By Ryan McGreal
Published June 30, 2010
A couple of days ago, an anonymous commenter posted some really offensive comments on RTH that were utterly lacking in veracity, relevance and content - they were nothing more than unfounded insults.
A few RTH readers asked me to delete the comments, but the current RTH policy is only to delete comments that are obviously spam. In response to these requests, I posted a blog entry asking if it's time to change the policy on deleting comments and expressing my concerns about taking on the power to delete comments.
The following suggestions came out of the discussion that followed:
Leave it alone. The current community moderation system works well enough.
Stop worrying and just delete comments that obviously have no content other than insults.
Allow registered users to see their deleted comments with a reason for the deletion.
"Disemvowel" offensive comments by removing all the vowels from the comment text.
Automatically delete comments with highly negative scores.
Add a "Report Abuse" button to the comments and delete comments with a lot of abuse reports, either automatically or manually.
Only allow registered users to add comments (currently, both registered and anonymous users can leave comments, though registered users have more formatting options).
Please note that some of these suggestions are contradictory but others could work in tandem. For example, we could delete comments that are obviously offensive and content-free and at the same time allow registered users to see why their comments were deleted.
For myself, my preference is to leave the current system (because that way I don't have to do anything!), but I'd be willing to accept a fast deletion of offensive, value-free comments if we can agree on a straightforward, objective definition and if the community clearly favours this.
I'm definitely opposed to comments being deleted automatically, since that could result in the deletion of comments that are merely unpopular. I'm also opposed to a "Report Abuse" button, since the purpose of the down-arrow is already to report inappropriate or unfair comments.
I'm also opposed to restricting commenting to registered users. Many RTH readers have valid reasons for wanting to stay anonymous, and a strong majority of anonymous comments are respectful and add to the discussion. It would be seriously damaging to the site to block those valuable contributions.
Further, while I like the idea of "disemvowelling" negative comments, I'm not sure it's materially different from fading the text colour of highly downvoted comments, which the site already does.
So that really leaves two options:
Leave the current system in place.
Come up with a clear definition of comments that are content-free insults and delete them in the same manner that we currently delete spam.
I'm going to post two comments on this article: Option 1 and Option 2. Please vote for your preferred option (note: I'll only count upvotes, not downvotes) over the long weekend. Next week I'll count the results, and if there's a clear and strong preference for Option 2 with no really strong, deal-breaking objections, I'll agree to implement it.
One last thing: if you prefer Option 2, please help provide a clear, objective definition of a comment that qualifies for fast deletion on the basis of value-free offensiveness. I'm also a big fan of accountability, and I'd be happy to hear suggestions on how to make this policy accountable as well.
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