New Rules

Well, our e-mailboxes are full, and the results are clear: No one is happy! It seems like for one reason or another, everybody is upset about the comments section these days. Some people want us to ban a few perennially controversial commenters, others want us to stop deleting their "entirely tame" comments, and still others want us to shut the whole thing down entirely, possibly to replace it with an edited letters column. That last option sounds potentially appealing, but if possible, we'd like to keep the comments around. Because when comments threads really work, they offer one of the few genuinely unique pleasures of the internet, a dynamic conversation that can't be replicated with overly edited content. However, the threads haven't really been working quite that well so far. Because of generally good experiences in the past, we've probably been a bit too lenient with our moderation here, and have erred on the side of inclusion even when it has allowed a few notable threads to descend into name-calling and blatant trolling. There is probably no way of avoiding annoying or useless comments altogether, but maybe putting a few policies into writing can help a bit with our signal-to-noise ratio.

So starting today, the following commenting rules are under effect:

1. Comments which include ad hominem or abusive attacks on writers, commenters, or figures featured on the site will be deleted.

2. Comments which are racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive will be deleted.

3. Comments which stray too far from the topic at hand (especially when of a promotional nature) have a very good chance of being deleted. If you want to share a link, send it to Dan or myself, and maybe we'll post it. Otherwise, it better have something to do with the post or resulting discussion.

4. Comments designed to start or prolong unnecessary, unpleasant, and/or just plain ugly arguments (i.e., trolling) will be deleted.

5. Commenters who repeatedly post comments that are deemed abusive in one of these ways will be warned via e-mail. If they continue to post comments of an unwelcome nature, they will be given a week's suspension. If a third warning is necessary, the commenter in question will be banned pending further review.

That's it for now, though we reserve the right to add new rules if and when they become necessary. Remember, debate and discussion are welcome, but is important that these arguments stay civil. If you have any questions, feel free to ask below or via e-mail.

42 Responses to New Rules

  1. steven samuels says:

    Deletion is the way to go. As always, it’s a minority who start the most trouble. A judicious amount of cutting would take care of most of the problems in most cases, one would think. The now-closed message board (last time I mention it, I swear) is a good example. The powers that be erred too much in lenience. It was always a minority that threw things off the rails.

  2. Shannon_Smith says:

    If everyone here spent about 30 minutes in the comments section of any given sports related website, I think they would feel a lot better about how kind, gentle. level headed and classy TCJs readership is/was/can be.

  3. Heidi M. says:

    No three strikes and you’re out! Zero tolerance!!!!!!

  4. Costa says:

    I think shutting down comments to replace w/a letters section would be a great idea, just to keep the hassle of editing and moderating comments out of the list of "to-do". However, I do think that you're right, it's important to try at least maintain the comments for the sake of community.

  5. I disagree (politely, politely) with Shannon–saying that "things are worse elsewhere, so we should be happy with the mediocrity we have" is not the way to go. I love the comments section, although in spite of the repeatedly divisive commenters, not because of them. Seeing enlightened, educated, adult conversation about comics and art is always exciting, but when it turns into old-style TCJ board sniping, it's like Lucy yanking the ball away from Charlie Brown again. As Shannon points out, there are plenty of other places for vitriol on the internet, and creating new places is easier than ever.

  6. UlandK says:

    I think it has to be assumed that any message-board, any comments area is going to be controlled chaos. It's just the nature of the internet that people usually don't comment in order to politely agree with one another— why would you?
    As one who apparently posts "controversial" comments pretty often , I'd just like to make clear that it really is about genuine disagreement.It seems like that's what really sets people off; seeing something you generally agree with being disagreed with. The "disagree-er" is then perceived as a troll, and the common response is to troll in the name of slaying trolls.

    My point is that in order for this to work, people not only have to restrain themselves from disagreeing with content in a shitty way, but people need to make room for comments they might not agree with and not treat them like they're evidence of "trolling".

  7. SeanMRob says:

    Is it possible the issue is really a design one- that the "Recent comments" box on the front page is just too large and prominent? Glancing at the preserved ComicsComics front page, I see that it's a little smaller and less attention-grabbing, what with the lack of floating red-and-black menace symbols, etc.

    I've enjoyed the first two weeks of commentary myself, but it does seem like a lot of animus has carried over from previous incarnations, at least judging from people's thumbs-up, thumbs-down comment ratings on what seem like innocuous comments on the face of it. I would be personally happy to never thumb-up a comment myself, ever, but I feel some kind of strange compulsion to when I see a bunch of minuses on what seems like a fairly reasonable opinion. I'm willing to believe there's a benefit to a system like this one, but I just don't know what it is yet. Not a complaint, just an observation.

  8. Shannon_Smith says:

    Dustin is right. We should not set the bar low. (But seriously, just for the comedy, you should check out some sports sites' comments sections. Political sites are not much better now that I think about it.)
    I vote to keep the comments the way they are at the moment. 1) I just got used to them. 2) Seeing the little recent comment thing there on the left has led me to check out several articles I probably would not have read beforehand. So, for me at least, it works.

  9. bkmunn says:

    For me, the comments have been mostly beneficial and educational so far. A cross between Comic Comics/Blood and Thunder and the worst of the old message board. The occasional deletion or warning should be enough, maybe?

  10. UlandK says:

    I think trying to determine whether someone is looking for reasons to disagree vs. genuine disagreement is pretty tricky. I suspect the difference between the two is often based on how disagreeable the viewer finds the comments; that's what makes it noisy. And yeah, if you have nothing invested in the argument —if you don't find the disagreements compelling— it's boring. If that's bothersome to you, you can either try to make it interesting or chalk it up to the nature of the internet.
    I mean, it's weird to me to assume that if these noisy debates weren't going on, something more entertaining would take their place. I don't see that happening. It's like readers expect to get something out of these discussions without doing anything to make that happen, and then blame those that are— from their perspective—trying to make something happen for not doing it for you.
    I'm not saying you're doing that, Dustin, but in general, I think that's the dynamic.

  11. Andrew_White says:

    Yeah, I'm not a fan of the voting on comments either — I don't really see what constructive purpose it serves. I don't know if there's an easy way to disable it, but if so I would personally suggest doing so.

  12. Saying that nothing would take the place of "these noisy debates" is telling, Uland. The noisy debates are the distraction, not the content. Granted, I'm speaking as someone who finds the noisy debates enormously depressing; you may see more value in them. I think the internet has convinced us all that our opinions are amazing and important and that we MUST inject them into everything we see online. But that is almost never true. Possibly including this opinion as well (of course I'm kidding, this opinion is Very Important).

  13. IanHarker says:

    I think a good rule of thumb is that it's OK to disagree, but don't bring an axe to grind. Leave the axe grinding to the staff writers. When you bring your own you make it about you and that's what turns people off. I've been guilty of this in the past but I've been conscious of it over the last few years. It's not the right venue, if you want to grind your axe start your own blog.

  14. UlandK says:

    My point is that if you'd like to see better content on the comments board, you have to do your part. I am trying to go for interesting discussions— they might not interest you in particular*, but I might feel the same about your discussions; those discussions you need to make happen instead of complaining that others aren't doing it, or they're talking about stuff you don't like.

    When I say that nothing is taking the place of disagreements that you find annoying, I mean I think that's objectively true. I'm not saying it cannot happen, I'm saying it does not right now and if you have interest enough to complain, you should take the next step and try to provoke the kind of discussions you'd prefer.
    Scapegoating a few people for ruining things is just silly. No one stops me from posting whatever I think might provoke discussion ( and people never take note of the ones that aren't super contentious) and no one is stopping you.

    *If you're not actively involved in a debate, they all seem like nonsense.Everyone is an idiot online when they're not giving you what you want, it seems ( I'm guilty of that thinking too, of course).

  15. Dan Nadel says:

    This is a test comment. Here's an image:

  16. Cheese_ho12 says:

    I know a lot of sites have weekly open threads for people to go and yell at each other or debate whether Wolverine was more of a bad-ass in the brown 80s outfit then he has been in the yellow and blue outfit (yes, he was). That way, if psudeo-intellectual douchebags like [NAMES DELETED] wanna tear each other's eyes out, they can go there.

    Also, one of the great things about indie comics as a whole and TCJ more specifically is that a lot of the readers are also creators. Hows about a regular occurring promotional post? "Things we saw this week," with as little editorializing as possible. This would keep the rest of the threads promotion-free while still giving creators/readers the opportunity to tell other readers about their projects without having to go through a screening process. One of the pros of the old TCJ boards was it was a place where virtual unknowns could post their work and the community, not the editors, decided what was great and what was shit.

  17. "Scapegoating" implies falseness, Uland. I definitely think that a few people ruin things in these discussions, and usually the same few. The fact that no one stops you is exactly what I disagree with.

  18. PaulSlade says:

    Tim said: "Because when comments threads really work, they offer one of the few genuinely unique pleasures of the internet, a dynamic conversation that can’t be replicated with overly edited content."

    But where are these comment threads that provide such a paragon? Ad far as I can see, they're so rare as to be practically non-existent, which suggests there's something fatally flawed about the whole idea.

    I'd prefer a properly-edited letters page on the model of the old print Journal's Blood and Thunder section. I'd also like to see a rule that everyone must post under their real name, as most people's comments would be a good deal more thoughtful, courteous and reasoned if they didn't have a daft alias to hide behind.

  19. Tim Hodler says:

    I appreciate that my asking for questions about the new commenting policy was more or less an invitation to start a big meta-oriented argument, but let's all try to refrain from pointing fingers at each other, please. It would be ironic in an uncool way if this post led to a flame war and deletions. Thanks.


  21. patford says:

    As Sean suggests, maybe the best thing to do would be to not "feature" all comments so prominently?
    How many comments deserve being on what might be called "The Front Page" could be left up to editorial discretion. Most comments could be confined to the comments threads.
    This would serve a number of purposes. The editors would draw attention to comments they felt were valuable or interesting, and those comments would remain at the top of the heap for enough time so that they weren't quickly buried. I would imagine that on the off chance Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring, Gary Groth, or any number of other person took the time to comment it ought to be highlighted?
    In addition the "Hey look at ME!!!" comments would be largely lost.

  22. IanHarker says:

    I second the real name rule.

  23. SeanMRob says:

    Real names sound like a good idea to me as well.

    As far as never having seen a useful, interesting comments thread that doesn't also have moments of teeth-grinding awkwardness, I suppose our standards could be radically different, but I've enjoyed, digested and learned from dozens of comments threads on Comics Comics and the Hooded Utilitarian, and have read several interesting discussions at the Panelists as well, each place and each thread having its own flavor of discourse. Not having comments threads at all would be very similar to the TCJ site prior to the redesign, where technically there were threads, but few of the authors of the posts would show up to engage in discussion, something that helps keep these things alive and vibrant.

  24. UlandK says:

    You're conflating my intentions with how others react to my comments, and that's not fair.
    You're playing an association game; comments on TCJ are something I don't seem to like so much, I wish I did, because I have this idea that really good discussions could be happening, so those who use the comments are to blame for these good discussions not taking place.
    It's totally fallacious.

    By all means, if you find something I've written offensive, you have every right to report it, but the fact is, you just don't like what I have to say. That's fine, but it in no way impedes your ability to a) not read my comments and/or b) Post your own comments in order to start the discussions you imagine I'm somehow disallowing.

  25. Fair enough, Uland. Generally disagreeing with you doesn't make it right for me to discount the value of everything you say out of hand, or make pronouncements publicly about whether or people should have the "right" to comment, etc. Let's leave it there before we become the problem we're talking about.

  26. MelindaBeasi says:

    Just to back Caro up on this (though, like her, I'm a fan of real names online), I personally know more than one woman this has happened to, so it's a legitimate concern.

  27. PKarasik says:

    Starting today the following responses are in effect:
    1. You are a dick.
    2. You are a man, so you are a dick.
    3. I am thinking of a number between one and ten.
    4. Who's faster: Superman or The Flash?
    5. You are still a dick.

  28. Tim Hodler says:

    Smiley when you say that.

  29. DanielJMata says:

    I think “I’m thinking of a number between one and dick.” would be more appropriate.

  30. bhagen111 says:

    Am I going to be banned if I find DanielJMata's response really funny?

  31. Mike_Hunter59 says:

    Can't argue with the "New Rules"! Although one can be really obnoxious and not resort to blatant violations. Why, _________ (no "pointing fingers" here) in the TCJ message board drove many folks nuts with his antics. Yet he always managed to barely stay within the margins of the rules.

    …many readers are irritated simply by seeing so many posts from the same hostile souls, let alone reading them…

    Those pesky repeated post-writers! Still, though, many found the atmosphere at the TCJ message board unpleasant. Since the editors here wish to avoid that – I think they've been fairly lucky so far, but "just in case" – some suggestions. (The irony!)

    – Limiting the size of a post to, say, about a dozen lines. Which would encourage paring down one's arguments to the essence.

    – You can be passionate about a subject and still maintain at least a minimally polite tone. If people reading your post imagine a vein furiously throbbing on the side of your head, you're taking it too personally.

    – Forget about emotional baggage from old arguments.

    – Try and resist endlessly debating every single point you disagree with in another's argument. (I plead "guilty!") Limit rejoinders to a one-time comment, to avoid an endless tit-for-tat battle. Then move on and talk about something different.

    – Don't post so darn often. Only once a day, maybe?

  32. steven samuels says:

    Karasik- 1. You are a dick.

    4. Who’s faster: Superman or The Flash?

    Now, see here, I’ve got a punchline all set up but in the interest of “solidarnosc” and all that I’ll just leave it be.

  33. Cheese_ho12 says:

    MIke Hunter, known for his 3,000 word + replies to one line joke posts, wants to limit responses to 12 lines. Be still my heart.

  34. JulianFine says:

    I don't know. I've only commented on Jeet's Racism as a Stylistic Choice so far, but that was one of the best comment threads I've seen on the internet. I'd really hate for TCJ to lose the comments community so soon out of the gate.

  35. Shannon_Smith says:

    Dear Mike Hunter,

  36. AlexBuchet says:

    To illustrate the perversity of the reward system– look at the "score" for my above comment. Minus nine?

  37. steven samuels says:

    The score is graded on a curve based on your previous(banned) message board sock puppets

  38. JeetHeer2 says:

    I think the reward system could work well if we started from a blank slate. The problem with the reward system, which is tied with some other problems with the comments, is that instead of a blank slate people are bringing to this site the preformed agendas and feuds they've had elsewhere (on TCJ message board or Hooded Utilitarian). I think that explains the negative scores AlexBuchet has been getting. What I would encourage people to do is, as far as possible, leave those earlier feuds behind and address the articles on this site on their merits, and also address each comment on its merit, no matter what earlier tangles you might have had with the person.

  39. AlexBuchet says:

    Guess the rewards system is out.

  40. Mike_Hunter59 says:

    Indeed: "The irony!"

    I actually nipped a bunch of lines off that "can't argue with…" post, in the spirit of things…

  41. Mike_Hunter59 says:

    Hello! Hope you and yours are doing well…

  42. Layne says:

    MetaFilter has a pretty good comment community without resorting to silly vote mechanisms or Real Name nonsense; a lot of it is due to the work of its moderation staff. I don't know if TCJ has the resources to manage the signal:noise in a similar manner, but MeFi is a decent example of an on-line community that works.

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