Posts Tagged ‘online exchanges’

Count Yorck's speech to the East Prussian states on February 5th, 1813 in Koenigsberg", Otto Brausewetter, 1888

Last week Shaun Usher, custodian of the excellent website “Letters of Note” announced that he would close the comments section on all posts.  He writes:

All complaints should be directed towards a section of society to whom the concept of even vaguely civil discussion means nothing. …I simply cannot afford to continue mopping up after the trolls who crawl among us, itching to bring down the tone at every available opportunity.

Usher does not mince words when describing said trolls and their methodology, but I’ll let you read the best parts of the announcement for yourself.

I understand Usher’s frustration very well. Prior to writing this blog I was, for years, a moderator on a website devoted to open philosophical discussion.  This was before the days of the “new media”. There were no philosophical blogs to speak of in those days, so if you wanted to talk philosophy on the internet sites like ours were where you would go. The founder of the site and I, and the other moderators as well, worked hard to create a website that where those who knew a little something about philosophy could interact with those who were new to it, sojourning, or simply curious.  We had a great time before the site caught on.  Then the membership exploded, swollen by trolls, spammers, crackpots, political cross-posters, and bots of every description.  It became impossible to have a threaded discussion a significant portion of which wasn’t overgrown with inanity, spam, and digital graffiti (of the bathroom wall variety, not the amazing mural variety).  Those with a serious interest in the conversation petitioned and complained, and we tried harder to moderate the site.  In the end, however, it was futile.  Nothing we did could simultaneously (a) protect the discussion from its many and varied saboteurs while (b) maintaining the quality of discussion that would make a site like ours worth visiting and (c ) upholding our original vision that philosophy is neat and even non-specialists will find that out if they have a chance to discuss it in a forum with a critical mass of members who know what they’re talking about. Eventually the site crashed under the weight of the flotsam and jetsam that has generally made open-membership sites for threaded discussion like ours obsolete.  We rebuilt it twice before most of the moderators got tired of it and threw in the towel.  In the course of the years that it was truly functional, however, I learned a lot and made some friends with whom I still keep in touch. It wasn’t a bad experience by any means, but it is one that has given me a lot of food for thought. One of the things I’ve thought about quite a bit as a result of my moderating days is how our experiences online shape our perception of the public at large, and how that perception conditions and shapes (or doesn’t) our conception of democracy.


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