Category Archives: Comment Moderation

Prove You’re Not a Robot!

I comment on a number of blogs and news websites, and often, I run into a gadget that asks me to prove that I’m not a robot. I’m not sure what to make of this.

Comments generated by robots are usually easy to spot. They bear little relation to the article, or they’re written in tortured prose. The latter, of course, fails to distinguish them from some human commentators, but I can tell the difference in most cases. It’s something like a plagiarised essay–there’s a tone to the writing that just doesn’t feel right.

But what does it matter? WordPress has a spam filter that catches these things and holds them for review by the author of the blog. I’ve discussed comment moderation before (You’re Comments Are Welcome), and I understand that other bloggers don’t want the free-for-all that I allow, but I don’t see the problem that robots are believed to pose.

Yes, they generally are trying to sell things, things that are often not relevant to the topic of the blog. Those are easily deleted. WordPress even offers a preview of the link in those comments, reducing the risk of malware (including cookies) getting on our computers.

What bothers me is that the robot filters are often difficult to read. The day will come when a machine can read them better than I can. A fuzzy number and a string of letters gives me eye strain. The better filter asks a question: What is the chemical formula for hydrogen hydroxide? What is the square root of 2,734? But even there, the escalating war between filters and robots will swing in favor of the robots. What will happen, for example, when something like IBM’s Watson gets hooked up to a spam generator?

More than that, what happens when the robots start making intelligent and relevant comments? That day may come. When it does, we’ll be faced with a fact about logic that we often try to forget: The ideas presented in an argument are what matter, not the person making the argument. Robots that have a point are welcome to comment here. So are celebrities. So are people about whom I have objections. The spam filter works for now, and I can handle the debate.

Your Comments Are Welcome

During my time writing and reading blog articles, I have seen a variety of approaches to comments:

1. No comments allowed.

This means that the reader gets to do nothing but read. In cases like this, the article must stand on its own. Presumably the writer believes the article to be significant in its own right and not in need of discussion.

2. Members only comments.

Members of the discussion group get to comment at will, but if they go squirrelly, they can be cast beyond the pale. This allows the security of being an insider, but it also means that someone can become unpopular easily.

3. Comments allowed, but subject to moderation.

In cases like this, some comments get through, but the owner of the blog decides. The writers usually explain that they get all manner of inappropriate comments that have to be filtered out, but in my observation, many of those comments merely disagree with the writer. Naturally, that’s inappropriate to some people. This method creates a delay in the appearance of comments, so a lively discussion is retarded.

4. Free for all.

There are no filters, no moderation, and no restraint. Comments appear in real time, more or less, but so does spam, and nothing stops a troll.

5. Free for all, sort of.

That’s my approach here. I use the WordPress spam filter, which holds what its artificial intelligence regards as junk comments for my review, but that’s my only limit. Otherwise, anything goes.

Once on the On Point discussion board, a character named “me” kept informing me that I’m a republican (me didn’t capitalize anything, seemingly). I told him several times that I’m not, but he continued in his foolishness, largely because he disagreed with what I was saying. He finally provided his evidence: a Greg Camp who at one point ran for the office of district attorney in Manhattan on the Republican ticket. He told me that I couldn’t be the guitarist for Smashmouth, since he didn’t think that I was “cool.” It was an odd moment having someone repeatedly tell me that I’m not who I am.

On Common Gunsense, the owner, Joan Peterson, lets a few comments through when she wishes to belittle or dismiss them. Mikeb302000 lets most comments through, although there is a delay while the blog writers do whatever they do before approving remarks. This ends up putting comments out of order and slows down the discussion.

Of course, the owner of the blog gets to decide the policy. I favor whatever version of a free for all makes sense. That’s because I don’t want an echo chamber. If readers disagree with me, I’m pleased to entertain their ideas and objections.

This year will be one for shouting and bickering, thanks to the coming election, but I do hope for the possibility of rational discussion, even between those who strongly disagree about the topic. I’ll have more to say on this subject in the future.