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28Jan 2013

Comments, spam, trolls, and free speech.

Bora Zivkovic

Bora Zivkovic was born in Belgrade, Serbia when it was still Yugoslavia, but he was born again into the world of science blogging. As one of the founders of the annual Science Online conference (or unconference, as they like to call it), an editor at Scientific American, a prolific blogger himself, and the author of 111,418 tweets as of this morning, Zivkovic uses, understands and pushes the boundaries of the science blogging world as well as anyone.

So when he decides to assess the current state of blog commenting, it's worth paying attention.

In a substantial post at Scientific American, he begins with a word or two on the recent article in which researchers say they found that found that uncivil comments can polarize readers who are unfamiliar with the topic at hand. The finding suggests that comments, especially uncivil comments, might have more influence over shaping public debate than hitherto suspected.

Reminding us of the 1-9-9o rule--1 percent of people post, 9 percent participate, and 90 percent lurk--he reports that "the quantity of commenting, especially on blogs, has sharply decreased over the last couple of years."  

One reason, he says, is that commenting is moving to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Digg, and the like, and is therefore no longer linked to the post it refers to. "Mildly active users are now becoming silent users as it is easier to click 'Share on Facebook' than to post a brief comment," he writes. The remaining commenters often consist largely of trolls--beings who emerge to post abusive or off-topic rejoinders, interrupting intelligent discussion of the issues in the post.

So, asks Zivkovic, what do we do next?

He goes on to review the technology for moderating comments, to wonder why comment threads so often get so nasty, and to lay out the reasoning behind his own rules for comment moderation.

You might not agree with everything he has to say, but his post is worth reading. And if you disagree, you can leave your thoughts in the comments section, where, so far, the discussion has been constructive.

-Paul Raeburn

Comments

Welcome to the 9 percent!

I usually follow your posts, but I never comment on them. So I am in 90%. It is a very interesting post. Zivkovic's one too. Regards from Barcelona.

Good point, David. Building community is certainly one of the pleasures of blogging. While we don't have a large number of comments on the Tracker, it's always nice to hear from you and others who have become regulars. With the exception of a few irregular commenters interested in selling mortgage loans or questionable investments, it's a nice conversation.

As I mentioned to Bora via various other media, I second his suggestion that authors engage in discussion with the commenters on their blogs. Not all, of course. But as an active blogger in a number of high profile venues, I find that reasonable author response to commenters (I usually only bother with the reasonable commenters) tends both to challenge commenters to offer more thoughtful (and a tad more polite) input, and over time it builds community and a sense of engagement with my ongoing conversation via my blog with the wider world. To fair,this takes time, which not all bloggers have the luxury to devote. But to the extent possible, if we who opine and inform via blogs want more thoughtful response (and MORE readers), thinking about blogging a bit more as dialogue and bit less as monologue has a lot of merit.

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