It’s AGU abstract submission day, and I’ve just submitted one to a fascinating track organised by John Cook, entitled “Social Media and Blogging as a Communication Tool for Scientists”. The session looks like it will be interesting, as there are submissions from several prominent climate bloggers. I decided to submit an abstract on moderation policies for climate blogs:

Don’t Feed the Trolls: An analysis of strategies for moderating discussions on climate blogs
A perennial problem in any online discussion is the tendency for discussions to get swamped with non-constructive (and sometimes abusive) comments. Many bloggers use some form of moderation policy to filter these out, to improve the signal to noise ratio in the discussion, and to encourage constructive participation. Unfortunately, moderation policies have disadvantages too: they are time-consuming to implement, introduce a delay in posting contributions, and can lead to accusations of censorship and anger from people whose comments are removed.

In climate blogging, the problem is particularly acute because of the politicization of the discourse. The nature of comments on climate blogs vary widely. For example, on a blog focussed on the physical science of climate, comments on posts might include personal abuse, accusations of misconduct and conspiracy, repetition of political talking points, dogged pursuit of obscure technical points (whether related or not to the original post), naive questions, concern trolling (negative reactions posing as naive questions), polemics, talk of impending doom and catastrophe, as well as some honest and constructive questions about the scientific topic being discussed. How does one decide which of these comments to allow? And if some comments are to be removed, what should be done with them?

In this presentation, I will survey a number of different moderation strategies used on climate blogs (along with a few notable examples from other kinds of blogs), and identify the advantages and disadvantages of each. The nature of the moderation strategy has an impact on the size and kind of audience a blog attracts. Hence, the choice of moderation strategy should depend on the overall goals for the blog, the nature of the intended audience, and the resources (particularly time) available to implement the strategy.


  1. William M. Connolley

    Fun! Have you written it yet (in which case I’d be interested to see it) or is this the tradiational stuff-I-intend-to-do?

  2. Distracting and bothering climate scientists is a tactic of managing public opinion. A business cost. Responding properly is an important act of delicate balance – because dangerous idiocy should be stopped, but should not slow down important work. I know that firemen at a house fire will not tolerate obstacles to doing their work. Climate science does not directly address politics, economics or religion – not about angels on the head of a pin, and your work should not be derailed or distracted by ideological or commercial interests.

    I invite you to consider a recent post by Donald Brown on Climate Ethics – Why The Climate Change Disinformation Campaign Is So Ethically Abhorrent – Brown suggests that it is a modern crime – not yet well defined. But widely felt.

    Yours would be a very important paper. Thanks for all that you do.

  3. A superb discussion is “Disinformation, Social Stability and Moral Outrage” also shows some very adroit handling of comment trolls

  4. Also, Richard pointed me to this no nonsense guide for handling trolls on Google+. Short version: show trolls no mercy, ever.

  5. No problem.

    Actually Eli has always wondered why RR is a mostly troll free zone (ok, we have one or two regulars but they are relegated to the nutty uncle in the attic category, and the ones with a clue wander away after a week or two.

    Should Eli bottle and sell the formula?

  6. Pingback: Haters Hate and I Choose to Listen | Geoff Livingston's Blog

  7. I still campaign for the 1-selection {send this message to a shadow thread for reason X, here’s a link} leaving only the commenter’s name and date.
    People can follow the link if they want, and (usefully) assess the accrued credibility.

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