September 16, 2009

Commenter Behavior and Misbehavior

Those of you interested in trolling (the "cross this bridge and I'll eat you" kind, not the "anybody biting?" kind), should read a couple of recent threads. At Making Light is "The Bully Pulpit," an examination in the abstract of dealing with misbehavior and drawing the line between behavior and being. It's a short post with a very long comment thread, which I'm not done reading just yet, but which is remarkably thoughtful and, even while digressing, stays remarkably on topic.

Then, from Greg's blog, an exercise in specifics in which the commentariat is polled: "What do we do about Mike H?" Um, ignore that bit where people are complimenting me, please. It's the rest of the discussion, and the conclusion, that are interesting.

22 comments:

Dan J said...

There's such a wide range of troll/bully/threadjacker/etc. behavior. I must admit that I'm guilty of some of these types of behavior myself on occasion.

For Mike H., I think it was more of a "heckler" type of behavior, though his comments at other places definitely crossed the line.

The blog comment format is so vastly different from a "live on stage" format that I don't think we can borrow any good strategies from some of the best heckler defusers like Steve Martin and Robin Williams.

We have the drive-bys like Mabus and his ilk. Without serious medication, there's not much we can do for people like him.

We have other people who partake of the discussion, but fail to (or refuse to) understand certain basic terms related to the discussion, thus wasting everyone's time or simply being annoying (Jason's albatross, who's been at my blog too).

I enjoy discussion with people, even if I disagree with them. I don't enjoy listening to diarrhea of the mouth from someone with constipation of the brain. With some people, though, it's tough to draw the line in a specific place.

Jason Thibeault said...

You say "albatross" like he's a lucky charm.

Stephanie, modesty isn't always necessary. Revel in it now and then!

Stephanie Zvan said...

Jason, I'm perfectly happy to have the compliments. They're just not why I'm sending people to that thread.

Okay, to be honest, perfectly happy is an overstatement. Like Dan, I can be a huge bully online. I'm really quite good at it, in part because I can dress it up and make it look like something else. I can also make it very entertaining for the peanut gallery.

What I never know when I get the kind of endorsement I did in Greg's thread is whether people appreciate the content of what I say or just like watching me hit someone. Lurker's comment, and Greg's, were much more comfortable than the other two.

Dan J said...

I think there are those who really don't care about the content. They're treating it like it's a hockey game. They don't care who's the better team, who's the more honorable player, or who wins: They just want to see some blood.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Damn straight there are.

Jason Thibeault said...

Yeah, I suppose I can see why that might make you cringe a bit inwardly, knowing you're exceptionally adept at getting in under their guards. So there are some bloodthirsty onlookers. There are probably twice as many on the other side of any argument you're on at the moment anyway, given our positions on the political spectrum.

D. C. said...

What I never know when I get the kind of endorsement I did in Greg's thread is whether people appreciate the content of what I say or just like watching me hit someone. Lurker's comment, and Greg's, were much more comfortable than the other two.

All of the above?

There's an art to verbal abuse, and more of an art to doing it with style and class. Sometimes it's just working out because there's a pleasure in testing yourself against a worthy opponent (even a friend.) Sometimes it's well-earned comeuppance.

Those can be appreciated and honestly admired.

And sometimes it's just bullying. Down that road lies the kind of ugliness where people cheer the US military knocking the stuffing out of third-rate forces that don't stand a chance.

Just because you're being honest and restrained doesn't mean that the audience isn't hoping you leave bleeding strips and body parts scattered behind you.

As long as you're asking the question, it's not too much of a problem. Also it's good to have friends to keep us honest.

FWIW, that last round looked pretty restrained.

khan said...

I'd go there, but right now SB comments are frakked.

Greg just said to go to bed early.

Greg said...

I actually like the hitting, but it would be no good at all without the quality of the comment.

The comment thread on Making Light is an example of what is wrong with the interent. I'm going to go over there now and fix it .

Greg said...

I'm back. I don't like that site. I put up my comment and it is invisible, but there was not a note indicating that there was a moderation period. I certainly don't need to write a comment then not know if my time was wasted or not.

But, anticipating problems with commenting (because they are so common) I saved a copy of what I said there and I'll post it here:

~~~


The main point that is being missed here is that there are a gazillion people in this world, and in many language/culture systems there are way way more people than we need in any given area of opinion making. So go ahead and make the argument, and it might be quite valid, that the message is more important than the way it is presented, and that the mode of presentation should never be considered in relation to the logic, rationality, or other aspects of value of the message itself.

This is also true of soup cans. When I buy a can of tomato soup, and the first can I pick up has a big dent in it, I know that this dent does not really affect the soup. But then I notice that there are 50 other cans of soup and none are dented. So I take the undented one and leave the dented one.

From the perspective of a consumer of opinions, style may not affect value of the opinion, but the consumer certainly will not be missing out on something by ignoring the snark-wrapped ideas (or any other style of presentation).

At the moment, I can't think of a single voice on the internet that is saying anything that is not being said by many other voices on the internet. I feel quite comfortable shopping around for different voices, and it is not hard.

There is absolutely no cost to leaving behind the dented cans. There may, in fact, be an advantage. The dented cans/opinion-bullies draw undue attention and cause lengthy conversations, sapping energy that could otherwise be used to work towards world peace and the feeding of hungry children and stuff.

In fact, now that I think about it, the bullies are bullies only because they know that their existence will cause ca 400-comment long thread to grow up in reaction.

Jason Thibeault said...

I avoid dented cans because they might be compromised and allow bacteria in, or have a very slow leak that's not noticeable immediately. I don't know on what I found this belief, but I retain it nonetheless. Otherwise, hells yes, not that it'll put them in their place or anything...

D. C. said...

In fact, now that I think about it, the bullies are bullies only because they know that their existence will cause ca 400-comment long thread to grow up in reaction.

Don't be silly, Greg. Bullies aren't bullies on playgrounds because they can generate comment threads. They're bullies because they can do it and it feels good.

I have verbal bully tendencies, and Stephanie's admitted to them herself. We don't let those impulses loose because they generate comments, we do it [1] because impulse control lost the toss.

[1] Stephanie, please pardon me for speaking for you. I hope you'll correct me if I'm wrong here.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I should point out that Making Light started as an editor's blog. It doesn't take a ton of impetus to reach 400 comments. People like to write.

D. C., I'll bully for a number of reasons, including not exercising impulse control. The rest are mostly social engineering aimed at other bullies--with varying degrees of success, of course.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden said...

Greg: You got a moderation message? Do you remember what it said? Moderation at Making Light happens after comments are posted, not before.

What happened there was either the software misbehaving, or you included a lot of links, in which case your comment was only held until we could look at it and make sure it wasn't spam.

I'm sorry you decided you were being repressed, and didn't try (for instance) waiting a few minutes and trying to post your comment again. It's an interesting opinion, though I don't altogether agree with it.

For one thing, the distinction between "the logic, rationality, or other aspects of value of the message itself" and "the way the message is presented" is necessarily so fuzzy that I can't see how it can be use as a meaningful distinction.

For another, I don't believe it's possible to quantify the concept of "more people than we need in any given area of opinion making." Furthermore, even if it were possible, we're nowhere near that mark. There are innumerable political weblogs and pundits, but no near-duplicates of Krugman, Digby, Ezra Klein, Julia Hendricks, or Fred Clark.

I get the sense that you have a real point to make in that comment. I just can't tell what it is.

Greg said...

Theresa, no problem it went way.

You note: "the logic, rationality, or other aspects of value of the message itself" and "the way the message is presented" is necessarily so fuzzy that I can't see how it can be use as a meaningful distinction.

If that is what you think .... that the distinction is fuzzy, then we are not disagreeing. You might need to look back at my post. This is something I've been saying for some time. I find that those with the most obnoxious presentations insist most that the distinction is clear (and that their message is very rational, and that the crusty or offensive package it is delivered in is that way for a noble and important reason).

I'm not going to say that Krugman, Digby et al are not unique. However, my statement about there being more than enough voices out there does not require that every voice has a handful or more of doppelgangers to be true enough that I can tell the bullies to bugger off and not feel like I've missed something.

I can probably try to make my point more clear (although when I re-read the comment on your blog, it seems pretty clear to me!).

Very simply put: If there is value added to the message by packaging it in shit, I generally don't see that added value, but I can still smell the shit.

Thanks for your comments.

D. C. said...

D. C., I'll bully for a number of reasons, including not exercising impulse control. The rest are mostly social engineering aimed at other bullies--with varying degrees of success, of course.

I distinguish between brutality for a defined external purpose and bullying, defined as brutality for self-indulgence.

Ain't semantics fun?

Of course, self-deception is always a concern too.

Stephanie Zvan said...

'Tis indeed. Probably why I don't mess with the semantics.

gregladen said...

Oh... and Teresa and everyone else, I should clarify. I should not have said "I don't like that site" .. what I was thinking and meant to say (but did not, shame on me) is I don't like that commenting system. The delay is annoying. But, the commenting system on Making Light is not nearly as annoying as many many others.

The truth is I mostly write blog posts, and comment in response to comments on my own, and spend very little time commenting on other blog posts on other blogs . That is probably a good thing for everyone, because I tend to be terse and get into all sorts of trouble I did not intend. Commenting is harder than it looks and I suck at it.

Like this comment here. I have not said anything even remotely interesting or important. You must be getting terribly annoyed by now.

OK, sorry I'll stop. KTHXBYE

Betül said...

I was called a cheap whore once, regarding a post on evolution vs. creation. For some reason I still go to other blogs and announce this. But sadistically I am proud to be humiliated by a commenter. Strong feelings shows strong interest, huh?

gregladen said...

Betul, you probably intimidated that poor commenter by being, you know, respected and widely liked and stuff, which you are. So he had no choice but to resort to name calling.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Hey, Betül! (I like this you-done-with-dissertation thing.)

Yeah, I've been inordinately proud of some of the violent reactions I've gotten. Not because I was trying for them, but because I wasn't, just insisting that facts can't be wished away because they're inconvenient.

What Greg said, too. :)

gregladen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.