Monday, 14 December 2009

Making opposing commenters disappear? [updated]

I’ve been appalled to visit the comments section of Kiwiblog and FrogBlog recently. Not because of the standard of the comments, which hasn’t changed, but because both now boast a new system in place by which regular readers can rate each other’s comments, and by so rating make them either become more prominent or disappear. 

It’s fair enough, I guess, that comments rating well with regulars get a highlight that makes them more prominent, but a feature that hides all the comments that don’t rate well makes me distinctly uncomfortable.

The Standard (unusually) captures how I felt about seeing that particular innovation:

_quote This type of innovative hiding of comments based on anonymous voting . . . removes all level of personal responsibility for what is effectively a ban. It significantly reduces the feedback that follow-up comments by other commentators or moderators would give. As such you’d have to question its value . . . You’d have to say that this system, while low maintenance in terms of moderating effort, is very good at stifling robust debate on Kiwiblog to a relatively small cohort of possible opinion sets. . .  Before, there was at least a chance the uniformed might glance at ‘non conforming’ comments on their way to have their prejudices reinforced. Now they can be made to disappear . . . ”

And I’m not sure I like that, especially if it’s going to be a growing trend. 

Sure, we all know the problems with trolls, and every blog has their own way of dealing with (and defining) them. But I really hope other blogs I frequent don’t pick up this particular innovation.

I like the cut and trust of healthy, open debate on a blog—rather than the quiet concealment of views to which a blog’s particular “goon squad” are opposed, on whom a blogger with such a system might be expected to vote for censure at appropriate moments.

Better, it seems to me, to answer opposing comments than to pretend they don’t exist.

In effect, the enforced conformity of such a system is a variant of what Ayn Rand called The Argument from Intimidation. Commenters at both Kiwiblog and The Standard should enjoy her observations on the phenomenon:

    _quote This method bears a certain resemblance to the fallacy ad hominem, and comes from the same psychological root, but is different in essential meaning. The ad hominem fallacy consists of attempting to refute an argument by impeaching the character of its proponent. Example: ‘Candidate X is immoral, therefore his argument is false.’
    “But the psychological pressure method consists of threatening to impeach an opponent's character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: ‘Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X's argument is false [and therefore needs to be hidden].’
    “In the first case, Candidate X's immorality (real or invented) is offered as proof of the falsehood of his argument. In the second case, the falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily… offered as proof of his immorality [and used to conceal his point of view].
    “In today's epistemological jungle, that second method is used more frequently than any other type of irrational argument. It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as ‘The Argument from Intimidation’ . . .
    “In our political life, the Argument from Intimidation is the almost exclusive method of discussion. Predominantly, today's political debates consist of smears and apologies, or intimidation and appeasement. The first is usually (though not exclusively) practiced by the liberals, the second by the conservatives.”

Feel free to comment. :-)

UPDATE: A few people suggested David Farrar might have switched the system off over at Kiwiblog. Not so, as David clarifies in the comments below:

    _quoteNot switched off but I keep adjusting the thresholds so you now need 50 negative votes to be hidden (not removed).
    “It is an experiment and not a very successful one at the moment as there seem to be around 40 or so people who vote on every comment.
    “The highlighting of very high scoring posts is working somewhat ok. Can be useful in a long thread.
    “I may keep adjusting the hide threshold upwards so no one can ever be hit with it. It is being abused too often.”

As it always will be. All new is not always all good.


  1. I think DPF has switched it off. I made a comment this morning that attracted 33 negative ratings (he said proudly) and it's still visible.

  2. I totally agree - anonymous ratings causing comments to be hidden is daft! Encourages troll behaviour.

    At least they made some effort to clean up comments though, without straight manual banning of comments they disagreed with. I no longer visit certain sites:
    - HandMirror
    - Tumeke
    - NZ Conservative

    because these bloggers all directly censor out non-abusive critical comments. Clearly, debate on such sites is to be encouraged only when the debate agrees with the preconceptions of the blogger ;(

    Good to see some sites - such as this one - will keep open debate going :)

    Extreme Leftie.

  3. Not switched off but I keep adjusting the thresholds so you now need 50 negative votes to be hidden (not removed).

    It is an experiment and not a very successful one at the moment as there seem to be around 40 or so people who vote on every comment.

    The highlighting of very high scoring posts is working somewhat ok. Can be useful in a long thread.

    I may keep adjusting the hide threshold upwards so no one can ever be hit with it. It is being abused too often

  4. I use a thumbs up thumbs down voting system over at
    which seems to be working well.
    (Although my new blog is not yet a month old)

    I will not be hiding comments because I want to encourage open and rigorous participation on all sides of the debate.

  5. [For the benefit of the troll who's presently attacking this site, you need to comprehend the difference between commenting and trolling.

    For guidance, please read the Comments Policy and the Guidance Notes above. Or get a life.]

  6. Farrar has gone down quite a lot in my appreciation.

    These days David is nothing but a spin doctor, an unabashed cheerleader for Key and his government.

  7. Whats the prob. You just click on it to show it. Must admit its just an added complication but David likes fiddling about. Bet when he was a little boy his Mum kept telling him he would go blind if he kept fiddling with it.

  8. A thumbs up / down counter would be good - that way comment stays, but a counter below it indicating readers good or bad impression would work well. Readers will be motivated to click a button only if they strongly agree or disagree.
    The system David is trying was a good idea - ijust in reality doesnt appear to be working that well. I think it is too complicated to work easilly. It would constantly require fiddling with (as David is discovering)
    Its very much like a 50 band graphic equaliser on a stereo or PA system!

    Unless you are a real geek and prepared to go to considerable lengths to learn and understand how it works, and be prepared to make constant adjustments to suit the situation, it is more trouble than it is worth - especially when you can get a better result with a bass, a treble and a Mid freq knob.

  9. Perhaps a comment recommender system, similar to what is described in the following paper can be used. I am surprised that Google hasn't deployed such capability for their own blogging system.

    A Trust­enhanced Recommender System application:

    BTW, the book automated recommender system that Amazon deploys is similar to what the paper above describes, but Amazon also uses past browsing history of users to recommend items that may be of interest to the online user who is looking for books to buy.

    I consulted to Ferrit , the defunct Telecom online shopping mall on the development of automated recommender system for their website. Their developers and software architects didn't know how Amazon recommendation works, so I got involved with them, because they were interested to make their online mall do item automated recommendations.

    Most of what they agreed to develop in my technology report for phase 2 of their development (I was going to lead a team to do that) were not implemented at all. So, they got sidetracked , so users had bad experienced in using their sites, together with bad reviews from the media, and they had been lacking innovation till the day they stop trading.

    One of the interesting bits that I got involved in before it was canned was developing a music content search. It is not new, but it was more robust than searching for texts/words/phrases of song titles. A user can search for similar songs by just humming the melody (via a microphone) which that short segment signal is sent to the server at their backend, which is then compared with digitized signals of songs that are available from their collections. So, song items that have similar tunes/melody/beat/pitch, etc... will be retrieved and presented to the user (top 20 or so similar items according to their tunes). This is more accurate than word search of song titles. The managements didn't believe that such technology was possible, but I showed them some published works on ACM Multimedia Retrieval journal that it has already been done before using DSP (digital signal processing) algorithms, and not only that, there were 2 commercial vendors (one from Spain & the other from Canada) who already developed such products (for commercial use).

  10. Interesting post. I will say that over on frogblog, the users themselves get to set the threshhold, so those who want to see it all can have it all. As the threshhold forms part of the user's cookie (I think that's how it remembers), a user can set and forget it, and adjust it on another, less tolerant day.

    I think it strikes the right balance and so far is working reasonably well.

  11. Frog: That's fine for adjusting which comments the reader sees, but who assigns the values to the comments themselves? Are they voted?


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