De Re Commentari

Guido will soon be winding down for Christmas and the team will be faced with the tedious job of comment moderation over the holidays or to decide to just let anarchy prevail. For the last few months we have as an experiment adopted an even more laissez faire attitude to comments. Animated GIFs, YouTube videos, tweets, images and the like were allowed. The result was gay porn, racist videos and it generally getting worse. We have now after ten years tested the “no pre-moderation” model to destruction.

During the run up to the election this site’s readership will probably top-out at some quarter-of-a-million hits per day, comments will be in the thousands daily. The post-moderation system is just not viable, the team would have to spend all day reading the comments instead of doing the writing that provokes them.

This graph summarises the economics of blog comments:

comment moderation costs

Guido has over the last decade copped a lot of criticism for the generally laissez faire attitude towards the comments – remember Derek Draper calling the comments “a sewer” on Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics? In some ways it was easier for Guido to take a laissez faire attitude, counter-intuitively it provides some degree of legal protection to not pre-moderate.

Comment moderation costs a lot, we occasionally have to spend time with lawyers and the police as a result of comments we have not written or often even read. It is expensive in time, every day the Guido team deletes a load of comments which have, in our rather arbitrary judgement, just gone too far. The software algorithm modbot blocked as much racist, scatological and gynecological nonsense as could be predictable. The truth is that we were happy to tolerate profanity and such like directed at the political class, we were not so keen on the repetitious and tedious stuff about minorities.

Picture credit : GQ

Some get very worked up about online comments because they are so often rude and abusive. We’ve taken a “sticks and stones” view to a large extent, particularly with regard to prominent public figures, it is actually pleasing that Ed Balls gets angry about the abuse dished out here, that self-important politicians hate it so much, that thin-skinned journalists don’t like a taste of their own medicine. The comments and the blog itself perform the role of a cyber-stocks, you can say almost whatever you like about leading political figures and it will go unchecked, however say something gynecological about a lowly intern, it is likely to get deleted (if it is noticed).

Originally when this blog started and had readers numbering only in the tens, rather than the tens of thousands, some of the regular comment makers were very witty and brought actual gossip. In the last decade millions of comments have been made, the signal to noise ratio and average quality of the comments has declined. That is an inevitable consequence of having among the tens of thousands of readers a fair number of moronic, window licking, certifiable loonies for whom this is their preferred outlet. Mostly it is people just venting about their bugbears and commenting on the character and parentage of politicians, with a few gems to be found. Guido has no problem with readers swearing at politicians. That has its place, and that place is for better or worse here.

Things are changing, you will still be able to say what you like (within somewhat arbitrary inconsistent limits) without pre-moderation or registering. That privilege will be removed from people who cross the line, they will be blocked from commenting. We’re not known for political correctness, we believe in freedom of speech, exercise it elsewhere if you want to post porn or abuse people witlessly. Will the obsessive who posts “Vote UKIP” all day be blocked? Maybe. Will we lose traffic? Not as much as those obsessive comment makers think. Will it work? That is up to you.

See also Get Your Own Blogs




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