Moderation on MeFi and NPR March 7, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

"A 5-minute framework for fostering better conversations in comments sections." NPR's Matt Thompson interviews Jessamyn about why a thread about the assault on reporter Lara Logan turned so ugly on NPR's site, but didn't on the blue.
posted by Horace Rumpole to MetaFilter-Related at 8:59 AM (93 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

That was fantastic. Thank you.
posted by k8t at 9:02 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would have rather read an actual interview than an article that summarized what was obviously an interesting conversation, but it's still pretty neat.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


As awesome as it was to hear about MeFi stuff (though I've never heard Jessamyn mention Aikido before) I wanted to hear about NPR's own policies but there wasn't much about it other than what happened on a thread over there. I'm curious what their guidelines and moderation policies are.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:08 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure Matt is "mefi's own" but don't know his username off the top of my head or whether he wants everyone to know it. We talked for a good chunk of time about the stuff we do and the stuff we see other people doing and not doing. It's a tricky topic because obviously news sites comments are very different from the sort of thing we deal with on MeFi. To a very large extent people's desire to be part of a community here means that they're motivated differently from people who comment other sorts of places.

I remember way back when I was on a panel about moderation at SXSW and I made a crack about YouTube comments (may have used the term Lord of the Flies) and a woman came up to me afterwards and said that actually YouTube does have comment moderators, they're just really really overworked. And at some level to me that was just YouTube not allocating resources to take the problem seriously. We're seeing more sites get serious about community management or whatever you call it nowadays and that's good news, but I still see that sites with really terrible comment problems just do that "blame the internet" thing instead of seeing it as a social problem of the sort that exists online and offline, and one that can be managed somewhat.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:08 AM on March 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


"Let me model some good behavior for you. That person said something really s—-y. I’m just going to ignore it. Watch me."

This is at once brilliant and elegant. I kid you not, I will use this with my children.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:11 AM on March 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yea Matt is indeed one of us, hung out with him at many a meetup.
posted by wheelieman at 9:23 AM on March 7, 2011


Metafilter: "fair warning — some profanity here and there"
posted by edgeways at 9:34 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Are there any news organizations that have adopted Mefi's general policies for commenting? Any that charge to comment? I don't see it happening, but would love to be proven wrong.

Admin rights let you delete comments, West said, but they don’t necessarily get you respect.

Ya'll are killing my snowflakes!!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:37 AM on March 7, 2011


can, for example, leave notes on user pages that only other moderators can see

Uh oh. Mine's probably under the info section. "Status: Jackass." If it's under contributions, it's probably like "Contributions: rambling on about some nonsense and forgetting to read all the comments before his". And under Social, probably "Had a chance to meet us, totally chickened out".
posted by cashman at 9:49 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


that was just YouTube not allocating resources to take the problem seriously

Why should they? YouTube isn't in the quality-comments business. They're in the video-hosting business. Comments are an afterthought to YouTube. If YouTube went out and hired a hundred Jessamyns (not that such a thing is possible, for there can be only one), would the rise in quality affect YouTube's bottom line? I kinda doubt it. IOW, what's YouTube's incentive to invest in fostering a community via moderation? But MetaFlter, as much as it would like to claim it's about links, lives and dies by its reputation for quality comments. The community is the content. Well, that and the links to cats wearing funny hats. That are on YouTube.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:50 AM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Admin rights let you delete comments, West said, but they don’t necessarily get you respect.

They DO get you a little gold star next to your name, sometimes.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:51 AM on March 7, 2011


Why should they? YouTube isn't in the quality-comments business.

Exactly. I felt really bad for the people doing moderation because basically they were sort of window dressing. You had to have them so the comments didn't turn into a complete and total cesspool but they weren't really an important part of the actual business model so they floundered and failed.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:56 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I tend to think the interenet has gone a little overboard with the add-a-comment option. Seriously, YT comments add very little to nothing to the mix. If people want to talk about a YT clip they will embed it elsewhere and then write about it. Newsites that have comment sections under every news story? Yeah, near worthless. I can totally see a general comment section that gets live-time moderated, but a dozen or so stories each with their own section... bleh.
posted by edgeways at 9:58 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


And it would indicate offensive sexism for CBS to not to send her to Cairo simply because she happens to be an attractive blonde.

What would it indicate if her attactive blonde-ness was one of the reasons they hired her in the first place?
posted by Joe Beese at 10:08 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, it would be awesome to have a proxy argument about Logan in this thread, let's totally do that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:11 AM on March 7, 2011 [30 favorites]


If youtube had better commenting, it could replace the sites that rehost the videos for discussion - if it's all about pageviews, having a commenting community that people would come back to and invest in could only help.
posted by davey_darling at 10:13 AM on March 7, 2011


OK!

Deadpool could totally kick his ass. Better healing factor.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:15 AM on March 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


cortex: "Yes, it would be awesome to have a proxy argument about Logan in this thread, let's totally do that."

Thank you.
posted by zarq at 10:15 AM on March 7, 2011


Hey, cortex is doing that thing from the article!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:15 AM on March 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


yeah, but as BOP said above, that isn't really their business. To have better commenting they'd need a lot more moderators, which they'd have to pay for. I suppose you could have communities crop up around types of videos but in general (at least for me) YT feels too big, and loosely based for a cohesive community, so they would be pouring money into a fix for a nebulous problem that (I think) can't be really fixed. Efficient comment moderation on YT would result in lots and lots of "that's cool", "OMG she is hot", "good video" etc... So why bother? Kill the comment section, or make it by invite only per each video (which is hidden from the GP).
posted by edgeways at 10:23 AM on March 7, 2011


let's totally do that.

In case my esteemed colleague was being too oblique let me point out that what he means is "please don't do that"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:25 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Matt Thompson. I met him a few times in Minneapolis and he seemed like a descent fellow. As I recall, he did his thesis on gothic literature, which I envy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:26 AM on March 7, 2011


Yes, I said descent. You can't talk to him without him sinking into the ground. It's sort of freaky at first, but you get used to it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:27 AM on March 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


I really enjoyed reading that. Thanks!
posted by bardophile at 10:31 AM on March 7, 2011


Someone else who does a really good job with comments is Ta-Nehisi Coates over at the Atlantic.
posted by ghharr at 10:33 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


That was good. I tend to think that the most important part, though, is a critical mass of engaged non-trolly participants. Good moderation, as we have here, encourages and helps to develop that, but I'm not sure how that develops appropriately in the first place prior to the need for moderation (which I think comes later).
posted by OmieWise at 10:40 AM on March 7, 2011


On MeFi, curbing politically incorrect expression of opinion is moderation. On publicly funded NPR, it is censorship.
posted by Ardiril at 10:41 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I felt really bad for the people doing moderation because basically they were sort of window dressing. You had to have them so the comments didn't turn into a complete and total cesspool but they weren't really an important part of the actual business model so they floundered and failed.

From now on, I will meditate on the lives of YouTube comment moderators whenever I feel down about my own life.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:45 AM on March 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


The "conversation/graffiti" problem is always going to be a tough nut to crack for news sites, for at least a couple of reasons.

1. Newspapers/sites still feel like "us and them". There is a relatively small number of journalists, editors and paid employees producing articles. And then we - the unpaid, unwashed hoi polloi - get to comment on each single piece, individually. Of course this is going to lead to a more hit-and-run style of posting. We read the article. We have an opinion on it. We express that opinion. Job done.

2. Sites like Metafilter are set up as communities. They are intended to foster community. The members write the posts and the members respond to the posts. Regulars become known. Friendships and enmities develop, inevitably. Both lend themselves to conversation rather than mere response. Sometimes the conversation will be combative, but it's still conversation. Forums are like clubs; news sites are like lectures or public presentations. Think of the difference in interaction there. At clubs, there is more conversation. At lectures you get individuals standing up one at a time to address a single question to the lecturer about some aspect of the lecture. And you get heckling, too. But you don't get much conversation between the questioners and the hecklers.
posted by Decani at 10:46 AM on March 7, 2011


On publicly funded NPR, it is censorship.

"NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government. Less than two percent of the budget is derived from competitive grants from federally funded organizations such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts." (from here)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:51 AM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


On MeFi, curbing politically incorrect expression of opinion is moderation.

I know. I also miss the swarm of spammers and racists that make up the comments section of my daily paper.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:51 AM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


On MeFi, curbing politically incorrect expression of opinion is moderation. On publicly funded NPR, it is censorship.

No, it actually isn't. You're allowed to set the terms of discourse and apply them equally to everyone without regard to the popularity of opinions. You can be the federal government and still say it's okay to not call the president racist slurs on the White House blog. NPR is not a branch of the government and is only partially funded [16% if you believe Wikipedia] by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and federal grants.

Censorship is lousy, let's not apply the term to every time people outline terms for interactions. We maintain that you can say whatever you want here, no matter how unpopular your opinion, if you're making a good faith responsive effort to interact with the community and not just troll for lulz. I assume you're just needling us, but if you really think we're curbing politically incorrect opinions here, feel free to explain, just to make sure we're not just fooling ourselves here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:55 AM on March 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


The online version of my local newspaper is a complete cesspool when it comes to comments. However, even though you'd think it would be hard for a newspaper commenters to come to knmow each other and form any kind of community, I routinely see commenters greeting each other in random news stories. They are definitely frequent fliers when it comes to commenting on that site, and even come to know each other's leanings or tendencies. In fact, I once posted on an article, an innocuous comment, and got completely eviscerated by another poster. It turns out that my (again, completely generic) username is very similar to another user's, who has become known for being a vitriolic Tea Partier.

So while it is harder for newspaper sites to build a commenting community, I think I see a little embryo of a community forming at that particular site. I might forward this article to their editors because they desperately need to come up with a better moderating policy than they have now.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If YouTube went out and hired a hundred Jessamyns (not that such a thing is possible, for there can be only one)

Actually, this is our fourth Jessamyn. Our first Jessamyn has been retired for fifteen years, and is living like a queen in Patagonia.
posted by schmod at 11:00 AM on March 7, 2011 [26 favorites]


YOU TAKE YOUR TEA PARTY TRIPE ELSEWHERE, DOCTORGIRLFRIEND!
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What? Og, that's another user?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2011


Does anyone know why more newspapers just give up on the commenting on stories idea? The value add is so rare and so low, it's not a large motivation to visit or stay on their site, and it's actively negative almost all of the time. Local papers can rarely maintain (or don't try) much moderation, so you get to read paranoid racism about two inches below the carefully worded story they surely worked very hard on.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:04 AM on March 7, 2011


> So while it is harder for newspaper sites to build a commenting community,

I don't think most news sites really care much about community. They want to keep the horrid comments pruned, mostly, but they're not really concerned with things like tone that really allow a community to flourish. It's a fair bet that most editors look at the comments sections of their sites and shake their heads, but at the end of the day they allow it for page views. Let the readers spout off as if they have a voice, and they'll come back tomorrow and do the same for another article. TL;DR it's about pageviews, not community.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:05 AM on March 7, 2011


"let's not apply the term to every time people outline terms for interactions."

Let's do. "Outlining terms for interactions" is an adequate definition of censorship. The first examples of deleted comments reposted on the NPR blog were hardly objectionable to a so-called average person. "I've always wondered why networks seem so determined to send women into these situations. It's like they're trying to prove how politically correct they are. This time it came to bite them in the butt," is not an "ugly" statement by reasonable measures, only politically incorrect.
posted by Ardiril at 11:05 AM on March 7, 2011


Actually, this is our fourth Jessamyn. Our first Jessamyn has been retired for fifteen years, and is living like a queen in Patagonia.

And we don't talk about the other two.

Ever.
posted by Aquaman at 11:10 AM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I suspect you are using the term "politically incorrect" as an overly broad shield Ardiril.
posted by edgeways at 11:10 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On MeFi, curbing politically incorrect expression of opinion is moderation.

Sorry I thought by this you were talking about political incorrectness as a moderating metric on MetaFilter. I can't speak to whatever NPR decides to do with their comments except to say I bet it's a difficult path they're on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:13 AM on March 7, 2011


I'm always so glad that neither of the local papers around here allow comments.
posted by octothorpe at 11:16 AM on March 7, 2011


"On MeFi, curbing politically incorrect expression of opinion is moderation. On publicly funded NPR, it is censorship."

Actually, it's editing. Moderation is the tool of that editing. You are, of course, free to start your own media outlet that will allow you to voice your opinions, whatever they happen to be, but even taxpayer-funded NPR doesn't have to air them, no more than the post office has to tolerate you smearing shit on the walls as performance art.
posted by klangklangston at 11:18 AM on March 7, 2011


In fairness, Piero Manzoni canned his shit, he didn't smear it. That would just be vulgar.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:22 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Our conversations have been petering out on the blue of late though, i don't know if its because there's nothing new left to hash out (free the internet, save the women, here's cool art/video/song, gaga, politics) or if longer debates themselves have gone out of fashion. Maybe if we post a financial thread or the mortgage crisis, I remember they'd go on for ever. Imho only.
posted by infini at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


infini: "Maybe if we post a financial thread or the mortgage crisis, I remember they'd go on for ever. Imho only."

Try something on Cory Doctorow/BoingBoing, those get lengthy and argumentative pretty quickly.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2011


Way to thought-lead, Jessamyn! I liked this article a lot -- I think that "moderating" is almost like old-school editor-in-chiefing, except it's external-facing and facilitating and wrangling these broad+deep conversations and thought experiments and knowledge-sharing. It's big and important. It's evolving and critical and complex and our mods, however "homegrown," do it brilliantly. Also, I think the word/topic/theme of "community" online is a hard one to grasp unless you are actually in one and committed to it. Finally, as in all things content-management related, the powers that be need to wake up and realize this is how we communicate, resources must be allocated because all this is not some novelty act or time-waste-y diversion.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm always so glad that neither of the local papers around here allow comments.

Yeah, I usually have javascript disabled when browsing my local paper's site, and as a side-effect of that their comments section doesn't load. Every once in a while I re-enable it for some other reason, and end up reading the comments by accident. It is a good reminder to disable javascript again.

I've noticed that over time, they've disable commenting on more and more of their articles. I think they do this on stories that focus on a particular non-celebrity person or family, since the comments are likely to include a bunch of awful personal attacks. So I think they know they have a problem with comments in general.
posted by FishBike at 11:32 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know why more newspapers just give up on the commenting on stories idea?

I'd be curious to see the relationship between allowing comments on newspaper articles and the number of angry responses sent as e-mails to the editor. I'd be willing to be on a correlation.
posted by meese at 11:33 AM on March 7, 2011


One of the things that comes up a lot when I talk about this but is rarely mentioned (and I'm guilty of this as well) is that since our whole site is homegrown, we have a truly sophisticated set of tools that are built to help us do our job better including....

- ways to have comments or flagging on the back end for users so the mods can share information
- straggling comments view to see if people are spamming old threads
- sparklines for flags-by-user so we can see if someone is "ramping up" or not sitewise
- a few ways of linking sock puppets and users [imperfect, but good for curbing occasional abuse]
- some user searches

A lot of sites just use off-the-shelf blogging tools which weren't really designed with robust moderation in mind. I've spoken to people who moderate other much larger sites and their tools are often totally terrible. When I was blogging for a week at BoingBoing, I was really surprised how few tools they had. I totally sympathize. Every time I make a fawning comment about pb or mathowie and their amazing skills, I mean it 100%.

One of the most effective mechanisms we have is the $5 fee not be cause the money is at all useful but because it gives us some backend information [a paypal address, maybe a name] and gives the user a small investment [literally and metaphorically] to keep them from just hit-and-run spamming or trolling.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:40 AM on March 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Really, really good stuff. I feel like this is an important moment, like finally, thanks to Jessamyn and other like-minded people, we are finally developing a sort of Code of Hammurabi for the internet. Well expressed, great, cogent, incisive observations and useful recommendations.
posted by Miko at 11:57 AM on March 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, I think the word/topic/theme of "community" online is a hard one to grasp unless you are actually in one and committed to it.

And this, double this.

Who is committed to a hit and run online media comment or Yahoo answers? Newspaper comments of the style of Dear Sir, Yours Etc., printed in the Times were a different animal altogether. (wonders if there's an FPP on that)
posted by infini at 12:08 PM on March 7, 2011


I'm going to just be un-clever + fanboyish and say it: I love the moderators here. I really do. You folks do such a good job; in the section mentioning aikido, it becomes really clear. It's an art form.
posted by Eideteker at 12:17 PM on March 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have a huge sense of appreciation for MetaFilter's moderation style whenever I spend any time at my local community forum. It's sponsored by a respected area-wide news service, but it's been taken over by a pack of rabid tea party wolves. Even the most hate-filled personal attacks are allowed to remain.

I'm one of the few liberals who posts there, and of that tiny minority only a handful of us our women so it sometimes feels doubly hostile. Whenever I participate in the political threads, I'm always careful to state my thoughts as coolly and calmly as possible because I know that's my best chance of getting the more reasonable members to maybe see a different point of view, but it's a losing battle. People there cannot handle anything that deviates from their talking points. They respond to even the most mildly stated dissent by ganging up and hurling insults. They're desperate to drown out any opposing opinions, and lately they've gotten more aggressive and personal.

Each comment has a little "report this comment to the moderators" button beside it. I've thought about using it a couple of times, but then I figured why bother? It's obvious that no one there is making an effort to keep things civil. So, to save my sanity, I tell myself that by leaving the really hateful stuff on the boards, maybe it will shine a light on how toxic some factions of the right wing have become, and maybe it will help change some people's minds about supporting a party that produces that kind of irrational venom.

I wonder if the sponsors let things run wild in the hope of generating more page views, or if the moderators have just given up. I keep thinking maybe the place will collapse under the weight of its own vitriol.
posted by amyms at 12:27 PM on March 7, 2011


thanks to Jessamyn and other like-minded people, we are finally developing a sort of Code of Hammurabi for the internet.

A timeless update on a classic, heh.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:27 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know why more newspapers just give up on the commenting on stories idea?

As far as I can tell, most newspaper websites are the bare minimum that they can do to get their content online, and most of the fancy features like commenting were turned on by summer interns who though they would be neat. Newspapers websites are like what I would think government websites would look like, except government websites aren't that bad.
posted by smackfu at 12:29 PM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I bet the NPR moderators don't get stars.
posted by JanetLand at 12:38 PM on March 7, 2011


I have noticed that The Guardian (British newspaper) does well with its comments section. I wonder if their efforts are based on a thought that the sections not being cesspools cast the paper/site in a better light, encourage visitors, could foster development of community-esque groups.

The Fly Lords will always show up, but they've done well to set a civilized tone.
posted by ambient2 at 12:40 PM on March 7, 2011


Has MeFi ever considered requiring a user to get a certain number of favorites (instead of just time and a certain number of comments) before posting to the blue? Kind of like "auditioning"?
posted by lesli212 at 12:48 PM on March 7, 2011


I'm always trying to apply what I learn from the moderation here to my own community. So far, it's going pretty well. Thanks, Example Mods.
posted by fake at 12:50 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has MeFi ever considered requiring a user to get a certain number of favorites (instead of just time and a certain number of comments) before posting to the blue? Kind of like "auditioning"?

Oh gosh no. I get the idea, but we don't want to use favorites as any kind of low-level or per-user metric, for one thing; for another we basically assume you passed your audition when you signed up in the first place, and for the rare exceptions (mostly spammers) who manage to prove that's not the case, we deal with them as it comes up. So it's not a problem that actually needs to be solved.

The wait-a-week, make-a-few-comments system in place currently seems to work very well for the most part in combination with the signup process. And a lot of folks are unnecessarily intimidated about posting as it is—introducing some sort of further metric of Being Good Enough seems like it would not help that situation.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:52 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


MetaTalk: Some Sort of Further Metric of Being Good Enough.
posted by Mister_A at 12:59 PM on March 7, 2011


Auditions would be fun.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:09 PM on March 7, 2011


*Trembling at the thought of not Being Good Enough*

*weeps in corner*

*refreshes profile page to check favourite total again*
posted by infini at 1:13 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


In fairness, Piero Manzoni canned his shit, he didn't smear it. That would just be vulgar.

Well, I just don't know what else you're supposed to do with it once the can's been opened.
posted by Hoopo at 1:51 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


A true artist uses an mechanical extruder marker to apply his shit on the walls.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:54 PM on March 7, 2011


Is "mechanical extruder" a fancy name for "shit brush?"
posted by Mister_A at 1:56 PM on March 7, 2011


Think more like a mechanical pencil, only with cylinders of shit instead of graphite.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:57 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, this is our fourth Jessamyn. Our first Jessamyn has been retired for fifteen years, and is living like a queen in Patagonia.

So Jessamyn is Metafilter's Dread Pirate Roberts??
posted by orrnyereg at 1:57 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is "mechanical extruder" a fancy name for "shit brush?"

As I recall, it was something closer to "crayon butt."
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:59 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now I'm wondering what, if any User notes I have. Probably some combination of "Can't spell, leaves out articles, ignore anything after 1:30 AM EST"
posted by The Whelk at 2:06 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

he single biggest pitfall for reporters, all of whom have poured care and effort into crafting a terrific piece of journalism, only to scroll to the bottom and see themselves described as a lazy bias idiot who can’t even spell correctly.
It always amuses my small mind when, almost inevitably, a sentence describing poor spelling or grammar contains a perfect example.

Interesting article - I love to hear about the thinking behind the moderation here. As a shining (although somewhat hidden under a bushel) example of how to manage a growing community of people whose opinions must be heard, MetaFilter has the potential to provide lots of guidance for other groups, not only on-line ones. I often mirror the techniques used here in my work, particularly the strong focus on transparency of decisions and the willingness to defend/discuss the reason behind them.
posted by dg at 2:10 PM on March 7, 2011


West said she gets a lot of apologies from users in her e-mail, even those she hasn’t said a thing to.

Way to exploit our collective Catholic guilt, Jessamyn!

One of the things that comes up a lot when I talk about this but is rarely mentioned (and I'm guilty of this as well) is that since our whole site is homegrown, we have a truly sophisticated set of tools that are built to help us do our job better

Although I hate to use the word "monetize," I think you would make the Internet a better place if you packaged this up and sold it. I'm always kind of astonished at the horrible moderation policies on newspapers (especially the Washington Post, which is purportedly a world-class publication). The racist crap especially. They would be much better off with no comments at all.
posted by yarly at 2:20 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


> we are finally developing a sort of Code of Hammurabi for the internet.

When the Advanced Research Projects Agency, who decreed the fate of technology, created the Information Processing Technology Office and gave it dominion over the Semi Automatic Ground Environment program and made it great among the Nacirema, they founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth, called ARPANET; then Berners-Lee brought into being the Web, and the Internet spread over all the land, and Jorn Barger called the weblog by name, and lo, I, mathowie, the exalted Founder, did create MetaFilter to bring about the filtering of the Web, so that the trivia should not overwhelm the Internet; so that I should rule over the lesser lords like Jessamyn and cortex, and to further the well-being of mankind. And lo, these Laws I bring to you.

If any one call others by vile names, and does not desist upon remonstration, then that person is an asshat and shall be banned.

If any one post self-links, and is not clearly a clueless innocent, then that person shall be banned.

If any one post links to commercial services for purposes of profit, then that person is a spammer and shall be banned.

If any one ask a question, and another respond with no answer but a jest or a derailment, then that response shall be deleted.

If anyone attempt to start a flamewar in a thread, that comment, and all comments deriving from it, shall be deleted.

If a thread be posted with no purpose but to start a flamewar, that thread shall be deleted, and a chastisement hung around its neck for the instruction of mankind.

If any one seem to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, that person shall be reminded that everyone needs a hug.

Laws of MetaFilter which mathowie, the wise founder, established. A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land. As for the price of admission, it is five dollars, same as in town.
posted by languagehat at 2:28 PM on March 7, 2011 [44 favorites]


"I thought you were talking about political incorrectness as a moderating metric on MetaFilter."

Heh, no. You guys do a really good job of delineating between distasteful opinion from the offensive expression thereof.
posted by Ardiril at 2:42 PM on March 7, 2011


Hey, cortex is doing that thing from the article!

For some reason, one of the mods doing something from the article now reminds of a nature documentary, specifically Meerkat Manor, which I've watched a lot of lately.

"Ah, and there we spot of the moderators from the Metafilter clan facing a hostile user, who has strayed into the fighty area. The moderator makes a warning to the other admins to signal danger, then charges forth in the fray, his face a mask of steely determination. It won't be quiet at the burrow today."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:43 PM on March 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Now I'm wondering what, if any User notes I have.

For the most part the notes aren't like where we leave our snooty observations, it's almost always only for mod stuff. So most people have no notes at all, a few people have notes about why they were banned or why they took time off or if we notice something really unique about them ["lives in Antarctica"] but not usually for run of the mill stuff, we'll just say that to your face.

Although I hate to use the word "monetize," I think you would make the Internet a better place if you packaged this up and sold it.

I often think about that sort of thing. The real problem is that would mean I'd have to get into the software business and I don't want to do that, I want to do this. I think the larger issue is that it's not totally clear what many sites have a comments section for. So here, yeah, we're a community site, the community is the content. But newspapers... they need to figure out what they're after and then allocate sufficient resources to it to actually do what they say they want to do. I have a MeFi-friend who works in newspaper moderation and we get into regular mope sessions about how she sees them saying they want one thing but then really not giving her or her team the tools to really DO that.

So when you're stuck in that sort of a rut, you wind up wondering if you're better off doing the best job you can, or going someplace where they actually walk the talk. I'm really curious about companies like ICUC and what sorts of things they do, like do they have a bunch of different moderation "styles" you can choose from when you hire them. "Racism okay, no penis please" that sort of thing. At some level you can have a computer just take out the racist words, so you have to think up and maintain a strategy and hope that it resonates with users enough so it doesn't, I guess, compromise your "brand" otherwise. NPR has a reputation as an organization that at least sort of gives a shit about civic discourse. It will be interesting to see where this goes.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:53 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's important to point out the pay wall that Metafilter has and NPR does not. At the same time, both sites use their membership in the same way to raise operating income. One clear issue is that it is unlikely NPR will hold members accountable in the same way Mefites do.
posted by parmanparman at 3:24 PM on March 7, 2011


I always hope to add to the quality of content, and to keep the best tone and demeanor on the site, but I really don't have any original thought to add to the subject just now, other than that I'm in a really happy mood, so Here is a video of a baby opossum eating a grape.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:33 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


KILROY WAS HERE LOL



Isn't this where graffiti goes?
posted by filthy light thief at 3:44 PM on March 7, 2011


yarly: Although I hate to use the word "monetize," I think you would make the Internet a better place if you packaged this up and sold it. I'm always kind of astonished at the horrible moderation policies on newspapers (especially the Washington Post, which is purportedly a world-class publication). The racist crap especially. They would be much better off with no comments at all.

The software is a small part of the whole. Tools to help control the community are useless if there is no community to start with. People have to want to be a part of a discussion and a member of the site, more than bickering about liberal vs conservative politics (which seem to be the majority of the "discussions" in news story comment sections).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:01 PM on March 7, 2011


Although I hate to use the word "monetize," I think you would make the Internet a better place if you packaged this up and sold it.

There's always the build vs. buy argument about software, and most organizations lean heavily in the direction of buying something that already exists rather than building their own.

What I've noticed, though, at least where I work, is that usually the stuff we build turns out so much better than the stuff we buy. I'm not the one who builds it, so I don't think I'm especially biased there. People worry that we're going to have to build some huge product that does everything the commercially available one does and more, but really, it only needs to do the things we need it to do, so it can do those things nicely without cost all that much to develop.

Whereas the commercial software has to do the things a wide range of organizations need, or else it doesn't have a big enough market to justify selling it. This is fine for something like a word processor, where the market is so enormous the developer can justify the cost of including every imaginable feature.

But for more purpose-specific business software, it seems to occupy the middle ground where it only makes sense to include features a lot of customers will need. So everyone ends up doing without some nice features they would really like for their business, while getting a lot of features that they don't need, and still paying a lot anyway.

So for the software used to run and administrate MetaFilter, I imagine one reason it's so nice is that it does exactly what this particular community and its moderators need, exactly how they need it done. It might not be nearly as useful to another online community that doesn't work the same way, and trying to make it so could turn it into either a monster of a thing, or just result in something so generic that it's not really a big improvement over other generic stuff already available.
posted by FishBike at 4:07 PM on March 7, 2011


Out of curiosity, is there a place where the comments-per-month is charted?
posted by kaibutsu at 4:34 PM on March 7, 2011


I'm going to start telling people I meet I'm a YouTube comment moderator for a living. A hidden camera video of reactions to that would be funny.
posted by ctmf at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Secretly, I sometimes go to Fox News just to read the comments, because they're like the b-movies of comments. They're just a perfect storm of everything going wrong. Borderline racism, partisan bickering, irrelevant derails, moderation spread thin and surely a good amount of trolling (although Poe's law makes it hard to tell!). And what's worse is that there was a crude attempt at filtering out insults and hot-button issues that commentors tended to be racist about, but it didn't work. Instead, people say "mooslims" and "i d i o t."

The space microbe one is one I've been skimming. Some interesting derails about religion (kind of understandable, as the bible says nothing about alien life, and modern fundamentalist Christianity insists that life cannot emerge in nature), abortion (yes, really. They're mad that scientists think space bacteria are alive, "but not a fetus."), Obama ("He's funding NASA when he should be funding the military to take care of problems on Earth." No, I didn't make that up)

It's bad enough that there's a novelty blog collecting the most racist ones.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:20 PM on March 7, 2011


I've been active here for 11 years 3 days today, and I'm always been consistently impressed with the thoughtfulness that the mods have applied to the discourse here. I have a great deal of respect for people who do jobs that I know I couldn't do.
posted by plinth at 5:50 PM on March 7, 2011


So for the software used to run and administrate MetaFilter, I imagine one reason it's so nice is that it does exactly what this particular community and its moderators need, exactly how they need it done.

Yeah, definitely. I mean, we're lucky to have pb in particular around to be responsive to the kinds of "what if..." ideas we have when we're modding; we have a really excellent toolset at this point because we can ask him to make something happen and he pretty much does, and because he's only building it for this tiny crew there's not a lot of worry about generalizing a tool to fit an abstract class of tasks. It just needs to do what we need it to do.

That said, some of the things we do and the tools we use to accomplish those tasks are generalizable to one degree or another. Stuff that depends on e.g. a paypal record is not going to translate to most sites, but our "what's going on in presumed-quiet threads" stuff or the tracking of trouble users in a meaningfully predictive way are totally accomplishable in theory on just about any site. The trick then is whether a given site has the resources and the interest to build and use those tools, and I think in a lot of cases where I would expect the answer to be a resounding "yes" it's actually a "not so much". Whether that's because the site can't afford it or just doesn't care varies.

And the build or buy thing is definitely part of the deal there—sites running off major platforms might be able to benefit from pre-fab tools, so some of what we use here could be built out as a Wordpress plugin or something for Moveable Type or so on. But that means building the toolset for each of those platforms, and hoping that a given site isn't too far modified from the basic install to be compatible. And sites that are more of a custom job are stuck with DIY.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:13 PM on March 7, 2011


One of Matt Thompson's comments contains a bit of paraphrased Jessamyn-wisdom that I really like: "every online community turns into either a bunch of angry old men or a bunch of angry young men unless you do something about it."

That feels anecdotally true, with only a few exceptions from ancient internet history, and there's a sociology doctorate waiting to be written on it.

I have noticed that The Guardian (British newspaper) does well with its comments section. I wonder if their efforts are based on a thought that the sections not being cesspools cast the paper/site in a better light, encourage visitors, could foster development of community-esque groups.

It's partly because the Guardian embraced the online world early; it's partly because the paper has developed a genuinely integrated approach to publishing in print and online; and it's partly because brilliant people like my friend Meg Pickard work there.

It's bad enough that there's a novelty blog collecting the most racist ones.

I like the blog devoted to the worst of British media websites' comments, and not just for its domain name.
posted by holgate at 8:42 PM on March 7, 2011


There's always the build vs. buy argument about software, and most organizations lean heavily in the direction of buying something that already exists rather than building their own.
True, but the pitfall is that the system ends up driving the processes, instead of supporting them, which is a bad way to run a business and stifles improvements in effectiveness because the systems won't support it. With a customised solution, you can change the system as the desired processes evolve (although there is often considerable cost in that).
posted by dg at 8:59 PM on March 7, 2011


Instead of creating/writing a software package, maybe you guys could offer (for a fee) to do some consulting for sites that need advice on how to improve their moderating and their moderation tools?
posted by marsha56 at 9:16 PM on March 7, 2011


holgate: The Guardian's comments look fine.
Anyway you can ask them to look at their content? :)
posted by vacapinta at 4:24 AM on March 8, 2011


One of the things that comes up a lot when I talk about this but is rarely mentioned (and I'm guilty of this as well) is that since our whole site is homegrown, we have a truly sophisticated set of tools that are built to help us do our job better including....

I'm sure the tools help, but the people wielding them make all the difference.

The moderation here is way different (and better) than any other place I visit - the hammer generally doesn't come down too fast, and there's always a cogent explanation posted. Rules are applied gently and amazingly consistently. I won't say I've never disagreed with the decisions made, but Metafilter is a class act.

I'm proud to be a MeFite, and I salute the moderators.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:44 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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