Liveware Quickies: The Echo-Chamber

Like hearing your own opinions? Yeah, everyone does.

I was reading some discussions recently on how to handle commenting and moderation on blogs. People suggested many ways to uphold a “standard” of discourse and fight “trolling”. The most suggested “solution” was to moderate comments. By moderating here I mean permanent moderation, where a comment always needs to be approved by an admin, not first-time poster moderation, comment removal or captcha systems (thats just filtering for spam, which is not part of speech).

Being the information anarchist that I am, this seemed completely asinine to me.

There are several ways to uphold a civil conduct on your blog, but none of them includes permanent moderation. In fact I would even say that permanent moderation on a blog or website should immediately be a sign of problems with the integrity of the blogger/admin.

Permanent moderation runs the risk for bloggers to select comments that fit with their opinions, creating their own echo-chamber and reinforcing their confirmation-bias. Yes, everyone does it in one way or another, to lesser or greater extent, if you think you can handle the power of selecting for “proper” opinions, you already lost.

Nobody is immune to confirmation bias, even if you are the most honest, well-mannered, fair individual on earth, you will still select for your own cognitive filters. Especially if you have a large following of like-minded people the risk becomes even greater to think you are completely right in everything you say.

Being an admin is a tightrope balancing act between power and your integrity as an author and human being (assuming you had integrity in the first place of course).

Having moderated quite a few forums, websites and blogs of varying sizes, I can tell you that its almost impossible to actually stay fair and balanced unless you have external arbitration (a master-moderator, moderation-council, and global rule-sets). On a (private) blog, chances are you don’t have any of those.

Elaborate commenting rules and policies will not protect you from any of your biases, nor will they protect your readers from you.

However, fret not, there are better, safer ways to walk this thin line than permanent moderation.

Option 1 – Lockdown

You disable comments globally. While not being the optimal choice, its the fairest and safest of them all. One, it communicates that you are not interested in a public discussion on your blog, two, it applies to both positive and negative comments and three, it doesn’t sacrifice the safety against spam and (actual) trolling and unruly behavior. Two, is the important part. While you will not receive criticism of your work, you will not receive affirmation either.

Chose this option if you are interested in high-level, blog-to-blog discourse and don’t want to deal with the pleb in the comments section. Comments are a very convenient tool and so they attract the most convenient responses.

While my opinion is that this stance isn’t desirable, I can respect the decision, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of followers that would comment regularly. I.e. If you are a large target, it’s just the practical thing to do, and sometimes has nothing to do if you want discourse or not.

Option 2 – All In

The second option is to allow any comment, positive or negative, except for spam and illegal conduct (because thats just smart self-preservation concerning the law).

This stance shows a maximum of integrity, it communicates a willingness to listen, as well as strength to defend your beliefs for everyone to see. It lets everyone have a say, no matter how wrong you think they are, and lets other people decide themselves who has the better arguments. This of course doesn’t mean you will be lauded for it, no, you will get shit every step of the way, but you have to endure it because it does you and your readers good.

Yes, you might invite vile attacks on your person or ideas, but you have to wear them as a badge of honor, showing your scars of valorous keyboard combat. Even in a perfect world there would be trolls, but in a perfect world there wouldn’t be any -successful- trolls.

In the end however there is always the temptation of clicking the ‘moderate’ button and you are ultimately the only arbiter of your own rules.

Beware the one button to rule them all.

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