Talk To Us About Comment Moderation

There's been a large surge in comments at Popehat this year. That's good, and I appreciate it. We've made new friends and acquaintances, had some robust debates (or hosted them, more accurately), and seen some excellent points.

There's also been typical blog-comment behavior of sorts we'd like to minimize here. Enough said.

I simply don't have the time to hand-moderate when posts generate scores or hundreds of comments. When I don't have time to moderate comments on controversial posts, it makes me at least slightly less inclined to write them. There are certain types of turds I'd prefer not to leave on my living room carpet.

So. Talk to me about comment moderation, with a focus on any WordPress plugins you like. Maybe something with self-moderating elements like comment voting?

(By the way, right now, first-time commenters have their comments held in moderation, which I tend to handle reasonably quickly; nobody else is held in moderation. I tend to publish unless it is spam or straight-up douchtastic in a manner I don't want in my own living room.)

I'm not interested in Facebook comments or other methods that eliminate reasonable opportunities for semi-anonymity (that is, I'd be OK with requiring a working email address, but not with requiring a real name).

If you would like to use this post as an opportunity to lose an argument about the difference between my living room and a streetcorner under the public forum doctrine, please feel free.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. ZK says

    I'm not a huge fan of automated moderation, personally. Voting turns into an agree/disagree button very quickly.

    Maybe some of the more regular commentators would be willing to clean your carpet informally?

    I've certainly seen some not-so-great comments pop up, but it's still not to the level of the internet-at-large.

  2. says

    I hate comment voting – it seems to drown out the comments that are most controversial or go against conventional wisdom – or are not PC. I don't know much about plug-ins. I like your pre-moderation and might suggest simply eliminating people's permission back to moderation for first time offenses of douchebaggery and banning for subsequent. People will do some self-moderation this way.

  3. Shawn says

    Random thought: Turn off comments, make a Popehat Subreddit (on reddit) and just post a link to the article there…

  4. Kilroy says

    The "living room" analogy doesn't really work since few, if any of us, were actually invited here. I assume if most of showed up to your living room uninvited and even just stood around reading your books, you'd have a problem. It also isn't a public street corner since you've created this forum and have certain authority and control. A more apt analogy is to your front lawn, which you use to distribute public pamphlets. Everyone is welcome to come, some dogs even shit in the grass, but you can and do ask that they be cleaned up after.

  5. says

    Is thread drift okay or not okay? I'm a perpetrator of it, but I expect that someone would have told me to STFU by now if it were a no-no.

    I'm also anti-comment voting and the like/dislike system in general, as it invariably turns out to be more about shouting unpopular opinions down than punishing actually rudeness.

    Kirk Taylor's idea of volunteer mods is excellent as long as you're willing to deal with anyone who develops a complex.

  6. says

    As much as I appreciate the clarity and sanity that can be provided by efficient moderation, I have to confess that I really love some of the more egregiously bad comments that appear.

    I especially like horrible comments that go on to become memes on their own, like "How is Babby Formed" or anything by Charles Carreon.

    I think Popehat has the potential to elicit some of the most spectacularly bad comments and would feel bad if I missed any real head-desk-pounders or coffee-spitters.

    Just my 38 cents (adjusted for inflation)

  7. KronWeld says

    I'm not sure what other sites have done, but suddenly I can't read the comments there without allowing access to websites I don't know anything about. They also seem to require being registered at those websites to post. Personally I don't like that. I think it is a great way to lose what little privacy we have on the web.

    Other than letting some of the regulars you trust police the comments for you, I don't have any idea how to solve the problem. Boing Boing, when I could read the comments, would go and remove all the vowels in flamming comments, or something like that. They could still be read, but it kinda damped the flames down. No one could say that their comments were deleted, unless they were spam. It tended to slow the flames down. Still it took people monitoring the site to do it.

  8. says

    Ken, I second the motion for Disqus, I've been putting it on all of my sites lately and I love it! It allows those who want to use Facebook, Twitter or Google to sign in, or people can remain anonymous and put in their email address. Additionally, you can integrate Akismet fairly easily to cut down on potential spam.

    Having the ability for the community to "flag" a potentially inappropriate comment is always welcome.

  9. digitrev says

    Slashdot has a great discussion system, and you get a pretty good signal to noise ratio. Basically, no one can post and moderate at the same time. And then you have meta-moderation to make sure that the mods are being fair. However, you do need quite a large userbase before it becomes practical.

  10. says

    Other posters have pointed out the problem with vote-based moderation: it can bury dissenting opinions just as easily as abusive posts.

    I think one possible solution is to give up/downvote power only to specific, established, trusted users. This system is still vulnerable to abuse, of course, but I think it's probably one of the better options for making sure good posts are visible and bad posts are buried.

  11. CTrees says

    KronWeld has essentially described why I don't like disqus. Also, it seems like it works very unpredictably with certain setups, which is what led me to stop posting comments on one site for which I used to be a moderator.

    That said, any time you solicit website feedback like this, you're going to end up with support for conflicting sides (see: disqus is great vs. disqus gave me herpes), so…

    Perhaps a simple "flag for review" button? Presumably there are implimentations which could allow you to weed out abuse of said button.

  12. says

    I agree with the Disqus comments: don't love it, but will deal. BUt a flag button would go a long way towards allowing you to let things mostly go, trusting the general run of folks to police themselves while alerting you to potential problems.

  13. Matt says

    I'm not going to try and have the "free expression" vs "private property" argument. Mostly because you'd win. Less so because you're right (although I do know you are).

    But as a very occasional member of the pool of commenters, I would like to offer my _personal opinion_ that the current freewheeling, tolerant-to-the-very-border-of-excess style is a very good thing, and ought to be preserved. Not, of course, at the cost of your sanity or an excessive quantity of your time, but perhaps (if necessary) at the cost of some people's sensibilities.

    As someone whose own blog is effectively defunct, I have no useful information to offer about the back-end ease of any given comment system, but Disqus seems to offer everything you want on the front end.

  14. Jake says

    I'd say just elect a few trusted moderators and let them handle most of it. However, the thing you have to worry about then is abuse of power, over inflated egos and cronyism (which is both fascinating and disturbing to watch happen in a position like "comment moderator"). When you give someone the affirmation of trust and raise them above their peers, regardless of the environment, there is a heavy tendency for people to think and act as if that trust made them inherently superior to others. It can be resisted by someone that is aware of the effect, but it seems to be hard wired into most people, and therefore represents a constant internal battle. If even a good person succumbs to these temptations, you'll have a great deal of discontent in your user base, and much drama will be had on all sides (especially when you remove them or announce your decision not to remove them).

    A reasonable way to avoid the problems and drama this system can produce is to have moderators serve a set term of service, then be demoted to regular users once again. This helps people keep perspective, and everyone knows that if they moderate unfairly during their term, they risk persecution by both their peers and the new mods when their term is over. By having a set term you also avoid the drama of having to remove mods that are improperly handling their responsibilities. There are no hard feelings when a term expires, no value judgment, and so the mod can resume being a normal member without feeling as if he/she had failed (and then redirecting their guilt/shame and becoming resentful towards you and those around them). If the mod was successful and didn't go mad with power, perhaps give them a second term down the line (not ever back to back).

    I'd suggest anywhere from 2 to 6 months for a term, depending how much you want to have to deal with appointing new mods. Anything over 6 months risks complacency, major life and schedule changes, and the aforementioned tendency to abuse power.

  15. says

    @john: yes, we got mucho spam.

    @M.: interesting idea.

    One thing we might think about doing is a "trial run" of a month or so of something.

  16. C. S. P. Schofield says

    As one of the occasional jerks (y'all call me on it, mostly) I'd want to see something like vote buttons that would alert the blog owner when they reached certain thresholds. It seems to me that most people just won't be bothered, and when there's an avalanche of 'Dislike', there might be a problem. Now, whether there are such things is something I'm not qualified to say. I'm not a techie, I just married one.

  17. Josh C says

    Can I still lose that argument if I claim that there IS a difference?

    More seriously though, I'm genuinely not sure what your expectations are. There's a bit of a dichotomy between celebrating pudendal rhetorical flourishes, and expecting perfect civility immediately afterward. Likewise, making markets-based arguments for free speech (as opposed to rights-based ones), especially when so frequently capped off with "the answer to [bad] speech is more speech," clashes with (vague!) rumblings about impermissible topics.

    I don't think you're somehow a bad person for occasionally sending mixed messages, nor do I think you're any less outstanding an advocate of liberty for refusing to propagate speech you detest (regardless of whether you detest it for assholery or for wrongthink). I do think you might find your expectations are met more reliably if you clarified what those expectations are.

  18. Andy says

    I'd be against moderation of comments per se, but if the wordpress allowed it, may be having a sub-forum where a discussion can continue after a thread has hit a point of no return. Maybe have threads closed if they are getting to the point where it is just becoming abuse or moving away from the point of the article, but leave somewhere for those who are still interested in discussing it to carry it on.

    With regard to closing a thread if it has gone too far, maybe a thumbs up/down on the thread rather than specific comments and once it hits your critical mass figure, it gets reviewed, either by yourselves or trusted minions, to see if it does need closing and then there is the secondary space in which interested parties could carry on the discussion.

    But these are purely the musings of someone who enjoys watching commenters self-explode on occasion.

  19. Grifter says

    So long as there's oversight by you real mods, I think any system you try can work.

    The easiest solution for you is probably to bring some of your more trusted posters into a mod system, so that they can handle at least some of the headaches for you and you can just make sure they aren't stifling inappropriately.

    Someone mentioned BoingBoing up-thread, but I got booted from there by a mod and there is no way to protest that I could find; the manner in which it happened left quite a bad taste in my mouth.

  20. Ae Viescas says

    I'm not a big fan of Disqus, but I do like threaded comments. The problem is that Disqus loves losing threaded comments.

    I also like comment voting, but with a fairly permissive default of what gets "auto-hidden." (and also doesn't rearrange comments based on votes, which is icky) Done right, comment voting leaves everyone free to choose who and what they have to read, and only the worst douchebags get auto-hidden–it's the marketplace of ideas at work.

  21. En Passant says

    Like most around here I comment pseudonymously, with no credentials except the pseudonym and (in my case at least) bogus email address. First time I commented I was held for moderation, and I've kept the same pseudonym since. Basically the comments section here is a variety of "honor system". I recognize the method's fragility to pestiferous disruption.

    I wouldn't object to a registration and password scheme, as long as it's pseudonymous, stable, sanely uncomplicated and doesn't require me to use some special browser add-on, or some particular browser.

    I also think any comment "voting" system worth its salt as a useful indicator of commentariat opinion would necessarily need to be slightly complicated, distinct from a "+1 MicroRandazza" or "-1 TaintSnort" button that any reader could click.

    The longstanding forum has a workable voting scheme that produces results useful to its readers and commenters. I'll not describe it here except to say that it is more complicated and depends upon its users being registered and recognized by the comment system. I'm not sure whether it or a reasonable facsimile is readily available for blog owners though.

    Most any "honor system" does require some blog owner police work, and I expect that registration schemes for commenters would require some as well.

    I do have one objection to Disqus — it displays nigh unreadable tiny type face in any browser I've tried. Using any browser's controls to increase the type size hasn't worked well for me at least. For that, I hate it. Otherwise, it seems to produce reasonably threaded comments.

    All that is a long way of saying that I think any method you choose will entail some effort, whether mostly setup effort with less ongoing police effort, or vice versa.

    Your living room may be here on this streetcorner, but it's still your living room. Choose a comment system that best suits your criteria for low or no maintenance, and I'm good with it as long as I can read whatever it produces.

  22. says

    I don't know much about the mechanics of Disqus, but from recent comments over at BoingBoing there's been some sort of update that's giving the moderators there minor fits–you might want to check for more details on what's been going on.

    As far as the mechanics of moderation go, you might want to do a search on the Making Light archives: you may agree or disagree with her opinions on the subject, but Teresa Nielsen Hayden has done a lot of thinking and writing on the subject of moderation over the years which might be useful to you.

  23. David says

    When the Volokh crew switched to Disqus, it wiped out all comments that had ever been posted on the site before the changeover. I'm not sure if that was because of how their site was coded or it's a thing Disqus always does, but it's something to keep in mind.

  24. tsrblke says

    I second Disquis, it allows a customizable amount of privacy (Twitter, facebook or email/disquis account). As well it's moderation abilities seem pretty solid. IIRC (and it's been a while since I looked) you can even ignore "Flag" abusers in Disquis (i.e. if I flag every left leaning post, you can just mark me as not trustworthy and move on.) (YMMV, I'm going from a 1 year old memory here and may be confusing systems.)
    It seems to work well for the guys over at Volokh.

  25. Steve F says

    Are you aware of the comment paradigm at ? (Dunno if wordpress has something similar.) At forbes, there are two levels of comments, "called out" and not "called out". The post author has the ability to "call out" a particular comment. When a reader clicks on the comments, only the "called out" comments are initially displayed; the reader has to click again to see the non-"called out" comments.

    I like that paradigm because it gives the post author the ability to curate the discussion in a positive manner.

  26. Kilroy says

    having taken up the challenge of using this post as an opportunity to argue about the difference between your living room and a streetcorner under the public forum doctrine, I now declare victory.

  27. says

    Presented, without comment, from elsewhere:

    If Ken and Patrick actually lived by the "free speech" they claim to advocate for, and only suppressed those who were directly, personally insulting to them, their commenters, and/or their positions, without contributing to the argument or discussion (or, granted, overt spammers, of course), then they'd be a lot less hypocrites than they are.

    They are, in fact, typical liberals, not hesitating to suppress the speech of people whose opinions THEY don't like. They just aren't as bad as some liberals in terms of the opinions THEY don't like. They're still censorious.

  28. James Pollock says

    Deputize some people you trust to be your eyes and ears. When they see something approaching a line, have them tell you, and then decide for yourself what, if anything, needs doing. This allows you to retain control of decision-making while offloading the need to read all the comments…you get interrupted only when something actually needs your attention. Of course, someone else's opinion of "what needs your opinion" might not track completely with your opinion of "what needs your attention", but by having many of them working in parallel, you substantially increase the likelihood of alarm accuracy.

    Or, enforce an arbitrary banning policy. Sadly, as you well know, any effort to get people to self-censor their own unwanted speech will have a chilling effect on stuff you don't actually object to, and there are STILL people who have no idea where the line is (or should be) in polite discussion who need to be taken out back to the woodshed.

  29. says

    Ken, I'll second/third/fourth or fifth Disqus. I use Disqus on my blog in conjunction with the Akismet spam filter. I'm not going to say it's perfect, because it isn't, but the whitelist / blacklist functionality is really good and I'm pleased enough with Disqus on the whole. The built-in auto-spam filtering works well, and on top of that free Akismet service (you just sign up to it and then add the API key into the Disqus settings panel) is pretty comprehensive. In short, I've never had spam comments on my blog — these are always caught and kept from being posted.

    There is a utility that imports comments from other sites, but I cannot speak for it as I didn't use it. Anyway, I hope this helps.


  30. Grifter says


    Where's that from? You presented it without comment, but do we get to?

    Also: I managed to piss of Patrick with my first few posts, and have undoubtedly pissed you off (always inadvertently!). Y'all haven't thrown me out yet, for which I'm quite thankful. And I like to hope I'd get a warning if I got to that edge.

    Also also: I'm gonna comment anyway: Talk about not understanding the concept of free speech.

  31. says

    Well, by that person's logic, we'd might as well just move the whole show over to YouTube. That's a great idea, actually – just upload video readings of your posts, then let the coherent, well-thought-out comments, the "lol u fagz xbox sux"s, and "AMERICAN DEVILS!!!!!11111eleven"s fall where they may.

  32. John David Galt says

    I'm a fan of quite wild & woolly commenting, even to the point where I disagreed with the post titled Not Cool (though I would not have written the comments that provoked it).

    But it's your house.

    I do like the votes-by-others system that uses. Perhaps something like it could give the results you're after.

  33. says

    @John: do you like something about that site's vote-up-or-down system in particular, compared to others, or just such voting in general?

  34. says

    Also, a note: I have no doubt, humans being humans, that downvotes go disproportionately to unpopular or non-mainstream (as opposed to dickish) views.

    However, that process itself can we interesting to watch and comment upon.

    I'm less inclined towards a system that "hides" heavily downvoted comments and more inclined towards one that, for instance, notifies me of them. Also, I suspect that the ability to downvote something lets off some steam people might otherwise expend in an annoying slap-fight.

    Not decided. Just commenting.

  35. says

    In my experience, a lot of downvoting is "my experience is different, and because I'm the center of the universe, only my experience is valid," sycophantry, or pigenholding based on preconceived notions of liberalism and conservatism. But k.

  36. Grifter says


    I haven't been involved in a lot of downvoting systems, but that's a good point on the slap-fights.

  37. Joe Pullen says

    Not sure I can add much on what might work. Looks like some good suggestions so far. I recall my own pathetic attempt to remind someone on one of the Carreon threads not to be a dick by saying “Remember – we should be the good guys" and received in response.

    Joe, first off there is no "WE". Second fuck you for trying to be my moral compass. I'll do what I damn well want to, and if writing him a letter doesn't help the cause I don't give a shit. I don't exist for the cause as you have determined the "good guys" to represent.
    You may be trying to help but you are being a censorious asshat yourself.

    Sadly there will always be people who think it’s OK to leave turds on someone else’s living room floor. Being a moderator would be cool, but only if I have Ken-like powers and can turn someone’s post into comments about enjoying eating paste.

  38. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Re; the attack on Ken and Patrick,

    Using the power of the State, or some other threat, to prevent someone from publishing their drivel is CENSORSHIP.

    Declining to provide them with a podium, a venue, or free printing is THRIFT.

    Far too many people should have this distinction tattooed on their backsides, so that they will see it every time they set about jamming their craniums through their sphincters.

  39. Demosthenes says

    I can't believe someone would actually write that brainless drivel about you and Patrick. First off, telling people to get off your property if they persist in displaying cranio-rectal syndrome is nothing like censorship. Second, I have never found either of you to be that way in my limited time here. If anything, you're all the way on the other side — you allow comments to go where they may the vast majority of the time, and that's what makes this site so fun. After all, you could have banned me from the site that one time a week or so ago when I "shamed" you (unfairly, as I now realize, and sorry again for that). You didn't. The conversation kept going long enough for me to realize what a mistake I'd made.

    So — if you're sold on adding some sort of moderation software, I think Disqus will do everything you want it to do, and it certainly seems like most people (myself included) would be okay with the decision. But frankly, I like things the way they are.

  40. James Pollock says

    The demographic that believes that "free speech" means "I get to say whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want with no repercussions whatsoever" is not a small one. They're wrong, but there's a LOT of them…

    But now I want to rant on the unreasonable animus displayed against slap-fighting and slap-fighters…
    Sadly, I suspect that while a vast majority of comment options (rather than just "like" and "STFU, butthead") would require some kind of custom programming. But it might be nice to see that a specific comment received 12 "right on!" votes, 6 "WTF" votes, 37 "stay on topic" votes, and 1 "who cares" vote, or whatever, with a handy console for board operators to see vote totals on a per commenter basis.

    Can we make other suggestions, like having the comments numbered for easier cross-reference? (although, this sometimes is a problem when a first-time commenter gets held for moderation, and then allowed, adding a comment to magically appear and bumping down all the numbers afterwards.)

  41. PLW says

    I would love some variant up-votes/down-votes, because I used to love reading the comments here, but now there are too many and I am overwhelmed. I would probably come back and read them again if someone to highlight the interesting ones for me.

  42. Dan P says

    Haven't used disqus much, though it looks pretty good from a usability standpoint (at least no worse than this). Trouble with the slashdot thing is (IIRC) it's their own home-grown solution, so probably won't work outside of their venue.

  43. somebody says

    A comment rating system can be either very good or very bad, depending on the type of commenters that the blog attracts. I've seen good comment rating implementations and bad comment rating implementations, and it all depends on the users.

    If the majority of a blog's commenters are civil and respectful, a comment rating system is very effective for maintaining this standard — when bad apples sneak into a discussion, they can be downvoted before they can poison the tone of the other commenters. Comment ratings can mark bad commenters, trolls, creepy salesmen, etc. and ensure that their attitudes do not upset the "good" commenters into shouting at each other.

    At the same time, if comment ratings are implemented on a site full of shit-flinging monkeys, the comment rating system will simply become another weapon in their arsenal. I used to frequent a political blog that has since become overrun with commenters on two extreme ends of the political spectrum, and the comment rating system the blog employs has become a joke. The number of up- or down-votes any comment on this blog receives depends entirely on whether the voter agrees with the commenter's political views, regardless of whether the comment is making a valid point or just threatening to sodomize the other commenters. On a site like this, it's questionable whether comments should be enabled at all, let alone voted on.

    I want to believe that this blog falls into the first category, and that a comment rating system would be used fairly and respectfully. There's a lot of variables, however, and a great deal of the system's effectiveness depends on whether commenters judge each other's comments based on a given comment's quality, or based on the opinion the comment expresses. There's no way I can say that for certain, since I've seen both good debates and bad debates in the comments on this site, and while a rating system can make a good debate better, it can very easily make a bad debate worse.

    If readers of Popehat like comment rating systems, I think that such a system could at least be worth a pilot test.

  44. jo says

    I don't know what you should do, but I really, really hate Disqus. When Volokh switched to it I lost the ability to see comments without making all kinds of special permissions in my reasonably secure firefox setup and was reduced to having to use an unsecured setup in chrome just for looking at Volokh. Eventually that got to be too much trouble and now I hardly ever comment there. Of course I hardly ever comment here, either, and I suppose it's silly to ask you not to mess things up just for my sake. I remember that when Volokh switched there was an awful lot of trouble for many people for a while. Perhaps it's all settled now, or perhaps the people for whom it was troublesome have given up complaining, or maybe they have just given up on the comments, as I have. It'd be more of a loss to me here.

  45. En Passant says

    James Pollock wrote Sep 21, 2012 @12:13 pm:

    Can we make other suggestions, like having the comments numbered for easier cross-reference? (although, this sometimes is a problem when a first-time commenter gets held for moderation, and then allowed, adding a comment to magically appear and bumping down all the numbers afterwards.)

    If you right-click on the timestamp of any comment (see, eg: your Sep 21, 2012 @12:13 pm timestamp above), you will see the comment # of the comment, as part of the URL for the comment.

    You can copy the URL into your clipboard to use in any comment you are composting.[1]

    Where you will see it depends on your browser.

    Alternatively, you can just use the text of the commenter's name and timestamp to reference the comment to which you wish to refer.

    FN 1: yeah, I know.

  46. Luke says

    I am a fan of the "Report" or "Flag" options. There doesn't need to be an explanation field, just a threshhold where you guys would get notified.

    Also, I very much disagree with the comment that Ken and Patrick are censorious to views they don't like. The person is probably a paste eater or doesn't read the comments that often.

  47. En Passant says

    jo wrote Sep 21, 2012 @12:34 pm:

    I don't know what you should do, but I really, really hate Disqus. When Volokh switched to it I lost the ability to see comments without making all kinds of special permissions in my reasonably secure firefox setup and was reduced to having to use an unsecured setup in chrome just for looking at Volokh.

    Ditto. I only even try to read VC once a week, if that. It's got wonderful content, but near inaccessible presentation. Until its "redesign" I had read and commented there since its inception.

    However, the only problem reading VC that I associate with Disqus (possibly my error) is the ridiculously small type face for comments.

    The other problems, not seeing comments at all, and not even loading most original posts, is not a Disqus problem IMHO. It is a problem caused by the idiot(s)consultants VC hired to rework the website serverside to optimize response and minimize transmission bandwidth or some such thing. The result is a near unreadable site, although I found that a completely nekkid Internet Exploder can load and display it, but very slowly.

    They had a discussion thread a while back on the redesign. The consultant they hired participated. He was quite arrogant in his dismissal of anyone who mentioned problems reading the website.

    My suggestion to Ken is to avoid doing whatever VC did.

  48. princessartemis says

    Like jo, I have taken steps to secure my browser. For this reason Disqus comment threads will not load. They are completely invisible on Volokh, and other sites which use Disqus will occasionally show Disqus attempting to load but never doing so. It's annoying that a blog commenting service doesn't play nice with security precautions on a browser, even if it is given specific permissions.

    The posts themselves would certainly still be worth reading, though I'd miss the comments. They aren't why I come here.

  49. says

    I second John Beaty's idea of a range of buttons.

    The other problem with "like" and "dislike" is that there's a certain microsegment of the Internet population which goes around disliking everything for the sake of disliking everything. That's why you have YouTube videos with 14k likes and three dislikes.

  50. Gavin says

    I suppose you could always replace the chat options with a link to the message boards, requiring people to create an account before posting. I mean, that'd rule out a lot of shenanigans and allow the use of moderators without giving them access to the top level of the site.

  51. says

    I may have missed this suggestion, having only skimmed the comments, but would a "flag" button that records the name the commenter uses be possible? That way you could set an alert once a comment reaches a certain number of flags, and if you find someone seemingly abusing the system you can send them a private e-mail asking them to play nice before you either ban or name & shame in public.

    Or, kick in auto-moderation when a comment thread becomes dominated by a certain number of users (say three or four?) which may be indicative of a thread moving rapidly from "debate" to "I know you are but what am I" territory.

  52. John Berry says

    Somehow Ken and Patrick as "liberal" suppressors of "free-speech" never crossed my mind. Maybe I have a warped view of "liberal", "free-speech", Ken, and Patrick.

    I come here to learn. Comments have been a huge part of my education. As long as the people who challenge and inform me are able to post I will be here reading. Thanks to all.

  53. Clayton says

    In addition to the flag/report field having a threshold, it might be worth investigating if there are any options where you can weight the relevance of a user's flagging a post or not.

    (E.g. you probably don't want people to flag too much, and you'll probably be less likely to care about a flag from someone who receives many flags themselves…)

  54. David says

    Re: AdBlock and Disqus, that seems to be a Volokh problem specifically – I can't see comments there without turning off my blockers, but if I go to, say, Engadget, everything works fine.

  55. AlphaCentauri says

    Whatever is used on, I couldn't see the comments at all until I'd gone through several cascading levels of javascript permissions. You can't just allow "" on NoScript. You have to allow all kinds of ad sites before you get to the part where it asks you to allow

    That being said, I also hate threaded comments. Another forum where I participate just got rid of them. It's very difficult to find the most recent comments if you return to an active discussion. I also vote against burying comments with negative votes. It can make it hard to follow discussions or to know what people are responding to. (It can also make it impossible for us older folks to read the comments to a downvoted post.)

    Popehat's moderation issues are different than a lot of sites' issues. There's spam, and every legitimate site wants to block that. And there's abusive trolling, and most people want to block that, too. But there is a fine line between a spirited debate and a flame war (or between an argument and a contradicton, as Monty Python would argue). What *you* choose to permit or not, and whether you admonish someone, delete a comment, or ban a user is a very personal decision. Popehat is what it is in large part because of the judgment you have used in making those decisions.

    Garden variety comment spamming has made moderation difficult for everyone. But having intelligent comments that go on for paragraphs makes it time consuming for you to keep up with reading them all and catching the spam/trolling. Having people participate that articulately is a measure of your success, not a problem.

    My suggestions — which may or may not be possible with your current hosting and software:
    1. Use Cloudflare. It blocks a lot of spammers, it alerts visitors if there has been a trojan-infested computer on their IP recently, and it can reduce your bandwidth in some cases. It also reduces the risk of certain types of DDoS.
    2. Leave the comments sequential instead of threaded.
    3. Instead of a few designated moderators who delete comments and might change the animus of the site, make a broad category of frequent users act as a type of neighborhood watch. That would include most of the people who post regularly and have half a brain. They would be able to click on the "notify" button that would not be visible to less frequent users. Spammers would not have access to the notify button at all. "Notify" in this case would mean, "We know you guys are really busy doing lawyer shit and all, but you maybe want to look at this post to see if you think it's appropriate." That corps of users with access to the notify button would have a vested interest in not over-using the privilege, so they don't waste your time and make it harder for you to produce more new posts.

  56. nlp says

    I was going to suggest what RovingRambler suggested, having a button to report abuse, and when an arbitrary number is reached, that post is pulled for review. Posters who regularly flag posts based on opinion rather than content will be warned. People who regularly post abusive comments will be barred.

    That would turn the community into the eyes and ears you need.

  57. JLA Girl says

    I know nothing about comment moderation practices or programs. What I do know is that the Popehat comment sections is (almost) as awesome as the posts themselves. I think it's great that there's such a largely hands off approach. I guess I haven't read a enough comment forums to know how bad it can get. I still scratch my head at people not being able to police their own comments.

    And as to Ken's 'presented without comment' post: WTF? It's your living room/front lawn/grand ballroom. Barring the doors is totally your right. I'm cool with whatever system makes it easiest on the moderators but I'd be sad to see a huge change in the comments here.

  58. Alan says

    Get a better blog platform that allows you to have volunteer moderators, then get volunteer moderators. Works wonders for smallish online community fora. When i say smallish, i mean 10k members or less.

  59. Dan Weber says

    It took me months to realize that there is still a comment section at Volokh. I don't know what my browsers don't like about their website, but there's still a 90% chance I won't be able to load / view / make comments. And since the ability to comment and discuss is critical to my blog-reading, I've mostly stopped reading them. (Although the comment section had gone down hill there significantly, so I didn't feel an effort to go back.)

    But lots of other places make Disqus work. I would prefer Popehat don't go there, because while I like voting in some places I wouldn't like it here. But I would, like others, deal.

    Is the problem just spam? ("Just," he says.) I would something like:

    – let users opt-in to seeing unapproved messages via cookie
    – mark "veteran users" via cookie
    – let those "veteran users" mark unapproved messages as either good or bad. Votes are completely invisible to other users, until:
    – when a message gets (say) 6 votes, and is at least 4:1 in voting one way or the other, consider it a normal message anyone can see and can no longer get any votes.
    – after a month review the fate of those messages, particularly what early voting did, and those messages for which there was conflict.

    For "veteran users" I would be very generous. Anyone who has made, say, 5 comments counts.

  60. James Pollock says

    Not that I enjoy being contrary (OK, maybe a LITTLE bit) but I'm not entirely sure that a notification system based on volume of complaints is going to work, since (I'm guessing) the worst offenses happen in the tail ending of postings, when the number of actual readers has declined to only a few still actively slap-fighting, and a week or so of slap-fighting has caused tempers to flare, and the whole thing has become hideously boring to all but those with recent slap-welts.

    Alternatively, I would be concerned that, for those slap-fights that have devolved to hyperbole and flame, having the ability to report the other guy to the site's moderators (rather than make a reasoned post countering the rational points still being made) would take on the character of "I'M TELLING DAD ON YOU!!!!", and increasing childishness is not what you're looking for.

    Of course, it might have helped if you'd pointed directly to the threads and/or specific comments that are causing you concern.

  61. Dan Weber says

    If the issue is threads were the normal users are getting out of hand, not spam, maybe letting users click to vote towards ending the thread.

    It's a totally half-baked idea. I'm interested in the idea as an experiment, but don't know if it's good or bad.

    Now I'm wondering whether a comment thread getting longer should mean it takes more votes to end it, or less. :)

  62. says

    While Disqus may not be the worst commenting system (Sport Illustrated has that), it's among the top five. Ditto on all the aggro created when took that route. I can only see it in another browser which I use only for Volokh because it leaves me so security naked.

    I appreciate the lameness — and ability to game — the voting up/down systems. There are enough turd blossoms stopping by here who are willing to vandalize the comments that I think it's unworkable.

    I think the only realistic way of both moderating out the jackals AND not eating up more of your limited time is to select a small cadre of non-barbarians, give them limited rights within WordPress, and let them do the work. Five people ought to do it, without the task's becoming a burden and allowing for people to have a life. Payment, of course, would be via a free subscription to Popehat. Or, if you happened to have a bunch of spare money hanging around, t-shirts featuring the Popehat Signal[TM].

  63. Zymergist says


    First time commenter (Love your writing, glad you are back!). What about flagging by senior commenters only (say 20 or more comments + your approval) as a first alert level where more than say 5 flags would alert a short list of mods you trust who would then decide how to handle the comment? This would allow a level of crowd source advising while keeping the actual power under tighter control. If you find senior commenters flagging excessively or inappropriately just revoke the flagging privilege for the individual.

    Just my opinion, and you know what they say about those…. ;)

  64. Myk says

    I have no set preferences; I kinda like the free–form approach here although I do appreciate the amount of behind the scenes work it must result in for Ken, Patrick and team. There is a risk associated with promoting citizens to mods, but by & large the regulars here seem to have a reasonably balanced view; maybe there could be a cross-mod system, where flagged comments are reviewed by a mod, and a second mod then agrees/disagrees with he decision? Sounds unwieldy but it seems to be to be something that could work – but I have zero idea about the mechanics of moderation so am effectively just talking outta my butt.

    Whatever is decided, I'll go along with as long as the vote/ranking system is based on a scale ranging from Randazza to Full-blown Tara

  65. Gavin says

    Eh, scratch the pushing it to the message boards idea. Just checked them out but I guess it's not heavily used.

  66. Joe Pullen says

    @JLA Girl – the quality of the posts here I think are partly due to the time and efforts of Ken and Patrick to moderate and on occasion shame someone into proper behavior and on rare occasion ban them altogether. But it also seems the majority of the regulars help keep the tone of the board for the most part both interesting and civil. I have understand the effort to police a blog with so many visitors. At the same time I’d be sorry to miss certain opportunities to see a train wreck in action – specifically

    Watching some clueless idiot blur the line between criticism and censorship = amusing

    Attempting to give the idiot a clue = entertaining

    Witnessing Ken or Patrick fisk the unwitting idiot = priceless

  67. Blaze Miskulin says

    A note on Disqus:

    Because of its ties with Facebook, et. al., it can break for viewers who are being firewalls that block those site. I've found this to be a problem, here in China. I can read Volokh, for example, but often need to load a proxy in order to even see the comments.

  68. Xenocles says

    1. I like vote buttons, but not for moderation purposes. I actually appreciate a quick means of receiving and giving feedback, and I don't like making "+1" posts. I just don't like a system that hides posts with many downvotes.

    2. I go to a few semi-major boards, like Reason and Cracked, and while they both implement measures to automatically filter spam my sense is that they both allow a lot of spam and hinder legit commenting. The attackers are winning the arms race and the rest of are standing in TSA lines, so to speak. So I'm not sold on most of those measures.

    3. Overall I think the best overall way to moderate is to be upfront about your rules, warn people when they break them, and ban them if they remain intransigent. To that end, I would seek a service that allows you to ban people reliably and that allows people on your side to bring violators to your attention. Flags shouldn't necessarily hide posts immediately, but perhaps the ability to show that they're flagged would be good. With that in mind I kind of think Disqus is pretty good. No idea how much it costs, and I don't like the way it handles threading (though I think it's improving), but it seems to work pretty well on the sites I go to.

  69. Random Encounter says

    There is a user moderation system where each user gets a certain number of "flags" that they can apply to posts (rather small) and if a post receives a certain number of flags it is hidden. It seems to work well for moderate traffic sites.

    I think it's available as a Drupal plugin, but not sure.

  70. wgering says

    I was going to say some stuff, but AlphaCentauri said just about everything I was going to (and better than I could have).

    While we're talking about changes to the comment section though, how hard would it be to put in a "Preview Comment" button (seriously asking, not being facetious)? I hate hitting Submit only to realize I forgot to close my parentheses on a dozen or so formatting tags.

    An "Edit Comment" button might be nice too.

  71. says

    Yeah, I would appreciate a chance to edit my comments so that I don't look slightly insane with all my multi-posting

  72. KronWeld says

    If Disqus is anyway connected to Facebook, then I'm against it. I don't trust Facebook. No wonder I can't get to the comments in so many places; I've done everything possible to block anything Facebook.

    But, (I know one is never suppose to start a sentence with but. But sometimes it works.) I don't post here much and I'm not one of the clever ones that people enjoy reading so much, so my opinion on this really doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

  73. leo marvin says

    "They had a discussion thread a while back on the redesign. The consultant they hired participated. He was quite arrogant in his dismissal of anyone who mentioned problems reading the website.

    My suggestion to Ken is to avoid doing whatever VC did."


    FWIW, I thought the idea of threaded comments was pretty cool until VC switched to them (via Disqus). IMO the atomized mini-threads sucked a lot of the conversational feel out of the threads as a whole. I continue to comment there because the threads are still a pretty decent mix of relative civility, legal sophistication and balanced left-right debate, but they're less interesting than they were before Disqus.

    Also, the latest Disqus update, which includes up and down voting, has more annoying scripts, and is a memory hog. And it gave me herpes.

  74. Terry says

    I like the comment format on: .

    It hides comments based on votes, and also seems to promote comments based on up votes. The comments that are hidden are still there to be seen if you click on the show comment link.

    Based on looking at the source code it looks like a plug in called "Comment Rating."

    One other comment about comments. I like numbered comments because it easier to refer to previous comments and scroll past ones I've already read on subsequent visits.

  75. leo marvin says

    "I like numbered comments because it easier to refer to previous comments and scroll past ones I've already read on subsequent visits."

    Agreed. Bear in mind the second part doesn't work with threaded comments. (Is "threaded" the right word? Isn't it "nested?")

  76. Mercury says

    You could designate deputies whom you trust to remove unwanted (by whatever criteria that is) comments to save you some time.

    The deleted comments could go into a folder or something for your review later on so you could ensure that your policy is being properly enforced.

    Or, as has been mentioned above, vest a similar group of readers with the ability to 'thumbs down' certain comments which would be removed if the votes reached a certain level.

  77. AlphaCentauri says

    However, if you hide spam comments without removing them, and they are still visible to Google's crawlers, it could reduce your search engine ranking. A system that makes you go through additional steps to remove a comment seems counterproductive.

    I've been in similar conversations on other websites and people have suggested looking at these bloggers' ideas:

    I also saw a blog software for WordPress that has the option to recheck existing posts against Akismet, to catch ones that slipped through the first time.

    If you do go with designated users with full moderation privileges, it would have the advantage of letting new visitors' posts show up more promptly.

  78. En Passant says

    Terry wrote Sep 21, 2012 @9:24 pm:

    It hides comments based on votes, and also seems to promote comments based on up votes. The comments that are hidden are still there to be seen if you click on the show comment link.

    That's roughly similar to the comment system mentioned various places above.

    The initial display shows nested or threaded comments by subject headers (ie: it displays comment headers but not full comments) except for comments voted "up" beyond some threshold, which are shown in full. Click on the header or some icon for any particular comment and it displays that comment fully.

    I like that style for nested or threaded comments because it's easy to follow discussions in detail. But I don't know if it is readily available for every blogging platform.

    I'd guess that our Papal Mitre hosts would rather make a change only to comment section than change blogging platforms. I have no idea whether such comment software is available for the WordPress platform. If available, I think it would be a good choice, at least with respect to readability and following discussion details.

  79. John David Galt says

    @Ken: I like LessWrong's vote system in particular for several reasons: your score determines what you can do (only those with +20 karma can start threads); heavily minus-rated comments are hidden but can still be viewed by those who want to see them; and the system provides a way for lots of people to express "me too" without generating hundreds of worthless messages for everyone to have to scroll through.

    And getting to reply right under the message you're replying to is a major plus. Right now I'm writing 10 or 12 screenfuls below what I'm trying to respond to.

    The problem of some views getting unfairly marginalized is real; this is what led me to give up on Digg. But I see no way to avoid that without opening up a complete free-for-all like you often see on Reddit.

  80. says

    Just to add my voice to the noise, I too would like to see Disqus. I run it on my website, and it's pretty easy to deal with spammers and other troublemakers.

    Plus, you have economy of scale: if someone is spamming a bunch of Disqus sites, their postings will be flagged and their account banned long before they ever reach your site. :-)

  81. AlphaCentauri says

    if someone is spamming a bunch of Disqus sites, their postings will be flagged and their account banned long before they ever reach your site.
    That might explain why spammers are registering two months before they post anything on a forum I moderate. At the time they register, they aren't blacklisted anywhere.

  82. Hikaru Katayamma says

    I have to agree with Akismet. I've got it on all the WordPress sites that I run and it's insanely accurate for blocking spam vs real posts!

  83. says

    First, I entirely agree that it is not "censorship" to curate your own garden party – censorship is when government uses force.

    That being said, I think that power corrupts, and there is a slippery slope. I think that most moderating devolves into enforcement of group-think. What's wonderful (in a dark twisted way) is how so many folks with minority viewpoints rail against dominant society not respecting them, then establish a blog, and in short order not only engage in moderator-enforced group-think but positively REVEL in their absolute authority within their own sad little domains.

    With bad examples like these (although there are thousands more, and they come from all corners of the ideology-sphere, left, right, and center), when I ran I always avoided moderation beyond deleting obvious spam.

    I far prefer to have some odious gas-bag leaving turds on the carpet than (a) making decisions about what is acceptable discourse, (b) being perceived by others as shutting down debates.

    With that in mind, I urge you not to moderate your comments.

  84. AlphaCentauri says

    What you're seeing on Popehat right now is moderated. It's just that it's moderated by the admins, and bears the stamp of their point of view about free expression of ideas. You still need a moderator to prevent the posts that say stuff like, "This is one of the best discussions I have seen on this topic. Keep up the good work!" with a link to the commercial site being promoted. Such comments routinely escape automated spam filters, but Google is getting better at burying the blogs whose comments are full of them.

    You also have to deal with the people who are outright trolls (posting outrageous stuff that even they don't believe, just for the fun of watching people scurry around objecting to it) or the people whose expression of their own ideas is so boorish and viciously ad hominem toward other comment posters as to discourage the participation of anyone other than themselves in the discussion. A good moderator can often get a lot of those people to behave without banning them. But all of this is time consuming and the Popehat guys have real jobs.

  85. Don says

    A couple of things come to mind, over and above the mechanics of comments (how to stop spam, how to moderate, etc). First, have a *clearly defined* policy for comments (here's John Scalzi's:
    Second, disemvowelling (Gawker, Boing Boing, and the Neilsen-Haydens' "Making Light" all use this technique).
    Third, having a (small) cadre of people who are willing to moderate threads can work well – especially if you're mostly going to flag people for moderation, or if you're going to go through threads looking for flaming, trolls, and people picking fights. Then you disemvowel those comments so that people, if they wish to, can still see just how d#$%ish Person Z was – eventually you'll have a culture of commenting that will (hopefully) lead to less work by the moderators, as well as a culture where people won't feel that they need to respond to deliberately inflammatory comments (Do Not Feed The Trolls).

  86. says

    @Don :

    > have a *clearly defined* policy for comments (here's John Scalzi's:
    > Second, disemvowelling … the Neilsen-Haydens' "Making Light" all use this technique).


    Your repetition of my comment (two above) wherein I critiqued the absolute two douchiest left wing thought policemen of the science-fiction blogosphere was awesome, but I think the parody wherein you pretend to admire these group-thinking crap-nozzles (Sclz, Nlsn-Hydn, Dctrw) and their ruthless stomping out of dissent might be too subtle – folks might not get the joke.

    > Then you disemvowel those comments so that people, if they wish to, can still see just how d#$%ish Person Z was – eventually you'll have a culture of commenting that will (hopefully) lead to less work by the moderators

    Absolutely. Once you've established a reputation like any of these petit fascists, anyone with differing opinions gets tired of being mocked by the local school yard bully and departs. At that point group think is achieved and moderation is easy (because the yes-men who are left require almost none).

  87. angstela says

    Volunteer moderators get my vote.

    I volunteer moderate a site with a few thousand users. Due to the nature of the site, it has a good number of the poorly socialized and the rules lawyerly (and some freaks that are both). It does take daily perseverance, but it's possible to be reasonable and fair while still keeping the douche-factor down if you have a team willing to talk to and support one another.

  88. Rick H. says

    I trust you guys and I'm sure you'll continue to let the freewheeling arguments flow, no matter which moderation approach you ultimately choose.

    However, as someone who was once viciously blindsided by Neilsen-Hayden during her extremely ugly tenure as troll cop at BoingBoing, gotta side with TJIC here. The experience was very disheartening and pretty much put me off visiting BB altogether. I'm leery of deputized discussion leaders being given free reign to attack commenters while deleting and/or reediting the "offending" posts. If you do set up something similar, please consider maintaining some sort of an Internal Affairs department to moderate the moderators.

  89. says


    > Volunteer moderators get my vote.

    I entirely disagree…and that's speaking as someone who's on good terms with Ken, know and respect the kinds of people he knows and respects, etc. (i.e. "as someone who is the kind of person that the moderators would likely be drawn from").

    The reason is this: volunteers are True Believers – they'd believe in the Mission more than Ken and the other popehatters themselves do. They love what Popehat is today and would want to preserve that.

    …and the problem with preservation is that it becomes a mission to – as Clay Shirkey said in "A Group is its Own Worst Enemy" ( ) "preserve the religion text".

    This is EXACTLY the problem w Nlsn Hydn over at Mkng Lght and Cry Dctrw and friends at Bng Bng: the community and its certain political sensibilities are the religious text (and the leader blogger is its prophet) and anyone who speaks ill of the Received Wisdom is perceived as a ruiner and a vandal.

    At both of those two blogs there is a very clearly correct political party, and then there's the Demon Party. The Demon Party always does wrong, and that's BY DESIGN, bc the Demon Party is full of demons who hate beauty and light and puppies. So the True Believers moderate things so that no Demon Thoughts are ever expressed.

    Now, personally, I think that Demon Thoughts – when well expressed – are really !@#-ing awesome, because they make us think about things. Sure, they can get tiresome after a while (I really don't want to have too many conversations with a Holocaust Denier), but a new and interesting point of view that pisses in the Wheaties of the mainstream is awesome…and difficult.

    Volunteers and followers of the Prophet venerate the religious texts and they HATE things that are difficult. "You come to Popehat and you question free speech? How DARE you! Popehat is a blog that is ABOUT free speech. …which means that we don't TALK about it here. Such things just aren't done!"

    tl;dr The best fans are the worst moderators because they love the thing so much that they want to crush it into stasis with straight jackets and clamps.

    Parting thought:

    October 10, 2008
    As Teresa Nielsen Hayden once noted on her web site, moderation isn’t rocket science. In fact, I’d recommend a nice rule of thumb — watch what ever Hayden does, and then do the exact opposite.

    Go read the whole thing.

  90. AlphaCentauri says

    Ideally, volunteer moderators would only be deleting the spam posts. Moderating based on content and attitude requires a degree of judgment that should be left to Ken, Patrick, and the crew. The moderators would simply be there to save them time by flagging the posts that need the most urgent attention.

    This blog has achieved what few other have achieved, by assembling people of very divergent political views and promoting intelligent discussions among them. I wouldn't want to muck with that. I'm sure the dynamic between Ken's and Patrick's own political views has a lot to do with being able to achieve that balance on the blog.

  91. csh says

    @angstela: "Volunteer moderators get my vote."

    I entirely agree. That is to say, I agree. The "entirely" is "entirely" unnecessary. ;)

  92. says


    > Ideally, volunteer moderators would only be deleting the spam posts.

    That's exactly the justification that Trs Nlsn Hydn, Cry Dctrw and others use – and it doesn't take long until Disagreeing with the Holy Ones comes to be seen as spam.

  93. AlphaCentauri says

    Hmm, I do a lot of spam reporting; it hadn't occurred to me that people would have trouble distinguishing spam from assholes who are actually participating in the discussion. I guess I'm looking at it from a much different point of view.

  94. Gavin says


    A clearly worded comments section rule set would effectively tie the hands of the moderators. But I do see a lot of sites utterly ruined by dickish mods. In fact, it is the norm. This is true of almost any product/business when the initial creators that made it big have to hand it off to be managed by someone else so they can focus on making the product better. This "someone else" inevitably fails to understand the spirit of the product and so over-does it or changes it in a way that is unacceptable to the client-base.

    Owners seem to get around this by making their vision clear and (if the hypothetical they still have control of the company) are quick to respond if the people they leave in charge stray from this path.

    In this case, it'd be creating a clear set of guidelines that restrict the mods to only act on a desired set of circumstances. These guidelines could also help to inform the commentators on exactly what the site owners want/don't want instead of the current, "There's an invisible line that changes according to our mood, try not to cross it, but if you do, oh well, it was nice knowing you." (paraphrased of the current rules which mostly just deal with why things work a certain way rather than actual rules for us). To be fair, the limited rules are probably part of the spirit of the way things are here.

  95. Gavin says


    They do it for the same reason general readers would report something as spam.

    It either comes from a misunderstanding of the word Spam or a desire to just "report" them for being a dick. Now see these same people with power to delete the comment instead of just incorrectly reporting it.

  96. says



    OK, what do you think are some clear rules that would work?

    I do not object to "contains a link to a page selling something."

    I think "using a derogatory term towards another commenter – three strikes" is plausible.

    The problem with anything more general (e.g. "no attacking other people") is that the line between "attacking an idea" and "attacking a person" SHOULD be crystal clear, but – based on how Trs Nlsn Hydn and others do things – apparently is not.

  97. Dan Weber says

    Ideally, volunteer moderators would only be deleting the spam posts.

    Best to do this by design. Right now, according to Ken, only unapproved posts are held in limbo until one of two or three guys approves it. I think giving the community the ability to release or kill those posts gives them a very small window and limits abuse.

    Moderation needs two solutions and two mindsets: there will be a few tough problems, and lots of easy problems. Let the community take care of the easy problems, which frees the people running Popehat to take care of the tough ones. It won't work forever, but it will probably buy us a handful of years.

  98. says

    Akismet does a very good job with spam in a sufficiently-inclusive sense — marking the occasional in-moderation post as spam is not a burden. (Even with comments closed on posts 2+ months old, searching the spam filter for accidentally caught posts IS a burden, but them's the breaks.)

    Also, approving first-time-commenter posts in moderation is not a problem or significant burden.

    The burden is in watching posts with scores or hundreds of comments. Though I enjoy participating in those threads, there are weeks when I am busy and what time I have is devoted to new posts instead. In those threads, I'd like a mechanism that allows me some level of confidence that turds are not being left on the carpet of my living room for prolonged periods of time. By turds, for the most part I mean out-of-control personal attacks, for the most part.

  99. Grifter says

    I think the simplest solution with the least effort on you guys' part, and least changes to the website as presently set up, might be to just ask a few of your more trusted commenters with enough free time to keep an eye on things.

    They can look for anything getting out of hand, and report it to you, so that you only look when it is already a problem, and the lack of discrete power of your "watchers" means that they're less likely to get a big head. Plus, if they're being annoying or lazy you can just take that "watcher" off the list.

    If they're on the list, they get a popehat email addy that can email an internal-only "mods@popehat" email group, that forwards to Ken, Patrick, David, Derrick, Charles, Clark, and most importantly Via Angus and your Illuminati overlords (parum pum pssh). First one with a minute takes a look at what fresh hell has been delivered and makes their decision. If they get annoying, they lose the email and therefore internal access can't bother you anymore in the same way.

  100. Gavin says


    Spam is generally something that is off-topic and is advertising a product or service that is likewise unrelated (someone's first post could be for a product that relates to the topic in some way and technically wouldn't be spam… not necessarily). Some spammers also go through the trouble of actually posting on topic and throwing the spam at the bottom. They'd need to specify what to do in that situation (there's a difference between a small on-topic response and then spam and a realistically long contribution followed by a plug for something they did). I admit that it'd be odd having a really intelligent discussion with someone who ends every comment with "Buy OxiClean in bulk!!!", but I have seen it once in my time moderating other sites and we were the better for it (and the product wasn't viagra or some other nonsense, the spammer just got interested in the site while doing his job, ended up being a member).

    As for potential non-spam rules on moderation, it depends largely on the owners of the site and what sort of things they'd like to disallow. Like significantly off topic posts (difficult because off topic posts may just be tangential and therefore up to subjectivity). Maybe they don't want mods to mess with those or maybe they do. Then we have dumbassery debates like the conversation I had with James (No offense James, but I'm sure this helped inform the creation of this article by Ken. Not saying you or I were at fault here.) that carried on far too long and to no avail. The mods would have to be instructed on whether or not they should step in and tell us we're both wasting our time and to drop it and what to do if it carries on. We saw Grifter attempting to play this role in that thread but Ken put an end to it (note the last comment was brought around back to directly on-topic).

    The main solution is to come up with guidelines for how users are expected to behave and what mods are supposed to do in response to an offense vs multiple offenses of those rules. This will require some real thought and effort on the site owners part early on but once the rules and effective mods are in place the result should be positive if done right. Especially if the owners continue to mod the moderators (significantly easier than modding the masses).

    Because of the nature of this site, it appears that the rules wouldn't be too many, just basic etiquette and the mods shouldn't have too much responsibility/power. As long as the mods just do what they're told and don't take the responsibility like they were given a deputy badge and have to save the town, we should make it through with barely noticeable change.

  101. Gavin says


    That's a good option. Combine that with a clear list of what to bother them with reporting and it's functionally the same thing as moderators but with only the owners still pulling the trigger.

  102. Randall says

    Disqus ate my baby. Well, not really, but it is a guaranteed way to keep me from ever commenting. (Disqus did eat Volokh, however)

    Whatever you choose to do, please please please do not go to a threaded comment system – those make it well nigh impossible to just go read the most recent comments. Also, please gods no facebook/twitter/social media requirements for comments.

    As much as it pains me to admit it, I kinda-sorta agree with TJIC. Less moderation is more, most of the time. You have a generally good commentariat here and it would be a shame if you lost a bunch of them because of a comment/moderation system.

  103. AlphaCentauri says

    The lack of ability to edit (or even preview) comments is a limitation with the current system. On a forum I moderate, we have pretty high standards for decorum, but rarely ban anyone. I can private message someone to request they edit out the "only and idiot would say something like that" from a post that is otherwise providing a useful contrary point of view, and it prevents disagreements from becoming flame wars. We've even been able to deal with a member with serious but intermittent mental health issues to bring him into line without alienating him as a member. But you don't have the type of defined, registered community here for that approach to work.

  104. says

    I would love a reply button so that a link to the comment one is replying to comes into being automatically–threaded/nested comments are nightmarish in so many ways, don't get me started.

    I really like the way things are now, but understand that time is a commodity not always on hand, so allow me to agree with what Alpha Centauri said here

  105. Grifter says

    Oh, snap! To be fair: I was posting after a standup shift, which is kind of like posting while drunk.

  106. Gavin says


    Not sure if that's a dick measuring post of who posted what and how many days ago or just a simple comment in jest claiming justifiable credit for the good idea (poe's law if the latter, either way you did say it first). The idea here appears to be to express a general concensus to gauge what the commentators would like and/or hate (and what would be effective). It is good to follow up with the same statements because it bolsters one idea over the others.

    There's no like button. My emphasis has always been on the need for some sort of more defined rules (right now they're literally just don't be on the owners' bad side which changes from day to day). My statement to Grifter was just to combine this idea with a rule set, not to congratulate him for being the first person ever to come up with the idea.

  107. James Pollock says

    Gavin, I don't think "consensus among the commenters" will have any effect on the change(s), if any, in the administration of the site; rather the selection criteria will be A) effectiveness and B) ease of implementation and use by the administrators.

    Any of us not satisfied with the way THIS site is run (whether now or after changes, if any, are made), we retain the options of A) leaving, never to return, B) starting our own sites, or C) both.

    And that's as it should be.

  108. Gavin says

    James, there is the idea that a healthy comment section on a site encourages readership. It appears that the owners want a lively and productive discussion and would like to not create an environment that unnecessarily drives people away who might otherwise generate more traffic and perhaps even make us all better people from their presence. So those two criteria seem to be missing the likeability or acceptability of the practice. Otherwise:

    E.g. Disallowing all comments = A. 100% effective at removing spam and bad comments, B. Incredibly easy to implement.

    That being said, I could also be wrong about their intentions here. So I'll leave it up to them. All I know is that a lot of people here are expressing their dislike of effective options so there seems to be a pursuit of gauging the community's wishes. Again, could just be misinterpreting things, but it does not appear to be what's going on.

  109. kmc says

    I may not have understood the problem with a "report" button, but what if you simply had a "report" button attached to each blog post, but not to any particular comment? Then, if there is a single douchebag in the comments and everybody's fine with ignoring it, you won't get notified (much), but if the comments get all flame-y, people can alert you to a post that has sparked floor-pooping and you can take action on the whole thing?

    Personally, I would hate to see a system that incorporated an external moderation engine because a lot of sites that are social in any way are blocked here and I might not be able to see the comments (at best) or the site (at worst). Which leads me to believe that Popehat is okay because they've decided to categorize it as anti-social. ;.)

  110. htom says

    Disqus I don't care for. Style, privacy, permissions, … just don't care for it.

    Scalzi's moderation … is usually hilarious. We agree on very few things, I've said I disagreed, and why, and yet, I don't ever remember being malloted. He's gently asked me to drop an off-topic conversation a few times, it was, I did, and nothing came of it. Others who continued were sometimes malloted. We got into it once; I don't remember what it was about, I realized that I had misunderstood him and was wrong, apologized, he accepted, and we went on disagreeing in that very thread. He's a liberal, but he's a mostly rational liberal.

    New commentator's posts can be numbered in sequence and hidden, then if they're revealed it doesn't change the numberings. Disappeared posts don't lose their numbers, also keeping numbers constant, and can reappear if the PTB so decide.

    Threading vs nesting vs chronological … there's good and bad about each. My ideal would display chronologically, with before and after posts in the thread to the left and right, if I want to follow that path immediately. I don't know of a package that has ever done that.