On blog moderation and dealing with smarm

If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s when people say one thing and mean another. Everyone does it but some more so than others. I am sometimes guilty of this myself but mostly I prefer to say exactly what I think. When we don’t speak the truth we are being fake and I hate fake. The reason I dislike fake so much is partly because I think I’m mildly autistic. Not in the sense that I shun interaction with others – If anything I thrive on lots of social contact – but more in the sense that I take things literally. If someone says one thing but means another altogether then I get confused or misunderstand them. I don’t always notice subtleties in conversation and am often oblivious to innuendo.

I’m writing about this now because recently I’ve started helping to moderate the comments on the andthentheresphysics blog. It’s a popular blog about climate science, a topic which seems to generate more than its fair share of vitriol and abuse. When blog comments start to degenerate into mudslinging matches then the moderator is supposed to intervene and rein in the guilty parties. When the language is abusive, then this is fairly easy to do. It’s when the dialog becomes smarmy – a sort of sly sucking up while pushing an ulterior motive – that moderation is most difficult. I have encountered a few exchanges like this and I am always sucked in at first by the politeness. The insincerity is barely noticeable, at least by me, until later by which time the mud has started flying. Perhaps I am naive or perhaps the optimist that I think I am always expects sincerity and good faith from others. When I realise this is not going to happen, I end up feeling duped and angry.

But the question is what to do about this? Once you realise that someone is not interested in considering another’s views, or in reading the literature, but instead wants to push their own biased agenda, what is the best way of dealing with it? I am not really sure. Perhaps it’s best to give up at this point and remove offending comments or block those who are not interested in a reasonable discussion.

What would be preferable is if there was a method for dealing with smarm, one that doesn’t involve being fake or snarky oneself. If anyone has any suggestions, feel free to share them.

19 thoughts on “On blog moderation and dealing with smarm

  1. You know my position on this sort of thing Rachel. From my blog rules….

    I am no longer accepting any comments on this blog from people taking a denial position. The science is settled in relation to climate change and the alleged “debate” only exists in the denial blogosphere. Just as I will not provide a forum for pseudoscientific bullshit like anti-vaccination, anti-fluoridation and free energy lunatics, I will not provide a forum for AGW deniers to spread their garbage. If you don’t like it, I don’t care. Go some other place or start your own blog. As such, the following rules are probably now moot but I’ll leave them here anyway in case any proponents want to discuss the finer aspects of the science.

    So I guess my answer, apart from asking the blog owner to subscribe to my policy, is to be frank and direct. He/she clearly has a very open policy and a fair bit of leniency, which is disappointing and makes it difficult to understand where the lines are, especially since it’s all a bit convoluted. In the end, deniers offend our collective common sense and so, should be open for abit of offence thrown back at them.

    1. Ukiss,
      To be fair, I do actually agree with the moderation policy on the blog I’m helping moderate. I’m also not really referring to comments that outwardly deny science but to something more subtle. These comments follow a story which begins by feigning a genuine curiosity and desire to understand by asking seemingly reasonable questions. The questions get answered but not acknowledged. More and different questions are asked and eventually these include slanderous remarks about climate science. By then it is obvious that their initial questioning was insincere. Perhaps you are better at spotting this in the first instance than I am.

  2. I don’t have a blog, but if I did I’d be tempted to have a “trash” page onto which all unwanted or borderline comments are pushed. You could put a link [snipped to trash] or some such in the comment thread but leave the trash un-threaded.

  3. This was very good, very good. I’ve been pondering this very subject in my life and having discussions with a friend. You have shed more light for me. Thank you for the post.
    cate b

  4. Firstly, you should not feel duped. The people who behave like this have been practicing all their lives. Whilst the honest have nowhere near as much practice of detecting.

    You have already noticed the first clue. That is a shift of emphasise away from the original enquiry. All who use such cunning (smarmy) have a need to feel important by what they consider to be a superior intellect. That element is therefore noticeable together with a tendency to be nit picking.

    Outright abuse is of course unacceptable but sometimes it is sheer angry frustration and the provoker may be more to blame.

    I would suggest that anyone who is abusive or employs it’s precursor of being denigrating or who provokes, are told politely that such writings are inappropriate. If they trangress again then blacklist from the blog. Fair warning, and only one shot at abuse.

    Lastly, I would avoid getting too involved or concerned. What a few idiots manage to write on a blog is not earth shattering and you could find yourself far more stressed than is needful. Draw a line in the sand, according to the policy that you have accepted, provide the agreed function and think no more of it.

    I took a look at the blog. My opinion is that it is home for those who like to squable. Please be careful of becoming too embroiled. Good Luck 🙂

    1. Graham,
      It’s actually a really good blog and almost all of the people who comment there, I would say, are genuine and sincerely interested in the science. It is just the odd few who behave in this way and it doesn’t happen very often. I really wouldn’t describe it as a place where people like to squabble.

      You have already noticed the first clue. That is a shift of emphasise away from the original enquiry.

      I wholeheartedly agree with this and realised as I wrote my response to Ukiss in the comment above that this is what I should look out for: the first clue.

  5. Some topics attract more abuse than others, that’s for sure! “Keeping the discussion civil” as it says on that blog site you moderate may not be enough as a “warning”. Perhaps a Disclaimer or Comment Policy for the site might make your life much easier – it certainly helped mine on my blog and I absolutely do not permit abuse or personal attacks or sweeping statements that tend to lead one to think what’s said is true, no links or source corroboration etc – these are not opinions as you say in a way but pushing own agenda. So be firm and make the commentators play by the rules. If you have rules spelled out on the site then I think the blog gets more credibility (?).

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ina. Have you had problems on your own blog with abusive comments? It’s true that some topics generate much more controversy than others and climate change is one of these.

      1. Yes I have, which I expected given the history I tackle regarding war crimes etc. That’s why I decided to have the Disclaimer and Comment Rules/Policies at the bottom of my page. That makes it easier to delete/moderate or part delete comments that are abusive, offensive etc. I must say that my insistence on these rules has actually significantly reduced the number of abusive comments, which were generally about persons or issues I have written about etc. I have nothing against healthy debate, differing opinions but I do not tolerate hysterical responses that don’t promote further understanding etc and are just designed to push commentator’s agenda – so just like your topics you moderate mine are of that nature that do attract attract attention. I will for instance delete a whole abusive or offensive comment (keep the original in my mailbox) and then publish the comment as “Deleted by Admin as inappropriate…” or “in breach of comment policy…” etc so that the commentator gets to see that … they might respond and write another comment as to why their comment was deleted etc and I hold my ground. I have learned that many online media outlets do the same – i.e. by publishing comment rules it gives them the right to moderate/delete etc but if rules are not published on the site then its difficult to justify moderation/deletion in the eyes of the public etc. Good luck!

      2. Thanks, Ina. It’s always good getting someone else’s perspectives and I think you’ve made a wise decision not to tolerate hysterical and abusive comments.

  6. Rachel, I have always admired you so much for your honest and open views on those subjects that are so close to your heart. As such, you are bound to attract controversy, but you can certainly hold your own! It’s a difficult one. I suppose I might delete those comments that were offensive (and not offering a point of view but just offensive and interested in their agenda only). Otherwise, you’ve had some great advice here from other bloggers. Hope you feel better about it all now 🙂

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