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Toward a Personal Theory of Comment Moderation

It seems like I learn a new lesson every week about Social Justice. These lessons are never new to anyone else, often they are things I’ve been hearing from other people without ever seeing how they apply to me. This is why personal wisdom is not a science. In science, a discovery only needs to be made once, by one person, in order for the entire world to build upon it. They may replicate it out of intellectual curiosity or to learn the foundations of a long-standing theory, but that one moment only needs to happen once. Otherwise, every Biologist would need to sail around the Galapagos to understand Evolution.

But, wisdom is different. You must root it in personal experience, you must earn it with a series of mistakes, must toil for it with blood, sweat, and fuckups. Here is what I learned this week about the comments section:

Just because I, personally, have the intellectual muscle and linguistic deftness to immolate every single asshole on the Internet, one at a time, with surgical precision, doesn’t mean I would ever have the time to. There is an economy of effort that is inherent in trolling. I write what I think is a calm, thought out, well-reasoned explication of the ways in which [Marginalized Group] is marginalized, and some person responds with some variation of “nuh-uh,” and now I’ve got to be all “Look at me, I’m GMFG, and I troll for blahdity-blee” and while that is emotionally fulfilling and lends itself to endless squealing (“OMG I love Garland he’s so awesome!”) it is still me expending far too much energy crafting a personalized reply to something that could have been written by an automated troll bot.

When I weigh this time against the time I could be spending to actually drawing people’s attention to shit that is revolting or nasty, it is instantly apparent to me why I am essentially the Magnavox Odyssey of every writing circle I inhabit. A few people have heard of me. Some have fond memories. But I spend far too much time fighting these low-level monsters and almost no time tackling larger topics. I’m in that state in the RPG where you’re walking around with all the badass armor and the giant sword you crafted from the blood of malevolent wizards, and you return to your home castle to open a door that you just found the ability to open, and as you’re leaving, you hear the noise that lets you know you are entering a battle sequence, and it’s a motherfucking Level 1 Blob. The kind you cut your teeth on, the kind you killed for hours leveling up before leaving your home castle. And, pffft, no problem, easily dispatched (with magic missile, for old times’ sake.) It gives you NO experience to speak of, but you kill it, and move on.

For some reason, I am still killing Level 1 Blobs. That’s stupid. I’m not doing that anymore.

If the past two years of political discourse have taught me anything, it is that quixotically holding yourself to a level of intellectual rigor and fairness and expecting your opponents to do the same is a waste of time. With that in mind, I am setting a standard for comment moderation particular to my posts. I am going to write that standard out, and then I am going to follow it. If a comment doesn’t meet this standard, I’m not going to approve it, and if it slips through, I will delete it if it sits unchallenged in the comment thread for long enough.

Disagreement is fine. Disagreement is healthy. But just as I wouldn’t expect the professor of an Chemistry class to spend an hour defending the legitimacy of the periodic table, I’m not going to debate the following points:

Gender Essentialism: If your comment can be boiled down to “Women and people outside the gender binary don’t enjoy the same rights as Men because that is simply the natural order of things” you aren’t getting through, bub. Feminism is the passcode to Tiger Beatdown. If you don’t agree that it is a valid system of belief, you aren’t going to comment on any thread that I am the author of.

The Existence of Rape Culture, Privilege, The Patriarchy, or The Kyriarchy: This will save you, and us, a lot of time. Because you will never win these arguments. Most of the day to day work of Feminism is illuminating the ways in which these concepts play themselves out in the real world. One of the frequent problems marginalized people have is constantly being asked to prove that these things exist, on the spot, like none of you can do this research on your own.

Whether or not we, as a community, deserve to have spaces free from your fuckery: Again, this is a problem that marginalized people are forced to deal with on a daily basis. And while we respect the immense amount of time you have spent crafting little thought experiments about how insular groups tend to turn into philosophical daisy chains, that argument ignores the actual lived experience of ever single Social Justice writer in the history of ever. Just because you swoop on in from the recesses of the Internet, without seeing the intense level of internal debate and contention we are wracked with, to tell us all we’ve done is set up a little area where we can be right all the time doesn’t mean your opinion is valid. We spend a lot of time debunking this theory, and we do so because we are sensitive to that sort of argument. We want to be intellectually rigorous people, especially since SO MUCH of our time is spent arguing with people who don’t pay us the same courtesy.

People’s Bodies: Are not open for debate. Not what they are, not what they do with them. Attacking someone’s idealogical integrity must be done with respect and tact; attacking someone’s body is beyond the pale.

Moderation Instructions: Don’t ignore them.

This is meant to save time. Approving and debunking these comments on a regular basis takes quite a lot of time. The only reason to do it is that we might possibly enlighten someone or change their mind, but it is a particular characteristic of marginalized people that we even think we have to. No one on the Beatdown should have to educate these people on the fundamentals of Social Inequality, and we certainly shouldn’t be feeding the trolls. Because it is far too easy for the Trolls to get us worked into a lather and then disappear cackling into the night. This shit is unproductive. And this is where it ends.

28 Comments

  1. Mongoose6 wrote:

    Garland, great plan! Over at Femonomics, we don’t write often enough to get malicious trolls, but we still occasionally get the plain uninformed kind. Since the feminist blogosphere has spent a lot of time fighting trolls, I wonder if we could just collect the best responses ever, and create a linkroll? Sort of a shared service for the internet, so that the work of trollfighters before us can be leveraged by all? Myself and Coca Colo will start one over at our blog, I think…

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  2. 300baud wrote:

    Bravo.

    Regarding the gender essentialism bit, I’ve just given up and started linking people to pages on the naturalistic fallacy every time they do that. What’s natural doesn’t tell us anything about what’s right.

    Another handy thing to link clueless people to is this:

    http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  3. K__ wrote:

    I’m in that state in the RPG where you’re walking around with all the badass armor and the giant sword you crafted from the blood of malevolent wizards, and you return to your home castle to open a door that you just found the ability to open, and as you’re leaving, you hear the noise that lets you know you are entering a battle sequence, and it’s a motherfucking Level 1 Blob.

    and yet ironically your handle is Garland, the first & last evil boss of one of the games you’re talking about. I just thought that was funny.

    My moderation policy is ad-hoc. Sometimes I’ll let questionable comments go through if it looks like they came from someone who has gone through something similar to whatever I’m talking about and the questionable bits are outnumbered by the not-questionable parts. Not everyone who reads my blog is advanced in feminist studies, after all. I may or may not then address the questionable bits in follow up comments.

    It’s rare, but it has happened that I’ve gotten maybe… 2 or 3 comments so far that were so questionable as to render them irredeemable, and they remain in moderation. It’s a shame.

    Other times, obvious troll is obvious, to the point of making me laugh. I got one today in fact, I’m tempted to let it go through just to show how ridiculous the comment is! But then I’m like, no, I won’t feed this one. Because what if the troll comes back looking for more, I don’t have time to deal with this shit.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  4. Garland Grey wrote:

    @K: Sorry, swooning SO HARD that you managed to look past the spell incongruity that I threw in to throw people off and knew exactly what game I was talking about.

    Oh, absolutely, my process is similar – sometimes people are saying things that are true to their own lives or experience, and even though they are using language that makes me a bit squirmy, I don’t think that should expel them from the discourse. But those people are very rarely the same people who disagree on the bedrock principles of the discussion. Like, don’t sign up for a cooking class if you are against the use of heat in the kitchen.

    So to speak.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  5. Meredith wrote:

    Thank you. I think that this is more productive for everyone. TBD is not exactly Feminism 101, you know? There is no need to rehash the same arguments every week.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  6. j7sue wrote:

    2 thoughts: Could the best responses thing be called something like Trollspells 101? that would be way cool.

    spaces free from fuckery: as a transsexual woman, I am unfortunately reminded of the radfem “trans women are not proper women, they were made in test tubes” meme. I hope I’m included, if it’s a woman only space, and I hope it’s my choice who’s doing the fuckery if it’s a trans woman only space.

    I expect you’ll think of a few more as time goes on, but this is great.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  7. brigidkeely wrote:

    I enjoy all of tbd, all the contributing authors, and am glad to have everyone here. But you are my favorite and I have one million hearts for you. These rules sound very lovely and productive.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  8. tba wrote:

    I like periodic table metaphor.

    you should copy that post into your comment faq, for easy reference. so nobody can get away with “I didn’t know that..”

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  9. Sooz wrote:

    Word. The fewer 101 boneheads we have around trying to derail, the more we’ll be having the more interesting conversations!

    Or just a nice place where we can all say, “WORD!”

    Or both. :D

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  10. Kathy wrote:

    @K

    “My moderation policy is ad-hoc. Sometimes I’ll let questionable comments go through if it looks like they came from someone who has gone through something similar to whatever I’m talking about and the questionable bits are outnumbered by the not-questionable parts.”

    I do this too. I don’t get too many comments, so I can approve or delete each individual comment without worrying that it’s disturbing the flow of my site, but I’m pretty lenient if there’s no obvious trolling or vitriol involved. I’ve made my share of boneheaded comments, so I’m willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

    That being said, I’m a full believer in the having comments stay in a queue until they’re approved. Years ago, I was a mod on a message board whose tenor was anything goes, and it was a nightmare trying to keep things civil.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  11. number eight wrote:

    I get this completely.

    While it’s about a slightly different problem, I don’t know if you’ve read restructure!’s post about The Ethics of Comment Moderation? I thought it hit something I hadn’t realized before, though it had actually happened to me. Plus, there’s a link in the comments to a great bibliography from 2008, on Dealing with hate speech, flaming, and trolls (I hope I’m getting the links right).

    Monday, November 8, 2010 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  12. orlando wrote:

    Mongoose, I think what you are looking for is the Finally a Feminism 101 Blog. Here it is:
    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

    Monday, November 8, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  13. Casie wrote:

    I needed to hear that. for my sanity. because i never hear this from anyone. ever. so, hooray! and thanks!

    Monday, November 8, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink
  14. Kate wrote:

    Personal wisdom: what you get after banging your head against the wall of ‘I know better than this’.

    Ask me how I know!

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink
  15. BP wrote:

    the thing is that these are also the rules around general communication for me; if you are into and/or in denial of the existence of the kyriarchy, if you live in a gender essentialist personal reality, soaking in your unacknowledged privilege and insist upon giving me your opinions about me and my life from that hellish little box then you need to GO, and nothing you have said has any significance to me.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  16. Emily wrote:

    I’m not sure which game you’re referencing, but in my mind I imagined Ness returning home with the Gutsy Bat and encountered a Rabid Dog or a Crazy Hippie.

    Good moderation policy. As a comment moderator myself beholden to a liberal approval policy dictated by persons with more authority than me, I cringe daily at the kind of garbage I have to let through.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  17. This post was brought to my attention by the director of a large nonprofit for which I often try to volunteer with various levels of success. Over the summer I was involved in a debate about the unexplained loss of some of our most important contributors (as part of a “Community Health” strategy initiative) and so in accordance with the community policies, I searched the peer reviewed secondary medical literature reviews and found this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18173973

    My question to you: Would you approve of discussion on those topics? Or would that be excluded on the “what people do with their bodies” grounds?

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  18. sossajes wrote:

    thank you, this kind of policy is why i enjoy reading the comments at TBD. they are often wonderful additions to the essay/post, and i frequently learn as much in the comments as i do in the content.
    also, did you realize your name fits perfectly in the meter for “god bless ye merry gentlemen”? really, just sub in garland grey for gentlemen & you’ve got a hit carol for the new millennium.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  19. helpful filker wrote:

    god bless ye merry garland grey
    let nothing you enrage
    remember you can killfile folks
    until they act their age
    let not their rank assholery
    mess up your comments page
    o tidings of comfort and joy!

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  20. strato wrote:

    I have a pretty strong scientific background, and I am a geek.

    I say, everytime a comment enters one of the abovementioned cathegories, add 1 to an excel (or origin) column. Then make a histogram. Then publish it for our intellectual fun.

    What do you think?

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:40 am | Permalink
  21. Mongoose6 wrote:

    Thanks Orlando! This blog is exciting – I know what I’ll be doing this weekend :-)

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  22. Abbey wrote:

    Yeah, like, I agree with your well-reasoned and articulate arguments against gender and all… BUT I THINK WOMEN JUST LIKE JEWELRY AND SHOES, AND MEN ARE ASSHOLES BECAUSE OF THEIR GENES, LOL.

    Status quo 4 lyfe!!

    Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  23. Lilster wrote:

    I used to spend so much time reading this site & taking it to heart, and then I realized how much the comments are curated and it kind of killed it for me. It seems like the only comments that go up are “OMG I love you guyyzzz!!!” After a while it made it impossible to read, and the fact the first time I come back to the site, telling myself to get over that nagging “big brother is watching” vibe and enjoy the writing, y’all are still patting your own backs for censorship…its really funny and sad. Its strange such a good site can be so insecure. I don’t think blog writers should troll their comment section. You should provoke thoughts, not police them.

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  24. Sady wrote:

    @Lilster: Dude, it’s our space. If negativity impedes productivity — which it really, demonstrably does and has — then we have every right to make this space safer for ourselves. That said: Go back and look at how many comments calling me names or accusing me of things I have personally clicked “approve” on, and then tell me how much I love to censor people. Here’s a hint: I had to click a button approving your comment before it could show up. I had a choice there. I didn’t owe you the button-click. AND YET!

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  25. Garland Grey wrote:

    @Lilster: WOOHOO! My first opportunity to used my prefabricated comment moderation policy:

    “Just because you swoop on in from the recesses of the Internet, without seeing the intense level of internal debate and contention we are wracked with, to tell us all we’ve done is set up a little area where we can be right all the time doesn’t mean your opinion is valid.”

    Quite right, past tense me! Additionally, complaining about some nebulous form of censorship without making specific critiques reads to me as “I wanted to say something offensive, but it doesn’t look like you’d put up with that, so WHIIIIIIIIIIINE.” If you have a problem with the specifics OF the policy, I’d love to hear them, but complaining that there IS a policy is essentially saying that all of the points contained therein aren’t valid. Ya know?

    Friday, November 12, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  26. Lilster wrote:

    I don’t have anything offensive to say. I used to read this site several times a day all the time, sent it to all my friends male and female, and was all about it. Its just the lack of dissenting comments weirds me out. Knowing that even recipe blogs have vicious, negative comments, it makes the space you’ve created positive in an unsettling way, like a photo-shopped cover where the head and the body are slightly mismatched. Personally, I know I’ve written comments that were not negative or flame-warsy, and never saw the light of day, so I ask myself, if my innocuous comments didn’t make it up, what else isn’t going up? And the fact that my last comment going up was a boon when it was entirely civil and in Mr. Grey’s words “nebulous” only reinforces that impression. you’re going to do what you do, you have a great skill & writing prowess, I’d be all over a book you wrote, but I can’t handle the blog. Too much energy going into replies and comments. And feel free to tell me to run my own blog and I can call the shots when I get my own domain etc. etc. Fine. You don’t have to post this comment and I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t go up. Just have enough faith in your readers that a critical/negative/dissenting voice doesn’t lessen your impact. It actually makes you look like the bigger lady.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  27. Sady wrote:

    @Lilster: Actually, we don’t get as many shitty misogynist comments as we used to, I think just because we have a reputation for raking those dudes over the coals. When somebody’s mean to one of the guest posters, I don’t publish the comments, because I want them to have a positive experience here. Your comments may not have gone up because they contained certain trigger words that tend to get people yelling at each other, which I try to avoid, because it’s a headache. But I do publish pretty much everything negative that anyone says about me, for the record. The thing is: People get yelled at in comment sections. People take those things personally. (I sure do!) People have been reduced to tears by comments about them in the past. And what happens then is that they stop posting. I definitely know that it’s harder for me to pitch places and to write for those places if I know I’m going to get raked over the coals by the commenters. I value the people who contribute to this space enough that I don’t want them to burn out or to be afraid of posting here. I want to preserve a space where they can thrive. If you posted here, you would receive the same consideration. But if your problem is that there aren’t ENOUGH people saying negative things to me, I’m really not sure what to tell you. I’m sorry people are nice more often than they’re mean? I guess?

    Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  28. Other Becky wrote:

    When it comes to feminist blogs, I ONLY read ones with heavily moderated comment sections. For an example of what happens when it’s not moderated, check the epic “Fat Princess” threads at Shakesville, http://helpfulcomments.tumblr.com/ [TW], or [Biggest TW in the whole fucking world] http://shakesville.wordpress.com/2007/05/11/rape-is-hilarious/ — be sure to read all the way down. If you still haven’t vomited yet, try the sequel [TW above still applies], http://shakesville.wordpress.com/2007/05/11/rape-is-hilarious-part-ii/

    That’s why they moderate here. That’s why I don’t read feminist blogs with unmoderated comments.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink