When To Say When: Is it ever appropriate for us to shut down a thread on LISNews?


Though it's rare for any post at LISNews to get more than a few comments, on rare occasions a thread will take off and degenerate into the worst of what the internet has to offer; name calling, profanity, anger, stupidity and raw emotions. There have been a few occasions when people suggested I shut the comments down on specific discussions because of what they're seeing.

So I put the question to you, the raving lunatics that cause it to be raised in the first place: Is it ever appropriate for us to shut down a thread on LISNews because of what's being written?


This raving lunatic thinks yes, sometimes it is worth it to the majority of readers to shut down comments on a thread (are you perhaps talking about the 'you want fries with that' story?).

It's not as if commentators cannot post their comments again or elsewhere; we are not restricting their freedom to express their opinions. They can buy a billboard at their own expense...who says they have the right to take up your bandwidth?


And yes, it's that thread that got me thinking.

And I mean "raving lunatics" in the nicest possible way...

My Answer has always been NO. I let people say what they want. They're free to make themselves look like idiots. I don't read all the comments posted, but I try to keep up with most of them, and for the most (with at least one obvious exception) part, you're a well behaved bunch.

But I believe very strongly that "freedom of speech" doesn't mean you're free to speak as long as you agree with me, and write about things that make me angry. For me it means you're free to speak, or in this case write. If I wanted a walled garden occupied by like-minded people I'd go frequent any number of other sites. I've always strived to make LISNews open to everyone. (You might remember the trouble that caused me a few years ago). For me "freedom of speech" means I welcome people who I think are clearly delusional sociopaths completely detached from reality (aka Republicans). If I cannot handle reading things that make me uncomfortable, but at the same time say I'm proud to be part of a profession that believes in "freedom of speech," then what the hell good am I? I'd be a huge flaming hypocrite (aka Republican). (And for my Republican friends, I kid because I love)

So as long as the comments don't cross the line into any legal issues, I don't think it's ever correct for me to shut things down because I don't like what we see. But that's just me.

at some point you need to break it up... like any bar fight or any of my sisters' weddings... you have a responsibility to play sheriff; you may not like it, but it's your site, so it's your job. you can't just step back and claim free speech when things get hostile. I read about six of the comments in the "fries" post, so I don't know how bad it is, but if it's bad, you need to step up, knock some heads together then pour everyone a shot and send them home or call an ambulance. because those bridesmaids are gonna need some stitches.

But that's the difference between your sisters weddings and LISNews, no one gets cut here, sticks and stones and so on...

People get bugs in their britches over words because they do not understand that while words do not, in and of themselves, have power, they can have power that we give to them. That old fallacy should be, "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can bruise my psyche; but they will only bruise my psyche if I let them."

That's why something I type that seems innocuous to me can set off a flame war. The person reading it has emotional baggage the he hasn't weighed and checked.

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.

I'd say no. I unsubscribed from the comments feed because the volume of junk to worthwhile comment is too high for me to bother with. But if that's how people want to waste their time, let 'em have at it. Otherwise you put yourself in the position of having to make a judgment call about when it's gotten to be too much, and I don't really think there's much point to doing that. It's just a blog, for heaven's sake.

As a former discussion group moderator my policy was to let things run their course until they crossed over the line. My line, usually, but sometimes I let it adjust to the temperment of the group.

My other rule, however, is one that I believe in more passionately: that people should put their real name on their posts. I do not like anonymous comments. If you have an opinion, feel free to express it. But be prepared to stand by your assertions and not hide behind the nearest bush while you toss eggs at people.

The anonymous comments is (are?) one thing I am on the fence about. I have in the past turned them off. I tend to err on the side of openess usually

My feeling is once the horse has died, and been beaten beyond all recognition, and the beaters turn from the horse, beat each other, and THEN notice there's a horse carcass to beat again... It's time to shut it down.

Amusing as it is to see idiots incriminate themselves further (and it is amusing), it eventually gets really old, Arguments get repeated. Repeatedly. You start to lose hope that there will be any pearls of wisdom (or anything more new to point and laugh at) coming from a thread, and really, the time is right for it just to... die.

It's not a matter of freedom of speech. There is no freedom of speech on the internet, unless you have your own site, and yes, even then there are rules. At my site, it's my playground. At Blake's sites, it's his. At Amazon, or ebay, or Yahoo, it's the respective corporation's playground. If you say something that the site owner deems out of line, they have every right to remove it. I think there should probably be guidelines in place to dictate when a post should be removed or a thread stopped. Some pretty explicit language should be used as to determine what these sort of things are: a disagreement vs. a personal attack vs. a threat.

No problem with disagreement, myself. Or even not so good spirited sarcasm. I'm getting sort of sick, though, of the world at large (not just LISNews) and its general inability to act like human beings.

I just shut down comments on a post in my own blog, so had occasion to think about this--and I've always said I won't censor based on disagreement or hostility (but will based on language or sheer offensiveness). In this case, the circumstance was that a specific post was, months after the fact, being used as the springboard for a broad-ranging "discussion" that simply didn't belong.

That's not the problem here. Given that it's not, I think I'm with T.Scott. This particular discussion has been disappointing on all sides, but not (I believe) harmful to LISNews.

On the other hand, I'd feel much more free to delete over-the-top anonymous/pseudonymous comments (and do so), but that's a lot of work. And, of course, when I say "over the top," I mean those filled with vitriol, personal attacks, or unfortunate language--not those with opinions you or I don't like.

Interesting, I've never thought of things as being harmful to LISNews. Do we have a reputation to defend, or destroy? Never considered that.

Harmful to LISNews = legally actionable, basically. Something that could be construed as slander or libel.

I should have spelled that out more clearly.

Otherwise, I don't see that comments as such could destroy LISNews reputation.

Ya know, I hadn't looked at that story in a WHILE.

Looking at it now, I'm seeing educated people going on like they're in an elementary school playground fight. Oh well, strong emotions I guess.

Anyway, I do think there comes a time when a story has been beaten to death. Just as it's no longer funny to tell Monica Lewinsky jokes today, nothing further could really be said about the Fries story. If there were real discussions going on there, and something constructive was being said, that'd be different. As it stands, shutting down comments on that thread would be like switching the TV off the home shopping network. You're not going to miss anything important and you know they don't have anything you want anyway.

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade

I just don't want to be the guy making decisions for others. I make fun of people for watching stupid mindless reality TV shows, but when I do watch TV I'm all about Family Guy. There's nothing I see as constructive in that thread, but so what if I think that it's trash. I just spent the past 5 minutes reading a thread about XKCD on Digg.

I'll defend the "Fries" discussion. Apart from the insults and whatnot the discussion was about who has the basis to say what about a book. Who can give criticism and what does criticism mean?

As we saw there were those that thought you should be a Marine to review a book (oooookay) and those who thought you could tell something about an author by the subject matter of of his books. And so forth.

I'd say that's valid and on-point. What was not useful was the "no sex offenders in libraries" discussion that lead to bunches of people from outside The Sisterhood sucking around and singing their songs of sex offender woe: She was 16! The cops entrapped me, her mom put her up it, now my neighbors hate us, etc.

It was an entirely off-topic and troll-fed discussion at the end and should have been taken out and shot.

I would like to caution the The Sisters, if I may, against believing that they are above bad language, insults or tomfoolery.

This is still the Internet. And bad language, insults and tomfoolery have their place in discussions.

Further, getting the vapors if someone says "motherfucker" and acting in a "don't run in the hallways" manner is not befitting of adults on either side of the "motherfucker."

Some posters take it to far. Others take it just right. And some react like they're Amish and have never heard anyone called a "motherfucker" until they left the fields, bought a zipper and met The English.

A light hand, Bigg Badd Blake, but when something is off-topic COMPLETELY and troll-fired ... well, do what you gotta do, baby.

That's the question that I raise, I'm not the guy to decide that stuff. A light hand is what I tend to use.

I certainly think there should be some standards as to what is allowed to stay in these discussions--it is, after all, your blog; you have obviously tried to put a lot of effort in to making it a source for professional news and discussion, rather than just a place for people to "hang out" and flame each other; and you will be associated with the discussions whether you agree with the comments or not. Leaving nasty comments up can bring down the blog's whole environment. (Not to say that in this case it will, of course.)

There is a definite line between promoting free speech for all citizens, and allowing things to be posted on one's own blog. The blog is yours. If these people believe that what they have to say is important, there are other places they can (and have been) making themselves heard, so by shutting down comments, you are not suppressing their right to free speech, just asserting your own. On the other hand, if you really don't believe that the comments are doing any damage or go against the spirit of the blog, or that this should be a completely open forum, fine. Your free speech in controlling your blog is as important as their free speech or mine, either way you decide.

However, I would like to stand up in strong support for anonymous posts. Just because some people abuse anonymity, doesn't mean it's bad. Yes, it would be wonderful if everyone would show respect for others, but there are plenty of people who use their real names to spew venom, too. Anonymity encourages unpopular opinions to be brought forth, which can be negative, but can also be very informative.

>>Leaving nasty comments up can bring down the blog's whole environment. (Not to say that in this case it will, of course.)

Interesting, I guess I never thought we had anything to come down from.

>> so by shutting down comments, you are not suppressing their right to free speech, just asserting your own.

It seems more like the latter than the former. If I'm stopping them from speaking here, then I'm just deciding what they have to say isn't worthy to be read by anyone.

>>Anonymity encourages unpopular opinions to be brought forth, which can be negative, but can also be very informative.

Excellent, thanks.

"Interesting, I guess I never thought we had anything to come down from."

This is one of the few library blogs that keeps surviving my feed reader purges. The posts aren't overly gossip-y, and aren't obnoxiously whiney. I tend to stay out of the comments, though they seem pretty civil, but this "fries" thread was kind of a black hole.

"If I'm stopping them from speaking here, then I'm just deciding what they have to say isn't worthy to be read by anyone."

To clarify: The way I see it, by shutting down comments, you're not saying they don't have a right to free speech; rather, they don't have a right to say whatever they want at this venue. It's a little like saying, exotic dancers are fine, but not at a Congressional Hearing. (Perhaps a bad example?) Cutting off comments may stop their free speech here, but they could go elsewhere--you're not banning them from the internet. On the other hand, deciding what is and is not appropriate would be a huge headache, and I wouldn't envy you that task.

But again, your descision. And whether or not I agree with the descision you ultimately make, I appreciate the fact that you're putting some thought into it, rather than just knee-jerkingly saying "yes, I will censor" or "no, anything goes."

"Excellent, thanks."

You're welcome. Not all Anons are jerks--I do what I can to bring classiness to anonymity.

I don't think having people sign in is going to help. If someone wants to post anonymously and they can't just go with "anonymous" they'll put in something they made up.

If you want you could make it so that in order to post Blake would have to verify your identity to get a screen name, which could then be anonymous. Might be too restrictive.

Might be too restrictive?! Good Lord, it would be way too time consuming for me! If I had to do that for more than one a day I'd give up. It also would be waay too restrictive. But there have been times where I've been pursuaded to turn off the Anon account.

While reading the 'fries' post, I definitely thought some of the thoughts expressed should have been taken elsewhere, i.e. another blog. This is not to say that some of what was said was not pertinent, or, even, entertaining, but when it escalated to a point of childish name calling, it became completely irrelevant to what this blog is trying to achieve in the scope of libraries and librarianship.


The "fries' post was getting many comments from outside the typical LISNEWS community. If it was really the author of the book that was posting the comments that used his name I think it is an interesting thing to have the actual author commenting here. Even if the comments are questionable. In regards to the other visitors to the site the tempest in the teapot drew them in but maybe some will check back and now they know about LISNEWS.

What would be the objective of shutting down the thread? If the reason is simply to "be appropriate," I don't think it's worth it. More people will see the "fries" discussion because of this post than they would have otherwise anyway. I had no idea that conversation was taking place and I've read LISNews without interruption for 5+ years.

I don't think it's doing much harm to the site to let it play out now. If anything, I'd probably have jumped into the conversation and reminded everyone of your expectations as a site owner, whatever those expectations may be. Then again, maybe that wouldn't have helped.

And it's been fascinating to watch an author sabotage his reputation with the library community over the speculative comments of a couple of people who, as he well knew, hadn't even read the book. Could have handled that much better, no? I bet at least a few people won't be purchasing his books for their library after that display.

Chuck, I agree that "bad language, insults and tomfoolery have their place in discussions." I'm not sure that I agree that LISNews is that place. But that's not my call and I, for the most part, stay out of the discussions here, because of my impression that many people who comment would agree with you.

>>What would be the objective of shutting down the thread?
I guess I'm not sure, some people seem to be bothered by idiots. People will say "enough is enough" and just want it closed.

>>Then again, maybe that wouldn't have helped.
I long ago gave up responding or acknowledging the trolls. "Don't feed the trolls" there's no point.

>>And it's been fascinating to watch an author sabotage his reputation
I'd never heard of him, now I think he's an idiot. I don't know about the community, but he ceratainly did with me.

>>many people who comment would agree with you.
As well they should, everyone should always agree with everything I write and say!

While name calling usually indicates the end of the argument to me, at least the argument that is worth paying attention to, that thread came back around to sanity in the end (at least as of this posting.)

While there didn't appear to be much actual content that couldn't be expressed in a paragraph, I don't see the harm in allowing such things to occur.

There is something I miss in Drupal that Slashcode had: moderation. In Slashcode we could mod stuff up or down as circumstances permitted. Drupal does not have that capability, I suppose.

The past week or so has shown me yet again how overheated online discussion can get. I get concerned at the amount of drive-by commenters we have seen who get so inflammatory that cool-downs seem essential somehow. If we have a BOFH who might implement a very effective means of enforcement then perhaps things can go forward positively.

Blake, my feelings on this are mixed as you well know.
Stephen Kellat, Host, LISTen

I miss that too, there must be a Drupal module. It was rarely used on the other site, but I do miss most the ability to moderate comments as funny for some reason.

It's never appropriate for librarians/library workers to shut down discourse, no matter whether it's perceived by the majority to be spiraling out or not. There are many ways of dealing with comments, one of which is not to read them if they bother you.

As for anonymity, I'm a huge advocate. There are many reasons and circumstances why anonymity might be important. Here are the slides for a little privacy presentation I did recently for a library staff day in Portland, OR: http://docs.google.com/Presentation?id=dcbdspws_20f8g9qzgm

I have banned posters who made physical threats, though.

No doubt, that goes over the line.

I missed the discussion in question and am loathe to go back and read it now. However, I think a certain amount of moderation might be necessary. I am on another message boards that recently went through something similar. A couple of threads spiraled away from the orignal topic and went into "Let's insult the other posters because I can" territory... the mods rightly stepped in and locked the threads. They also put a couple of the worst offenders on suspension for a couple weeks to give everyone a chance to cool off.

Now, I'm not a fan of heavy handed moderation like I've seen on other sites (and I know you don't have the time for it). But sometimes asserting a little control is a good thing. I know we are all adults and should be able to virtually walk away when we read something that pisses us off, but some people have a hard time doing that and type first and rethink later. There's a fine line between fiery discourse and a flame war, and I think as our fearless leader you should be able step in and say "enough!" when the discussion has runs it's course.

Am I the only person who thought the Piroleau Alexander meltdown was funny?

Is there not a place in in the librarian's heart for the horrible absurdities of the Internet?

I read these posts from other LISNews folk like "I abhor insults and jokes and swearing as they remind me of the corporeal body I shed eons ago before I became a being of pure intellectual energy" and I think "Man, we gotta lighten UP."

What's better for that than a good ol' flame war? Hmm?

>>Am I the only person who thought the Piroleau Alexander meltdown was funny?
No, I was amused as well.

>>Is there not a place in in the librarian's heart for the horrible absurdities of the Internet?
There is in mine, that's why I love LISNews!

>>"Man, we gotta lighten UP.
heh, you have no idea...

>>What's better for that than a good ol' flame war? Hmm?
Anything made with Bacon.

1: Freedom of speech does not guarantee quality of speech. And the default is "Protected". Unless someone is posting material that can reasonbly be construed as proscribably obscene because it is without any scientific or political merit.

2: I doesn't make any difference how well crafted an opinion is, someone with a bug in his or her britches will get their knickers in a twist even if they have to deliberately misinterpret it.

3: The trend in contemporary society to shut down the public because a small group is offended by something is a move toward authoritarianism. In ultra-conservatism, it is a sin for men to lust after women, but it is women who are punished for the lusts of men. In a society founded principally on the concept of justice, it is necessary to punish the right person for the right crime. It is not right and just to punish the overwhelming majority of participants here just because someone is writing like a butthead.

4: This is not kindergarten. Put on your big girl panties and get over it.

5: Why is it that snivelers and whiners about how offensive everything is do not stop themselves from looking at sites or materials they have already decided is going to be offensive? I / you / we are not their mommies. And if we are going to make it easier for them to abdicate responsibility for themselves, then we are making enablers of ourselves. This is not a healthy relationship for us because it is counter-productive, and it is not healthy for them because it creates a disincentive for them to take responsibility for themselves.

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.

From what I see in this discussion, I agree with Blake about freedom of speech and letting the conversation go the way people want, but with a few notes:

(1) if more and more conversations start to evolve into name-calling and troll responding to the point where the original topic at hand is being trashed, you will see fewer and fewer valued readers stopping by as they seek places with a higher "signal to noise" ratio. So far if it is just one or two threads that is not a big deal. But it definitely does affect the "brand" of LISNews in readers' minds if it happens too often;

(2) to help prevent discussions from degrading into name-calling etc. there should be a presence by the person(s) running the blog in the comments. Otherwise it feels like the blog comments have just been abandoned to the wilds of whatever graffiti people are going to post (well, if that starts to happen). We see this happen in newspaper blogs, as if they post the stories but don't care what happens in the discussion space;

(3) whatever you decide to do, it would be helpful to have a comment policy posted. It becomes easier to enforce if it is posted in advance, especially if you decide to invoke it only periodically.

I have heard a few people lamenting that blogs are going the way of forums where the trolls had taken over. I don't necessarily think that is inevitable.

Whatever you decide, it is your blog so you get to make the rules of what kind of interactions take place.


Hi, Connie.

. . . name-calling and troll responding to the point where the original topic at hand is being trashed . . .

There is no denying that this behaviour is counter-productive toward the free exchange ideas -- indeed, such behaviour is frequently invoked, although not deliberately, to derail the free exchange of ideas -- it is still part and parcel of the free market place of ideas.

Then too, name-calling and troll responding are often a sign of immaturity of thought, but each incident of such also provides the reader with an opportunity to learn greater self-discipline, and an opportunity move one's own thinking methods forward in considering how best to respond to such.

And sometimes it is simply a matter of blowing off steam.

. . . there should be a presence by the person(s) running the blog in the comments.

Moderators cannot do much without the authority to deny name-callers and troll responders access to the comment sections. Given the volume of traffic some threads generate, it would be problematic for Blake, as he pointed out above, to scrutinize every comment. Each member of the site has their own embedded web journal, and can, at their sole discretion disable comments. Such disabling is an all or nothing feature, however, and while it might not prove a satisfactory option to someone wanting "proper" comments, at least it cannot be used discriminatorily against viewpoints the member does not want aired.

. . . it would be helpful to have a comment policy posted.

Ordinarily, such a policy would have to clearly delineate what behaviour would be acceptable and permitted, and include an objective test to which comments can be subjected. There is no way, really to do either. This is why one "speech code" after another has been struck down at one university after another in the U.S.

However, back in the days of telephone modems and stegasauruses, when the height of electronic communications was a hobbyist run network called Fidonet, one forum, Interuser, had an underlying guideline of: Attack the message, not the messenger. It might be good to post such a reminder, even if it could not be enforced.

There is nothing that cannot be found offensive by someone, somewhere.