Site Notes

Ask RTH: Comment Fading, Yea or Nay?

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 01, 2009

This week, I trialed a new feature: the text colour of RTH comments with net negative comment voting scores becomes progressively fainter as the score gets more negative. I asked RTH readers to take a look and let me know what they think.

The site's resident trolls were apoplectic, which may be a sign that this is the right way to go. One person even launched a sock puppet attack in response. At the same time, other readers had some thoughtful reservations.

In response to some of the feedback, I tweaked it so that the fading doesn't start until a comment has a score of -2 and the faintest colour is still readable. I also made the feature optional for registered users.

So now I'm putting it out to the community: should we keep it, modify it, or get rid of it? From my reading of the comments, here are the main arguments for and against:

The Case in Favour

The Case Against

The Vote

To obtain community feedback on this feature, I'm using the comment voting system in a non-tradtional way. I have posted three comments below, corresponding to the following three options:

  1. Keep the feature.
  2. Get rid of the feature.
  3. Keep the feature, but with some changes.

Just vote for your preferred option. If voting for option 2, leave a comment recommending the change(s) you would like to see.

Note: When determining which option is most popular, I will only count upvotes, not the overall score. In other words, downvotes won't count.

On Monday we'll see what people think about it.

One more thing: sock puppet accounts will be deleted. Don't try to game the results.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

17 Comments

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2009 at 19:09:06

Option 1: Keep the feature.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2009 at 19:09:18

Option 2: Get rid of the feature.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2009 at 19:09:42

Option 3: Keep the feature, but with some changes.

(Leave change recommendation in a comment)

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2009 at 19:29:11

for the record i think the hullabaloo about censorship and complaints about majority rule are simply ridiculous.

option 1. keep the feature. default set as off.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2009 at 19:36:44

Hi Reuben,

Don't forget to vote for the comment with your preferred option. :)

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2009 at 21:30:37

I voted for option 3, b/c of this point: "There may be accessibility issues for readers with disabilities."

There are those who are legally blind who could still use a computer if they've enlarged the view, and the font is sufficiently dark. Could you make the feature optional for all users, not just registered ones?

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By Mahesh P. Butani -- http://www.metroHami (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 21:35:24

If the goal of rating the comments is to get feedback for developing a progressive understanding of the thoughts posed in the article/blog - via a visual reference of agreements, disagreements or recommendations [a non-zero sum approach], - then we should step back from using sports and political terminologies like "Scoring" and "Voting".

A simple mechanism at the end of each post as below should suffice to express the readers opinions:

>>> Agree 2 | Disagree 6 { alert moderator }


If the goal of rating as mentioned above, is to establish who wins and who looses a position or an argument [a zero sum approach], then the existing system goes a long way in perpetuating the bipolar approach to discussions --- where the original article/blog stops being the centre of deliberations and the comments take over the personality of what is being deliberated.

The {Agree/Disagree} approach - or the {Recommend} approach has been used by many newspaper and magazine websites with very tempered outcomes most often resulting in furthering the original thoughts posed in article/blogs.

How often would you {Recommend} a post if you did not agree with it? How often would you choose to {Disagree} and the go on to say %$#F $@!% because you disagree? Or how often would you {Disagree} and not be naturally inclined to explain your disagreement in a tempered post?

The {Thumbs up/Down - Icons} approach very similar to the {+/- Votes} mostly leads to harsher feedback cycles and derailments on account of the defensive position of those who end up receiving the many minuses or thumbs-downs.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2009 at 21:56:50

Agree 2 | Disagree 6 { alert moderator }

The purpose of comment voting is not to signal agreement or disagreement. It is rather to signal whether a comment is appropriate (fair, civil, honest) or inappropriate (unfair, uncivil, dishonest).

From the Comment Voting Guidelines:

Please DO: Downvote comments that: use rude or insulting language, are needlessly inflammatory, seek to provoke an emotional reaction from others, are attempts to disrupt and derail the discussion, or abuse evidence and reasoning to defend an unjustifiable conclusion.

Please DO NOT: Vote on comments based on whether you agree with the author's opinion. Comments should be rated for the quality of their argument, not which side they've taken.

http://raisethehammer.org/article/874/

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 22:49:19

I'm conflicted on this one. On one hand I realize that trolls completely ruin the web and we've experienced that here several times.

On the other hand, I would hate for someone with a legit, well-thought out, but opposing view to the majority in any given article to have their thoughts fade to white simply because people don't agree with them.

Honestly, I'd much prefer if we just flat out delete trolled comments and use a 3 strikes, yer out rule. 3 trolls and the account is permanently cancelled along with any other accounts on that email address.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2009 at 03:59:13

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2009 at 09:08:45

jason wrote:

I would hate for someone with a legit, well-thought out, but opposing view to the majority in any given article to have their thoughts fade to white simply because people don't agree with them.

First, it's important to note that no comment fades to white. The faintest colour (from -8 on down) is still readable - it's merely de-emphasized.

In any case, so far it doesn't appear to be the case that comments are massively downvoted just because they express unpopular opinions. Such comments may attract a downvote or two, but the threshold for fading starts at -2 and is only slight for the next few scores.

Looking at the most downvoted comments, all of them have been straightforward trolls - calling people Nazis, telling people to go back to North Korea, calling people bigots, telling people to shut up, hijacking a thread to post a totally unrelated pet theory, and so on.

I would say there is a legitimate claim that some comments that violate the comment guidelines get upvoted as long as they express a popular opinion, however rudely. As a community, we need to make sure we apply a consistent standard when we evaluate whether a given comment is on-topic, civil, respectful and honest.

Then again, there have been many cases of rude comments that express a popular view being downvoted because they're rude. For example, look at the first two comments in Nicholas Kevlahan's recent piece about cycling myths:

http://raisethehammer.org/article/955/

The second comment expresses what I would consider a majority viewpoint in the RTH community, but it was downvoted anyway because the language is rude and the tone is insulting.

That's an example of the comment voting system working as it should.

Finally, it's important to underscore that while upvoting rude-but-popular comments may be hypocritical, it does not have any impact on the readability of polite-but-unpopular comments.

Honestly, I'd much prefer if we just flat out delete trolled comments and use a 3 strikes, yer out rule. 3 trolls and the account is permanently cancelled along with any other accounts on that email address.

There are a few reasons why that wouldn't work:

  1. De-emphasizing negative comments is not censorship, but deleting such comments is censorship. In the same way that I don't trust the government to decide which criminals should be put to death, I also don't trust either myself or the RTH community to decide which comments should be put to death. A downvote is reversible; deletion is not.

  2. Deleting user accounts just drives trolls to create new accounts under different usernames and would encourage more sock-puppet trolling of the comment voting system.

  3. Many people are connected to the internet via dynamic IP and it's easy to delete browser cookies, so there's no reliable way to ban accounts from a given computer.

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By Brioski8 (registered) | Posted October 02, 2009 at 10:46:16

Yay on Option 1.

You worry too much Ryan.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 02, 2009 at 11:04:24

I look at this way, sometimes people will say things that are ok one day but not ok the next, depending on the subject at hand. The view one has may be outside the views of others but that does not make it necessarily wrong or irrelevent? Sometimes in looking at one thing, that there are many other things to look at, which people may or may not want to think about.

Opinions and feelings about a particular subject always carries emotion, sometimes that emotion rightly or wrongly, is the driving factor. After all we are human, frailities and all.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2009 at 11:34:16

Ryan >> I also don't trust either myself or the RTH community to decide which comments should be put to death. A downvote is reversible; deletion is not.

If you don't trust yourself or the RTH community to decide which comments should be put to death, why the heck are you entrusting yourself and the RTH community to fade comments from view?

That's like saying, "I admit I have no idea whether something is good or bad, but I am going to cast a sentence anyway."

Back to Salem we go.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 03, 2009 at 23:14:40

Ryan, I just changed my vote from option 2 to option 1. Yet it shows up as a minus now on Option 2 FYI.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 05, 2009 at 10:24:04

I really don't see the purpose in this though unless the comment ends up fading away completely at some point.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 06, 2009 at 10:39:46

I'm a little late to this thread, but I think the fading is sort of cute but gimmicky, and not really all that fairly applied. It's pretty clear that people on RTH are apt to vote on whether they agree with the comment or not, not on its adherence to the commenting guidelines.

As annoying as some of the opinions expressed by A Smith or Capitalist or whoever might be, they offer this site some MUCH needed perspective. With all due respect to the many intelligent people that post on this site, for the most part there a lot of different shades of the same colour. I've actually found myself skipping right to A Smith's points sometimes because I'm in desperate need of some critical commentary, and it'd be nice if I didn't have to copy/paste comments to a Notepad when I'm reading comments on a computer where I'm not signed in.

My two cents.

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