hammer and banned him or her (almost always him). Tough job, and he did it very well.

TML said...

YoungHegelian, the happiest moment of my life was pulling the plug on Facebook 3 years ago. Never missed it even once.

bpm4532 said...

Who are these people that complain about comments? They must be the ones that are physically unable to turn the TV off or change the channel if there's something on they don't like. They must be the ones with the special browsers that force them to read through an entire article and each comment before being allowed to go somewhere else on the Internet or walk away from their computer.

Sheesh.

paul a'barge said...

Srsly?

Click to view Dominique.

Good grief.

rcommal said...

Not all sharp criticism and biting satire is well meaning, and nor is all "civil" commentary. Preferring the former to the latter (or vice versa) does not change that reality. Is classification by category the way to go?

AJ Lynch said...

I read the comments on some librul newspapers and oftentimes my outlook is uplifted when I see the commenters are way more informed than the reporters, the paper's idiotors and the so-called "experts" quoted in a story. [You know like when Meade runs rings around the libril commentariat at the Isthmus].

rhhardin said...

Civil is one letter from cavil.

L. cavillari to jeer, scoff, quibble

It seems to be a deponent verb.

A middle voice is called for.

Larry J said...

bgates said...
Brossard's "well-meaning" might be the same thing as our "good faith."

I think a more likely synonym for her use of "well-meaning" is "Obama voter".


Even simplier, it's more likely her way of saying, "People who agree with me."

Lem said...

If anything... I tend to interpret uncivil comments as a dead giveaway that the person might be uncertain of his purported stance.

rhhardin said...

If life hands you melons, make melanoma.

mtrobertsattorney said...

If the writer's purpose is to insult, it's difficult to see the comment is in good faith.

William said...

I'm a great deal freer in the comments section than in real life. That's the whole point of it.....Mostly I use the comments section to make the bad jokes that, in life, one is forced to stifle. That and to advocate for the right of parents to have sex with their mminor children. That's the liberating thing. You can say pretty much anything that comes into your head....I wish that more people shared the moral grandeur of my politics and vision, but I don't take it personal when they don't. Pixels have far less impact than sticks and stones.

YoungHegelian said...

@TML,

If I didn't have nieces & nephews who use FB almost exclusively in place of what the older generation uses e-mail for, I'd dump FB in a heartbeat. It's just my cross to bear, I guess.

Bob Ellison said...

It is obvious to everyone reading this thread that everyone, including the Professor and Meade and all of the commenters, are idiots who don't know to come in out of the rain. And their mothers all wore combat boots. I could go on, but it would be wasted on all of you. But I will go on, because the keyboard's right here and I have a few minutes. So I'll also observe that I am thinking the geese outside poop better stuff than you all write into the comments. There, I think you've had enough, if you've managed to read this far, which would surprise me, because I don't think your reading comprehension is higher than a wombat's butt. I'll just finish by saying that I think I am tired of reading your little attempts at disquisition (you can look that up; there's this thing called Google).

Nonapod said...

Commentors whose purpose is solely to disrupt are obviously not arguing in good faith. What kind of annoys me is when there's someone who is obviously trolling that there are inevitably certain people around here who will respond with vitriol. And (also inevitably) the thread devolves into tedious back and forth insulting.

From Rules of the Internet:

14. Do not argue with trolls — it means that they win.

11. All your carefully picked arguments can easily be ignored.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I'm a great deal freer in the comments section than in real life.

I am exactly the same in the comments as I am in real life.

For those who comment in bad faith or whose comments consist of mostly insults or who comment solely to derail the conversations......scroll wheel. If the thing gets too Ritmo cluttered, I just stop looking at the comments since there is no more there there.

edutcher said...

The trolls here are very fortunate Meade wasn't kidding when he described his lady love as "hard-nosed, soft-hearted".

What they don't get is that Madame's heart goes softest for all those Constitutional rights she loves so much (after, of course, her sweetie).

Carol said...

God bless online comments! They're the only reason I go to the usually execrable newspaper sites. I was wondering when the PTB were going to start seriously bitching about it.

And yeah they change the interpretation of the story, especially when you get reader after reader attesting to facts on the ground and making the reporter look stupid.

This kind of blowback is good for everyone. We had a local legal scholar who was a kinda of a prickly and unappraoachable character. He was invited by a former student to co-blog, and I think the vehemence of the commenters shocked him. Man that was some ugly pushback LOL.

But then he got into the swing of it and started to engage these people..and became a much better advocate IMO. He soon went on to better things and I think his newfound blogging/commenter-handling chops were one important reason.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Lem quoted...

“Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.”

Then said...

That's a jump I cant see myself making on account of uncivil comments.

Maybe because they define uncivil as pointing out the gaping logical flaws and wildly erroneous facts contained within the news story.

Lem said...

I like to tweak the professor sometimes with fake headlines...

Althouse puts up a post about this or that and I spin it into...

Althouse slams this or that.

I don't know why I find that funny sometimes... depepends on the mood I'm in... I also like to do things the profesor professes not to like... like mix metaphors. I picture her making a face when she reads them.

bagoh20 said...

I watched Jamie Kennedy's documentary "Heckler" on Hulu last night. It was comedians and movie makers talking about hecklers, critics, and on line loudmouths, and about how it affects them. It was pretty interesting, and affecting. I felt bad about my snark afterward.

But, I'm feeling better now, bitches.

Lem said...

And then there are the spelling errors.

Old RPM Daddy said...

@Bob E.: "There, I think you've had enough, if you've managed to read this far, which would surprise me, because I don't think your reading comprehension is higher than a wombat's butt."

And you're lower than a pangolin's posterior! Put that in yer pipe and smoke it! Look that up in yer Funk & Wagnalls! :-)

Ann Althouse said...

". She basically counts words and identifies them as negative or positive. Even AAAS is a general and not professional organization. Take measured doses of what Brossard writes."

Counting words would skew results, since the best comments are more carefully written and therefore relatively concise.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

True!

Meade said...

I stopped reading at "skew results".

Ann Althouse said...

@Meade Obviously, Ignorance is better than you.

Bob Ellison said...

Old RPM Daddy, the pangolin is, as I am sure you do not know, more clever in his or her left claw than you on your most adequate days. I snort, but not in your direction, because I can't waste my time finding it. I just had to snort anyway.

Meade said...

I stopped reading at "@Meade".

Bob Ellison said...

I stopped

Old RPM Daddy said...

@Bob E.: "Old RPM Daddy, the pangolin is, as I am sure you do not know, more clever in his or her left claw than you on your most adequate days."

I'd be upset if it weren't true. Them pangolins is pretty smart!

MadisonMan said...

He's killed so many conversations that could have been insightful and good,

Internet conversations are ephemeral anyway, so killing one off early just means you shift to a different topic.

Clayton Hennesey said...

With respect to comments, I see a circular spectrum of at least 5 different types.

The first, like Andrew Sullivan, is probably the most honest, not allowing any comments at all. He says, "Here's the content, take it or leave it."

The second wants to enhance their content by soliciting the extra free content of commenters, but they're a little timid about it, so they moderate comments, although they're forthright enough to say so in advance: "I'm soliciting your free content, but I want to be sure yours is the right sort of content to mingle with mine, not that riff-raff content, you understand."

The third is like the second but a bit more coy or cowardly or lazy, depending on your point of view. They won't automatically make the effort to moderate your content up front, that might inhibit people plus it's too much work. If they don't like you comment, they'll moderate it after the fact by deleting it.

The fourth is probably the most cravenly parasitic. They're too lazy to moderate the free content they solicit up front, but too greedy to delete it entirely, so they'll take your free content and edit it so that it fits better with their own.

The fifth completes the circle by being as honest and open as the first. They solicit your free content to embellish their own and pay whatever that costs by neither editing nor deleting what they end up getting.

Renee said...

Pre-Internet, people didn't go into diners/local social club and talk politics with paper bags on their heads.

As for me, I'm locatable through my my blogger id. Does it get me in trouble in real life? Sometimes, but it would be what I would say in a conversation in these places.

Alex said...

The real explanation here is lefties are upset that they don't have a monopoly on the means of communication anymore and are whining/bitching 24/7. They sure do let us know THEIR displeasure about the situation.

Alex said...

Lefties sure are whiny little bitches, no?

Chip Ahoy said...

pangolins are those one kind of anteater, right? There's a couple kind and those are the bushy kind with longer bristly hair and stripes kind of like a porcupine skunk like this.

Chip Ahoy said...

Oh, I totally wrong. It's like an armadillo.

Noz pkr said...

It is the Vortex thing.

Anonymous members bonding as a unique cyber social unit over time.

A very interesting social phenomenon of the Internet media age.

It is fascinating to see the different family comment communities develop on a blog.

Rule by a matriarch in this case.

Henry said...

Who reads comments?

Henry said...

Over at the weather channel people can post comments on Weather stories. Lots of awful online comments. You can't even trust the weather report any more.

Crunchy Frog said...

Counting words would skew results, since the best comments are more carefully written and therefore relatively concise.

Not necessarily. A well-deserved Fisking sometimes requires verbosity, the better to humiliate the opponent by pointing out and enlarging the gaping holes in his argument.

Icepick said...

And their mothers all wore combat boots.

O-ho-ho! You're lucky my mother's dead or she would find you and before she was done with you you'd be begging for death. Some woman take their footwear VERY seriously, and will not stand being mocked!

Ann Althouse said...

"And their mothers all wore combat boots."

My mother joined the WACs in WWII.

Baron Zemo said...

The comments section has changed a lot over the years. And not for the better.

But hey Entropy is a bitch.

Chip S. said...

It's certainly gotten worse since I started commenting here.

Sorry about that.

Baron Zemo said...

Only the smell dude, only the smell.

Old RPM Daddy said...

"And their mothers all wore combat boots."

My mother joined the WACs in WWII.


Father says, "Your mother's right
She's really up on things
Before we married, Mommy served
In the WACS in the Philippines"

I think they wrote a song about it.

Inga said...

"Only the smell dude, only the smell."

3/11/13, 1:39 PM

Those who smelt it dealt it.

Rusty said...

Ann Althouse said...
". She basically counts words and identifies them as negative or positive. Even AAAS is a general and not professional organization. Take measured doses of what Brossard writes."

Counting words would skew results, since the best comments are more carefully written and therefore relatively concise.


Why thank you, Ann

Kirk Parker said...

MadMan,

"Internet conversations are ephemeral anyway,"

OK, so how about a rule that says No Ritmo Until The Thread Is 24 Hours Old? That would provide 99% of the benefit of totally banning him/her/it.

Dante said...

This is all great. And, kudos to Ann for allowing the criticism of herself.

Speaking of which, I'm having a hard time reconciling the idea of having a forum for open thought with her apparent approbation of gays trying to shut down the livelihood of people who don't agree with SSM.

I don't understand it.

Baron Zemo said...

It's simple dude.

There are certain protected classes who can do or say anything and not hear a peep from the Nutty Professor or other like leaning politically correct types. The conservative blogger reputation is a lot of bullshit.

Although she enjoys a large conservative following but only smacks down the conservative types. Your ultra libs get a free ride.

Baron Zemo said...

Witness the drubbing of the hapless edutcher and the free ride for the Ritmo types. Just sayn'

Inga said...

I thought Ritmo was your buddy "Baron". Fickle friend.

Alex said...

Baron Zemo is a martyr for all oppressed online commentators.

Inga said...

Just sayin'.

Meade said...

What is "conservative types"?

Inga said...

IMO, "Baron" is not a trustworthy friend.

Rusty said...

Kirk Parker said...
MadMan,

"Internet conversations are ephemeral anyway,"

OK, so how about a rule that says No Ritmo Until The Thread Is 24 Hours Old? That would provide 99% of the benefit of totally banning him/her/it.

I like Ritmo. He's like an over the top flaming gay guy. It's impossible to take him seriously.

rcommal said...

..."relatively concise..

Huh. How 'bout that. Sumpin' there, fer shur.

Mebbe.

rcommal said...

@Meade: What "what" are you trying to elicit? Or "whats"?

Kirk Parker said...

Rusty,

All that granted, it still doesn't mean that Ritmo doesn't destroy the conversation.

Baron Zemo said...

Just an observation that most of the long time liberal trolls troll away with a care.

Luckyoldson.Jeremy. Downtownlad. Ritmo. Shiloh.

On the other hand many conservative commentors have been smacked around or often deleted by the Nutty Perfessor and Chauncey.

Edutcher. Pogo. Theo Boehm. Ndspinelli.

I only recall two liberals who were smacked around a lot. HD House because he was a crotchety old coot. Also of course Allie Oop/Inga and we all know why that happens.

rcommal said...

Edutcher. Pogo. Theo Boehm. Ndspinelli.

Talk about the lack of monolith.

Any "real conservatives" wanna weigh in?

LOL, BZ.

***

[Please note how polite I am being to not, well, note stuff.]

[Among other things.}

rcommal said...

"Worry not: There will always be those squishes, moderates, mixed-bags of goods [and bads], folks with wrong interests and professions, and others to smack down, God knows. Come with me! Take my hand."

What the hell: It's funny as all get out. And quite the mirror: two-way.

Enjoying it and taking it in.

Inga said...

There will always be the back stabbers and Althouse and Meade know who they are, I believe.

Inga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Inga said...

My 10:51 PM comment to "Baron".

rcommal said...

Inga:

---

oh, forget it

---

[i both remember and know, though]

Inga said...

Rcommal,

Oh never mind. :)

rcommal said...

Don't smile at me, Inga.

You lied about me. You accused me of something I did not do and of being **a persona** that I was not. You did it here, at this blog, and you did it elsewhere. You were wrong, and you did not acknowledge that you were wrong. You didn't acknowledge it even though you knew you were wrong. To this day, you have not done so.

*****

No doubt it was because you were **winning**, in a way. At that time, you were among folks who preferred your point of view--as against mine, for example.

From what I can tell, you took that as full license to do ... anything and everything.

Mistake.

While I appreciate that you helped me to understand that some folks that I thought were friends were not (and also, how some people I always assumed were so much smarter and learned and knowledgeable and perspicacious than I were, in fact, not) I also fully learned to understand what sort of person you are.

Full stop.

Inga said...

Good lord Rcommal. :(

You still obviously have NO IDEA about what makes me tick and what kind of person I am. I knew a quite a bit about what sorts of people you considered friends and understood far sooner than you that they were not true friends and not worth keeping.

Also, I wasn't smiling at you, I was laughing at you.:)

Inga said...

Rcommal, I will acknowledge this, I know you are not that person. I also KNOW who that person IS, that person is not a kind nor decent person, that I also know.

Inga said...

Full stop.

rcommal said...

I think it was pretty clear in my post that I've known for a long time that all I am to you is an object of fun. Laugh away, sweet Inga. Carry on, in all your glory and grace.

Inga said...

No Rcommall, I liked you until you decided to get weird on me. It's far from exhibiting grace to say I did " everything and anything" what the hell are you implying? What everything and anything do you think I did or do? How strange a comment to me, who you don't know at all.

John Lynch said...

Online comments are mostly wastes of time. The only way to effectively make a point is to do it in some extreme way.

The easiest way is by saying something outrageous to get attention. This almost always works. Althouse even encourages this to some extent as long as it seems to move the discussion somewhere. I think it's ultimately destructive, because readers get bored with attention whores and leave. Eh, whatever.

Another way is to repeat the same thing over and over. This is also effective, although many readers start ignoring you completely. That's not as bad as it sounds, because they were ignoring you before, too. There are always one or two people at any given time on Althouse who embrace this strategy. It's about endurance, and few keep it up for long.

The last way is to consistently write good comments, so that readers will seek you out. Even then, what's the point? Who cares? It's a lot of effort for little reward. These commenters seem to be driven more by inner compulsion than by accolades.

Rusty said...

Kirk Parker said...
Rusty,

All that granted, it still doesn't mean that Ritmo doesn't destroy the conversation.

Only if you let him.

Rod McFadden said...

If we mean well and do ill, can our ill-doing be forgiven because we are well-meaning?