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04 September 2008

Thoughts on curbing comments as a form of censorship? I was surfing NYC real estate sites (like I do every morning) when I came across this notice at the Real Deal's New York website:[More:]

The Real Deal reserves the right to delete any comment it finds to be rude, obscene, racist, sexist, bigoted, irrelevant or repetitive, as well as inappropriate comments about anyone's personal appearance. The Real Deal does not endorse any comments posted on its Web site.

I personally feel as if (which also focuses in on NYC real estate) has been ruined by the actions of its anonymous commenters, but some of the people in the NewYorkers community on LJ have complained both out loud and privately about the unruliness there. I'm trying to increase the amount of thoughtful discussion there by posting news articles about NYC, but I can't do that a lot during the day thanks to the job. It's only through a fluke and the fact that I was at a doctor's appointment for most of this morning that I'm remembering to write this post, even.

Do you think TRD went too far in its commenting policy?
The policy sounds appropriate to me- why wouldn't it be?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 04 September | 12:06
People have said that one of the reasons why Curbed is so popular is that it allows for anonymous commenting so that the brokers/agents/etc. who work on the projects being discussed can talk about it (which strikes me as shooting yourself in the foot, but that's a completely different matter).

I'm thinking of doing something similar to TRD in terms of commenting, but that would cause a whole different set of problems, one of that being that there are currently only two co-mods with deletion/ban powers and neither of us can watch the community all the time.
posted by TrishaLynn 04 September | 12:16
That seems fine to me too.

I think it's good that websites explicitly state that they'll censor comments whenever they feel like it. Although most comments will stay, the website is saying - look, we'll delete what we want. We're telling you up front so there are no suprises.

Also, the details in the notice are important too. As well as warning you that they'll delete comments, they're pretty up front about what kinds of things they find objectionable. They're saying (in so many words), here's a list of things we do not like. It's a signpost detailing the character of the website.

I don't think they went too far at all. Notices like this are not hard and fast rules. They're just guidelines to let people know what's acceptable and why that comment they made was deleted.

The best thing you can do to make managing comment deletion easy is to add a "flag this comment" facility. That way, you only need a small amount of admin time to manage a lot of users. It's the system metafilter uses and they only have three mods for a huge user base.
posted by seanyboy 04 September | 12:22
It's not really censorship, it's having standards. And the higher the standards, the better the discussion.

Having to wade through nasty, sexist, irrelevent (and just plain dumb) comments has actually made me stop visiting a lot of sites whose focus *isn't* on the commenting (like Salon). I don't really want to associate with people with the mentality of particularly brutish 13 year olds; there's no point in trying to have a real discussion in those environments, because everything just turns into a shouting match.

And really, it's people posting "rude, obscene, racist, sexist, bigoted, irrelevant or repetitive, as well as inappropriate comments about anyone's personal appearance" who are silencing others -- it's an added barrier to entry to people who want thoughtful or substantive discussion, and many people therefore won't bother.
posted by occhiblu 04 September | 12:23
The best thing you can do to make managing comment deletion easy is to add a "flag this comment" facility.

The comments on my favorite guilty pleasure,, are not only flaggable, but with a certain number of flags, a comment is hidden from view. So when people get mad at each other or disagree with someone, they go on a flagging spree, until there's 25 comments in a thread and you can't see one of them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 04 September | 12:28
Yeah, seems perfectly appropriate to me for the reasons seanyboy and occhiblu have articulated. I find a flagging system preferable (deleting bad comments) to a comment approval queue (only posting approved comments), but unmoderated boards are painful.
posted by goo 04 September | 12:34
But then of course there's the TWOP model (delete and ban as a mighty lord with a laser death ray), or the boing boing model (disemovewelment), as equally as alienating for the user as the youtube model. Finding the balance is tricky.
posted by goo 04 September | 12:54
oops - disemvowelment. Please excuse me.
posted by goo 04 September | 12:55
I was just reading a discussion on a comment policy that I like; I think it was at Hoyden About Town. The idea was that users get three chances to clarify any comments they make that seem racist/sexist/stupid, without people jumping all over them; if after three chances they're still acting like a troll, then they're banned.

I don't know how enforceable that is (probably not at all, unless you have a really regular, and fairly small, commenter base), really, but I liked the general idea of "We'll give you a chance to explain yourself, but we'll also boot you if you're just being an idiot."
posted by occhiblu 04 September | 12:57
I find myself moving more and more towards communities who delete comments and ban commenters readily. I understand and empathize with mods who take a more laissez-faire approach, but I find that in general those sites get pretty filled up with junk.

It's not censorship - it's creating safe spaces in a semi-private environment. In my book, it's like a company "reserving the right to refuse service to anyone".

On preview - I think there's a difference between "I will delete any comment that's offensive or pointless" (ie the Shakesville model) and "I will delete any comment that I dislike, arbitrarily, and ban the user besides" (the TWOP model). One is authoritative, and one is authoritarian.
posted by muddgirl 04 September | 12:59

posted by jason's_planet 04 September | 13:05
"I will delete any comment that I dislike, arbitrarily, and ban the user besides" (the TWOP model).

Haaaaa. Good times.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 04 September | 13:12
I don't see it as censorship at all. If you sign up to become a member on a registration-required board, then you have agreed to abide by their rules. This then means that your ability to comment is not a RIGHT, it is a PRIVILEGE that may be curtailed or revoked upon abuse.

Therein lies the distinction.

Lifehacker in fact has just posted an announcement about this.

Without any moderation you tend to get the endless troll noise that goes on in Yahoo! and Youtube, and the parade of "FIRST!" bullshit that happens in popular blogs.

When the noise rises to a level that quality commenters either lurk or leave altogether, you may as well disable the comment feature.

But I somehow doubt I've made any great revelations here, so I'll shut up now.
posted by lonefrontranger 04 September | 14:07
If commenting on TRD is open (I couldn't find the comments section actually), then I consider that policy to be quite open-ended as regards various disruptive behaviors that are not mentioned -- "disruptive" would be a good modifier to add to that policy. Many boards that do require registration have much more restrictive policies without upsetting regular users.

My heuristic is anyone scared off by a commenting policy probably wasn't worth having around in the first place.
posted by Ardiril 04 September | 14:52
Aside: I am really surprised that "First!" continues to be so common. It's almost like we get a new crop of 13-year-olds on the net every year. ;

posted by Ardiril 04 September | 15:00
On the other hand, the craigslist version, where it seems like just flagging a post a certain number of times gets it deleted, is really annoying. For instance, especially women's sections (M4W, W4W), in the Bay Area, anyone's personal ad that includes an appreciation of anything "right wing", as in guns, hunting, Christianity smacking of fundamentalism, or a disapproval of various lefty type lifestyles (like vegetarianism) will be gone within a day, and usually within a few hours.
posted by small_ruminant 04 September | 15:03
Looks pretty reasonable to me and the fact that it is up-front helps users to understand the level of discourse they are expected to adhere to.
posted by dg 04 September | 15:37
I've always been of two minds about this kind of thing. On the one hand, if somebody creates a site, it's their site and they are free to do what they damned well please. On the other hand, if a site is run by a real control freak or something, they'll just start deleting anyone they don't like which is kind of lame, too. and either way, they'll alienate a lot of people. so it's all in deft and spare use of moderation, I guess. I've never moderated anything other than my own blogs, so I really don't know what the hell I'm talking about, but I've never let that stop me before.

In this case, it's a real estate site, which is supposed to be all business, so tomfoolery, antics etc, prolly are best avoided.
posted by jonmc 04 September | 18:51
Thanks so much to everyone for chiming in. I'm in favor of such a thing myself, and the noise-to-signal ratio in the NewYorkers comments threads is getting to be very high. I'm not sure what to do, and knowing that y'all are somewhat in favor of it on other sites you visit is fantastic to me.

Now, how to modify that for a LiveJournal community...
posted by TrishaLynn 04 September | 20:31
Leading with "Look, clowns!" should only be attempted by the skilled or the brave.
posted by Ardiril 05 September | 02:03
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