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Monday, December 12, 2005

Rules? In a knife fight??? *

Yes, every fight has rules... even a fight where the only rule is 'no rules'!  The object is that everyone be aware of the limitations, or the lack thereof.

In high school I once witnessed two brass players facing off for an after-hours fight in the band room.  Just before the fists started flying, both of the combatants addressed each other with the final provision, "Not the mouth"... and then went to town on each other.  When it was over, there were black eyes, torn shirts, swollen ears... but their precious lips were untouched.  Granted, this only works if both sides agree that the rules have practical value.  On the street a plea of "not the mouth" would probably direct an assailant's attention exclusively to that area.

Such is the case with the modern 'battlefield'.  One side says "not the civilians'"and the other says, "Hey, I don't have a big, well-equipped army like you, so guess what?  We're gonna make up for that imbalance by targeting your civilians!"

I bring up this issue of creating and following rules, even while fighting, because a blogger/journaler I admire very much is currently in the midst of a small kerfuffle over at her place. 

Even though her site is not political by definition... many of the personal stories and second-hand accounts she relates bump up against the political realities of life here in the middle east.  As a result, many of the discussions that take place in her comments section revolve around both large and small aspects of the current conflict... and sometimes things can get out of hand. 

Therein lies the dilemma.

The basic argument of whether a site owner has the right to moderate reader input or demand certain behavior of those who comment has been chewed over each time such a problem arises.  I happen to be of the opinion that a blog/journal, while residing in the public domain, is a private outlet for the owner... and he/she is the only one who is truly free to set the rules of what can and can't be said there.  Others might disagree.

Some site owners encourage a 'no holds barred' forum where anything goes... and others try to enforce 'dinner party-like' decorum.  But for better or worse, the tone and rules are set by the host... even if (as I pointed out at the beginning) the only rule is 'no rules'.

So what does a host do when someone refuses to abide by the rules?  This is a serious question I'm asking here! Terms like 'trolls' and 'tards' may be momentarily satisfying but they aren't really helpful in finding a solution.

I've come up with a short list of possible suggestions, but I'd encourage you to tell me if you think any of mine are off-base... or if you have other suggestions of your own:

1.  Moderate comments - While this can be time consuming for the site owner and stifles the real time flow of ideas among commenters, it is sometimes the last-best resort of frustrated site-owners.

2.  Require a real email address from all commenters - I didn't want to go the moderator route, so I asked that commenters on treppenwitz use a real email address.  In return I installed some code that shields commenter's privacy, making their email addresses invisible to everyone but me.  This way if I want to give a gentle suggestion or attempt to defuse a brewing flame war, I can do so behind the scenes where egos and principles are less likely to be bruised or compromised.  But if I try to contact someone and find out the address is a fake... bye-bye comment.

3.  Lay out a set of basic rules - I'm not suggestion that people provide a link to Robert's Rules of Order, but it might not be a bad idea for bloggers/journalers who frequently discuss potentially divisive topics to post a few guidelines that can be referenced when/if someone steps out of bounds.  This can be something as simple as my 'Fight Fair' post or as detailed as an ever-expanding rule book.  The nice thing about setting out the rules is that the site owner can point to them without making a commenter feel as though they are being singled out for censure.  Also, many of the basic rules of on-line debate such as Godwin's Law are actually quite obvious and funny when read outside the heat of an argument.

4.  Decide ahead of time about consequences - If you are already laying out the rules of conduct for your site, it makes sense to also lay out the consequences of not following those rules.  On one or two occasions I have been tempted to 'out' people with who I was having heated on-line arguments as a form of punishment.  I figured that if they were being (IMO) offensive from behind an anonymous screen name, the best way to punish them would be to remove their anonymity.  In retrospect I'm glad I resisted the temptation to 'out' anyone.  By allowing anonymous comments (meaning the use of screen names), I am entering a contract with commenters to respect that veil of anonymity... so clearly there has to be another way of dealing with bad actors.  Deleting offensive comments is a quick fix, but it won't solve a festering problem.  Banning a commenter is a longer-term solution, but it is based on a bad actor continuing to use the same IP address (an easy thing to change).  That brings us back to a combination of the things that work in RL society in the absence of law enforcement; communal pressure/shame.  Certainly, readers should take their lead from site owners.  But it is incumbent upon everyone in an on-line community to be somewhat self-policing.  This entails making gentle, well-reasoned suggestions... not responding with behavior as bad (or worse) than that being addressed.

I have a few more that I may add as the day wears on, but I imagine you lot have a few from your own experiences as both site owners and commenters.  All I ask is that you keep your examples and suggestions hypothetical... and make sure they would be as applicable to a discussion the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as to a discussion of late term abortions.

* The title quote is from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Posted by David Bogner on December 12, 2005 | Permalink


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That outing idea sounds like a rather harsh punishment, I'm glad you've resisted the temptation to do it. I am not secretive about who I am, except that I use my initials instead of my name (Nicole) because there have been other Nicoles out there and I like my comments to be read as mine and want to avoid confusion. However, I think that the idea of outing someone who is, for whatever reason, choosing to not have their identity known to the public (maybe they write about their job/spouse/family/or other topic that could put their current quality of life in serious jeapordy if their identity were made known) is a pretty serious punishment for having opposing views that may have been presented in a manner that offended the reader. I would think that your MO of an email to the "offender" is the best way to go -- where you could just say that the commenter will be banned from your site if they can't stick to the rules and that if they feel that strongly about commenting, they should do it on their own site.

But I agree 100%, the owner of the blog needs to set the rules for their blog, and those who can't manage to abide by those rules should find another outlet for the expression of their ideas.

Perhaps those who aren't happy with the manner in which a blogger runs the show on their own blog should also take up that topic one on one via email. I think the "shame" tactic is a dangerous one to go down, though.

Posted by: nrg | Dec 12, 2005 1:45:46 PM

Here's my suggestion:

Although I haven't yet had a serious problem with unruly comments, I think that an up-front declaration of commenting policy is a good thing (I should take my own advice but truth to tell, I don't get too many commenters). I've seen things as simple as "No flames," "Disagreement is fine but please keep it respectful," and so on. That's pretty easy to understand. If someone breaks that basic rule, they can get a warning, or two or three (or none; it's up to the discretion of the site owner), with a suggestion that if they want to, they can start their own blog and post their views there. If they keep on with the problematic stuff, it's "One more like that and you're banned," and stick with it.

It sounds harsh, but I think that sometimes it's necessary.

Posted by: Rahel | Dec 12, 2005 2:35:08 PM

Well, I used to have pretty heated up discussions on my blog, specialy regarding political issues. I think I hardly ever deleted a comment. Actually, I think I only deleted spam (messages that doesn't comment the post but got tons of links in them to gambling, porn and drugs stuff).

If I had anything to respond - I responded. But that's that.

Posted by: Civax | Dec 12, 2005 2:57:40 PM

To add to what I wrote above: There's heated disagreement, and there's gratuitous speading of hatred and mud-slinging. I think that people having a heated discussion would heed a polite reminder to keep things calm. I would have no compunctions about banning the haters and mud-slingers. I don't think that's intolerance; I think that's preserving our sanity.

Posted by: Rahel | Dec 12, 2005 3:12:11 PM

I rarely if ever delete a comment even when they have been been personal in nature because sometimes the people posting such things need to see what they said in print so that they see that they are the only one making said offensive remarks.

It usually is effective in helping them to see that they are acting like a jerk and and on a number of occasions they have gone back and deleted it on their own.

People who threaten me always get outed. I don't think twice about it, I just put it up there because it does two things.

1) I am documenting it in case I ever have need of it.

2) I am not about to let someone try and intimidate me. If they want to try and hide behind an IP and lay waste to all around them there are ways to show them that it is not so easy.

But the scenario I outlined above rarely if ever has come into play.

I would say that 98% of the time most posters are good about being reasonable in their disagreements with others, although I should add that the host is wise to provide some guidance in the commentary as well.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 12, 2005 4:17:40 PM

I've deleted the spam, which hasn't been a real problem since word verification. And so far, even though I'm pretty blunt and sometimes take unusual stands, the comments have been civilized and to the point.
There are some blogs without comments, but that's boring. And there are some with comment moderation or membership, which makes commenting more difficult. But it does give the blogger more control. And sometimes it's necessary, and a blogger shouldn't feel shy about being assertive.

Posted by: muse | Dec 12, 2005 5:52:15 PM

You need to start with yourself. Stop deleting comments you don't agree with. We are on to you.


Posted by: Ma? | Dec 12, 2005 6:34:34 PM

Hmm, an interesting subject.
Some time ago I've created a list of "policies", I, as a blogger, try to maintain - open-minded and honest atmosphere, thought-out posts that may be offensive but not in a personal way, etc. Amazingly enough, I really haven't had problems with trolls. Sometimes I get a couple of visitors who get a little personal, but most of the time it's not a problem. However, if I felt that if someone was deliberately insulting one of my visitors AND that visitor couldn't handle it without me interfering, I would moderate the discussion by making a constructive suggestion. That also is my tactic if I see that the discussion is getting fruitless and repetitive. If someone is making a generally offensive argument, I make my disagreement known in no uncertain terms, but as part of a discussion group, not as a censor. I do not delete anything except spam or my own comments, if I want to change them. Regarding anonymity, I have no problem with it all. Although I believe in taking responsibility for one's views, I generally don't really care who my visitors are - if they have something to say, I welcome it. I understand that many people may be deterred from commenting if their identity is made known even to me, and for me a good discussion is more important than minimizing the risk of getting trolled. On the other hand, I try not to engage in personal insults, answer every comment that warrants an answer, reasonably, and to listen to all points of view, however insulting they may prove to be. I think I would continue to do so even if comments went against my ethics, but I would make sure to let the person know what my opinion is. I don't really care to "punish" anyone, even if trolling occurred. I wouldn't "out" someone who asked me in private not to reveal his or her identity - it's simply not that important to me. Although I would want to meet some bloggers I like, chances are I'll never see most of these people in "real life", so why should I care about names and personal information.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 12, 2005 7:02:38 PM

If you're talking about An Unsealed Room or On The Face ... those partisans edit their blogs so as to trumpet their own particular prejudices. Bloggers that are so blatant in thier propagandizing bore me.

Posted by: scott | Dec 12, 2005 8:17:17 PM

I like your email system. It still allows anonimity but with some form of accountability - you can find them if you need them.

Clearly printed rules that apply to everyone sound good too - especially when it comes to the Middle East. I personnally would like references to WWII, the holocaust and Nazis to be banned everywhere. They just inflate emotions and banning their use would force people to really think about their arguments.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 12, 2005 8:32:11 PM

Your blog, your rules. It's like inviting someone into your home. If they misbehave, you have every right not to invite them back.

Posted by: Essie | Dec 12, 2005 8:49:20 PM

Irina- On The Face does not delete her comments anymore, she lets everyone have their say. (Thats what blogging is all about) An Unsealed Room, I have no idea. My arguement is with Treppenwitz, he is still in the Juvenile stage of hitting the delete botton if he disagrees with whatever comment.


Posted by: Ma? | Dec 12, 2005 9:04:51 PM

Ma? do you bother to read posts or are you so he*l-bent on a fight that you simply skim them looking for a word or phrase that you can latch onto to further your own personal agenda?

What exactly do you mean by "start with yourself, stop deleting comments?" This post is not about the blog host's "responsibility" to ensure that all comments remain intact. Rather, it was intended to be a discussion-starter for how bloggers might handle visitors who seem to feel the anonymous nature of an online forum somehow absolves them of the need to speak civilly.

OUCH! Perhaps you might be guilty of not being a considerate conversationalist?

In order to preserve an environment where people of diverse backgrounds and philosophical perspectives feel safe discussing potential hot-button-topics, commentors do themselves, their perspectives, and their fellow commentors a huge service by remembering that anonymity doesn't make insulting, condescending, or offensive remarks any less hurtful, just less verifiable.

Posted by: zahava | Dec 12, 2005 10:12:38 PM

I've had a person leave a blatantly antisemitic comment on my blog that was kind of a non-sequitur to the post he was commenting on. I debated whether or not to delete it and finally did. I certainly wouldn't want someone like that in my home, though I am all for the open exchange of ideas, except when it relates to hate speech. I guess what constitutes hate speech is open to interpretation, but I didn't want that garbage on my blog.

Posted by: wanderer | Dec 12, 2005 10:14:17 PM

nrg... I agree, which is why I didn't end up outing anyone. BTW, when I said shame, I was talking about the kind of shame that would keep you from acting badly in public or littering in a crowded place. The fear of communal scorn, otherwise known as shame, is a powerful force in the way most people behave.

Rahel... In almost two years I've only banned one person. He sneaks back in and comments under a different name and thinks I haven't noticed. Since he's basically behaved himself I've decided to find it cute.

Civax... I've been pretty lucky with the type of comments I get here, but that is mostly because human interest blogs just don't attract the hard-core flamers the way issue-driven blogs do. I have actually only deleted 4 or 5 non-spam comments in two years. Not too bad.

Jack... Nobody has ever threatened me, nor have they threatened this blogger I mentioned as having the problem. The issue is how to deal with someone who's comments are abusive or simply beyond the comfort zone of the blogger.

Muse...I agree, assertive is good. But what do you do when a commenter takes 'assertive' as an invitation to become abusive or just plain rude?

Ma?... As I said to Civax, you have the honor of having written one of only 4 or 5 comments I have ever deleted. In fact I rarely even fix an obvious typo in someone's comment unless I tell them first. Just for the sake of transparency, I'll take the liberty of quoting from the comment you wrote that I felt the need to delete. The comment itself was on a post I wrote about an old roommate who had been tremendously influential in my life. The post was written to coincide with the 3rd anniversary of his death, and one of the many things I mentioned about him in that post was that he was gay. I didn't mention that he was gay in order to invite people to pass judgement... and in fact the gist of my post was that his being gay was a non-issue as far as our relationship had been concerned. You wrote a long, meandering comment that included among its charms: , "...G-d has a covenant with us, according to the Rabbi's, it is very easy for us, all we have to do, is keep our side of the contract, the Jewish relationship to G-d may be seen as a friendship, a partnership,though of obviously unequal partners. But, anyway, we keep the commandments, honor G-d, the Torah speaks of G-d as a parent,a teacher, and a intimate sharer of our hearts. In other words it is Judaism frozen in time. So, you are saying, how does homosexual behavior fit into this blog. It Is part of the Covenant, as the Rabbi's say, it is a big no-no. So, if we desire G-d's friendship, protection, we will no doubt, have to "Walk the Line" . I wrote a simple post about missing a friend that had changed my life in countless way for the better. I was feeling terrible that I had never told him this or thanked him for his guidance. And you thought it would be appropriate to leave a comment suggesting that my friend died because gay people don't deserve any protection from G-d. Be happy I only deleted your post and didn't ban you... something that isn't entirely out of mind just now. And by the way... when you say "we're on to you..." please tell me there aren't more of you out there that I don't know about!

Irina... I'm not so much looking for suggestion on how to punish a bad actor, but rather a way that this blogger friend of mine can regain some control of her comments section. Certainly there must be some middle ground, no?

Scott... a) Everyone edits their blogs, just as everyone (well, most everyone) edits their speech. It's called thinking before and during the transmission of ideas. b) We all have prejudices. Not all prejudices are bad. Not all prejudices are permanent. c) Reading blogs that bore you indicates that you either have too much time on your hands, or that you expect that a 'boring' blogger will miraculously become entertaining. I happen to enjoy the heck out of both of the blogs you mentioned... but I can see where they might not be up your alley.

Lisoosh... Clearly my nifty email hiding code isn't a universal fix because one of my favorite bloggers (who sometimes agrees to be my tech guru) has informed me that it is not infallible. I agree about Nazi references... unless Mel Brooks is also mentioned in the sentence, and then it's OK. :-)

Essie... OK, but when someone drops their pants at your dinner party and poops on the rug... you aren't thinking about scratching them off your list of future invitees. You need a firm, but civilized way to let them know that they are no longer welcome... right that minute! My blogger friend is currently dealing with just that sort of social dilemma.

Wanderer... Good for you. I'm not saying to get delete happy with anything that isn't in agreement with one's worldview... but blatant trolling and hate speech are gone. Despite what 'Ma?' would have you think about me, I think 4 or 5 deletions out of 7056 comments isn't a bad ratio.

Posted by: David | Dec 12, 2005 11:18:58 PM

I link to a very funky gentleman in the UK who, as he tells it, a few years ago was hounded so severely by a crazy homophobe that he was forced to stop blogging for several months... But the good news is, he returned eventually and has been with us unfettered ever since.

I suspect that similarly the Israel-bashing brigade know that they are not welcome at On The Face's party, and will eventually tire of harassing her, especially if she keeps up this admirable silence or even takes a little break just to preserve her own sanity: Because whatever else motivates us all to spend hours at it, blogging should never be about being taken out of our comfort zones!

Posted by: PP | Dec 12, 2005 11:51:16 PM

Once again you fail to show consistency in your blog. You printed a small part of my comment. Why not the whole comment.If bloggers are secular, they aren't going to care anyway. In essence, I said your friend from the past died a senseless death, he didn't have too. Every Gay person knows that there are precautions to be taken in sexual encounters , Aids is a death sentence, why take the chance. But please do not make it sound like I make a personal attack on your friend from the past. In fact, I was sad and felt his loss. But, if one is a follower of Torah, (the other side of the coin) you will know the rules, and follow them.

Posted by: Ma? | Dec 13, 2005 12:04:23 AM

PP... But it's her site! Why should she have to hide behind the couch until the rude guests decide to leave? Surely a host has other options!

Ma?... Now that's how you troll a comment board! She'll be here all week, ladies and gentleman... don't forget to tip your waitresses. Oh, and try the veal.

Posted by: David | Dec 13, 2005 12:09:20 AM

Jack... Nobody has ever threatened me, nor have they threatened this blogger I mentioned as having the problem. The issue is how to deal with someone who's comments are abusive or simply beyond the comfort zone of the blogger.

Sorry. I was writing from my own recent experience.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 13, 2005 12:23:55 AM

Hey, nice blog!
I don't think there are any hard and fast rules about censorship with blogs, but they *are* personal. If you choose to allow comments, the comment boxes are ideally places where people can discuss issues without fearing verbal assault.

Newspaper editors are careful in chosing letters to the editor that see print.In message boards at any company I have worked at, we erase all cases of name-calling and racist/sexist language. Why should it be censorship to erase comments on a blog? Unlike message boards, it is the blog entry, not the comments that are the real meat.

Trolls are kind of like graffiti. They are not interested in conversation or interaction. They want to "tag" a place for attention and get ppl riled up.

I think in Lisa's case, she has started to get a lot of attention, and people with big issues on their brain but little traffic are hijacking her popularity by using her comment box as a soapbox. Even with absurd accusations, it is hard not to get dragged into a flame war (esp when digital text often reads more harshly than intended). And that detracts from the great stories.

Anyhow, thanks for moving an interesting topic (and one that has certainly been on my mind lately) to your space.

Posted by: adina | Dec 13, 2005 12:47:05 AM

Yeah well I gave up on both of them. AUR didn't even bother to write anything for weeks and then when she did come around it didn't take long to get bored. In Lisa's case it's too bad because she is gifted and smart but what good is a one sided blog? It's like blogs that don't even allow comments. Puh Leeze! Like you're such a genius folks are going to be panting after your wisdom. Works for Anne Coulter and FEW others.

Posted by: scott | Dec 13, 2005 2:36:03 AM

yeh,a real dilemma.

Posted by: maharal | Dec 13, 2005 2:39:52 AM

Ma?, I'm not acquainted with either of those blogs. I was simply telling about my own personal approach, which seems to be working. But perhaps David is right, and it's because my blog isn't that issue-driven, not because of the way I choose to run it.

David, OK, I see. I guess I didn't completely understand the question and didn't realize that you were asking about specific suggestions. One approach I've seen work well on other blogs is using humor to get rid off the troll. These seemingling fierce creatures often turn quite bashful in the face of sharp with and sarcasm! But again, since I'm not acquainted with the particular blog in question, I'm not sure whether it would work. It's worth trying. I think it's kind of like the inverse of "feeding the troll" - instead of giving in to their tactics and getting angry, you bounce off them and make them sputter and slink away because they CAN'T get anyone angry!

Posted by: Irina | Dec 13, 2005 4:35:35 AM

Ma?, and about that other comment - I don't really care who "should have" or "could have" known better, etc. I think that was an extremely cruel and insensitive thing to say.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 13, 2005 4:38:13 AM

Jack... I assumed as much. I cringe when I see what some site owners are subjected to and you obviously deserve much better treatment. While I enjoyed reading most of the feedback I got on this post, I think most people missed the part where I was looking for practical advice to give this blogger friend who is in the midst of a real problem with a couple of people who have hijacked her comments section.

Adina... Thanks, I'm glad you stopped by. You make some excellent points, but I think the lack of nuance found in electronic communication is (at least in this case) not the cause of my blogger friend's troubles. Your other theories are probably closer to the mark.

Scott... Are you aware of the possibility that one or both of these women might visit this site? Do you feel the least bit uneasy about the fact that they may read your unkind/unnecessary criticism of them? If instead of a blog's comment section we were all standing around in my living room and one or both of these women were standing nearby, would you still have made those comments? If you answered 'no' to the first two questions and yes to the last... you too might have a touch of asperger's syndrome. That isn't meant as an insult... some of the great minds of our generation seem to have had a touch this (heck most IT people I know seem chock full of asperger's). I mention it only because it might explain some hurtful comments that have clearly come from a very bright person.

Maharal... One would think from your comment that you are a man of few words. I missed out on a few hours sleep reading through your fascinating site, and am now convinced you have plenty to say. I don't agree with every word you write (heck, I don't understand a lot of it), but your moving mix of images, historical accounts and well-considered opinion combine to form a very compelling narrative. I plan to visit often.

Irina... No problem, you are in good company since most people missed the fact that I was looking for specific suggestions. :-) I've tried using humor but I'm finding that I'm the only one who ends up being amused. Don't bother trying to chastise 'Ma?'. Either he/she is being deliberately offensive or there there is some basic disconnect at work. Either way it is not worth the effort of trying to set things to rights.

Posted by: David | Dec 13, 2005 8:52:25 AM

I'll say anything I believe to be true to anybody's face in a calm voice and I'll stand there quietly and let them repsond. What I can't stand is people who can't take criticism. Who just stick their fingers in their ears ( delete your comments ) and walk away from you. I don't call people names (unless you count liberal a name) and I don't scream at them. I resist and debate liberal thought. It's ruining my planet. In every way. But liberalism is a religion to it's adherents and when you resist them or debate them they call you hurtful. Silly. We are supposed to be 'tolerant' and that is the supreme ethic.

How tolerant are you of those who are making your children unsafe while they play or walk to school in their neighborhood? (I'm refering to actual political realities threatening you and yours right now today) Well liberals are making the whole world unsafe with their crazy ideas and I plan to keep resisting their philosophy.

You deleted one of my comments on your friends tragic death and I didn't argue with you about it. You have an ethic about criticising a deceased friend and you have that right. Unfortunately the facts you wrote up concerning him invited comments from the religious right, valid relevant issues, that to me were very much worth noting.

If bloggers want they should just make rules that only those who agree with them should post. Block those who want to argue. Hey its their blog. I reserve the right to they are boring.

Posted by: scott | Dec 13, 2005 9:55:01 AM

Scott... Hookay, you asked for it. First of all, I don't "have an ethic about criticising a deceased friend"... I think most people would call that tact and normal social interaction (see today's post). The fact that you would miss the social cues of a grieving person and plunge ahead to make a personal judgment about how and why he died... well I deleted your comment as much to keep you from looking foolish as I did to keep myself and others from turning a tribute post into a flame war with you. I have been criticized by 'Ma?' for publishing only part of her offensive post, so here in all its glory is what you deemed appropriate to say about my dead friend and mentor on the anniversary of his death:

"There is a mystery here. I don't believe homosexuality is an inborn aberration but I fully accept that homosexuals do. I'm sure your friend believed he had no option or remedy for his condition other than celibacy.

Obviously he was a rarely principled man. A highly intelligent and moral man. One whose very being flowed from his religious jewishness.

Yet his sexual drives ... WOULD APPEAR ... were more important for he violated an undeniable and incontrovertible tenent of the Law repeatedly and habitually. I understand this behaviour in ordinary men such as myself although my driving sexual sins in my youth were heterosexual. Same driving force however.

EVIDENTLY the heightened and advanced religious character of your friend's life were due to his terrible inward struggle. ( I don't believe in 'good' men. ) A conflict he lost. He became an advocate for the outcast, the beaten down, the oppressed. Out of his own failure. Not an inlightened motivation.

One wonders what miracles a man such as this might have accomplished if he HAD forsaken his aberrant drives and chosen celibacy.

State sponsored homosexual marriage would be a monumentally evil milestone in the history of this planet.

Posted by: David | Dec 13, 2005 10:14:12 AM

where I was looking for practical advice to give this blogger friend who is in the midst of a real problem with a couple of people who have hijacked her comments section.

Sometimes the best way to handle a situation is to make sure that you are using a commenting system that allows you to block IPs and delete/edit comments.

I don't think that this is where someone would want to start, but some people just refuse to listen and you have to go to a nastier place. Sad, but often true.

Well liberals are making the whole world unsafe with their crazy ideas and I plan to keep resisting their philosophy.


I am the guy at the cocktail party who will tell you that the emperor is naked. This kind of blanket statement is nonsense. It is not based in fact but in emotion and really does nothing to increase understanding between people.

Now you are entitled to say it but I am entitled to respond by asking you to prove it through fact and not rhetoric.

Be careful that you don't paint yourself into a corner.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 13, 2005 10:16:01 AM

It seems that the most basic element that several of your commentors lack is the ability to grasp is that there is a world of difference between disagreeing with someone and telling them that they are wrong.

Agreeing to disagree with a person or their ideas requires a certain degree of maturity and respect, and requires the speaker to acknowledge that multiple perspectives (even contradictory ones) can coexist without cancelling each other out. Telling someone they are wrong and covering your own ears while intoning, "blah, blah, blah.... I can't hear you!" simply stops the conversation.

I personally have had it up to my eyeballs with the left-right/liberal-conservative bashing. It is name calling and accomplishes nothing. It certainly does not entice the opposition to consider the other side.

An intellectually honest exchange of ideas can not happen in an environement where good-bad values are assigned to ideas, actions, and philosophies which are not universally accepted (i.e. murder=bad, kindness=good). Many bloggers (including Treppenwitz and the blog from which the theme of this post was derived) take an idea that they haven't necessarily come to terms with and offer it up to public discussion in the hopes that additional thoughtful and meaningful responses related to the subject matter will stimulate new ways for them to probe and explore their own unresolved feelings/conclusions. These individuals are actually able to take a step outside themselves and consider another's point of view, even if they ultimately do not share said point of view.

Tolerance does not apply to physical danger or to the suppression of civil rights and liberties. Drawing a parallel between insisting that those who engage in this online forum maintain a certain amount of respect for the other participants and terrorist activity is a shrill, vacuous, and diversionary tactic. Such tactics are employed by those who lack substance.

Posted by: zahava | Dec 13, 2005 11:04:11 AM

Re: "what good is a one-sided blog?"
There are a few blogs who I read voraciously who don't allow comments. boingboing and dooce to name a couple. In the latter case, the author is wildly popular. She writes personal tales based on her life, and before she removed comments, she was victim of some serious trolls.

Blocking the ip hasn't worked for the blogger who inspired this post because the trolls in question found ways to circumvent it.

I don't see why blogs can't stand alone as online columns without comments. If you are interested, you read it, if you find it exclusive or frustrating not to be able to participate, you can surf to another location.

The Well, one of the original online communities, has always maintained a difference between areas that are free-flowing conversations, and others that have more rigid rules for participation, if there is any.

I don't know anyone who blogs because they think they are a genius who must be heard. They do it for the same reason anyone writes: because writers are compelled to tell stories. The web happens to be a great place to share them.

Posted by: Adina | Dec 13, 2005 6:37:25 PM

Treppenwitz-You accused me of being deliberatley offensive, or a mental disconnect, when, all you have to do is stop deleting remarks that aren't directed personally at you, for you are just the host, you know," put yourself out there kind of thing.", meaning you. You still refuse to post my entire post concerning your friend from the past. You still refuse to let your readers decide if I am deliberately offensive, or just showing both sides of the coin. Remember, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Try being a true blogger host, and let the readers decide, it so much better that way. I have so much respect for On The Face, this person truly is a blogger host, a true player in the blogger realm.


Posted by: Ma? | Dec 13, 2005 7:24:25 PM

David, I'm beginning to see you're right. Sometimes the blogger may have to address the troll directly and tell him/her/it/them that unless they have something constructive to say they'd better find another place for whining, because no one's interested in hearing the same thing being repeated over and over again.

Ma? - you want readers to decide whether you're being deliberately offensive or not? Very well. Before David deleted your comment, I read the whole thing. I cannot speak for your motivations, as I'm not a mind-reader, but I can say that it was very tactless, given the circumstances. I also thinking that continuing a discussion on who is a good blogger host and who isn't in a public forum is not only pointless, but distracting from the actual point of the blog, and not in any way that is meaningful or that is enriching the discussing. That's my opinion *as a reader*.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 13, 2005 9:12:13 PM

Jack... The problem with banning an IP address is that it is very easy to change to a new one.

Adina... I agree that there are some wonderfully popular blogs/journals out there that don't allow comments. In the case of Dooce, there is no question that she has a tremendous following, but I don't know how Heather feels about having had her interaction with her readers severed by trolls. It seems to me that this is a decision that should be up to the writer... not a defense mechanism imposed on the writer by hostile external forces. I know from my stats that there are hundreds of people who come by treppenwitz on a daily basis and treat it like a newspaper column. I don't know if they even read the comments, but they certainly don't show any interest in offering any feedback. The part of me that loves to write and tell stories is OK with that... and in fact that is pretty much what I expected when I started my site. But there are a few dozen regular commenters that have shown me an entirely different dimension to keeping an online journal. Instead of just writing what I know and feel... these commenters have given me the opportunity to write about things I'm not sure of... and things about which I don't know how I feel. I would be angry as hell if a bunch of trolls took away my opportunity to share ideas with these thoughtful, generous people.

Ma?... The funny thing is that I don't have to do anything of the sort. This is my site. I pay the bills... I write the posts... I try to make sure is is a safe place for people to exchange ideas about topics that I choose. You are welcome here, but don't lose sight of the fact that you are my guest here. That means that if someone crosses the bounds into what I consider to be bad manners or offensive behavior... I will act as I see fit. Sometimes my action may be as simple as an online response asking that someone modify their behavior (I've done that to you on more than one occasion). Sometimes I will send a private email and ask that someone 'lighten up' or show a little consideration to another reader. On very rare occasions I will remove a comment. I will do this if the comment offends me. I will do this if it might offend others. But most importantly I will do it if it will destroy the possibility of an honest exchange of ideas about the subject being discussed. I don't pretend to know your intentions for leaving a hurtful, disruptive comment on my site... but as a guest you are not in a position to question the manner in which I chose to respond. Stay and finish your drink or take your hat and leave... but please don't tell me what to do in my own house.

Irina... You must have been the 'lucky one' because I pulled that comment pretty quickly. :-) I appreciate your support... both as a reader and as a fellow site-owner.

Posted by: David | Dec 13, 2005 9:43:30 PM

Thanks for dredging up my post on your deceased friend. I would like to say that if your friend had died recently I would not have broached the subject I did. I just figured since you were giving all the details it was fair game. I also would not have been promted to go into the aspect of his life if he had been just a homosexual business man or scientist or even philosopher who had influenced your life. It was the incongruous juxtaposition of his homosexualality and high religious ideals that blew me away and made me want to comment.

Posted by: scott | Dec 13, 2005 10:33:50 PM

Kudos to Zahava, what a superb and impressive written comment!

Posted by: jaime | Dec 13, 2005 10:55:42 PM

Scott... Some wounds become more painful with time. Perhaps the most painful wound is the one left by regret at not having said thank you to a departed freind who has improved your life. I wrote a post about the loss of a friend and my regrets for never having said thank you. As an aside I mentioned that he had been gay, but it really wasn't central to the pain I was feeling. By posting your comment you took it upon yourself to decide what the point of the post was going to be, and I was not prepared to let you do that. You are entitled to your opinions, but when I decide I need to mourn for a friend on my journal, I have the right to set the terms of the tribute.

Posted by: David | Dec 13, 2005 11:06:28 PM


You are correct, it is not exceptionally difficult to block an IP address. However some of this is similar to the discussion about whether to lock your automobile.

Some of my friends say why bother because if a professional wants to steal it they can get into the car and take it regardless of any preventative measures that are taken.

The other school of thought is that you remove the ability of the opportunistic thief to rob you. You lock the car and send them on their way to look for something easier.

In the blogosphere one way of doing that is to Block IPs. Another is to edit the comment of the poster. When I used Haloscan I used to edit the trolls so that instead of making offensive remarks they appeared to support me or alternatively I made the remarks look silly.

That may be more work than some people want to get into.

There is also the option of just letting them blather on and ignoring them. Unless the comments are so offensive that you cannot.

Unfortunately there are no easy answers, other than to root for the NL, cheer for the Lakers and celebrate the skillful play of the Angels. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Dec 13, 2005 11:26:30 PM

Ooh, got an idea which might satisfy everybody. In some blogs (Typepad), it's possible to cross out words. Now if that could be done with troll posts, that would eliminate the need to delete them, help people ignore them if they wish to avoid offensive posts, AND perhaps teach the trolls a lesson. I don't know whether it's possible with comments and in which servers, but if it is, it might be worth a try.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 14, 2005 5:48:36 AM

Here is one simple suggestion. Modify the offending blogs not by content, but by presentation. For example, make their font color look less in-your-face for people to be able to easily skip them. Or put some symbol on top of those comments, to help people simply skip them.

Posted by: Yury | Dec 14, 2005 5:51:29 AM

Jack... Point taken.

Irina and Yuri... I think these were two of the best suggestions I've gotten so far. Thanks.

Posted by: David | Dec 14, 2005 4:18:10 PM

Well, I think it has to be diferent for every blog. My blog doesn't see *nearly* as much traffic and therfore not nearly as many trolls. That's not to say I haven't had problems...

I have outlined to my readers, twice now, what my rules are. Firstly, if you insist on not providing an email address or a blog address you may be deleted. If I am going to put myself out there to be used, abused, criticized and ridiculed, the least you could do is offer the same information I do. To hide behind fake addresses is to be a coward. Take me on if you must, but be prepared to offer the same information I do or face possible deletion. Or, at the very least, be prepared to be ignored.

Beyond that I have let people say anything they want and have only had to ban one IP from commenting in 3 years. Some debates, usually religious, have been fiery but as long as it is civil I welcome all views and enjoy hearing other opinions. I foster debates and varied opinions on my blog but I will not allow people to slander each other or otherwise piss on someone for their beliefs or race. Each to his own and I don't want someone coming on my blog and telling me or anyone else that whomever hasn't found Allah or Jesus or whatever is going to hell. State your case, back it up, but don't spit on my choices (or anyone else's). Religious or political choices are to be respected.

If you feel you have to swear to make your point go for it, but I will more than likely mock you as I feel it's hilarious when someone is reduced to calling someone else a [email protected] [email protected] because they can't think of a more intelligent reply to inject into the debate. The more you swear the more I will make fun of you. I enjoy it, so don't leave yourself open to it because I will make you feel downright stupid in front of a lot of people.

Keep it smart, keep it civil, and if you think you have something different to say then say it! Convince me of your point of view, don't just tell me I'm stupid for believing what I believe!

Posted by: celestial blue | Dec 14, 2005 7:26:16 PM

Celestial... I think you've just convinved me that I have to actually write up a set of rules. Glad to hear you're back safe and sound.

Posted by: David | Dec 14, 2005 9:27:31 PM

zehava wrote:
It seems that the most basic element that several of your commentors lack is the ability to grasp is that there is a world of difference between disagreeing with someone and telling them that they are wrong.


An intellectually honest exchange of ideas can not happen in an environement where good-bad values are assigned to ideas, actions, and philosophies which are not universally accepted (i.e. murder=bad, kindness=good). Many bloggers (including Treppenwitz and the blog from which the theme of this post was derived) take an idea that they haven't necessarily come to terms with and offer it up to public discussion in the hopes that additional thoughtful and meaningful responses related to the subject matter will stimulate new ways for them to probe and explore their own unresolved feelings/conclusions. These individuals are actually able to take a step outside themselves and consider another's point of view, even if they ultimately do not share said point of view.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I wish this were so. But it is not. Oops - did I just say you are "wrong"? But those are the facts...

I read the blog that inspired this post (ontheface by Adina's sister Lisa Goldman) for a good long time before posting. My posts were not of the "I am right, you are wrong" variety - instead they pointed out that many Israelis had a different take on things than the blogger's admittedly liberal perspective. My posts included links to ynet and other Israeli sources and voices.

Rather than being heard, I was banned.

So the expectation of "dialogue" and "exploration" that you, zehava, put so well was not fulfilled. Instead it was as you wrote: no meaningful dialogue is possible when certain opinions are declared to be "bad" and off-limits.

Zehava, you wrote that you are tired of the Left-Right shouting match. It's been my unfortunate experience that the behavior that stops true discussion - banning, deligitimizing, and refusing to hear the other - this behavior comes more from the left/liberal side than from the right/conservative side.

Unfortunately, my experience with 'the blog in question' bears that out. Suggestions that the silent majority of Israelis do not hold the views seen in Lisa's tiny sliver of Tel-Aviv were delegitimized, and banned.

So much for "exploring" new ground.

Posted by: Ben-David | Dec 15, 2005 4:36:00 PM

I like your options #2 and #3 - a list of set rules, and a required real e-mail address. I have no problem deleting comments on my blog which have been hurtful or otherwise offensive. There is no reason why I should entertain those kind of comments, nor why I should subject my readers to them.

I think you have been incredibly hospitable as a host, engaging commenters you disagree with in debate, and dealing with rudeness and vitriol with aplomb. If a comment is out of line of the boundaries you are comfortable with, the delete option is always there...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Dec 15, 2005 9:39:17 PM


this is a couple of years old, but it is still one of the most interesting deconstructions of the public and private registers and whether the web portend the end of the private register:

I think the private register will regain a foothold - as I believe it has with blogs. We'll learn a kind of tolerance for the private conversation that is not aimed at us, and that overreacting to that tone will be a sign of social naivete.

And we'll realise that the real conspiracies, aren't the ones that appear on publically readable Websites, with full names of attendees, detailed documentation of discussions, and endless braindumps of semi-private, clumsy, gushing conversations that nonetheless deserve a wider audience. That people who come across as eager to do good, willing to feed a couple of hundred people on the offchance that some benefit may accrue, who like hearing their friends sing in an off-key, don't mind others knowing that, and who are lucky enough to have smart friends and generous enough to share them, aren't the threat.

It's the real secrets; the real hide-aways; the people who are always either in public mode or in an ultra-ultra-secret combination we can barely guess at who are the dangerous ones. And they're a lot harder to spot from fifty yards, and a damn sight more immune to gentle satire.

Posted by: Adina | Dec 19, 2005 9:30:07 PM

just to clarify, that was an excerpt from Danny - though I wish I had written it.

Posted by: adina | Dec 19, 2005 9:42:41 PM

Mcaryeh... I try to be a good host, but as anyone who has ever hosted a dinner party can attest; the guests make or break a party.

Adina... That's pretty scary stuff, no matter who wrote it!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 19, 2005 11:54:16 PM

Did you read the whole entry? he describes the different registers, and how taking a blog with an established community of readers and endowing it with a endow them with nefarious qualities (ie spreading hate or elitism) is a fallacy.

If what we wrote was truly nefarious, it would not be public or so overt.

How did you find it scary?

Posted by: adina | Dec 21, 2005 12:57:00 AM

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