Disemvoweling vs. Flagging

I don’t mind the forbidden closet. People who open it will typically not open it twice. And fi they do? then they’re okay with what’s inside, and that’s okay.

This is how you do it!

If you enjoy disemvowelling, visit Making Light

It was TNH’s thing. That’s her place.

Teresa’s moderation is too whimsical for me. She has every right to play favorites in her own forum - and I have every right to avoid it for that reason. Also, I prefer the content at BB, and have limited time for such things.

@codinghorror: Jeff, I’m going to try to speak not only to the things in the post I’m specifically replying to, but also to some of the things you mentioned further down. Thank you for the technical notes, BTW, very illuminating.

  1. It is true that disemvoweling is an aggressive action towards a poster that some people will interpret as mockery. But I think this is the least valid of all your points - because removing or entirely obscuring or forcing revision of a post is far more aggressive, and on this forum, at least, anything that would be a candidate for disemvoweling is likely to be extensively mocked both before and after disemvoweling occurs. People here appreciate the snark, and indulge it.

  2. If it’s mockery, then it’s not a reward, is it? But actually I agree with you that the system should not bring extra attention to offensive content. I do not believe that disemvoweling, in practice, does that, though. Perhaps other people find it easy to read disemvoweled text, but I find it tedious and unrewarding, and after the first couple times I never did it except when the resulting non-disemvoweled replies revealed that something worth the work was in there. Have you actively participated in a community that used the technique? I found it to work very differently, in action, than in your blackboard analogy.

  3. Extremely good point. Technically it is not challenging, but in a community with high turnover the operational aspects for end users are confusing. In practice people do exactly as you suggest - they solve a few in order to figure out what’s going on and end up being annoyed or offended. The more stable the community is, the less of a problem this will be, but you’re still absolutely right. I argue that it’s worth the complexity, but I recognize this is just opinion.

Moving on to the workflow model - what prevents an endless edit cycle, in cases where a dissenting voice (such as my own, or Mr. 44s, for example) is being targeted not for their text, but for their political, philosophical, or religious views? What prevents a small group of people from just making posting too onerous, and re-creating the disqus echo chamber where there was a steadily decreasing amount of variation in viewpoint concerning gun policy, (anti)religious dogma, and political partisanship? Hopefully this is the only paragraph in this post requesting an answer from you - it’s already too long! Sadly I am not known for terse prose.

@Donald_Petersen: I believe the reason disemvoweling was removed was because it was being done entirely by hand, by Antinous, and it was simply too much work to be manageable on a forum this size. There may have been other reasons, but I know it was unsupportably tedious, which is why I’ve asked for a discourse function to do it.

@Chenille: this is exactly what I’m talking about! You get it! Those are the kind of posts I would specifically like disemvoweled. I want people to be able to refute such nonsense, in the interest of enlightening the entire portion of the human race who might have these hateful beliefs and visit this forum, and in the interest of making people’s record of behavior accessible, rather than enabling them to hide from their own words, or force them to re-edit and re-publish to appear reasonable.

@Chuq_Von_Rospac: I find your ideas intriguing and would like to receive your newsletter. Just kidding; disemvoweling should definitely be a feature of discourse that could be turned on and off by site admins, and I assumed that given Jeff’s code so far that’s how he’d implement it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about another way to achieve the same or similar goals.

@daneel: thank you for engaging rather than flagging. It’s simply better; we’re not finite state machines. That being said, flagging is a good and necessary feature.

Finally - it’s true I have not seen any evidence that dissent is being suppressed today, and I agree that moderating is lighter at the moment (for good or bad). But keep in mind I have been making the same comments and requests for the entirety of the Disqus era of BoingBoing - I’m not basing my request on what’s happening today, but rather with a long-term view of the site’s past and future. Obviously not everyone agrees, but I think disemvoweling was a big part of how this community came to have its unique flavor, and I think the community became far more bland and less thought-provoking when disemvoweling went away.

I hope that covered everything, because I have to leave soon & am unlikely to be back online before Monday. I have to replace some burnt switches on my antique electric tractor…

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I was surprised myself just how visually obnoxious even the one small disemvoweling example @beschizza posted here was in practice… scanning the text you see this:

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.

Dsmvwlng s clvr, bt t clvr fr ths cntxts whr clvrnss sn’t pprctd. t fcss ttntn n msbhvr. Ths strtgy wrks wll t nstrct stblshd mmbrs f smll frms, nd mks n xmpl f flsh strngrs. Bt n fld, pblcly-ccssbl frms wth rng f prtcptn lvls, sch s Bng Bng’s, t ftn crts mr ht thn lght nd nly dsrpts th flw f dscssn.

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.

That is unpleasant even to scan, a real eyesore that hurts my poor simian brain. Even as a warning signpost, all it does is torture all future readers, forever, (and Google too!) in exchange for… what, exactly?

Endless edit cycles aren’t possible. Once a post is hidden through flagging the second time, it cannot be unhidden through edits. The hiding is either permanent, or requires moderator intervention to address. This is more of a theoretical concern at the moment since it hasn’t happened yet. You can read more at:

But as I said, the volume of flags here on BBS is tiny. This is not a community that flags things willy-nilly, and on most Discourse forums to date, people do not flag unless there is a serious, obvious problem. If anything there is a shortage of flags on BBS, not a preponderance of them. So again, this feels like a theoretical concern that is useful (at the moment, at least) only in the abstract. Of course, it is good to discuss it, regardless!

In exchange for a lighthearted approach to what need not be taken all that seriously. Namely, Internet comments.

I never felt dmv’ing drew -extra- attention to a comment, but rather heaped some disapprobation on the commenter who let it, and also was a visual marker of a contentious discussion which was drawing personal attacks or straight up trolling. Leaving a comment in place but highly modified sort of wasted the time of whomever wrote it, mocked the author, and also acted as a head upon a pike to those who would try to lead a conversation astray.

It would discourage folks who were just stopping by to be obnoxious in a one off way, and also acted to bring some regulars back into line when they got too mutant without enough happy.

I’ve never considered this a place with the aim of keeping poor simian brains content and unchallenged. Maybe times change.

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In defense of simian brains it is a standard approach to content display of any kind to minimize the intrusion of the formal elements and make the, god! there is no way to avoid this language, representational system itself invisible. Think of the best film editing or true typesetting. The goal is to let the content shine through while providing the best experience for the viewer. This is generally believed to require a high level of sophistication to achieve the desired invisibility. The point here is that I think that Coding Jeff’s taking what I would call a classical formal approach to his job that -is- different from BB of the past which maybe went in a more mannered direction, meaning lots of visible personality.

Me? I am a formalist all the way so I am watching with interest. Art, for me, is all about the “meta.” So I am really enjoying this.

It was mainly that and the fact that, in Disqus, commenters could edit their own comments, which wasn’t the case in Movable Type, the previous system. When we went to Disqus, we decided that disemvoweling was more trouble than it was worth, since people could just change their comments back.


‘Classical’ , ‘standard’, where did ‘mutant’ wind up in the mix?

I dunno, I used to quite enjoy reverse-engineering troll posts from the responses. It’s a bit like idly doing the crossword.


Thanks to @Felton and @codinghorror for the additional information. The flagging thread is very much worth reading, with interesting points raised concerning mod-defined penalties for denied appeals, and separating trust levels for flagging/moderating and posting.

In the end, it’s up to the site owners to determine whether they want politically incorrect non-spam content to stand, be obfuscated, or be deleted/revised out of existence. My request is for a Discourse feature that would allow site owners to choose the middle option of the three; currently only the first and last choices are directly supported by the software. Since Discourse is open source software, nobody should be surprised if the principal author ignores this request in favor of working on stuff he actually cares about - after all, somebody else can always contribute code for disemvoweling support, with a default setting of “off”, and there’s only so many hours in the day.

I don’t think I have anything else to add. Much appreciation for the thoughtful discussion, everyone!


I left Teh Dot nearly a decade ago. Is GNAA really still a thing? Fascinating.

Then allow me to recommend a book called Ibid by Mark Dunn. The story is told entirely via its own footnotes.

I’ve read some similar things, aye. It’s a style I like.

It smells funny, and appears to do nothing but paste in reruns; but it’s not quite dead yet.

I still hold out faint hope that it will turn out to have been The_Mad_Poster sockpuppeting that thing the whole time.

  1. Dismissal (deletion) is more akin to mocking. Disemvowellment is saying “as a whole this does not meet our community standards, but there is something of value in parts of it.”

  2. DELETION REWARDS FAILURE. A deleted post is not a failure as it never happened. Nothing failed. No mistakes to learn from. No community shaming to encourage learning.
    2a) So, you oppose mocking individuals, but comparing the BoingBoing commenting community to an elementary school classroom is okay?

  3. For something so complicated, there’s a surprising amount of people who understand it, and can even use a single neologistical word to summarize it. It’s certainly easier to grok than these “in response to” and “reply” sections (says the counter-reactionary me).

Disemvowelling is cleaning up the toxic waste, and alerting others as to who did the polluting.

Deletion is airbrushing them out of the photo.


Actually, I kinda found it just an arrogant show that moderators could abuse their powers by reminding users that they could alter their posts. And I saw multiple cases where Antonius disemvoweled something that SEEMED like dissent but really added to the conversation. It was capricious and arbitrary, and it did not reflect the community at all. Just because more of us didn’t speak up didn’t mean we approved, it just meant we were afraid of being banned or disemvowelled ourselves and then mocked.