12.22.08

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New Year, Some Readers Want a New Policy

Posted in Novell, Site News at 9:35 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

We never had a site policy

OCCASIONALLY WE RECEIVE suggestions saying that we should moderate the Web site, but we never deleted comments. In very exceptional cases, where people come only to curse and to vandalise, we append a message in red, but only three individuals (they sometimes change their names) were ever treated this way due to extreme abuse which is well documented.

Some readers feel as though we don’t go far enough and with over 200 comments yesterday, most of which from heckles, comes another polite, if slightly strong, suggestion that we want to share in order to receive opinions. The message goes like this:


Have you considered radically moderating the comments by the trolls at your site? It is always good to have differing opinions and people correcting our views and facts [...], but these guys at your site are starting to behave quite distastefully, and it is no more just some dissenting readers, it is increasingly looking like a well planed and even coordinated attack (again it might be my paranoid instinct, but even if this is not the case, these commenters are getting quite nasty and don’t add anything useful to the conversation in most cases).

“I also hate their strategy of trying to overwhelm you by buddying at attacking two or three at a time.”
–Anonymous reader
I think they are draining a lot of energy from you and always try to distract and misdirect the conversations with ad-hominem attacks and comments not quite on topic in order to undermine the message of your posts.

You should start applying a strict policy of not permitting ad-hominem attacks, strawman arguments, etc. [...] you must be absolutely and ultimately in control and have the last word about what and what not shows on it, most of their comments are now aimed at disrupting the conversation when they cannot counter the arguments (most of the time).

I also hate their strategy of trying to overwhelm you by buddying at attacking two or three at a time. I also hate people trying to have always the last word, and it is the case of these trolls, they always try to add the last comment to any of your posts and be on top of everybody else, which shows a total lack of respect for [the] site and its visitors.

I think it is high time you get rid and silently drop comments of those Microsoft-loving stalkers, and never ever reply their provocations neither let them surface on your site.

Surely they will hate that you selectively and silently drop and/or edit their molesting comments without giving them any explanation whatsoever (let them read your “enhanced comment policy” at the site if they want, but never ever engage in a discussion about the legitimacy of your moderation, or whether if it is fair or not for them [...] you don’t owe any justification to them, and they don’t deserve any explanation whatsoever since they perfectly know what they are doing — IMHO they seem like PR-agency paid stalkers every day that passes, so better silence and ignore them, they could be professionals and will try to drive you crazy).

If they enjoy commenting BS, let them go to port25.


Personally, I am very much against deleting comments, but a policy might make it clear in advance that certain behaviour will not be tolerated (or disclosures be required). For over a year we saw even readers of the site coming under personal attacks for ‘daring’ to express a point of view in the comments. This is not acceptable in their own point of you, so it forces them into silence or drives them away.

We’re not sure what to do. This is not the first such suggestion, but Shane and I feel strongly on this issue of free speech. How should we proceed then?

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16 Comments

  1. aeshna23 said,

    December 22, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Gravatar

    I strongly feel the existing policy is the right policy. They trolls make an occasional good point, and we do learn from our critics.

    I also feel that you don’t have to answer the trolls as much as you do.

  2. AlexH said,

    December 22, 2008 at 10:20 am

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    Nobody needs to be rude. It’s very easy to hand-wave away criticism as invalid, though.

  3. Ian said,

    December 22, 2008 at 10:49 am

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    I’m sorry, but I think I disagree with just about every sentence of that reader email. Sticking you head in the sand and pretending that there aren’t differing points of view on every subject is a useless way to go about life. It’s clear that that reader and anyone who supports his or her idea of a way to moderate the site truly don’t care about open dialog and only care about their agenda.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it doesn’t matter what your background is and what side of the fence you fall on(for lack of a better phrase), if you make a comment and you can’t back it up, you deserve to get called on it. If you can’t back it up, don’t type it.

  4. Jo Shields said,

    December 22, 2008 at 10:54 am

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    if you make a comment and you can’t back it up, you deserve to get called on it. If you can’t back it up, don’t type it.

    THANK you!

    There’s a reason it takes some of us days or weeks to write something for publication

  5. Jan Stedehouder said,

    December 22, 2008 at 1:28 pm

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    I am glad you are bringing this up and take this opportunity to add my 2 cents to the discussion.

    For one, I feel like you do. Free speech is something to be treasured and on my website I only had to step in a couple of times. I only did this when heated discussions turned to smearing and racist/religious abuse, and only then after I gave a clear warning that a limit had been reached.

    If I understand the tone of the reader well he/she suggests actually to limit the comments of those who are more Microsoft oriented or at least not as negative against the company as he/she is. Well, it is your website and you have a clear and key message against Microsoft, but I can only urge you not to give in to such a request. Such a biased moderating would not contribute to the site, nor to the discussion.

    If moderation is called for because of personal attacks, it should be applied equally to all participants, even those who are clearly on your side of the issue. I remember being called a liar by one of your readers, up to a point where you had to step in to rectify the issue (which I highly appreciate). It shows that even your supporters cross the line in the debates, so if a moderation policy is put in place, make it fair and equal.

    Regards

    Jan

  6. mpz said,

    December 22, 2008 at 5:16 pm

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    Some of the comments are getting a bit tedious, or downright strange at times.

    If it’s a personal grudge driving these people to disrupt the discussion – well then it’s just sad, and surely they have something better to do with their time. If they’re being paid, then they should disclose it. Either way, it doesn’t reflect particularly well on them, I can’t imagine any casual reader coming to this site would be swayed to their line of thinking – it just looks like some petty personal grudge that got out of hand.

  7. Shane Coyle said,

    December 22, 2008 at 6:59 pm

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    FWIW, I say that all non-spam comments should be kept, I also can’t stand those appended red messages, but I digress. I mean, how can we embrace the open development model for software but not opinion?

    When I started this site, despite its divisive name, I really wanted to foster discussion – all sides are welcome, as far as I am concerned. And, even though I’ve been embarrassed a few times for incorrect articles or conclusions, I feel more secure about the articles which have withstood scrutiny.

    Our articles are (obviously) pitching a particular point-of-view, I think it would be a disservice to the site to make sure the comments all coincide.

    Just my $.02

  8. jo Shields said,

    December 22, 2008 at 7:48 pm

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    Just my $.02

    That was insightful and interesting, Shane. Thanks for sharing.

    As to the idea of comment censorship… obviously, it’s your/Roy’s sandpit, and you get the final say on who’s allowed to play. If you collectively feel that dissenting opinion should be removed, then you’re entitled to do so – though you should consider the question of who is harmed by that action.

    It’s critical to remember that despite assertions to the contrary from some contributors, I’ve only seen one even remotely active pro-Microsoft commenter – the remainder comes from people with a difference of opinion on several fundamental issues, but a core belief in freedom. For some of us, that freedom extends to the belief that people should be free to write what they like in what language they like, and run which apps or OSes they like – yes, even people who want to buy DRM-encrusted media in a patented format for use on Windows only, they should have the freedom to do so. Free Software is always capable of technical superiority to proprietary options – people should be free to see that for themselves.

    Whilst it may appeal to a core audience segment, I think cheap demagogy and distortion is an embarrassment to the site and anyone who might want to use it as a resource to argue against things like Novell/Microsoft’s customer patent indemnification deal. The resulting flame wars in the comments between groups with no chance of convincing each other of anything are obviously unhelpful – but with one group accusing the other of baby-eating evil, and the other group accusing the other of ignoring the elephant not only in the room but eating their lunch, it’s inevitable that people should end up getting, for want of a better term, pissed off.

    It’s impossible for some of us to take BN seriously – for a plethora of reasons which I’ll skim over in a moment – but unfortunately some of the commenters are so eager to believe every word that they start to spread flawed or disproved conclusions all over the place in a disruptive (and frankly harmful) manner. Preempting this (coupled with incorrect statements made about me personally in news items) is where some of us come in. It should be possible to debate the core issues without flame wars. With a level of discourse in the gutter (on BOTH sides, and I’m not claiming to be blameless here), the end result is far from pretty, and with nobody able to absorb any input from the other “side”, the end result is not pretty.

    Does BN need a “New Policy”? Absolutely. But it’s about more than comments.

    * Double Standards: You can’t say “A is bad because foo” whilst supporting B and C (who also foo) without appearing biased and slanted – examples here would include the attacks on openSUSE’s community manager (when other distros have people doing the same thing), or attacks on Novell’s OOXML support in OOo (when Sun have done the same thing). You can’t direct criticism of an action – it applies to everyone or no-one.

    * Illustrations: So childish they make my head spin. Every dumb GIMPage reduces credibility. Stop.

    * Broken sources: Don’t cite debunked sources, don’t paint issues as unique. As an example, Phoronix benchmarks are a VERY dangerous source of info. Comparing two different versions of a framework on two OSes on two arches is not a benchmark, it’s a Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do – I’d be delighted to hear the original conclusions were true, but they’re impossible to reach where the number of variables is >1. Conclusions should always come on a foundation of concrete fact. As a scientist, I’d expect Roy to understand the simplest principles of Scientific Method, though he’s been calling anyone who disagrees on this point Pro Microsoft.

    * Mistakes happen: Admit error when error is made. Don’t defend something which has been soundly debunked to the death – it makes you look foolish.

    * 2 + 2 != 5: Don’t claim otherwise. If benchmarks show a bug exists in an openSUSE 11.1 pre-release version, don’t claim that it’s proof of something it’s not – especially not proof of anything in SLES. That just makes you look silly. An upstream Intel bug (which affects, say, Ubuntu 9.04) is not a “fatness” issue in an untested enterprise OS, it’s an upstream bug.

    * Nobody’s innocent: Don’t give your “supporters” a free pass, but attack “hecklers” for identical behaviour (this ties into point 1). If a critic swears, and you have a no-swearing policy, then apply a swear filter – but do it EVENLY, even to your supporters. If a critic does something unsavoury (e.g. the Eet multiple account thing), don’t suggest your supporter isn’t just as guilty (twitter). If your claims are founded in incontrovertible truth, then you don’t NEED supporters on IRC or comments – and critics don’t need to comment either.

    * Ad absurdam: ad-hominem attacks are silly. Be blameless, aloof, and above all accurate – which makes you immune to ad hominem attacks from others. Don’t accuse people who have contributed a thousand times more to Freedom (e.g. Miguel) of being categorically evil – people with a different opinion just have a different opinion

    * Research granted: There is no prize for quantity. BN would be ten times more valuable with just one useful, on-topic, informative, research piece a day (or even a week) than the “never look back” brain dumps which are so easily torn apart with even the simplest of fact-checking by third parties. Slow down, think about each word. When making claims about things, never do so without attempting to research the issue – even tech rags like The Register will ask for comment before publication.

    * Brevity: Less words, more content. If you can’t read a post out loud without getting bored, nobody will be able to read it properly either.

    I’ve been meaning to write out the above list for a good few weeks, but arguing with Roy I’ve never felt there’s anyone on the BN “anti” team with the acumen to even understand the list. However, I think that whilst my opinion of others may be unchanged, I’m pretty sure I’ve leapt to conclusions about you, Shane. If nothing else, then please read this back twice. It’s meant as constructive criticism, not as the beginnings of a new flame war.

    I think it would be well worth your while to go through the site and look at which articles have prompted a fierce reaction, and which haven’t, and work out the difference between the two. Similarly, it’s worth looking at the number of “supporters” without anything of any value to humanity to say, as well as critics, to cement the “blame on both sides” idea.

  9. jo Shields said,

    December 22, 2008 at 7:52 pm

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    And since the above was a rush job, I missed the most important snippet of all:

    Inform, don’t preach.

  10. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 22, 2008 at 8:52 pm

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    To clarify, I don’t intend to censor. I just wanted to see what others think and it’s the same as my instincts.

    Jo, my posts are quite concise and I avoid repetition. It’s not fair to suggest otherwise, in my humble opinion.

    Those red fonts were actually a suggestion that came from a reader. When someone steps on Godwin’s Law, then it’s hard to ignore and just move on.

  11. G. Michaels said,

    December 22, 2008 at 11:24 pm

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    If you are so desperate as to delete comments, why not just do it? Ahhhh, you need a link to point to so you can claim it was “by consensus” because “a reader” requested it.

    Yes, your quoted email there sounds like it was written by one of your IRC cadre. Why do you insist on pretending all kinds of people contact you with high concerns for “the trolls”? Yes, let’s pull some choice phrases from the depths of the barrel here:

    the trolls at your site … Microsoft-loving stalkers … they could be professionals …

    Right out of the FOSS advocacy SLOG annals. To distill: These people obviously work for Microsoft. Speaking of which, I’m still waiting for proof that you are targeted personally by Microsoft? Wow, it’s been, what, three weeks or something.

    This is rich, though:

    you must be absolutely and ultimately in control and have the last word about what and what not shows on it

    Yes indeed. Evangelism at its best. But let’s get into “trolls”, “ad hominems”, “insults” and so on.

    To start off, it’s quite clear that anyone who disagrees with you is a “troll” and a “heckler”, so go ahead and start deleting those posts.

    Next, delete your own posts. If my memory serves me right you like to call Matt Asay “The Idiot Asay”.

    Moving on to your friend from slated.org, with the “drop that shit boy”, on to your fan “Wakizashi” who is quick to tell us that “Novell is Microsoft’s bitch”, then your pal twitter, who thinks “the trolls are full of shit” and runs witch hunts with your approval.

    Then delete my comments, followed by all the other people you mark with red text.

    You know, on second hand, why don’t you just turn off comments. Wouldn’t that be so much easier? After all, they drain so much energy from you.

    Jo, my posts are quite concise and I avoid repetition.

    Isn’t it time for the daily patent post? Or the daily Mono post? Or the daily Novall stock price post? Or the daily Microsoft conspiracy theory post wich links to all the 4,000 previous posts on the same topic?

    Those red fonts were actually a suggestion that came from a reader.

    You mark comments with that because people started noticing the kind of bottom feeders you like to hang out with, which makes you uncomfortable. You claim “harassment” and “stalking” while your collaborators do the same to people in other communities, with your blessing.

    Note: writer of this comment adds absolutely nothing but stalking and personal attacks against readers, as documented here.

  12. jo Shields said,

    December 23, 2008 at 10:23 am

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    Hm, so much for bothering.

  13. David Gerard said,

    December 24, 2008 at 9:59 pm

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    I think it’s important to keep the comments policy the same so that we have good data on precisely how the impending layoffs affect the astroturfer numbers.

    Hmm, I feel a notnews coming on …

  14. twitter said,

    December 24, 2008 at 11:39 pm

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    I agree with the suggestion and it’s reasoning. People who have been rude deserve to be ignored. You have no obligation to these hecklers and should put their comments in moderation by default. The problem is that they will just shift to another nym and bot node. Yes, these asses are pro and will hopefully be fired soon so that the problem solves itself. Besides wasting your time, their efforts only prove how despicable M$ and Novell are.

  15. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 25, 2008 at 4:10 am

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    That’s another way to look at it.

  16. jo Shields said,

    December 25, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Gravatar

    Pot, meet kettle

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