Wednesday, March 20, 2013

geek vengeance: disemvoweling, part 2

At Another Meta-post: Moderation-fail, or, being too Minnesotan, Steve said, "As we Jews say, context is everything. I don’t know the details of that conversation you describe, but I can easily–easily imagine situations where an apparently harmless and reasonable comment was, by where and when and circumstances, completely trollful."

Hunting for the conversation I remembered, I found support for my general position at Boing Boing's Overaggressive spam filter. In the comments, schmod said,
Can we also stop disemvoweling people? 
I'd frankly rather see comments disappear entirely than be constantly reminded of the power of our omnipotent moderator overlords (mostly kidding...)
adonai said:
I kind of agree with Schmod, there *seems* to be a bit more disemvowelling lately for posts that aren't necessarily trolls or flamebait...just differing opinions.
a guest said:
Maybe strong opinions are being disemvoweled more, but this is high political season and tempers are way up.
Xeni Jardin answered:
Strong opinions, expressed intelligently and authentically and with the sort of basic courtesy one might use in person, in a crowded room -- they're welcome here. Even strong opinions I or my colleagues might not agree with."
It may be significant that she added "even", as if that wasn't covered by her first sentence, because the implementation of their policy suggests schmod, adonai, and the guest are right.

This is the disemvoweled Tibet comment I remembered, from Tibet and human rights: New Amnesty ads (update: HOAX), by Zosima:
pprntly y mssd t. Lk t my pst #182

t th sm tm, 'm nt wllng t sy tht trtr s vl. dn't thnk th wrld s nrly s blck nd wht. s 'v sd bfr, thnk tht mrl thrtrnsm s ntnbl. ts wht lds s t mk dngrs flhrdy dcsns. ts th jstfctn fr nvsns f pprtnty nd lynch mbs lk.

ls dn't thnk m n ny pstn t sy wht s bst fr Chn. wldn't prtnd t ndrstnd thr systm f gvrnmnt r thr cltr.

Wht d thnk, s tht w nd t drct r ttntn t prblms tht w cn slv, tht w shld fx r ntrnl pltcl prblms, s w hv th mrl thrty t hlp thrs. Th lst thng wnt t d s by nt th sm pltcl mndst tht hs ld t s mny f r prblms n th frst plc.
Running that through the disemvoweler gives:
apparently you missed to like to my past to the some time 'm not willing tosay that torture is value don't think the world is nearly is black and what is 'vesaid before think that moral authoritarianism is untenable its what leeds is tomake dangerous foolhardy decisions its the justification for invasions ofopportunity and lynch mobs like also don't think me in any position to say whatis best for china wouldn't pretend to understand there system of governmentare there culture what do think is that we and to direct are attention toproblems that we can solve that we should fox are internal political problems iswe have the moral authority to help others the last thing want to do is by notthe some political mindset that his old to is many of are problems in the firstplace
I would never be able to make sense of that on my own, but fortunately, pieces of it were quoted by another commenter. Inserting the quoted bits in italics, and making my best guess with the rest, it seems like Zosima was saying this, or something very close to it:
Apparently you missed it. Look at my post #182. 
At the same time, I'm not willing to say that torture is evil. I don't think the world is nearly as black and white. As I've said before I think that moral authoritarianism is untenable. It's what leads us to make dangerous foolhardy decisions. It's the justification for invasions of opportunity and lynch mobs alike. 
I also don't think I am in any position to say what is best for China. I wouldn't pretend to understand their system of government or their culture. 
What I do think, is that we need to direct our attention to problems that we can solve, that we should fix our internal political problems, so we have the moral authority to help others. The last thing I want to do is buy into the same political mindset that has led to so many of our problems in the first place.
For saying that, Zosima was, in Xeni's characterization of disemvoweling, treated as a misanthrope and made to look ridiculous.

Zosima's real sin was the one that usually leads to disemvowelment: disagreeing with the person who has the power to disemvowel.


  1. I see no benefit that kittening or disemvoweling could provide that is not better provided by simply replacing comments with 'comment removed by moderators' with, optionally, a brief description of why. Trolling, unproductive, point already made in detail, etc.

    You can maintain the desired tone without being disrespectful to anyone.

    1. Yeah. If kittening meant replacing text with a picture of a kitten and an explanation of why it was there, I'd prob'ly support it 100%.

  2. It's pretty easy for a moderator to be clear that he is being disrespectful to a commenter that he is moderating. He can for example leave a note on the order of "You are a poopy head and you stink.".

    It's harder for a moderator to delete a comment and make it clear that he does not intend disrespect, if in fact he does not intend that.

    When you make a blog, you get to have your own intentions for it. So for example, if your intention is to help people grow better rose gardens, and somebody starts posting his opinion that rose gardens are not worth having and the world would be better off if there weren't any, his comments are opposed to your purpose. You do not benefit by leaving them in place. He can make his own blog to tell people not to grow rose gardens, you don't owe him a place on yours.

    Or if his comments are boring or too long or whatever, you can delete them if in your judgement they don't contribute enough.

    A blog moderator is essentially an editor. People contribute free text to his blog, and he decides which of it is publishable.

    How valuable is it to show people other people's rejection notices? I guess the editor gets to decide that.

    On the one hand it can look mean to show people that somebody is getting rejected. On the other hand it could give them some indication what you want, and if they suffer from the illusion that you are not editing at all, they get to see that you are.

    If the intention is to show better what you want, it might be good to have a soft delete. You have a footnote or something to say that a comment was removed from the current discussion. With some effort people can look at the comment and any notes you may have made. Maybe let them add their opinions in the "removed" topic about it, better they comment there than in the original thread. Imagine how useful it would be for editors in general if writers had a channel to tell them why their editing decisions were wrong! We can do that here. ;)

    Well, but what if the purpose of the blog is to provide a place for the coolest kids to hang out together and demonstrate how cool they are. And some kid who is just not cool wants to hang out there. It is not possible to politely, graciously tell him to go away.

    If a blog is a social club, then you inherit most of the problems of social clubs. If it is a publication for some other purpose, and you are the editor, you don't.

    I kind of like the publication/editor model.

    1. I'm completely with the editor model. If you're going to remove comments for more reasons than assholery, post your moderation policy.

      The only tool of mockery that traditional editors would sometimes use was to print comments with errors intact and a note to that effect. So if a blog owner wants to mock someone's spelling and grammer, okay, but it's still mighty petty.

    2. Suppose you had a blog devoted to finding ways to restore the ecology. You would not need to allow comments that say in a free market there will never be ecological problems, or that free markets are more important than ecology etc. If somebody proposed methods to use free markets to restore the ecology, that might fit your needs or it might not.

      When you have a purpose, you don't need to include comments or commenters who oppose your purpose. Unless you feel it furthers your purpose to study them, or to resolve issues with them, etc. Your choice.

      And sure, it's common sense you might want to explicitly say what your purpose is, maybe on the header. It wouldn't do any harm to state an explicit moderation policy. Maybe "Comments are allowed if in my opinion they help toward restoring the ecology. 'If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the slush pile.'"

    3. The word nerd has to note that the slush pile is the pile of submissions, and sometimes people in the slush pile get published.

      But sure, a blog is like a magazine: the editors can do what they please. But they shouldn't be jerks, unless they're publishing for jerks, which outrage culture often does.