Disemvoweling vs. Flagging

Requesting disemvowelling as either a button a moderator can press, or a button that works after a certain (site-configurable) number of logged-in users have pressed it.

Dissenting views are important, but people shouldn’t have to tolerate hate speech being shoved in their faces in order to allow dissent. Disemvoweling is a way that BB can say “you probably don’t want to read this, but you can if you try” and also “hey, that was out of line, so we will not let it stand as written”.

I assume Ruby supports regexes so it shouldn’t be terribly tricky - just rip all the vowels out of anything that’s not a valid tag or tagged non-textual field.

Edit: Man, that last sentence sounds like the typical non-technical user on the tech support line “just do what I want, it will be easy you fool!”. Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to downplay the time and effort it takes to program properly.

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If you are seeing hate speech here, please flag it by clicking the flag icon under each post:

There’s some disagreement on what constitutes hate speech on this board, and I would not be surprised to find that disagreement extends into the moderators and to the bloggers as well, although probably to a lesser extent.

But personally I don’t want to have all hate speech invisibly disappeared. I would prefer that it be disemvoweled. Disemvoweling helped shape this forum community after the first one “went septic” as Cory put it. Disemvoweling is a much stronger statement of disapproval than mere deletion, that incidentally lets people know what the haters are saying if they choose to decode it (I subscribe to the Intelligence Report and occasionally visit Stormfront’s web site, because I believe it’s a good idea to know what the bad guys are thinking).

I do want spam invisibly disappeared. But not dissent, even if it’s hateful dissent.


I concur. One of the things that bothered me about the Disqus version of BB was when disemvowelling went away in favor of out-and-out post deletion. Sometimes (surprisingly often) a post would be deleted for being objectionable, but not before it had engendered a few responses. Usually, if a post were genuinely offensive to the point of being egregious, it would receive few (if any) responses before deletion. But sometimes, and just about every day, a comment would be deleted for having simply unpopular tone or content, rather than being an out-and-out violation of the site’s TOS. And sometimes, as people responded to that comment insofar as the merits of the comment deserved, the original comment would be deleted but the responses were not, which made for a confusing absence of context. Killing all the responses as well as the offending comment wouldn’t be a preferable solution, as often those comments brought up valuable insights that might not have been raised without that initial offending comment.

In instances like that, where maybe Antinous might have brought the hammer down a tad too precipitously, I greatly missed disemvowelling, which preserved the context for anyone who cared, but made it tougher for the offending comment to offend.

One of the strengths of this community is its variety of opinion on a wide range of important topics. And some of us here are foulmouthed and crotchety and well as insightful and penetrating. Disemvowelling would be an onerous, time-consuming task if it had to be done manually, but if there’s a semi-automated way to do it as the result of user flags, as Medievalist describes, I’d be all for it.


As a Respected Industry Thought Leader™ in the area of building communities, I have some thoughts about disemvoweling. Spoiler alert: I don’t like it.

A couple reasons.

  1. You’re kinda… mocking that person. It’d be like me forcing you to speak through a filter that turned all your words into baby talk, or pirate talk, or whatever. If there’s anything that rapidly sends someone on the edge of civility into an incoherent rage in my experience, it is making fun of them. Even the perception that you might be making fun of them is extremely dangerous, and disemvoweling is right on top of that line if not clearly over it.

  2. We do not reward failure. If you’re being a jerk to someone, the last thing we want to do is highlight that content, make it stand out, or otherwise bring attention to it. Yes, it’s technically obscured, but the dunce cap works both ways. An elementary school teacher once posted on one of the Stack Exchange sites that in an effort to get her class to behave she started writing the names of misbehaving children on the board. This wasn’t working as well as she hoped. Then she switched to writing all the names of the children on the board (small class, I guess) and erasing the names of those who misbehaved. Guess what suddenly started working like gangbusters?

  3. It’s too complicated. The rules of how it works require explanation, and anything that requires explanation is a pain in the ass long term. Every new user will see the disemvoweled content and wonder what the hell is up with that weird post (or worse, become motivated to solve the puzzle and be “rewarded” with toxic, unpleasant content). Compare with not seeing hateful content at all. So much simpler.


Also, the preferred (and standard) Discourse workflow is not:

  • community or moderator flags post
  • post and possibly user is ban-hammered out of existence

Rather, it is (and this is 100% automatic and effortless, provided the flags exist)

  • community or moderator flags post
  • if threshold reached, post is temporarily hidden
  • user is sent a very friendly, nicely worded PM inviting them to edit their post
  • user edits post to be less, er, “feisty”
  • post is automatically unhidden
  • everyone wins!

(if threshold not reached, moderators will look at the flag and either goose the process to the next step by clicking a button to force the threshold, or defer the flag as “no action needed”)

Now this workflow makes no sense in the case of egregious spam or posts that are so toxic that they can’t be salvaged, but @Felton and the other BBS mods (there is some kind of luck dragon out there now?) are aware of this as a standard, easily accessible, falling-in-the-pit-of-success feature of Discourse that we encourage mods to use vs. the ban hammer, as they deem appropriate.


For a brief, shining moment, I could read other people’s withdrawn posts by clicking the pencil icon. It was mildly interesting.But it didn’t last…


Well, simpler still is not having a forum at all. Who wants to deal with pesky opinions?

Anyway, they had disemvowelling here before, don’t know for how long, and if they got rid of it on purpose I expect they had their reasons. The disemvowelling process was explained in the same FAQ that every new registrant was encouraged to read before posting. It wasn’t a difficult concept. And I can’t remember an instance of a poster being so enraged by being disemvowelled that they lashed out in an ever-increasing spiral of toxic abuse. Maybe it happened when I wasn’t looking.

And if an offender sees a disemvowelled post as some kind of reward for having bearded the dragon in its den, well… okay. If you say so. Doesn’t look like a reward to me, making a post more difficult to read. Most users will see it’s disemvowelled, assume it was offensive, and skip it if they’re so inclined, or peer owlishly at it, sounding out those naughty naughty syllables, if they happen to be masochists like me.

I don’t think you’re trying to publish the Camazotz Neighborhood Homeowners’ Association Newsletter here, after all. Delete if you must, don’t disemvowel if you think it’s not worth the effort, but I suppose we’re having another religious disagreement, so I won’t try to change your mind, but I disagree with your reasoning here.

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This, on the other hand, is a more compelling argument. So I’ll go ahead and like it.

There is one person who, three times that I have seen, has posted about how black people are genetically inferior and predisposed toward being stupid criminals, as anyone who has actually spent time with them could tell. Each time it has been removed, and rightly so. But the result of it simply disappearing is that any trace of his racism has been scrubbed clean from his account, there is nothing to show it is a recurring problem, and it’s hard to tell if anyone noticed and so how long he can keep doing it.


Disemvowelling is intended to mock, while removing most of the arguments/rationalizations a troll can use when articles are simply deleted.

But I think it works best in the – right – type of community. I don’t see it as a general usage tool. You have to have the right people involved (such as here on boing boing).

My preference: Flag an article as banned. By default, banned articles show up in the comment thread, but hidden behind some kind of notice (“article removed from thread by moderator as inappropriate: click here to read it anyway”. So the ban is enabled, but ti’s still there for the people who hate someone playing with the content.

Then add a user profile preference: default is banned articles hidden. Give them the option of always hiding them completely, or never showing the ban message. Everyone can adjust to their level of preference, and by default, the inapprpropriate stuff disappears as the site wants it to.

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There is no evidence of that happening currently. If anything it’s a more than a little bit the other way, moderation is much lighter now, and some posts that are extremely, uh… dissent-y… are clearly visible in many topics.

If you ever see dissent disppear in a way that you feel is inappropriate, open a meta topic about it. Like we’re doing right now. That’s an option that was completely unavailable to you in Disqus, and an absolute bedrock feature of any sustainable community.

It’s 100% visible to moderators – they can see deleted content on topics and on user profiles. If you think there’s a pattern with a particular user, please use a message flag to let moderators know, and they can check.

I do not subscribe to the “we must leave toxic waste lying around in the environment for everyone to see, otherwise people will not realize there’s a huge environmental crisis!” school of thought.

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I think dissent often did get deleted/disemvowelled on BB, and I never liked it. Often it felt like the one dissenting voice got immediately crapped on for expressing an opinion that didn’t go along with the groupthink, then disemvowelled/disappeared for causing problems. I don’t want disemvowelling back. It’s infantile.

To be honest, what I’d like to see is more threads just get locked once they get hopelessly locked into a feedback loop of playground arguments.

Personally, I don’t like flagging individual comments (except the spam ones), I’d rather the mods step in and make their presence known in the thread. I guess that isn’t how this model works though, maybe I’ll try to be more flaggy in future.

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Please! It really helps! Do not hesitate to flag, any time, for any reason at all.

I feel strongly that the best, most sustainable community moderation originates … from the community itself. That’s sort of the whole point of Discourse! Moderators are essential to grease the wheels of the machine of course, but nothing scales in a community like the community itself.

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I must confess a fondness for Slashdot’s system: I find disenvoweling to be intensely distracting (after years of indoctrination, my tiny hominid brain can’t shake the insistence that letter sequences separated by whitespace must mean something; but I apparently can’t autoreplace vowels, so it’s just an ocular and mental sinkhole on the page); but I see no reason to let the worst scrawl their passionate intensity all over the place.

With that flavor of moderation, viewing at +1 provides a reasonably human thread, anything higher is the condensed edition, and 0 or -1 are the full-strength stuff, GNAA trolls and all.

The slashcode itself is kind of a mess; but the basic ‘moderation is categorization, what you see is your choice’ mechanism works surprisingly well, even in the face of some of the objectively defective humans who inhabit the place.

Sly lynx fly by my crwth.

 ____  _                                 _    _____ _   _     
|    \|_|___ ___ _____ _ _ ___ _ _ _ ___| |  |_   _| |_|_|___ 
|  |  | |_ -| -_|     | | | . | | | | -_| |    | | |   | |_ -|
|____/|_|___|___|_|_|_|\_/|___|_____|___|_|    |_| |_|_|_|___|

If you insist.

 ____                     _    _____ _       
|    \ ___ _____ _ _ _ _ _| |  |_   _| |____ 
|  |  |_ -|     | | | | | | |    | | |   |_ -|
|____/|___|_|_|_|\_/|_____|_|    |_| |_|_|___|

This runs afoul of the Forbidden Closet of Mystery Rule:

Nothing is more fascinating, or more (ironically) highlighted, than stuff that visibly shows up as hidden due to cause.