Thursday, February 25, 2010
So my blog in record time since dropping moderation has acquired a resident troll, the "Shitty Goblin" Gev-i-on, who because he uses an uppercase i in the middle of his name makes people confuse GevIon with Gevlon. In what I can only suppose is a form of protest against the real Gevlon, fake GevIon takes the objectionable sociopath tendencies of the original to the next level, and uses them for very effective trolling. As one commenter remarked, half of the comments in one thread were either by or about fake GevIon.
So some other readers are shouting that I should ban fake GevIon from my blog. If only that was so easy. Banning him based on his IP not only isn't supported by Blogger, it also is extremely easy to circumvent. Software to mask or change your IP can be had anywhere, and in the worst case scenario you just go to a different computer. My IP changes every time I reset my router.
The second problem is that banning fake GevIon would just ban one of thousands of potential trolls. Even if I succeeded in banning one, another troll would take his place. And obviously many of the methods Blogger offers to battle comment spam would not work on fake GevIon or other trolls like him: Turning off anonymous commenting simply wouldn't do anything, as fake GevIon has a registered Google account and posts using that account. Turning on captchas wouldn't help either, I'm pretty certain that he is clever enough to enter a word into a form field if forced to.
Thus banning fake GevIon basically means turning comment moderation back on. I could either revert to the previous version, where I approve comments before they appear on the blog. That would completely stop GevIon and his fellow trolls, but then I get complaints about censorship and a lack of transparency, and comments would often wait in limbo for several hours while I for example sleep or work, before I get around to approve them, which is bad for the flow of discussion. The other option would be to use "after the fact" comment deletion, which in Blogger can either be done completely, or with leaving a "this comment was deleted by admin" message. The disadvantage of that is that I *still* have stretches of several hours in which I work or sleep, so a troll comment could be visible for hours and result in the thread being derailed. And of course in either form of comment moderation I would have to make judgement calls about who is and who isn't a troll, and that always results in some people complaining about censorship.
The internet is a terribly cynic place, and nobody accepts anything at face value. When I said that I moderate comments to keep the conversation polite and on topic, very few people believed me, and I was accused of all sorts of ulterior motives. People also complained that I was talking about comment moderation too often. But the simple fact is that I don't have a good answer to the question of how to best moderate comments on my blog. And I don't think my readers have either. I get a lot of unhelpful advice that I should "just find the sweet spot" and only moderate out exactly those comments that this particular reader finds objectionable. Don't you think that I would have done that long ago if I knew where the sweet spot was? No two moderators would delete exactly the same set of comments. Fake GevIon for example, while an effective troll and good at enraging my other readers, is actually keeping his language relatively polite, and would even under my previous strict moderation guidelines have been a borderline case of whether to delete his comments or not. I'm sure some people find him amusing.
But if you want me to end my free speech experiment, go ahead and tell me in the comment section how exactly you think I should moderate comments! Should I allow anonymous commenting, should keep anonymous commenting on but then delete comments from those who didn't type a name in the name field, or should I turn off anonymous commenting completely? Should I manually moderate comments? And if yes, should I moderate them before or after they appear on the blog? And if I moderate them after they appear, what should I do with the comments responding to the troll comments, should I delete those too? All these are extremely difficult questions, and I don't have a perfect answer for them. The only thing I'm sure of is that somebody will complain about whatever answer I choose in the end.