Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything header image 2

Commenting Policy version 0.8

December 10th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 4 Comments

In the previous post, I mentioned I prefer sanity to be found within the context of relationship, rather than by rules. In particular, I would like this to be the case for this site: I would have loved to have no rules or guidelines. But this isn’t a closed community, and while anyone on the whole wide internet has the opportunity to do a drive-by commenting, with no interest in first trying to understand the community we’re hoping to build, some memetic violence is pretty much inevitable.

Usually I’m pretty good at ignoring the more violent comments, I’m thick-skinned enough. As are a number of my friends here. But with a target audience of people that have much softer “sensibilities”, often those that haven’t roughed it out on the internet or in e.g. academia, I find myself dragged into defending others too often. It could take as little as one reader becoming upset at a couple of rough comments to bring back my concern and remove my ability to ignore. One incident just over a month ago probably bears some blame for priming me to get embroiled in yet another epic battle. And I cannot afford to do battle like that, firstly because I have a full-time job now, but secondly because it doesn’t scale. And in my (conservative) dreams for the future, the interactions on this site need to scale up by at least… a factor of five to ten? (In my most optimistic – unrealistic – dreams, hundredfold!)

The longer-term solution I’m working on is “technological”, code to provide enough structure to the social interactions that they don’t always lead to a harsh battle between opposite extremes, between people that really don’t care about one another. But that will take some time, so in the meantime, I feel the need to jot down some guidelines.

Basic Commenting Principles

  • At the moment, this website is first and foremost my website. I’m paying for hosting space with which to run this website. Currently, I’m the only one writing posts. Other people contribute comments. As commenter, you are just that: a contributor. I allow you to contribute to my posts, because I consider the contributions valuable in the context of my goals. That includes contributions which disagree with me. In my long term dreams: this site becomes the community’s website, where it is the community that is allowing people to contribute, because the community considers the contributions valuable in the context of the community’s goal.
  • Every comment you write is communicating with other people. Other people. Bear in mind that every single person interacting with this blog, is a real human, with real emotions, real relationships in life, real struggles with all the things humans struggle with. You don’t walk up to a stranger in the street and suddenly attack him in debate, please don’t do that here. Try to get to know and understand people first. Naturally this site is a conversation already in progress, and newcomers joining in are, well, obviously joining in on that conversation. Do include them, but be friendly, and express your differences of opinion in a respectful manner, respectful of everything the person might be dealing with in real life.
  • On the one hand, I refuse to bear responsibility for any comments below my posts: comments are contributed by readers, and really only represent the person making the comment. Judge not a community by a single commenter. This is the internet after all, freedom of speech, free flow of ideas, typically comes first. On the other hand, the first point above holds, and irrespective of whether I use it or not, I reserve the right to “unapprove” the most vitriolic comments from my website, which will shove them back in the moderation queue until the day I have a way to promote good comments above mean ones. That said, it currently remains more likely that I’ll add “editor’s notes” to the start or end of a comment instead of actually deleting it – I have enough curious readers that would like to read everything.

In short, I’d say the basic guiding principle is The Golden Rule, and that that ought to be enough, but people do need some reminding of the things they need to keep in mind. Appreciating other people’s context and needs, appreciating how best to help them personally, is certainly rather tough. How many years do psychologists typically study again?

Basic Goals of the Site

The aim of this site is not debate. The aim is not “reason and logic”. The aim is to relate. Actually, the title of this site refers to recovering from too much thinking at least as much as it refers to encouraging thinking. 😉 We certainly aim to encourage more thoughtfulness, to maybe spill over some of our excesses onto those in need, but the focus shouldn’t be on thought for thought’s sake: it should be thought for relationships’ sake.

I do believe relationships to be the only way things can scale, pay-it-forward style. Debate is between two people only, or maybe between a couple of people only: it turns the rest into spectators. Spectators do nothing but spectate (hyperbole). Sure, they may learn a thing or two, they might come out of it with some new insights, but they are not involved, their potential for making positive contributions is not fully utilised, they are not introduced to the power of their own voice, of their own creativity.

Debates remove power, destroy “energy”. Debates are too often about “knocking the other down”. We should aim to not create powerless people, rather aim to empower people. Why not harness “relational energy” and direct it towards good? (Blegh @ the “energy” word, but please understand what I’m referring to with it.)

Recommendations and Cooperation, defining “Trolls” in the context of this community

As mentioned above, I’d like the focus to be on developing some relationships. People that show no interest in being a valuable and cooperative member of the community, or no interest in understanding our interactions and raison d’être, are not contributors: I wouldn’t want to encourage them.

If at some point it becomes clear that certain topics of discussion go nowhere, with much frustration sowed all around, and many regulars in agreement: any person insisting on continuing the discussion could possibly be considered a troll. (Whether that is the case, is open to various interpretations.)

When you do come to the conclusion that someone is just trolling, always remember: Trolls should not be fed, they may become too comfortable around humans. If trolls learn they can get food from us, they will keep coming back, and become a danger to our embryonic community.

Can I encourage anyone with the inclination to do so, to cooperate in this effort? Please welcome newcomers, help them understand what this site is about, ask them to remain polite. Point them to this post. If they insist on remaining uncooperative, consider discouraging the existing community to not feed them, whether they’re technically trolling or not. In particular, also remind me, because I seem to be the worst transgressor. However, I do think I’ve burned my fingers enough times now that I will remember to not touch the stove in the future. Yay for mixing metaphors.

If anyone wants more speech-freedom than I provide on my site, go open a blog on By linking to a post, a pingback should appear below my posts informing everyone of your post. I won’t delete pingbacks.

Some notes on my “trolling hypocrisy”

Yes, I certainly do troll with a number of my blog posts. I do hope to hook new eyes. But beyond that, I want things to turn into relationships, not debate. See the Goals above.

In the past, I had some intentional and pre-mediated “abuse-hurling” posts. In particular, I kinda attacked the one extreme. This is not because I’m against them, it was rather a deliberate act of trolling of some kind. I was trolling for vitriolic responses on the side of the “rationalists”, to gain some understanding of how future interactions might go. That was never meant to be the focus of this blog, but rather preparation for the future focus. I was trying to lay some foundations, learn to understand certain kinds of human interactions, in order to prepare for what likely lies ahead: I didn’t want to be side-tracked by unexpected chaos and derailments when the main drive of this blog starts running under full steam. If my “pre-mediated careful trolling” results in uncontrollable fights breaking out, there’s little hope for the Future Plans (TM), where things might be driven purely by emotion.

Was this foundation-laying “successful”? Well, it was primarily about learning, and I’ve learned a lot about what to expect: what can be done in certain interactions and what cannot be done. This knowledge and experience is invaluable. But beyond that, I’ve made a number of good friends, friends that come from that pole I was hurling some abuse at, but are nevertheless prepared to lend a helping hand, keen for friendly communication. I think we have all learned a lot.

Also do be aware that I’m also aware that many of the recommendations I put down in posts are directed at myself as well, not a case of directing them at other people to instruct everyone how to be more “like me”. This is very important, because if that weren’t the case, I would effectively be hypocritical around every second corner. Evidence of my flaws and transgressions of recommendations that appear in my own blog posts is littered all over this blog. It is in grappling with my own flaws that I come up with recommendations on a path forward, recommendations as much to myself as to others, which I then throw into a blog post and share with whoever feels like reading.

Sharing my ideals openly should also help keep me accountable. Call me on my flaws!

Coming Up

More suggestions on how to communicate in a friendly but open manner will be provided in an upcoming post. Depending on what you want to catch, you need different methods of trolling. Together, may we have many fruitful days of fishing! 😉 The goal: cross-cultural cooperation, open communication, mutual understanding, friendship, community.

Thoughts? Feedback? Questions? Recommendations? Agreements? Disagreements? 😉 After some discussion we could refine this post down to a more concise summary.

Categories: Humanity & Community
Tags: ·

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 miller // Dec 10, 2008 at 2:28 am

    When you have a final version drafted, make it much shorter! There is strength in brevity, especially when it comes to something you want to show to newcomers. Depending on how you prioritize things, you may even want it to be short enough that you can include the entire policy at the top of comment forms or on the side bar.

    You might just say that you are intentionally aiming for an atmosphere that is a fair bit “nicer” than many other parts of the internet. Say that you wish to maintain a diverse audience which doesn’t erupt into flaming debates every minute. Say that you reserve the right to delete comments that are excessively impolite, regardless of whether you agree with the position. Include an example of the level of discourse you expect. You need not include your full rationale.

    Call you on your flaws? Oh, let me tell you! 😛 Okay, just kidding.

    This perhaps not so much a flaw as it is a mere trait, but… you sure are ambitious! My goals in blogging might fit on the back of my hand, but yours have, well, structure. Your past writings were just preparing the road for your current goals? That sounds a little post hoc. I haven’t really looked through your archives, but the impression I get is that you are very sensitive to your audience, and tend to write things that are a little off the center of your audience. I’m the same way :P. Your audience has changed over time, thus so does the direction of your writing.

  • 2 Kenneth Oberlander // Dec 10, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I am pretty much in agreement with miller. Unpad the post.

    I do disagree with your comments on self-trolling. Given the context of other things in this post, you have the perfect right to disagree with yourself, particularly if you feel it will lead to constructive conversation. This is the antithesis of the definition of trolling. For what it’s worth, I think you can leave this entire section out…

    As regards calling you on your flaws…leaving yourself a bit wide open here, aren’t you? 😉 Unleash the ravening hordes!

  • 3 Hugo // Dec 11, 2008 at 1:08 am

    Miller, you’re an excellent refinery! I like this in particular:

    intentionally aiming for an atmosphere that is a fair bit “nicer” than many other parts of the internet,
    wish to maintain a diverse audience which doesn’t erupt into flaming debates every minute,
    reserve the right to delete comments that are excessively impolite, regardless of whether you agree with the position

    And include an example … working on that as well.

    What I forgot to mention in the verbose post above, is off-topic comments. Sometimes I’m very happy when things veer off topic, but other times it just derails the conversation. Al Lovejoy’s comments are like that, they have in the past dropped in out of nowhere and in a single comment lost me a valuable reader / member of the community. A Shofar employee, actually. I hope he’ll come back some time. So yea, delete comments that are excessively impolite, or destructively off-topic.

    All these bits should be easier to handle when I have a site that supports creating discussions “elsewhere”. Debate-corner, Al’s-corner, etc. I’ll make them as accessible as I can, to those that are interested.

    you sure are ambitious! My goals in blogging might fit on the back of my hand, but yours have, well, structure. Your past writings were just preparing the road for your current goals? That sounds a little post hoc. I haven’t really looked through your archives,

    Your audience has changed over time, thus so does the direction of your writing.

    That it sounds a bit post-hoc did cross my mind as I wrote that. Of course it is a bit of an over-simplification, but I can trace out the history for you. I’ve a certain direction I’ve “always” been meaning to take my blog – not always, I got that direction more than a year ago though. Browsing my sitemap, but too lazy to make links, just under a year ago (last December), I wrote “I’m Going Back to Shofar!”. In February, I wrote “All Scripture is God-breathed…” in which I pointed out I’ve signed up for Shofar’s Bible School. Nothing hidden about the direction I’m going.

    The rest might be harder to prove as not post-hoc, but it doesn’t really matter how it is perceived. Much of the other posts, especially those in which I pondered aspects of “God” and what God means to people, and what the non-religious might have instead, was about understanding the connections best. Um… wait, I’m not going to sketch out the roles other posts played. People can always ask. 😉 Some I’d rather not speculate about, especially not out loud.

    The main future plans was delayed by a couple of things, one being the fact that maintaining friendliness on the ‘Net is so hard. A more particular delaying hurdle toppled over in November. So what’s left: wanting to first write more of the posts in my queue of ideas, and also still wanting to sort out the potential commenting/community problems. For which mengelmoes still seems my only satisfactory, but mythical, solution.

    but the impression I get is that you are very sensitive to your audience, and tend to write things that are a little off the center of your audience. I’m the same way :P.

    Hmmm, sounds good. Now what happens when your community is so diverse that there isn’t even a center anymore?

  • 4 Hugo // Dec 11, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Um, couple of things I could tear down in my previous comment. E.g. “in a single comment” -> with a whole history of prior comments though.

    And how many posts bear a relation to the over-arching narrative of this blog, I don’t really know, and is probably not worth knowing. But this blog has certainly been biding its time. 😉

Leave a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>