Adding barriers to new posters for controversial blog entries?

BBS is as a de-facto system to comment on blog entries, which means that on the controversial blog entries, anything about gender, racism, sexism, gun control, bicycles vs cars, etcetera, suffers from the classic Ars :banana: problem:

:question: Did people even read the article before commenting on it?

It’s tough, becase as you will learn from that experiment, for many, many people, the answer is, sadly, no.

I’ve been floating various ideas to combat that effect for quite some time now, and I noticed that one of the ideas – a literal quiz you have to answer before you’re allowed to comment on the article – was finally implemented by someone, somewhere!

Of course this does not scale at all, unless you fancy the idea of writing a custom quiz for every single blog entry you post. But it’s a fun concept to explore!

I think table stakes here is to visually indicate new users in some way; Discourse has done this since forever using a light grey “dim” username to indicate the new user is sort of ghostly and not fully substantiated because they just arrived.


In addition to the mandatory quiz, some other ideas I had that I think might also work:

Show, for new users, how much time they spent reading the article next to their username when they comment.

Steam does this to great effect. For every review of a game on Steam, you’ll see a small indicator next to the user indicating how much of that game they actually played. This is quite brilliant! When you see a negative review from someone that spent 10 minutes with a game, that is a very different thing than a review from someone who spent 10 hours with it.

This is a little hairy because it requires the parent site to reliably track read time somehow.

Show, for new users, how many other posts they read in the topic next to their username when they comment

This is a related technique that’s a bit more meta, since it is about the discussion and not the original article. It would certainly let you know how interested commenters are in listening to other commenters (and not potentially duplicating or rehashing old topics) before chiming in with their own comments.

Of course you could do both #1 and #2 to cover all your bases; show both article read time in minutes, and comment read time (plus count) in minutes.


Require new users to read every comment (or a percentage of comments) before posting their own comment

This is certainly more draconian than the quiz, but also doesn’t require a custom set of content for every blog post. The only thing that gives me pause here is that, as the discussion gets bigger and bigger, this is an almost impossible bar. If there are 500 comments, is it realistic to expect a new commenter to read all 500 before posting? So perhaps a cap is in order; read at least 100 comments before being allowed to add a comment of your own, or something like that?


Require new users to rate a few random comments (by other new users?) before posting their own comment

This is the path of Civil Comments, but it’s unclear how dedicated they are to this approach as they appear to have pivoted pretty hard away from being a commenting system. I still love this approach overall, and I think it might scale better than the other 3 options above. I like the idea of being forced to introspect a bit about what others are trying to say before commenting, and you could cleverly get new commenters to vet each other in this manner, by restricting the rating to just other new commenters versus long time veterans who are unlikely to be doing anything untoward.

Magical Mystery Machine Learning

There is also the “magical machine learning” path here, where services can vet a comment to see if it’s somehow toxic.

This is more akin to the spam filtering we do with Akismet, but conceptually it’s very similar.

Your thoughts?

We’ve discussed various forms of these ideas in passing a number of times in earlier #meta discussions. Bear in mind that

  • These are largely restrictions on new users, since we assume cough that longer term users are here in good faith and aren’t generally “part of the problem”, so to speak.

  • These restrictions probably would only kick in on “controversial” topics that have grown to a certain size, or have lots of new users arriving, or have reached some other trigger threshold that indicates they’re gonna be controversial.

How else can we combat the Ars :banana: problem, where new arrivals write comments without spending any time reading? Any other concepts I’ve missed?

you do realize that none of those techniques will help in dealing with the new user who has commenting to support trump/pence/blue lies matter/etc., regardless of the facts, as their only goal. if you could find a way to deal with the single issue/single thread new user it would be marvelous.

that’s quite an assumption, have you considered delsym for that cough?

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The only problem I have with the “time reading article” one is that people read at massively different rates. You could end up punishing someone who rapidly read through but understood, while rewarding someone who opened the post, went to get a drink, then posted without really reading anything. Which would not solve the problem.


I like both the rating comments system as well as machine learning - long term, perhaps from flagged posts. These are hard problems to solve, but it’s clear to me that there’s a pretty obvious tonality in the posts of many bad actors (“bad” because they want to troll, or would rather “talk at” the community than engage in actual discourse, or, indeed, the RTFA problem), and a system that could detect that semantically would be of definite benefit.

Problem is, of course, that such detection is bloody difficult, as recent failed twitterbots or test pages have shown.

Maybe just once in a while, when it’s likely to be, or proving to be controversial. Not sure it would work here, but it’s a neat idea.

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This also doesn’t account for someone that read an article from the WP site and then came to the BBS to comment.


If you read the first post, I indicate that one of the technical problems is that the parent site would need to communicate to Discourse the parent site article read time.

It is possible, if you click through to the Farhad Manjoo Slate article I talked about near the top of my blog entry, they did it there as a proof of concept.

I must have missed this. Maybe I’m just proving your argument for you. :stuck_out_tongue:

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:hear_no_evil: :see_no_evil: :speak_no_evil: well except for the last bit there…

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