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Suggest A Comments Policy

Several people have now mentioned they don’t like the comments section of my blog very much anymore.

In my response to Arthur deep in the comments, I wrote:

I feel like you want to frame this as you being willing to draw fences and me not being so willing. But we are both drawing fences.

My fence consists of the people who say HATE AND KILL THE INHUMAN DEMONS on the one side, and on the other, the people who donate to charity and respect others and express their opinion – whatever it may be, even if it’s problematic – kindly and compassionately.

Your fence consists of you shouting HATE AND KILL THE INHUMAN DEMONS on one side, and other people who are also shouting HATE AND KILL THE INHUMAN DEMONS on the other side, only it’s different inhuman demons who need to be hated.

Both of us successfully trap the KKK and Hitler on the outside of our fence. But I get to have a lot more allies than you do – allies against the actually bad people – and you have to put up with some pretty creepy friends.

This reminded me that I am philosophically totally justified in having fences, and that so far I have been pretty lax about putting them up and so have ended up with, as I put it, some creepy friends.

Trying to think up a comment policy has been an interesting case study in how it is much interesting to speculate about virtuous institutions for a large society, than it is to actually design such institutions for a blog with a few hundred people and nothing at stake.

So I open the problem up to the floor.

Desired properties a comment policy should have:

1. It should mean that moderately easily scandalized people can still enjoy reading comments on this blog without being exposed to HEY LOOK AT ME I CAN STATE CONTROVERSIAL THINGS! CONTROVERSY CONTROVERSY CONTROVERSY! This should not interfere with ability to present relevant well-supported politely-phrased appropriately-qualified controversial theories when a discussion warrants.

2. It should not require CONSTANT VIGILANCE from me. To be honest, I read the comments threads for each post for about a day or two, then give up and move on to the next thing.

3. It should not require too much subjectivity or “just ban all of the bad people” without including a rigorous definition of “bad people”.

4. Any technological elements should either be easy to implement in WordPress, or, if hard to implement in WordPress, include an offer to do it yourself.

5. End result is polite, productive discussion.

Even if you don’t have a General Theory Of Commenting, I would like to hear vague emotive statements about what different people want. Then I’ll think about all of it and come to some conclusion in a week or two.

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244 Responses to Suggest A Comments Policy

  1. St. Rev says:

    Probably way too much trouble on the technical end, but:

    Basic upvote/downvote system, but with multiple alternate vote subscriptions: let the NRs vote for and pay attention to Team Dark Enlightenment scores, let the SJs vote for and pay attention to Tumblrina Brand scores.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I am never going to implement this because of technical difficulty, but it would be a neat startup idea. The trick would be making it auto-cluster instead of making everyone explicitly select teams.

      And then we could go even further towards a completely fragmented society in which people are never exposed to ideas they disagree with!

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Oooh, wait, I wonder if one of the auto-clusters would end up being “people who value the truth, regardless of side”.

        • St. Rev says:

          I think those are the people who don’t use the system at all.

        • Protagoras says:

          That would be awesome. I’m very interested in the idea of auto-generating clusters (not necessarily for this purpose, but I think using sophisticated methods of auto-generating clusters and seeing what comes up, and contrasting it with the categories people generate, would be likely to produce some very interesting surprises).

        • St. Rev says:

          I suspect Twitter does something like this to drive its ‘Who To Follow’ algorithm. This doesn’t seem to work very well; e.g. Twitter keeps telling me to follow some very nasty NRs. I think the data for a site like SSC would be far too sparse to put to useful work; some kind of manual curation seems needed.

      • St. Rev says:

        I think Netflix does this, but they have the problem of naming the clusters after the fact, which leads to some odd constructions like ‘Race Against Time Science Fiction and Fantasy’ and ‘Korean Time-Travel TV Medical Romance Drama’.

        OK, I made up the latter, but Netflix has at least two of them.

      • mareofnight says:

        I’d consider trying to make this, if I knew there were people who’d want to use it if it existed. If a plugin for this already existed and wasn’t technically difficult to set up, would it be one of your top options? And would it make a difference if it were free or not?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I would love to have this play around with. But I think as a practical tool it would be pretty destructive – it would help insulate people from competing viewpoints. It would encourage extremism for the same reason the US primary system encourages extremism – if people are only voted upon by others from their own political bloc, there are incentives to tend towards the middle of your bloc, rather than the middle of the populace.

          I could imagine a light-side version of this which automatically enforces affirmative action for underrepresented viewpoints, but I don’t know if it would work in practice.

          If you make this, I will be happy to try it out as an interesting experiment, but probably not as a permanent system.

        • mareofnight says:

          That’s a really good point, and one of the main things I was hesitating about. Auto-clustering ratings probably isn’t so good if you’re trying to learn something.

        • abramdemski says:

          Current feeling: this is the future of the internet; in <10 years it'll be standard; let's play with it.

        • abramdemski says:

          Apparently the term for the problem is “the filter bubble”.

          There could be several ways to try and address the information-bias problem. My brother likes to talk about randomization for this; IE think of randomized google results, facebook feed… bias toward your preferences but showing you things which other people (not in your cluster) like as well.

          While randomness is only appropriate in some contexts, the idea of showing the most popular stuff from other bubbles may be promising. There is also the RbutR model: go out of your way to link refutations to statements. (Imagine if every link or photo on facebook which had a corresponding snopes article, automatically linked to it via a little snopes symbol in the corner. Wouldn’t that be nice?)

      • Viliam Búr says:

        Thousands of words to describe what could be said in one paragraph: “I dislike what an article on Wikipedia says. Let’s start yet another Wikipedia clone!” And then more words to make it seem like this new creative idea is somehow connected with the whole neoreactionary worldview. No two readers would agree on how specifically, but that’s probably considered a feature, not a bug.

        • St. Rev says:

          This is an excellent summary of Moldbug-the-writer, and I concur.

          I would add that no, I did not get the idea from Moldbug; it took me about 30 seconds to think of it. But I’m reluctant to respond directly to someone calling themself ‘GigaNigga’.

      • Army1987 says:

        You meant to link his post on UberFact instead?

    • Platypus says:

      Dumb question: what’s an SJ? ^_^;

  2. Gunlord says:

    I haven’t had many problems with your peanut gallery. Though, I admit I’m relatively new here, having arrived with your anti-reaction FAQ rather than from less wrong. From what I’ve gathered, though, the back-and-forth between the Radish guy and Multiheaded was particularly jimmy-rustling to several people. Things like excessive use of the F-Bomb and particularly harsh personal attacks (“Pathetic craven coward”) might not have a place in your garden. Given the general tone of your blog and what your commenters seem to expect, explicitly forbidding the use of the harshest profanities (words like fuck, shit, cunt, etc.) and overwrought personal attacks might be a good place to start.

    Again, though, I’m not an expert, so you and the other folks here should feel free to take me with a grain of salt. 🙂 *hugz*

    • Vulture says:

      Agreed. I have no experience in these matters, but I also immediately thought of banning profanity and slurs. (And in terms of technical feasibility, here’s a super-easy-to-implement idea: no dictionary words in all caps. Not that I’ve seen this happening; it’s just easy to implement.)

      • nydwracu says:

        Ah, but then there are acronyms…

        “Insults and content-free signaling get deleted, people who don’t contribute anything but insults and content-free signaling” seems like the best policy to me, but I have very little experience in being a king.

    • Andy says:

      I would agree with banning profanity and slurs – with one exception:
      When quoting an original source material. For example, in discussions on slavery, someone replaced “n***er” with “ninja” which was… odd reading, for someone used to reading history textbooks where the word was just used, straight-out without any asterisks.
      Though this could be upsetting for some people – is it possible in WordPress to include a Trigger/Spoiler warning, that someone can click a button to reveal a given bit of text?

      • nydwracu says:

        I would’ve left it as is if not for vague memories of web filters that auto-block sites containing certain words. It is admittedly stupid, but it seemed less stupid to me than risking making anyone use a proxy to read this place at work.

        • Andy says:

          Though if someone is perhaps triggered by seeing such language (as a result of past trauma) the trigger/spoiler hiding might be useful. If it can be done in wordpress. I know it’s a thing on some forums and wikis.

    • James James says:

      Get rid of “Multiheaded” and see if all your troubles mysteriously clear up. Bet you a Galleon they do.

      • Andy says:

        Nope, because Multi is not the only problematic users. There’s others who have the opposite ideological pole firmly stuck in their… spines.And they can be problematic, but also sometimes make interesting and useful points.

    • hf says:

      You’re talking about a case where the first guy went out of his way to insult people, seemingly by endorsing claims that Scott himself refuted quite recently. I say “seemingly” because the comment seemed too vague to tell. This rules out a productive conversation unless the guy:

      * engages with the existing argument
      * does so directly and comprehensibly.

      How about banning people who fail to do those?

  3. suntzuanime says:

    I prefer anarchy, but I sort of suspect I’m the sort of person you want to be rid of.

    EDIT: Well, minarchy. Spam comments must of course be purged with righteous flame.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You are awesome, and even if I hated everything else you had ever done you would have been worth keeping around solely for that comment on religious metaphors you made the other day.

    • Andy says:

      (Spray-paints Anarchy A’s everywhere)
      …no. I wouldn’t actually do that.

  4. Jai says:

    Off the top of my head, without checking implementation difficulty until someone has had a chance to dismiss any/all of these as bad ideas:

    1. Requiring moderated registration to post comments (e.g. commenters have to be manually approved _once_).

    2. Designating a subset of registered users as mods with the ability to report and/or remove comments and/or users.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Why do you think (1)? Unless someone was somehow infamous, I would probably just accept all applications. More work for me, more wait for them, what is the upside?

      (2) sounds good, but I still need policies on what posts to remove.

      • Jai says:

        So my current mod experience is mostly confined to /r/hpmor, where we don’t have a well-defined removal policy and mods are mostly free to remove/ban whatever they judge to be extremely problematic. I think that what-constitutes-a-terrible-comment is probably a competent-human-complete level problem, and attempts to formulate a well-defined policy are usually going to fall short.

        In practice, little gets removed on /r/hpmor; I banned a few trolls who tried to deface Aaron Swartz’s last comment, and Eliezer banned someone for failing at polite discourse too often a few months ago. It works pretty well.

        Edited to add: On reflection, I agree with you on (1); My intuitive prior for “commenter is likely to be troll” is probably too high for Slate Star Codex.

        Edited again to add: It’s probably going to be harder to moderate to the level of discourse you want here (on /r/hpmor I’m just aiming to satisfice “not terrible”), but I still suspect picking a few trusted people is your best bet. Instead of a well-defined policy, discuss case-by-case decisions early on until all moderators are working off a similiar model.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Many people, who are not you, want (1) because of spammers.

      • I use (1) on my blog, originally because Disqus doesn’t let you be any more permissive than that, but it has its upsides: I approve any comment that isn’t obvious spam or trolling, and this keeps out the obvious trolls and spammers. Granted, a someone could post one good comment, get approved, then follow up with a bunch of nasty ones or spam, but in my experience most trolls and spammers won’t bother.

      • How useful (1) is depends on what percentage of the troublesome people appeared troublesome in the text of their first comment. I have no idea what the percentage is for you, however.

      • As someone whose blog follows (1), I have successfully caught a number of spammy comments that WordPress did not catch. It also hasn’t been too much work, although my blog gets a lot less traffic than yours.

  5. St. Rev says:

    On the less technically ambitious side, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there had written a blocklist system for comments. A rustles B’s jimmies, B can silently banz0r them without affecting anyone else. Hell, find a browser mod that does that and just point people to it on the sidebar.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I think much of the objective is to allow forwarding these pages to people who haven’t customized their experience. Usenet shows that killfiles produce an environment unwelcoming to newcomers.

      Also, without a precise reply system, if A also gets under the skin of C, then B sees the reactions elicited from C.

  6. Typhon says:

    « To be honest, I read the comments threads for each post for about a day or two »

    It should be possible to automatically close comment threads after a day or two. I know it’s possible in Dotclear, it’s probably possible too in WordPress.

    The only method I know that completely prevents people from posting “bad” comments (for any definition of bad) is to screen them before they get posted, which requires much work, and slows down the discussion considerably.
    I find that kind of system frustrating, but I guess it’s better than no discussion at all.


  7. Athrelon says:

    There are many ways to skin a cat, and to a large extent it depends on what you want to achieve with your comments section. You can be trying to nucleate a community, trying to generate the greatest number of true ideas, trying to achieve a high proportion of good ideas, doing the minimum amount of editorial work to clean out obvious trolls, etc.

    Back on LessWrong, Vladimir_M made two insightful points with regards to community norms that may be worth considering as you plan for a long-term comments policy:

    First, that “no mindkillers” is a good Schelling point, “everything goes” is a good Schelling point, but “some mindkillers, but let’s keep the really sketchy stuff out of it” is a terrible Schelling point if you’re looking for maximal truth-seeking and believe, like Paul Graham, that there are likely some really crazy beliefs that are mainstream and high status and that it would look disreputable to question. (Note that you don’t need to believe that any current set of contrarians has the right sketchy-sounding belief cluster to agree with Graham.)
    Second, that trolls are fairly straightforward to deal with as long as you’re reasonably firm and consistent about it. However, influx of otherwise friendly and agreeable folks with low epistemic standards – who “comply with the culture in form but not spirit” – are a much tricker problem, because they can degrade the epistemic quality of the community without any obvious confrontation.

  8. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    How about Disquis? It is simple, widely supported and convenient for commenters (you can keep track of your comments). It also allows people to flag comments.

    I don’t think there is a way to put to a time limit on editing comments, which you might see as a negative.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I can never actually load Disqus or read any Disqus comments. This is true no matter what browser I am on, and the only way I can even sometimes get it to work is by connecting through my cell phone. It has driven me away from Patheos and I hate it with a passion.

      • lmm says:

        Have you contacted disqus at all? I can’t imagine that’s by design.

        The disqus experience is so much better I’ve almost given up commenting on WordPress sites.

  9. Protagoras says:

    I wonder if just threatening to ban a few of the current trolls would work or not. The problems seem to be caused by a few people who are deliberately pushing the boundaries of rational discourse, but while I’m sure they’d be capable of finding ways to circumvent any comments policy, I am not sure they’re actually trollish enough that they would look for ways to circumvent. Perhaps I’m over-estimating them. But it does seem like part of the problem is that the current trolls aren’t extreme enough; there’s no sharp boundary between the sometimes annoying commenters and the more severe trolls (which I imagine is part of Scott’s problem in figuring out how to respond; it’s insufficiently clear who the targets are and whether they deserve to be removed completely, and if completely removing people isn’t the policy, how to decide which are the acceptable and which the unacceptable posts from the troublemakers). So there’s always a tiny chance that just telling them what’s acceptable could do some good.

  10. Brian says:

    Not gonna lie, my first impulse is to say that moderation policies either come pre-broken (which is more common) or inevitably Goodhart themselves into worse-than-irrelevance, and that everything is terrible forever. I figure that’s probably just personal bitterness talking, though, so let me see if I can come up with something more productive:

    You do not want a hardline policy against personal attacks. It’s too easy to spin anything people don’t like as a personal attack.

    Similarly, you don’t want highly specific criteria for what is or isn’t acceptable language. Easy to dodge, easy to game, hard on newcomers, not very useful.

    You don’t want to hold criticism to substantially higher standards than praise. Slightly higher is okay; anything more gives you a thin film of insincere agreeableness stretched over a roiling hellbroth of insecurity and resentment. Worse, it’s self-reinforcing: when it inevitably boils over, people usually conclude that those involved just weren’t nice enough.

    You do want to drop the hammer quickly and above all reliably on trolling, flame wars, out-of-control rants, obvious baiting, and unwanted ideological proselytization (though that last one might be more my own preference). Exact consequences don’t matter too much; you need to have the option of a complete ban in order to deal with incorrigible trolls, but for people that aren’t incorrigible trolls, a suspension works as well as a ban, a stern warning coupled with removal of the offending posts almost as well.

    In order to get away with the above, you need a lot of latitude in deciding what qualifies. As a corollary you need to choose your mods well (or just do it all yourself).

    Communities in my experience can self-police pretty effectively, but you need an idiotproof way to alert the mods, for when social pressure isn’t enough. We’re talking something along the lines of an alert button; spinning up an email is too much of a trivial inconvenience. Even when done right this can become as much a problem as a solution; mob justice isn’t pretty, even when it can only be applied via social pressure.

  11. philh says:

    I tend to be of the opinion that Jai’s suggestion, which I’d describe as “no well-defined policy, just a few trustworthy mods with the power to remove posts when they feel like it” is pretty good. You could also have a ‘show dead’ option like HN, so people who don’t want to see the bad stuff don’t have to, and people who do want to, or who don’t trust your mods, can see it. (I don’t know how easy this is with wordpress.)

    Though, HN does have occasional drama about the moderating system. I think it doesn’t get too bad, partly because those posts tend to get deleted.

    I will also say: for me personally, a policy which reduced the number of comments you get here would be pretty cool. I’d like to participate in the comment threads, but they grow so fast and it’s pretty overwhelming, so this is the first comment I’ve made here.

    • I disagree with removing bad stuff. Then there is no learning. It is better to keep the bad stuff but mark it blatantly as not-endorsed, and punish the person who posted it (eg a 48 hour ban).


  12. Douglas Knight says:

    What’s wrong with subjectivity? Don’t you trust yourself? I think you did a good job of choosing when to warn people the few times you did; the problem is that you just stopped.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      While I don’t think I would decide wrong (then again, who does?), I think making the decisions would take a lot of mental energy, produce a lot of drama, and that it would always be easier for me to decide not to do anything, and so unconstrained by any guidelines otherwise, I wouldn’t.

      • Stille says:

        Get some good mods. This blog has *huge* comment threads and having the solution require you reading everything kinda on time would require too much of your time.

  13. Tom Hunt says:


    As regards my own interpretation, which is somewhat likely to not be the one you’re looking for: The content of communications is, fundamentally, words; meanwhile, the tone of communcations is more in the realm of an action. Which is to say, that when you speak to a person in a polite fashion, it’s at least reasonable to assume that your aim is to successfully communicate an idea to them, whereas when you curse someone out, call them fundamentally evil, craven cowards, &c., speak to the group as a whole in calling for their deaths, and all the other lovely failure modes which began to be evident in the last thread, it becomes reasonable to assume that your aim is to cause them distress, perhaps to the point where they give up on the dialog. This seems to me to map fairly well to the counterargument/bullet distinction you made in the post on firing people for their stances. Disagreeing with someone, even strongly, even in the sincere belief that the only thing which can motivate their position is mens rea, is one thing; attempting to silence them, even if only by making the argument too unpleasant for them to continue, is another.

    This would suggest a policy along the lines of careful policing of tone and personal attacks, and greater tolerance for whatever the actual content of the comment. This certainly would appeal to me; I can see arguments for whatever policy without much problem, but am easily disgusted and exhausted by flame wars. Of course, this still requires human judgement, most particularly in what precisely constitutes a personal attack.

    And, of course, if the goal is in fact to impose limitations on the content of comments as well as their tone, it is inadequate. Personally, I don’t agree with any such effort. The set of which politely expressed views are inherently too offensive to allow will always be an extraordinarily politically contentious one. (To say that any such policy will always favor Left over Right is fallacious; this is usually discussed as regards neoreactionary views on race, sex &c., but it’s entirely impossible to construct an objectively defensible standard by which neoreactionary views are excluded but views of the extreme Left are not.) To me, an enormous part of the value of this blog is that it constitutes a venue in which NRx types can and occasionally do interface politely with non-NRx; attempting to construct a content policy which flatly excludes any political position can only damage that.

    • Army1987 says:

      This would suggest a policy along the lines of careful policing of tone and personal attacks, and greater tolerance for whatever the actual content of the comment.

      I’d agree in principle, but the criterion sounds even more subjective to me, and likely to result in people whining for being unfairly banned whereas “worse” offenders get away with it.

  14. Ialdabaoth says:

    Whatever system is developed, please make sure that it is very easy to tell when one is about to run afoul of it, and very difficult to get booted simply for being moderately socially clueless / occasionally inadvertently creepy. ( I miss 🙁 )

    • Meredith L. Patterson says:

      In the words of the Zen of Python, “Explicit is better than implicit.”

    • Noah says:

      Did something happen to

      • Randy M says:

        Or rather, did something happen to him on

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          I was banned from, either for having a publicly noticable mental illness that made other posters uncomfortable, or for having creepy anxieties about women / SJ issues, depending on who you ask.

          (I’m pretty sure that what actually did me in, was asking for clarification whenever I ran afoul of the moderation.)

      • St. Rev says: took a hard turn to the SJ left sometime in the last few years, apparently.

        • Noah says:

          You know, now that you say that, I remember Zak Sabbath (Playing D&D With Porn Stars) talking about confrontations he’s had with the mods on there, last year. What a bummer. I have really fond memories of that place.

        • St. Rev says:

          Yeah. Zak Sabbath is a prickly guy but he’s not the only one who’s remarked on their mods’ behavior.

  15. Sniffnoy says:

    I’d mostly just like to see a cut-down in insults and general uncharitableness. But the latter is hard to judge. (And possibly I’m guilty of it myself with my “problems with feminism” comments. 😛 But I’ve tried to make it clear I don’t think the feminists are deliberately doing the bad things they are!) Note that under insults I include terms-that-could-be-descriptive-but-are-probably-insults (e.g. “slut”) and also, I guess you’d say, implicit insults — basically, if it’s being used as part of an ad hominem fallacy, it’s an insult. (Most insults aren’t being used in that way, of course, but I have a hard time describing otherwise what an “implicit insult” is.) This requires some context judging, though — e.g. “racist” can simply be descriptive, or it can be an insult.

    The other thing that tends to really annoy me in internet comments is pat replies to complicated questions — especially backed up with the implicit threat that if you question the pat reply you’ll be banished from the garden — but people here seem to have been pretty good at avoiding that! Actually I guess there are a number of various SJ-type pathologies to avoid, but we seem to already be avoiding them, so I won’t go into that. Mostly (though certainly not entirely) it’s the NRs I’ve seen getting out of hand here, but even that doesn’t seem to happen that often. So on the whole I think we’re doing pretty well. 🙂

    • hf says:

      Even better, tell people who want to call someone “slut” (or “promiscuous”) to substitute “woman who had more than 5 partners,” or “more than 1,” or “extra-marital sex,” depending on what they actually mean. You wouldn’t want people to think they agree with you when they don’t, would you? Why, that passes up a chance to convince them!

  16. Prussian Prince of Automata says:

    I’m not sure you’ll be able have any kind of consistent policy without purging some of the regulars. There’s some people, and no I’m not just talking about NRs, who are a little too comfortable with personal attacks and intentionally threadcrapping to fit in the brave new world of Moderated SlateStarCodex.

    Obviously, losing a poster means losing their contributions but I doubt that any system could survive where the “cool” posters get to misbehave as much as they want but newbies who get drawn into flamewars by them end up getting kicked. At least not without turning very cliquey very fast.

  17. Meredith L. Patterson says:

    I kept a livejournal going for around eleven years, and somehow ended up with a lively group of commenters with wildly disparate views and a shared commitment to civil discourse. Discussion quality began to deteriorate around 2010 as the size of the commenting group grew; I think, fundamentally, this is a scaling problem.

    I was more active in my own comment threads than you are, but the only comment screening I recall doing was for privacy reasons. That’s a reasonable bright line to draw, I think; obviously “dox our ideological opponents!” is not a member of the set of socially acceptable argumentation strategies here, but it’s also good to have established norms about how people’s privacy boundaries will be respected, so that if A accidentally divulges some piece of personally identifying information about B that B wants kept private, nobody’s surprised by the redaction. (This also involves addressing the situation directly with A but not vilifying or humiliating them; graceful epistemic failure, like you said.)

    My “moderation” style was a bit more like how one moderates a panel discussion: guiding the conversation by asking questions. I had no explicit principles for how to do this — cultivating a garden is kind of an art, after all — but implicitly, Grice’s maxims are a good first approximation.

  18. BenSix says:

    A big problem is that most of us are bores. Oh, yes, we love to seize the chance to climb onto a hobbyhorse and ride off into new conceptual territories – diverting a conversation as outraged pursuers chase us into arguments entirely removed from our original course.

    I am guilty of this, sometimes, but I have no real excuse. If people are dragging a thread too far from its subject you should perhaps tell us to take it to Twitter or our own blogs. Most of us have at least one of them.

    Also, have no fear of imposing your own authority. People are far less mature on the Internet than in real life. They often have to be forced to respect your space. You are a sovereign, sir, and this is your Excalibur.

  19. Swimmy says:

    Vague emotive statement re comment section: you probably know who main your trolls are and you should ban them. If you happen to like a certain person who’s been a bit trolly, warn them before you ban them, but you really oughtta ban some of the jerks. Your comments crowd and your personal politics are diverse enough that things won’t become too much of an echo chamber.

    Technical implementation I’ve always enjoyed: Pikabanning. For a set period, the Pikabanned person will have all comments translated to “Pika pika piiiiiiii” or something similar and have their avatar changed to Pikachu. Not so sure that’s easy to implement on WordPress compared to a standard php forum. It’s childish, but fun.

  20. ozymandias says:

    In my comment-moderating experience, I settled on “ban everyone who annoys me” as most productive to maintaining conversation. Every time you make rules, people will come up with exceptions to rules, until you have a giant bureaucracy and a bunch of lawyers and regulatory capture. OTOH, “I am the dictator” totally has advantages of simplicity.

    • This. Public banishment for arbitrary reasons. The commentariat should be ruled by fear. If there are no rules, there is no lawyering and and no excuses. The only way to avoid banishment is to not say anything that will get you banned.

      The arguments against this are all defeated by bans not being serious life-events, and the comments section not being a complex and fragile economy.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        The problem with this is that none of my commenters annoy me (with one exception, but it’s for the wrong reasons). I tend to zone out when I encounter stuff that’s not interesting or productive and just forget that it’s even there.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yay, I probably don’t annoy Scott! 😛

        • Avantika says:

          If none of your commenters annoy you, then what is the actual problem?

          Some people don’t like your comments section much, but if you implement a moderating system, there will be other people who don’t like it, and there will almost certainly be plenty of drama.

          I would ask you to please not bring in upvoting/downvoting, or anything that’s going to create cliques and a situation where newcomers, or people who are socially awkward, or nervous, or simply don’t understand the ideas that you and many of your commenters share, feel unwelcome and afraid to comment.

          Do you know what lesswrong’s upvoting/downvoting does? I looked at the kind of comments that were being downvoted and thought, ‘great, so this is a site where if I make a stupid mistake – which I certainly will – I get relegated to the bottom of the list with a permanent record of how much the community disapproved of my stupidity. I’d better not comment on anything until I read all the Sequences and the most popular posts and understand the entire comments section, even if I think I have something to say.’

          Of course I never commented on lesswrong.

          Your previous blog felt like a happy, welcoming place. This is still a more welcoming space than most.

          Don’t imagine I don’t understand the problem at all – I was driven away from your blog for several weeks by a comment. But I think your present system – which is to say, no system except you very rarely coming down and stopping anyone you think is terribly out of line – is more comfortable than much of what’s been suggested here.

          If you are afraid that something nasty will happen in a comments section after you can’t be bothered to read it any more, you could close the comments after 48 hours.

        • Well, I found the comments to be remarkably pleasant … so I’d be pretty much in favour of ‘ban everybody who annoys Ozy’.

          … in fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that’s a serious suggestion.

        • misha says:

          The problem is commenters annoy each other, and then someone whines to scott about it. Hence crowdsourcing answers: He wants the people who have the problem to come up with the solution.

          Avantika: You are straight up wrong about lesswrong’s karma system. I make plenty of downvoted comments and yet I have 4000 karma. The karma system does the OPPOSITE of what you say: It correctly trains you about what’s valuable to say and what people don’t like. If you make a stupid mistake it instantly lets you know, and you know better than to do that again. If you make a stupid comment at -3 literally all it takes is another comment at +3 to cancel it out.

        • ozymandias says:

          Matt: I do not endorse “ban everyone who annoys Ozy” as the moderation policy for SSC as my loyalties are divided. I want a nice and productive comment section, and also I want to be able to dogpile on Jim whenever I want.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Jim should be banned for exactly that reason.

        • Elissa says:

          none of my commenters annoy me (with one exception, but it’s for the wrong reasons)

          …Huh. I smell drama!

          Seriously though, if you think someone annoys you “for the wrong reasons,” chances are you think they’re the kind of person who wouldn’t want to annoy you, even for the wrong reasons. Maybe tell them?

  21. Jordan D. says:

    Y’know what I’ve always wanted to try? Have a comment approval system and only approve comments which you’re comfortable with new folks seeing- but let people opt-in to being given the ability to see unapproved comments. That way you could have two separate discussion threads in one! I don’t remember much about WordPress, but I think it allows you to make custom user groups like that. Then you could have your ‘moderators’ simply be people you trust to identify which comments should be approved- and viola!

    Other than that, if I might make a vague emotive statement- I very strongly enjoy the diversity of opinion on your blog, even if some of it makes me want to chew on the furnishings. I haven’t a dog in this fight, but I do feel like (most days), this still is a good blog to read the comments on. I pray you be moderate.

    (PS: Given the quality of your blog posts, I’d say that the optimal level of fencing is whatever makes you least likely to leave. I consider your writing to be one of the high points of the internet.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Less Wrong did that originally, but then they stopped trusting the users to make that choice, then stopped trusting the users to know what the rules are.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I find this idea very interesting but can’t for the life of me remember Less Wrong doing this even though I have been there since the beginning. Can you give me some details to jog my memory?

  22. Scott Alexander says:

    I’m looking at the Intense Debate plugin, because it seems to have a reputation system but is not Disqus and so I might be able to use it. Has anyone had experience with this or any other WordPress comment reputation plugin?

  23. Scott Alexander says:

    Also, I should check – does anyone else have the same problem with Disqus (never loads) that I do?

    …and of course Disqus is loading for me today and I don’t know if they fixed the problem or if it’s just a fluke.

  24. I was about to write this in the comments of the shitstorm, so here’s my take, based on my experience in the greater 4chan-clone-sphere.

    Law is a solved problem, and the solution is this:


    That is, public punishment for bad behavior. Punishment because that is actually motivating to people. Instead of selecting the gems from a steaming pile of Internet, you need to strongly incentivise good behavior. Public so that there is a record of exactly what was said, the fact that that was unacceptable, and that the person who said it got punished.

    The bans need not be permanent. I don’t think we have anyone here who could not be corrected by a 48 hour ban.

    People react better to this than you would expect. On 4chan clones, when a mod bans someone like this, the typical reactions are gratitude to the Glorious Golden Mods Who Deliver Us From Shitposters.

    I imagine among this crowd, there would be some negative reaction. You need the right mindset. Your comment section is a well-kept garden. It is the prize. If people want access to the prize, they will play by the rules. They have no right to demand anything. They are here and not on 4chan because here is well-governed. If it stops being well-governed, it will turn into 4chan. There are plenty of internet commenters, but very few well governed comment sections; do not be intimidated by the threat of people leaving.

    I advise that you reserve the right to ban anyone at any time, for any reason, for any period of time. Post some guidelines and be consistent about it to help people learn what’s acceptable, but with public smoking craters where stupid commenters used to be, people will learn very quickly by example.

    As for what I advise you to ban people for, incivility, dishonesty, stupidity, name-calling, overblown rhetoric, etc. As for harshness, I think I should have been banned for some of the comments I made in the last thread.

    There are a great many 4chan clones that I have explored, and the empirical evidence is in. 4chan clones without regular bans of this form had shitty 4chan-like discussion, and bitterness towards mods. (eg 4chan itself) 4chan clones with bans of this form had very good discussion, and very good relationship between posters and mods.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think this can work only if the mods are generally good and decent people that do not abuse their power for self-aggrandizement. In particular, a very common failure mode is that a mod will do something ridiculous, a commentor will point out that it is ridiculous, and the mod will ban them. Effectively, moderators become a privileged class.

      This might work better on a 4chan-like, if it inherited 4chan’s strong anonymity norms. You can’t moderate in a self-aggrandizing manner if you don’t have a self. It might also work here, because presumably the moderator would be Scott himself, and he is one of the better people in the world and not prone to crushing dissent. But as a general solution it doesn’t work.

      I mean you’re a Reactionary, so creation of a privileged class and punishments for lèse majesté might not bother you. But they seem poisonous to internet communities in my experience.

      • >I mean you’re a Reactionary, so creation of a privileged class and punishments for lèse majesté might not bother you. But they seem poisonous to internet communities in my experience.

        Can certainly be poisonous. I used to hang out on r/anarchism, which is a perfect storm of moderator dysfunction. The thing is, everywhere deteriorating to 4chan-level for fear of authority is also poisonous, it just doesn’t have a human face to make it salient.

        I suspect what we’re seeing is a selection effect, where, by cultural bias against authoritarianism, the only people willing to take up the banhammer are basically evil already. I don’t think that if every site owner took up the banhammer in righteous fury, the internet would be a worse place. I suspect most admins are like Scott; good people capable of just rule. They are kept off it by feelings of squickyness attached to authority.

        And yes, I have no problem with banhammering lese majeste.

        On the subject of the relation of this to NRx, interestingly enough it was this theory of community governance, learned the hard way, that led me to NR, not the other way around.

      • Erik says:

        IIRC, Slashdot has a rule which prevents some of this sort of thing: moderators get to either participate in a thread or moderate it – not both. Similar reasoning could be applied to not moderating the people specifically talking to you. (Would not apply to the admin, for obvious reasons.) If Fred flames Mod A, then Mod B or Scott should be the one to banhammer Fred.

    • Damien says:

      I have no 4chan clone experience, but I endorse this. It also matches policy. Sanctions are public in the thread (also in an infraction forum, but never mind.) Sanctions include admonition (not on your permanent record), warnings (on your permanent record, mods will be harsher if they see a pattern), thread bans (stop talking *here*), topic bans (stop talking about *this*), temporary bans from 24 hours to multiple months, and permabans from the site (appeallable later.)

      For you, the permanent record stuff isn’t applicable, but you could admonish more (“cool it”), tell someone to get out of a thread, to not talk about X, or ban them for some time. In all cases make it visible, via red text or some other MOD VOICE. rarely modifies posts themselves, unless they include porn or spam or links to malware, so people see what earned the sanctions.

      I imagine your workload would go down with time, as people got the message. Also, you’d have people going elsewhere to decry your arbitrary censorship.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      As for what I advise you to ban people for, incivility, dishonesty, stupidity, name-calling, overblown rhetoric, etc.

      Heh, take a look at Scott Aaronson’s ban of John Sidles a while back for a good one…

      • St. Rev says:

        OH MY GOD that’s “A Physicist”, “A Scientist”, and “A fan of *MORE* discourse”! Possibly the single most irritating troll on the entire Internet.

    • Erik says:

      Law is a solved problem, and the solution is this:


      Hahaha. 😀 Pour la canaille, la mitraille? Because this certainly sounds like the internet equivalent of some of Moldbug’s argument that the government should be willing to open fire on a mob – if the government refuses, soon there will be more mobs springing up and making things terrible, but if it is willing, it finds that there are few mobs around and it rarely needs to fire.

    • moridinamael says:

      This is the correct solution.

    • Army1987 says:

      The bans need not be permanent. I don’t think we have anyone here who could not be corrected by a 48 hour ban.

      I would propose making the first ban for a person 24 hours, then to double the duration for each subsequent ban.

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      The bans need not be permanent. I don’t think we have anyone here who could not be corrected by a 48 hour ban.

      Speaking from personal experience (explicitly with, in fact), I don’t think I’m the sort of poster who could be corrected by a 48 hour ban. In general, if I get banned for something, my behavior will tend to *worsen* rather than improve, as I wildly over-correct and become paranoid about my behavior.

      I am a single data point, however.

  25. St. Rev says:

    Feminist Critics uses a system where all entries are effectively posted twice, once under ‘No Hostility’ rules and once under ‘Regular Parallel’ rules.

    (Edited for accuracy; either they changed their approach slightly, or (more likely) I remembered it wrong.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I agree that is a good system, but I find it very annoying to read and use.

      • Bakkot says:

        There’s an easier way of doing almost the same thing: submit every post to a subreddit (I’ve just claimed r/slatestarcodex so no one reads this comment and does the same thing; email me at [my handle]@gmail and I’ll give it to you if you want it), and then add a link to the reddit discussion at the bottom of the post.

        This can be done fully automatically with a WP plugin, though it might need to be written. I’m pretty sure I could write such a thing in a few hours and would be willing to do so if you want to go this route.

        I quite like having two threads, because it completely shuts down arguments about whether or not a particular discussion is within guidelines – if it’s in question, just go have it on the other thread.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Last time I checked, it seemed mostly ignored and unenforced, though.

  26. Scott Alexander says:

    Also, this is going to be a really stupid question and maybe reveal more than I intended about how I let things get to this point, but…how do you ban someone in WordPress?

  27. Damien says:

    I agree with Jai that no formal rules will encompass “comments I would like to keep”. is one of the better places on the net, despite being rather large, largely because of a large team of self-selecting moderators who’ve developed a good culture. Their rules and guidelines are List various things like no homophobia, personal attacks, group attacks on posters… and finally “if your posts are bad for the forum”.

    My perception is that your problem is less of open flamewar and personal insults, and more of certain people saying crazy and wrong things while being technically civil, at least to the people they’re responding to if not to classes of people in general, and filling up your threads and lowering the signal/noise ratio and draining the will to argue. Or as Calvin Trillin said, “Party Communists took over the Left by talking their opponents to death.”

    I’d say you should think of this as a salon, in the Enlightenment sense, and if you think a comment isn’t contributing to the tone, squish it, and if someone is generally not contributing, uninvite them. Pretty sure that if someone was a colossal bore, the patroness would not invite them the next week.

    As far as your workload, either grant mod powers to people you trust, or close comment threads once you’re not willing to mod them any more. Tom Murphy of Do The Math, which you should check out if you haven’t, approves all comments, and closes commenting when he moves on. It’s frustrating when you want to comment later, but it gets the purity he wants.

    • Meredith L. Patterson says:

      Closing comment threads when they’ve moved on seems like a good practical choice for a community that’s fundamentally about long-term conversations. SSC tends to revisit themes pretty regularly, so in practice, less-engaged commenters wouldn’t completely lose out on opportunities to interact. The strategy might disproportionately affect new readers catching up on older material, so the question there becomes a quantitative one — of the comments to posts older than N days, how many are genuine and how many are shitposting (perhaps for varying degrees of charity).

      LW seems to benefit from the ability to revisit old threads, but the new-comments page and voting factor into that.

  28. pgbh says:

    This is the first comment I’ve made on this blog (though I’ve been reading for years). That’s because I normally find blog comments to be a waste of time. I’m unsure whether that makes me especially suited or particularly unsuited to opine on this topic.

    The issue with comments, in my view, is that people are frequently far more eager to talk than they are to say something worthwhile. This leads to a large proportion of comments which are worthless, or at least not up to the standards which the blogger might have.

    There is no reason why blog comments have to be particularly low in quality. Letters to the editor are basically a similar concept, and yet my local paper would never print half of the comments you can find on The difference, in my view, is that the paper doesn’t view itself as obliged to provide a platform for everyone who bothers to pick up a pen. Having your letter printed is a privilege that must be earned.

    Why shouldn’t this blog have a similar policy? Manually approving every comment might be too much work. But at least I think you could afford to be very aggressive with deleting poor comments.

    If a comment is meandering, garbled or blatantly illogical, you might consider deleting it. But downright offensive comments (even just calling someone an “idiot”, for example), should be removed immediately. In other fora, it’s accepted that adults will address each other with respect. Why should the Internet be any different?

  29. TeaMug says:

    An upvote/downvote system that hides-by-default overly downvoted comments could be useful. A quick Google search reveals… almost nothing; the only plugins I could find are several years out of date. This tutorial looks to be pointing in the right direction.

    I do like the suggestion of a few trusted moderators. Any system you go with would be improved by that addition.

    (I guess I’m also offering a weekend’s work if you need it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I’m provably trustable – I’ve only commented a handful of times (and most of those on this post))

  30. Daniel Speyer says:


    Explicit principles and frequent reminders could have an effect. Something like a checkbox reading “I swear by all I hold sacred that this comment supports the collective search for truth to the very best of my abilities” (and the Post Comment button ungreys only when it’s checked).

    Crowdsourcing could bring things to your attention for banhammering. Maybe a report link and then you (or those you trust) can look at any comment that gets multiple reports. I think reddit’s report link works like this.

    Speaking of reddit, you might want to move the entire comment section there. You could create /r/slatestarcodex and have a bot submit all your posts there, then put a link in the comments section here (I could write the bot). It would get you threading that works, nicer markdown, voting (I’m guessing this would be good) and moderation tools. It would risk connecting you to the rest of reddit, but I suspect not very much — different subs don’t interact very much.

    Or just require all comments to be in Kadhamic 🙂

    • Avantika says:

      I quite like the checkbox idea.

    • Army1987 says:

      Explicit principles and frequent reminders could have an effect. Something like a checkbox reading “I swear by all I hold sacred that this comment supports the collective search for truth to the very best of my abilities” (and the Post Comment button ungreys only when it’s checked).

      Better, the button ungreys only when the checkbox has stayed checked for 10 seconds.

  31. novalis says:

    I have a sort of funny proposal: no rhetoric. I really enjoy reading your rhetoric, I almost never enjoy that of your commenters (whether or not I agree with them). In fact, I can only think of one comment here which I have ever mentioned to anyone (against dozens of posts). If you simply ban everything but straightforward, transparent prose, perhaps that would solve some of the problem.

  32. Zakharov says:

    I’d say just ban Jim on account of him being a frothy-mouthed lunatic who tends to severely derail all discussions in the comment threads he participates in.

  33. Tristan says:

    You asked for opinions; here is mine (long term lurker, not a regular commenter).

    In my experience, detailed comment policies and active moderators often create drama. Instead of self-policing and working out disagreements as responsible adults, people start lawyering and arguing whether a particular behavior or post is against the rules and appeal to the moderators to arbitrate their disputes and ban their opponents. This in turn leads to tiresome meta-debates on whether the moderators enforce the rules fairly or arbitrarily and whether a given rule is reasonable or not. It would probably be lots of work for you and any appointed moderator and a big headache.

    As evidenced by this blog, high quality content presented in a well-written and generally evenhanded and charitable way, attracts high quality and generally reasonable commenters. The tone you set in the blog is to a high degree reflected in what kind of commenters you get and what kind of comments they make. When exceptions turn up (other than the occasional pathological troll and of course spammers), it is often in response to your posts on inherently controversial subjects with the “tings I will regret writing” tag. I understand the impetus to address the degrading tone in the comments that such posts provoke, but rather than implementing and enforcing strict rules I would suggest the following.

    Write a short(ish) post where you describe what you wish for and expect of your commenters in your “walled garden”: kindness, respect for different viewpoints, that bad arguments are met with counter arguments and not ad hominems, etc., maybe with links to some of the posts on the subject that you’ve already written. Explain that you don’t have time and/or inclination to personally enforce this, but that you expect your commenters to self-police and voluntarily abide by your wishes in this respect. Ask your regulars to link the post when they encounter someone who seems to be unaware of the expected behavior. And, provided you figure out how, summarily ban repeat offenders/egregious violators (if there are any).

    I expect the above would be enough to maintain a reasonable quality and tone in the comments as long as you continue with your policy to ration your “outrage blogging” as you have in the past. I don’t think you should stop entirely with the “outrage”; the controversial posts bring in new readers – and you deserve to be widely read – and I like reading them. But as long as you intersperse them with interesting posts on medical studies, rationality, statistics and demons, the people who came only for the outrage will leave and those who remain will absorb the culture and general tone that is cultivated in the blog and in the comment section.

    • Atreic says:

      I like this comment.

      If you actually have repeat problem trolls, note that it’s really hard (ie impossible) to ban them while allowing anonymous people to comment. And I think allowing anonymous people to comment, if it’s not causing you excessive work and trouble, is a good.

      I guess I think that trying to control the comments sections to public blog posts is like trying to control who walks past your garden and looks over the wall. The street next to your garden is not your garden. Obviously it’s annoying if you grow such cool flowers that hundreds of people come and stare at them and leave dog poo and litter all over your street, but it’s the street, not the garden. I could be wrong.

    • moridinamael says:

      The best comment policies are short, succinct, merely forbidding “bad, rude, or lazy posts.” What are “bad, rude, or lazy posts?” Well, you need to stick around the comments and read some examples of posts that have been banned for being bad, rude or lazy to get a sense of what the community feels about that. It’s implicative, not exhaustive. Works much better on humans.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        Hrm. Here’s an idea for a semi-automated moderation process that I think would be highly useful, quite informative, and reasonably simple to administrate:

        There is a single blog post that is always at the top of the post list, called “Moderation Policy and the Wall of Shame”.

        The Moderation Policy describes, in vague terms, what kinds of posts will end up on the Wall of Shame.

        Any time a post is deemed banworthy, it is automatically moved to the Wall of Shame, with its original post position replaced with the words “This post has been moved to the Wall of Shame, and the poster has been banned {for days | forever}.” The post’s text is a link to the Wall of Shame version, and the Wall of Shame version begins with a link back to the original post (where it was removed from).

        I’ll see what it would take to write something like that as a WordPress module this weekend.

  34. Erik says:

    I feel competent to voice my opinion mostly on one subpoint of moderation:

    Moderator acts should be public and explicit. (This should not be taken as a position on the quantity or targeting of moderation.)

    My experience being on both ends of moderation is that moderation will generate annoyance in the target and his friends anyway, whether or not it’s public. By making it public you generate some happiness for those who were annoyed by the target, you signal to everyone that the comment section is moderated and how, and you don’t leave people wondering if they missed something important when the comment thread contains weird gaps and dangling pointers to missing comments.

    So don’t merely delete posts. Stamp “Unacceptable. Banned.” on the post (I advise doing this in big red letters or with a banhammer-like moderation logo) and leave it up, or delete the post and add a comment to the effect of “John Doe has been banned for a week and his post removed due to calling for a world government not run by ozy”.

    Over in flights of whimsy, I am in favor of giving James Donald a public title of “Official Pet Right-Wing Nut-Job” that comes with special Right-Wing Nut-Job privileges, and banning others in his vicinity. One RWNJ expands the boundaries of discourse. Additional RWNJs don’t, but they do drag the middle around a lot instead. Something similar might apply for the Left-Wing Moon-Bats, but I’m worse at estimating degrees of leftness and I’m not sure if Multiheaded is the target I want. Also I want a moderation policy I can read so I know what to expect (even if the policy just says that you ban who you feel like).

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      When a post simply disappears, or never did appear, that also leaves the poster wondering what happened (and maybe posting it repeatedly). But rather than stamping large flags on it, I’d prefer to see it shrunk or grayed, so even its carcass does not distract. Making Light has a system where rejected or borderline posts are ‘disemvoweled’; this makes them easy to ignore but a curious reader can make a good guess about them. (Dunno how much work, or how messy a process, the disemvowelling is.)

      • Erik says:

        Disemvoweling makes me mildly nauseous, mostly by its nature of being rewriting the words of people you don’t like, and also because of the ensuing “haha, look at the idiot whose post looks stupid” factor once the post has been enstupided. It’s one thing to put a man in a prison suit; it’s another to put him in a clown suit (or leather thong, or whatever else you can imagine of dress that will make people look really stupid in public).

        • Stille says:

          I’m quite a fan of recolouring offending posts light grey.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Disemvoweling doesn’t make the post look stupid, or change the content; it just makes the post hard to read, and a little shorter. I’d like to see rejected posts in a reduced font size, so they don’t interrupt the visual flow of the other comments.

  35. Platypus says:

    For some reason I have the perception that top-level comments are more likely to be interesting than replies to comments. (And replies are more likely to be interesting than replies-to-replies, etc.) It’s possible that this is because most people have a higher activation energy for posting a new comment than for joining an ongoing thread. It’s also possible this is because arguments are composed of lots of lower-level comments and arguments are more likely to be boring. Either way, when I read your comment section, I find I spend a lot of time scrolling down to get to the next top-level comment.

    I wonder if some sort of policy like “no comments past depth three, and no sneaky replying to the wrong thing to keep your comment less than depth three” would improve comment quality. Alternatively I wonder if comment trees should be collapsed by default. I don’t know if this is easy to do in WordPress.

    I like Bakkot’s suggestion of having one comment board on Reddit and one on the main site; I think you could do even better by just using Reddit. (Or any other system with upvotes and comment collapsing.)

    For a site specifically dedicated to tolerance of people with weird political views, I feel like attempting to identify and ban “trolls” is going to be very difficult; people will always have to ask themselves “am I just banning this person because I disagree with their weird political views?”. This is probably what you meant by “making the decisions would take a lot of mental energy”.

    • Kevin says:

      I like Bakkot’s suggestion of having one comment board on Reddit and one on the main site; I think you could do even better by just using Reddit. (Or any other system with upvotes and comment collapsing.)

      As a counterpoint to this, I refuse to have a Reddit account (to avoid the additional timesink and because the signal to noise isn’t high enough), so if SSC moved to Reddit-only comments, I would no longer comment. I’m not sure how popular my no-Reddit-account stance is, but I may not be the only one who holds it. Of course, Scott should weigh this in proportion to how much he cares about my and any others’ occasional comments.

      • Eeuuah says:

        Is there any particular reason you couldn’t just use a reddit account only for visiting that particular subreddit? It’s fairly quick to set it so that you would only ever see that particular discussion.

        Reddit can be just a site to host a community, and many of their communities have very little interaction with reddit otherwise.

  36. Mike Johnson says:

    Past a certain threshold of popularity, I’m not sure it makes sense to have a comments section- it seems to exert a psychological drain, and not give much back.

    That said, here’s a comment someone made years ago on Lessig’s blog, that always resonated with me…

    You should delete all comments, including those which attack you and your work, which are expressed in a fashion which a civil adult would not use when speaking face-to-face with another adult. Off-topic comments also get launched. That is, being on-topic is necessary but not sufficient for a comment to remain. Being civil is also necessary but not sufficient for a comment to remain.

    Larry, there’s an adage which applies to hiring, that says: A-quality people hire A-quality people. B-quality people hire C-quality people. So you need to only make A hires, or your business is headed downhill.

    In commenting, I’ve observed that A-quality comments attract A-quality comments. B-quality comments attract C-quality comments.

    I’m an *old hand* at the internet discussion forum game, though I don’t care to list my name here. Your blog is already headed downhill as far as comments are concerned. If you want to maintain comment quality, you must prune rather ruthlessly. Now, nothing terrible will happen if you don’t. Your comment section won’t be any good, but then most comment sections aren’t, so yours won’t stand out. I don’t know that you actually want the hassle of maintaining a good comment section, it’s certainly harder than maintaining a bad one. But I’m telling you how, if you want to: if you want to maintain an actual GOOD comment section, one that literally *attracts* A-level commenters, you need to prune ruthlessly.

    • Jiro says:

      You should delete all comments, including those which attack you and your work, which are expressed in a fashion which a civil adult would not use when speaking face-to-face with another adult.

      I’d never say to the face of someone whose race has a high crime rate that his race has a high crime rate, but I don’t think such things should be banned in comments.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        I’d never say to the face of someone whose race has a high crime rate that his race has a high crime rate

        Well, there are ways to say it and there are ways not to say it. For example, acknowledging that there’s a lot of ambiguity between crimes committed and crimes reported, and a lot of ambiguity on whether race is a causative factor or merely correlative, is typically a good way to not lose friends.

  37. Viliam Búr says:

    It would be great to have a button to collapse/uncollapse a comment branch.

    In addition to “keep” or “delete” the comments, I recommend also having two flags for special comments: “very bad” and “very good”. Visually, the “very bad” comments would have a red border and gray text (for decreased visibility); the “very good” comments would have green border and yellow-white background. These flags would be set by Scott manually and used relatively rarely; perhaps 1-3 comments of each kind in an article.

    The “very bad” comments would be something like: “I was not sure whether to delete this or not, and then I decided to keep it (e.g. because it broke some rule, but also said something valuable). However, if I see another post like this, I could change my mind.” The idea is that these comments are the fence of the garden. Comments which are outside of the fence get deleted and become invisible: this is both good and bad. Good because we don’t want to read them. Bad because if the fence is not visible, people keep guessing where exactly it is. The “very bad” comments are there to show you the fence without being too horrible. — As nyan_sandwich suggested, making this kind of comment may also cause a temporary ban for the user.

    The “very good” comments would be highlights of good ideas, and Scott’s tool to reward people for making extra good comments. They mean: “If you don’t have a time to read the whole discussion, make sure you read this.” (There could be a button below the article to switch between seeing all comments and seeing only “very good” comments.)

    I think this is a good balance between having merely yes-or-no moderation, and having a complicated rating system. I would probably advise against community voting here, because that would lead to gaming, and accusations of gaming; however there could be a mechanism for users to give Scott private suggestions of comments that should be flagged “very bad” or “very good”.

  38. Konkvistador says:

    Scott brings forth innumerable posts to nurture reader,
    Reader has nothing good with which to recompense Scott.

    No comments. No comments. No comments. No comments. No comments. No comments. No comments.

  39. Konkvistador says:

    You will eliminate nearly all of the complaints about your comment section by simply banning anyone to your political right. This will not however noticeably improve the quality of the comments, which I agree is lower than it was even a few months back.

    • Zathille says:

      I don’t think one should assume the complaints Scott has reffered to are about some poster’s political positions. This discussion seems to have risen after a fairly caustic comment which, while a product of political disagreement, seemed like a fairly rare event and one which, i believe, would not merit changes in the comments system.

      This is my first post here,. I must say that what really pulled me in were the discussions on NR, which seemed to be mostly civil and constructive in here, in contrast with pretty much everywhere else I went.

      In short, grievances are inevitable, no matter how civil the average discourse is in here.

    • BenSix says:

      Nope. It’s how people argue that is the problem. For example, you seem like a civil chap. This guy, on the other hand, was so determined to misread Scott that he produced a dangerous libel.

      • St. Rev says:

        That comment was really puzzling to me. Is there a well-known Clark being referenced in that comment? (Maybe Clark @ Popehat?) I took it as a flag that either I was missing something obvious, or the commenter was, er, not well.

      • Berna says:

        *clicks link* Oh, wow. That has got to be the most evil thing I’ve ever read.

    • ozymandias says:

      IDK at least one of my complaints is that Multi sometimes goes into rants about how evil various people are and this is upsetting. I don’t think that’s necessarily an *uncommon* complaint.

      (Sorry Multi. I like you the rest of the time!)

  40. lmm says:

    The only comments that bothered me at all in the previous thread were the strong personal attacks.

    I agree with the suggestion of 48-hour bans with an explicit bright red USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST.

  41. Long-time reader, only rarely a commenter.

    The issue is clearly a few “bad eggs”, and even then “bad egg posts” rather than everything they comment, rather than the general climate of the comment section. Given that, we can probably trust the overall demos’ comment preferences. Thus, I think an upvote/downvote system would solve any problems you have, while taking up little of your time and generating none of the meta-debate surrounding moderation others have mentioned.

    If disqus causes problems for so many (I’ve never had a single problem), then the reddit solution seems reasonable, or any plugin that works and allows some sort of ordering of comments. For the threads with lots of comments, this could have the side-benefit of promoting the worthy responses to the top as well as shunting the unworthy ones down to the bottom.

    • Erik says:

      While I agree with your analysis, I’m not convinced that the conclusion follows. Upvote/downvote strikes me as a poor way of hunting down “bad egg posts” in particular. True, downvote power is the power for a group to collectively mark a terrible post, but it’s also the power for an individual to micro-penalize every comment by a given person, every comment in a subthread that I think has derailed, or every comment on a subject that offends me.

      Further, I worry that it encourages evaporative cooling in a forum that doesn’t already have very stable norms to hold the group in place. Team Green is majority, downvotes comments by the two or three Team Blue commenters who are just beyond the pale, ultra-Blue commenters leave, the boundary of who is ultra-Blue shifts (this is why I humorously proposed making Jim the pet extremist above), Team Green gains a bigger majority, the average of the group shifts, repeat. In one respect, it formalizes and amplifies the already existing process of a community shunning unbelievers, except now the action is invisible. Downvotes may be traceable, but usually aren’t traced. Downvote raids, bots, etc. are entirely new opportunities for problems to arise. Downvotes can’t themselves be downvoted, the way a “f*ck off you evil bastard” comment can itself be replied to with “no, f*ck you for calling people evil bastards”.

      All well and good if the community is oriented the right way in the first place – but if it is, why do we have this post, and if it isn’t, what’s the solution other than “Scott steps in and does something”, which renders the voting somewhat moot?

      Finally, because downvotes are small, anonymous, and reversible, I suspect that they’ll be used a lot for comments below Comfort Level X rather than posts below Troll Level Y. Which brings me to trying to be constructive and fix this by inverting those attributes: instead of downvotes, have a “flag comment as terrible” button. You can only press this button about three times per thread. Like commenting, pressing this button requires a little identity (enough for Scott to ban you if it’s abused). Flags are not shown to anyone. If a comment is flagged by three different people, it disappears into “waiting for moderation” and Scott (or moderator) decides whether to approve it. Downside: this draws Scott’s attention to the worst of his comment section in particular.

      • Elissa says:

        Agreed that public, anonymous downvotes are way too easily exploited as crappy little microaggressions. Also, they lower the general level of trust, which is a really bad thing to do in your fragile walled garden where people are nice to each other.

  42. Alex R says:

    So, I’m in the “Dictator Scott” camp: I believe there should be guidelines, but that their purpose is to inform the commenters of your potentially completely arbitrary preference function.

    I’m also a particular fan of this (albeit probably too heavy-handed for this blog) set of guidelines: (points 5, 6, 7, and 12 don’t apply to this blog as much)

    That said, I almost never read the comments, because I find the layout very hard to follow. I suppose I should hack up some javascript to add some of the basic functionality that Reddit+RES provides (hide child comments, hide comment tree, and jump to parent are the three that I miss most). I’ll probably never get around to it, though.

  43. orthonormal says:

    Positive reinforcement for opening this conversation!

    Policies stated above that I’ve liked:
    *The public and temporary user-ban. If you want to feel less bad about this, give it the name of some moderate punishment from Raikoth.
    *The checkbox for “this comment, to the best of my ability, upholds the standards of mutual truthseeking” or somesuch. Sounds silly, but so does the priming effect of a picture of eyes watching you.

    And one more that I came up with: Have a list of taboo words, such that if you try to post one of them, it returns an error, “Post contains word X. Please taboo X.” (And a link to a relevant page on tabooing words.) Include the stipulation that obvious typographical substitutions should only be used when it’s necessary to quote a particular word rather than taboo it, and that abuse of this loophole gets punished by a temporary user ban.

    Nice things about this:
    *It’s a list of taboo words rather than taboo topics. If people still want to talk about deleterious effects of promiscuity, for instance, it won’t hurt the content at all to forgo the usual slurs.
    *The nice thing about tabooing words is that it makes bad logic more obvious, and good logic more obvious as well.
    *The other nice thing about tabooing words is that euphemisms and polite expansions are usually less likely to hurt/trigger people than the things they replace.
    *The policy is perfectly clear to the people it needs to be clear to, without the annoyance of constant reminders in the comment threads.
    *The ability to alter the list lets you react appropriately when Prominent Blogger X comes up with a new catchphrase and people start swinging it around here in irritating fashion.
    *I suspect that you, Scott, will feel more sanguine about tabooing a word than tabooing a post, topic, or user, and that therefore you can say “guys, this is getting ridiculous, I’m adding X to the taboo list” without feeling terrible.

    • Prussian Prince of Automata says:

      Aside from the time Scott got in trouble for using the word “slut” in the FAQ, and possibly confusion about the presence of ninjas in Reconstruction-era South, I can’t think of a time where diction itself was the problematic element rather than the content of the ideas. And even then, I doubt people would have complained about either except that they saw the terms being used from the perspective of the political right; sex-positive feminists and black ‘anti-racists’ are usually applauded when they talk about sluts and ninjas.

      The real issue is toxic ad hominems and eliminationist statements. When Multi starts in on how craven and evil and first-up-against-the-wall her enemies are, or Jim calls someone a zealot robotically repeating dogmas, or the discussion turns to whether it’s more morally acceptable to eliminate political opponents ‘compassionately’ with mandatory psychiatric treatments as opposed to burying them alive, that’s when the bell officially stikes Mod O’Clock. No bad words needed, or indeed used, at least in my memory of events.

      The sentiment of “Hate and Kill the Inhuman Demons” is the enemy here, not particular words which could be used to express those sentiments.

      • Multiheaded says:

        black ‘anti-racists’ are usually applauded when they talk about… ninjas

        I instantly imagined Huey Freeman.

        …More to the (banal) point, I’m as scared by the tolerance of intolerance as the liberals are by the intolerance of tolerance. What I want also feels reasonable and orderly and civilized from the inside.

        • Prussian Prince of Automata says:

          One of the great things about being human beings is that we have an (admittedly limited at times) ability to control how we react to our emotions. That self-control is absolutely essential if we want to have any kind of productive social group, on any scale.

          If you are frightened by people discussing philosophies you disagree with dispassionately, that is entirely your prerogative and I am not being snide when I say I have every sympathy for you. But if you cannot master that fear and remain civil, then you should step away from the keyboard for a moment and collect yourself before responding. I’ve had to do the same thing here and elsewhere, and feel a lot of guilt about the times when I chose not to out of weakness.

          It’s easy to give up our control and let pathos master us, but an apathetic (in the Greek rather than Gen-X sense) stance is the root of reason. If your arguments are logically secure empirically valid and presented reasonably, there is nothing to fear from exposing them to debate.

        • Multiheaded says:

          an apathetic (in the Greek rather than Gen-X sense) stance is the root of reason

          But I don’t even agree with this either. What if “neutral” logos simply presupposes the ethos and pathos of sitting comfortably in an armchair, and is effectively othering those lacking comfort or armchairs?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          What if “neutral” logos simply presupposes the ethos and pathos of sitting comfortably in an armchair, and is effectively othering those lacking comfort or armchairs?

          That link didn’t work.

          Some conversations fitting that description, effectively invite everyone TO use one of the armchairs in that comfortable, quiet, civil room.

        • Prussian Prince of Automata says:

          Not everyone can be reasonable all the time and in every situation, and we shouldn’t expect them to. Ethics can’t demand the impossible and reasonable people shouldn’t expect the unnatural.

          But just because my leg is broken does not mean that you should be wobbling around on crutches. Not using your abilities doesn’t help me to heal in the slightest, and moreover it leaves us both poorer because now neither of us can enjoy the benefits of your health. If I resent your ability to walk unaided, or you feel pity for me on my injury, both of us are denying reality and distracting ourselves from doing what we can do.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Sorry, fixed. This blog seems to parse everything without a http:// as being on

        • Kevin says:

          It’s not this blog; that’s just how the web works. Anything that doesn’t start with a protocol is interpreted to be a relative link.

        • Multiheaded says:

          I know that, I run a (simple) website myself. What surprised me is that, elsewhere, I didn’t use to add a http:// to hyperlinks and it worked fine. Do most other places have some autocomplete function for links?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Is ninja a euphemism for black person? I’ve never heard it before.

        And is Multiheaded really female? It wouldn’t surprise me, per se, but that’s not how I was picturing zir.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          it’s an easy search-and-replace for another n-word.

        • Prussian Prince of Automata says:

          Not a euphemism in it’s own right, just a way to quote old books / new music without invoking the dread summons of the HR Representative. I’ve seen people use the n-word -> ninja conversion before so it’s not quite as baffling, but I do admit I still double-take when I see it sometimes.

          As for Multi’s sex I have no actual knowledge, just my gut instinct reading the comments here and on LW. Some posters seem to be going with male, and maybe that’s right, but it just seems off to me. Obviously I’ll correct my earlier post if it turns out I’m not right.

        • Multiheaded says:

          I’m the cissest dudebro ever, really. The hell’s with this?

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      And one more that I came up with: Have a list of taboo words, such that if you try to post one of them, it returns an error, “Post contains word X. Please taboo X.” (And a link to a relevant page on tabooing words.) [….]
      Nice things about this:
      *It’s a list of taboo words rather than taboo topics.

      Or posts, or users.

      WordPress already has a feature for quarantining posts which contain words on a certain list, which each blogger can add to.

      The feedback message would be very nice; if it’s not available, it might be worth some volunteer checking the quarantine bin and the no-no list and revealing which word in the post triggered the rejection. This wouldn’t be a judgment call, just an impersonal cite from the list.

      Even just the default WordPress feature would weed out most of the objectionable posts. Bad intentions and bad logic often correlate with objectionable words.

  44. Elissa says:

    Yes to public banning by you or someone you trust. No to any system with downvotes.

  45. blacktrance says:

    What’s wrong with the status quo?

    • Benkern says:

      Indeed, see the banner for this blog. With popularity comes people, and with people come a dollop of awfulness. However, if you’re willing to appoint me High Priest of Raikoth, I will moderate for you. 😉

  46. JRM says:

    I’ll add my vote to the people who like Disqus. When Volokh moved to the Washington Post, comments basically collapsed because the comment structure was so much worse.

    As to moderation, I think my favorite rule has been Nate Silver’s on Baseball Prospectus and fivethirtyeight: Don’t. Be. A. Dick. Considering other blogs’ efficacy:

    Volokh (which had an excellent commentariat for any blog, much less a political one) used a longer version of the same thing:

    Scalzi’s a little too banhammery for my tastes. It’s the Singapore position: You’re allowed to express whatever opinion you want, so long as it is not wrong. (I like the Scalzi blog overall.)

    Popehat kind of ranges; since one of their posters endorses killing witnesses who intend to testify against drug dealers, the comments range a bit far afield of what I would consider good form.

    Things I would watch for and smash quickly:

    1. Deliberate dishonesty/trolling.
    2. Unfounded or speculative allegations of deliberate dishonesty.
    3. Personal wars.

    I think almost all of us would be OK with you making calls and thumping problem children.


    • Erik says:

      Scalzi is not merely banhammery, he’s pettily dishonest in a manner that utterly grates on me. If we sum up the recent Chu fuss as “My enemies are evil, so I’m justified in being violent”, then one could summarize Scalzi as “My enemies are evil, so I’m justified in being a douchebag”.

      When Vox Day (Theodore Beale) was kicked out of the SFWA for being a racist, sexist, homophobic dipshit who probably checks people’s phenotypes, Scalzi posted celebratory music to his blog, denied that it had anything to do with Vox Day, pretended not to know who Vox Day was, and threatened to banhammer anyone who mentioned Vox Day.

      For No Particular Reason At All, This Song Seems Strangely Appropriate Today
      [video: Sound of Music – So Long, Farewell]
      [video: Sunshine Day]

      Let’s not turn this comment thread into a discussion of this Mr. Beale fellow, whoever he is. Let’s instead think about happy thoughts and fluffy animals, like, oh, rabbits, I suppose, and also just enjoy this wonderful music that I have linked to for no particular reason whatsoever.

      Wounded, wounded I am, that a random anonymous commenter would suggest that I am being less than truthful about the cause of my musical choices! O! The sting! Because, as we all know, there is no disapprobation like the disapprobation of the random anonymous commenter.

      Reminder: this thread is about the joy of songs, not this “Mr. Beale,” whoever he is, so let’s wrap that up, please. Further posts referring to this fellow are likely to be Malleted, so this thread can be what it is supposed to be: A celebration of song!

      • hf says:

        On its face, calling that dishonest seems dishonest. What you quoted is the polar opposite of trying to deceive someone. Do you have a better example?

        • Erik says:

          I’m not accusing Scalzi of being deceptive, hence “pettily”, although that may not be the right word. I’m accusing him of rotten sportsmanship, bullshitting about his rotten sportsmanship, and threatening to banhammer people who call him on his bullshit. This strikes me as a terrible policy that I want to see kept far far away from Slate Star Codex.

          edit: to clarify, I was thinking that a regular lie is usually lying to convince someone of a falsehood for some benefit, a petty lie is lying just because you can.

    • Salem says:

      Volokh (which had an excellent commentariat for any blog, much less a political one)

      Wow. Personally I thought that VC had one of the worst OP/commenter ratios in the internet. Excellent and informative posts (except for you-know-who), but a truly terrible comments section.

      I guess it just shows that different people have radically different ways of judging these things.

    • Kevin says:

      I already mentioned my own problems with Disqus elsewhere in the thread (which appear to be echoed by others), but I definitely second the recommendation that Scott not use the WaPo comments system. I have never successfully posted a comment on a WaPo blog.

  47. Avantika says:

    Some thoughts after reading this entire comments section:

    I still think leaving things as they are is the best thing to do. However, that’s just my opinion, and if you really think you need a commenting policy, here’s my say:

    Things I would be comfortable with:

    – You being absolute dictator and deleting/banning as you think appropriate. However, this is obviously something that requires substantial, if not CONSTANT, vigilance from you.

    – A checkbox of the ‘serves the search for truth’ type, but I’m not sure it would be effective. People would be reluctant to make light funny posts, and it would let through offensive-to-many-people posts where the commenter may genuinely feel he/she is promoting truth, eg. the slavery-was-good-for slaves comments a while back.

    Things I would NOT be comfortable with:

    – Moderators other than you having power over the comments section. Seriously. I know you through your posts and am comfortable with your standards of discourse; I do not have such comfort with other people here, even if they are your friends. On this kind of blog, this sounds very much like the sort of thing that would lead to the formation of cliques and certain political/social groups dominating the discussion.
    OTOH, I like the idea of moderators who can flag a comment for your attention, leaving the choice of whether to delete a comment/ban a person solely to you.

    – Upvoting/downvoting, for reasons I said above. It scares me and I doubt I’m the only one. It has the same (or more) risk of clique-formation. Also such a system is probably going to lead to much drama and outrage, of the ‘why was I downvoted? why was he upvoted? Tell me why!’ type.

    – deleting posts that contain certain ideas, including ‘hate the evil demons’.
    I’m with you on the anti-hate, pro-niceness stand, but I still don’t want to see people banned just because they say they hate something.
    (Deleting posts with personal insults is fine, please go ahead.)

    General thoughts:

    – I agree with the commenter who said flagging some posts might be better than deleting, as ‘there is no learning’.

    – I think people should get a warning and explanation before anything is deleted. Honest mistakes happen.

  48. Multiheaded says:

    (Narcissistic attention-seeking)

    So beyond me just being a jerk, it feels like people have an issue where they see me to be somehow unremittingly disdainful of this blog and certain varieties of comments on it, coming here solely to wreck good things. Would it improve my public image if I started forcing myself to make one-line endorsements whenever I grudgingly agree with something that I feel is overrepresented on this blog and feeds into beliefs I’d like to see less of, yet is probably correct on its own?

    E.g. I should more often admit things like yes, there must be biological differences in intelligence, even though I hate 110% of the discourse surrounding this observation, or like yes, many feminists are stupid and worse than useless, even though I feel it fuels a rather shitty circlejerk? Because yeah, I could do that.

    • Randy M says:

      Only as part of other comments, I think. Personally I’ve used the new edit function to delete several comments that were polite enough but just didn’t seem to add anything or were a distraction. I think in general people are happy with a higher signal to noise ratio than frequent +1’s.

      While you are asking for suggestions, not saying “shitty circlejerk” would also be an improvement.

      • Multiheaded says:

        I think in general people are happy with a higher signal to noise ratio than frequent +1′s.

        People on LW do seem to agree that it leads to problems.

        not saying “shitty circlejerk” would also be an improvement

        Don’t see how it’s objectively worse than “Feminism is mostly awful to an exceptional degree”. Ok, let’s call it a nuance-free bout of agreement that begs for people of dubious intentions to come and add basically malign things.

        (In this example, it would logically end with “Have you noticed how everyone who ever opposed women’s ‘oppression’ is a sinister power-crazed narcissistic totalitarian Jewish fanatic?” – I’ve seen exactly this fascinating le thoughtcrime revelation too many times. Bonus points for saying “Well-intentioned” at the beginning and then circlejerking about good intentions always and inevitably being the worst intentions…)

        • Randy M says:

          “Don’t see how it’s objectively worse than “Feminism is mostly awful to an exceptional degree”

          Are you blind to the distinction between tone and content? Because I would have wagered heavily the use was deliberately chosen due to the crude literal denotations. Now, that isn’t to say it can’t be humorous, but it will cerainly serve to ratchet down the tone.

          Tone aside, either comment would be bad without justification and argument, and useful with examples and reasoning.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Except in the feminist blogosphere, where a lie will get to Alpha Centauri and back three times while the truth is locked up in a makeshift dungeon in the basement, screaming.

          Aggressive, emotionally charged imagery too. But I don’t have too much of a problem with it, I just want a recognition that nobody even remotely aspires to be a Vulcan in their revealed preferences.

        • Randy M says:

          Alright, if you’d like to fight for your right to make such allusions, go ahead, I’m not supporting a moderation policy about it, rather answering your suggestion on how to improve image.

      • nydwracu says:

        If you want to signal agreement with something but don’t want to post +1s, take what you’re agreeing with, agree, and then extend it. Like if someone says that there are probably biological differences in intelligence, there’s the possible response “the discourse surrounding this is evil”, and then there’s the possible response “probably, but the discourse surrounding this is considered harmful because…”.

        • Multiheaded says:

          To elaborate on such discourse, I’d have to write a reflection on Habermas’s concept of instrumental vs. communicative rationality, and I don’t really have the philosophical training for that.

          But basically: purely technocratic reasoning can’t be made safe for human consumption by rhetorically drawing a line between description and prescription, it inevitably alters the decision-making process; a discussion “free” of normativity is merely a discussion with an implicit authoritarian and Unfriendly normativity.

        • nydwracu says:

          You (eventually) did it in that exchange with Radish, didn’t you?

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Hesitantly treading here. A simple ‘like’ or ‘+’ or ‘agree’ or whatever, may look inane to some readers, but it’s a way for someone in Multi’s position to round out how they’re viewed. I seldom preach to the choir or berate the unbelievers; most of my comments are to exceptions — when the choir nods, or the unbeliever is right twice a day. So I’d like to come across as agreeing with most Leftist things, without having to make actual comments about them.

    • lmm says:

      I don’t think that would help. There’s nothing wrong with coming here to disagree, and I’d rather see counterargument than bland agreement. My issue with you in the previous thread is solely that I think your personal attack crossed the line (the profanity didn’t help); I’d still be calling for a ban for that whatever your political position and however positive a contributor I thought you were in general.

    • misha says:

      The problem isn’t what you feel. The problem is that you seem to make a lot of comments that basically mean “Reaction Delenda Est” but take multiple paragraphs of ranting to say. They’re very rarely interesting or novel to me. I see you respond to a reactionary and I KNOW I’ll get very little of value because I’ve already seen you say “Reaction Delenda Est” in every other comment. You shouldn’t try to have a long involved conversation when what you’re really trying to say is “I hate you so much I don’t want to even have conversations with you”.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Yes, that would improve your image and help you wreck good things.

  49. Nisan says:

    I don’t know how comment-moderation software works, but I’m glad you’re considering this and hope it will make the comments section more pleasant to read.

  50. Hardworlder says:

    No policy! It’s wonderful exactly as is. I WANT to be exposed to challenging viewpoints. Teach Embrace the controversy!

  51. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I’m also in favor of the “Dictator Scott” policy. And I’d further recommend that you adopt a policy of never defending your moderating decisions. By way of explanation, see what has happened to Eliezer every time he has tried to defend either his actions as a moderator (or his feminist credentials, for that matter).

  52. Some moderation would be welcome, but the larger problem – to me, personally – is that I’m not going to read through pages and pages of comments, and it’s hard to find the best comments quickly.

    I currently look for posters I recognize, but I like LW’s up-/downvote system better than what you have now. Note that at least Disqus supports something like this, although I understand you don’t like Disqus and I’m not sure how well it works in practice.

    (I’m aware that there are plenty of problems with up-/downvote systems in general and some of the problems with it; editorially choosing the best comments may or may not help.)

  53. JTHM says:

    I don’t know how much work this would take, or if something to to this is already available, but there’s no reason for Scott to read every comment to determine what should be banned:

    Suppose people upvoted or downvoted comments, but it wasn’t a simple tally of upvotes or downvotes that determine a post’s score. Rather, the upvotes/downvotes are weighted according to how much the voter’s voting record correlates with Scott’s own voting record on posts on which they both voted. And of course, it should also be weighted on sample size. Suppose voter A and Scott have voted on 100 of the same comments, and voted the same way on 80 of those, and voter B and Scott have voted on 10 of the same comments, and voted the same way on 8 of those; in this case, A’s vote should weigh more than B’s. Such a system would mimic Scott’s own judgment without the tedium of having to micromanage the commentariat.

  54. Ben says:

    I suggest that every comment must either contain a supporting graph OR extensive references to the peer-reviewed scientific literature OR a full-body selfie cryptographically verified to have been taken by the user at the time they composed the post.

    This will mean that everybody has to go to the trouble of either supporting their arguments, or at least putting on some trousers.

    • Protagoras says:

      Are you sure you aren’t being overly optimistic in assuming those who take the selfie option will put on trousers?

      • Jordan D. says:

        I also have deep reservations. These incentives might prove perverse.

        …on the plus side, that might also attract a whole new demographic of commentariat!

    • ozymandias says:

      Until your last sentence I seriously thought the advantage of this plan is that we would get to see what all the commenters look like naked.

  55. Michael Terry says:

    I really think you should just use Disqus. It’s incredibly convenient for commenters because so many sites use it. You don’t have to keep creating a new account to comment on every blog you come across. It’s attractive and blends in well with a modern looking site, only partly because we’ve become accustomed to it. Of its close rivals in cross-site commenting systems, e.g., Facebook, its features and ease of use are superior. I’m hoping it gradually takes over the world.

  56. TeaMug says:

    Looking through the comments, I’m seeing the following good points:

    Voting: Bad. Tends to encourage cliques, and can be easily abused by malicious individuals or groups.

    Moderators: Can be useful, especially to take the load off of Scott. However, this position is ripe for abuse. Avantika makes a good suggestion of limiting Mods to flagging posts For Scott’s further consideration – I’m totally stealing this for my proposal (below).

    Feedback: A bunch of people have suggested that no matter what moderation policies are implemented, it is made clear *what* was moderated and *why* it was moderated, so that the feedback will inform and improve future commenter behavior. See also: Visibility.

    Visibility: If a post is deemed improper, don’t delete it outright – this will leave gaps in the flow of conversation. Instead, make them slightly harder to read, either with a collapsible or with lower-contrast text. See also: Feedback.

    Miscellaneous: Make the blog wider. Allow deeper comment-threading. Allow collapsing/expanding comment threads. A ‘I promise I’m trying to contribute’ checkbox. Weighted upvote scoring (a beautiful idea, but beyond my ability to implement). Probably other stuff that I missed. Scott can pick-and-choose between these bits as he likes, they’re pretty independently implementable.

    (Apologies to anyone if I mis-summarized your position. It was not intentional.)

    My (new) Proposal:

    Allow a few trusted Moderators to pre-filter what Scott needs to pay attention to by flagging suspect posts. If Scott agrees with their judgement, he formalizes/approves the flag, and the text of the posts is rendered as greyed-out.

    Can use several different flags to specify what was inappropriate about the post, be it inappropriate behavior, uncomfortable subjects, or off-topic discussion (Trolling/Triggering/Tangential?). These greyed-out posts can have a small indicator as to the reason(s) they were flagged, allowing readers to decide if they want to try reading them. Probably also allow posters to self-flag, at least for Triggering content.

    A gold-star style flag would provide positive feedback, indicating the type of comment that is particularly appreciated/welcome.

    (Long post! whew. It feels good to have something I know enough about to actually comment on.)

    (I am both able and willing to implement everything in this post (except JTHM’s weighted upvode scoring. sorry JTHM.) if you (Scott) want.)

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Allow collapsing/expanding comment threads.

      That’s not conducive to thoughtful replies. By the time you’ve read later comments and thought of something worth saying, it’s hard to find the comment you wanted to reply to, if it’s now in a collapsed thread. So either you dash off a reply while the comment is still on the screen, or maybe never get back to it.

  57. Bryant says:

    Infrequent reader, never commented before, no emotional stake in your success so apply appropriate modifiers.

    Charge $5 for comment privileges, non-refundable. Then apply whatever banning criteria you find appropriate. I don’t have a good solution for that part that isn’t subjective, and those tend to drift over time. The key thing is to add some small stakes to the commenting process, however.

    Possibly you could add similar stakes to moderator action — if you ban someone, give their $5 to a randomly selected commenter? But then you’re just going to stick all the revenue into an account and you won’t feel like it’s costing you anything. So I guess if you ban someone, give $10 to an appropriate charity.

  58. Ian Pollock says:

    The comments here have never bothered me, but I’m mostly a lurker. If it’s becoming a problem, apart from the option of just accepting the cost of trolls, I’d recommend being the dictator or giving somebody else you trust dictatorial powers (you could pay them an honorarium). One person with practical wisdom about what belongs in the garden beats an exhaustive list of pests anyday.

  59. Brian says:

    Man, I wish I had a good answer to this question. I feel like it’s isomorphic to asking us to define good, and I don’t know how to do that.

    I feel like the best place to start in terms of “create an algorithm that only lets through good opinions” is with reddit’s upvote system. I think that, in general, popular preference is a pretty good algorithm. It promotes entertaining content, and occasionally intelligent and interesting content.

    What I’d like is an algorithm that promoted more intelligent and truthful content, and less endless mindless memes, but damn if I know what that would be. Maybe some sort learning algorithm that updates weights for each user’s votes? But I don’t know what to weigh more heavily besides coherence with popular opinion.

    What could we ground “good” in, besides “what most people like?” That’s the one that stumps me. I guess the suggestion above to relativize everything to what people want (e.g., progressives see progressives, NRs see NRs, simple-minded people see memes, etc) is an improvement, but also not really, since it’s just an admission of defeat.

    I guess some sort of coherent extrapolated volition would work, but I don’t know how to go about turning that into a comment policy.

    • Why is everyone so allergic to Law? I mean, I know the answer, but it’s stupid. The problem of public order is SOLVED, and has been for about 5000 years. All we have to do is choose to apply the solution.

      If you are running a city, you don’t just let the people riot and murder and then try to design an automated cleanup crew and medical system that can limit the damage and clean up afterwards, you *reliably punish people for rioting* so that when people are choosing whether to riot, they choose not to riot.

      Similar for comments sections. You don’t just let the rabble in to spew their uncivil internet sludge all over the place and then design an algorithm that will somehow salvage a high-quality comments section from that. It’s too hard. Instead, you *reliably punish bad comments*, so that when people are choosing tone and content, they choose to put in the extra effort to make it good.

      Everything about the nature of comments sections makes them easier to govern. There is no politics or red tape to navigate, surveillance is total so there is no ambiguity about who did what, and the admin has the ring of Fnarg. That comments sections deteriorate even in the face of this is mind-boggling.

      • suntzuanime says:

        It’s not as easy as you say. “Bad comments” are hard to distinguish, both for the punisher and the commentor, so you have people refraining from making good comments out of a possibly justified fear of being punished for them. I’ve been banned often enough to recognize that a free hand when banning is not an unalloyed good.

  60. Nestor says:

    I’m just not going to read comments anymore. But if I want to tell you something I’ll post a comment. Which means you still have to. Because it’s your blog.

    Brought it on yourself, you did.

  61. Douglas Knight says:


    The most important thing is that you start doing something, in particular, warning people that their behavior is unacceptable. Technical details of how to actually carry out bannings are much less important. Warnings may well be all you need, though you should definitely figure out how to ban within the default setup. It sounds like the main barrier is that you are afraid of using your judgement and that people will whine that you are being unfair. But in the very few examples where you have given warnings about specific actions, people simply ignored them and whined that you were applying a double standard. So there is simply no benefit to written objective standards.

    You also sound worried about having a double standard between new threads and old ones that you don’t read. One option is simply to accept a double standard! That’s probably better than the status quo. Another is to close them. Maybe it would be better to have a method for people to flag comments for attention, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Try incremental changes. Figure out what you can do with moderation in the current set up before worrying about more complicated ones.

  62. St. Rev says:

    One last idea: upvote/downvote economy. Votes are currency and rarely handed out. Downvoting burns a vote, upvoting transfers one to the recipient. Only Scott can add new votes to the system.

    I can roll a dozen minor variations on the idea but that’s the essence.

    • Ian Pollock says:

      A liquidity trap quickly results, as everybody wants to save their votes for downvoting NRs or feminists, or for their own Great Troll That Was Totally Worth It, so everybody hoards and nobody votes at all until Scott injects liquidity into the system. But really it’s people’s *expectations* of their future voting that are driving the problem, forcing Scott to precommit to a central-bank policy of releasing N votes per month until full health is restored to the voting economy. Sooner or later he overshoots and it turns into the voting equivalent of Zimbabwe – mediocre puns gets voted to +1,000,000,000. Et cetera.

      Somebody put this into PredictionBook pls.

      • St. Rev says:

        Then a third party creates a mod that assigns votes using an alternate, Scott-independent currency called Twitcoin. Hilarity ensues.

  63. Apprentice says:

    Ban all personal attacks – except from Multiheaded. His are so well crafted that it would be a shame to lose them.