Monday, April 02, 2007

Spam & discussion policy

Over the past few months traffic to this site has more than doubled and my non-monetary 'effort' costs of maintaining the site have increased more than proportionately.

Spam. I have again begun to receive Spam. Unless I impose the letter-recognition procedure that I used until recently for comments made (this increases commenter time costs) I get repetitive Spam each day to particular sites (which increases my time costs).

An alternative to imposing the recognition test is to require people to register for use of the site – something I am reluctant to do since it cuts out the occasional reader who has particular interest in one topic. The difficulty with the Blogger software I use is that I need to enter each posting individually to delete any Spam. This is time-consuming.

An alternative is to switch to using Wordpress and use some anti-Spam software. Given problems that I observe other sites (with far more volume than this site) have experienced in making this type of move I doubt it would be effective.

I welcome views and advice but need to do something.

Comments policy. Recently I have received some narky, negative, personal comments so, yes, I took a big step – for the first time ever I deleted comments.

I just can't be bothered dealing with personal attacks based on assumptions of bad faith – particularly, but not exclusively, when those attacks are made under the cloak of anonymity. If you do use a pseudonym that is fine but please be careful about the character of your comments.

Some commenters now change their pseudonym and make abusive comments under different names (they ‘sock puppet’). Such comments are easily identified by me and will be deleted without any remark on my part. One advantage of making the spam reforms cited above is that I can ban such individuals permanently from this blog.

I publish many comments critical of my own views – sometimes the negativity gets to me – but I expect to receive such comments. Blogging is a conversation and in some cases I have changed my own view in response to comments. But I dislike abuse that suggests bad faith and which is primarily designed to insult.

Contrary to the impressions of some this is not a public place. There is no automatic right to comment. Comments are welcome from anyone willing to engage in ordinary civilised discussion but not those which are nothing more than personal attacks.

Discussion of this policy is very welcome. My main intention is to enjoy blogging without spending too much time dealing with spam and without getting involved in the antics of serial abusers.

If you don’t wish to abide by these rules it is very easy, go elsewhere.


Chidori Ashi Kun said...

I used to use my homemade software which had no spam protection and I was bombarded with it. I changed to wordpress and I think it's pretty good. I still get more spam than anything else but their software deals with almost all of it.

As for personal attacks Harry, your blog is a good one and attract, I'm sure attracts large numbers of people, good and bad. The internet is one of those places where many behave very differently than they would otherwise. Ignore those attacks. These people don't know you. It is a rare case that an academic allows open discussion like this and has the courage to put his/her face and name out there. Your critics should be thankful and oblige by doing the same.

Kieran said...

It is often said that online you can measure your success by how passionately people hate you.

I too have been engaged in the less than delightful process of drafting a comments policy as a result of the work of trolls.

chrisl said...

Let me say, an excellent ,imformative blog Harry.
Keep up the good work.
Why do people write blogs? It must be quite addictive. I notice a few people are giving up blogging because of time constraints, which will probably get them all in the end.
I think it is a fine line between a troll and somebody who disagrees with you. Some bloggers seem to think that nobody should disagree with them.(But not you Harry)
Personal attacks are vile.

Dean Rizzetti said...


Two things.

One, I love the blog. As an undergraduate it is great to feel part of really interesting conversations about real public policy issues. I've heard many people lament the lack of debate between academics and students, but in many ways it is happening in places like right here.

This is a reflection of the best and worst part of blogging, in that it creates an almost level playing field for comment. I am sure if I walked into your office, and started to give my opinion you would not take me particularly seriously (nor indeed should you) but in the blogosphere there is a certain equality.

The downside of this is that people can launch personal attacks without the social barriers that by and large stop such attacks in the real world.

Secondly, I think you should turn on the word recognition. The time cost for those leaving comments is minimal, and it will save you lots of time. You have to enter word recognition to enter Google most of the time, so if people had to register they would have to jump such hops anyway.

P.A. Coplay said...

I agree that the word recognition should be turned on again. The number of posts that were discouraged by word recognition were probably close to zero (if I am going to post a comment in the tens if not hundreds of words doing one word recognition is not going to deter it).

C.A.Kun - I prefer to use a pseudonym (though am known to hc and probably others) sometimes. If a topic is in an area of expertise I am happy to use my name. If it is not, and the facility exists, prefer to use a pseudonym so my opinions outside my area of expertise do not influence my interactions with others e.g. as a teacher I am quite pleased that both left wing and right wing students have had conversations where it is clear they thought I agreed with them. That being said I would not say anything in a comment that I would say openly.

derrida derider said...

Word recognition is the best solution - I've had nothing but trouble with registration schemes.

On personal comments, I reckon you need to distinguish between attacks on what you said, and attacks on you. I have in mind the recent kerfuffle over nappy-wearing Talibanis, for which I am not at all repentant. You said something I thought (and still think) was gratuitously offensive and I pointed it out.

Still, it's your blog and you have the right to can any comment or commenter you see fit.

On pseudonyms, some people have legitimate reasons to use one (including me). It's not cowardice in these cases.

robert merkel said...

Word recognition please.

It's a pain in the neck, but registration schemes are a bigger pain in the neck.

hc said...

DD, By the way please observe I printed your comment even though I disagreed with it. I also printed at least 3 other comments which expressed the same sort of criticism - by so-called 'Nappyhead', 'Rabee' and 'Mark'.

No-one could reasonably accuse me of censorship. I oppose censorship.

I do not delete comments which disagree with my viewpoint - I delete comments which are purely aggressive in intent and which do not address arguments.

In response to various comments I will turn on the letter recognition device.

Thanks for your observations.

Iain Hall said...

I really think the answer to all of your problems are to move to WordPress as I recently did. the Spam program works very well indeed.
I have my blog configured so that the first time that some one tries to post they have to be approved, after that they can post freely. And there is none of the largely useless word verification of blogger. I think that it pays to spell out your commenting terms and to be ruthless with those who violate them, and top of my list of NO No s is personal attacks .
WordPress have a very good importer that allows you to transfer a copy of all of your existing blogger posts and their comments.
And in terms of a blog presentation I think that WordPress leaves Blogger for dead.. Oh and don’t forget that you get some excellent stats that give you a handle on how your efforts are being perceived You can easily create a WP blog and play with it to see if it suits you but once you do I think that you will be impressed enough never to go back .

Shlomo Glickstein said...

You also delete comments that point out that you make racially inflammatory remarks like 'nappyhead' that could seriously offend people who are already marginalized in our society.

hc said...

Schlomo, I didn't delete your comment (I assume the name you use is genuine) and I didn't use the term 'nappyhead' - a commenter did. Nor did I make 'racially inflammatory' remarks - I referred to the Taliban who are not a racial group at all.

Why don't you read before you make your baseless, offensive remarks.

My critical comments related only to the Taliban. If you want to regard them as a 'marginalised' group in our society then go ahead. I think they are some of the most contemptible people on this planet.

I do not withdraw anything I have said about them.

Shlomo Glickstein said...

Harry, I think it is time for you to admit you are wrong about this one.

You described the Taliban as having nappies on their heads, presumably referring to their turbans. Referring to the turban as a nappy is what is racially offensive and inflammatory. The issue of whose head is turbaned is irrelevant.

Perhaps an example will get you reflecting more deeply here. Would you find the following offensive?

"Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a tea-cosy headed right-wing Orthodox Jew"

The offensive and inflammatory thing in this sentence is 'tea-cosy headed', because it refers to a sacred piece of clothing as a tea cosy. Similarly, your reference to a sacred piece of clothing, albeit on the heads of thugs, as a nappy is racially offensive.

Can't you just admit your mistake for once?

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