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.