2012-01-19

The “no asshole comments” option

This post contains a few thoughts on what can be done about negative comments.

Douglas Crockford laments “assholes” posting comments:

Yes, the world is full of stupid assholes. I don't know why that is, but it's true. Which ordinarily doesn't bother me, except that a lot of them like to comment. I post something, and right away some asshole posts some snark. Or thinks it is important to demonstrate that they misread the post. Or just wants to change the subject.

The Plus gives me two options. I can let them dumb down my page, or I can delete their comments. So I delete their comments. So then they come back, and now it's about them having a right to comment on anything that want (which they don't), and shame on me for deleting stuff that I don't agree with.
...
Then they come back again, threatening and abusive. So now I have to delete their comments and block them.

I’ve come to appreciate unrestricted commenting: It gives me information and perspectives I couldn’t have possibly come up with myself. But every now and then, there are inane comments being posted. Most recent example on my blog: “IDE’s [sic] are for retards”. That was the complete comment. Well-argued, thoughtful – what’s not to like? People who post stuff like this clearly aren’t interested in having a meaningful conversation. I know, because so far, I’ve always responded, but never heard back. Useless negative comments drag down everyone, so what can be done about them?
  • Switch off comments completely: Marco Arment advocates this solution:
    Comments seem like a relic of the pre-Tumblr era, when starting your own blog was actually a bit of work (and usually a minor expense). These days, if you have something to say about what someone wrote, you have many great options that don’t cause unnecessary work for the author or degrade their site.

    [Follow-up post: “Comments Still Off”]

    Disadvantage: You don’t get any of the benefits of comments. I assume that this measure depends on the topic that you are covering. Rough rule of thumb: The more technical your content, the less negative the comments. So far, I’ve also had very positive experiences with the JavaScript community.
  • Whitelisting: You can restrict comments to a group of friends. That’s what Crockford did, in the absence of a “no asshole comments” option:
    I was hoping that the Plus would get a No Asshole Comments option, but they haven't yet. But they do let me say that only people in my circles can comment. That is pretty good because there are no assholes in my circles, but unfortunately, the world is full of non-assholes too, and most of them can't comment on my posts. So if you want to comment here, you have to get to know me.
    Disadvantage: You don’t get input from people who you are not acquainted with. And I’ve gotten valuable information from unexpected sources.
  • Deleting and blocking: in the manner that Crockford initially described. Refinement: If I remove a post, I would love to have the ability to add a note as to why it was removed; usually boilerplate such as “non-productive comment – removed”. That gives negative commenters feedback as opposed to leaving them in the dark. If they continue to be negative, they would be blocked. Possibly, after a warning (which could be largely automated, as well). Consequence: You couldn’t have anonymous comments, but that is rarely a good idea, anyway.
  • “Mark as troll”: One could introduce a spam-detection-like mechanism for negative commenters. For spammers, I advocate the harshest possible retaliation, immediately. Trolls should get a warning and not be punished as severely. [Credit: inspired by a comment(!) of this post.]
  • Move discussion to a forum: I’m not sure that that would help, but wanted to mention this option that some sites exercise. While there would be less negativity close to the actual content, it would just move somewhere else.
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