Conclusions from Comments about Comment Moderation

by Dave Miller on March 19, 2012 · 23 comments

I posted on Saturday afternoon concerning my struggles about the direction of commenting here at SBC Voices, with a wide range of responses.  Thank you for your suggestions, and those I’ve received privately from some of our contributors who shared their wisdom.  I have drawn a few conclusions from the discussion.  I don’t have a final plan of action,  yet; I want to discuss this with our writing team.  But here’s what I gleaned from some of your comments and my own thoughts – sort of an opinion mishmash.

1)  Quite a few people like the open commenting policy here, though most realize it gets out of hand at times.  It has been pointed out that commenting on a blog is not anyone’s right and moderating comments is not a violation of free speech. Anyone can form their own blog and say whatever they want.  Commenting on this blog must conform to policies, and to Scriptural values.

My goal is to find a way to hold on to commenting freedom while still exercising a little more control to keep things from getting out of hand.

2) The thing that bothered me the most was comments I received from several people saying that they wanted to submit posts or offer comments, but were reticent, be of the personal attacks and harsh comments.  I guess I’ve become a little too conditioned to this kind of thing.  I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me (as it used to).

On the one hand, the whole purpose of a site like this is a populist form of “peer review.”  I put an idea out there and you tell me what you think.  I can’t expect everyone to applaud me and my ideas.  Disagreement sharpens us and helps us to better thinking.

On the other hand, even critique can be done with respect, without accusation and name-calling.

Again, we’ve got to find that balance.

3)  One of the biggest problems we have here is thread hijacking and the failure to stick by the topic of the post.  We have had a few CR-haters on the site.  If a post even mentions the CR, they go off on one of their anti-CR rants.  And no matter where a post begins, it seems to end up as a free-for-all about Calvinism (or anti-Calvinism, often) within about 50 comments.

The people who have been banned from this site (3 of them) and most of those who end up in moderation find themselves there because of thread hijacking – taking the post in THEIR direction instead of that of the author. It is rude, arrogant and annoying when a commenter thinks that his or her personal hobby horse is more important than the subject of the post.

I take (most) submissions.  If you want to post, send something in, I will consider it.  But when you join in to a conversation, try to stick to the point of the post.

4)  One of the problems is that I have been doing the moderation (or not doing it, more often) on my own.  There are some of the other contributors who have the authority to moderate, but I don’t think I’ve communicated to them the parameters and standards for comment moderation, nor really given them the sense that they are welcome to do so.

SBC Voices is pretty active. I simply do not have the time to moderate comments by myself.  I already spend more time on this site than I should. I think that sharing these duties makes  a lot of sense. Several of you gave good advice on the subject.

The problem with that, of course, is that each of us is going to do things a little differently.  I am going to apply a certain standard for moderating, but someone else is going to provide a slightly different standard.  When you have four or five people doing moderation, there will probably be some confusion.

Objectivity is something of a myth in comment moderation.

5)  Some have asked me to grade comments or provide some sort of rubric for judging them.  That is nearly impossible.   There are some comments so belligerent, personal or insulting that deleting them is an easy call.  But fixing an exact line is very difficult.

Often a comment has a legitimate point, but also strays across the line with a personal comment.  Do you delete the whole comment?  I have been reluctant to edit comments made by others (I’ve done it a few times) – most of the time it is all or nothing.  Some of you make it really hard!

So, we are still working through all of this.  These are the general parameters but I’m going to work with the contributors to narrow our commenting guidelines.

Your opinions are still welcome.

 

1 Dougald McLaurin March 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Just wanted to let you know I’ve changed my blog to http://www.noinkling.wordpress.com

I was “Meditations on the Law” under NC voices.

Thanks

2 Bruce H. March 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Positive moderator comments to good comments encourages better comments from other commenters.

Side note. I saw this on a church bill board today:

“Hell’s having a picnic, you are the Bar-B-Q!”

People from East Texas don’t get offended by that.

3 Dave Miller March 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I’m not sure that many people care about my opinion of their comments.

4 Bruce H. March 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Oh….. well I do.

I just try to give a different slant without purposely being controversial but it just doesn’t work like I plan it sometimes.

I do think your two post about comment moderation will have an affect on how some of us will respond in the future. I know it made me watch my keyboard a little closer. We shall see how it goes. Thanks

5 Job March 19, 2012 at 11:55 pm

“The problem with that, of course, is that each of us is going to do things … differently. I am going to apply a certain standard … but someone else is going to provide a slightly different standard. Objectivity is … a myth in comment moderation.”

You see it as a problem, I see it as a strength. It is precisely because of the different standards, the lack of objectivity, that having multiple moderators is wise. Panels and committees exist for a reason: divergent points of view. It would also help inoculate you against charges that you are personally acting out of some vendetta against someone, or promoting your own agenda.

“There are some of the other contributors who have the authority to moderate, but I don’t think I’ve communicated to them the parameters and standards for comment moderation”

The parameters and standards are the Bible, and to the extent that they understand it and are willing to apply it. Please recall the words of judge Potter Stewart regarding an obscenity case before his court: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it!” The goal is to produce an edifying, orderly, Christ-honoring blog that conforms to the standards of scripture, not to be “fair” to every single comment (especially if the judge of “fairness” is in the hands of the one who made the comment)!

Here’s the deal: are people coming to SBC Voices primarily to read and discuss the blog posts or to make comments that really may or may not have anything to do with the blog posts? With the former group, moderation isn’t going to be much of an issue anyway. But the latter group is the primary reason why moderation is necessary – and not a necessary evil but a necessary good – in the first place.

“On the one hand, the whole purpose of a site like this is a populist form of “peer review.””

Ummm … populist peer review is a contradiction. Peer review is done by people with both the qualifications to do so and the willingness to conform to the professional standards of the peer review process. Though I hear that academia can be quite the shark tank, I would imagine that flame wars, unfounded accusations and conspiracy theories don’t occur in the peer review process often. To put it another way, if helpful, constructive truthful criticism based on ideas that have merit is your goal, then moderation is the way to achieve it. But if a free for all is your goal, then don’t moderate. You can have free-flowing discussions – with all that it entails – or thoughtful, respectful Christian exchanges, but not both.

6 Jeff Musgrave March 20, 2012 at 1:16 am

The main problem with trying to moderate comments by “committee” in this case is that the committee would be incapable of keeping up at all. We are spread out all over the country and would never be able to communicate fast enough to moderate everything that way.
As for the standards that Dave mentioned. I distinctly remember him telling me to “go with my gut” when he first gave me the responsibility to help him with approving comments. We have worked together in the past to keep some objectivity in some particularly thorny threads, but it isn’t practical to do on an ongoing basis based on those experiences as it would make comment moderation even more time-consuming.

7 Dave Miller March 20, 2012 at 1:41 am

There’s no way to moderate by committee. But we can share moderating duties – empowering any of the contributors to do what they think is best.

8 Job March 20, 2012 at 9:41 am

When I said “moderate by committee”, I didn’t mean evaluate each individual comment – or even all the questionable comments – jointly. I meant more like a team approach to the entire job: a division of labor. Consider the example of Moses judging the people in the desert. The job was too big for Moses by himself because it was too many cases to hear. So he appointed other judges to help him. Not so all the judges could form one big supreme court to hear all the cases and decide them by majority vote, but rather so that the labor could be divided in order to make an impossible job for one man efficient and practical for many.

Now I am sure that there were varying opinions and standards among the several judges. There were also most certainly people who wanted the benefits of having their case heard by Moses, God’s prophet. (Or, if they were in the wrong, perhaps they wanted to AVOID Moses!) But the purpose wasn’t to be “fair” to each and every person and case in the way that our modern democratic mindset evaluates “fairness.” Instead, the purpose of the system was that judgment could take place and an orderly God-honoring society would result. The goal of the judgment system was to please God, not to please man, so the intended product was an orderly nation that kept God’s commandments, not to keep people happy by catering to their own individual sense of what was fair and right to them. That is why whatever differences of opinion that might have existed between individual judges was not really an issue.

The only way to have everyone think that you are being “fair” to them is to let everyone come on here and say whatever they want. And even then, you’ll have people who claim “hey, why are you letting these people abuse/intimidate/victimize/gang up on me … where are the moderators that are supposed to be protecting my rights?” It would be far better to let the commenters know that the responsibility of getting their comments approved lies with them. If you want to get your comment approved, then don’t provide any reason for the moderator not to. The purpose of SBC Voices is to honor Jesus Christ by having upright conversation that gives Him reverence (Philippians 4:8) not to indulge the desire of people to say whatever they want whenever they want.

We have to realize something: it is our secular Constitution that gives us the “right” to free speech. The Bible gives no such right. Instead, the Bible restricts speech in the 3rd of the 10 commandments. (The first 2 commandments act to prohibit freedom of thought and freedom of expression.) Disrespecting your parents was a capital crime under the law! Of course, we are not under the law, but Jesus Christ did not come so that we might have the Bill of Rights and have it more abundantly either.

If folks don’t want to have their comments rejected, then they can meet that desire by not saying anything that would cause it to be so. For those who truly desire Christian fellowship – to the extent that it is possible on a blog – at SBC Voices, that standard won’t be that hard to meet. It is those who come here to pursue other goals that will have the problem.

9 Anonymous March 20, 2012 at 12:01 am

I think you should call out the *********(edited by moderator) who hijack threads. By name. And make em know you’ll ban em permanently.

10 Dave Miller March 20, 2012 at 12:15 am

Done.

11 Marty Duren March 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

Speaking of thread hijacking, take a look at your “Wolves Among Sheep” post. Goodness.

12 Bennett Willis March 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

While the thread has been hijacked, there are a number of interesting things. The post was about a week old and “off the page” for most of us (until Marty’s mention) when it was hijacked completely. There are 151 comments and for the last 70 or so (basically since the hijackers took over), no one has called anyone stupid, etc. even though there has been serious disagreement.

This is a significant improvement from most cases when “you pastors” are commenting on something as “emotional” as the “Wolf” thread is running. While it may be a bad example of one thing, it may be a good example of another.

13 cb scott March 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Bennett Willis,

In “most” cases it is only needful to call attention to utter stupidity once in a dialogue for anyone to get the point.

When Jeff Musgrave, Frank L and a couple of other guys took the debate, I left it to them. They have handled it well (extremely well) and have taken it away form those who were patting Byron Smith and his friend from Texas on the back for spitting in the face of holy God.

I seem to remember having had some dialogues with you over the years wherein I challenged your liberal and theologically dwarfed comments in a similar manner.

If you want to chastise me Bennett Willis, then go ahead and do it by name. Big Daddy did and I respect him for it. I always have respected him for having grit.

If Dave Miller and the other guys who run this blog want to delete me or ban me, they can and will. I will not whine about it. Nonetheless, I will continue to take a stand on things here of which I am inclined to do so until they do ban me or I see it as hopeless to engage any longer. Bennett Willis, some things in this world that men say and do are just plain stupid. And there are times when pointing that out is not wrong. It is right. I realize that we live in a time wherein Christians are expected to be little more than hospital candy stripers handing out smiles, band-aids, and magazines and never be anything much more. Well, I guess that may be OK for some, but I don’t intend to live that way.

BTW, it has been suggested in this thread that I do not respect Dave Miller. That is a lie. I have great respect for Dave Miller. He has been one of the most consistently godly men I have encountered in Baptist blogs. I will gladly stand with him or David Rogers anywhere. They may not feel the same about me, but I have never worried about another guy’s opinion of me very much anyway. Oh yeah, I will stand with Marty Duren anywhere also. He has always been fair to me even when we were on different sides of an issue.

14 Bennett Willis March 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

cb, the only dialogs that I recall were on things where we were in basic agreement, but perhaps I have selective memory. I do think that I remember your asking if I were saved and I said that I was and I appreciated your concern–which I did and do.

I saw no reason to call your name when it comes to the list of ill tempered comments. You are one of several in this field of folks. Then there are those who get their feelings hurt and feel it necessary to express this in a comment. Neither group deserves to have their comments on the thread–IMO.

But I do find it interesting, and distressing, that we are unable to just present our points and then let them speak for themselves. If we are going to comment, we need to read others comments with more generosity and be “thicker of skin.”

15 cb scott March 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Bennett Willis,

Thanks for responding. I have some questions.

1). How do you determine a comment is ill tempered?

2). How much generosity do we need to give to a person who comes here and blasphemes God by willful intent?

16 Bennett Willis March 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

cb, as the Justice said, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” (A handy “quote” for a lot of situations.) Some of the criteria that I use: a. Is the comment “personal?” b. Does the comment get off the subject to provide the insult? c. Is the purpose of the comment to insult the person it is addressed to? I suppose I could bring up some of the “soft issues” that our Mothers spoke about when they were trying to teach us to be nice to people, but I’m just not in the mood.

I do think that you have to look at the “intent” of the response. Does the comment seek to change minds or is the intent to drive the offender off the thread. I agree with you that there are people who come here and leave messages that are designed to provoke–and perhaps the right response is to try to drive them out of our offices and computer rooms. But if you think that they are sincere, and the intent is to change minds, then you have to be “civil.” It is difficult to get people to change their minds without having a relationship with them.

I believe that God is in control and not in need of my defense.

Personally, I don’t regard this blog’s comment threads as mine to defend. I express my weak theology from time to time because I feel that the strong theological position is not applicable to the situation. My experience with theology is that no matter what position is taken on one of the “great questions” (whatever they are) that eventually the “theologian” comes to a paradox or conflict in the logic that can’t be satisfactorily resolved. Some people can just blast through these pinch points and are not bothered, but I have trouble. I tend to regard theological debate as fun if you are in the mood, but generally a waste of time.

What seems to me to be important is our actions. These are actions to each other, actions to “the least of these,” actions that make things work better. I agree that you regard this as a theologically weak, liberal, approach to the Christian life. But at the end of the day, week, life or whatever—what matters? Are you going to feel satisfaction because you drove someone out of the thread? Are you going to feel satisfied because you prevailed over someone’s (not well-founded) theology? Are you going to feel satisfaction because there are several who are doing well because you helped them through a difficult time?

I am confident that you are able to do both approaches to the living of the Christian life. I trust that in your profession that you do this. I hope that as the sun sets that you get more satisfaction from people that are doing better.

17 cb scott March 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Bennett Willis,

Thanks for the response. I do value this one and my thank you is simply that: Thank you.

I think we might find some agreement in what you state here. In hopes of an understanding between us, let me just share this.

I do believe in being civil. Civil is good. I do believe in being generous and gracious. Generous and gracious is good. I actually do believe in being nice. Nice is good. Yet, for me, being civil, generous, gracious, and nice can never be the sum total of reaction in the social structure of a fallen world. When dealing with wolves, confront them. If you don’t, they eat the sheep. Confronting wolves does not always mean one is ill tempered. It can mean one is just not afraid to confront wolves.

18 Dave Miller March 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm

CB and I are an interesting match – we share a lot of theological perspectives, but we tend to approach things from a different perspective.

I tend to be more of a diplomat, CB tends to be more of a warrior. I think it is a good balance. Sometimes, he tells me I am too diplomatic (wimpy?), sometimes I question why he is so combative.

Again, that is a pretty good balance. Jack Sprat and all.

But if I was in trouble, or in need, CB is one of the people I would call (either for advice, or to arrange a hit – just kidding, CB.)

He is a good friend.

19 cb scott March 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Dave,

I think we need to jazz up the illustrative definition of our relationship a little bit beyond the “Jack Sprat” thing.

Let’s say I am the Doc Holliday to your Wyatt Earp.

20 Jeff Musgrave March 20, 2012 at 11:37 am

Question for you. The opening question of that OP is “how are we supposed to treat people who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ but still want to take part in a Baptist blog?”

How is engaging in a discussion with two people who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ and thus hopefully answering this question by example to be considered “thread hijacking”?

I went back to reread the original post of that thread last night before I left another comment, because I was worried that we had strayed way too far afield. While the current dialog may not be interacting with the content of the OP, it still fits in very much with the issues it raises in my opinion.

21 Doug Hibbard March 21, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I wouldn’t call what happened there “thread hijacking.” It was, in a way, off-topic–it was an example of the topic rather than discussing it.

So, no, I wouldn’t put that down as the dreaded hijack.

22 Jim Pemberton March 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

There is a difference between healthy discussion and “an unhealthy craving for controversy…” (1 Tim 1:4) Those who wisely discern the difference will follow Paul’s advise to Timothy in verse 11 and stay away.

Blogs are not typically set up this way for comments, but I wonder if a wiki-type format couldn’t be developed where extended (questionably healthy) discussion can be moved off to another tab that has a separate email subscription. That would keep the main comments clean. If there is any question whether to moderate, then the comment thread can just be moved off to the “1 Tim 1:4″ tab and those commenters banned from further discussion in the main comments for that particular blog article.

23 Joshua March 20, 2012 at 11:38 am

The constant thread hijacking means these folks need an online forum to chat back and forth, not blog comment threads.

Dave, it may be time to start the SBCVoices forum.

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