9.13.2009

spam, trolls and back-channelers

One of the best aspects of blogging is the creation of communities. When I first started blogging, the community that formed around wmtc came as a complete surprise. It amazed me, and I loved it. I still do.

Not everyone who reads blogs wants to be part of a community, at least not on every blog they read. Most people read without commenting. But there are those who try to have it both ways - they want to comment without being part of the conversation. These people irritate the hell out of me.

The first kind of commenter who wants to comment but not have dialogue is the hit-and-run poster. Most of us, at times, read a blog post, leave a non-controversial comment, and don't return to the post. We forget, we're busy, or it's just not very important to us. No big deal.

But many people purposely post controversial or provocative comments, then disappear. They want to have their say - they want everyone to read what they have to say - but they don't want to defend their position. They don't want to deal with reaction. They want to make sure they get The Last Word.

For my money, the worst kind of hit-and-run poster is the copy-paster. Every so often, I'll find a comment waiting in moderation from someone I've never heard of. The comment arrives very soon after the post goes up, sometimes immediately after - a clue that the commenter has an email alert set up for that topic.

Another clue that it's a hit-and-run-copy-paste is that the comment doesn't respond specifically to the post. Nothing from the post is quoted or even referenced. It's just on the same general topic.

I immediately suspect this person looks for posts on this topic, has a pre-written comment ready to paste in, and moves on.

If I'm reasonably certain that's what's happening, I reject the comment.

Recently I posted something about the Southern Poverty Law Center. A few minutes later, I received a comment from someone who hates that organization, making accusations and directing readers to his blog that purports to expose the organization's perfidy.

Now, this guy might have something interesting to say. Maybe there's an issue we should know about. I don't care. I reject the comment. He's not reading wmtc to read it. He's using my blog to promote his own. To my mind, that's little better than spam.

And sure enough, the commenter never returns. Never asks where his comment is, or why it didn't go through. Never tries again. Because he's not coming back. He's hit-and-run.

I can't always be certain if a comment is hit-and-run-copy-paste. But these days I'm so sick of trolls and of spam that I'd rather err on the side of caution. If some random comment doesn't get posted, it's not a big deal. But if I let someone use wmtc as a billboard, it annoys me too much.

But the commenters that annoy me the most don't even leave their comments - they email them to me.

Before I increase anyone's paranoia, I'm not referring to regular commenters who occasionally want to tell me something in private - off-list or back-channel, as we said in list-serv days. No problem there. And I'm not talking about "this may interest you" emails with links to stories that I might want to read and/or post about. Those are always welcome.

These are people who don't comment, who won't comment, as a personal rule, instead choosing to email me the comment they would have left. I've been trying to figure out why this annoys me so much. I may not be able to articulate it fully, but let me tell you, it drives me around the bend.

Some of these email commenters say they don't want to have a public presence on the internet. They think it's dangerous, or they think it might damage their careers, or they think it's unseemly, unprofessional.

Frankly, I think this is stupid. I understand that some people's professional lives demand a low profile, or that a playful or outspoken internet presence might cause conflict and embarrassment, depending on your lifestyle and line of work. And some people are simply paranoid. That's fine. Simply register any name in the world, don't connect it to a profile, and that's that. Don't reveal personal information, and no one will know who you are.

But is this fear of internet exposure real, or just an excuse? Other people are more revealing. They say, "I don't like to leave comments, because I don't want to have a discussion." And, "I don't want to argue." But they do want to express an opinion, or they wouldn't email me.

So these email-commenters want to have their say, but they don't want anyone else to challenge or comment on their views. They don't want to engage in dialogue, don't want to be part of the community.

You don't want to get into a discussion? That's fine. Then don't comment. But if you're not going to comment, don't email me what you would have posted.

First of all, email-commenting seems disrespectful of my time. I'm as busy as anyone else. I'm juggling several different pursuits, and like all busy people, I have a lot of email to sort through. If every wmtc reader emailed me her/his comments separately, and I had to respond to each one, that's all I would do all day.

It also seems self-important. If you want to comment, why not join the conversation like everyone else? Why is your comment so special that it must be delivered privately? (Again, I'm not referring to specific information that someone wants to share privately with me.) Some of the email-commenters don't seem like arrogant or self-important people, so I very well may be misinterpreting them. But damn! They drive me nuts.

Imagine you're at a party, or a meeting, or some other group setting, and someone insists on speaking quietly and confidentially to you - on the same topic that everyone else is discussing. You have to come out of the general conversation to attend separately to this person. Now you're not enjoying the gathering, you're off whispering in a corner.

Maybe that's what bothers me: it's high maintenance. I don't do that anymore.

I really have trouble articulating what is so friggin annoying about this. I have a feeling that some regular commenter is going to nail it.

25 comments:

Scott M. said...

I'll email my thoughts on this to you shortly.

L-girl said...

Scott wins the prize!

M@ said...

Well played, Scott. Well played indeed.

deang said...

I'm as busy as anyone else.

I'd say you're busier than a great many people.

Some Person said...

I think both the hit-and-runners (who aren't copy-pasters) and emailers are caught in a bind. They feel very strongly about a topic and naturally want to express themselves. At the same time, they probably did so in a public forum and got burned. Some people shrug it off, but others really don't know how to handle it. It might have triggered a depressive episode. Perhaps it put them on the Hateorade and they smashed their laptop against the wall as a result. In any case, they're acting from the same motivation as shy people in meatspace - they fear rejection. By doing these things, they're filling an emotional need to strike back and feel like they matter in the anonymity of the contemporary world where so much is out of their control.

As a sympathizer of hit-and-runners and emailers, who at the same time recognizes your need for time management, I think you already have a great win-win tool with comment moderation. When it's obviously an email comment, just hit delete before reading the whole thing. They got their say, they can be satisfied, and you don't have to have your time eaten away. They are the ones who are more about "mattering" than "striking back".

I've found the hit-and-runners to be usually blunt and nasty. They OTOH are more about "striking back" than "mattering". When it looks like it's one of those, I would instead reword their comment and then post it. Say, "Some guy tried to comment to say he thinks Bush43 is the greatest president evar, lol." I think the benefits of this approach are obvious, but that's just me.

bgk said...

It seems to me like this is cheapening your post's value. Yeah, here's this controversial comment, but I won't come back to respond to any potential conversation because its not worth my time.


Anyway, L-girl, you continue to give me hope. Thanks.

L-girl said...

As a sympathizer of hit-and-runners and emailers, who at the same time recognizes your need for time management, I think you already have a great win-win tool with comment moderation.

Sure. And I use it.

But a, the more annoying issue is emailed comments.

And b, it's not only time management that bothers me about this. If I had all the time in the world, I would still dislike this very much.

Also, the email commenters have not been burned - because they never comment, anywhere, ever. They make it a rule not to, so they say.

Btw, for email comments, I either delete without reply, or reply and say, "You are welcome to comment on any thread, but please do not email me your comments," and then delete.

Some Person said...

Also, the email commenters have not been burned - because they never comment, anywhere, ever. They make it a rule not to, so they say.

I can't think of another reason (other than the lame "my career will be in jeopardy" one that can easily be addressed by using an alias) to use email other than fearing rejection and/or conflict. Maybe they don't comment anywhere ever now because they don't want to be burned again. They evidently can't handle other commenters on some level.

BTW, do you notice how "commenters" gets red-lined as a spelling mistake? If it's not a word in the dictionary, then it should be. "Commentators" sounds like a word that should apply to the John Chancellor's and Ellen Goodman's of the world, not some posters on a blog like, well, me.

It seems to me like this is cheapening your post's value. Yeah, here's this controversial comment, but I won't come back to respond to any potential conversation because its not worth my time.

Well, it's fulfilling an emotional need. Once that's done, there's really no reason to come back to it.

bgk said...

BTW, do you notice how "commenters" gets red-lined as a spelling mistake? If it's not a word in the dictionary, then it should be. "Commentators" sounds like a word that should apply to the John Chancellor's and Ellen Goodman's of the world, not some posters on a blog like, well, me.

All the time... I hate it, but cannot figure out how to change it.

L-girl said...

They evidently can't handle other commenters on some level.

That's true! Many people do use the lame career excuse, but as you and I both said: FAIL! :)

BTW, do you notice how "commenters" gets red-lined as a spelling mistake?

I never, under any circumstances, use "check spelling as you type". I hate it in all programs and turn it off.

bgk, in Firefox it's under tools, options, advanced, and in other browsers in similar places.

L-girl said...

Sorry, that's tools - options - general.

And my use of "sorry" for "oops" or "excuse me" is further proof of my Canadian assimiliation.

Phil said...

Yeah, I don't like commentators (common 'taters?) either. The upside is that if enough people use commenters often enough, it will become a legitimate word by default.

That said, I find commenters who post two- or three-word comments expressing general agreement or disagreement with the subject at hand (but which otherwise add nothing to the discussion) to be the most annoying--and the most offensive--of all.

impudent strumpet said...

I can't articulate it, but I have an analogy. It's like if someone wants to sell their car and, instead of putting up a sign in the apartment building mailroom or the office break room, they go up to everyone individually and ask them if they want to buy the car.

But that said, I wonder if people email because for whatever reason they aren't comfortable with the other commenters? (Which, incidentally, you can get spell check to accept by right-clicking on the word and choosing "Add to Dictionary"). For example, I read Antonia Zerbisias's blog, but I'd never comment there because I don't want to attract the attention of her trolls/haters. (I sometimes tweet if I have a specific question, but most often post my thoughts on my own blog.) Maybe some people are similarly uncomfortable here? I can't imagine why, but that's very easy to say when you're not the one who's uncomfortable. Before I came out with my phobias, my co-workers couldn't imagine that anyone could possibly be bothered by this one guy's habit of decorating his cubicle with giant rubber insects.

Also: Scott wins the internet.

L-girl said...

Yeah, I don't like commentators (common 'taters?) either. The upside is that if enough people use commenters often enough, it will become a legitimate word by default.

What's wrong with commenters? People who blog are bloggers. People who comment are commenters.

That said, I find commenters who post two- or three-word comments expressing general agreement or disagreement with the subject at hand (but which otherwise add nothing to the discussion) to be the most annoying--and the most offensive--of all.

Interesting. I don't find them at all annoying, and certainly not offensive.

When I love a particular blog post, I often leave a short "this is great!" type of comment, and I appreciate when readers do the same.

In what way does a simple agreement or disagreement offend you?

L-girl said...

Maybe some people are similarly uncomfortable here? I can't imagine why, but that's very easy to say when you're not the one who's uncomfortable.

Yes, both of those are true. I'm not judging their discomfort. I just wish they wouldn't go around asking everyone to buy their car.

Before I came out with my phobias, my co-workers couldn't imagine that anyone could possibly be bothered by this one guy's habit of decorating his cubicle with giant rubber insects.

I remember that guy, and his compassionate reaction. It was a model for all of us.

Phil said...

Oh, goody, a debate! I love a debate.

For the record, there's nothing wrong with short comments, per se. On this page, Scott M. leads out with an excellent short comment (he obviously read your post); it's pithy, provocative, and quite funny when taken in context. You followed with a great short comment of your own, as did M@. And so it goes (as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., might have written).

No, what chaps my hide are comments of the "Ditto!," "Boy, howdy," and "yeah, me too" variety left by hit-and-run commenters (see, I'm doing my part to legitimize the word) whose only purpose is to post as many links as they can to their own pathetic Web sites or blogs in the shortest time possible. They have nothing of value to add to the discussion because they never take the time to read a post in its entirety--if they bother to read any of it at all. I find these kinds of comments annoying and offensive precisely because they're entirely self-serving.

redsock said...

No, what chaps my hide are comments of the "Ditto!," "Boy, howdy," and "yeah, me too" variety left by hit-and-run commenters (see, I'm doing my part to legitimize the word) whose only purpose is to post as many links as they can to their own pathetic Web sites or blogs in the shortest time possible.

Any comments that are clearly (or seem to be) only an opportunity to promote another blog are always rejected without a second thought.

L-girl said...

Phil, you are incorrect: this is not a debate.

One cannot debate the purely subjective, such as "I find such-and-such annoying and offensive".

If you read my previous reply to you, you will see I am not making a case that "me too"-type comments are or are not offensive.

I merely said they do not bother me, and I frequently leave them myself. And I asked what about them bothers you.

Nothing to debate.

bgk said...

Hey L-girl, Thanks for the information on spell as you type turnoff. Gonna test that out on my home system tonight.

L-girl said...

For the record, there's nothing wrong with short comments, per se.

There's nothing wrong with anything on a blog, per se, if the blogger her/himself doesn't find it wrong.

And, "for the record," when I leave "me too" comments I am never being self-serving. I am agreeing heartily. Making friends. Forming community.

L-girl said...

Any comments that are clearly (or seem to be) only an opportunity to promote another blog are always rejected without a second thought.

Right. And these are rarely, if ever, short and of the "me too" variety. They are usually speechlets.

L-girl said...

Bgk, I got the location wrong *twice*! It's actually a combination of the two things I wrote.

Tools - Options - Advanced - then under Advanced, the General tab

I'm sure you could find it anyway!

Kim_in_TO said...

In at least some cases, I'll bet the emailed comments are from people who want to argue, but can see from your blog that most commenters have the same political sensibilities as you do. They want to take you on, but without taking on the whole community. And that's a reasonable fear, since a number of us here don't take political challenges lying down (although it doesn't make the action any more acceptable).

On the short responses:
I'm familiar with this phenomenon from numerous internet forums. The annoyance comes from the people who are obsessed with their "post count", which is usually displayed with every post. There's a guy on one forum who posts "WTG" (way to go) or something equally meaningless - sometimes two or three words! - in practically every single thread. His post count is over 10,000. I think I can count on one hand the number of actually meaningful comments he has made. Once you're a member of a few high-traffic forums, you recognize these people instantly. Occasionally, the sentiment might even be heartfelt (Way to go on your first schoolday, Laura!), but the post count is the primary motivator which has formed a habit of making meaningless contributions. The posts then becomes spam.

L-girl said...

In at least some cases, I'll bet the emailed comments are from people who want to argue, but can see from your blog that most commenters have the same political sensibilities as you do. They want to take you on, but without taking on the whole community.

Yes, that is definitely a big part of it. From my POV, the last thing I need is someone emailing me with the express purpose of arguing!

On the short responses:
I'm familiar with this phenomenon from numerous internet forums. The annoyance comes from the people who are obsessed with their "post count", which is usually displayed with every post. There's a guy on one forum who posts "WTG" (way to go) or something equally meaningless - sometimes two or three words! - in practically every single thread. His post count is over 10,000. I think I can count on one hand the number of actually meaningful comments he has made.


Ah, now I see what Phil may have meant. I don't belong to any forums, so I didn't recognize the behaviour. But I know about those post-counts from the occasional look into a forum here and there (and from the forums Allan is on).

I was thinking of (eg) when I read something on Impudent Strumpet and I like it so much but have nothing great to add, I will still write "I love this post!" or similar. I can't see how that is a problem - but everyone defines problem differently.

Kim_in_TO said...

I was thinking of (eg) when I read something on Impudent Strumpet and I like it so much but have nothing great to add, I will still write "I love this post!" or similar. I can't see how that is a problem - but everyone defines problem differently.

But in your case it is heartfelt, and therefore meaningful. Sometimes it does depend on who is doing the writing...