People SystemsSocietyVillage Development

A Small Update on Blog Comments (and a Change to How They Work)

An important post for all who comment on this site

When you get a lot of strong-minded individuals together, sometimes conversations can get heated…. Permaculturists, not being your everyday, run-of-the-mill ‘sheeple’, are often strong-minded individuals….

When you’re dealing with important, world-changing topics of discussion — and differing ideals in connection with them — then sometimes people can go to great lengths to push their views… sometimes even resorting to unethical methods to do so….

And, when some are trying to do something sincerely constructive, even if imperfect, based on their own particular, subjective experience and understanding, others may start throwing bricks at them, or slandering them, in a bid to see them sidelined and/or ridiculed….

The world is full of imperfect people, and unfortunately the world is thus just as full of subjective agendas. Even though permaculturists should be heading in roughly the same direction, often their journey’s began in vastly different places, and not a few are unable to appreciate that this means their respective paths must necessarily traverse a different track en route. I’ve seen many brandishing a rigid framework of understanding they’ve built for themselves, or somehow inherited, just to watch them aggressively press that framework onto others.

So, in a bid to encourage more mature, objective and constructive commenting, I’ve just changed the comment system so that before your comment can be added to the moderation queue, you must click a link you will receive to your email address after commenting. This obviously necessitates your entering a real, valid email address, as otherwise that verification link will never arrive to you.

This will also help discourage industry shills from posing as permaculturists and feeding people the same regularly-debunked propaganda that those industries like to send out into cyberspace to confuse the masses.

I also want to note that sometimes I’ve seen people failing to understand that if you have an issue with someone, you should take it up with them directly, rather than beginning to slander them online in an open forum. Before the time of electronic communications, it was normally recognised by ethical communities that ‘gossip’ was a thing to be shunned, and people who ‘tattled’ were to be avoided and reprimanded. In contrast, it seems that the internet is now a lot like people in traffic — when you’re sitting behind the wheel you feel much more ‘free’ to give the other guy the finger than you would if you were standing right next to him on the sidewalk. People tapping away at their computers are likewise too detached from the people they’re throwing their cyber-molotovs at, and don’t realise they’re dealing with human beings — not blocks of concrete — and when hidden by a veil of anonymity they say things they shouldn’t, and the person on the receiving end has no way to contact the person directly to clarify areas where the accuser is lacking information.

In times past, particularly in pre-industrial days, it was virtually impossible to ‘gossip’ about someone miles removed from where you live. Today, people generate an impression based on limited info read or passed to them like juicy little electronic morsels, and then — with full confidence in their own infallibility and that their indirectly formed opinions are not only faultless, but deserving of being read by the rest of the planet’s inhabitants — they allow themselves to become a medium for poison.

Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you. — Spanish proverb

I recently saw a slanderous email come through where right at the very top it said "Do not circulate this". Why was it that the sender did not want the message circulated, despite having already sent it to several people already? It was simply because they didn’t want the person the slander was about to receive it. In other words, they are acting as prosecutor, judge and jury, all in one hit. They don’t want the object of their slander to have the oppurtunity to respond with their side of the story. And yet the sender’s moral compass is so misalligned they cannot see the hypocricy in slandering someone, whilst making it clear that the person being slandered has not only no knowledge of it, but no opportunity to share his perspective on it.

Where slander has been submitted via comment on this site, I’ve often attempted to write to the person making the slander, to try to get them to take their concerns directly to the one they’re attacking — but this mostly fails, as the email address entered is fictitious. These people wish to hide behind a made-up name and made-up email address, and yet, in this disguise, seek to openly vilify an individual online. With a full body costume, they attempt to drag another naked through the streets. It’s not only unconstructive, it’s cowardly, and unethical. I must then delete these comments, as if you’re going to attack/slander someone, doing it online is bad enough, without doing it completely anonymously, where people cannot be sure of your motive, or even your understanding of what you’re writing about.

I hope this small change will help ensure continued civility, and ensure that writers who are sincerely expressing their views — as they stand today on this ever-changing path we call life — will be nurtured and encouraged, and not met with negativity by a swivel-chair judge and jury who are not sharing at all….

I must say that the vast majority of readers of this site have been decent and constructive and the fact that it’s taken three years of constant site growth before this step has became a necessity is a testament to the good-heartedness of permaculturists.

Thanks to all for reading.

Note: You can be confident that no email addresses are or will ever be transferred/given/sold to anybody.

31 Comments

  1. Thank you for doing this, and all your work as editor, Craig. I’m glad you’re making this change – to me ‘people care’ means being courteous and respecting others. Constructive criticism can be helpful, but too much negativity spoils the site

  2. Agreed and well writ, Craig.

    Of course there are courses people can take in Human Communication, Social Psychology and Group Dynamics, etc., all of which can lend added insight, and can be fun and interesting too.

    And lets face it; not everyone’s going to feel the same way as the late Elvis Presley…

    “…You can knock me down, step on my face
    Slander my name all over the place.
    Do anything that you wanna do
    But uh uh honey lay off of my shoes.
    You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes.

    You can burn my house, you can steal my car
    Drink my liquor from an old fruit jar
    Do anything that you wanna do
    But uh uh honey lay off of my shoes
    But don’t you, step on my blue suede shoes.
    Well you can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes…”

    ;)

  3. I agree. You are doing remarkable work in keeping this website and forums of such high quality and anything that makes it easier for you should make it even stronger and more productive!

    It is a very fertile site you have here and setting up a self weeding system that rips out corporately manipulated weeds will encourage even better growth!

  4. Hi Craig, good idea about the email verification but sorry things have got to the point where you have to do this.

    I’ve noticed in a few comment threads people having a go at the author instead of the points in the article. Maybe one of the PRI website’s netiquettes could be debate the topic not the person?

  5. I hope that soon enough this will no longer be necessary as people will grow more conscious of the responsability they hold on People Care, Community Building and Next Step Civility…

  6. Hi Craig. I’m not so sure about gossip being shunned in the past. I have read it was a vital way of preventing community members from physically tearing each other apart, therefore quite adaptively useful. Cheers

  7. I’m surprised you allow anonymous comments at all, can’t imagine how you put up with all the crap.

    Why don’t you enable registration with email verification and at least people need a valid email to sign up. Of course it could be fake too, but is better than nothing.

    And registered members could have a profile with some info about them. Sometimes I’d like to know who commenters are and what they do.

  8. Thanks Craig, really appreciate that, I like to have a say on lots of things, in an effort to bring balance to a topic, or speak from personal experience and be part of an interesting conversation, but have been reluctant to because I have been cyber-slapped by nameless/faceless time wasters. You do such a great job for us all Craig, and you have the patience of a saint.

  9. Thank you for such a clear statement of purpose, Craig. I know other progressive websites that have to deal with these same issues and don’t yet seem to have come up with a fair policy statement up front that they are willing & able to enforce. I think your all-around thoughtful approach is a good role model for other editors of progressive websites & I will pass on your link.

  10. Hi Craig,

    Well done and a great idea. This certainly is all about people care.

    I’ve personally copped it in the neck from faceless commenters. The vitriol from some commenters about what were relatively minor issues was breathtaking and for me personally it was unexpected and a bit of a shock. I’m happy to discuss issues with people because dialogue is a powerful communication and learning tool, but dropping nasty comments and running for cover is something else again.

    I also acknowledge that despite numerous reviews and re-writes I get things wrong. Maintaining a civilised dialogue helps me as much my writing helps others.

    Still the raison d’entre for this PRI website is the discussion and dissemination of concepts, ideas and news relating to Permaculture. It also helps like minded people disseminate their stories and experiences. This is valuable stuff and in short supply.

    It shouldn’t be a forum for haters and industry flunkies – we waste valuable time and energy in responding to their issues instead of getting on with the job at hand.

    Again, well done Craig – I appreciate and respect the work that you do.

    Regards

    Chris

  11. After I posted above, I noticed that comments are now held in queue for manual approval.

    When I submitted my comment, there were 5 comments displayed, now there are 8. Obviously, one can not have a meaningful discussion this way.

    I really hope you’ll find an alternative to manual approval of comments.

  12. good job Craig, I reackon Christine has a good point about profiles and the use of real names, but certainly the active bloggers should make it clear who there are
    thats my humble opinion

  13. Thanks for your comments all.

    Christine – re manual approval of comments, this has not changed. Comments on this site have always been manually approved. The only change now is that your comment will not go into the queue for manual approval (moderation) until you’ve clicked on the link in the verification email you get after commenting.

    If we did not manually approve comments, we’d get lots of spam, trolling, and personal attacks coming through, etc.

    In regards to making people register before they can comment – I hope we don’t need to go as far as that. For myself, if I want to comment on a site, but discover I must register first, then I usually don’t bother. And, even then, people can register just to make trouble, and so we’d still need manual moderation anyway.

  14. Wouldn’t a one-time “registration” be the far easier way to handle this? That’s verifying an email address once, the way every other website does it. As I understand this, you expect people to go check their email after every comment to click your link. I’ve never heard of such a difficult procedure anywhere else. Ever.

  15. Matthew. Rather than gossip preventing physical aggression, I think it would encourage it. If you knew someone was spreading malicious info about you, you’d be more likely to want to punch the person on the nose than if they weren’t.

    JBob. Thanks for the feedback. I’m open to suggestions here, and it would be good to get feedback from others here on this. The reason I opted for this route is because clicking on a link is simple, and doesn’t require having to remember a (registration) password. This means anyone can comment, without having to register. We can go the registration route if the majority prefer it. But this means it’s yet another password people must remember (so commenting after your cache has been cleared, or if you’re on someone else’s computer can be a drag), and it can encourage people to create an email address just for the sake of registration, one they perhaps will not use again, so there’s no guarantee I can contact them to explain (as I like to do) why their comment has not been moderated through.

    Let’s see if others have a preference, and if we hear others echoing your call, we could perhaps take it to a vote.

    P.S. JBob – although you may not have seen it, this kind of verification system is increasingly popular, particularly as sites with particular ‘agendas’ like ours (in our case, saving the world holistically) attracts industry shills and trolls, etc. I used it on a previous site I was editor for prior to the PRI, and it helped keep the conversation much more civil.

  16. Good point about the link convenience, Craig. Although I sometimes leave a site if the sign-in becomes too time-consuming, I did notice that the new PRI link-back was quick & easy, probably because I arrive at PRI via my email subscription.

    A suggestion in that context – it would be helpful for prioritizing the email inbox if your subject-line cited one of the headlines-of-the-day. As it is, the PRI sender & subject line are identical & a cue-opportunity is lost. Some newsletters do include a content-reference in the subject line.

  17. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comment on this site that I even remotely suspected of being from an “industry shill” or paid propaganda-commenter. I find the fear of such comments a little amusing.

  18. JBob, the reason you don’t see those comments is because Craig is an active & discerning moderator who screens out spam but leaves a range of honest-opinions styles. Many progressive sites suffer from rote spam & it surprises me how much the spam does deflect the attention of their sincere participants.

  19. hey JBob, since you’re so opinionated, who are you, what’s your real name, what work have you done ?
    It might help us respect your strong opinions.

  20. Craig, at my sites I also set all comments to manual approval. I have found that requiring registration reduces spam and trolls, but it’s not enough protection because as you mentioned, people can open unlimited free anonymous email accounts.

    I’m now considering charging a membership fee ($5 or whatever donation) and that would definitely eliminate most trolls (industry shills, whatever). But there still will be comments for all, even if not registered, but they’ll be subject to approval.

    I also think that it would be helpful to have profiles associated with commenters. It’s interesting to see what people do, where they are, whatever they want to publicly disclose.

    Been looking at membership plugins and just haven’t had much time, but there HAS to be a way to efficiently manage comments.

    I’m also going to work on my comment policy and quite frankly, I have no tolerance for people like JBob and he would not be allowed to post at my sites. Having to read his posts are a drain on our energy and it’s just not constructive to have people like him at any site (unless you want lots of traffic so people click on ads and generate income.)

    My two cents.

  21. David, I would hope that the worth of opinions be judged by the reasoning behind them more than by the author’s name. Anonymous speech allows for uncomfortable truths to be said without fear of upsetting social relations needlessly. If I happen to meet one of the many lefty-statist contributors on here one day in person, I’d rather start from a nice clean slate than have them already hating my anarchist-libertarian guts.

  22. While I’m not overly familiar with most people’s comments here, I will take the opportunity to make a cautionary statement about groupthink and suggest that devil’s advocacy and stuff along similar lines can be as healthy to community as consensus, etc..

    Permaculture needs to continuously evolve and adapt if it is to remain permanent.

    Stinging nettles, too, have their place.

  23. Totally agree with you there David, well said. Plus I find JBobs continual commenting on anything and everything, just for the sake of it and usually contributing nothing of any real worth, wears my interest thin, what the hell is it all about? Self confesed Anarchist-libertarians probably have a place out there in the world somewhere, perhaps under a rock. It would be nice to think of this site as a place where team players can hang out, does someone need voting off the team?

  24. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comment on this site that I even remotely suspected of being from an “industry shill” or paid propaganda-commenter. I find the fear of such comments a little amusing.”

    It’s pretty common practice now Jbob for people to seek to strategically undermine things they oppose by using internet communications and using misleading online IDs. Google ‘astroturfing’ for an idea of how corporates are involved in this.

    If you can’t pick an ‘industry shill’ it just means they’re very good at their job ;-)

    Craig, I found the registration system a little clunky, especially with regards to how long it took for the email to arrive and the post to appear. It’s probably something I’ll get used to, but it may put of newbies from commenting a second time.

    I’d be happy to register (if it was just a simple username/email registration) and I imagine many regulars would. But I do think it’s important to have easy access to comment, so can you run a dual system? – those that want to register can and you don’t have to manually check each post (maybe after they’ve posted five times or so?), but there is still the option of posting with the system you are using now.

    I wouldn’t have thought spam was an issue, blogging software has pretty good spam filters. How much of the moderation is for people posting inappropriately? I’m surprised to hear you are having to manually check every post, it sounds like a lot of work for someone.

  25. It took 6 minutes for the email to arrive. That’s an impediment to easy access commenting IMO. I was wanting to post and finish my session online and go off and do other things, so if I don’t get back to my email that day there is a long delay.

    Maybe there is a lesson here in patience (does it matter if it takes a day or so for my post to appear?), but I would prefer to register once so my comments go straight to moderation and I don’t have to think about the process again.

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