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