Clarifications on a comment culture
In the handful of years this site has been active, we’ve banned four users and a couple dozen IP addresses. Trolls are persistent and take on many identities. It requires some work to ban them completely. This is one reason we do it very rarely, despite some fly-by-commenters’ assertions to the contrary.
I feel the need once again, as the roster of writers and commenters has grown, to outline not just a comment policy but our vision for what a comment culture ought to be like.
First, a few clarifications on what we expect from writers and commenters.
Deleting comments should be a last resort. Frankly, unless it is a banned commenter or someone issuing personal threats I would prefer that either Mark, Jason, Tod, or myself is emailed about the issue prior to any deletion.
Comment threads should not be closed without editorial approval. I don’t think we’ve ever specified this before but I could be wrong. The reason is simple: this is a community. Commenters are as integral a part of this community as the writers – indeed, many of the writers here were once (and remain) commenters. Shutting down comment threads without good reason is disrespectful to the community, even if it is unintentionally so. We had to shut down comments on one of Mark’s posts recently due to a serious troll problem that was escalating. Before that I can’t recall the last time I was aware of such an action. It’s been a while.
I know that this may sound tyrannical, but as writers here you really don’t have a final say on how a thread shapes out. Writers can and should police their threads by jumping in to stop thread-jackings (when appropriate and when time permits) but they should not delete comments or shut down threads unless they have good cause and have gone through the correct channels. If you have any doubt, ask me. You can also contact other admins here: Mark, Jason, or Tod. We have a pretty flat corporate culture at the League, but a hierarchy does exist to keep the peace.
Commenters need to police themselves as well. There has been an ongoing conflict between certain commenters and writers here and frankly I think that’s part of building a community. People have to hash these things out as best they can. But let’s be respectful to other authors and commenters also. Thread-jacking and making discussion after discussion a meta-conversation about this person or that person ends up muddying up important topics and can be frustrating for a writer who has spent time and energy putting a post together. I realize that this is unavoidable to some degree. I have no intention of doing anything about this sort of squabbling. But please consider the unintended consequences.
The vision for a comment culture that I have is not merely a civil combox. It’s an organically self-ordered system built on stable and predictable rules: very few bans, very few comment deletions, etc. To achieve this a certain voluntary order needs to be achieved by all participants, coupled with a certain subtle yet very real level of authority on the part of admins. Hence the few rules we do have are rules we need to live by. We do very little to actively interfere, but we can only maintain that if all the expectations of self-ordering are met.
(P.S. On sub-blogs the rules change depending on the blog, though it is my hope that most sub-blogs model their comment policy after the front page.)
I don’t mean this to be finger-pointing at anyone in particular, though I know some will feel that way. Rather I think we’ve been too vague for too long and our attempts to communicate have not been enough. If there are any questions, please fire them off in the comments. If I’m forgetting anything or if you disagree with any of this please say so.
(P.P.S. I’m starting to tinker with a couple ideas for a site redesign bringing the whole thing up to speed with our modern, high-tech, tablet and mobile world. We’ll see.)