Articles and Analysis


Why Are The Comments Disabled?

Topics: Pollster.com

So why aren't the comments working this afternoon? I temporarily disabled them. Why?

Let me explain. We have always considered it important to maintain a largely unmoderated comments section that allows for dissenting views and debate over the topics raised by each post. Under the right circumstances a community of commenters forms that will help maintain a mostly civil forum for the expression of dissent and add great value to what we post here.

In recent days, I have seen some very impressive examples of our comments section functioning exactly as it should. Last Friday, I posted a lengthy entry that discussed likely voter models. It generated many comments. Some dissented from my argument or questioned some aspect of it, some added thoughts or theories of their own. And while some disagreed with each other, the comments that I read were generally civil, respectful and connected to the topic at hand.

Monday I posted a very personal note on the passing of my father-in-law. The many comments that followed were moving and beautiful. The outpouring restored my faith in the idea of an open, mostly unmoderated comments section (and thank you, thank you to all who posted so many kind words -- it meant a great deal to my family).

And then there are the comments left on our "poll update" posts that have degenerated into something altogether different. And that is partly my fault.

We do have a basic comments policy that requires, simply, that commenters "keep the dialogue civil." It also warns that "comments that we consider abusive, profane, hateful or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable" are subject to deletion, and the reader that post such comments are subject, at our discretion, to being banned from commenting on this site.

Until this past summer, I forwarded every comment left on this site to my email inbox, and made it a policy to read (or at least skim) every comment. Occasionally, someone would post an abusive or overtly profane comment, and would delete it. A small handful of commenters were so brazen about ignoring the rules that we banned them.

Unfortunately, when the volume of comments started to exceed a hundred or more every day, I could no longer keep up with it and to be honest, at that point, things started to get out of control. We are now getting more than a thousand comments a day -- in the last week, we received more than 10,000. At that pace, given our modest resources, it is simply impossible to read every comment, much less try to monitor or police them.

And unfortunately, the level of abusive, insults and profanity has grown to an embarrassing level. Two days ago, I received a email from a father of a 2nd grader. He wanted to know if we offered a "kid friendly" version of Pollster:

[My child's] school wants to share the site with the rest of the students. The only problem is that some of your visitors can be quite cantankerous with one another in the comments sections. Is there any way to disable those on our end? Any ideas or suggestions on how the school can use your site in a way that is appropriate for young kids?

No, we do not have a way to offer child friendly version of pollster, but I do not understand why the adults who use this site and comment on it cannot find a way to act like adults. This is not a locker room and not a night club. We have a simple policy, and the adults that comment here ought to find a way to follow it or leave. The alternative is that we disable comments altogether, just as we have this afternoon.

Yesterday, a very frequent commenter posted a comment that certainly offended me, and several other readers who emailed in protest. It said, in reference to Barack Obama, "the American Public doesn't want a Jew-hating Socialist running the economy." Now while I find that comment extremely uncivil and offensive, some might see it as a contrary opinion. So I posted a comment of my own asking the commenter to explain how that remark qualifies as remotely civil and intelligent and why I should not consider it a violation of our comment policy.

He ignored my question and instead posted a series of comments this morning including this charming response to another reader on another subject: "You STUPID liberal f*ck."

I asked a second time for some explanation. I heard none. He refused to answer my question and told another reader that he has nothing to explain. As such, he is free to take his comments elsewhere. As of today, he is banned and no longer welcome to comment on Pollster.

Now I understand that a lot of obnoxious, offensive, petty name calling has been going on in our comments section for months, and that this particular commenters behavior is just par for the course. I recognize that I bear some responsibility for letting it get out of control, but while I want to clean it up, I have no interest in who said what first or why. Since it seems to be hard to get the attention of some of you, I have shut off our comments for the afternoon. I will turn comments back on in a few hours, but before I do I want to make a few things clear:

1) If you can't say it on broadcast television, please don't post it here. Is that so hard? If you can't act like an adult when you comment, please take it somewhere else. I have only banned one commenter today, but there are obviously many others who have gotten into the habit of ugly, profane rants directed at other readers. These need to stop. Today. Those who ignore this plea when the comments come back on may find themselves locked out.

2) Don't pick an a screenname that is, itself, profane or abusive of other commenters. Doing so is grounds for being banned.

3) Banned users are banned permanently. They are not permitted to return under a new screen-name. Where possible, we will take action against those who violate this rule, including contacting webmasters or postmasters at the ISPs or businesses where the comments originate.

Now I would like to promise that Eric or I could spend every moment of the next five days carefully monitoring the comments and enforcing these rules, but will obviously be impossible. So I want to make a plea to the readers that care about our comments section and want to keep it open Be a community: Help us convince the others to clean up their act. If someone says something offensive when the comments come back on, please try to convince them to apologize and stop. If some continue to flout these rules when the comments come back, then please email us to nominate those who who deserve to be banned. However --and note this well -- please follow guidelines (borrowed from the DailyKos policies for their "Hide Ratings"):

  • Do not request that we ban someone for expressing contrary opinions, so long as they do so in a civilized fashion.
  • Do not request that we ban someone you are actively having a fight with.
  • Please understand that we won't have time to respond personally to email received this week or to resolve disputes, we decide what we consider offensive and all decisions are final.

We have precious little time over the next 5 days and I have no sense of humor about the continuing abuse of this site and its readers. Shutting off comments altogether remains a real option, so please help us out.