Let’s talk commenting

This week, I’ve started heavier moderating of comments in an effort to rid the comments sections of disruptors who are not so much interested in an exchange of ideas on an intellectual basis (go ahead, call me elitist) as they are satisfying some personal needs to set fire to the space and watch it burn.

As I’ve done this, I’ve discovered a number of people are posting under multiple accounts, and of course, people who have been previously blocked from commenting, returning under new names and accounts. These latter accounts aren’t hard to spot and figure out. Everyone has their own style of writing and it tends to be fairly recognizable.

Still, we do end up spending far too much time playing “whack a troll.”

I want to reiterate a couple of existing policies on commenting here, first outlined in this post earlier this year.

If a comment doesn’t add value and individual perspective and knowledge, it will be deleted. If you don’t understand what constitutes value and individual perspective, might I suggest reading the comments on this post.

If the goal of a commenter is merely and obviously to inflame, it will be deleted. If the comment merely says how much you don’t care about the topic of the post, it will be deleted. If it calls names, it will be deleted. And of course, the ignorant, racist, sexist, threatening, or otherwise worthless comments get the delete-key treatment.

To preserve the integrity of the NewsCut comments section, I am taking several additional approaches.

First, I am asking you to inspect your own comments. Are they adding value or are they belittling the individual with whom you should be having a more adult conversation? If they’re the latter, they will be deleted. And I when I delete a comment now for violations, the account holder also will be suspended for 24 hours.

Please do not attempt to be the moderator. That’s my job. There is a function in Disqus to “flag” comments you think I should look at. Please do not abuse this function. A person holding a different and informed opinion isn’t a reason to flag a comment.

If you don’t want to read comments from an individual, it is possible in Disqus to block that person’s comments from appearing in your feed. While that seems counter to what we want NewsCut comments to accomplish, it’s an option for some of you.

Second, I am considering closing the comments section to people posting on “guest” accounts. Many people who are doing this now are posting under phony email addresses. A Disqus account automatically checks the validity of an email. From time to time, I need to contact commenters directly and complete anonymity (your email addresses are not shown to other commenters) prevents this.

I realize this may inconvenience some of you who post as guests and who do so honorably and provide additional value. I’m willing to entertain reasons why the “guest” function should continue.

Let’s talk about this in the comments section.

  • Justin McKinney

    Thank you, Bob. I know that I sometimes need to refrain from commenting on a particular topic because what I want to say isn’t going to add value. One of the biggest reasons I read NewsCut is because the majority of the posters in the comments section want to have the type of civilized discussion I find valuable (and lacking in other places).

    • DotWonder

      what Justin said. Thanks!

  • Tyler

    Heavily curated comment sections are the best comment sections.

  • Leroy

    If it helps, the only reason I continue to comment as a guest is simply because I haven’t wanted to spend the time to register an account.

    I do fully understand that that is simply my laziness, and doesn’t rise to the level as a reason for continuing to allow it.

    Part of the reason I love News Cut is because of the comments. I do appreciate seeing others react to storied, especially when those reactions are different from my own. My other sources for stories and ideas tend to become an echo chamber.

  • MikeB

    I value your writing here Bob and can only imagine that moderating comments is work that drains energies from curating and posting. I’ve been tempted to snark or fire off a valueless comment, may have inadvertently done so at times, but this is the only comments section I read.

    Thanks for doing this

  • CHS

    As someone who enjoys the use of the guest function, I’m torn. I have my own quirks when it comes to the internets and I don’t like signing up for anything that I don’t REALLY want, have no social media, etc. That said, I’m fine losing the ability to post as a guest. Over the past year or so I’ve found that increasingly I don’t have much to add to the conversations anymore aside from the connection to the people here on a personal level, which is somewhat ironic considering how much we all disagree. Almost like a family that way I suppose.

  • MrE85

    I occasionally comment as a guest, but always under my name (full disclosure: I’m Robert Moffitt, and I work for the American Lung Association). If the guest feature is a problem, then I’m okay with letting the feature go.

    • Kassie

      I know I’ve commented a couple times as guest when I didn’t want to have what I said coming back to me at work. I have at least one co-worker (Hi Deb) who talks to me about what I write here, so I imagine there are others.

      • MrE85

        You would be greatly missed. I really value your thoughts and your expertise.

        • Kassie

          Oh, I’m not going anywhere. I’d just not be able to comment anonymously on certain items. But THANKS.

          Honestly though, without NewsCut I don’t know what me and my partner would talk about at dinner some nights.

          • Jerry

            I think I would have to start reading Nextdoor.

          • Nobody deserves that punishment. Well, almost nobody.

  • Rob

    IMHO, elitism in this case is a very good thing. Thanks, Bob C.!

  • Randall Thompson

    Sad that this even has to be written

  • dave

    I enjoy posting as a guest, that said I REALLY enjoy moderated comments. I am willing to just read if them’s da rules.

  • Mike Worcester

    The first time I commented on here I used the Guest feature. Then I realized that if I wanted to be a regular (is this site like a Cheers bar in a way? 🙂 ), I should use a name. Then I went with a nickname. Then Bob talked about how he wanted originally to require real names and the bosses said nope. I’ve written my share of lte’s under my real name, so I guess if I want to be heard on here, I should not shy away from that either.

    Does that mean I think real names should be required? Maybe not but I cannot imagine the mental strain of having to moderate these comments. Bless ya Bob and I generally see constructive commentary on here, even I don’t agree with it.

    • I don’t think Disqus requires a real name as the username.

      • Mike Worcester

        No it does not. I was thinking more about on this specific page. Should a real name be required? And you have stated that for the time being it won’t be. Which is fine, I’ve just finally chosen to have mine out there.

        • Yeah, I’ve seen enough research in the last few months to conclude a real name doesn’t do anything to influence the quality of comments. And Facebook also proves that.

          • Mike Worcester

            Part of why I comment on precious few FB media pages as the level of vitriol can be astounding (see pretty much anything on the St. Cloud Times FB relating to the Somali population of that community.)

        • Jack

          For those of us with truly unique names, the ability to use a generic one is very much appreciated. I can post my honest feelings without my current employer coming back at me – not that I would ever comment on company affairs.

          For the record, Bob knows exactly who is posting under this name. We used to work together. Wish you had been at the Open House, would have liked to have said hi.

  • Jim in RF

    I haven’t joined Disquis because I worry about being too heavily Google indexed (maybe I should just give up on it?). However, posts from Jim in RF, Prescott in Prescott, Hudson Hud, Del from Dellwood, and Ellsworth in Ellsworth are all just me.

    • Jerry

      No good River Falls puns? And I initially assumed it meant Redwood Falls.

  • Anna

    I think there is an equal amount of snarky comments both from registered Disqus users and people commenting as guests.

    I am not a fan of Facebook, Twitter or any of the other social media platforms which is why I have not signed up for Disqus. This is the only blog that I read and post comments on regularly.

    It’s your blog, Bob. I don’t like trolls either. You do what you think is going to elevate the level of discussion and keep it respectful and on topic.

  • Tim

    I have a few reasons for not registering with Disqus, some of which have been mentioned by others, so if it becomes required, I’ll stop posting comments. I do post here as a guest, but always with the same name and email address. Having said that, you should do what you need to do to keep things running smoothly, so I’ll understand either way.

  • Keith P.

    Don’t be a jerk.

    And if you’re not sure if you’re being a jerk, you’re probably being a jerk, so stop being jerky.

    Mmmm…jerky.

  • Ben

    I’ve also used guest because I don’t like having a multitude of accounts and passwords to remember, really to change constantly when I can’t remember them. If we have a made up name for a Disqus account, is that acceptable? I think some people have legitimate concerns for their privacy and don’t want to use their real names in a comment section. Some women who post on this site have brought up those concerns specifically.

    Does the 24 hour ban apply to all deleted comments? If someone’s comment doesn’t add value it seems like that is a lesser offense than say a sexist or racist comment.

    Also, does name calling only apply to another person commenting on this site or does it apply to political/public figures too?

  • Zachary

    Couple of questions:
    1. How do you feel about pun threads? Yes? No? Depends?
    2. I have a quirky sense of humor. Sometimes I post something that I find funny. Others may find it also funny. Some may not. I don’t do it to be mean. How do you feel about ‘plain silliness’. Sometimes that’s how I handle a tough subject. Other times I’m just being me.
    3. I have a snark factor as well. Again – not to be mean – it’s just how I am. Does non-mean snark make it through? Sarcasm?

    I like posting here, and I like reading here – thank you for the effort you put in to make it (semi? mostly?) polite and respectful. I know there are things that I don’t and never will agree with entirely here, and I try to stay out of those, but it is a joy to not have to wade through the crap. Can I say crap?

    Thanks Bob!

    • If Churchill didn’t have an aversion to snark, humor, and sarcasm, I don’t either. I’m not trying to make things earnest. I’m trying to make them interesting and insightful rather than inciteful.

      • Zachary

        A couple weeks ago – I had a post deleted from the topic of the Cubs and the Curse – can you give me insight on why it was deleted? For my own purposes, so I don’t repeat my mistake.

        • This one?

          I sense in this entire article a subliminal message repeating:
          bulCnaFsnaidnIdnalevaelCehTnioJ

          Reads byline… Ahh, got it now!

          Because it didn’t make any sense to me and when people suggest a subliminal message and I don’t see it, I err on the side of caution.

          • Zachary

            yeah – that’s the one. I was looking for dirty words in my backward type, but wasn’t finding something that stuck out. Sorry. I thought the joke would be obvious.

          • Ah, I see it now. Pretty good. But, ftr, I have the Poseidon Adventure theory of Cleveland Indians recruitment: Save yourselves. It’s too late for me.

          • Jerry

            I hope you abandoned the TWolves ship before it got too late.

          • They have a ship?

          • Jerry

            It sank

          • Jerry

            Join the Cleveland Indians Fan Club?

  • BReynolds33

    Point of clarification – if I call you elitist after you told me to call you elitist, is it still calling names?

  • wjc

    I would post a comment about how much I enjoy NewsCut comments (even Gary’s), but then I wouldn’t be adding anything new to the discussion, so I won’t.

    • kevins

      funny, in an ironic way, that is.

  • Bob

    I can understand if there is a need to require registration for commenting. I do not register because I comment rarely. But the world would proceed fine without viewing my occasional comment.

  • kennedy

    I appreciate this blog and the vast majority of the comments. I’m sure the quality of conversation results from the moderating that keeps it clean and encourages good behavior. Kind of like weeding a garden. Do it early and it’s a lot easier to keep up.

    This is a great place and I support the blogger doing what it takes to keep this blog functioning, interesting and respectful.

    P.S. I use a Disqus account. It was easy to set up an I haven’t had any problems with privacy.

  • Question

    So here’s the main issue, why are you using the “I’m doing good” excuse to exclude ideas and comments you don’t agree with? You’re creating an echo chamber, I was literally banned for telling the truth with numbers, AND proved it by sending you a document. Then you moved the goal posts and said I posted too much…what a joke, you never mentioned I was posting too much before straight up banning me. Then you use this sanctimonious attitude to suggest it’s for the best of everyone involved. Then delete any challenge to your logic… amazing. Glad this is how my donations and tax dollars are used, I’m going to ask for a refund when I send an email to the president of MPR.

    • Jeff, for the record, you have now posted under three different accounts and I approved this one — it was picked off as spam — as an example of the kind of comment I’m trying to eliminate.

      As I said to you in my response to your email yesterday, the fact you have made over 1100 comments in the 250+ days since you started commenting — clearly the most by any user — betrays your continuing assertion that you’re banned because of your views and renders the allegation invalid.

      You weren’t banned because of your views. You were banned because when you get yourself wound up, you just started posting comments that take us nowhere but to a YouTube comment-quality point. They become the “fake news” of commenting.

      Nowhere in my email — which I’ll post below — did I say you post too much. See, this is the kind of false narrative you tend to advance here. It accomplishes nothing.

      As I’ve said to you on many occasions, if you send me your address, I will personally refund the amount of money (on a per capita basis) that you spend via Legacy amendment, state grants, and the CPB to support MPR. Since you’re not a member, your donations are not refundable as there aren’t any.

      I received a message from the company president, by the way, this morning. He’s completely satisfied with the response you received.

      And as I said in my email to you yesterday, you will be welcome to return to commenting ability when you can make your thoughts known in a productive manner.

      • The letter sent to you yesterday follows:

        Dear Jeff:

        You have made more comments – as “will” — in the last six months on NewsCut — comments that are still there – than any other participant in the comments section. And the fact you’ve got 1,182 comments currently posted on NewsCut in the 247 days since you created the “Will” account betrays your assertion that it has something to do with your political opinions. It does not, as has been stated to you several times when you’ve been given “timeouts” whenever your comments begin to resemble rapid-fire YouTube comments which do not advance intellectual discourse.

        Because you’ve added unknown people to your message, I’m not compelled to have a public debate with you on the issue. I will, instead, call your attention to one of the many posts I’ve written about what I expect from commenters, regardless of their particular views. If you’re prepared to be that sort of commenter CONSISTENTLY, then I will be happy to release the block on your participation. All the standards, for which violators are banned, are listed there .

        http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2017/02/heres-why-the-comments-section-gets-closed/

        Your account as “Jeff” was blocked after your account as “Will” was blocked. I did not block your IP address, however, so it was relatively easy to determine that you were posting under two different accounts. Recently, it has come to my attention that several different commenting accounts are actually the same person and where I have found this to be the case, the users are banned.

        We have, as I’m sure you’re aware, our fair share of people who only wish to “troll” and, as much as possible, destroy the value of the comments section. As these people are removed, new commenters suddenly show up to attempt to weaken the intellectual integrity of discussions (which by definition require opposing viewpoints).
        The Terms of Use, a link to which is posted on every page on our website, outlines the authority under which I remove commenters I believe are trolling.

        http://www.americanpublicmedia.org/terms/

        If I can be any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

        Bob

  • Jim G

    Since moving out of state I’ve found that I have less value to add to many local discussions. However, rest assured that this blog is read daily and greatly appreciated. Thank you for your professionalism, Bob. Looking back I believe I might have highjacked a topic about Marine flag raisers on Mount Surabachi when I posted a picture of my Dad as a nineteen year-old Marine. You deleted the entire question and all respones. Sometimes we just get in the way when we make the blog about us rather than the subject being discussed. Thanks for your help in staying in the right lane.

  • JStrander

    I do understand the desire to eliminate spam but I’ve been posting for years under a guest account (and was one of the people that pushed for the ability when the system changed to Disqus) in part because I dislike signing up for a lot of services and handing over personal information. It’s always another EULA to sign and more of my information being sold to marketing firms.

    I generally only sign up for new services when required to by work (for example Trello, Discord, and other random things), and always under duress.

  • John

    This is one of two places on the internet where I comment in a public way.

    I comment/interact here because the discourse here tends to be thoughtful. The people, generally, tend to have considered their responses, and while we often disagree with each other, do so in a mostly respectful, well articulated way. The general respect I see between people who disagree makes discussions here worthwhile.

    I believe the only reason this environment exists is because the comment section is so carefully patrolled and enforced.

    For the record, the other space that I occupy as a commentor is a closed facebook group that I am one of three administrators on it (over 2300 members at last count), and we, along with our membership, have clear rules and strictly enforce them. That group maintains a civility rarely seen outside Newscut. No time outs either. One strike and you’re out. We kick people out for violating the rules, and mostly they stay gone. Once in a while, they’ll ask to be added back in – which we almost always allow. Rarely, they’ll blatantly violate the rules again, and then they’re out for life. It works. It’s the best discussion forum I’ve seen for the topic we focus on.

    So, yes. moderate away. It helps immeasurably.

  • Discus provides at least a modicum of anonymity for those who don’t want to be outed at work as long as they use a non-work email address. Guest commenting can probably still be traced back to a user by a nit-picking IT guy at corporate, so I don’t see much advantage there. The question is then one about how much value could be lost by banning guest comments. If such comments run afoul of the rules often enough, any moderator will eventually have enough of it and throw the switch. If only an occasional clinker comes down the chute, and most guest comments meet the standards, then I’d say keep them.

    Having run websites and discussion lists myself, I can attest to the time it can take to moderate comments. Not only that, but it can be a downer psychologically to deal with trollish behavior every day. Popular Science closed its comments completely after a relentless trolling by climate science deniers. That possibility should make us grateful for a thoughtfully moderated forum like NewsCut.

    In the end it comes down to whether the moderator can manage the comments without allowing this task to eat into other job duties.

    • Disqus doesn’t reveal your email address (except to me), so you’re still anonymous as you want to be with a Disqus account. In addition,you can make your account private, so when people click your name or avatar, it doesn’t show them all the other comments you’ve made in the Disqus universe.

      Personally, this is helpful to me because sometimes I can see that people have cut and pasted the same comment on dozens of blogs using Disqus, so I know they’re not REALLY reading the post nor interested in a discussion. They just want to use it as a publishing platform .

      They can get their own blog for that.

    • Zachary

      an issue I have with ‘real names’ is that I have a single disqus account. I post in other places (that perhaps are not as patrolled as here,and I don’t feel comfortable using it) or just places I don’t feel the need to have my full name. If Bob wants real names – I would create a second account only for posting here. And disqus hates that. (plus the double logging in…blah) It’s all accurate information – and I try to be as polite as possible, but some days you just have to get snarky!
      I know at least one, maybe two (if they used the same username) in person. I don’t care if they know me, but I don’t necessarily need my name getting bounced around, say over at the AV Club.

      • I no longer require real names

        • Khatti

          My online moniker is also my nickname–which is the name everyone but my immediate family know me by.

  • Craig

    I appreciate the opportunity to post as a guest. I feel it mitigates risk. If the information were contained within mprnews.org I would register, but I don’t know how Disqus, inc. might leverage this data in the future.

  • Jeff

    Serious question, did Will or Jeff ever offer a different perspective than the standard person posting on here and at least make you think differently or try to understand issues from a different perspective? No I get it, we disagree but I’m trying to reach out to the other side to have a difficult conversation on policy​… I’ll walk away if absolutely everyone doesn’t like to hear opposing views.

    • The question of views held is irrelevant to the topic.

    • Jerry

      Judging by the presence of Mitch, Duke, Gary, and Kevin, it is not the opposing viewpoints that are the problem. It is how they are argued. I know I have had my share of comments deleted, which I am working on getting better at.

  • Dan

    Good change IMO. Personally, I know my comments frequently are snarky / sarcastic, and although never intended to disrupt a conversation — if it cuts down on the trolls, I honestly don’t mind if I occasionally get a time out. That works better for me than censoring myself any more than I already do (mostly foul language). More importantly… I’m struggling for the right word here… is the etiquette? Culture? … of the threads is in line with what you want. Dump the Guest accounts if they’re causing you to spend more time moderating. You allow people to post with just a first name, which doesn’t even have to be your real first name. That should be anonymous enough.

    In my experience, it’s better to be almost completely unconcerned with “fairness” in moderation. Trolls use this to their advantage, finding the line and tiptoeing over it constantly. Talked to about threadjacking? Use a segue. Insulting/inflammatory? Point out uncouth responses to their own inflammatory posts. Then there’s threadsh*tting – posting obviously incorrect facts, goalpost moving, engaging in endless back-and-forth arguments with everyone. Whatever the method, the trolls will be ideologically opposed to you, otherwise why try to blow up discussions on your blog? So if there’s a nagging voice saying “am I just being hard on them because we disagree?”… probably best to just ignore that voice.

    White supremacists, especially, have had to hone the ability to tiptoe on the line, as they are not usually welcome long if they openly express their racist views. Easy tip-offs: taking any pains to distinguish “white nationalist” or any other euphemism from white supremacy, concern trolling about the social ills facing minorities (sometimes with statistics!), often while being overly Socratic. The more dedicated propagandists will have separate accounts (sometimes multiple) for each site, while sloppier ones will leave breadcrumbs of their more overtly racist views using the same username. Even with Disqus comments set to private, they are searchable via search engine, but that’s sloppy, amateur hour stuff.

    TL:DR: the best comments sections are heavily moderated by a benevolent dictator using their own discretion and judgment, rather than a set of strict rules that can be abused

  • wbgleason

    Thank you.

  • Chris Nelson

    NewsCut is of high value to me. I comment only very rarely (as a guest, since I don’t have a Disqus account). I value the posts and I value the commentary when it adds to the posts.

    Anecdote about snark: One of the few comments I’ve made was on a post about the travel time on the Green line. I said something about preferring trains to buses, even if the trip takes longer, because the bus is loud and dirty, etc. Someone responded with a snarky comment, basically mocking me and ignoring/dismissing the point I was making. That sort of interaction provides nothing to the discussion. It discourages discussion.

    (And it succeeded, since I don’t think I’ve commented meaningfully since then. In current parlance, this makes me a “snowflake,” I believe.)

  • BJ

    Thanks – seems like the comments are brought up every 6-9 months.

    I’ve been on newscut since the beginning. I use the nick name my family calls me. I used to do public work and may one day go back to that so some of the things could cost me work.

  • Laurie K.

    I think the rules/guidelines or whatever you want to call them for Bob’s blog are pretty simple to follow and add to the ability to discuss topics in a constructive manner. That said, a lot of times I do as I do with the letters to the editor of my local paper – I check to see who wrote the letter and if it’s one of the number of people who write just to see their names in the paper, I do not bother reading it. I feel there are some posters here who simply cannot resist the urge to weigh in on every topic whether they have anything constructive to say or not – I tend to skip those comments.

    • Which reminds me that people should up-vote and down-vote comments. Depending on what your settings are, that will allow the good stuff to go to the top and the garbage to go to the bottom.

  • Lobd

    I think I post as a guest for a few reasons. First, I’m lazy. Second, I try to minimize my accounts because I don’t like the sense of being tracked by the world. Third, and this I had to think about, I want to be anonymous because sometimes it feels like no one else in the world shares my opinion, and I feel self-conscious! Posting as my actual trackable self feels too brave. But if you cut off the guests I will step up and have a Disqus account. Just for you. You are worth it. As a stay-at-homer, this forum gives me great intellectual satisfaction and make me think about stuff differently.

  • lindblomeagles

    I can agree and adhere to these rules. They aren’t unreasonable or vague to me.

  • Jack

    Okay – I reset my password so I can stop commenting as guest. Hope I remember it this time. 🙂