Sunday, February 28, 2010

Result of the free speech experiment

After letting run the free speech experiment with zero comment moderation for a week, it is time to look at the results, and draw a conclusion. Here are my observations on how the experiment went:
  • Comment spam: You didn't see any, I did. As I said, I did leave comment moderation on for posts older than 14 days. Automated comment spam bots apparently prefer older threads, which have a higher Google page rank, and are less watched by their owners. I got about a dozen spam comments, advertising everything from Farmville guides to hair straighteners, all of them posted by "anonymous".
  • Profanity: A lot of it, as expected, not even counting all the cussing people did just to show they could in the thread setting up the experiment. I was called "Tobold fag", and told to "shut the fuck up". One rather persistent commenter made multiple disparaging remarks on multiple threads about me having a bad gearscore, something that I found more puzzling than insulting. It was easy to ignore most of these remarks. But apparently I surprised someone by replying to the "shut the fuck up" guy with similar insults, and the thus insulted anonymous guy then complained that I shouldn't talk to him like that. Now that is a curious concept of free speech: Anonymous commenter thinks he is allowed to insult me, but I'm not allowed to insult him back.
  • Trolls: Fake Gev-i-on made an appearance and clearly managed to derail at least half the comments of one thread. I even got fake Tobo-i-d comments, but I'm afraid that even a fake parody of me isn't outrageous enough to provoke much of a response from other readers. It is easier to parody people with less moderate views. Several readers asked for trolls to be banned.
  • Anonymity: On Blogger the ability to post under a freely choosen name with or without URL and the ability to post as "anonymous" are unfortunately controlled by the same check box. Few people made use of the Name/URL option and I think a preference of not signing up for anything to leave a comment on this blog is valid. But most people having the added freedom to not sign up used the "anonymous" option. In the best of cases that made discussion difficult, because other commenters didn't know whether they were talking to the same anonymous guy in two different comments. But in general, as Serial Ganker sid67 remarked, the quality of the anonymous comments was significantly lower than the quality of comments from registered users. Nearly all the profanity and personal attacks were anonymous, as well as the spam.
  • Flow: I must agree with Klepsacovic that the flow of discussion is a lot smoother when comments appear immediately when written. It allows a back-and-forth between commenters even when I am offline. And much of that back-and-forth positively adds to the discussion.
An experiment serves to learn something, and hopefully to improve things by what is learned. I ran this experiment because I didn't have an answer to what the best form of comment moderation is, and because I wondered whether I could relax some moderation rules without doing too much harm. For me the lesson is relatively clear: Moderating comments before they appear is not necessary, as long as I turn off anonymous commenting.

Thus I declare this experiment as ended. I am turning anonymous commenting off again, with apologies to the tiny minority of people who can't or won't sign up for a free account with OpenID or Google or somewhere to comment. But unlike before the experiment, I'll leave comments to appear immediately when written. I *will* start deleting comments again, be that for trolling or ad hominem attacks. But I'll use the deletion option which replaces the comment with an "This post has been removed by a blog administrator", so there will be more transparency, and you'll see that I don't actually delete all that many comments. I think it is the existence of comment moderation by itself that keeps comments in line.

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