The New Moderated–and Moderate–Intersection

By Chris Mooney | July 15, 2010 12:04 pm

I have to say: Since we ruthlessly banned a lot of bad actors over the past week or so, discussions at the Intersection have been quite civil and productive. See, for example, this thread. Or this one.

And something else has occurred, too–I actually find myself commenting on my own blog again. I’d largely stopped doing it (and largely stopped paying detailed attention to most comments) because anything I’d say would be pored over, twisted, bent, attacked, and so on. So saying anything at all seemed a waste of time.

This has been a learning experience for me. My initial outlook in the blogosphere, and one I held for a very long time, was that I should err on the side of letting everyone who wanted to post do so rapidly, without hinderance. Only after the fact, and after much clear and undeniable abuse of the privilege, should I or Sheril step in and moderate or ban.

But I now see that perhaps this was not right at all. Moderating all comments here takes much more work, and creates more delay; but so far, it also ensures better discussion.

The ideal approach, I think, would be if some commenters could become “trusted” and get to post immediately, because they have developed such a good track record. I can already identify some such participants–like, say, Jon and Rob Knop and David Wescott on the latest thread–and I wish I could automatically give them this status, while continuing to moderate newcomers until they, too, become “trusted.”

However, on a technological level, Discover informs us that such an arrangement isn’t yet possible. But, it’s something we’re definitely going to push for. That is, currently, the state of affairs on commenting at the Intersection; and while I regret that there are delays in seeing your posts appear, I think the glass is still more than half full.

We will update if there are any further developments on commenting policies.


Comments (33)

  1. Guy

    It’ll probably drive some the AGW conspiracy theorists crazier (if that’s possible). They’ll say that they got banned from yet another “alarmist” blog.

    I don’t mind moderation. It’s a good thing.

  2. Forum civility is a long standing problem, largely bred by anonymity. Check out this article from a recent attempt by gaming giant Blizzard’s recent fumbled attempt at tackling the problem.

    They got it mostly correct, with the exception of using real names. You can still give people unique identifiers without releasing their names. You can rank posts and their likeliness to be viewed is based on their ranking. There is a reason I linked Kotaku’s article on the issue. Despite being a site about gaming, which has some of the worst Internet behavior, their forums are superb. I largely read that site for the comments over the articles.

    Now, as much as I love Discover Magazine and all the associated blogs, their website could use a massive upgrade. In particular the blogs! I have written the webmaster here with suggestions but never heard anything back.

    Some suggestions for the topic at hand:
    Allow logins, these users get priority on moderation.
    Anonymous posts are still allowed but may get delayed longer (your preferred user suggestion)
    Allow rankings of comments and have the software reflect a posts rank (poorly ranked filter to the bottom or greyed out).

  3. JohnV

    I would think that permitting some commentors to have their comments instantly show up while others require moderation would lead to fragment comment threads and accidental misattribution/confusion, assuming after approval comments went to the time they were submitted. If they were just put at the end (time of approval) then you’d end up with people looking like jerks who don’t read comment threads before asking a question or providing an answer :p

    On the plus side I’ve almost never commented here so it wouldn’t have any impact on my practices but I did notice a comment thread the other day and thought it was amazing to have people disagreeing with each other without it turning into lord of the flies.

  4. Joe

    This would be a fantastically ironic place to start a flame war.

    I lurked for a long time, and just started commenting. It’s much more engaging when an author interacts with their own blog, answers their tweets, etc. If we wanted one-way news I think that many people would stick to the traditional outlets. Glad you feel comfortable down here in the basement (you know, below the entry) . . . it helps the discussion, even if it is difficult to keep up with.

  5. ChrisD

    Chris, this isn’t directly relevant, but it’s as good a place as I’ve seen to make the request:

    Some of the Discover blogs (e.g., Bad Astronomy) allow posters to edit their comments for 15 minutes after submission. This can be very helpful in fixing typos, bad HTML, etc.

    Since this appears to be a feature of the Discover software, is it something you can enable?

  6. ChrisD

    [A]nything I’d say would be pored over, twisted, bent, attacked, and so on.

    So you must have some sympathy with Dr. Pachauri’s position even though you didn’t like it. :)

  7. ChrisD

    @JohnV 3

    I would think that permitting some commentors to have their comments instantly show up while others require moderation would lead to fragment comment threads and accidental misattribution/confusion

    Some sites do this (MediaMatters is one). It causes occasional minor confusion, but as long as the moderation process is reasonably quick, it doesn’t really cause as much of a problem as you would think.

    But all bets are off if moderation isn’t quick and efficient.

  8. David

    I think it would be better also to allow a few minutes to edit your post like is on the other discover blogs.

  9. Chris Mooney

    Thanks everybody. I’ve asked Discover about the feature related to editing posts.

    and John @3–that was precisely the intention. No more lord of the flies. That can be our new motto.

  10. Hitch

    Let me be candid and say clearly that I dislike where this has been going. I am worried that you list Jon as a positive example, when I felt he troll-baited me in the other thread by mischaracterizing my position.

    I thought the idea was to promote civility. Will this really achieve it or will it create a two-class system. Those who have a stamp of approval and those who have to worry if a certain type of criticism is not deemed acceptable?

    And the second problem is of course at the very core. Some people’s unfeathered criticism is another person’s rude comment.

    I am worried that people get moderated not only for their discussion contribution but also because they do not meet certain ideological norms. This may not be overt or intentional, but part of a subjective notion. Still I do not like this two-class system idea, especially looking at the names that were listed as good cases. It does give the impression that not only the style but the ideology played a role in their mentioning.

  11. Chris Mooney

    Here is what looks to be an interesting discussion of online civility, about “cyber mobs”

  12. Jon

    Hitch, I didn’t know I misrepresented your position. Point it out to me if it happens again.

  13. Hitch

    I will. For reference I mean the Marxism thing.

  14. Chris Mooney

    Well that was easy. It appears the commenting feature just had to be switched on, and now has been.

  15. “I am worried that people get moderated not only for their discussion contribution but also because they do not meet certain ideological norms.”

    This is a concern of mine too, we should welcome opposing views. That is why I prefer the post ranking system. Sure it becomes a bit of a “mob rules” issue then but I don’t think there is a perfect solution. This way the official moderators only have to deal with the most egregious issues and takes their bias out of it (to a degree).

  16. Anthony McCarthy

    The owners of a blog get to regulate the content of their blog for any reasons and by whatever criteria they choose, evenhandedly or not. They can or cannot explain their reasons as they see fit. Or they can have an entirely open forum which they don’t regulate.

    People who don’t like those choices can get their own blog.

  17. ThomasL


    I like the edit ability, hopefully it will help with the slipped through typo’s. Moderation is fine with me, if I wanted to hang in the gutter I wouldn’t be here hoping to have my thinking challenged. Swear fests and personal flames are easy enough to find on the web, a decent place to have a conversation not so much.

    Heck, my responses are usually too long, so my posts almost always hang in moderation anyway :)

  18. David

    “I am worried that people get moderated not only for their discussion contribution but also because they do not meet certain ideological norms.”

    If that were the case, there are quite a few threads that would have gone poof in the past week or so. The only thing that makes this blog interesting enough to join into the conversation has been that for the majority it is civil and dissension is tolerated. I don’t agree with our hosts on many topics and I have never felt censored.

    Yay, Post editing feature tested and appreciated!!!

  19. i’ve had the same experience as chris mooney. i turned on moderation 2 years ago due to a particular offensive troll who i kept having to delete/ban (IP ban’s don’t work on the persistent). but it was a good move overall. and honestly, no offense hitch (are you the hitch from talk islam btw?), there are plenty of places to have unmoderated discussions. a diverse ecology is important. one person’s genius is another person’s ‘tard (i simply label all creationist comments as spam for example, i would rather not have someone that dull commenting on my blog).

  20. Nullius in Verba

    “I am worried that people get moderated not only for their discussion contribution but also because they do not meet certain ideological norms.”

    That apparently happens, but it isn’t a significant problem. Moderation just leads to a small probability of confused conversations, should things get out of sequence. (They can get pretty confused anyway, with people speaking from different contexts.) Banning would be a different matter.

    If you’re going to have a ranking system, then why not have an ideologically filtered ranking system? Not only the quality, but the ideology of the commenter is voted on. Then you can eliminate all right-wing views from your sight, or all anti-Malthusian views, or whatever it is you want. You could also filter based on votes by people of your chosen ideology.

    Ranking systems are all subject to abuse. This would be no exception. But it’s a nice idea.

  21. As co-owners of the blog, you and Sheril should do whatever it takes to make you comfortable with what kinds of commenters frequent it. If people can’t at least be civil, they don’t deserve to be heard in a place that someone else maintains; let them create their own home so they can crap in it to their heart’s content (and see if anyone bothers to visit it).

    I, for one, welcome our Intersection Overlords…. 😉 (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  22. Hitch

    Yeah, I occasionally try to not offend people on Talk Islam (sometimes failing unfortunately).

    If it was just plain trolling I’d agree. I think the situation here is a tad tricker. But I don’t think it’s worth rehashing the last few weeks worth of stuff just now. But I think it is worth saying that the moderation change here has a good chance to cut directly into one of the main debates that Chris himself is engaged in and perhaps leaving people who are critical of Chris’ position rather limited grounds to debate his point.

    After all style is one of the very things under contention, but also other things. So while naively moderation is fine, I think it is worth being careful of the context in this case.

    After all the whole mess started with a sock puppet agitating for one side. Now the other side is mostly subject to bans and moderation rejections. It is a little tricky as said. I’ll leave it at that.

    I am on the side of civil discourse but the ability to have unwelcome positions. I am not confident that we really have carved out that space, but that space is pretty much exactly what is under contention.

  23. ChrisD

    @Hitch 22

    Now the other side is mostly subject to bans and moderation rejections.

    You’re confusing me. Other than bilbo/et al, I’ve only seen mention of two other bans, and my understanding was that both of these occurred in the PBE (Pre-Bilbo Era). Is there someone else, or am I wrong about when these occurred?

    As to moderation rejections, I readily admit that I have not been following all this very closely, but I don’t remember seeing any evidence that there’s a disparity in moderation between “sides.” Did I miss something?

  24. Chris Mooney

    There have been bans and they may seem to correlate with “sides.” However, ideological view or position is not the basis for these bans–behavior is. And if you look at some of the commenters who comment here regularly, like GM, say, or Nullius, they obviously don’t agree with me.

    Indeed–you don’t agree with me, right?

  25. I tend to look positively on bloggers who comment in their own posts – it demonstrates respect for the reader and the community. Of course, moderating comments becomes a huge time suck if your blog is at all provocative. It’s also hard to be both a discussion participant and a discussion facilitator – for blogs with a lot of readers / comments, it gives your “adversaries” an out – they could suggest you’re simply banning the things that undermine your arguments, or whatever.

    The political blogs seem to have the most trouble with this.

  26. Sorbit

    Moderation is not a bad idea per se, but it comes with its dangers, not the least of which is that your blog can simply become a forum for yes-men. In my opinion, one of the saddest examples of a blog where this has happened is Romm’s Climate Progress where Romm often deletes even reasonable-sounding comments that criticize him or his views.

  27. Hitch

    Chris, I have insufficient basis to claim that I agree or disagree with you. In fact my suspicion is that we all are largely in agreement and the disagreement is in the details. I know nobody who I’m in full agreement with on everything.

    I certainly don’t like camp thinking and I certainly won’t put myself into a camp. Ideas and arguments matter, not positions. Part of why I am here is that I perceive people constructing these camps “New Atheists” and “Accommodationists” and then start stereotyping the camp, primarily negatively. I don’t think that’s a very good idea. If anything it helps to amplify exactly what I’d see as counterproductive. So in a sense I am outside that debate if you really want to look at it that way. But that would be camp thinking too.

    But as said, one person’s vigorous argument is another person’s bad behavior. It’s a fine line that I’ll be glad to admit I’m quite happy not having to contend defining for others.

  28. Anthony McCarthy

    I’m mostly in agreement with the owners of this blog on many, though not all issues but that hasn’t kept them from excluding some of my comments on occasion. And I’d imagine they were less than happy with some of those which they have allowed. The idea that they are in danger of viewpoints that differ from theirs being stifled is absurd.

    I participate in some blogs which are a free fire zone and some that are moderated to one extent or another. I generally prefer those with some level of moderation, even when some of my comments are excluded by the owners.

    The ruse of letting the readers decide who is banned and who isn’t is cowardly and dishonest, but making that choice is, still, a legitimate right of ownership of a blog.

    There are a couple of other commentators here who I think use multiple names and a couple who I’ve read on other blogs, misrepresenting what both the owners and other commentators here have said. I figure those are the kinds of chances you take when you post something on a blog thread.

  29. ChrisD

    Romm’s Climate Progress where Romm often deletes even reasonable-sounding comments that criticize him or his views

    I have to agree with you there. I like Joe and agree with him most of the time, but he’s a bit heavy -handed with the moderation. That doesn’t make for a good experience.

  30. That is why I prefer the post ranking system. Sure it becomes a bit of a “mob rules” issue then but I don’t think there is a perfect solution.

    I don’t think that would work well for this blog. Chris’s more controversial posts tend to draw readers via links from specific sites, like Pharyngula for the New Atheist posts and WUWT for posts on climate. The mobs in those cases aren’t exactly diverse in their range of opinions.

    What I do think would speed up moderation is if Chris had several trusted colleagues who had authority to OK comments. Otherwise, he and Sheril are going to get overwhelmed by the workload.

  31. Chris Mooney

    Yeah. That is a potential problem. Well, ok then, we could conceivably have a few trusted intersection comment moderation scouts, who would receive the password for the back end. Anyone volunteering? I guess along with this would go the ability to approve your own posts. I’m not saying I’m definitely anointing anyone this way, but I would consider it…for the right trusted person or persons.

  32. Brian Too

    I’m not sure this is the right place to raise the subject, but here goes. I’m basically OK with moderated forums. If it raises the tenor of debate then that’s what matters.

    What I find a barrier to commenting, is the lack of anonymous access. That’s a tricky one for sure I admit. You see I don’t mind being identified by a name, even a unique name. However reasons both personal and business mean that I vastly prefer anonymous commenting. I’ve dropped out of several web forums when they started requiring logins and ‘real world’ credentials. Even free sites raise a barrier when they do this.

    Here’s my problem. I may trust you and your site/company, to some reasonable degree. What I do not trust is others who may hack you and your site’s login database. This can lead to identity theft, misrepresentation, and spam. All things I profoundly wish to avoid.

    The only exceptions I make to my rule are important vendor relationships, many of whom have my data already.

  33. Tanya McPositron

    First, I’d like to go on record with this: I am absolutely to be trusted. So there’s that.

    Chris, I’m betting that once you put out an official mod-scout call, you’ll get a heap of replies, and some will be from your recognizable and trustable core.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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