I received another angry email and I thought that this might be a good time for us to discuss the moderation system here at Disinfo.com.
A year or two, we implemented the Disqus comment moderation system. It wasn’t an easy decision for us to make, but it had occurred to me that the majority of the “anonymous” comments we received were abusive or disruptive. A lot of it was racist in nature or just completely unhinged (or both), and some of it was even violent. Deleting comments or banning deranged visitors who could just turn around and make up three or four more sockpuppets and start again was turning into a full-time job; An exercise in futility.
In order to better promote the growth of an inquisitive, involved and invested community, the decision was made to eliminate anonymous comments and require our readers to log in via Disqus.
Disqus is a third-party solution to community moderation that requires the use of some kind of more or less consistent, verified identity to comment on our site. It’s not perfect. For one thing, you can game it if you’re really, really intent on staying anonymous – even beyond the anonymity of just using a throw-away email address or whatever to register with the system – and for another, it sometimes falsely flags legitimate comments as spam. This can be a problem.
When Disqus suspects that a comment may be spam, it removes it and places it in a folder marked “Spam” for approval by an administrator – yours truly. While I do generally check the comments several times a day, sometimes things happen. Occasionally a comment will linger in the spam folder for a few hours. This is especially likely to happen if the comment is made while I’m asleep. Most people are pretty reasonable about this kind of thing, but you’d still be surprised by the number of angry (normally anonymous – again) email I get accusing site management of deleting this or that comment because it’s too “controversial” or threatening to the status quo. At this point, I’m pretty much used to the insults, and my response is to go and check the spam filter and approve the comments. When I can (In essence, when the angry commenter leaves a legitimate email address), I respond back and explain the situation nicely and encourage them to try commenting again. Very rarely, I’ll discover that there’s a good reason why their comment was flagged.
I don’t like playing policeman here or anywhere else. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s necessary for the benefit of our community, and when it is, I’m far more likely to shoot to kill than issue proverbial tickets. Deleting comments piece-meal is a half-measure. If it’s the kind of comment that I would feel compelled to delete then it’s already going to be pretty damned bad: Racial epithets and other forms of bigoted comments that might make visitors not feel welcome are big on the list, as are threats of violence. Finally, there’s insults to the community here. What I mean is that if your entire comment history consists of insulting the intelligence of readers, contributors and commenters, then you’re better off going elsewhere. (I honestly don’t understand how or why one would waste the precious moments of his or her time reading things that you they know they hate, but I guess there are people who don’t value their time like you and I do. However, I will do what I can to make sure you direct your attention elsewhere.)
When I read these things, I almost always just ban the commenter outright. Why the ban? It’s because if you feel comfortable calling someone the “n-word”, threatening to find them and set their house on fire, or enjoy trolling as a hobby then you need to go elsewhere. I’d rather get a thousand angry emails from banned nutjobs than lose even one of our valuable contributors, commenters or readers. Trust me when I say that I’d happily discard thousands of deranged bomb-throwers to keep the majority of the people who are currently reading this post. Sure, it can cut down on our site traffic, but in the long run, I think that I’d rather have a small but great community than a sprawling hellhole.
There are caveats to a lot of what I’m talking about here. Sometimes we all have bad days. I certainly do, and even some of our best contributors and commenters sometimes lose their tempers or say something that perhaps they shouldn’t have said. In those cases, I’ll comment on the thread and ask him or her to tone it down, or I’ll email the commenter with a very polite warning. In other words, if you’re a regular around here then I’m far more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt – especially if you’ve not completely flown off the handle and threatened to find and kill someone or something of the sort
I should also mention that just being disagreeable, annoying or contrarian isn’t enough to get you banned. You can’t run a site like this without trafficking in the bizarre or contradictory. I don’t care if you believe in global warming or think it’s a conspiracy of some sort. If you think that the Illuminati is behind the success of the Kardashians then that’s just dandy. Occultist? Atheist? You’re welcome here. Bring it. Keep it weird. Argue your heart out. Even I don’t understand, agree with or especially enjoy some of the things we discuss here, but my job is to make sure that there’s a lot of good stuff on the ideological buffet. I know you won’t like all of it, either, but I want to make sure that there’s at least something here for everyone to nibble on.
What I’ve written about here doesn’t apply to most of you. I hate even bringing it up. Unfortunately, moderation is something that has to be done, and I’d rather you know exactly how, why, and when these kinds of things happen around here.