Moderating Locally Grown’s online discussions: what’s the rationale?

Big Stick cartoon
As the moderator of our online discussions here Locally Grown, sometimes I:

  • publicly admonish people who I think have violated our Discussion Guidelines
  • put repeat offenders in the penalty box (AKA, moderate mode)
  • banish people completely

So if you have comments or questions about:

or anything else related to our discussions here, feel free to chime in.

38 thoughts on “Moderating Locally Grown’s online discussions: what’s the rationale?”

  1. Griff,

    What a great way to make friends! Although I have found myself in the penalty box, I think you do a good job of letting people express themselves. Civility and respect are forever the touch stones.

  2. Very good visual pick, Griff … It’s hard to read but I think the words on the policeman’s bat say: “the New Diplomacy”.

    Maybe the relevancy of that phrase is a good place to start?

  3. What Griff is providing here, and what I am trying to emulate with Politics and a Pint, is a civil forum for discussion. The internet is rife with flame wars and ranting that is possible in part because of the anonymity afforded posters by the internet. Democracy is not about who shouts the loudest, but rather about who has the best ideas. And since opinions are cheap, a forum like this serves democracy best if we can listen to each other as well as talk with each other. I like the calm and civil nature of the discussions here and give the credit to all of us, but recognize that we are very much empowered and enabled in our civility by our esteemed moderator.

  4. As one of the people who have been ‘in the penalty box’ for months, I have mixed feelings. I have been spared when some personal and vicious comments from others have been pulled, and I have voluntarily asked for some of my more sarcastic comments to be deleted before they could be rejected.
    On the other hand, I have had some comments rejected that I thought were perfectly reasonable, and I have been forbidden to respond to some comments I felt were attacks on me.
    On the whole, I don’t expect this site to be fair or a reflection of the broad community. The folks that do the work and own the site get their way, and if I don’t like it I can stay away. I don’t go to Huffington Post expecting the same discussion as I’d find on Fox News. The site is what it is.
    For example, Bruce, I like the idea of Politics and a Pint, but I don’t come because I feel the location is too partisan to allow any event there to draw a really broad range of views. I could be wrong, but it’s not worth the investment of time for me to find out.
    I think this site is infuriating some of the time, but interesting much of the time – and it takes just a second to bail out and go elsewhere.

  5. Bruce- Hear! Hear! Very well stated. Someone has to enforce a standard, and since Griff, Ross & Tracy set up this whole blog site, who better to establish the parameters and enforce them? If you don’t agree or feel stifled, then go pontificate somewhere else. This is a free country, afterall.

  6. Thanks for the kind comments everyone.

    Holly, it really depends on the week as for how much time I spend. When I get busy with other stuff, I sometimes don’t take time to read all the comments with my moderator hat on.

    Other times, I’ll take the time to exchange private email and even have phone conversations with people who have concerns about my moderation.

    I think I’m generally fair but I do realize I miss some judgment calls, as I don’t always have enough time to devote to the interventions… and other times I just goof.

  7. Rashomon? Or, the tale of the elephant as described by 5 blind men … each touching a separate part of the pachyderm… tusk, tail, ear, nose, etc.

    RE: LGN … Maybe there are other needed regulations (or maybe, none!) I personally sense denigrating remarks from a few usual suspects almost all the time … directed at me, if the thread involves me or my opinion.

    IN GENERAL, some of the comments are too repetitive … and the tenacity of the uninformed view, is off putting … while I celebrate the relentless voices of those who speak with knowledge and authority.

    Then you’ve got to separate knowledge gained from a fact based experiences … from remarks made by die-hards, attempting the verbal coup.

    I hope you all are reading the humorous paradox in what I’ve said.

    INSERT SMILY FACE!

    Clearly there are remarks made here with which I am in vehement disagreement. On the other hand there is a lot of good reasoned dissertation. Some, pontificate endlessly making specious connections to arguments that are non sensical. What are you gonna do?

    Then there’s the radio thread … often droning on and on .. with giggles in the BG … and Ross, off mic, trying to make a point. RADIO WISE … I goes way back… when Ma Perkins, Helen Trent Back Stage Wife, and Vic and Sade were the day-to-day radio drill that set the tone for America’s housewives … and that was good blogging.

    RE: my comments … I think my goal is to win-over the minds of those sitting on the fence, and challenge the opinions of those with whom I disagree. I’m particularly put-off by the scripture quotes, which I feel have no place in this kind of dialogue. But, that’s me

    It (LGN) is certainly better than the anonymity opportunity that the
    N-News’ blog offers.

    Interesting note on the N News Blog.

    Some of those who comment here (LGN) making remarks with which I take great exception … comment in the same expressive style on the N News blog, using the same denigrating phrases. As I sense these are often directed at me … I react in two ways. 1) it’s a tough world and I’m in a political arena. 2) they are pathetic misfits.

    In the end, LGN is frustrating but less brutal and LG’s public commentary is usually far better focused … PLUS, we have Bonnie Obrem!

  8. Thanks for the kind comments everyone.

    Griff forgot to add… “All others have been moderated!” 😎

    I don’t necessarily agree sometimes, but I think that Griff is trying to keep the peace, and it is after all, his sandbox. If we want to play, its by the posted rules, to be administered at the discretion of the site owners.

    I do however, agree with MANY, if not all of Anne’s points, and there are many discussions I will just not jump into.

  9. I think the moderation has been going pretty well, lately.

    I feel bad for Anne. Sorry, kiddo, about you being in the penatly box. 🙂 Maybe send (real, the kind you eat) cookies to Griff. Not today since it’s DJJD, and we’re all eating downtown tonight and so he’ll be too full to enjoy cookies.

    Politics and a Pint sounds interesting, but I’d be the only Democrat in the room. Wouldn’t I? There’d be a lot of slitty eyes starin’ at me.

  10. Griff: one of the most frustrating problems on LG, and personally, the one I would like to see moderated, is occurring right now on the City hall renovation Thread.
    Example: David L. & Tracy, in your recent comments/exchange about the comp plan process, we are back into territory more than a year old. This basic ideological conflict will NOT be solved. I, of all people, realize how easy it is to fall into that “trap”, but this is where I would like Griff to step in and say, “STOP; we’ve played out this argument a hundred times.”

    Griff:Another area of frustration for me is when a person states an opinion as a fact; and a contradicting statement backed up by fact and citation of law, is not allowed , because in your own words “I don’t want ‘blank blank’ to go away”… That is, in my opinion, just the worst kind of game. In that case, you would let a misrepresentation of fact/lie stand there because you do “not want ‘blank blank’ to go away”. What is the value then, of this as an information source? I think both comments should be allowed, and let the public decide which to value.

    All in all , I believe this is a great public process, but as you, Griff, have said many times … it IS your bat and ball … or your sandbox… I would want to be careful that the stray cats did not poop in the park’s sandbox!

  11. Holly,
    You should go to P&AP. You wouldn’t usually be the only Democrat in the room. I am under the impression that the Summas lean Democratic (that’s an impression, not something I actually know), and Felicity and I like to attend when we can – which is rare during the summer, but more frequent during the year.

    Even if you did happen to be the only Democrat there, it’s a pretty friendly atmosphere. Conservative opinions in the group run more in the Libertarian/Fiscal realm, rather than the Fire/Brimstone perspective, so it’s possible to have an interesting and productive discussion.

    Bruce Morlan keeps it civil and mostly fun (you can also check in advance and decide whether the topic is of interest to you). We had a great discussion on the topic of annexation, incuding people from a pretty broad chunk of the spectrum of Northfield politics.

  12. Well, maybe I’ll have to try that P&AP. Bruce M is keeping it civil, is he.

    Hey, good corndogs near the museum, as usual. And the kabobs and fries next to those corn dogs = YUM. And the corn. No turkey legs, though. And the cheese curds near the bingo. DJJD!

  13. Holly: The Summas do more than “lean” Democratic; they have never vote anything BUT Democratic, except for maybe two years when Victor was very heavily involved with the Green party…
    I don’t think you would finf d it anything but a friendly group who trust each other enough to yell at each other!

  14. Well, Griff, as they say in journalism, if you make all sides equally frustrated, you must be doing OK. Given the comments here, it seems you’re just about in the sweet spot.
    And just to clarify my earlier comment, I do appreciate how hard your (unpaid) job is, and the good you do in the community. I don’t always agree with your decisions, but I respect your right to make them.

  15. The repeating of ideas/ comments/ arguments, etc. will happen in a blog. It’s just the nature of it. Yes? It’s a convo between people who can’t see each other. Let’s not complain about it and embrace it, instead.

    The sync thing can be way off.

    And the sync is really off, here, in this situation:

    The holding of comments and then posting them earlier, chronolgically, makes it so people miss those comments. I think I’ve already read the list of comments, so, I don’t go check to see what has popped in there recently. Who has a good idea to help that situation?

    It reminds me of that commercial where the woman tells the guys she loves him, and he sits there… and she gets up and leaves, and then he says “I love you, too!” but he’s delayed so much in his answer that it doesn’t matter what he says.

  16. VIctor said:

    …and the tenacity of the uninformed view, is off putting…

    What part puts you off Victor?

    Part of what makes this blog great is those that do not have all of the information, or are not completely “informed” are trying to ask questions, and better understand the facts, opinions, information, and falsehoods that are presented here in many of the discussions.

    Not all of us are as grand in their writing style as you are, but we are trying to better understand the discussion, and the subject matter. Some of us may not ask the questions “the right way”, or may know everything that someone else might, so those folks that are “in the know”, or “think they know” may be offended by the constant questions.

    I hope that is not what you are put off by. Educating others should be a big part of these discussions. Hopefully, the facts are presented truthfully and accurately, as it has been my experience that everyone has brought their bias through here at least once or twice.

    Victor, this not an attack, just trying to better understand your position.
    Your posts are sometimes cryptic, but always interesting to read.

    I need to get done with all of these classes I am taking, so that I can stop down and observe a session of P&AP.

  17. Griff: I think there is somewhat of a “burden” on you to react to some of the comments here, not just say thanks…

    Could you speak to some of the specific points raised, i.e., timing of held comments, repetitive personal “fights”, and your possibly coming in on line in age-old arguments (redirecting focus) ???

  18. Thanks, John for opening up a segue. I am trying to not do that myself, but will follow someone else! I am not speaking for Victor, but let me just say that some people who think like Victor, whose voice I find interesting and often on point, but some other people don’t realize that their own views are sort of based on a religious adherence to those experiences and philosophies and cultures, like the great wealth of European literature and ensuing creation, inspiration and habits of thought, that makes them think they are ‘all that’ and anyone else who quotes the bible, or the Koran, or Buddha, or Khalil Ghibran, or Sufi masters, or, well you get my drift, anyone who quotes the other is automatically not as right, or as smart, or perhaps as accomplished.
    Also, some people think that thinking is the only way to understand a problem and it’s solution. What about instinct, intuition, gut feelings? What about those answers that bubble up from within the self, perhaps after meditation, or medication? What about that inevitable epiphany?
    Those things, no formal education is required, but I have seen women and men and men who were women and women who were men, come up with the exact same workable solutions as those with doctorates.
    Not saying education isn’t valuable, or that no one should read the great
    classics of world literature, just saying that it is all good medicine and should not be discounted. And by medicine, I honor my ancestors and mean that it is all powerful and honorable ways of coming to a well asked question or a well considered solution.

  19. I’d like to bring up the use of denigrating nicknames, acronyms, and repetitive phrases meant to single out people, label them, and pit people against each other by separating them into adversarial groups.

    This is precisely the technique used by Mr. Roder, to his advantage, and the great detriment of this community; community in the sense of the personal, and the collective.

    Since I came to Northfield in 1994, I have seen it as a impassioned group of citizens, who for some reason seem to care for their community at a high level, are not afraid to express their views (Although many shy away from PUBLIC expression unless it’s about sidewalks ) and often find themselves agreeing on a particular subject with someone they had differed with previously on another subject.

    But the pure negativism of the name calling, nicknames, etc., that is going on heavily on this site is despicable and childish. How does every snide remark about “bobos” further any discussion? And turning demeaning descriptions of actions into acronyms is about on the level of sophomoric one-upsmanship. What did “DORK” stand for in your high school?

    Why can’t the discussion here have the disagreement, but the respect between ***WIDELY*** differing Points of view that those of us who have been doing Politics and a Pint since its beginning last winter, learned to manage? Is it because at PandaP we see each other face to face? And if that is the difference, then that should be the model for this site.

    And Griff, no amount of your telling people to address those who they are responding to, or disagreeing with, as if they “are in the room” will help, unless you point out the techniques used to evade that distinction, as unacceptable.

  20. Anne wrote:

    I have been spared when some personal and vicious comments from others have been pulled, and I have voluntarily asked for some of my more sarcastic comments to be deleted before they could be rejected.

    Anne, but you’ve also submitted many comments that I’ve rejected because of a disparaging or condescending tone that only tends to incite people.

    I’ve asked you many times to not do this but you still do on occasion, the most recent in early August.

    Victor wrote:

    RE: my comments … I think my goal is to win-over the minds of those sitting on the fence, and challenge the opinions of those with whom I disagree.

    Victor, I’ve got no problem with your goal but if you want to have influence with the fence-sitters, you have to consider how you talk to those with whom you disagree because everyone observes it.

    You don’t seem to realize that many people fear you… people who could be your allies on many an issue.

    Kiffi wrote:

    this is where I would like Griff to step in and say, “STOP; we’ve played out this argument a hundred times.”

    Kiffi, I see that as an additional moderator intervention — some call it facilitating — something I do try to do when I’m in charge of a time-limited panel discussion/forum. But I can’t afford the time to do that level of moderation here on a daily basis.

    Kiffi wrote:

    Griff: Another area of frustration for me is when a person states an opinion as a fact; and a contradicting statement backed up by fact and citation of law, is not allowed , because in your own words “I don’t want ‘blank blank’ to go away”… That is, in my opinion, just the worst kind of game. In that case, you would let a misrepresentation of fact/lie stand there because you do “not want ‘blank blank’ to go away”. What is the value then, of this as an information source? I think both comments should be allowed, and let the public decide which to value.

    Kiffi, I don’t have time to moderate based on (what I think are) the facts or the truth. All I can do is insist that people challenge each other’s facts in a very careful way. If you say “Joe, you’re misrepresenting the facts…” then it’s quite easy for Joe to take offense because he thinks you’re accusing him of being dishonest. You’re maligning his intent.

    You have to be willing to extra careful, eg, “Joe, I don’t think that’s what happened. I’m pretty sure that…”

    So I’m fine with public officials/community leaders being challenged on their version of the truth/facts. But it has to be done with the utmost care, because I do want LG to be a place where leaders voluntarily participate.

    You’re still being moderated because you aren’t consistently extra careful when disagreeing with someone, especially community leaders.

    Holly wrote:

    The holding of comments and then posting them earlier, chronolgically, makes it so people miss those comments. I think I’ve already read the list of comments, so, I don’t go check to see what has popped in there recently. Who has a good idea to help that situation?

    Holly, I do realize it can be confusing when I don’t get around to approving someone’s comment right away. It can easily get missed if people haven’t subscribed to the comment thread (via RSS or email). And yet if I try to change the date of the comment so that it appears current, it’s often out of context/synch with what others have said.

    It’s an unfortunate by-product of being moderated. I don’t know how else to handle it.

  21. I’d like to agree with the first paragraph of Kiffi’s comment #24, about “denigrating nicknames, acronyms, and repetitive phrases meant to single out people, label them and pit people against each other-” Calling others bobos, NIMPU’s, etc. (Although Northfield IS my personal Utopia, I know that phrase is not intended as a positive.)

    Recently, some people have suggested that Northfield has a bad reputation among city administrators, and we need to be careful lest no one will want to take on that job. I think we need to be more concerned with how people on this blog treat each other. I wonder what kind of impression some of these comments would make on someone who came upon this blog while researching Northfield as a place to live. Also, I can see why “lurkers” hesitate to comment, when they see how some people are treated.

    Griff, I do think you goof occasionally on what you monitor. Regardless of that, what about everyone taking a little more responsibility for their words before they hit the “say it” button? Some comments would be better left for personal emails to the poster or commenter. On the whole, wouldn’t it be better for individuals to state their opinion about another’s opinion, rather than an opinion about the commenter? Lately there’s been too much saying to another “you think x,” or “you won’t be happy until everyone agrees with you,” or “you just want it your way.” If people would remember to speak for themselves, and not presume to put words or motivations in another’s mouth, I think it would eliminate some of the acrimony that sometimes crops up. And please, leave your personal stuff out of the public comments.

    While I get frustrated with some of the comments, on the whole I am impressed with the many well-thought out opinions that are expressed on LG. And I think we can do better.

  22. Being awake at this un-Godly hour because it was so blasted cold in the house,especially for the 9th of Sept.; deciding NOT to turn the furnace on, but not being able to go back to sleep, I then decided to check the e-mail … having none since last night, I looked at LG.

    Imagine my shock and awe to discover, Griff, that “community leaders” are not to be challenged! Somehow, while sleeping, I have been transported back to that purported tale of the future: “1984” … or was it 1084, or any other date in the Dark Ages?

    Now you know, Griff, that the specific “challenge” that you and I are referring to, was a mis-statement of fact by a councilperson, and my return comment which cited three levels of law …two local, one state , as well as an Emergency Management Plan of the City of Northfield. And although those three levels plus, of law, were easily verifiable, I was not allowed to make the comment. Perhaps it was perceived it would cause “fear” in the “community leader”?

    I have accepted the fact that you may do what you please with your site; I only ask that you examine,on the specifics, your level of fairness when you put some perceived hierarchy among the commenters into play.

    You have questioned “community leaders”, both here and at the open mic at council meetings. Subjects that immediately come to mind (remembering that it IS an un-Godly early hour), are: the electronic re-do of the council chambers, the CVB budget and use of lodging tax funds, and some smaller issues re: the Crossings development. I think all three of these subjects could be honestly stated to be not single issues, but possibly “campaigns”?
    I say “go for it!” … Get the answers you deserve.

    Now ,Griff, in the interest of them not being either challenged, or brought to the truth, could you please provide a list of “community leaders” ?

  23. Griff (and Sean),

    Any progress on either 1) a ‘preview your post’ step before final submission of a comment, or 2) an ability to revise your comment for an hour or so after posting?

    More ability to self-moderate could help keep things civil.

  24. I’ll check with Sean on that, Patrick. Thx for the reminder.

    Barb, the acronyms (NIMBY, Bobo, NIMPU) are handy shortcuts. I don’t see people ‘namecalling’ with them, ie, “Joe, quit being such a bobo” and thus, they’re technically not breaking our Guidelines.

    But people are using them disparagingly “the NIMBY’s here seem to think…” and it’s proving to be divisive. I’ve been the one to unwittingly introduce this with my use of the term ‘bobo’ so my bad!

    Likewise, I think it’s harmful for people speak disrespectfully of “city staff” “city hall” “the council”. I’ll intervene on that in the future.

    Kiffi wrote:

    Imagine my shock and awe to discover, Griff, that “community leaders” are not to be challenged!

    Kiffi, read my comment again carefully. I wrote:

    So I’m fine with public officials/community leaders being challenged on their version of the truth/facts.

    In your challenge of Councilor Jon Denison in a comment that I didn’t approve, you wrote:

    Jon: what you said in your comment #13 is so far from a pure truth.

    I asked you via email to delete that sentence and qualify/soften it with something like “What I remember happening was…”

    You refused. You wrote:

    Jon did not say “what I remember happening was” You are holding me to a standard that you do not hold him to, That is unfair, Period.

    You’re right, I do hold citizens to a higher standard of civility when interacting with public officials. But if a public official repeatedly gets out of line or is flagrant, I will/do intervene.

    In another comment of yours to Councilor Scott Davis that I didn’t approve, you wrote:

    That sort of namecalling is beneath you, Scott.

    Scott was being harsh towards a group but he wasn’t namecalling anyone. And it was insulting to him for you to characterize his behavior as beneath him.

    So I’m asking you again… when interacting with public officials and community leaders here, go overboard on a civil tone.

  25. At least one council person has grown tired enough of the atmosphere here at LGN that – deciding to no longer post here because it wasn’t worth the grief – he answered Felicity’s non-controversial question of “Is X on the agenda for Monday?” by telephone call instead of posting.

    Regardless of how one feels about the Council as individuals or as a group, driving our elected officials away from LGN is a significant loss to the dialog on this site.

  26. Griff, one way to moderate and have time to do it, and give everyone a chance to speak is to impose either a line or word limit on those political type discussions that tend to draw long responses. This forces people to economise, get to the point, and eliminate extraneous opinions and judgments. We can still use URLs and other reading recommendations to further their cause or explanation.

    As far as being chased away, or for lurkers that don’t want to post…well, I am a very shy person, and it is all I can do sometimes to open my thoughts to others. I do it anyway, even knowing my opinions may not be popular and that people won’t like me. Well, people don’t always like me anyway, so what is there to loose? hahaha! I try to be respectful, and present my views as clearly as possible. I am very grateful to have some good places to
    voice my opinion and for the stimulus they always provide. Carry on! 🙂

  27. Griff: My response to that is that civility goes both ways … Truth goes both ways … and elected officials don’t get to use their position to either intimidate or make false statements which cannot then be challenged.

    Could you please respond to the “challenges” that you have made to elected officials, community leaders, city hall? Do you not view those instances (when you have made repeated requests for information that has not been forthcoming) as challenges?

  28. Wow, Kiffi. There have been a zillion times that Griff or LGN has challenged officials, the status quo, and etc. A zillion times. A triple quadruple bazillion times. (I was never good at naming any numbers above a million, in case you wondered how it went in math class for me, although I have my good points).

  29. Holly: re:#35. I agree with you; that is why I find it difficult to understand Griff’s point in # 31.

    Patrick: I would imagine the councilperson you are referring to in # 32 is Jon Denison. It would appear that Jon prefers to speak in a venue where there can be no disagreement with what he might very sincerely say.

  30. I only have to say one thing, and it goes strongly into the self-moderation column.

    Several times in the last week, I have been introduced to new people. Because I do not hide behind a fictional avatar, and because I stand behind everything I post, 3 people replied “Oh, your the Bald guy with a tie that posts on Locally Grown”.

    It is not the only thing I want to be known for in this town, so it REALLY cuts down on what I want to put out there.

    I can tell you though, from several discussions with folks, that there is a VERY large base of folks that read LGN, but do not interact. Many just do not want that level of exposure.

    Self-moderation is a learned trait. Some here have learned how to control themselves better than others. I am doing better, but still learning. It has been a while since I have been moderated.

    I stand behind my posts, and try to ask direct, fair questions… problem is, not many here want to jump in and answer them.

    I can show you half a dozen discussions on here where I have asked a tough question, and that was the end of the whole discussion thread…

    -J

  31. One thing I try do with my comments is think about how I would react if they were made to me. Sometimes I do a better job than at other times. I always appreciate someone helping me with my blind spots, so I am open to correction. The golden rule is something I think is fitting in this setting.

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