April 02, 2008

On any website or blog, those who leave comments make up a minute fraction of the readership. Those who spend hours a day composing sundry and bizarre screeds are even more rare, though their presence is more pronounced. One should never presume that one could gage anything about a website’s general readership from the hysterics of a tiny minority.

As one of my thousand or so tasks as managing editor at Takimag is the culling of the particularly egregious, I”€™ve become well acquainted with the phenomenon of the “€œinternet troll”€ or blog “€œgriefer.”€ What I”€™ve found most remarkable is that on any article or blog, more often than not, most of the detritus on the comments board was excreted by the same person. From a single IP address (which I ban), someone has taken on multiple usernames (at one point even pretending to be me) and offered up 5-10 separate tedious, repugnant pronouncements.

And then there’s the shear bulk. The “€œhere today gone tomorrow”€ spirit of print journalism has been replaced by an infinite virtual morass that is never read but never disappears. I don”€™t know what exactly motivates the collection of Nazi-nostalgics (who are apparently planning a new Machtergreifung or pogrom from their mother’s basement) to leave lengthy screeds on our boards”€”knowing they will be censored and banned and, if they sneak through, they”€™ll have no influence on our editorial line and will be ignored by 99.9% of Takimag readers. But they do it nonetheless. I”€™ve even found cache evidence that some of the people I”€™ve banned have left messages on other discussion boards exhorting their ilk to unleash a deluge at Takimag.  

The glut of insults leveled at our writers over the past few days has tempted me, and many on our loose editorial collective, to simply ban all comments. We can do this, and it certainly has nothing to do with “€œfree speech,”€ as some of the high-minded or disingenuous have claimed. Thank God for the openness of the Internet”€”the traditional liberal gatekeepers wouldn”€™t let most of our writers in through the door. But Taki and I don”€™t allow just anyone to write at this site, and it’s our prerogative to guard the reputation of Takimag, our writers, and the Theodoracopulos name. I”€™d advise those commenters I”€™ve banned to go exercise their First-Amendment rights over at Stormfront. 

This being said, disallowing all comments would be regrettable. I”€™ve enjoyed and profited from many of the critiques and responses I”€™ve read, and I don”€™t want our site to become like the “€œno-spin zone”€ echo chamber over at NRO. (And at some level, I even appreciate those who attempt to win the prize for “€œsnarkiest put-down of the day,”€ even when the joke’s on me.) 

Nevertheless, something must be done.

After consultation, I”€™ve found that there’s a general consensus to ask all commenters to register before being able to leave anything. Some undesirables will still do their work, but I don”€™t think that those who simply want to leave insults or völkisch propaganda will bother to got through the lengthy sing-up process. We should have this system up and running within a week. I”€™m also looking into the possibility of allowing our readers to “€œflag”€ offensive comments; when done, an email would be sent to me, and I”€™d handle the situation tout de suite.

I”€™ve also recognized that it’s time not only to be more vigilant with obvious offenses, but generally raise the tone of the discussion. This will involve deletion of comments that might not be offense but are simply sloppy or add nothing to the discussion. There’s a lot of “€œuser-generated content”€ out there that comes from a few people who jump up on a particular hobby horse and ride”€”and ride and ride on multiple sites, saying the same thing, hoping someone out there might hear. I advise such souls to go start up their own blog. 

Takimag is certainly a place for views of politics and culture that are far from PC; however, Taki and I will not allow our site to become a sounding board for a few numbskulls with a grab bag of mindless insults and curdled conspiracies theories. 

I hope I”€™ve made myself perfectly clear.    


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