Presence of "recognized reporters" in comments increases civility

The title of the article is a little misleading, but:

“We combed through the academic literature to understand the criteria that had been used in the past to indicate deliberative and civil conversations,” Stroud said. “Each comment was evaluated for whether it was civil, was relevant, provided some form of evidence, and asked a genuine question.”

One surprisingly easy thing they found that brought civil, relevant comments: the presence of a recognized reporter wading into the comments.

Seventy different political posts were randomly either left to their own wild devices, engaged by an unidentified staffer from the station, or engaged by a prominent political reporter. When the reporter showed up, “incivility decreased by 17 percent and people were 15 percent more likely to use evidence in their comments on the subject matter,” according to the study.

I’ve thought for a long time that one of the reasons the Gawker network experiment with their sometimes awful Kinja commenting system (to be fair, it has gotten a lot better over time) was working fairly well, is that they had an explicit policy that all writers had to engage in the comments.

So you had a good chance on any Gawker site that at least some of the better comments would get curated by the writer of the article and maybe even replied to. Basically, the author was tending their own garden. That matters, and I think it should be the norm if you’re going to have comments at all. If you aren’t going to tend to your garden in some capacity, don’t bother having one.

Doesn’t scale worth a damn, though, unless you have a lot of authors. A few famous people can’t reasonably be expected to be spending hours combing through comments – or even 15 minutes, depending on their schedule.

What I didn’t consider was this:

“Although we can’t know for sure from our study, I suspect that the identified reporter made commenters feel that they had a voice and that someone cared about what they had to say,” she said. “It could have been seen as an honor to have a recognizable reporter respond to a comment and engage with commenters.”

Putting the magical power of “the author” aside, I also wonder if the periodic visible presence of @falcor helps, in that it urges people to remember that there are boundaries and guidelines at play here, and they can be strict.


The definition they used for “incivility” appears to be fairly narrow. At least a subset could be identified with a simple keyword search (e.g. “idiot”). Would it be difficult to run a few keyword queries, coupled with "did @falcor post in the thread, to get a rough answer to the question?

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Ah, the fine line between engagement ( a good thing ), participation ( not often a good thing ) and dinner ( a great thing ).


I think a simple keyword search and individual check would help, though, if you can agree on the keywords.

I am on pre-mod on another site though, they won’t tell me why, and I can’t figure out any way I’ve violated their standards, and I suspect it is for calling out victim-blaming on their comments.

Sure would be nice to see @xeni, @frauenfelder, @doctorow and @pesco BTL a bit more, though.


Moderation is only as good as the moderators, right? What constitutes “community standards” in comment sections certainly varies from board to board and it can be used equally to shut down useful dissent (or in your case, calling out bad behavior) as well as trolls who can derail a thread. I think I trust the moderators here, but that is in part true because they are willing to enforce community standards that I agree with, which includes no name calling, victim blaming, open racism/sexism/homophobia/etc, treating each other with civility and respect, even when we disagree with one another.


Also, punishing people without explaining why is classic abusive behavior.

Although moderating isn’t usually punishing, it might help if more sites would point to specific issues with specific posts, when they mod.

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Agreed. Even if the mod is going by “the book”, it would still be helpful to know (to both the poster and to others engaged in dialogue with them) why the person got moderated. Even on here, sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not.

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I think it helps, but in a different way than presented in the Vice article. What I think is effective about Falcor is the dragon’s deliberate recusal from editorial commentary or personal disclosure. We don’t know who Falcor is, their political objectives, their friendships, their identity. All we know is that the dragon is always hungry, and willing to feed on incivil comments. I think that professional distance is great at preventing people from trying to cozy up, and suck up, to the mod.

Stop biting my rhymes, Achilles!

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Yes, deletion is simple and fast, which are huge pros, but there are cons. Which is why I wondered if a prefab ticketing system would help.

You want a little distance but not too much. I also think making moderators anonymous can be weird, like the policeman who wears a mask.

Anyway, what is most important is a meta area for the community to discuss things like this amongst themselves and the owners.



Falcor isn’t Antinous, isn’t any other BB moderator, and isn’t a sockpuppet for editors or other BB folks. It says right there on its account: Falcor is a Don’t-Push-Your-Luckdragon.



Quoting a different part of the linked-to article (q.v):

“Speaking from my own forays into the comment section, I’d say that most people who snark don’t really expect to get a reply from the object of the derision or even questioning, and that when I, in my better moments, reply with an answer to their question or critique with civility, it gets returned.”

This is the generalized effect of replying to people; they way to handle trolls and potty mouths. A recognized reporter is a special case of someone who is able and willing to actually hold the feet of a person who snarks or trolls to the fire. But anyone can take him to task, and should.

I learned this years ago on the USENET, that it isn’t how expert you are but how willing you are to take someone to task and argue with them. What is happening on the Internet is that most venues are web sites with blogs that do no provide the means to pointedly and directly respond to something said. It is not impossible, but it is difficult. Having a quote mechanism helps, but you will notice that most people do not use quoting even if it is available because they are not used to having it.

The blog gets in the way of discussion and debate. It is too simple to support useful context and reply, and the volume and organization of large conversations does not help at all. The Blog breaks down in only a few replies and most people cannot deal with the flood and just don’t try to reply to something, or their reply gets lost and no one bothers. People are out of practice in reasoning and debating for that reason. I think that there may be people in powerful places, like at the helm of social media companies, who are just fine with that. They want consumers but they do not want people to think on their own. The blog is a very good tool for suppressing people.

My experience is that anonymous moderation is a big enabler of abuse.

Also, I suspect that the presence of recognized reporters wouldn’t do much for civility on sites like The Daily Mail and Fox News.

Anyone else confused here?

Isn’t snark just another word for sarcasm? So while it could be abused to hurt someone, it can be used to talk about the absurd justifications for the dystopian situations many people face, and a lot of other things that need talking about.

Just you.

Not really.

Abuse by moderators?

Yes. Moderators can be abusive, especially when they are also involved in conversations on the site.

I was surprised to see @codinghorror cite Gawker as an example of successful moderation policy for exactly this reason. Maybe their other sites aren’t as bad as Gizmodo?

I think Kinja is probably a great moderation policy, because it’s such a fucking awful commenting system that noboby bothers with it.

Like the BBC did - they used to have loads of really active, well moderated messageboards across a wide range of subjects, but that was expensive, so they killed them all and replaced them with the thing they have now, which isn’t worth bothering with.