The New York Times Confirms Our Boles Blogs Comments Policy

Here at Boles Blogs, we have always had a strict and unbending Comments Policy – that you had to use your real name, you could not insult other commenters or authors, and absolutely no curse words allowed — among many other rules.

In the past, in order to foment conversation, we have allowed some anonymity — as long as the commenter was polite — but we never allowed anyone to disparage another person.  That sort of hatred and heat serve no purpose in trying to talk to each other and share ideas, and that’s the whole point of a comments stream to me as a publisher.  I want light and enlightenment, not damnation and darkness.

A recent NYTimes Op-Ed piece confirmed the verity of what’d we have always known — but it sure feels good to have quantitative support for our Comments Policy instead of just qualitative preferences:

Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones — though the actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” and “You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.”

The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

We have also experimented with requiring commenters to be logged in before commenting.  For many years, commenters rebelled against that idea, and punished us by not leaving a comment.

To quiet the hateful din over the last few years, many of the big blogs have required commenters to login — usually via direct registration or a verified social networking account — and that seems to be working.  The conversation moves forward, people own their words, and the nastiness drills down to nil because you leave yourself no place to hide when you go cruel.

Here at Boles Blogs, we have recently required people to be logged in via WordPress.com or Facebook or Twitter in order to leave a comment.  Readers have always been required by WordPress.com to be logged in to the system in order to “LIKE” an article of ours, so we are consciously making a decision to, once again, require identity in order to join in the discussion.

In the past, when we’ve required authorization of identity to comment, our readership plummeted — as if there were a direct negotiation between anonymous involvement and active readership — but today, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Our readership numbers are steady, if not rising, after requiring commenters to be logged in, and our Hate Comments have dropped to Absolute Zero and we also don’t have hundreds of “caught” Akismet Spam messages to delete every day.

With the rise of social networking over the last few years, people commenting on our articles dropped — logged in or not — because it was easier to rage to your Twitter followers and Facebook friends than to stand your ground in a public square comments stream and defend your arguments, but that’s the changing way of the social world.  What was once valued is diminished and gone and what was once verboten is now cherished and celebrated — that’s why it’s always important to know what you want, to go your own way, and to own your own behavior, because then none of the changes around you adversely influence who you are and what you have always intended your being to be online.

11 comments

  • Gordon Davidescu

    It’s a great policy and you can tell hateful speech polarizes by watching angry programming on Faux, excuse me, Fox News. People don’t even hear the facts, just the rhetoric.

  • I like the way you posted this right after my piece on guarding your privacy.

    Having said that we as individuals have nothing to hide and we debate in a reasoned manner – I have no doubt that the powers that be already know our political persuassions and the fact we love cats and eat a lot of bread.

    I find it interesting that those that have a slice of the internet are now controlling their slice and are now setting rules and guidelines on comments policy.

    The internet was always the place where you could say what you like – now you have to say it politely!

    Dont ever change your comments policy please!

    • In the early days of WordPress.com there were certain, popular, blogs that had an “anything goes” comments policy — and the blog admins urged commenters to fight and use curse words and spew hatred. They wanted that interaction because it raised page views. Angry people tend to keep reloading a page to see what, if anything, someone else has struck back to them. I found that whole meme and way of doing business, disgusting.

      It’s funny reading some of the comments in the NYTimes article — so many of them call this sort of “comments moderation” censorship when it is not.

      We, too, have had the censorship and “freedom of speech” accusations thrown at us many times over the years, and I always tell those people to log in so we know your name, and don’t curse and don’t lie and be kind as you make your points. They almost universally refuse — because they only want to shout and not listen.

      We have had our “eternal dissenters” over the years, too, and they have been a valuable and important part of this blog — but they have never been rude or mean — they just view the world differently than some, and that’s a good thing to learn how other people think and feel.

  • good call on the difference between moderation and censorship – everyone has the same platform to operate from.
    .
    My father used to say that cuss words were only used when you had already lost the argument and had nothing useful left to say.

    Using cuss words, swearing, being hateful and beligerent is just another form of bullying and should be trated that way

    • I am quite happy to have people disagree with me and offer critical, opposing views — but you have to do it kindly and with support for your argument — and you cannot cascade downward into name-calling at the end.

      The mainstream media seems to believe that anything said in opposition to one idea is “rebuttal” — when it often is just lies caked with more lies — and nobody has the guts to call the lies a lie.

      Sometimes I do publish hateful comments — just because they so righteously make the point I’m trying to defend…

      I like what your father has to say! The opposite end of that argument is that “words are tools, and you should be able to use any tool you wish at any time…” and while I agree with that in general, you still have to be polite in public, and you can go and curse on your blog, but not mine. SMILE!

      I agree that curse words are bulling — their intention is to hurt and not persuade.

  • its a bit like house rules , or when in Rome do as the Romans do. When you go to a blog it is like someone house, they have the rules posted on the door – you accept them when you cross the threshold.

  • I have commented on blogs that have had no comment policy what so ever and there is always that one person that starts off with a hateful comment that initiates a total “hatefest” amongst the commenters that is completely unnecessary and then the person in charge of the blog has to step in and post just to say “Come on guys, break it up, if your not going to say anything nice, don’t say it at all.” or some variation of it. Why not just avoid it by instituting a comment policy in the first place, it makes the most sense.

    That’s part of the reason why I like this blog’s commenting system so much, it’s so much more peaceful and civilized.

    • When we first started — we had a lot of people trying to pick online fights in our comments stream — nothing hateful ever made it through to publication, but when the bullies cried that they were being assaulted by not being “heard” it made for a lot of backend threats and extended Hate Mail campaigns against us.

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