Comment policy yet again

By Phil Plait | April 26, 2008 3:27 pm

The past few days have seen a large number of people commenting on this site who have been jerks, who have moaned and groaned over nothing, and who have been, really, just negative nellies about everything. I had to call one person out publicly due to a grossly inappropriate comment about me personally, as well. So here we go again: this is my commenting policy. If you don’t like it, don’t comment here on the blog.

The commenting policy is posted below. Learn it. Love it. Listen to it, or you’ll be wasting your time commenting here.

I didn’t want to do this, I really didn’t, but my hand is forced.

For some reason, this past week, I have had to edit a comment every day because someone has used "bad" words in it. I like this blog to remain, if not kid-friendly, then young-adult friendly. That means getting it into schools and such, and that means I have to be a nanny.

So here is my policy for commenting here. It is neither complete nor unchangeable. But this will do for now.

1) Be polite.

That’s it. That’s my rule.

That should be easy, right? Don’t go attacking other people, don’t swear, don’t be a jerk.

I reserve the right to edit out strong language and such. I will also delete comments that go over the line, or try to sell a product, or because I feel like it. OK, I won’t do that last part. The point is, this is my blog, and if you are being a jerk in some way I will take action. That may sound rather vague. Too bad. There is no line in the sand that says Here be good, there be jerk.

Look, when you comment on a blog, it’s like you’re in that person’s house. Be polite. Flush the toilet when you’re done, or, better yet, don’t foul the place up in the first place.

Simple, right?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog

Comments (65)

  1. Fauxnetikz

    Ya know what, BA? That just ticks me off. This is MY blog and I’ll comment however *I* choose! How dare you presume to edit my stuff. Want to know what I think about you and your little blog? Do ya? DO YA?

    I think it’s awesome, and I’m kidding 😛


    I think the reason you got the heated comments (though I didn’t see them for myself) is because of the “big,” “controversial” topics (religion + politics). It’s been my experience on “tha intarwebz” that those two topics will generate the most heated, hateful, lengthy arguments. Number three in that list is anything to do with a police officer.

    Anyway, I’m rambling and no one cares.

  2. Fauxnetikz

    Oh after re-reading that, I realize I may have implied that it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t post on those topics.

    Nope. Post them all day long and I’ll still read them. I love watching people get so insanely mad over things on the net. It’s good entertainment 😛

  3. I believe that such a person is more correctly characterized as a ‘negative nancy’.

    It’s funnier. Trust me.

  4. J.P.

    Ben Franklin said :
    ” Passions govern, and they never govern wisely”

    A.Y.H.S.* J.P.

    * always your humble student

  5. slang

    Well well well here we go again… Big Science trying to shut up dissenting opinions! Because you only have THEORIES! But you have no PROOF! And Mars leads to Jupitor leads to Satern leads to URANUS! ASTROLOGY CAUSES SIN!

    Anyway, thanks Phil, shouting and cussing quickly leads away from useful, on-topic, (sometimes) intelligent discussion.

  6. DB

    Oh BA, you could post this a thousand times and a thousand times over it will be ignored as if it was never said in the first place. Only a few will listen, and those are generally the ones who knew about the rule in the first place.

    Now if they would just let us implant chips into everyones skulls that shocks the hell out of them for a good hour for ever rule they break when visiting a site… Wait, we’d just have a lot of people who die from continually shocking themselves, never once understanding why they got the shock in the first place…

  7. Michelle

    I learned pretty quick that reposting rules is useless. The best thing you can do is add a disclaimer above the commenting zone. Even then, the jerks will ignore it. Because, well, they came over to be just that!

    But if you put a disclaimer, then you can just ban their rears on sight. I mean, it’s straight in your face.

  8. Dusty59

    Wow, missed that one earlier… but it wasn’t hard to find.
    Nice troll you got there.
    Pretty typical M.O., and I think you responded appropriately.

  9. Yeah, comments are a tough one. I had some nasty comments at my blog as well, and I think that I went too far in editing them. Then my comments dried up. I have decided to just let people say what they are going to say and just not respond to comments that I dont want to. I can let other readers police people if they would like. It’s a tough call. Something that I did to help was I posted my agenda right there at the top of my blog just to get it out there so everyone knew what my whole point was.

  10. WayneH, I can’t believe I had to delete your comment because you used a swear word when replying to a post where I specifically say not to swear.

  11. Well, Phil, at least no-one has called you a genocidal maniac. That’s what happened to me this week. Sometimes I think I’ll just ignore the comments on my posts instead of trying to respond to any of them.

  12. Celtic_Evolution

    I’ve never minded debating and even heated discussion… many of the topics here are polarizing, and I find the debate often enlightening.

    What I get really sick of, and I know you do to, BA, is the constant and deliberate tactics used by the SAME people to simply attack you, BA, and whatever viewpoint you might have, regardless of what it is. They argue semantics and argue just for the sake of argument, not to argue any real point. I could give you a role-call pretty easily, but you all know who you are.

    There are too many intelligent, thoughtful people here on both sides of each issue to allow these people to continue to hijack the discussions and turn them into mud-slinging fests.

    Let’s try to continue having engaging, thought provoking, intelligent discussion and even debate. Keep up the good work, BA!

  13. Mo betta comments

    You’re battling human nature combined with anonymity, a combination that tends to bring out cowardly behaviour.

    My suggestion is to set things up such that the comments have to be approved by you before they are posted. That should make them think twice about what they are submitting. It spoils all their fun if their comments simply get deleted before anyone sees it. That feature is available on blogspot.

  14. You’re right about anonymity factor. It does bring out the idiot in some people.

    Although one would think most of the audience of this site would have more common sense, decency and manners.

  15. bassmanpete

    It spoils all their fun if their comments simply get deleted before anyone sees it.

    It also stops latecomers like myself getting frustrated at reading comments about a post that’s been deleted and wondering “What did he say?” :)

  16. Celtic_Evolution

    Not only that, but it creates a heck of alot of work for BA to read through each and every comment and approve it before it gets posted.

    Additionally, it gives the impression, however incorrect it may be, that the BA might just simply refuse to post comments if he disagrees with them. Most of us know that wouldn’t be true, but still…

    And it plays havoc with the flow of a conversation. If a change HAD to be made, I would be more in favor of registered users than comment approval. However, generally we police ourselves pretty well here and BA does a fairly good job of keeping things from ever getting really out of hand, so I’m OK with the occasional comment policy reminder if it keeps the conversation free and as open as possible.

  17. Nat

    I noticed that at the bottom of your page is says “This blog is protected by Dave’s Spam Karma 2: 77257 Spams eaten and counting…”
    I don’t know much about that, but I am assuming that it uses a program to delete spam. Is there a way for it to search for swear words and delete those comments as well?

    I figure if it’s possible, you might have already done it…. :)

    I agree that it gets annoying, thanks for being the nanny!

  18. Michelle

    Nat… from all the times I seen them I can tell you censorship filters help to nothing. When they notice that their words are censored or their posts don’t appear, they start using retarded alterations. You know, a space or a number instead of a letter. Or spelling it out.

  19. ric chalmers

    I’ve just begun posting only to help with a reasonable discussion of how badly our so called “Free Press” has failed us. What is going on? Ignorami w/ too much time on their furry hands to type on their borrowed computers? Relax Phil, cuz it’s only gonna get wurz. Do yer thing and say it out loud!!!

  20. JB

    Hi Phil,

    I agree with Michelle. Writing a post about “Posting Rules” does not work. It would be better to write your rules on the comment form. Near the “Submit Comment” would be ideal. But then again, those who prefer to be rude will ignore it anyway.

    Maybe you should consider putting on a WP plugin that will help you auto-moderate/auto-delete posts that contain swear words?

  21. Hoonser

    I may have been a shade harsh with my comment on the logo contest. Sorry.

  22. Richie

    Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Idiot

  23. Kitty

    Yeah, this isn’t a democracy!

    it’s Phil’s tyranny and frankly I like it!

    seriously, before Phil was born a space alien appeared to his mother and said “Phil’s mom, you must give your son the name ‘Bad Astronomer’ as he is destined for greatness!”

    Phil’s mom, being a good mom, decided that was a name that might get her child teased at school. But fearing the space alien and his advanced laser weapon technology, she decided “Bad Astronomer” was ok for a middle name.

    He is a wise and gifter astronomer and skeptic. As such, we should quietly worship his blog (I know I do). Not doing so can only bring the wrath of the space alien (don’t forget the advanced laser weapons).

  24. I also think it might be a good idea to add a short message right above the comment box (or somewhere near it): “Be polite!”

    Yeah, the people who are going to ignore the rules are still going to ignore it, but it might help with some other people who don’t mean to make inappropriate comments and are just in the habit and forget to moderate themselves.

    It’s too bad that such a thing must even be considered, but hey, it might help.

  25. Superstring

    Can I swear in Klingonese?

  26. joemono

    Oh my god, curse words!? WHAT EVER WILL WE DO?

  27. nih

    Real science swears every second or third word. If you use a really long word, there’s often swearing embedded in it to make up for the distinct pause in the swearing.

  28. Celtic_Evolution

    No need for the snark, joemono… as Phil has discussed many many times before, he’s not against cursing, per se, as a means of expression, and often links to sites that might be NSFW (while giving due warning)… but as he would like this site and its discussion threads to be able to be viewed and used in the classroom, foul language is not welcome.

    And if you’re capable… not necessary.

  29. C

    Fauxnetikz, the fourth “controversial topic” you forgot to mention is anything to do with Prince. :)

    I didn’t know that the BA uses this site in the classroom. I think that’s wonderful! And I’m actually glad that he posted this reminder about the rules, only because I swear like a sailor in everyday life and sometimes I forget not to swear in public. So, it’s a good reminder for someone like me who is polite and kind but, uh, a potty mouth.

    I think others here are correct in assuming that people who comment with the intent to demoralize and inflame will do so no matter what, but I still think it’s good to get the rules up and center. Then you can say “I told you so already” when giving them the what for.


  30. Quiet Desperation

    I think a couple of my posts got nuked as collateral damage. :-( And me being such a sweet guy and all.

    Flush the toilet when you’re done, or, better yet, don’t foul the place up in the first place.

    I’m sorry, but all I read here is that fact that you don’t let guests use your bathroom, and they have to hold it until they get home. 😉

  31. Hungarian

    Maybe you should use a Battlestar Galactica filter that changes every bad word to “frak”.

  32. Ed Davies

    For some reason all of my comments on this site get held up as spam. Maybe this one will be the first exception but I’d be interested to know why. Non-US IP address or e-mail address?

  33. overstroming

    Phil says ‘Don’t be a jerk’
    Wil says ‘Don’t be a dick’

    Opening your site to the www for comments and hoping to keep it family friendly is a tall order, and you’ve been doing a superb job of it so far.

    As you site continues to grow you’re going to get more and more colourful language and passionate opinions, particularly on the hot topics.

    And on that note, Prince is a musical genius!

  34. Ed Davies

    Yep, it was held. What about this one….?

  35. LaCreption

    Phil for president

  36. overstroming

    Perhaps a registration policy will be required in the end, it’s not perfect either but it might stop casual passers-by from posting inappropriate remarks.

    BoingBoing’s comment box has the following:

    “Warning: Anonymous messages are held for moderation. This could take a (long) while. Or your comment may not be posted at all. Please consider creating an account and logging in. It’s fast, free, and we don’t spam, ever.”

    Don’t know how effective it is but it strikes me that the appeal of making a smart-ass instant comment on a blog such as yours would be tempered if you had to go through a registration procedure or thought that it was going to be moderated.

    Blog entries have a short lifespan all you need to do is introduce a delay for first time users and maybe most flamers and trolls will be deterred?

    Keep up the good work and don’t let the $%#@$#s grind you down!

  37. Hannu Siivonen

    Phil you’re being silly. People who are too morons to be polite just because it’s the right thing to do, wouldn’t know how to be polite, when told to. Your policy is great for people who don’t really need it.

    Strick rules are used in internet discussions (when used) because rude people don’t understand “vague” words like “polite”

  38. Jarrad

    is poobum a swear word?

    to me its just a fact. think about it…

    okay i stop being a smart alec.


  39. Marco Langbroek

    overstroming wrote: “Don’t know how effective it is but it strikes me that the appeal of making a smart-ass instant comment on a blog such as yours would be tempered if you had to go through a registration procedure”

    Alas no, my experience from other “critical” fora with a registration procedure is that morons will simply register and spout their drivel, then get banned, re-register under another name, get banned, re-register….ad infinitum

  40. SourBlaze

    Ah, yes. The Internet is such serious business.

    In all seriousness, people seem to think they should be allowed to do whatever they want and say whatever they want because this is a website om the Internet.

    Here’s the problem: Most websites are private property. Just as stepping on private property IRL means you don’t have free speech anymore, so it also goes on the Net. Once you log onto or “modify” a private website (by posting comments), all free speech arguments are moot. It’s “their” website. On private property (including websites) the 1st Amendment no longer applies.

    So if people dislike BA’s comment policy, tough. No free speech rights here. If they dislike it so much then they should go buy their own server and hold whatever they want on it.

  41. Cory

    As they say, there’s a lot of human nature in humans…..

  42. Goodcarver

    Well, here it is Sunday morning and I’m drinking my 2nd cup of coffee and reading (with some delight) my various computer-generated blogs, and most particularly, the Bad Astronomer, who has consistently entertained and educated me over the time I have subscribed. Phil, I am truly amazed that some moron would take the opportunity to insult and/or demean the value of you and your blog. It’s really amazing to me that cretins such as that actually know how to turn on a computer to begin with and tho I don’t know, I’m willing to bet that misspellings abounded in their diatribe. BTW, I heard you on the Late Night program with I believe Ian Punnit (?) the other evening and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the truly valuable information you have shared w/all of us including the amazing photos of a universe which I marvel at each time they are presented. One of those beauties graces my desktop and provides perfect contrast so I’m able to clearly see the white lettering which defines each icon. Again, I’ve learned so much from the BABlog that I feel like I’ve taken a course at a prestigious university, and I’m grateful for it. ” Keep on truckin’ “as they say and give me more.

  43. chief

    It’s interesting. I wonder what the ratio of the ones who are using the harsh words to get their point across. The sciences covered within this site (and as a whole) don’t resort to bad language to explain the facts and viewpoints behind the reasoning. so score one for our side. On the other side (religion) how many posts are deleted because they are trying to counter point but using strong language. I thought the point of a religion was tolerance and understanding. don’t think it is working for you guys if you have to use a hammer to discuss your opinions.

  44. Eunomiac

    Hey BA! A few years ago, I was one of those nasty commenters (well, once), and I just wanted to say that I’ve long seen the error of my way. Sure, people might not agree with everything you say, and people might prefer to come here and see purely astronomy stuff, but it’s YOUR blog and I join Voltaire in defending it :-)

    Is there any way you could set up a “bad comments bin” or something that you could move inappropriate comments to, instead of deleting them outright? That would serve three purposes: first, it would let you clear out any negative comments without actually censoring them. Second, it would serve as a nice, illustrative example of the sort of thing you won’t tolerate (so people who accuse you of being a tyrant can see just what you’re being tyrannical about). Third, it would, over time, become an entertaining repository of vitriol for everyone to peruse!

  45. It never ceases to amaze me just how some folks will act if they think they are anonymous enough.

    I have no problems following the rules laid out on any website. It’s not my house and being respectful isn’t really that difficult.

  46. Radwaste

    I notice that when the subject is other people, then things get nasty. The things Dr. Phil puts up professionally are just too astonishing to cause anything but drooling; in such cases he is obviously the expert and not subject to second-guessing.


  47. I don’t know if the internet is the cause of this but there seems to be a general decline in civil discourse. I applaud Phil’s attempt to restore it. If we want Phil’s message to reach classrooms, the comments must be such that net nannies will not block it. Besides, civil discourse tends to lead to courteous behavior elsewhere. It creates good habits. I try to keep profanity out of my everyday speech. I remember one day when I swore at work and my boss remarked, “Bob, I think that’s the first time I have ever heard you swear.” I apologized and pointed out that I was REALLY upset. The bad situation was almost immediately corrected because my boss realized that this was VERY important to me.

  48. Sue Mitchell

    In the first place, I never post a message that I can’t put my name to – my real name, that is.

    Secondly, I could go and post snarky comments on religious sites – tell them how wrong they are and what the truth really is, but I don’t because it would be a waste of my precious time. They already have their own version of the truth and they ain’t going to change it on account of something I say. {g} Suggest any fundamentalist creationists here do likewise.

    Finally, if you’re visiting someone else’s ‘home’ and they ask you not to use bad language where young people might see, then to go right ahead and cuss and swear, is just rank bad manners – like running into their garden (yard) and trampling all over their flowers.

    As a rule of thumb, mess up your own ‘home’ if you must, but don’t mess up other people’s.

  49. Yossarian

    The government is not allowed to restrict free speech, as per the constitution, right?

    So I’ve been thinking…

    Phil Plait is a well-known shill for NASA. Spreading disinformation through his website and all that.

    Since he’s acting as a government agent, he shouldn’t be able to moderate or delete posts AT ALL!

    Think about it! (But not too much)

  50. That’s what I get for commenting on a post two hours after reading it. Sorry Phil!

  51. WarrenJ

    I approve of, and am heartily in agreement with your Policy. If I’m ever invited to your home, I promise to put the toilet seat down afterwards. I’m like that. :)

    Unfortunately morons abound. To paraphrase: “If you make something moron-proof, God(?) will simply make a better moron.”


  52. Ronn Blankenship

    Interestingly my e-mail this morning included a number of complaints from folks on another list because in order to avoid any possibility of some recipients being offended I had edited a forwarded item by changing the word “damn” in the original to “darn” . . .

    (And if anyone cares, yes, the above is my real name.)

  53. Thanny

    How about you just require registration to post? It’s not foolproof by any means, but it will stop the lazy ones.

  54. Scooter


    Maybe you could look into having two or three people you trust help monitor the comments sections. Possibly friends or fellow bloggers you work with that live different scheules than you. You have to sleep sometime, and its easy for someone like me, on third shift, to bury your site in filth while you’re sleeping.

    Just a thought.

  55. quasidog

    Does ‘be polite’ include being polite to creationists even if you think their arguments are ridiculous? Sometimes I think the sarcasm can be a bit cutting and rude.

  56. Sue Mitchell

    I think you’re probably safe there, quasidog. :-)

    Sarcasm would probably fly straight over the head of anyone dumb enough to fall for creationism/ID. It’ll probably be reported later as a low-flying alien spacecraft.

    Of course, if anyone is seriously worried about this, he – or she – could always stick to gentle irony. 😉

  57. Nigel Depledge

    Michelle said:
    “Nat… from all the times I seen them I can tell you censorship filters help to nothing. When they notice that their words are censored or their posts don’t appear, they start using retarded alterations. You know, a space or a number instead of a letter. Or spelling it out.”

    Then, of course, there are problems like those encountered by the town council of Scunthorpe when setting up their website*.

    * Please, just work it out for yourselves. If you don’t get it – I congratulate you on remaining innocent in an age when vulgarity has become so commonplace.

  58. Will. M

    I think euphemisms should be avoided as well, since they’re only poorly-disguised substitutes for what you actually intend: “frak,” “gol darnit,” “cripes,” “snafu,” and the endless text-message initials which abound and which are by now just as offensive as the words they have replaced. But that’s just me; if you intend to say it, say it, and don’t pussyfoot around. Of course, be aware you’ll be edited and perhaps banned if you can’t cease such disrespectful behavior. Our English language has a dictionary full of really choice words which will more than convey whatever thought, idea, emotion, etc. you could possibly want, and there’s a thesaurus to help you find them if they don’t come readily to mind. Of course, using such tools might be a trial for some…

  59. StevoR

    I’ve just got one thing to say about this : @!@#$%$@##%%##@#! 😉


    Actually I see both sides here.

    Coarse or sailor-like language is so commonly used and so inescapable these days that anyone unaware of it really must have been living in a cave. Plus I really don’t think people have a right NOT to be offended or to have everything so nanny-sanitised it becomes meaningless pap devoid of passion or strength. Wowsers give me .. well the same sort of thing dysentery does! 😉

    Quite frankly, those who are over-fussed by & hyper-sensitive to swearing are (often if not always) hypocritical neurotics who can take a long walk off a short jetty as far as I’m concerned! 😉

    (Refer to Mary Whitehouse {spelling?} in the UK around the 70’s~80’s? for example & the superb “Goodies” send-up of her.)

    Euphemisms (eg. frak, gosh-durn, etc ..) can be handy even creative & kinda fun but yes, they are – as someone else noted here – weasel words hiding what we really think and pulling punches. Lets call our spades spades folks!

    On the Other Hand though :

    Yes, it _is_ Phil’s blog – he does have the right to set his rules for it& be respected. What Phil says & wants for his own blog goes & I’ve no argument with that. By and large he does an excellent job with this site.

    Moreover excessive rudeness and obscenity is neither pretty nor clever nor good at all. Respect and consideration for people is not just making everything more pleasant for everyone but it also makes your point much more effective into the bargain. Name calling and invective can entertain sometimes if done well – it very rarely if ever persuades or convinces.

    Plus we’ve got the whole classroom use point.

    Its balancing act & a tricky one which I reckon the BA generally gets pretty much right. :-)

    I try to abide by the BA’s rules here.
    I try to be respectful and polite.
    I may not always succeed .. 😉
    … But I *do* try.

    I even make sure I use ‘unaided eye’ rather than naked eye for telescope /binoc_less astronomy! 😉

    NB. One of the many perils of a net-nanny system is that for using ‘that one word that refers to an unclothed state + eye’ many astronomy sites apparently get blocked! Truly. 😉

  60. Joker

    Reminds me of the one where a woman is joining the nuns.

    She’s climbing the mountain to the nunnery and stubs her toe

    “OH EFF!” She yells

    Then “Oh Sheet I said F!”
    Then “Oh eff I said Sheet!”

    Then “Oh stuff it I didn’t really want to be a nun anyway ..” and she walks back down the mountain again. 😉

    When it comes to stopping swearing I think its a losing fight … like it cor not. :-(

  61. StevoR

    Did the BA say this … :

    “The past few days have seen a large number of people commenting on this site who have been jerks, who have moaned and groaned over nothing, and who have been, really, just negative nellies about everything.”

    … Or was that really Ned Flanders?! 😉

    Negative Nellies … What the ..! 😉

  62. Buzz Parsec

    To keep the sexist stereotypes correct, I believe it is “nervous nellies” and “negative nancys”…

  63. kimmy

    I am new here. I have been here for a few weeks.
    I enjoyed you comments about criticism.
    In my trade (HVAC/R) I was taught that an apprentice can teach a mechanic as much as a mechanic can teach an apprentice.
    We are always learning.
    33 years of experience and I am still learning. Just as you are.
    No-one knows everything, especially me. But I am trying.
    Just as you are.
    Keep up the great work!

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