Boing Boing's Moderation Policy (Archived)

Our moderation policy was revised in October 2009. Read the new version. This version is deprecated.
Q. Why does Boing Boing have to have a moderator?

A. First answer: Because every general-interest online forum that's worth reading has some kind of moderation system in force.

Second answer: Because four years ago, Boing Boing's first, unmoderated comment system went so septic that it had to be shut down. The Boingers want to never go through that again.

Third answer: Because Boing Boing gets enough traffic to attract non-automated scams.

Q. All the vowels have disappeared from a paragraph I wrote! What's going on?

A. We did it. Someone (a moderator, one of the Boingers) was expressing displeasure at your remarks. The technique is called disemvowelling. It deprecates but does not delete the remark. With work, the disemvowelled text should still be readable.

Q. You disemvowelled a very polite comment of mine that happened to mention a current presidential candidate. That means you're biased against that candidate, right?

A. Wrong. It means you shouldn't throw in mentions of presidential candidates unless they're mentioned in the main entry or are highly relevant to it. This rule will apply until the next president is elected.

Q. Something has happened to the link back to my website that I put at the bottom of my comment.

A. There's an answer to this problem: please don't put links in your comments that aren't relevant to the entry. We'll just have to remove them. Instead, put a link to your site in your user profile.

Q. My link-free .sig lines keep disappearing too.

A. We aren't big on .sig lines either, though they're a lesser offense. Rationale: first, your name is already there in your message header. Repeating it a few lines later is redundant.

Second, .sig lines eat up vertical space to no good purpose. The more messages you can see at one time, the easier it is to understand how they relate to each other. Pointlessly using up vertical space reduces the number of messages per screen without conveying any benefit in return.

If your .sig lines keep disappearing, it's because the moderators are removing them. Please take the hint and stop using them, because deleting them is bleeping tedious.

Q. Are you changing people's comments in any other ways?

A. Not really. We'll occasionally fix HTML errors or zap duplicate comments, if we feel like doing it and have the time. Once in a while we'll remove excess line returns in order to conserve vertical space.

Q. There's an old comment of mine I want you to delete.

A. Drop us a note, if it's really important; but the default answer is "no."

Q. One of my comments has disappeared!

A. There are several possibilities. One is that we may be having technical problems. It never hurts to write and ask. Another possibility is that someone thought your comment would be better gone.

Q. I can't believe that Boing Boing, of all places, would be using censorship. What happened to freedom of speech?

A. Boing Boing is steadfast in its support of your freedom of speech. We believe that you, O Reader, should be able to have (or refuse to have) anything you want on your own website, as long as it doesn't deprive others of their rights. Yay, freedom of speech!

By that same token, freedom of speech also means that the people who write and edit Boing Boing have the right to have (or refuse to have) anything they want on their own website. If one of the things they don't want is a comment that you have posted, they aren't depriving you of your freedom of speech. You're free to put that comment up on your own webpage.

Q. Why can't you just tell everyone to ignore the trolls?

A. Because they can't. Everyone automatically reads the text that's there. If it's nasty or unpleasant, they get a dose of that. If there's too much of it, they stop participating. There's far more internet discourse lost to trollage and casual rudeness than is ever lost to moderators.

Q. Isn't the moderator just enforcing compliance with her own political views?

A. Not at all. You couldn't reconstruct her personal views from a list of the times she's intervened in a discussion. The time she invented disemvowelling, it was so she could deal with a flaming leftist.

Q. Isn't the moderator just enforcing compliance with the Boing Boing party line?

A. There is no Boing Boing party line. The Boingers have varied political opinions.

Q. What's with all the [steampunk, outsider art, papercraft, other Boing Boing obsessions]?

A. One or more of the Boingers likes it.

Q. Aiiiiiiieeeeeeeeee! Boing Boing has advertising! Doesn't that mean you've become hopelessly corrupt?

A. You mean, unduly influenced by whatever advertisers are the source of the site's revenue? Don't worry about it. Boing Boing's editorial content is unaffected by its ads.

Q. But--but--those people are giving them money! How can they not be affected?

A. (The moderator speaks solo: "In order for the Boingers to be unduly influenced by who advertises on their site, they'd first have to reliably remember who those advertisers are. Trust me: this is not an issue.")

Q. But you take ads from Microsoft!!! Aren't they the root of all evil?

A. This is rank Manichaeanism. Go lie down with a cool wet cloth on your forehead until you feel better.

Q. The moderator disemvowelled one of my comments, supposedly because I had violated some rule of debate. Doesn't that just mean she doesn't agree with me?

A. No. Online discussions are not formal debates, but the usual rules for what constitutes valid argument and legitimate rebuttal, and who's responsible for proving what, still apply. They are independent of content.

Q. I thought I was being reasonably polite when I got into an argument with Bonzo, but two of my comments got removed entirely, and he just had a couple of paragraphs disemvowelled. Why me? Why not him?

A. There are many possibilities. The biggest one is that you were insufficiently polite. In the heat of an argument, your own remarks are going to seem more justifiable, and Bonzo's arguments are going to seem shabbier and more malicious. This temporary distortion is best addressed by being more polite than you think should be necessary.

Another possibility is that Bonzo has an established history of posting clear, well-informed, apposite, and entertaining comments, whereas you're posting for the first time. Or you're posting for the third time, but the first two times you did it, you posted snarky and unilluminating remarks. Or Bonzo posts under his real name,* but you don't. Under those circumstances, Bonzo is going to have more credibility with the moderators and editors.

Life is an unending series of auditions. Get used to it.

A possible explanation that's guaranteed to be wrong: we're not going to delete or disemvowel your comments because we simply can't deal with the vast swoop and majesty of your hard-hitting opinions. If we tell you it was due to your behavior, believe us.

Q. One of the people in our comment thread is behaving abominably. Does Boing Boing flame trolls, or just ignore them?

A. Neither. See the little one-eyed icon in the top right-hand corner of messages? That's the lookitthat button. Clicking on it tells the moderator that she should come look at that particular message. Be sure to explain what it was about the message that prompted your action. If you include your name, you may get a thank-you note. You can also use the lookitthat button to point out comments you think are particularly good.

Please don't use the lookitthat button to post comments. The moderator's the only one who'll see them.

Q. It's obvious that you won't tolerate anything but supportive comments from brown-nosers and yes-men--right?

A. I'll venture a guess that you responded to a new entry on Boing Boing by announcing that it was hopelessly lame and boring, and then came back later to discover that your comment had disappeared.

Q. Yes! Why did you remove it?

A. This is another one of those questions that has multiple answers.

First: you didn't explain why it bored you. Without an explanation, announcing that you're bored is neither useful or entertaining. Also, it's a real bringdown for readers who lack confidence in their own opinions.

Second: because frequently the "I'm so bored" thing is just attitudinizing. There's a whole big internet out there, and it's full of people who, if they don't like what they're currently reading, move on and read something else. They don't post about how bored they are just to have something to say.

Third: maybe that entry just isn't your thing. It could be someone else's. Why drag down their conversation?

Q. So we're not allowed to say something's boring?

A. Of course you're allowed. You just have to explain why.

Q. How come the moderator nailed me for a comment that didn't contain any swearing or personal attacks?

A. It's remarkable how many people believe that "you're good as long as you don't swear or launch personal attacks" is a universal rule. We'll actually tolerate both those things -- but only if you do them perfectly. Few people can manage that, so it's best not to try.

Note that there are three words you can't say on Boing Boing. I'd rather you followed that link and read the full explanation, but if you just want the rule, it goes like this:

ROT13 is a simple method for encoding text to make it unreadable. This is a ROT13 conversion utility. Use it to read what I'm about to say. The three words you can't say on Boing Boing are avttre, snttbg, and phag.

There are only two exceptions to the rule. First exception: you can use one of those words if you're a Boinger. It's their weblog. Second exception: you may use one of those words if you're quoting something genuinely worth quoting that needs to be said, and that's also appropriate to the thread.

If you go out of your way to find occasions to do that, we'll notice.

The rule on other crude language and obscenities is that they're only permitted if you can use them as well as Joel Johnson does.

Q. What's likely to land me in your bad graces?

A. Since you've asked, here's a nowhere-near-exhaustive list:

1. Spamming. Linkwhoring. Re-posting text you've already posted on a dozen other sites.

2. Making supercilious and unpleasant remarks in a civil liberties thread about how the victim had it coming. This is not to say that victims never have it coming; but there's a species of internet demi-troll that appears to specialize in posting such comments. Try not to look like you're one of them.

3. Making snide comments and insinuations about the editors. That's right out. You don't like one of the editors? Take it up with them in e-mail. If you're going to comment on an entry, talk about the entry.

4. Being nasty to no purpose. (This is the catch-all.)

5. Using unnecessarily exciting language. Making an argument is fine. Making your argument in language guaranteed to make your hearers see red? Bad idea. It practically guarantees that you're going to have a dumb (and therefore boring) argument. And if the argument's not going to be interesting, we don't see the point.

6. Jeering, sneering, condescending, or one-upping when there's been no provocation. Telling people they're naive idiots for caring about whatever-it-is. Like the "I'm bored" pose, it's empty attitudinizing, and it's remarkably unpleasant.

7. Failing to notice that there are other people in the conversation. Posting a remark that's already been made five times and answered six. Coming back and re-posting essentially the same material after a twenty-message thread has discussed your previous comment. Trying to forcibly wrench the conversation onto one of your own pet topics. Posting a stale, canned rant you've posted a dozen times before at other sites. Not coming back to see how others have responded to you.

Why post comments at all, unless you expect to be read? And if you expect to be read, you must know you're part of a conversation. Therefore, you should act like it. Engage with what the other commenters are saying. Read the thread before you add to it.

8. Posting a snotty but otherwise worthless anonymous comment. It's a lot easier to get away with snotty comments if you're a registered user.

9. Dragging in one of those topics that's guaranteed to generate a huge thrash that goes nowhere, like gun control, abortion, or Mac vs. PC vs. Linux. You're only allowed to discuss those if (a.) they're relevant to the entry; and (b.) everyone in the discussion is doing their level best to say something new.

10. This list will undoubtedly get longer.

Q. It's not fair! You've misunderstood me and disemvowelled or removed me because you mis-read what I posted. Can't we talk about this?

A. Sure. If one of your comments is disemvowelled or removed from its thread, you're welcome to write to the moderator.

Q. I can't register or post a comment. Does this mean I've been banned?

A. If you didn't get into some kind of fracas, it's highly unlikely that you've been banned. It's moderately unlikely even if you did. We're probably just having technical problems again. Drop us a note describing what happened.

Q. I was told my comment posting privileges were suspended for a week, but they never came back on. Am I permanently banned?

A. Probably not. If you were given a specific period and it's expired, drop us a note.

Q. What happens if I re-register and come back under another name while I'm suspended?

A. If we catch you, all the comments made by that false identity will be unpublished, and your suspension period will be re-started from the point at which the false identity was caught. It's okay to change your username when you aren't suspended, though we'll look askance at you if you do it too often.

Q. Is it okay for me to have more than one userid at a time?

A. No.

Q. What happens if I use someone else's userid?

A. You mean you use their identity without their say-so in Boing Boing's forums? We throw the book at you.


08 May 2008:

There's a new rule about not mentioning presidential candidates unless the main entry mentions them first. That rule will remain in effect until the next president is elected.

08 May 2008:

We believe in community-based moderation. In theory, anyone can momentarily act as a moderator, as long as their action is warranted and they get it right.

However, Boing Boing also has Assistant Moderators. It's like having a deputy sheriff's badge. Currently, the Assistant Moderators are AVRAM, as in Avram Grumer, and ANTINOUS.

So now you know. If one of them should suggest an alteration in your behavior, or ask what you're hoping to accomplish with your current behavior, you'll no longer need to ask who the bleep they think they are. You'll know who they are: they're the Assistant Moderators.

14 May 2008: The rule on obscene language has been modified. Crude language and obscenities are now permitted only if you can use them as well as Joel Johnson does.

24 June 2008: Added to the list of circumstances that can increase a commenter's credibility: using one's real name.

Also added an explanation of the local prejudice against .sig lines and excess line returns.

20 November 2008: Rewrote the section about Words You Can't Use on Boing Boing to make it clearer and more specific. Redirected the explanatory link in it to a longer and more coherent explanation of the reason for the rule.

15 January 2009: Takuan, Xopher and arkizzle are Adjunct Moderators. Please see the May 8, 2008 update above regarding moderators.

Our moderation policy was revised in October 2009. Read the new version. This version is deprecated.