LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘A look at the new commenting system’

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]


First and foremost I greatly appreciate both Scott Schaefer and the B-town blog for the community service that is being provided in local news, information, and a community forum for public discussion on these topics. As an individual who has personally run a gaming server I know first hand how time consuming, difficult, and discouraging it is to have guests that don’t behave in a civil manor. With hind site I liken it to baby sitting. Late last year commenting was halted for a full month to allow for a cooling off period and to institute a new commenting system. This new system would allow “readers to interactively moderate others by voting comments up and down.”

I recently took a look at the comments posted from when it started 12-1-13 to 3-10-14. This is what I found.

  • 482 Total comments
  • 60 Hidden from view
  • 45 No valid reason for being hidden

The 60 comments hidden from view fit into one or more of the following categories.

  • 49 Personal opinion and or was important to the conversation
  • 13 Off topic, too personal, not helpful, or just snide in nature
  • 4 Offensive language
  • 0 Vicious, intimidating, and or slanderous in nature

For the comments I put into the 3 negative categories I used the most conservative definitions I could think of that would be considered offensive to only the most sensitive of readers. Although I did not read every one of the 482 comments I did see several examples of much worse language getting a more positive response. As an example the worst case I found was someone using the phrase “shut the hell up” which got 33 thumbs up vs. 26 thumbs down and was not hidden. In all cases the comments hidden were much more benign. If this is as bad as it gets I think it is a good testament to those behind the scenes in keeping offensive comments from public view.

After reviewing the data three questions come to mind. Does hiding comments help? Is having comments hidden a big deal? What are the ramifications?

First it is about fairness. The majority of comments hidden were from people who were trying to participate in the conversation in a positive manor. Those commenting in a not so civil manor are just as likely to get a thumbs up as a thumbs down resulting in a system that lacks consistency.

Second is the perception of censorship. By having a valid comment hidden it is less likely to be read thus less likely to affect the conversation.

Third is the lemming effect (mob rules). If you have a crowd running toward a cliff and certain doom, it is important for someone to say, “Stop, let’s think about this.” Having valid comments hidden solely because they are not popular only encourages the mob to come to bad conclusions that can literally affect us all. All to often I have found that those in the minority are also the ones who where right.

Fourth has to do with a voting system with unintended consequences. What has happened is that a thumbs down vote is not only ones opposition to a commenters opinion but is also a vote to have that comment hidden from view. This has led me to a personal dilemma in which I disagree with a commenter, yet also do not want to hide / censor that commenter’s statement.

Fifth has to do with political agendas. Consider that 40% of the 60 comments hidden from view were what I would consider political in nature. It is not difficult for those who want to effect public opinion in an unscrupulous manor to log multiple thumbs down votes on those expressing an opposing view with the intent to get them hidden.

Sixth is about creating a welcoming environment for the readers of this blog. Many people spend a significant amount of time writing thoughtful and insightful comments. By having those comments hidden solely because they receive fewer votes can be discouraging and would tend to decrease participation in the future (imagine the first time commenter).

After much thought I personally like the old system better where a comment stands on its own merits. As with one example (link below) 13 of 31 comments were hidden from view, many of these where valid and important to the conversation. Having to click to see them rapidly becomes annoying.

If the system must change and the intent is to let the reader have a more positive experience I suggest having only a like button. This would allow the reader to participate in a positive fashion and would not alienate those with minority views. For those interested a non-scientific poll can still be inferred by which comments get liked more. If the intent is to have “readers to interactively moderate others” then include an option to report. I think the blog is doing a good job but this is not a guarantee that something offensive might slip through. Both of these combined I think would address the reasons for the change and the concerns mentioned above.

This forum is the primary reason I am here, I like the public discussion. Often I read stories I would otherwise not because of the number of comments. This forum is an important part of the blog and without it the blog would diminish. I would encourage the reader to look at the archives and decide for themselves what is best for this forum and then please express your views. One of the best examples that covers most of my concerns can be found at the following link: http://b-townblog.com/2014/01/09/neighborhood-group-files-appeal-challenging-shoreline-master-program-update/

I would once again like to thank Scott and the staff at the B-Town Blog for running this forum and considering these views. I know that doing all this can be both time consuming and sometimes a hassle but ultimately the final decision is theirs. We as readers should not forget we are guests here and should know how to properly behave.

To see the B-Town Blog’s commenting policy: http://b-townblog.com/comment-policy/

– Pat LeMoine

[Have an opinion or concern you’d like to share with our ~80,000+ monthly Readers? Please send us your Letter to the Editor via email. Include your full name, please remain civil and, pending our review, we’ll most likely publish it.]

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30 Responses to “LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘A look at the new commenting system’”
  1. Terry says:

    Thanks for this excellent analysis of the unintended consequences of the new commenting system. I also like your recommendations of how to deal with them.

    These days everybody wants to add “social” features to their websites, but conflating this with monitoring incivility just doesn’t work.

  2. JJ Greive says:

    The best thing you could do is to eliminate anonymous comments. If you are not willing to put your name on it, I think its not worth publishing.

    • Lee Moyer says:

      I agree, but how do you control realistic sounding phoney names?

    • jimmy says:

      yeah that would help or make a login/password system where the editor would have your full name address ect. But make where you have to use your real first name and real first initial of your last name as your user name that make it less anonymous and still some what safe also make where when some one dislike a comment its logged on there account and if that person seem to be just voting comments down just because they don’t like someone or there trying there view squashed then the editor put a stop to it much easier. Also they could make a award system that if you get or make 100 good votes you get a prize like a extra coupon or a free cup of coffee

      • Spelunker says:

        Jimmy, if I get 100 likes, or thumbs up on this comment, I’ll buy you a cup of joe myself 😉

        I could see a system where the moderator has access to the real names and addresses just in case of threats or possible criminal info. I think even with a login system, you can make up names.

        I for one don’t really think you should have to disclose names at all, I want to express opinions that may or may not be popular here, that if a personal conversation offline approached I would probably avoid.

        An example is politics. I generally lean left. I know my preferences, and I don’t often want to get into a long drawn out debate with someone who leads right in the grocery store, a park or where ever I see them. I want to be able to have that debate on my terms. If I get on here with my real name start talking about Obama, Bohner, or even local politics, I don’t want someone who recognizes my name to stop me and debate while I am out with my daughter or in a hurry.

        • jimmy says:

          well for one it would be a little difficult for some one to recognized you from just your first name and first initial of last name with no picture unless if its some one that already knows you that well and if they know that well they probably know your political views or what not and also “splunker” you have been someone that has bicker or troll in the past so you probably should of stay out this conversation but what ever

          • Spelunker says:

            There is a difference in trolling and having differing opinions. Yes you and I have had different opinions before, but I would hardly call it trolling. Like I have told you in the past, the great thing about being adults is the ability to disagree civily. Also, if you don’t want me in a conversation, don’t engage me, or comment in a public forum.

            • jimmy says:

              ok i got into conversation with you then when I went to a different conversation you felt the need post a reply to my post that was in a way to try to egg me on in a bickering match ok that is not being a adult now your using terms that i use in argument with you previous listen I know yes we difference of opinion but when you go and continue to post on things in a matter that you try to egg some on to get them to bicker or argue with you and go off topic that is know as trolling especially when use a fake name if your a adult at least use your real first name

              • Spelunker says:

                So if you comment on a b-town blog story, I am not allowed to take part in the conversation? Have you verified these new rules with the editor.

                It is not my intention to troll, or egg anyone’s on. I simply share my view in the same manner you do. Fortunately with the new commenting system it’s not up to you or me to determine what is appropriate, the community at large gets to do that.

      • jimmy says:

        That got voted down rather quick! O well just idea

  3. Question Authority says:

    Just think if you were to put all your obvious spare time into something actually more constuctive and beneficial to society as a whole, like fusion energy or solving world hunger.
    I think most would agree, you need a hobby, or a life outside of your B-T blog obsession.

    • It’s people like you that keep me in the game. Thanks for the inspiration : )

    • Lee Moyer says:

      Q A
      Your comment that doesn’t even mention an issue but is 100% personal attack, gets an 8 to 3 thumbs up. That shows how useless the rating system is if it is supposed to help keep things focused on the issues and encourage different points of view.

  4. jimmy says:

    Well this seem obvious the people using anonymous names would disagree with showing there name when they want to hate on someone or make unheeded comments about there typing or they want use as many devices they own to vote down a comment from someone they have had disagreement with instead being adult about the situation

    • Wanker says:

      At the same time how do we know your name is even Jimmy? Just because you use your first name it doesn’t make you any more out in the open. I could say my name is Bill Johnson (which it’s not ) and be viewed more favorably than Wanker. Either way the system can be gamed.

      • jimmy says:

        well if they had a login password system where you have fill your full real name and address just like singing up for facebook yes it could get messed with . But if there was any question the editor could send a letter to the user in question to provide more info to prove there identity and address.

        • jimmy says:

          or have people stop by the office for the blog and show your id tell them hey I am soso on the blog I am human being that lives in burien or king county

          • Question Authority says:

            Why not submit DNA samples that verify your microchip bar code implant the government has placed in your forehead, let’s be realistic and remember the right of free speech.

            • jimmy says:

              yes but the right of free speech you have to be US citizen for that so unless if your legal name is ” Question Authority ” then what are trying to say. Because I don’t think this is free speech issue I have a feeling that it more of issue of some people using other names on here and they don’t want other people to find out. That they like to act like children online and harass or troll or start arguments with people for no resin but to go off topic.

              • Question Authority says:

                Who’s “Authority” I choose to “Question” is, and will continue to be none of your concern. If you feel “Jimmy” is enough of a real name to justify your argument for full disclosure then what is your reasoning to not post your full name and prove with with ID when that’s the point of your beef with the system?

                • Wanker says:

                  The only Jimmy I know is Jimmy Graham. Could it be that we have been communicating with the famous televangelist all along? It’s not possible for there to be two Jimmy’s!

                • jimmy says:

                  I never said you need to post your full name I said you full first name and first initial of your last name so stop trying twist thing around also don’t get me confuse with some dumba** religious person that believes in figments of there imagination and trys to make money off of people your going a little off topic

          • Wanker says:

            I think the editor is more concerned with writing the articles than verifying the identities of commenters. That would become a huge time suck for him. Personally, why does it matter if someone is not forthcoming with their identity? If someone is being a jerk, what does it matter if you know who they are or not?

            If you want Facebook like identity, the B-Town Blog posts all their stories on Facebook too. Comment on the posts on Facebook, and everyone who has commented has been verified.

            • jimmy says:

              hey do you know someone name Robert

              • Wanker says:

                So it appears that you are familiar with the Google Search By Image feature…. Creepy. What other stalker tools do you use? If you were able to decipher who I am by a simple image I used on a blog that I used to write, why would I want to give you any more information? The next thing I know, you could show up at my house.

                • jimmy says:

                  you seem to a little paranoid no i would not show at your house Iam not that type of person and also thank for verifying that is who you are I just found it rather hilarious that some one that would bitch and complain about wanting to be anonymous that I was to find you in less then 2 seconds and you verified your self the editor did not have check your id or nothing

  5. TbC says:

    I would NEVER use my name on this blog for the simple reason I don’t trust any of you a**holes. How many times has someone tried to find out a persons voting status, address,etc ?Joey Martinez is a pro at it. I don’t trust any of you. For all I know you could be the next Ted Bundy. Whose to say someone wouldn’t come to my home to cause trouble because I’m for the shoreline master plan or support CARES? Sorry. Too many whackos out there.

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