So in his post about silent truces, Halstead mentioned that Patheos was going to be using a new commenting system by the name of The World Table, to bring accountability to commenting. Now, this struck me on a few levels that I’ve been thinking about for the last few days. Frankly, as much as I would like to, I can’t seem to get it out of my head.
So what is the reason behind this switch, well, it is supposedly to reduce the amount of trolls that come and comment on a post. Now, trolls have existed within the nine realms for ages, and my first reaction was to wonder why in such an inclusive and equality driven society we were being racist against trollkind. Then it came upon me that they were speaking of internet trolls, who have also existed since the dawn of the creation of the “tenth realm” if you will. A race that it has been argued to have been the bane of everyone on the internet.
I have gone over to World Table’s website and frankly, I cannot say I am greatly impressed. It claims that it is a self moderating comment system which will help a community
police behave itself. So when the first words that are readable on your website sound like they come from 1984, my hopes falter.
So, because I like to be thorough I went and looked up the definition of troll. Which proved to be enlightening (I didn’t know that troll came from a word that described witches and wizards). It also showed that World Table has an issue with spell casters, ugly people, and those whose jobs involve something about dragging lines through the water. Also, people who are “mean on the internet.” Which it claims 28% of all people who comment online admit they are trolls.
So apparently this system is about silencing almost a full third of people on the internet. Yet it claims to be about making a more active and welcoming chat section on your site. Someone, it seems, needs to read the dictionary on what active and welcoming means, it seems.
So, reasons to have this system? It will cut down on the following:
So going over this it seems that chat sections need to come with medical, or at least, allergy warnings. I mean, feelings of anxiety, fear, depression, nausea and vomiting, and hives? If you experience these things you are not in a comments section. You are either ill, or in the worst parts of 4chan, and frankly I would recommend seeking immediate medical attention.
Also, what is this logic that “your credibility is based upon your readers” bullshit? Authors have no power over who reads their works, or how they respond to said works, so I don’t think it is exactly fair to presume the worth of an author based on who reads them. And if this is about people will think you’re a shit writer because people say your arguments suck, well, silencing those people isn’t in fact going to make you a better writer. It will just make you a coward who censors people who disagree with them. I doubt that is the full story on Popular Science, but if it is, I think the solution would be to write better articles. Because otherwise you’re arguing for no-platforming a third of the internet here.
They then go on to claim that writers are much better behaved than commenters (not that I’ve ever seen). They then go on to explain how “accountability” will make everything better for your site.
In which everyone can vote on another person’s comment as Respectful, Helpful, Honest, and Likeable. These gradients are then tallied to come up with a public accountability score. And then there’s something about filtering out people who have low “Scores.” It does this by linking these profiles and scores to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ public profiles (I think it might actually put your comment on your FB page, but I can’t confirm), these profiles of course usually having said persons Real Life Name, thanks to facebook’s recent push to remove aliases or screen names.
Meaning that for those who have this comment system on their sites, well:
Now already there are problems with this. On the same article this came out with Halstead, the system went life and at least one person was upset because they are not Public about their Paganism yet. So their option is to forcibly come out of the closet with this system, or be denied a place in any of the conversations because they don’t want to risk their personal life and safety.
Of course, even looking at this system for five minutes and I can already spot the terrible abuses that can and will occur. Anyone can rate anyone else’s comment. And if you think people won’t abuse that to silence those they disagree with, they you have never been on the internet. This system also pretty much Doxxes anyone who uses it, putting their legit name and profile out there for anyone to see. And if you think that will not be abused, you have not been on twitter for the last five years to hear what happens to people and their families whose information gets out to a public mob that disagrees with them. And by the looks of this, this rating system is universal to all sites that use TWT platform.
Which means that let’s I go on the very Progressive Wild Hunt and get into a comments discussion (argument) with people over there. For political and ideological reasons, everyone dog-piles my comments as bad. My “rating” goes down because I am now a “troll” because I committed the sin of disagreeing with them. If I go to another site, regardless of content or ideology, I am no listed as a troll even if I were to agree with this new site.
So already, the two primary functions of this system to stop trolls…feed the trolls. Hel, they are pretty much a trolls dream tools, or at least the dream tools of an abuser. You can destroy a persons reputation online across the entire internet, not just the reputation of an alias on a single site, and you can get the information to harass them in the real world.
And the irony is, this will not make comment sections more viable or desirable. Long ago, I used to be a rather prolific commentator on The Wild Hunt. A lot of people hated me, because I pretty much did there what I do here on my blog, point out where people are not making good arguments, being authoritarians, and being a rather Socratic asshole about questioning everything. Of course, there were a few people who did like me, a couple of which now write for The Wild Hunt. But we would have massive, massive conversations in there. Articles would be viewed repeatedly for weeks on end as we discussed, argued, and occasionally, learned something.
Then the Wild Hunt changed their commenting system to one that was supposed to be “more friendly”: Disqus, or however its written. And you know what…comments dried up. Now, you go there, and instead of nearly hundreds of comments, you’ll find maybe five. Ten if it’s really “controversial.” Disqus was a broken, unfriendly system that killed the comments, but it spread because “it helped solve the troll problem.” Now World Table is here, and it’s too new to know if the system will be as broken as Disqus was, but it certainly is going to be open to far, far worse abuses.
The truth is that the problem is not “anonymity.” Anonymity, the use of aliases and pen names and so forth, has been one of the greatest boons to freedom of speech there has ever been. Why? Because there are people worse than trolls. Trolls will needle, mock, and insult you, and yeah, that can be annoying at times. I’ve dealt with at least one troll on this blog. But you know who is worse than trolls? Authoritarians. People who believe that their views are right, and that anyone who disagrees with them not only should be silenced, but punished as well for daring to voice an opinion that does not agree with them.
Ben Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers and widely regarded as one of the greater philosophers of all time, wrote for years under a pen name because he faced many punishments for disagreeing with those in power.
You know who is a troll in my experience? Someone who disagrees. That’s it. They disagree with someone and they get called a troll. Typically, the “troll” in question will actually have a good point, or a decent argument. But they are a troll, so their voice doesn’t matter. It is to be silenced. Now, sure, some people disagree to be dicks, devils advocates, or because it’s fun to wind up assholes who think they are right about everything (oh gods is that fun), but that doesn’t mean silencing dissent is ever a good thing. Stripping away people’s anonymity, allowing them to face real world punishments because they might disagree with someone that people like? That’s never a good thing. That doesn’t inspire people to be open about what they think, that inspires them to hide it. Imagine if every pagan had to publicly admit they were a pagan, regardless of where they lived, and imagine all the hatred, prejudice, and punishment they would have faced. Then ask yourself if that would be a good thing.
This will not lead to greater freedoms of discussion on Patheos or any other site. This will not stop internet bullying or trolling. What this will do is allow people to be punished because they do not agree with the writer and those who support them. Halstead lauded it as “Accountability in commenting,” but failed to mention that that accountability would be to the loudest, most vicious of mobs.
And as for stopping trolls? Well…maybe they’ll just get blogs like I did. Because you can delete comments, you can silence decent, and you can publicly shame and humiliate those who disagree with you…only when they do not have their own platforms.