If Your Comment Section Is Awesome, It's Your Community's Fault

from the chaos-theory-at-work dept

Meek Barbarian informed us that veteran blogger Anil Dash wrote a piece recently discussing websites having open and anonymous commenting on their sites. I’ll preface this with a quick anecdote. I discovered Techdirt some three years back when my boss informed me that, as a technology consultant, it would be useful to follow a couple of technology related blogs to keep up on what is occurring in the industry. I came across Techdirt, found an article I was interested in, and dove in. I was immediately drawn in by the comments section and the community. There were anonymous cowards bravely trolling the threads. There were other anonymous cowards offering up valuable statistics, links, and points of view. There were folks using funny names and cartoon pictures as their avatars, while others used what were apparently their real names and real pictures. Even the author of the article was diving into the comments and responding to some.

I saw information. I saw jokes. I saw supporting views and dissenting opinions. I saw trolls, academics, lawyers, techs, etc. etc. etc. It was true chaos theory at work, with the article setting up a comments section sensitive to the conditions discussed but open to the topological mixing of the wide open world. More than anything else, I think I was most amazed at how this tumultuous soup of free communication provided surprising and useful information, laughter, and references. I was hooked. This was the place for me to offer my view on stories I cared about, read responses from others, get opposing views, and most of all, make more phallic-related jokes than an Adam Carolla on meth.

So that was the background I brought when I read Anil’s piece, which he conservatively and open-mindedly titled, “If Your Website’s Full Of Assholes, It’s Your Fault.” Let’s dive in:

“The examples are already part of pop culture mythology: We can post a harmless video of a child’s birthday party and be treated to profoundly racist non-sequiturs in the comments. We can read about a minor local traffic accident on a newspaper’s website and see vicious personal attacks on the parties involved. A popular blog can write about harmless topics like real estate, restaurants or sports and see dozens of vitriolic, hate-filled spewings within just a few hours.”

I’ll thank Anil here, because we immediately get to my baseline issue with this viewpoint. I read all of the above, hear all about how rudeboy knuckle-draggers will show up on the most innocuous article and scream racist nonsense, spout uninformed conspiracy theories, and call you the kind of names that would make Sam Kinison do that screaming thing he did, and all I can think to myself is so what? Words don’t hurt unless you let them. I, as someone with an Irish background, can be called a dumb potato-farming mick, and I can ignore it. More importantly, the idiot that calls me that loses all credibility in the formed community. Even if he’s anonymous, all such behavior does is provide a reason for the community to couch their faith in comments provided by ACs in skepticism. The community provides a reason to identify yourself, in the hopes that you’ll be taken more seriously. In other words, from the chaos emerges order. And not an unnatural kind of order provided by head-in-the-sand policing and moderation. Assholes exist, both online and in real life. So what?

In any case, Anil prescribes us his wisdom-medication on how everyone should run their website:

“You should have real humans dedicated to monitoring and responding to your community.”

I happen to agree. As does Techdirt, actually. You know who is dedicated to monitoring and responding to our community? Our community! As long as we aren’t working from a supposition of “words can hurt,” we see our community policing itself just fine. Trolls get called trolls, true. But I’ve seen dissenters stick up for Techdirt supporters. I’ve seen Techdirt contributors and those with like-minds stick up for dissenters and their opinions (I know this one in particular, because I make a point to do this, though I’m not the only one). ACs have a tougher road in the realm of credibility because of the way the community polices itself. Those with accounts and names have a tougher road because we have a comment history we have to own up to. It’s as simplistic as it is beautiful. And it’s all emergent behavior, meaning it’s natural and not forced or faked. That’s what open comments do: they create fertile ground for emerged behavior. And it’s amazing how productive that is.

“You should have community policies about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.”

Bullshit. And here’s why: one man’s asshole is another man’s prophet. Who am I, or Mike, or anyone else to say what is acceptable and what isn’t? Are there things that most can agree suck? Sure. Racism is just plain stupid and ignorant. What does a policy against racism do? Really? “Don’t be racist, Techdirt community.” Did I just end racism? Did I somehow change the minds of anyone who would read a racist comment and think of it as anything other than pure stupidity to be rebuked or ignored? No, I didn’t. So why bother? Remember, words don’t have any power unless we give it to them.

“Your site should have accountable identities.”

No, it shouldn’t. It should certainly offer that option. But I’ve seen value from both sides of the debate on this site coming from Anonymous Cowards. And I know that some of the folks that contribute anonymously here do so because they’re afraid of real repercussions in having their names associated with their words. Does that make their words any less valuable? No, it doesn’t. And would making some racist, trolling, or ignorant jackwad sign in with a name make his/her words any different? No, it wouldn’t. So why bother with this at all? What’s the upside?

“You should have the technology to easily identify and stop bad behaviors.”

Again, unless it’s just flatout illegal or automated annoyance, what’s the point of this? I think we can all agree that a relatively intelligent spam filtering system makes sense, but that isn’t the kind of “bad behavior” Anil appears to be discussing. He’s talking about controversial speech. Who is getting hurt when someone exhibits “bad behavior”? And how do you define that? If the site is community driven, shouldn’t they be the ones to decide what is “bad behavior” and respond accordingly?

“You should make a budget that supports having a good community, or you should find another line of work.”

It isn’t a matter of cost, it’s a matter of reason. What’s the point? You’re killing off all the good you get from the anonymous and semi-anonymous chaos, and what are you getting in return? People don’t have to hear certain words that make them itchy?

I apologize for repeating myself, but I can’t say this enough: words do not hurt. They never do. When someone says something designed to inflict pain, you get to choose how to react and respond. If an anonymous coward calls me an idiot and my response is, “Nice argument there, captain logic”, then what has that person accomplished? I’m not hurt, they’ve put themselves on display being a jerk, and the community at large will react accordingly.

Don’t lock down your comments. Don’t kill off anonymity. Don’t pretend the trolls and jerks don’t exist. Do the opposite. Open it all up and trust in your community to be smart enough to react accordingly. I know that’s largely what occurs here at Techdirt and elsewhere.

And I can’t tell you how thankful I am for it and for everyone here, from those that generally agree with us to those that don’t. You’re welcome here. Forever and always.

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Comments on “If Your Comment Section Is Awesome, It's Your Community's Fault”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I love coming to this site and this exactly the reason why. We are treated as adults and not children and allowed to say what we wish. If someone disagrees with that they can say so. I have been coming to the site for several years now. I have left a few comments and set up a profile. I don’t normally use it because I don’t comment enough to feel like I need to have them all liked to some identity (even if it is just a moniker).
I think the best way to put it is: “I came for the articles and stayed for the discussion.”

art guerrilla says:

Re: parasitizing your post...

…to say:
YES, THANK YOU (both the comment AND especially the well-reasoned, commonsensical op/ed), THANK YOU…

FAR TOO MANY otherwise semi-intelligent nekkid apes DO NOT understand what ‘free speech’ entails, and when they do, they don’t like it…

‘waddya mean if i believe in free speech i have to let someone i disagree with say something i disagree with ! ! ! well, i don’t like *that*…’

as i have repeated numerous times on these inertnet tubes: you have the right to NOT be assaulted, you do NOT have the right to NOT be insulted…

further, so-called ‘civility’ is overrated as a desired social end, is mostly used a means of stifling dissent by the status quo-ers, AND -as far as i’m concerned- leads to FALSE communicating, NOT REAL insight and knowledge…

true free speech is messy, and too many crypto-fascist authoritarian types simply do NOT want to mess with the mess…

(kampers, ALWAYS bear in mind that approx 25% of the population are AUTHORITARIANS; they want ALL loudmouths to shut up and let Big Daddy run the trains on time…)

art guerrilla
aka ann archy
artguerrilla at windstream.net

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe for some sites

You make some good points. But there are certainly places on the Web where more control over users might be desired. For example, I’ve got a chess website up in the other window. There’s very little reason why someone on that site would need to remain anonymous or post anything rude.

When I go to TechDirt, I can be pretty sure I’ll read at least one thing that gets my blood up, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But when I go to play a game, I’m looking to relax. I see nothing wrong with some enforcement of the forums designed for the enjoyment of everyone on the site.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

well, assuming all actors within the environment do likewise, given that perfect order is equivalent to stasis. if no actions are taken, nothing changes. a lack of change also being equivalent to stasis.

i’m not expressing this thought well. (not surprising, i have no trouble thinking in more than three-and-a-bit dimensions, but can never explain that well either.)
point is that the quoted line is a truism. πŸ˜€

(the flip side is, of course, that pure chaos is utter destruction. chaos and order feed into one another. the ideal for humans, as with many things, is to find stable balance point. this is rarely equidistant from the ends of the continuum though.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Truer words have never been written when it comes to comment sections.

The only reason I comment on these articles is because I don’t have to sign in. It is easy, and I have read some of the most interesting comments in these articles, both from AC’s and from registered users. It helps bring both sides to light, and not just any one person’s skewed beliefs.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Truer words have never been written when it comes to comment sections.

“The only reason I comment on these articles is because I don’t have to sign in.”

This is the exact reason I started reading TechDirt back in 2005. I didn’t have to sign in to comment, it wasn’t even an option back then. By the time it was, I had already become a part of the community so why not.

Anonymous Coward says:

anonymity is the cornerstone of the internet, it is the only true way to protect your freedom of speech. people need a way to communicate without fear of judgement.

people who lock down their comments can’t stand opposition, mostly becuase they are wrong. If you can’t argue your opinion successfullly, you are wrong.

if your commentors are deliberatly being assholes, then you did something to piss off a bunch of people.

the answer is never censorship; censorship is the tool of the weak and stupid, of those who cannot handle the truth.

Gracey (user link) says:

Re: Re:

[If you can’t argue your opinion successfullly, you are wrong.]

Not necessarily. Some people just aren’t very good with debate, or with words.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion…opinions aren’t really right or wrong.

People can agree or disagree about opinions, but since an opinion is personal who will be right? The one most people side with, or the one(s) who hold those opinions?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

opinions aren’t really right or wrong

i’m sorry, but i cannot let that stand. of course, some opinions are wrong. when an opinion stands in the face of facts (the earth is flat), then that opinion is wrong. period.

or maybe your statements are just a little too deep for my literal mind.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: it's accurate

Given there is a finite number of trolls on the internet and they represent a more-or-less stable sub-set of all internet users, it is a somewhat reasonable initial hypothesis that the percentage of users who are trolling on any given website will statistically be within a few tenths of a percent of the aggregate trolling population percentage.

eg If 1000000 visitors are at my site, and 2% are trolls, then I’ve got 20000 trolls. If 100 users are on your site and 2% are trolls, you’ve got 2 trolls.

More-or-less kinda sorta, anyhow.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Thank you for this

This is the exact line of thinking that this site provides that led me to remove admin approval from my personal blogs. This site was directly responsible for that change on my sites.

I don’t get a lot of comments yet, but I hope to do so for a few of them, but I learned that blocking comments or requiring registration to be a bad thing.

Thanks again.

Anonymous Coward says:

I only post as an AC, and that’s likely to continue – I have no particular desire to create an account and tie my posts together. Certain other websites require an account to comment and … I just don’t comment there.

Overall, I agree. I think there are cases where a higher level of active moderation is called for (for example, a website designed for children *probably* shouldn’t allow loads of dick jokes if you want parents to be happy having their children there), but for something like Techdirt, there’s no similar reason to restrict it heavily.

There IS one point I simply disagree with though … and it’s a matter of definition:

“You should have community policies about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.”

Bullshit. And here’s why: one man’s asshole is another man’s prophet. Who am I, or Mike, or anyone else to say what is acceptable and what isn’t? Are there things that most can agree suck?

Of course we have a community policy as to what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Every community does. That’s what causes people to call out the trolls and the abusive: they’ve gone beyond acceptable.
What we *don’t* have is someone jamming a written policy (which we don’t have … and which I admit is probably what was *meant* by the quote) down our throats. Instead, we’re trusted to deal with it.

I think that’s a good thing.

Gracey (user link) says:

[In other words, from the chaos emerges order. And not an unnatural kind of order provided by head-in-the-sand policing and moderation. Assholes exist, both online and in real life. So what?]

Yes, that’s true, though in real life I’ve seen comments by such degenerate into fist fights. At least online, you won’t bruises.

I also think that every human being has the potential to be an ass, depending on the situation. Some just learn to control it better than others.

Insider says:

I take issue with comments that demand Personalization of forums, Identity checks on boards, etc.
All these people who think the internet SHOULD be a safe heaven for polite discussion and cordial exchange of coombaya songs.
Bunch of Ignoramus who forget/don’t know that THE INTERNET WAS NOT invented by Al Gore, and is a term assigned to a collection of protocols to exchange electronic information.

I actually am constantly advocating for LESS control on what the populace calls “The Internet”.

Social Darwinism is at its best, and lets people behave as they wish, with the appropriate consequences. If a racist ignoramus comes onto a board and posts nonsense, the public can get inflamed and behave as violent and ignorant as the racists, or just choose to ignore it and withdraw all currency of credibility.

I ALSO AM A COMPLETE SUPPORTER of private networks, where you pay to join them and give your information, and then behave according to their norms. If you want a safe “Internet” that would be the most viable way to go, in the present moment.

But leave me the original intact. Do not legislate a collection of protocols intended to exchange information electronically.

Ninja (profile) says:

Actually the comments, sometimes, can be better than the articles/posts. SOMETIMES.

And with all the trolling and swearing, I’ve seen some of the most amazing comments in reply to these impolite swearers and from the Trolls.

I always hope our pet AC piss off Mike to the point he (Mike) decides to reply with citations and completely crush our known AC comments. Some of their comment exchange is simply awesome.

I’d say that MAFIAA, Governments, Pirate Parties, EFF and other ppl could get some valuable insights from the comments here on techdirt, on torrentfreak and hell, even Michael Geist allows anonymous comments (although I think there’s some moderation there lol)!

Ahem, great article btw. I loved the one about trolls (the drunks from the net) too πŸ˜‰


out_of_the_blue says:

Breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

Take off your helmet/mask and look in the mirror, sonny. You’re the problem. YOU are a large part of why comments here are unpleasant to read through. (This once I’ll just admit that I adopt the practice, only do it better! But I’m explicitly NOT trying to add value to site: Timmy believes that HIS comments DO add value!)

Tim Geigner aka “Dark Helmet”, and many others including Mike, still haven’t grasped how THE INTERNET AMPLIFIES. Nor do they heed Schmidt’s (of Google) advice: if you don’t want it known, don’t say it on the net. Though they know that a complete record of all one’s comments on Techdirt is easily accessed by anyone anywhere anytime, they still write as if to speaking to pals in a bar — where the standard of humor is lower.

BY THE WAY, Timmy, you’re a public figure to large extent, so standard for libel is much higher. Youu can see why I mention that in context at: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110621/16071614792/misconceptions-free-abound-why-do-brains-stop-zero.shtml#c2020

Anyway, Timmy, if a potential publisher skims your comment history to get a sense of your ability and personality, THESE STAND OUT:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110621/16071614792/misconceptions-free-abound-why-do-brains-stop-zero.shtml#c1869 There are white people, and then there are ignorant motherfuckers like you….

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110720/15430615182/kim-kardashian-sues-old-navy-hiring-actress-who-looks-like-her.shtml#c70 Nah, she’s the daughter in a family best known for getting black men off….

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110527/09110814455/british-labels-propagandizing-to-children.shtml#c12 I agree. That’s why it’s so clear that Michelle Obama is the Antichrist and must be stopped….

>>> Know why I bet you’re TOUCHY on the racist charge? Because when one looks with that specific suspicion planted, more evidence can be found.

I’ve also now noted that Timmy several times mentions finding pleasuure in alcoholic beverages, and I’m not surprised.

I skip most sexual as too numerous, but do note an exceptionally ODD thread: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110504/03265314139/oddest-copyright-lawsuit-ever-oprah-sued-um-you-have-to-read-it-yourself.shtml#c392 “That guys a prude. A chick stabbing me while I was stabbing her would be awesome….” and “Crazy and hot is often the best combination….”

Vulgar invective over the top to denying someone a right to even exist: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110317/13002813531/open-letter-canadian-to-new-york-times-eh.shtml#c229 Seriously? Got get screwed, you lifeless, soulless, useless load that your mom shoulda swallowed….

Here not only utterly unnecessary but TRYING to top prior vulgarity: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110318/12091713547/some-free-letter-writing-advice-americas-toughest-sheriff.shtml#c617 “pooch-porking, mutt-divers, and bending Rover over? Really? How old are you?”

Exactly. I specifically recommended “Fido-Fucker” and “Giving the dog a bone”, which are far more mature terms….

This one would take a long look into context, and I’m just creeped out: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110421/16062913992/canadians-face-fines-jail-time-if-they-tweet-election-result-news-prior-to-west-coast-poll-closings.shtml#c156 “Sorry, but any time anyone suggests that the solution to a problem is for people to be less informed, it makes me want to punch small children in the face.”

A long rant that one might assume is satire, but perhaps unwittingly truthful: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110325/10464113630/court-seals-unclassified-document-whistleblower-case-after-govt-falsely-says-its-classified.shtml#c150

My opinion is that so MANY OBVIOUS RED FLAGS would make such check QUITE BRIEF and that NO consideration will then be given to articles or longer comments, nor complex context dug into. The short comments are AMPLIFIED if only by the “too long; didn’t read” effect, and in practice ARE the most telling. — Especially for a writer who doesn’t even show original wit, only vulgar cliches. — A foul mouth and childish focus on sexuality signal RISK for publicity promotions. Result: Timmy’s cover letter goes on the REJECT pile.

Same goes for Mike: prospective clients browsing Techdirt can quickly peel off his veneer of degreed professional and urban sophisticate to find a mere frat boy.

And you’ve no one to blame but yourselves. I merely show YOUR words.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

this kid has really got his knickers in a twist over these guys, i’m willing to bet money that he has little voodoo dolls of mike and helmet that he is constantly abusing/violating as the mood takes him.

here’s a hint, blue, why these guys make money at their computers and why you only make wadded up tissue paper at yours, they write things which other people find worth their while to read, maybe not tim, i’m not too sure of his status on this blog, but i assume mike isn’t struggling to pay his rent.

I’m pretty sure that mike would only have to be like ‘you know that blog, techdirt? thats me’ and he could have whatever writing position he wanted.

hell i don’t agree with these guys alot, but i defend them in comments because your ilk are just braindead, like the offspring of an alcoholic woman, your arguments are as shaky as micheal j fox, and they have as much integrity as murdoch

Meek Barbarian (profile) says:

Re: Re: Breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

“I like to think Dark Helmet is black and then I drool over his great man breasts in the darkness known as ‘my closet’. It’s hot in there, if you know what I mean.”

Very RELIABLY and LEGALLY gotten by Reporter Random T. Troll (who worked for News Of the World) Chronno S. Trigger’s voicemail.

True story. Srsly.

^ Would that be what you meant? I mean, it’s as truthful as the AC up there, amirite?

Vidiot (profile) says:


This post comes at a good time for me. Whether true or not, I have this perception that the trolls have come out from under the bridges more often lately; and I find that incredibly fatiguing. It’s not the disagreement — I almost always learn something when rational commenters dissent — but lately, I’ve seen a spate of posts not from critics but from antagonists and mindless idiots. And it’s wearing me down. I don’t want to leave in disgust several times each day, with blood a-boilin’. But thanks for reminding me that, in the end, it’s organic; that the same system, the same community, which tolerates their irrational bile will likely tolerate my timid two-cents, too. Or my failure to weigh in, or to go AC rather than logged in. The good in this system far outweighs the tedious, and i just need to remember that more often.

TDR says:

The openness of this place is something I’ve always enjoyed, that you can just comment anytime on any story, no registration wall, nothing. A pity Arenanet has yet to try this with their blog, which is nothing more than a PR tool for them. They don’t even have comments on theirs. Anyway, here’s something for you, DH, for such a good post:

DH: Careful, you idiot, I said across her nose, not up it!
Troll: Sorry sir, doing my best!
DH: Who’s he?
Col. Sandurz: He’s a troll, sir.
DH: I know that! I mean, what’s his name?
Col. Sandurz: That is his name. Commenter’s Mate First-Class Philip Troll.
DH: Who made that man a commenter?
Major Troll: I did, sir! He’s my cousin!
DH: Who’s he?
Col. Sandurz: He’s a troll, too, sir. Major Troll.
DH: How many trolls have we got on this blog, anyhow?
Everyone: YO!!
DH: I knew it, I’m surrounded by trolls!
DH (pulls down his mask): Keep commenting, trolls!

Zol says:

Completely agreed, Tim. Like any society, mature online communities will always weed out behavior they find unacceptable, naturally. We don’t have laws telling people not to be jerks, but generally people are discouraged unless they want to be ignored.

People need to understand that “the Internet” is an extension of our existing social strictures and not some separate universe to get this mentality out of their heads.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I (occasionally) like youtube as well. I don’t have any facts to back it up, but I’d imagine that techdirt’s commenters are typically post-college, well educated individuals. I doubt the same is true for youtube.

When you have a smarter community, the community will be better behaved.

Trails (profile) says:

Accountable Identities

This line:
“Your site should have accountable identities.”
is very interesting to me.

What makes an accountable identity? Why do I care about Trails@Techdirt?

Simple: because I’ve invested in it. I care because I’ve put time into it, had some good exchanges with intelligent people, some pissing matches with less intelligent people, and on occasion I get a little “LOL” or “Light bulb” that means a few people have appreciated my comments. I don’t hang off it, but I enjoy the notion that someone somewhere got something out of my disjointed ravings.

That whole idea, the reputation of the Trails@Techdirt account, while not huge, is something I built and is not something I would just throw away, so it keeps my assholic tendencies to a minimum.

What’s interesting in this is that there isn’t much Techdirt can control here. Certainly Masnick et. al. deserve credit for building a good site (good content, good policies, easy to read, etc…) but beyond that no one at Techdirt is any position to make me accountable.

Chris Brand says:

Heard this before

It’s the same argument that I’ve seen made about the Internet at large, and it depends on whether you care about the “average quality” of comments (or webpages) or figure that the crap will get filtered out and thus complete freedom will ensure that all the best stuff does get put online.

So moderation-free comment pages will have both better and worse comments than their moderated, non-anonymous brethren, and the “average” quality of a comment will probably be slightly lower, but there’s no risk of missing out on something truly insightful.

Do you prefer your comments like AOL or the Internet ?

RobShaver (profile) says:

In light of all how egalitarian the comment policy is here ...

why is there a “report” button? (Really, what happens when someone clicks that?)

And naming an anonymous poster “Anonymous Coward” seems intended to be a bit of a disincentive. (Yes, I know you’re not the only one to do that.)

Are these features really intended to promote open discourse?

I’m just askin’

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In light of all how egalitarian the comment policy is here ...

‘Anonymous Coward’ is the default of the software package Mike chose. You’d be better to ask why he doesn’t change it, since that was the decision he made.

‘Report’ flags a comment and hides it behind a handy little link that anyone can click to unhide said comment. On the other hand, if you find those sorts of things offensive you can skim on past them, having never even glimpsed the content.

Anonymous Coward says:


I will be the first to say that I won’t comment other than as an AC. Like it, lump it, whatever. The point is the words stand or sink on their own. Who I am or even what I am has no bearing on the words of the content.

There have been several communities that went to Discus for their comment holders. All that have done so have lost my comments in the process as identification is the first requirement to make comment.

I value my privacy. I won’t give it up, just to comment. Instead what will happen is I will go from input to merely reading the article and commenting on it elsewhere. Yes, I will link back to the source article, leaving out images, graphs, hyperlinks, etc and tell whom ever reads those words that the source has the extras to encourage them to come see for themselves.

I am sure that the spammers are part of the reason for such changes but spammers aren’t something I created nor should I nor the rest of the community suffer because of their plague.

People are people, it matters not their nationality. They have the same basic reactions and feelings no matter what their national laws are. People tend to get along where for some reason, corporations and governments can not.

Those people gain loyalty through the process of feeling ownership for their words contributed to the whole of the community. Epenis measurements such as name or screen nick, posting counts, fancy avatars, signatures, and the like boil down to not having much meaning. In the end it again becomes full circle to be the words that have the impact and value.

Those same folks that figure they know how to dictate your life actions better than you are the ones that also want to regulate the games, the input you might have, the value you might give. It becomes then less than the whole.

It is by the dent of being able to allow a community to speak it’s mind that you get good interaction. A feel-good community only goes so far and most of that on the surface.

Kudos to Mike for his forbearance that allows contention which drives the readership to respond.

trish says:

if a site requires me to login or register to comment, i move on. I don’t comment, i stop reading, i find someone somewhere else who isn’t all about wasting my time asking me to fill out the same form I have filled 200 times elsewhere. I don’t need your website, and if you feel the need to control and ‘de-anonymize’ every person who wants to be a part of your potential success, then too bad for you.

Sometimes I just want to read a post, but sometimes I have something to express. Just share because when I see something interesting, sharing it with someone feels right. So I might comment once in a while even though I’m pretty sure noone will be enlightened by my insight, and I have always felt that Techdirt was pretty cool for letting me leave my useless 2 cents anyways. And I have been reading diligently for probably 4-5 years now. I don’t work in IP stuff but these issues affect everyone, and this blog is a daily reminder that the world has officially gone nuts. But there are still some reasonable people out there. You’ll find some of them in the Techdirt comments.

DOlz (profile) says:

Shooting yourself in the foot

“You should have the technology to easily identify and stop bad behaviors.”

The SyFy (you should see the comments about the name change from SciFi that continue to this day) newsfeed put a vulgarity filter in a while back. Well a lot of fantasy involves creatures or demons from Hell. That you can’t use that word anymore kind of disrupts the dissuasions. A classic case of not thinking about the children as you throw them out with the bath water.

herodotus (profile) says:

“I apologize for repeating myself, but I can’t say this enough: words do not hurt. They never do. When someone says something designed to inflict pain, you get to choose how to react and respond.”

Actually, you get to choose how you respond, but not how you react, unless you are claiming to be a completely and consistently rational person.

Personally, I am far less sanguine about the glory of open comment sections. I think that they can drive a lot of traffic to your site, and can get you lots of followers, but I simply haven’t seen very much insight in any of these comments. I’ve seen some that were quite funny, mind, but that’s about it.

I much prefer the Joel Spolsky kind of blog: no comments, fewer articles, but better writing. I also like message boards, and I am a member of several. But for some reason the hybrid of the two represented by sites like this one and Reason’s Hit and Run just doesn’t work for me.

Except, of course, as a source of sometimes quite brilliant humor.

Prashanth (profile) says:


There’s a great XKCD about this too that I’m surprised no one has mentioned yet: http://xkcd.com/810/. While this is more about trolling than spamming, this is basically how the TechDirt comment system works. All comments are allowed (aside from blatant spam), but the obvious trolls are routinely mocked with facts and reality-based figures. Isn’t that sort of crowdsourcing a lot better than being dependent on one person’s judgment regarding what goes through and what doesn’t?

FM Hilton (profile) says:

The other side of the coin

I’d agree with the points he made, except for one problem:
The spammers are legion out there. I’m an admin for a site, and according to our spammer deletion tool, we’d have 200 spammers on our site making posts about things that have absolutely no business on our site.
Sure, we require registration-we’re pricks that way.
We like to keep our forum relatively clean of crap, trolling, mindless spamming and sex-ad links.
Forgive us for being controlling masters but if you get overrun with idiots, forums degenerate into mindless stupidity.
As it is I have to scroll past dozens of silly AC comments to just read anything of substance in this site’s forums.
I wonder why I bother-it’s just another way of trolling.
Notice that Techdirt requires registration to post. Wonder why? Because there’s spammers out there just waiting to take over the site-and even Techdirt knows it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your community is homogeneous

Hi, in the spirit of the post, I’ll comment.

Words can hurt alot, for instance, a group of like-minded racists getting together and talking freely about lynching someone. This is irrelevant to the question of policing blogs, but it is relevant to the point of why you have such success with mob psychology – your community is relatively homogeneous, and your content is fundamentally uncontroversial. To the extent that anyone really disagrees with you, it can be instantly decided who “us” and “them” are, and community members can then line up and fearlessly feel morally superior to the “outsiders.”

In a related note, I’m an avid This American Life listener, and today was the first time I was actually disgusted by their reporting (“When Patents Attack”). I spent the whole show racking up counter-arguments that I wanted to hear addressed, and then the show ended. It does everybody a disservice when you fail to present multiple sides to a controversial story, and one-sided blogs can only go so far in “sifting and winnowing” to find the truth.

Back to the point, I doubt I would have been moved to comment here if you didn’t appear to be espousing community self-policing as a general philosophy. Forums treating issues more global, immediate, and long-lived than Techdirt do have a real dilemma that you simply don’t have: to find a way for multiple genuinely different communities to coexist, and even in some cases, find a way to resolve their differences before one or both communities are destroyed by the fighting.

The “my mind is a castle, and I decide who enters” bit is silly philosophical nonsense. Our minds are a bowl of alphabet soup, swimming with other people’s words and ideas, and you are certainly not in control 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Anonymous Coward says:

Absolutely agree with you re: freedom and anonymity, but “words never hurt” is privileged bullshit.

Racism hurts purely and solely because it is said, not because it is right.

It doesn’t mean anyone needs to censor the comments section, but if intelligent folk can’t see the harm of bigotry, and expresses that whenever it us relevant, then shit ain’t gonna get better.

Walk a mile etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Unless, you know, you don’t let the fucking words hurt you. That’s the point of racism. Using words to get an emotional response. If you ignore it, laugh at it, or roll with it (I especially like the confusion the latter two cause), then the words have NO POWER. They are ONLY WORDS. You think, I will imagine, that because I’m white I don’t get targeted by racism. You’d be wrong. I just ignore it.

In the words of just about every father that I’ve ever met: toughen up, you thin-skinned pansy.

Anonymous Coward says:

I just have to say this.

I’m just here to give the obligatory comment calling the author a “dumb potato-farming mick.” (Geigner, 2011)

Now that I have fulfilled my role of being an anonymous, MLA-cited racist, you may carry on with your previously scheduled programming.

sources used:
“If Your Comment Section Is Awesome, It’s Your Community’s Fault” (Timothy Geigner, Techdirt, July 25 2011)

Judith says:

Words can hurt

“I apologize for repeating myself, but I can’t say this enough: words do not hurt. They never do.”

I disagree. Words may not hurt you, but I know many people who are seriously distressed by them. For those who are not confident, words can be devastating.

Mental pain is just as real as the physical.

I often avoid reading comment threads on interesting articles simply because I find the trolls too distressing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Free Speech

Although, for example, a blog is a private enterprise and therefore can censor any comments as desired, I am of the opinion that unfetterd speech is a good policy. We all understand that free speech allows us to say what we want to say, but many seem to be of the opinion that if someone else says something we don’t like, then it should be regulated. Especially “hate” speech. We may find certain things offensive (rasism, etc.), but I say that we let proponents of such things spout their nonsense. In the marketplace of ideas, it quickly becomes obvious whose opinions are worth listening to. I would rather have bad ideas out in the open where they can be discussed, critiqued, and ultimatley be discarded than simply pretend that they don’t exist. By banning certain comments, we give them a certain dark appeal. We might say, “If we are afraid of such things then there must be something to it.” As the saying goes, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” That doesn’t mean everyone has a GOOD opinion :).

thedigitari says:

TD comments is the exact reason I became a Marine in the first place. I support your “right” to express your point of view. Even if it’s racists, ignorant, or completely off topic.

I am a nerd trapped in a Jocks body, and (for some strange reason) I am the object of affection to the female population at large and particularly at my workplace. I do not however report sexual harassment at work, although I do grade them on it.

I have had many “rumors” spoken about me at work and one co-worker asked me why I was not affected by it, my reply was I don’t feed trolls. I know better then to “protest too much” nor is it productive. I am “somewhat” wiser in this respect for having been online for 16 years and seeing the changes on the net. Trolls that cannot feed wither and die, or move on to better feeding grounds.

I am a member of another site that controls content strictly, I find I am there less and less in the last few years and here more and more. I “like” freedom and accept the personal responsibly it entails

Anonymous Coward says:

Words can hurt

Yeah, the author is quite wrong on that count. Words can definitely hurt. If it weren’t possible to upset people via words, trolls wouldn’t exist. Lots of people seem to have a thick skin and are unaffected by trolls, but the majority of people can be profoundly distressed by insults sent to them anonymously over the Internet. As a result, most Internet users *don’t* regularly engage in discussions with people they don’t already know in real life. Instead, they stick to sites like Facebook. Those who join forums and comment on sites like Techdirt are a minority.

In other words if you have a completely unmoderated, trollful comment section, you may still get plenty of comments, but they’ll be only from the thick-skinned subset of your readership.

As for whether being hurt by comments is, in fact, a choice or not, I think that’s far from settled. No doubt that’s the emotional reality for the author and most Techdirt commenters, but it’s certainly not my emotional reality. I’m a sane, rational adult, but I know from experience that a single harshly worded comment from a stranger on the street or the Internet can ruin my mood for an entire day. I’ve spent years trying to change this fact, I’ve been through therapy, but it remains true.

Consequently I will not be reading any responses to this comment. πŸ˜‰

Tom says:

Opinions (Re:)

I like to divide “opinion” up into three classes:

First, we have a professional opinion. The person offering it is knowledgeable in the the relevant field. There can be logical arguments about which opinion is correct which can be backed up by facts.

Second, we have preferences, as “Blue is the best colour”. There is no right answer; it’s a matter of taste. Arguments here are pointless.

Third, there is belief, things which cannot be proven either way. Again, in this case arguments are unlikely to convince anyone and, IMHO, should be avoided.

All of the above are sometimes called opinion.

I won’t argue about things falling under the second or third case; no point.

However, personally, I would prefer if people engaging in discussions about opinions were to provide facts supporting or opposing a position.

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