AnnArbor.com blocking users for sarcasm

I don’t want to beat up on AnnArbor.com. As I’ve said before, my sincere hope is that they’re successful. Our community, if it ever wants to realize its full potential, desperately needs a thriving journalism community, and I don’t see that happening without a successful AnnArbor.com, giving its people the time and resources they need to build networks, develop investigative pieces, etc. And that, as we all know, isn’t likely to happen unless they start to turn a profit. So, if only for that reason, I want to see them successful… And, with all that said, I feel obligated to point out when I think they’re acting in such a way as to jeopardize their success, and, by the same token, note it when they do something right. Anyway, something happened on the site today that I think warrants a discussion. Following is a snippet from a comments thread in the wake of a story about two men arrested for throwing buckets of paint off of the roof of the Michigan Theater early this morning:

trolsen1a

OK, so, as you’ll notice, this first person, calling herself Jen Trolsen, is kind of a wise-ass. She says that if the paint belonged to them, they should have be left alone. And, for that, she got herself banned from the site… Following is the explanation given.

trolsen2b

And here, by the way of background, is that policy that Ed refers to:

AnnArbor.com aims to provide a lively community forum where readers can talk to us and talk to each other – in a neighborly way, of course. The best comments and posts are those that add more information to the story, express a different viewpoint or help create intelligent debate. We welcome constructive debate on our site, but we won’t tolerate jerks. Don’t be that guy – avoid comments or posts that are off topic, offensive, contain personal attacks or that don’t further the conversation. We encourage everyone who registers on our site to use their real name, or at least a consistent screen name. We reserve the right to pre-moderate comments and delete or edit comments.

I guess it all comes down to your definition of intelligent debate. I don’t see what Tolsen did as detracting from intelligent debate. If anything, in this particular case, what she said, I think it could be argued, started the debate. I may be reading Tolsen’s intention incorrectly, but, to me, it seems as though she’s just taking the opportunity to wind up the the uptight Ann Arborites who would likely be up in arms about something as relatively inconsequential as drunks throwing paint while the rest of us sleep. And I’m not necessarily saying that I agree with the comment. My point is, it wasn’t off topic or offensive, and it didn’t contain a person attack. And, as that’s the case, I don’t know why there was a decision made to block the user.

I know that the good folks at A2.com are trying their hardest to cultivate a robust, solutions-oriented community, but is this really the best way to go about it – by silencing people that may employ a bit of sarcasm to make a point? At any rate, I thought that it was worth mentioning.

And, Tolsen, if you want, we’ve got room for you here at MM.com.

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26 Comments

  1. Posted September 15, 2009 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m not being sarcastic, this is just the way I talk!

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist…).

    I understand the problem that annarbor.com has because if you look at the comments on any of the sites like freep.com and most other newspaper web sites, where the practice is to generally not moderate comments at all, the conversation sinks pretty low pretty quick. Well heck, that’s what was the case with mlive.com. But obviously, they are over-reacting, and I’d argue this is because the people running annarbor.com don’t quite get this whole internets thing.

  2. Posted September 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t been reading A2.com very often but I get their daily emails summary messages somehow. It seems to me they have a shortage of articles on Ypsi and this side of town. Maybe I’m wrong, anyone agree/disagree?

    Do you think they would have banned her if she used emoticons more frequently?

  3. Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    I’m the one who did this bit of moderation; the “trollson” in question has a long history, and was banned before from annarbor.com . If you do just a little bit of searching you can see him trolling all over MLive, disrupting conversations wherever he goes, pretending to be people he isn’t, making a mockery of a tragic death at the UM Health System and worse.

    What you saw was “a bit of sarcasm” was for me the return of someone I knew was only trouble.

    They might fit in well at MM.com but that’s only because you have the right kind of attitude to deal with that; for better or worse, if you have a site that looks like “a thriving journalism community” in the news business, it’s not the kind of person we’re looking to see out and befriend.

    I should have removed the comment, though, rather than keeping it up; that would have forestalled the whole subsequent discussion. sigh.

  4. A2 Reader
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Hmmm…. So the only problem as you see it, Ed, is that you didn’t remove the comment in question?

    I can understand how, if a person proves to be pest over time, you might want to block them, but I don’t see this particular comment as being the one that should have broken the camel’s back.

  5. Ypsitucky Headhunter
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Ed is a fat, pasty, tub of fuckbutter. Yeah…I said. Go ahead and moderate me.

  6. Kevin T
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Headhunter, for illustrating why people can’t be left to police themselves like adults. Jackass.

    As for AnnArbor.com, they may want to spend less time moderating, and more time fact checking. They just reported something as news that actually happened several years ago.

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/gay-porn-director-to-invade-university-of-michigan-campus/

  7. Kim
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Ed. Headhunter doesn’t speak for the rest of us. I personally appreciate what you’re doing, even though I disagree on the decision to ban someone based on an unoffensive comment.

  8. Posted September 16, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    YH, as a former regular reader of Usenet’s talk.bizarre, I’ve heard worse.

    On the other hand, Kevin T has a really good point that “aggregating” from unreliable sources is a recipe for disaster sometimes. (Not always, and you never know what’s reliable and what’s unreliable, but the risk is there.)

    When I do comment moderation duty, my favorite task is fact-checking reader comments. Removing stuff is never fun, but doing the 2 minutes of searching or 15 minutes of phone calling can unearth something that moves a story forward.

  9. Ypsitucky Headhunter
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Kevin T, I’d tell you to blow it out your ass, but Ed would have to move his dick first. Kim, thank god you don’t speak for me, but, I doubt anyone would ever make the mistake of thinking so…you see, I don’t speak cuntanese. Everyone likes to be the bigshot until it doesn’t go their way. You see, if you simply ignore bullshit like mine, it will most likely go away. But you two, like the nasty little rats you are, took the bait. This isn’t China, bitches. I can say whatever I feel like saying, anywhere I want to. Go fuck yourselves. I’m going to go fuck myself. Where is that jug of lube? Oh baby…horse-pron, here I come!(pun fully intended)

  10. Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Anyone else hear the story on Michigan Radio yesterday about the The Rapidian in Grand Rapids. It is a new citizen-driven news outlet that launched yesterday and the focus is local and neighborhood news that is based on volunteer reporters. I haven’t checked it out yet, but it might be an interesting model for Ypsi-Arbor.

    Here is a bit from their website (therapidian.org):

    >>>
    The Rapidian is an experiment. Not so much about technology, but about community building. The free flow of local information is crucial to community vitality, civic engagement and a functioning democracy. The Rapidian is a project to address this need through citizen generated news and reporting.

    It is no secret that traditional models of sustainability in professional journalism are being challenged. Newspapers are shrinking. We have fewer local reporters to spread news from the neighborhoods. And while there are more and more ordinary people blogging, creating videos and using the web to share information, the global e-communication phenomenon doesn’t provide adequate coverage from across town. Massive (and often anonymous) video sharing and blogging platforms do little to help us build bridges between our residents and our neighborhoods
    <<<

  11. Camel's Elbow
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t worry about their profits. They just got rid of 4/5 of their workforce and hired the other 1/5 back at considerably less. And they’ve still got all the ad money from the Sunday circulars, which has always been the cash cow. So, there’s money being made. Is it being spent developing journalists, though? That’s a good question.

  12. Dirtgrain
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I think anybody who shows a lack of creativity should be banned from the internet for ten days. In case you’re thinking that this posting is not creative, please note that everything that I’ve written is a palindrome (everything that I’ve ever written, in chronological order–I just haven’t gotten to the tail section yet . . . I think).

    All too often, sarcasm doesn’t work on the internet. I would like to know why.

  13. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I remain unimpressed by AA.com in general. I was especialy amused when, instead of writing an article about the finacial woes of Willow Run Airport from a local perspective, they simply provided a link to the about it in the Freep. Classy. Maybe they should worry more about editing their writers and a little less about sarcasm in the comments section.
    P.S. I thought about leaving a comment to this effect on AA.com, but I’m pretty sure that I would have been agressivly moderated.

  14. Jon
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Ypsitucky Headhunter has green hair.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html?pagewanted=all

  15. bullshit comments
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Eddie V. Cool name! Waaaaah!!!

    Take a tip from tucky. Remove the responses from the idiots who take my/our comments seriously. Otherwise you are dumbing down the conversation.

    We draw the stupid people out like tripe from ingestion. They should be easy piqueings for you.

  16. YpsiPawz
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    So wait… Eddy V can say, “a troll is what people from the Upper Peninsula call anyone who lives below the bridge. I know them when I see them”

    And I can’t say YPSITUCKY?

    Seriously, What The Fuck?

  17. Me
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    “I should have removed the comment, though, rather than keeping it up; that would have forestalled the whole subsequent discussion. sigh.”

    Mr. Vielmetti, you commented again, and you did not address A2 Reader’s question. So, do you still see the only problem is that you did not erase the comment completely?
    You are frightening me. Unless of course, you were just being sarcastic. Forgive me for being a rube, but I did not even detect any sarcasm in the comment from Tolsen.
    You have certainly confused me and scared one potential customer away from your “paper”.

  18. Steve
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Am I reading your comment right, Ed, that you personally fact check every comment left on the site, and remove those you can’t prove?

  19. bullshit comments
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Why the fuck would any news source want anything unverifiable? Are you all so fucking naive? Holy christ you stupid hippy fucking rubes. Do you know where I’ve been? It’s pathetic that any news source feels like they have to accept comments to compete with something like this. Here’s a little test for you dumb fucks. I’ll post some lie under some lying name in the next week or four. Catch me before the shit hits it. No news paper should toy with this shit. Its pathetic that any news source feels the need to compete with no-holds-barred venues. It’s all day time tv. You lap it up. You make it real. Gullible travels. Yah hoy. Apples to apples and chips to ahoy.

  20. Curt Waugh
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Why are the folks who are pushing so hard for free expression have so little to say? “Hey look at me rant” isn’t exactly compelling prose.

    Trust me when I say in real life I’m far more foul-mouthed than the whole lot of you. (You see, I’m unafraid to be non-anonymous. Does your fear keep you warm at night?) But the content of your rants is thinner than the peach fuzz on your adolescent chins. If you knew the first thing about inserting your collective pudenda in anything non hand-shaped, you’d quickly realize that the blessed release of your DSB might unblock some actual thought.

    I’m sorry that the girls and boys at your little prep schools just can’t seem to warm up to your greasy glory, but you will learn later in life that we are all shaking our heads and giving a chuckle before we move on to more important matters. More to the point: You will do this when you are older, too. We all do. It’s a natural function of growing up. Get some!

  21. Brackinald Achery
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    The first ammendment was intended to forbid the federal Congress from passing laws that inhibited free speech. Neither Ed V. nor Mark M. are the federal Congress, much to everyone’s dismay.

    Start your own news source if you don’t like it, whiners. You can let everyone say what they want and pay all your tons of reporters union wages and offer them free health care up the yin yang.

  22. Posted September 19, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I think my point is getting lost here. I’m not saying that A2.com shouldn’t moderate comments. Clearly it’s called for in some instances. I’m merely suggesting that in this particular instance I thought that they were going too far. No one is saying that lies, slander and threats shouldn’t be removed. I don’t think this comment in question, however, even remotely crossed a line. And, it’s my opinion that if people see realize this kind of “aggressive moderation” is taking place that they might be less inclined to participate in conversations. Of course, I could be completely wrong, and they may foster a more active online community because of it. Who the hell knows?

  23. Oliva
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Might appreciate http://ta-nehisicoates.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/09/bannings.php#comments, another very worthwhile blog with a desire for open, tolerant communication but a sense of fair play and concern for the integrity of the thing when it comes to moderating . . . the author/owner needing to put his foot (“ban-hammer”) down only now and then, as Mark just did (graciously, thankfully).

  24. Brackinald Achery
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I see. Yeah, you’re right.

  25. Woody Lefurge
    Posted September 19, 2009 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t claim to be an expert but it seems to me that the very foundation of good journalism is “aggressive moderation.” Traditionally, this is editors aggressively moderating reporters’ stories. The quality which was supposed to set the press on a different level was some small expectation that the facts reported had been scrutinized to ensure some reasonable proximity to the truth.

    Anonymous, unsubstantiated, and uncensored comments are nearly as far from the spirit of journalism as you can get.

    I enjoy the entertaining comments left on this blog and the creative and thought provoking posts of its host, but what happens here, where almost anything can be faked, should never be compared to journalism.

    I fail to understand why any news source allows comments in the first place other than to try to gain market share from blogs and social networking sites.

  26. Robert
    Posted September 21, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    If you started moderating a little, Mark, your traffic wouldn’t keep saw-toothing (growing a little and then suddenly collapsing).

    I have to agree with the guy who posts above under the name “bullshit comments” and damn, I loved Curt Waugh’s comment. Right on, Curt! By the way, I’ve given my full name (Rowe) here before, as you do. I think the anonymity here allows people to say things they wouldn’t have the guts to say in person. I absolutely loath that. That’s been the meaning behind the shtick I do here, if there is any. I’ve been purposely emphasizing what a haven these stupid blogs are for incivility and insincerity.

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