My thoughts on commenting

by Russ Roberts on October 11, 2011

in Weblogs

Don recently discussed commenters who annoy readers and the virtues of ignoring them. Here are my two cents.

As many of you know, I host the EconTalk podcasts. The comments there are generally thoughtful and polite even when negative. The main reason is that they are moderated. If you are rude or crude or off-topic your comment doesn’t get posted. If you persist, you get warned and then banned. The system works very well. It is also very time intensive for the moderator.

Neither Don nor I have the time to provide that service here. And I’m not sure we’d want to. But the bottom line is that we don’t have moderation. As a result, we get comments of highly varying quality. I’ve learned much from you out there and often enjoy reading your reactions.

What I don’t enjoy are the mud-slinging contests where you call each other names. I understand the urge. But I wish you wouldn’t indulge the urge. I think it’s not nice and it degrades the site. A recent first-time visitor remarked with some surprise at how boorish and uncivilized the comments are here. I’m sure it wasn’t a reference to all of the comments. Many of you have thoughtful insights and add much to the value of the blog. But boorish and uncivilized comments send a signal to the world that people who believe in freedom are boorish and uncivilized. It also reflects poorly on Don and me. Yes, there are thousands of readers who never comment. But what does it say about us that some of the ones who do comment, are not so nice?

So my preference is that people treat other readers with decency even when those others are wrong and indecent. I think that’s the right way to treat people you disagree with. Why stoop to their level? Yes, trolls are incredibly frustrating. Ignore them. When trolls go trolling here, I often try to jump in first with a comment of “Don’t feed the troll.” Please don’t. Non-trolls who hold different opinions from your own should be treated respectfully even if you do not respect them.

Here’s another way to see it. Most people already know how to belittle people who they disagree with. What is harder and more valuable is to respond thoughtfully or not at all when others say something that you see is stupid. Help the other readers including others who do not comment how to see the mistakes in someone else’s argument. Give them some intellectual ammunition. That’s the highest level of comment that many of you provide here. Let’s have more of that, please.

 

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{ 52 comments }

Rick Hull October 11, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Good points, Russ. Much is squandered and little is gained when individuals rather than ideas are critiqued. While it’s emotionally satisfying for the writer to add an insulting flourish, the good feelings fade and ugliness is all that remains.

Darren October 11, 2011 at 7:18 pm

While it’s emotionally satisfying for the writer to add an insulting flourish, the good feelings fade and ugliness is all that remains.

That’s reallly the only purpose of personal insults, to obtain momentary emotional satisfaction. Many of us used to do the same thing in high school, but we grew out of it. Some don’t.

Stone Glasgow October 12, 2011 at 7:45 am

This is the only place on earth where the insults are educational; never purely ad hominem.

anomdebus October 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm

If Econtalk is like Econlog, they also verify email addresses regardless of civility, which has kept me from posting there. I appreciate any site that can accommodate my paranoia.

Robert Fellner October 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Great post, I agree!

John Dewey October 11, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Cafe Hayek friends,

Below is an example from EconLog of what we could get if Don and Russ decide to use a moderator for Cafe Hayek:

Walker writes:

morganja, your lack of understanding of economics is breathtaking.

The wealthy are a “burden” on the rest of society? Somebody should tell the IRS that, since according to the IRS statistics, the top 50% of income earners pay ~95% of taxes, with the top 20% paying over 80% of taxes. That sounds more like a subsidy than a burden.

Income residtribution though punitive tax rates and schemes like the inheritance tax are simply ways for politicians to legally purchase votes. If you have 80% of the population paying little to no tax, you can gain favor with that large number of votes buy redistributing more income away from the other 20% and into the 80%’s pockets. After all, if you can get the 80% to vote for you, you don’t *need* the 20%’s votes. Why worry that you are seizing private property from one person and giving it to another?

Lowering marginal tax rates in general, and particularly on the top income earners, has had dramatic positive improvements in our economy *every* time it has been done. The reasons are obvious…

If I am a potential investor, I am much more likely to put money back into the economy if it is going to be rewarded, or at least left alone by government. If large portions of anything invested are seized by government for its own purposes, then any incentive to invest at all is removed.

The fairest tax system is one that does not tax income at all. The fairtax, which taxes consumption, is a much better system, and treats everyone (and every industry) the same. There are no tax breaks for any special interests, and people near the poverty line pay zero tax, and it scales up based on consumption.

[Note from the Econlib Editor: Please keep personal vitriol and ad hominem attacks off EconLog. We prefer not to have to ban people for being uncivil or for rules violations.]

Posted June 16, 2006 10:30 AM

The only thing close to personal vitriol I can find in Walker’s comment is the statement:

morganja, your lack of understanding of economics is breathtaking.

This statement from Walker caused the moderator to threaten to ban him. Please compare that statement with some of the insults made by Cafe Hayek regulars.

A moderator who censors comments in any way like the one at EconLog would ruin Cafe Hayek for many of us. Let’s please try to honor the request from Don and Russ to be more civil with our responses.

Economiser October 11, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Seconded.

Doc Merlin October 12, 2011 at 12:53 am

+1

Ken October 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm

JD,

Go fuck yourself. Whenever I see commenters here or anywhere put on their holier than thou act, I immediately think of the scumbag lefitsts who constantly peppered their political commentary with violent imagery, then had the gall to blame the right for Loughner.

The market place of ideas is a contact arena. Man up or shut up.

Regards,
Ken

John Dewey October 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Russ Roberts: “But boorish and uncivilized comments send a signal to the world that people who believe in freedom are boorish and uncivilized. It also reflects poorly on Don and me.”

Have a little respect for the hosts of this blog, Ken.

Michael October 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Agreed.

Ken October 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm

JD,

My comments are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect poorly on Don or Russ, despite what they might think.

And just to reiterate, go fuck yourself.

Regards,
Ken

Jordan Reynolds October 11, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Agreed.

Darren October 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Most people already know how to belittle people who they disagree with.

Yes, but some here feel they need the practice.

jcpederson October 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

I blame virtuosos like Christopher Hitchens.

vidyohs October 11, 2011 at 7:15 pm

“But boorish and uncivilized comments send a signal to the world that people who believe in freedom are boorish and uncivilized. “

It isn’t an all or nothing game, Russ.

BTW, what kind of person in 2011 calls people boorish?

Just as I remember Limbaugh saying about his program, “you don’t really know what is going on or understand what it is all about until you’ve listened for at least 3 months.” It is the same with your Cafe, no newcomer can know what it is all about and who the customers are, until they have consistently visited for weeks.” The innocent newcomer has no idea on first impression of who the trolls are, nor why the trolls draws the reaction they do.

So any innocent newcomer who just jumps in and says, “Wow this is a rowdy, rude, boorish, and uncivilized bunch, probably doesn’t have a whole lot of confidence in him/her self and his/her ideas.

Boorish and uncivilized comments send a signal to the world that there are some people who can be boorish and uncivilized. Anyone who makes more of it than that is creating his own fantasy, and just might be saying more about themselves than they would like to know.

Anyone who draws a conclusion that all freedom lovers are boorish and uncivilized just from seeing a freedom lover commenting in a boorish and uncivilized manner, is not an intellect that is going to add a whole lot of substance to any discussion. Especially when there are comments above and below the comment in question, that speak to the generally gentle placid nature of libertarians while exposing consistent libertarian brilliance.

When the muirduck and ilk such as he, consistently advance comments that can only be called idiocy, it is not boorish or uncivilized to, after the 1,397th correction to them, to label it for what it is, idiocy. And again I point out, that as it is idiocy it is not an ad hominem to so label it. It is what it is, and after the 1,397th correction of idiocy nothing is gained by dancing around it and saying, “well for the 1,397th time, you might want to rethink your position.”

The trolls must be recognized for what they want to do, and that is not to engage in honest debate, they have no honesty, they are not here to learn because their tape deck brains have already recorded all it will hold and it is full of socialism; no, the trolls are here to disrupt, or destroy….preferably.

Of course the trolls could just be ignored, but your person who commented that people here are boorish and uncivilized will see a muirduck comment of idiocy, and think to him/her self…….”well this poor sod is sadly mistaken, so I shall take it on myself to nicely set him straight” and he gets sucked right into the trap muirduck is laying for him. All the old-timers can wave our hands and holler no at your innocent, but away it goes, the troll is set free.

Personally I think that a blog dedicated to free markets and free minds has to accept that there are going to be contentious discussions, just as there was at the Constitutional Convention. But then, you and Don are the boss, the Cafe will be what you want it to be, or allow it to be.

I don’t devote a tremendous amount of time checking out all the various blogs on the internet, I also have a fulltime business, and a homelife; but the infrequent forays I do make lead me to the comments section, and no where, and I mean no where, do I find the dynamic and challenging people that I find at the Cafe. The Cafe has no equal.

brotio October 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

+1

Darren October 11, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Trolls serve the purpose of forcing readers to question and restate their arguments, if only to themselves. There are many people with the same viewpoints and I find it informative to read the replies. Either I learn libertarians can be idiots, too, or I read an insightful comment by another poster. The ‘troll’ may never learn anything, but the intelligent replies are useful to other readers. A post should be made with the awareness that the many unknown readers are the audience, not just the person being replied to.

vidyohs October 11, 2011 at 8:52 pm

“Trolls serve the purpose of forcing readers to question and restate their arguments, if only to themselves.”

Socialism/collectivism is a tired dead subject that has been flogged to death with fact and evidence. It has no history of success, zero, zip, nada, zilch, and nyet on top of that. How many times do you have to have your position vis-a-vis socialism/collectivism challenged by the same old tired disproven arguments and lying claims?

Do you need it on a daily basis? I would think that until and unless, the loonies come up with something new, you wouldn’t rethink your position and you sure as hell never hear anything new from the trolls that come here it is the same tired old pitty pat drumbeat on their little drums that never varies.

“A post should be made with the awareness that the many unknown readers are the audience, not just the person being replied to.”

Now that I agree with, and is typically my thrust when I make an original comment, and also with most of my replies.

Fred October 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Why do you feed them if you know that their reel to reel tape of a brain cannot take on new information?

vidyohs October 11, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Fred, I don’t feed them. If I am moved to respond to something one of the trolls has lied about, I simply provide a succinct assessment of their comment and their character and let them rail and rant.

Let others try and correct them, I know it isn’t going to happen.

How about you, fed any looney left trolls lately, tried to straighten them out? Or, are mayhap you think that it is vidyohs that needs strainghtened?

Dan J October 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm

For purposes of ensuring newcomers are not taken in by the asinine ideology of socialism, Marxism, communism, etc.,….. ?
Agreed! Collectivism is for the bratty, lazy, and usually ignorant. The well educated, are simply narcissistic and power hungry if not full of anger or hate for his fellow man to wish to add a ball and chain to his ankle and prevent his independence.

Fred October 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I simply provide a succinct assessment of their comment and their character

That constitutes feeding a troll. It may not be your intention, but it’s feeding them nonetheless.

John Dewey October 12, 2011 at 6:47 am

“The Cafe has no equal.”

I agree, vidyohs, that the comments at Cafe Hayek are not equaled at any other economics blog I’ve researched. But I do not agree that the personal insults at Cafe Hayek add anything, and definitely, IMO, detract from the experience here. Furthermore, those insults are ineffective at discouraging trolls. In fact, the insults seem to encourage the very people who seem to so much annoy those who insult.

Michael October 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm

+1

David October 11, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I agree they shouldn’t be moderated and we should just ignore them. I wish there was a way to just ignore their comments without having to see them or any of their replies. I rarely read comments anymore because I don’t like shifting through the arguments.

Darren October 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Whatever happened to ‘twit filters’?

Henri Hein October 11, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Yeah, that’s where I am.

Thomas A. Coss October 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I’m a huge fan of CafeHayek and Econtalk and don’t much mind the often silly comments that pop up, though I am a fan of the succinct. I figure if one can’t make their point brief, they’ve not thought about it enough. It’s working so far.

Thanks Russ.

todd October 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Perhaps technology could be employed? It looks like WordPress powers the Café, and there must be comment rating plugins that would allow visitors to vote comments up or down. These plugins can typically be configured to make comments with a rating below a certain threshold hidden by default. Visitors would still be able to view hidden comments by clicking to expand them.

I used to be pretty active at managing WordPress sites, so I’d be happy to volunteer my time to research and test a solution, if Don and Russ think it would be of value.

Scott October 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm

This. Allow us to vote comments up and down a la reddit. Let the market do the moderation.

jorod October 11, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Next thing you know, people might start acting like members of Parliament.

Nick October 11, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Why is the comment policy so strict on EconTalk’s blog? I got personal (non automated) emails from a administrator asking me to verify a email address for god’s sake.

I much prefer the open commentary and occasional trolls on CafeHayek, rather than the comment micromanaging that goes on Econtalk.

JohnW October 11, 2011 at 8:39 pm

[quote]“As many of you know, I host the EconTalk podcasts. The comments there are generally thoughtful and polite even when negative. The main reason is that they are moderated. If you are rude or crude or off-topic your comment doesn’t get posted. If you persist, you get warned and then banned. The system works very well.”[/quote]

How do you know that the system works so well? Are you the moderator? If so, your opinion is biased. If not, then have you reviewed a representative sample of the moderators decisions (threats, messages censored, etc.), and found what percentage of them are unquestionably correct? What percentage constitutes “very well”?

LowcountryJoe October 12, 2011 at 12:49 am

the html tag for that is “blockquote” and it should go in between less-than and greater-than signs.

Captain Profit October 11, 2011 at 9:07 pm
Richard Stands October 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Love that movie, and that quote. Quoted it many times.

jpm October 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Vidyohs really nailed it.

Russ’s “So my preference is that people treat other readers with decency ” statement is really pretty stupid when you are talking about Murduck. He, as a single troll, pretty much renders most discussion threads here entirely worthless. Only a rude response is appropriate because anything else is not just enabling; it is contributory to the destruction of the blog.

People like Murduck, who post discussion that is nothing but wholesale masked malice don’t deserve a “decent response”. Don’s “welcome Murduck post” that was linked earlier is mind-boggling. Murduck clearly is here not to contribute but to mock and destroy and it is worse than indecent to deny that fact; it is dishonest. Don and Russ are a disgrace when they pretend otherwise.

Economiser October 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Muirgeo’s posts are illogical and wrongheaded, not offensive. He can’t ruin a discussion thread if no one replies to him.

John Dewey October 12, 2011 at 7:15 am

** Like **

Methinks1776 October 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I don’t know, Economiser. I find his scapegoating and wishing death upon the families of other commenters pretty offensive. He also carpet bombs threads whether or not anyone responds to him and someone will always respond to him.

Richard Stands October 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm

I try to address issues, not people. And I try to keep things positive. Sometimes I fail.

And while I agree with the call to civility, an unmoderated forum is still my preference.

jpm October 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

There is something wrong with the Cafe troll filter. Richard Stands posts are showing up again!

Richard Stands October 12, 2011 at 12:56 am

LOL

Cameron Murray October 11, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Nice to hear your view about how a highly regulated environment can improve quality. I wonder how many readers catch the irony.

Here at the ‘commenting free market’ we are finding outcomes most people don’t like, and looking at models of regulation that work.

The real world comes with all sorts of people too – perhaps regulation can provide beneficial outcomes more often than you think.

Captain Profit October 11, 2011 at 10:47 pm

And by “most people” we mean Cameron Murray…

Brad Petersen October 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Are you really incapable of appreciating the difference between a private property owner (in this case Don and Russ) regulating how their own property is used and some clown in Washington, D.C. telling me how I should run my life and use my property?

Just because I regulate the behavior of my children doesn’t mean I therefore have the right to regulate the behaviors of my neighbor’s children or the children of someone who lives 2,000 miles away from me. How is it possible that this distinction is lost on you?

VPrime October 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Of his many strengths, the one that has always impressed me the most about Russ is his ability to maintain an extraordinary emotional balance when responding to comments and concepts that strongly differ from your own. On both EconTalk and at Cafe Hayek, he has only demonstrated an intellectual tolerance at which many of us, including, sadly, me, can only wonder.

Intellectual tolerance-within very broad limits-MUST be a cornerstone for those of us who consider ourselves to be classical liberals. If classical liberals do not follow these premises, we fall into the collectivist desire–indeed, need–to control others’ thoughts and actions. Ostensibly, we should abhor ANY attempt to control others’ thoughtful ideas, as long as they do not clearly cause harm to society.

Naturally, this does not mean that we cannot intelligently and effectively defend and promote our perspectives. To tolerate the argument of an idea is by no means the acceptance of that idea.

If classical liberals are confident in their beliefs and are certain that the facts and data back up those ideas irrefutably in the face of the emotionalism and wishful thinking as, I believe, they almost always do, then we should simply use the brilliance accumulated in the nearly 250 years of that heritage to defend our position. We are by no means short of ammunition.

Russ and Don’s comments, EconTalk, EconLog, the LEE, the Mercatus Center, the Mises Institute, and other intellectually powerful and important sources of these data and information (not ignoring the primary sources behind many of these) are what we should use to formulate our debates. Ultimately, that’s the point for all of these rich intellectual sources.

As Russ alluded, we cannot degrade ourselves to the debating tactic of most six- (and, sadly, most sixty-) year olds: “Nuh, uh! Yes, it is! Nuh, uh! Yes, it is!” That is no debate. It is refutation. And, name-calling wins no converts, which is ostensibly the point of intellectual debate, but instead creates permanent, closed-minded, enemies.

Ultimately, then, those of us who consider ourselves defenders of liberty and, in my, perhaps meaningless, opinion, the best way to the betterment of society, need patiently to listen to, think about, adopt sensible bits and, if necessary, refute differing opinions articulately and intelligently with facts, not with emotions.

I believe Russ Roberts, in particular, exemplifies this. Some of us want a polemical windbag who shuts down the intellectual opposition with insults and cherry-picked facts. But, Russ is always intellectually fair, balanced, and, most important, factual. He convinces us through fact and reason, not through emotion. He tells us openly about not only opposing viewpoints, but also about his concerns of his own confirmation bias in his beliefs.

That means, if we are to forward the cause of what we see as the best route to economic and social improvement, we need to be tolerant in our acceptance of others’ beliefs, but strong and intelligent in defense of our beliefs. The facts, once they are understood and are stripped from emotion and politics (sadly, a nearly impossible task), will prove themselves.

Be open in acceptance of ideas, but be powerful in the defense of true liberty.

ELO October 12, 2011 at 10:26 am

Shouldn’t personal responsibility be a credo of this site? Feeding the anger and insult beast may be fun for some, but it doesn’t advance knowledge or understanding. Using solid reason and logic to debate issues is what is valuable.

Econtalk often has guests with views that oppose those of Russ. Those are the best episodes as far as I’m concerned. Not because they end up in a shouting match, but because they reason through some interesting questions.

Ryan Vann October 13, 2011 at 4:49 am

Un-moderated comments = actual comments.

“Using solid reason and logic to debate issues is what is valuable. ”

It can be; a good old food fight can be most amusing though. I just as often come hear to read some snark as I do to see reasoned debates over how to ford the same spot in the river.

Miles Stevenson October 13, 2011 at 10:19 pm

I’ve always admired how Milton Friedman would always remain so calm, collected, and respectful during even the most heated debates in his “Free to Choose” series. I remember even Thomas Sowell losing his cool a bit in one of the discussions and MIlton just keeps smiling along. I don’t know whether or not it is true, but I remember hearing from somewhere that he used to practice debates with his wife in order to stay so collected. I’ve never been able to master that ability during political discussions even with loved ones.

Economic Freedom October 13, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Friedman must have been inspired by Socrates.

Socrates was married to a woman named Xanthippe. He told everyone that the reason he married her — knowing full well she was a shrew — was that his goal in life was to be able to “get along with all people”. He claimed that if he could get along with his wife, he could get along with anyone.

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