To Ban or Not to Ban

On OTB's subjective, inconsistent enforcement of its policies designed to promote civil discussion.

In the Site Notes thread, longtime commenter @Kylopod wondered why a certain serial offender of our comments policy has been repeatedly banned from the site:

“[A]nnoying” as he is, nobody’s explained to me why he was banned in the first place, even after I’ve asked this question repeatedly. Based on what I’ve seen he’s no worse than about a dozen other commenters here who are no less “annoying” but who have not, to my knowledge, been banned.

I don’t want to give away too many trade secrets here, lest I make evading the bans—already tricky to enforce from a technical standpoint—easier. But Kylopod is right that the policy decision, by its nature subjective, is likely nonstandard. We’ve only banned a handful of regular commenters, if that, in the 15-year history of the site.

I’m more aggressive than Doug, for example, as he’s more purely libertarian and I’m more “I’m paying the bills, I don’t have to put up with this nonsense.” So, commenters that are mostly on his threads and don’t catch my attention are likelier to be granted leeway. Steven is likely somewhere in the middle.

I’m very swift to bring the hammer down on people who start out as pure race-baiters or trolls than on commenters who mostly contribute an interesting viewpoint but occasionally veer off into trollishness. I banned someone today after two race-baiting comments on my “Alabama Botches Another Execution“ post. Those calls are easy—they pollute the site and they haven’t earned any consideration as members of our community.

There are certainly several regulars who occasionally try my patience and generate a lot of Thumbs Down reactions from the other commenters. But they seem to be genuinely engaging in a dialog representing a minority viewpoint in our corner of the blogosphere. I’m especially reluctant to ban commenters who defend the Trumpist or Tea Party lines because their views are very unrepresented among the commentariat and, sadly, especially among those who can string together a useful argument.

But that patience only goes so far. At some point, commenters cross the line from merely irksome to being, for all practical purposes, trolls. If their appearance routinely derails comment threads into either an off-topic discussion of their pet peeve or back-and-forth name-calling, especially after repeated warnings, their value to the community is lost and attempted banishment the best recourse. For any but the pop-up trolls, it’s typically a collaborative decision.

Sometimes, they go away. Sometimes, they come back under a different pseudonym and behave themselves. Sometimes, it’s hammer-rinse-repeat.

FILED UNDER: OTB History
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jax says:

    I don’t comment much, but I have followed this blog for years BECAUSE of the comments. I love how all of the regulars contribute to great discusssions….and even ol Bungy has a point to make here and there that, while straight off the Hannity/Fox discussion boards, reminds me that it’s good to see how other people think, even if I don’t agree or like it.

    Except that Nazi guy that showed up a few weeks ago, though. That was weird. He can crawl back into whatever hole he crawled out out of! 😉




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  2. MBunge says:

    It’s your place, so ban away!

    I would make the point, trying not to be entirely self-serving, that down votes are not a terribly good guideline to who is and who isn’t a problem. It encourages a mob mentality to down vote people simply because they don’t bark along with the latest Two Minutes Hate.

    Trust your own judgment.

    Mike




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  3. Mister Bluster says:

    @MBunge:..Trust your own judgment.

    Won’t be trusting yours. That’s for sure.




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  4. teve tory says:

    I’ve helped run a discussion board for a decade or so, where a bunch of scientists and science oriented people hang out and make fun of the intelligent design movement. It’s kind of frivolous now, but we started back before the Dover vs Kitzmiller decision when it looked like there might be a chance they would get their rebranded creationism scam in the public schools.

    On the question of banning people, the other moderators of that site and I have a real aversion to banning people, because it’s such a tactic of the creationists. They can’t handle dissent, and they will ban people at the drop of a hat. Seriously, try going to UncommonDescent.com and criticizing creationism there. You’ll usually be banned before your first comment appears. Sometimes they’ll let a scientist post a few things, then they’ll ask mister fancy pants scientist what they consider devastating questions while silently banning him/her, then brag about how the scientist couldn’t respond and ran away. Sleazy. So obviously we didn’t want to replicate that.

    Our solution was to create a dedicated thread called the Bathroom Wall, where anything goes. Instead of banning people who are deliberately being trolls, and trying to disrupt threads, we just hit a button and kick their comment to the bathroom wall. It doesn’t delete their comment, it just gets it out of the way so it doesn’t clog up a legitimate discussion. Anybody who wants to, can go to the bathroom wall and check out what the troll wanted to say. Still, in extreme cases like that racist guy who was here earlier today, it’s just better off to ban them because they’re just not worth dealing with. But I do like the bathroom wall method too.




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  5. Kylopod says:

    I don’t want to give away too many trade secrets here, lest I make evading the bans—already tricky to enforce from a technical standpoint—easier.

    Hmmm. I didn’t think it was giving away a secret simply to explain why a commenter was banned, but I guess I’ll leave it at that: You don’t want to say, and that’s fine.

    I don’t mean to sound like I was defending him, as I have often accused him of being a useless, dishonest troll who resorts to a “Gish Gallop” style of argumentation where he just tries to flood the forum with talking points in the hopes that some of it will stick because nobody has the time or patience to pick through all of them. But I’m still a touch confused as he doesn’t seem appreciably worse than a number of other regular commenters here, and I’ve been particularly perplexed by the “Voldemort” effect where we’re not allowed to even spell out his original screen name anymore.

    As I’ve mentioned before, while people who express views that differ from the consensus of the commentariat here typically receive many downvotes (something I’ve been subject to on occasion, like when I argued in the summer of 2016 that Trump had an electoral college advantage), I have rarely used the downvote button myself. I see the downvote option as something reserved for when a commenter is truly out of bounds–if he says something racist, for example, or launches personal attacks against the hosts or regular commenters here. I used to downvote the commenter Superdestroyer when he posted here. For those who weren’t around at the time, SD was not only an outright racist and homophobe, but he was constantly derailing threads to talk about a stupid theory he had that the US was becoming a “one-party state.” That was an easy call for me.

    But I’m not sure I’ve ever downvoted He-who-must-not-be-named, and I’ve only downvoted Bung exactly one time: when he argued that Trump’s infamous remarks on the Access Hollywood tape weren’t describing sexual assault but simply an aggressive come-on. I’ve found both commenters mostly useless and trollish (despite a demonstrated ability to make a decent point on occasion, which makes them better in my mind than a number of other commenters who act like drooling morons all the time), but neither has crossed the line for me of someone who should be railroaded off the forum–at least nothing I personally have seen; it’s possible they engaged in worse behavior when I wasn’t around.

    Obviously the hosts here have to set the policy, but I was just expressing a certain bafflement at the way things are done.




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  6. Mikey says:

    @MBunge:

    trying not to be entirely self-serving

    There’s a first time for everything.




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  7. Andy says:

    I currently moderate a Facebook group with almost 30k members. I understand moderation is difficult and there are inevitably a lot of judgment calls. Your standard seems as reasonable as any.

    I think the main problem here is that too many commenters violate the first rule of the internet – don’t feed the trolls.




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  8. teve tory says:

    @Andy:

    Larry Summers used to say that in the entire history of the world nobody’s ever once washed their rental car.

    I would add to that, in the entire history of the internet telling people not to feed the troll has never once worked.




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  9. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    [Creationists] can’t handle dissent, and they will ban people at the drop of a hat. Seriously, try going to UncommonDescent.com and criticizing creationism there. You’ll usually be banned before your first comment appears.

    That’s fascinating to me. I used to follow the creation-evolution controversy heavily given that I was raised believing in creationism and went through my own evolution on the subject. Historically, creationists originally wanted to ban evolution outright, but after the courts struck that down they shifted their strategy to advocating “equal time” for evolution and creation in the classroom. It’s just one example of the way people with very illiberal views have co-opted the language and trappings of liberalism to push their beliefs, presenting themselves as people who merely want an open debate against the rigid orthodoxy trying to suppress them.

    In truth those who accept evolution don’t need to “ban” creationism because when there’s an open debate on the topic, creationism doesn’t stand a chance except through propaganda, deception, and distraction (and let’s remember that the aforementioned “Gish Gallop” was named for the creationist Duane Gish). Scientists don’t have anything to fear from the facts. So in the online forums where everyone gets the chance to self-segregate, it seems that creationists are no longer demanding “equal time” and as a result are showing their true colors.




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  10. Andy says:

    @teve tory:

    I would add to that, in the entire history of the internet telling people not to feed the troll has never once worked.

    Probably true.




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  11. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    I would add to that, in the entire history of the internet telling people not to feed the troll has never once worked.

    Yup. People have this perverse, topsy-turvy, Alice-in-Wonderland logic when it comes to trolls, where they make it sound like no matter what the troll does, he always wins. Even if you completely destroy the “troll” in the argument, he still wins, because he’s still “trolled” you. The term “trolling” has actually acquired positive connotations in certain contexts, where it usually means trying to bait someone into self-destructive behavior. As a result, we end up imagining the average Internet troll as being a kind of sly trickster, when in reality a lot of them are just low-IQ losers too stupid to realize they’ve been defeated.




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  12. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not a fan of banning anyone based on their opinions. “Bob the Arquebusier” was not banned for his opinions, IIRC, but for his utter dishonesty. He is a person without integrity, and a person who simply lies and lies again is a null set, a void.

    But in general opponents are necessary and useful. Beating them up sends an important message to lurkers who might otherwise be seduced. It’s important to counter lies with truth. To that end @MBunge is useful in that he presents what at first glance might appear to be a case. . . and is then annihilated. Over and over and over again. People may be entertained by Wile E. Coyote, but no one is ever convinced by him. In this environment Bung is what Alan Colmes used to be for Fox: the plot-development goat. A device for clarifying other positions.

    My complaint is not that we have opposition voices but rather that they are of such low quality. They’re all palookas. Unfortunately the Right has abandoned any academic pretensions, they aren’t even pretending to be intellectuals any more, or to have ideas, theories. All they have now are hate, self-pity and greed and that makes for a one-dimensional and thus uninteresting character. The Right really is nothing now but racists and morons since every conservative capable of adding 2 + 2 became a never-Trumper. After a while beating up on the helpless just smacks of sadism. I want to beat up on a better class of opponent. I want someone to make me work. Sadly all the better class of opponent has already come over to my side.




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  13. Franklin says:

    @MBunge:

    that down votes are not a terribly good guideline to who is and who isn’t a problem

    Yup, they are used more for agree/disagree than reasonable/trolling.

    Anyway, James’ philosophy regarding banning seems to be as close to the sweet spot as possible. He made a reasonable call on the serial offender, who has occasionally offered honest arguments but they seem far and few between the trolling posts. That said, if we had a more balanced commentariat, I honestly think a few of our normal commenters (even me) might be baited into more regularly irritating behavior.




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  14. teve tory says:

    @Kylopod: at the forum i mentioned (After the Bar Closes) we’ve got a creationist troll this very moment who’s trying to get banned so he’ll be a martyr and we’ll be the intolerant liberal elites. He’s calling us faggots, crybabies, losers, etc. We responded by giving him his own thread to just say anything he wants. Now he’s amping up the insults and abuse so we’ll ban him, but it’s not working, and he’s getting really mad. It’s delightful 🙂




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  15. teve tory says:

    My complaint is not that we have opposition voices but rather that they are of such low quality.

    That’s the general problem with the creation/evolution boards like the one i help run. On the evolution side you’ve got professional geologists, biologists, physicists, postdoc geneticists, organic chemists, etc, and the creationist side is repped by people who seem like they probly flunked out of 8th grade, but who are confident as shït. It makes for weird, and often hilarious, times.

    I once saw a “well, actually” dude try to refute a phd virologist friend by referencing a paper she had written. In response, she merely asked him to look up the author of the paper. We never heard from him again.




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  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kylopod:

    SD was not only an outright racist and homophobe

    You do realize anyone who wasn’t around then now thinks you’re talking about me? =(




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  17. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think this is a fallacy, because conservatives, in my mind, are simply apologetics for feudalism, and argue in eternal, unshakable bad faith, because they are utterly convinced they are Right and Good, and therefore everyone else is the Devil.

    They blame liberals for the French revolution and the Russian revolution and the Chinese civil war, and therefore, corporations and all hierarchies are Eternally Good, no matter the mountains of evidence of the ills corporate and feudal societies have caused. Some Frenchman and some Chinese guy and some Russian guy killed people in the name of socialism, so therefore, your ideology is therefore invalid. The rivers of blood in the name of colonialism or capitalism or Christianity are unmentionable.

    I have this argument with my family all the time. They think powerless liberals in SF and NYC are “just as bad” as Fox News and the Koch Brothers. An intolerant liberal, somewhere, somehow, invalidates the entire ideology of liberalism, while conservatives can flirt with Nazis and rapists and dictators and be proclaimed as the heirs of Bismarck and Churchill. Conservatives are concerned about the 1s and 0s in data servers in London and NYC and the Seychelles, and that’s “real,” but when people are literally gunned down in the streets or schools, liberals are blamed for being fuzzy-headed academic ideologues and not focusing on the “real world.”

    Also, a few liberal academics are held to have an outsized influence liberals. When has a conservative been forced to apologize for William F. Buckley, the Koch brothers, or Frank Luntz? But liberals always have to answer for powerless, relatively meaningless academics like Chomsky, Zizek, or Krugman.

    Civility has been weaponized against liberalism. Intellectualism has been weaponized against liberalism. Free Speech has been weaponized against liberalism.

    At this point, a good faith, “non-partisan” argument in almost any forum (this one excluded) is a sucker’s game for liberals. Because inevitably, conservatives in this nation feel that their opposite party is a greater enemy than the innumerable barbarians at the gates. They feel they have more in common with the barbarians than the liberals. And now the barbarians have enough money and influence to buy almost any politician. Thank you, Roberts Court, for Citizens United. You just undermined your own nation, for short-term supremacy. Good job.




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  18. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Yeah, I’ve given up on trying to convince anyone around here. You can’t persuade someone they’re wrong when their self-image depends on being right. But I’ve hung around this place enough that it pains me to see it consumed by the kind of nonsense that led to the Democrats nominating Hillary Clinton and the GOP establishment thinking what the country needed was another Bush in the White House.

    So, every so often I’m going to try and make an obvious point so no one can pretend it is wasn’t mentioned. And I freely admit I do it in a manner that is far too caustic to be actually useful, partially because of my poor social skills but mostly because I’m just wore out dealing with folks who lost their crap when Trump got elected and are refusing to even try and get it back together.

    And speaking of cases that get annihilated, have you seen the latest developments on North Korea? It’s looking like yet again you were wrong and the man more successful at virtually anything than you have been at everything put together was right. This is starting to be a lot like those old Road Runner cartoons, but I don’t think you are the one in feathers.

    Mike




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  19. PJ says:

    On the subject of banning, as someone who used to comment on Balloon Juice, I would prefer something like a pie filter.




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  20. Gustopher says:

    @MBunge:

    I would make the point, trying not to be entirely self-serving, that down votes are not a terribly good guideline to who is and who isn’t a problem. It encourages a mob mentality to down vote people simply because they don’t bark along with the latest Two Minutes Hate.

    As an example of how downvotes shouldn’t be used as the only reason to ban someone, I just downvotes MBunge’s comment. I also downvote James Pearce whenever he complains about downvotes.

    The downvote has a lot of meanings beyond “get this person out of here”. It’s like a small tip for mildly trolling behavior. It’s a way of expressing disapproval without calling someone out and starting a flame war.




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  21. Kylopod says:

    @MBunge:

    So, every so often I’m going to try and make an obvious point so no one can pretend it is wasn’t mentioned. And I freely admit I do it in a manner that is far too caustic to be actually useful, partially because of my poor social skills but mostly because I’m just wore out dealing with folks who lost their crap when Trump got elected and are refusing to even try and get it back together.

    The issue people have with you has nothing to do with being caustic. People can get angry, launch insults, call people names–and yet still have a useful point to make. The issue is that you refuse to engage with anyone. Other people here, including the hosts, have listened to your arguments, dissected them, and dismantled them through logic and evidence. And what do you do? You ignore the rebuttals and flee the thread. You’ve done it so many times that I know you’re going to do it again. I don’t say this to convince you–something you’ve demonstrated is impossible–but simply to set the record straight.

    The key giveaway is your statement that you “try and make an obvious point.” In your mind, your points are so “obvious” that you perceive that anyone who doesn’t agree with you at the outset is hopeless. That’s how you manage to delude yourself into thinking that people who bend over backwards to engage with you are somehow being closeminded, while you’re telling hard truths to blind sheep who refuse to see, and that by ignoring all the rebuttals you’re accomplishing something other than getting your ass handed to you.

    It’s looking like yet again you were wrong and the man more successful at virtually anything than you have been at everything put together was right.

    Right there is a perfect encapsulation of your twisted mindset. It’s utterly irrelevant what we may or may not have accomplished in our lives. That’s a completely ridiculous–and unworkable–yardstick with which to measure a president’s accomplishments. And the very same “logic” could be used to invalidate every single argument you’ve ever made against Obama, Bush, both Clintons, or any other public figure–all of whom have very likely accomplished a lot more than you ever will. Who the f*ck cares?

    You’re addicted to this ad hominem reasoning and completely unable to process our arguments on their own terms, without trying to personalize them and somehow make them about us. You refuse to interpret criticisms of Trump as anything but self-serving, driven by envy and feelings of inadequacy–which is pretty ironic given the man you’re defending.

    For example, here is you in Dec. 2016 gushing over Trump’s Carrier deal:

    Trump saved those jobs. He helped create a better life for those thousand people, their spouses and their children. To put it another way, Trump just did more good for more human beings than probably everybody else on this blog combined has in their entire lives.

    Fast forward to 2018 to find out how the Carrier deal has really been going. Are you going to issue a correction? Admit that you may have been a bit hasty in your praise? Not a chance. To you, it was never about the substance of the issue, it’s about your delusional belief that you’re somehow knocking us off our high horse. It’s a narrative you cling to not because it accurately describes our actual interactions but because it enhances your feeling of smug self-satisfaction that you bring to every discussion. Just like the creationists mentioned earlier in this thread, you live in a closed loop in which your opinions are always being validated because you’ve created a reality for yourself in which no other outcome is possible.




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  22. Andy says:

    @MBunge:

    Yeah, I’ve given up on trying to convince anyone around here.

    Just my 2 cents, but I’ve been debating on the “net” since the BBS days (ie. a few decades). I can probably count the number of times I’ve changed someone’s mind on one hand. One time was here at OTB several years ago, though now I forget the details. Ultimately, it wasn’t that important.

    So it’s a very rare unicorn to convince an opponent and it’s not worth pursuing IMO. Instead, in my view, the goal should be to convince the silent majority who may be watching or reading the debate – in other words, play to the audience, not the opponent. If you argue well and make your case, readers might be convinced. The howlers who engage in ad hominem will get high fives from the like-minded and useful idiots, but they won’t actually move the needle. If nothing else, the debate improves your arguments, assuming one has the introspection to accept criticism.




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  23. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    You do realize anyone who wasn’t around then now thinks you’re talking about me? =(

    Oh come on, I said the name “Superdestroyer” in the previous sentence.




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  24. Raoul says:

    This may well be the best commenting blog in the internet imho. Usually when I comment is too criticize a fact interpretation- if I agree with something there is no point to post something. For example I didn’t say anything about the White House and the Hatch Act- but I will now: it is ridiculous to hold the White House to the same standards as the rest of government- the White House is innately political.




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  25. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod:

    I’ve been particularly perplexed by the “Voldemort” effect where we’re not allowed to even spell out his original screen name anymore.

    It’s a function of the limited tools to automate the ban. Otherwise, we’d have to manually delete their comments each time–by definition after the fact. I figured people wouldn’t mention him once he stopped generating new comments; that turned out not to be the case. I’ve found another way to do it this time but it’s one usually not available.

    @teve tory:

    Our solution was to create a dedicated thread called the Bathroom Wall, where anything goes. Instead of banning people who are deliberately being trolls, and trying to disrupt threads, we just hit a button and kick their comment to the bathroom wall.

    An interesting solution. Not sure whether that’s implementable in WordPress.

    @Lit3Bolt:

    But liberals always have to answer for powerless, relatively meaningless academics like Chomsky, Zizek, or Krugman.

    I don’t know if it’s true that liberals always have to answer for them but surely they’re exceedingly influential. Krugman has a Nobel, a NYT column, and at least used to be on the Sunday shows every week (I haven’t watched those in some time).

    @PJ: Someone mentioned that last night and that page you linked was literally the only thing that made any sense. Reading through the thread, it looks like it constantly breaks?




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  26. wr says:

    @teve tory: “Larry Summers used to say that in the entire history of the world nobody’s ever once washed their rental car.”

    Except that… I have.

    For instance, when I rented a car and drove my dog across the country, I had to clean and vacuum it so there were no traces of dog left… since pets are generally forbidden in rental vehicles and I didn’t want to get charged hundreds of dollars.

    It’s all a matter of incentives…




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  27. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:
    I’ve fairly frequently vacuumed cigar ashes out of my rental cars, does that count?




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  28. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Andy:

    Count me as someone who has had his mind changed multiple times by internet debates–often here, a few times at TAC (Come for the entertainment of Rod Dreher’s descent into madness, stay for Noah Millman and Daniel Larison), a few times via via social media.

    However, I’ve never had my mind changed when I was the one involved in the debate, only when I’ve been an outsider viewing the debate. I imagine that’s probably true for most people. Once your ideas are directly challenged, an intellectual fight-or-flight kicks in. It’s become personal and either you fight back–even if there’s a tiny voice in the back of your head telling you that maybe you’re wrong this time–or you pull an MBunge and immediately bounce.




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  29. Franklin says:

    @MBunge:

    And speaking of cases that get annihilated, have you seen the latest developments on North Korea?

    I’m not as confident as you that setting up a meeting automatically concludes the story of the Korean War.




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  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Come for the entertainment of Rod Dreher’s descent into madness, stay for Noah Millman and Daniel Larison

    Well said




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  31. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    I also downvote James Pearce whenever he complains about downvotes.

    Everytime WR sees my Gravatar –which is not actually me, btw– I get a downvote. Glad to hear you wait until I complain about it.

    (Seriously, though, I don’t mind the downvotes. I’ve come to expect them. They comfort me now. I don’t feel truly alive unless I’m getting punched in the face or downvoted.)

    @Andy:

    So it’s a very rare unicorn to convince an opponent and it’s not worth pursuing IMO.

    If it’s rare, it’s only because it’s rarely attempted. It takes patience and effort and, yes, time. You plant the seed, they do most of the heavy lifting.

    And what’s really cool is that if you do it right, it’s not a one-way process. Maybe you’ll find new clarity in your own thinking or maybe, just maybe, they’ll change your mind.




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  32. Kathy says:

    I appreciate the block function in message boards. That way I can avoid wasting any time reading posts by people who never have anything important or interesting to say. It tends to make the blocked person mad, too, for some reason. not always (tends to), but I appreciate it when it does.

    There’s no block function here. but that’s ok. One quickly learns to ignore certain people and pay them no more mind than one would to dirt on the floor.




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  33. @Kylopod:

    The issue is that you refuse to engage with anyone. Other people here, including the hosts, have listened to your arguments, dissected them, and dismantled them through logic and evidence. And what do you do? You ignore the rebuttals and flee the thread.

    Indeed. I have asked him direct questions in an honest attempt to figure out what he is trying to say, and I get crickets.




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  34. @MBunge:

    And speaking of cases that get annihilated, have you seen the latest developments on North Korea? It’s looking like yet again you were wrong and the man more successful at virtually anything than you have been at everything put together was right. This is starting to be a lot like those old Road Runner cartoons, but I don’t think you are the one in feathers.

    It worth noting that a) nothing has happened yet, and b) direct head-of-state talks only accomplish outcomes when a LOT of behind the scenes work has been done–usually taking months, if not years. As such, let’s not declare success at the moment.

    And I say this as someone who supports talks with adversaries.




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  35. al-Ameda says:

    A few observations:

    (1) I use the up vote/ down vote feature to register casual agreement or disagreement with the comment made. If I strongly agree (or disagree) I may “Reply” with a comment.

    (2) I’m not a flame-thrower, however I’m not a fan of bans. However, if a person is consistently profane I can be persuaded to make an exception.

    (3) Trolls? Andy recommends that we do not feed them. It’s hard, but he’s right.

    Finally, (4) I find OTB to be a (relatively) Malevolent-Free Zone. I like that.




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  36. MarkedMan says:

    FWIW, I wish you would use the ban more often. In a perfect world, you could honor libertarian values and free speech by allowing anyone to say anything at any time AND SIMULTANEOUSLY have a comment section that is interesting and insightful. But that’s not the world we live in. Imagine a bar that never throws out jerks. It will eventually become a cesspool or go out of business. Similarly, a comment section has to be maintained or it descends into Usenet troll-hell. When do you ban? One method would be to look at a formula that utilized frequency of posting along with postive contributions and negative contributions. For instance, there are a couple of frequent posters here that never honestly engaged in discussions and merely parrot ridiculous talking points then run away when they are shown to be false, only to raise them again in the next thread. So zero positive contributions. (As for a comment above that one of them occasionally introduces an interesting talking point gleaned from the Fox News world, well, all I can say is that is comparable to the inevitable drunk that climbs a Bourbon Street light pole during the height of Mardi Gras and pisses on the crowd below. Sure, he might hit someone who deserves it, but that doesn’t make him a hero). But do these posters cause harm? Yes, thread after thread gets highjacked until it is nothing more than ad hominem attacks to and from these posters. The thread goes from interesting to useless.

    So, to me, high frequency + no positives + repeated negatives = ban would improve the site.




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  37. James Pearce says:

    @Kathy:

    I appreciate the block function in message boards.

    I can’t stand the block function. It makes snowflakes of us all.

    I understand the desire to remove all unnecessary unpleasantness from one’s life, but I don’t see why encountering a differing point of view should be considered “unnecessary unpleasantness.”




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  38. teve tory says:

    @wr: Don’t ruin a perfectly good story with your stupid liberal “facts”.

    :-p




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  39. teve tory says:

    (Come for the entertainment of Rod Dreher’s descent into madness, stay for Noah Millman and Daniel Larison)

    I have this weird mental disability where I absolutely cannot remember which one is Dreher and which one is Larison. Isn’t at least one of them theologically bonkers? I want to say it’s Dreher, but I’m not sure. Or is it both of them? IDK.




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  40. teve tory says:

    Kathy says:
    Friday, March 9, 2018 at 10:44
    I appreciate the block function in message boards. That way I can avoid wasting any time reading posts by people who never have anything important or interesting to say. It tends to make the blocked person mad, too, for some reason. not always (tends to), but I appreciate it when it does.

    There’s no block function here. but that’s ok. One quickly learns to ignore certain people and pay them no more mind than one would to dirt on the floor.

    A block function is useful. If you don’t have some minimum standards–be it in discourse, food, sports opponents, lumber quality, etc., you’ll waste time unnecessarily. That said, there are in my experience only about 4-6 people here who are below the minimum standard, and it’s easy enough to identify them and then just skip them as you peruse the threads.

    The fact that there are only 4-6 to ignore here, out of the several dozen regulars, makes this a valuable place.




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  41. Kylopod says:

    One of the best commenting sections I’ve ever seen was the one in the original incarnation of Nate Silver’s 538 site from 2008. For some reason, the conversations there were civil and the place was not overrun by trolls–and this was apparently with little or no moderation. Perhaps it was the analytic, number-crunching nature of Silver’s pieces that tended to encourage less red-hot partisanship among the commenters, but I’m not sure you’d see the same effect today. In any case, after the site moved to NYT it adopted a system where your comment had to be approved by moderators before it appeared–which made back-and-forth difficult if not impossible. Silver’s new site requires commenters to sign in through Facebook or other social-media networks, but I haven’t kept up with it.

    The political scientist Jonathan Bernstein used to have a blog at Blogspot, and given how relatively little-known it was, there was a small and close-knit community of commenters who were generally civil, with only the occasional troll popping up. As with Silver, Bernstein’s pieces are heavily analytical rather than hardcore partisan. But when he moved to Bloomberg, the commenting section has since been overrun by trolls, with only a few decent commenters.

    I think part of the reason OTB has a better commenting section than most political sites is because, while it isn’t quite as analytical as the above-mentioned blogs, there’s a nice complement between the moderate right-of-center orientation of the hosts and the left-of-center orientation of most of the commenters. It keeps the site from becoming a total circle jerk (despite its seeming that way to some extent), but the commenters and the hosts aren’t so far apart that they find each other’s views incomprehensible.




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  42. Franklin says:

    @teve tory: Yes, that’s Dreher.




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  43. Neil Hudelson says:

    @teve tory:

    On social issues regarding the sex stuff, Dreher is batsh!t crazy. Transgender people will cause the fall of civilization, dontchaknow. On most other things, though, Dreher is pretty decent–he debates ideas, tries to see points from all sides, etc. But, again, he goes absolutely nutso when the topic involves LGBTQ people.

    Larison is a liberal in the traditional, non-progressive sense. He’s a must-read for foreign policy.




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  44. teve tory says:

    I remember one of them going all “The enlightenment was a mistake” bonkers crazypants. I guess that was Dreher? So is Larison okay? IDK why I have such a time distinguishing them.




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  45. MarkedMan says:

    @teve tory: Dreher has become obsessed with gay people, and practically has the DT’s with the thought that people will think of him as a bigot because he is, well, a bigot.




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  46. Kathy says:

    @James Pearce: You’re wrong about the block function.

    It’s not about safe spaces, it’s about not wasting time. People who defend Trump against non-attacks, for example, who must make a mountain about any criticism of their Dear Leader, are just time wasters; and there are better ways of wasting time on the internet.




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  47. James Pearce says:

    @Kathy:

    It’s not about safe spaces, it’s about not wasting time.

    I dunno….wasting time is, for me, kind of the point. I also think it’s worthwhile to develop some ability to sort through and prioritize information without relying on technological assistance.

    Intellectually, not blocking just seems to be a better practice. You know, free trade in ideas as opposed to the protectionism of the block button.




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  48. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: I generally don’t block/unfollow/un”friend” based on political disagreement. Lots of friends disagree on things, it’s just the way people are. The most I usually do is just not engage in conversations I think will lead to pointless acrimony.

    My one exception to the no-block rule is on Facebook. If a friend shares something inane from one of the millions of dopey political Facebook pages out there, I’ll block the page, rather than the friend. I don’t mind reading their personal opinions with which I disagree, but I don’t want to see one stupid meme after another.




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  49. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    My one exception to the no-block rule is on Facebook.

    For me, all my Facebook “friends” are actual friends. They’re not business contacts or acquaintenances or strangers. They’re people I know and have known for years, and I’ll forgive all their dumb posts, even the political ones.

    I did “mute” one pro-Trump friend on Facebook, but it was mostly so I wouldn’t go all “someone’s wrong on the internet” on her. I don’t ever get political on Facebook.

    That’s how you get blocked.




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  50. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:

    Someone mentioned that last night and that page you linked was literally the only thing that made any sense. Reading through the thread, it looks like it constantly breaks?

    Haven’t been commenting on Balloon Juice in forever, and haven’t used the script in ages either. But it’s the idea behind it that I like, instead of banning people, it gives anyone (trolls too!) the possibility to ignore other people. The link which I botched in my previous comment says that Balloon Juice now has a built-in pie filter, and since it also uses WordPress I guess there would be possibility to have something like that here too…




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  51. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Franklin:

    I’m not as confident as you that setting up a meeting automatically concludes the story of the Korean War.

    No kidding!




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  52. Blue Galangal says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: …aaand he bounced. Again.

    @Kylopod: Oh, man, I remember 538 before the dreaded NYT shift. There was a site for a while called 538 Refugees but I don’t remember what happened to it. Clearly I stopped going to it, or maybe it stopped being. It’s sad, because there was some good conversation there that did not devolve into frothing political rage. I agree, generally, that the quality of the conversation here is on par with 538 and is one of the reasons I keep coming back.




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  53. @Blue Galangal:

    …aaand he bounced. Again.

    Well, he has spoken his obvious truth to the masses. What more do you want?




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  54. In regards to the general conversation. On the one hand, my predilection is free-speech absolutist. But, on the other, I know that that is not viable on the internet. The obvious cases are easy (such as pure racists and rude, profane ranters). For the most part, I think we, as a site, are pretty patient with people.

    At some point, however, there is a category of annoying, pointless participants that grate over time and detract from the discourse and the site in general. It is like a party: how often do you have to invite an obnoxious guest just to be fair when you are inviting the rest of the neighborhood? There is a limit to hospitality.

    And look: I have zero problem with dissent. I think long-time readers know I try to honestly engage in conversations. And sure, I get snarky and grouchy sometimes, but such is life. I have no problem with disagreement (although it is far more awesome when that disagreement is reasoned and with evidence).

    And to the point about changing one’s mind: I have changed my mind on a host of topics over the last 15 years of blogging. Having one’s ideas challenged in a public forum should cause some evolution of thought. Further, the evidence has dictated that some things I thought were true, ended up not being such. When that happens, one either doubles-down as an ideologue or one steps back and re-assesses. I chose the path of stepping back a long time ago.




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  55. al-Ameda says:

    @James Pearce:

    Intellectually, not blocking just seems to be a better practice. You know, free trade in ideas as opposed to the protectionism of the block button.

    Generally agree.
    I have more problem with flat out rudeness and relentless profanity than I do with ideas and ideology I disagree with.




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  56. Bob The Arquebusier says:

    I wonder – as the subject of the discussion here, might I be allowed one final comment on my way out the door?

    First up, I actually agree with the people saying they’ve never been persuaded by someone else and never persuaded anyone they were arguing with. But that’s never been my goal. My target audience isn’t the people I’m talking to, it’s the readers who haven’t made up their minds. Much like formal debate, I don’t expect my opponents to concede; I’m talking to the audience and the judges, who are (theoretically) weighing both sides before making up their minds.

    Second, the “we wish someone could make a principled argument” is ludicrous. The people saying it are so convinced that the truths of their beliefs are so self-evidently correct that ANY disagreement is, by definition, based on dishonesty.

    Here’s an example:

    But I’m not sure I’ve ever downvoted He-who-must-not-be-named, and I’ve only downvoted Bung exactly one time: when he argued that Trump’s infamous remarks on the Access Hollywood tape weren’t describing sexual assault but simply an aggressive come-on.

    “Sexual assault” has a very specific meaning, and I was pointing out (and still insist) that the tape, in and of itself, is meaningless in proving that. Two key elements of sexual assault are 1) a victim, and 2) lack of consent. In this case, there was no woman complaining, and Trump’s own words were “they let you…” I have an ex that “let me” do all sorts of things that, without her consent, would have been felonious. Instead, she appreciated some, tolerated others, and made it abundantly clear that a few would not happen again. Ever.

    Finally, I would – in the interest of openness and full disclosure – amending the posted rules of this site to reflect how things are actually done. I put a great deal of effort into abiding by them, and am comfortable in saying that most of the time I violated them, I was doing so in response to others’ far more egregious violations. Something along the lines of prohibiting “irritating other, protected commenters to the point where they violate the rules will be considered grounds for banning” or even a simple “if enough of the favored commenters don’t like you, you will be banned” would be more accurate.

    (Oddly enough, I almost “banned” myself a couple of weeks ago, when I read the hate-fest that were the comments on the passing of Billy Graham. That was positively stomach-churning, and the only thing more nauseating than some of the comments there were the up-votes the worst received. I almost walked away then, but for some reason I just walked away from that thread. )

    So enjoy your little echo chamber. It’s certainly the right of him what pays the bills to decide who is or who is not welcome; I just can’t understand why I got bounced, while a couple of others are tolerated, but to each their own.




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  57. Kylopod says:

    @Bob The Arquebusier:

    “Sexual assault” has a very specific meaning, and I was pointing out (and still insist) that the tape, in and of itself, is meaningless in proving that.

    I wasn’t referring to any comment by you (if you ever expressed this point of view here at OTB, I apparently missed it), I was referring to a comment by MBunge. (I thought that was pretty clear when I said “I’m not sure I’ve ever downvoted He-who-must-not-be-named, and I’ve only downvoted Bung exactly one time: when he argued that…”) On Oct. 9, 2016, he wrote the following:

    It is not sexual assault if the woman consents. What Trump is talking about is boorishly hitting on women and women letting him because he’s rich and famous. Where was this Victorian concern for sexual propriety when, oh, about a kajillion other things have happened?

    Bob@Youngston replied:

    Obviously your operation definition of “hitting on women” includes unsolicited kissing and grabbing their pu**y.

    Trump gave no indication that he asks permission !

    MBunge’s answer:

    Did you somehow post that from your time machine after traveling back to 1952?

    Ever since OTB’s recent changes in its system, all the previous upvotes and downvotes for threads from before 2018 seem to have disappeared. At the time, however, MBunge received a lot of downvotes for these two comments, and in this case I was one of the people who issued a downvote. I can’t remember if I downvoted his first comment above, his second one, or both of them, but no matter. To my memory I’ve never downvoted any other MBunge comment, and I’ve never downvoted any of your comments–in all the years you and he have been posting at OTB. (I can’t be absolutely sure whether this is the case, but it’s as far as I remember.) I was simply using this to illustrate my reluctance to use the downvote button, even for outright trolls. Unlike some of the people here, I definitely do not see the downvote as equivalent to “I disagree with this comment.” On some level I can understand why people would choose to downvote you and MBunge on the grounds of being trollish and dishonest, but even there I’ve been very selective.

    It is strange that you would use my statement about how I rarely use the downvote as your prime example of intolerance here. And it’s especially revealing that in your lead-up to mentioning this example you said “The people saying it are so convinced that the truths of their beliefs are so self-evidently correct that ANY disagreement is, by definition, based on dishonesty.” My objection to MBunge’s comment wasn’t that it was dishonest but that it was depraved–and unintentionally ironic given that he attributed those who disagreed as holding a “Victorian concern for sexual propriety” and that people who felt it was sexual assault were speaking from a time machine from 1952. In fact the reverse is the case: it’s only in recent years that the sort of behavior Trump bragged about having done has come to be widely seen as sexual assault. Indeed, I’d say that if the Access Hollywood tape had been released at the time it was made in 2004, it would have barely elicited any notice at all. It would have been dismissed by the press simply as a crude celebrity being crude, just as you and MBunge have attempted to interpret his remarks now. A lot has changed, but it’s been in the exact opposite direction from what MBunge implied.




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