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Moderation Systems and Censorship

By Jake B in Meta
Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 06:31:50 PM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

Queues and Karma, Meta-moderation and Mojo... I've always thought moderation was the best thing since sliced bread. I mean, back when I was dialing up to bulletin board systems, there wasn't anything like it. Isn't it great now to be able to filter out the noise from discussion boards, and chose which submissions make it to the front page? What if, however, these systems serve to censor valid viewpoints?

Take the case where we have groups of people. What if, one minority user posts a valid, well thought out, carefully constructed, and concisely argued, yet controversial article. The majority could easily squelch such posts.

Does this happen? Should someone post a pro-Microsoft piece, it seems to quickly find its way into moderated oblivion. Now, granted, its possible that these posts all suffer from a universal lack of quality, but is this the case?

I'm concerned about this phenomenon as it affects the new concept of e-Government. As new systems that promote social and governmental activism though discussion find their way onto the internet, public policy may be influenced. Are there moderation systems that can both filter content, yet are not subject to the biases of the majority?


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Moderation Systems and Censorship | 33 comments (22 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not much of a problem, if you ask me. (3.42 / 7) (#5)
by Seumas on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 05:18:29 PM EST

Reasons to 'censor':

There are valid reasons for 'censoring' submissions, though. For example, if the majority of people aren't interested in delving into a topic, then why should it be posted? Nobody is going to participate obviously, as indicated by the submitted votes.

Also, while something may be well thought out and make a valid point, it is often the tenth or twentieth submission to make such a point. After the first couple articles on the same point with the same angle and we get the idea -- we don't need to re-hash it until it's a mushy pulp.

Finally, if you look at Editorial Comments in the submitted stories, people very often say that they disagree with the author but are voting +1 because it was well written or argues an alternatew point quite successfully.
I just read K5 for the articles.

Poster child here, make way (4.50 / 14) (#6)
by Signal 11 on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 05:56:35 PM EST

Badly designed moderation systems can certainly create the illusion of biases which are not there. Slashdot, for example, has a system whereby if 5 people moderate it up, it gets the highest score, but if 5 people moderate it down, it is back where it started. In addition, the more controversial, the more likely that the upward and downward moderation will balance out. Scores in that system are not necessarily an indicator of how well an article is written, but instead how well it has been received.

Kuro5hin has a different set of problems. For example, if a troll post receives many moderations, not all of them will be scored 1. Infact, a small percentage will be scores 2, some even 5 or 4 "just because". This makes removal of the post (to fall below the 1.00 threshold) next to impossible as there are an unsufficient number of trusted users, despite the fact that the post did not fare well publicly.

Every system has problems, but a system where every vote counts is more likely to be representative of actual opinion of the majority. The other thing is, a moderation system is only as a good as its users - if your users hate Microsoft, any post supporting Microsoft will rank about as well as flamebait. Many will even assume it is, despite it being well-written!

Modification these systems has been proposed, however the overhead required for such modifications would be enormous, and beyond the ability of a weblog who gains revenue only by advertisements to fufill.

The problem is certainly solveable - but it has two faces - technological and social. Without both being solid, the system will fail. All to often we focus on the technology side while ignoring the people. The greater the education of the average user, the more likely for an "unbiased" review of posts and stories is to be made.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Is it solveable? (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by CyberQuog on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 08:14:50 PM EST

The problem is certainly solveable

I've thought about this problem alot, but I don't think there can ever be a perfect moderation system. The problem is that if you give power to a select few, those select can abuse it easily, and even conspire to abuse it. If you give moderation to the masses, it only encourages "group think". There are of course good moderation systems (K5's is good IMHO), but it seems to me that the problem doesn't lie in the technology but in people's attitudes, and how much the mojo, karma, brownie points, whatever, actually mean to them. This is one reason I like K5's moderation because you can not even see your mojo, so it tends to not matter as much.

Anyway, my logic could be wrong somewhere :) I'd be interested to hear of your idea of a troll proof moderation system or one not absued so easily.

[ Parent ]
reply... (2.50 / 2) (#17)
by Signal 11 on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 10:02:13 PM EST

I'd be interested to hear of your idea of a troll proof moderation system or one not absued so easily.

In a few weeks - keep an eye on the queue.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Censorship vs. a bunch of people in agreement... (4.00 / 7) (#10)
by eskimo on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 07:02:24 PM EST

I honestly think that for there to be censorship, there needs to be a conspiracy to censor something. It has to be an organized group of people deciding to oppress a viewpoint. If it is just a bunch of people who disagree at the same time, then it just doesn't have that 'freshly trod upon by a jackboot' feel.

If it is any consolation, I vote 'Don't Care' on almost all software stories. I either don't know enough to hang with the writer, or the discussion, or I really don't care.

I know 'Don't Care' votes get a lot of flack here, like it is sitting on the fence, but that isn't the case. Questions like this are best answered by a greater use of the 'Don't Care' vote. Here's why I vote 'Don't Care': A story is well written and might inspire useful commentary that I probably won't participate in. Will I read the commentary? Sometimes, but mostly just so maybe next time there is a similar topic, I can take a swing at the old fastball.

That said, how the hell do I not moderate for a day and somebody posts their 1991 Malthusian Nightmare debate brief ON THE FRONT PAGE? If we can't even censor a conflagration like that, then I wouldn't worry about a MS story making it out of the queue, as long as it is well written and inspires useful commentary.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto

First, define your terms (4.00 / 4) (#15)
by handle on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 08:59:10 PM EST

There's a big difference between censorship of the kind where government is suppressing free speech and censorship by some non-governmental entity such as kuro5hin. In fact, a lot of people will argue that only the government can commit censorship.

What if, however, these systems serve to censor valid viewpoints?

The short answer is: go somewhere else or start your own site that discusses what you want to discuss. If people (acting through the moderation system) don't want to discuss something, there's nothing at all you can do about that. Now, if the government were to come and order you not to discuss something, that would be another matter entirely.

Defining Censorship (4.00 / 3) (#29)
by Monster on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 02:14:11 PM EST

In fact, a lot of people will argue that only the government can commit censorship.
  • Editorial discretion (what we practice here when we rate a post) is about deciding whether and how to present information in a particular place (which you either own or have been delegated control over).
  • Censorship is not letting certain information be presented anywhere (or possibly restricting that information to very limited venues).
The government can certainly commit censorship, but so can the Mob, Klan, or any other gang of thugs (with or without steenking badges) threatening force against those who express "unapproved" ideas.

[ Parent ]
A possible solution?! (3.00 / 4) (#16)
by yuri on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 10:00:57 PM EST

I cant remember who first proposed this but in light of this article I think it could be a great modification to this site to prevent censorship of the opinions of certain groups of people.

Lets modify scoop such that if you vote +1 on a story it gets added to your front/section page automatically. If you vote 0 it goes it goes to the front/section page only a certain threshold of + votes is met (indicating a certain level of community support) and if you vote -1 and it dosen't meet the usual threshold, you never see it.

I'm not sure how difficult this would be to implement in terms of db queries/server load but it seems reasonable to me at first glance.

It also give real meaning to voting 0



A moderation system affected by bias (3.75 / 4) (#19)
by Old Man Sam on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 12:29:01 AM EST

so what? its not like moderation makes any difference, its just a game that people tend to take way to seriously.

Oh! and rate me down, become one of the people who take things personally.

Old Man Sam

rate down / rate up (4.00 / 2) (#21)
by codemonkey_uk on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 06:49:13 AM EST

I don't agree that the concepts of rating up or rating down are valid on k5. You rate a comment, and its rating is the average of everyones ratings.

So, yes, if you rate lower than the current average it has the effect of reducing the average, and if you rate higher than the current average it has the effect of increasing the average, but at the end of the day, if you rate honestly, your not really rating up or down. Just rating.
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]

Hell yeah (3.66 / 6) (#20)
by codemonkey_uk on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 06:09:48 AM EST

As the comments in this story clearly demonstrate, ironicly, the "free speech" nazis are more than happy to moderate down opinions different from their own.

Look at some of the moderation done on posts by streetlawyer, especially in this thread. Agree with the opinions expressed or not, these are well written, articulate posts, and do not, in my opinin deserve the "1" that they so often get.

If I refer you to the FAQ you can see that "1" is for "Inane/noise comment" not "I disagree", and thus the moderation system *IS* being abused in an attempt to censor unpopular opinion.
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell

Rating comments (1.40 / 5) (#23)
by B'Trey on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 10:57:06 AM EST

After your recent escapades in the "Vote for sites on the Navbar" thread, you have a lot of nerve to talk about people abusing the system.

And as for your example, any comment which says "I believe in free speech but not for Nazis because they don't have a valid viewpoint" IS inane and deserves a 1.

[ Parent ]

Excuse me? (3.50 / 2) (#25)
by codemonkey_uk on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 12:01:50 PM EST

B'Trey wrote:
After your recent escapades in the "Vote for sites on the Navbar" thread, you have a lot of nerve to talk about people abusing the system.
What are you talking about? Not one of those comments deserves more than a 2, which is what I gave them. Thats not abuse - thats use.

Exactly what viewpoint do you think I was trying to support / oppress with those ratings? How was that in any way an abuse? If I can (one again) refer you to the FAQ you'll see that a "2" is for "'Normal' comment/slightly Inane". They where normal, in so far as they gave what was asked for, but that where also slightly inane, in so far as lists of websites hardly consitute interesting discussion.

B'Trey wrote:

And as for your example, any comment which says "I believe in free speech but not for Nazis because they don't have a valid viewpoint" IS inane and deserves a 1.
Of course. Disagreeing with you makes anything inane. Geez. Those comments where supported with solid arguments. I'm not going to repeat them here, because not only is it clear that you refuse to understand them, but because this is not the place for it.

And talking about abuse of moderation, why have you rated my above comment 1? I agree that it wasn't a 5, but a 1? Thats just you getting upset because I've pointed out what I believe is abuse, and you happen to be one of those at fault.
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]

censorship vs rating (4.50 / 6) (#22)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 08:42:16 AM EST

There is a lot of confusion about what these terms mean.

I wish I could remember who I saw post it first, but there is a very large distinction between rating a comment with a score of 1 and censoring it by rating a comment with 0. Comment ratings are simply a way of expressing one's opinion on the merit of a comment. Rating a comment with a 1 is no more censoring a comment than reading an op/ed piece in the paper and verbally pronouncing it to be "poppycock" to people within earshot. Sure, people with small minds will abuse this and rate comments to 1 just because they disagree with the point being made, but this is not censorship. The comment can still be read by others.

Censorship, on the other hand, goes past simply expressing one's opinion on the merit of a comment. Censorship is removing the ability of other people to even read that comment. Trusted users at Kuro5hin (users that have had their comments consistently rated over a certain threshold) have the ability to censor a comment by giving it a rating of 0. Any comment with an average rating under 1.0 will be invisible to everyone except trusted users. Rating a comment to 0 is censorship. Rating a comment to 1 is is not censorship.

As for voting on submissions, voting -1 is not censorship. By voting -1, I am not taking away the ability of anyone else to vote on the submission. I am simply excercising my right to say that I don't think an article should be accepted to be displayed. Voting on an article (positive or negative) is no more censorship than voting yea or nay on a citizen's initiative. Only if some users had the right to vote a story out of the queue, regardless of the votes of other users, would censorship be taking place in regards to the submission queue.

In light of what these terms really means, is there anything left to discuss other than some people don't like the way that other people rate comments? There will always be some people who misuse a system. A community such as Kuro5hin relies on peer pressure to maintain a certain level of quality. If in one's perspective, a certain user consistently abuses the system, take that user to task in rating his or her comments, responses to his or her comments, posts in his or her diary, in #kuro5hin, or in email. Constantly bitching and moaning about abuses of the system only serves to get on people's nerves and present Kuro5hin users as a bunch of whiners to new vistors.

Can a mod sys promote diversity? (4.40 / 5) (#24)
by Jim Madison on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 11:28:02 AM EST

great question, especially as you point out, in the political sphere. as a founder of Quorum.org, i have spent the last 18 months trying to develop a solution to this very problem.

Rather than rewriting all of our thoughts again here, I thought I'd point you in two directions:

  • A Citizen-Centric Internet, a white paper on how to use the "golden rule" of treating others as you would have them treat you to create the best political web site
  • Our About Us section, where we describe our moderation system, organization and views on Internet democracy
Our goal, which I think you're hinting at in your question, is to create customizable Kuro5hin-like site that was unique to every person. Therefore, your top article wouldn't necesssarily be mine, reflecting the fact that we live in different places, have different interests and biases. Different minority groups could have a significant portion of their own real estate for their own conversations, and then there could be a public space to expose everyone to a smattering of the best conversations from the majority group and the minority groups.

In this way you can balance the value of some common shared experience and promoting diversity.

Got democracy? Try e-thePeople.org.

Censorship or editing? (4.33 / 3) (#26)
by error 404 on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 12:30:40 PM EST

Censorship is a bad thing, editing is a good thing. Both involve removing material judged unworthy from view.

In our well justified zeal against censorship, we've gotten a little weird about editing. Movies are re-released advertizing previously cut footage. Now, I've done some film and video editing in my day, and footage is generaly cut because it would detract from the final product. Most of what ends up on the floor belongs there, either because it is just plain not good, or because it would disrupt the flow. Yeah, sometimes footage is cut that shouldn't be, but in general cutting is a good thing.

The old Andrew Dice Clay controversy struck me as odd, too. There were claims that he was being censored for being politicaly incorrect, but I think most of his problem was that his comedy tended not to be funny.

Anyway, for me the difference is that censorship cuts in order to prevent an idea from being expressed or an image seen, while editing cuts because a particular expression (not the idea) is unworthy or inapropriate to the final product. Censorship says "this idea (or image) is bad". Editing says "this presentation is not good enough". Where it gets complicated is when "good enough" includes requiring particular ideas.

The distinction is not one that is easy to encode. Some systems might be more conducive to censorship or editing than others, but in the end, it really comes down to people acting in good faith.

Are we voting down pro-MS stories because they are pro-MS, or because they don't contain information that interests us? Hard to tell. Quite a few pro-MS stories are just plain bad. Many are short on technical content, which isn't surprising given that Microsoft aims its products at a less technical audience. Microsoft has also muddied the waters considerably in the past by the use of astroturf campaigns and deliberate disruption of forums.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

Sometimes it's the other way round... (4.00 / 5) (#27)
by Locked on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 01:29:48 PM EST

What's the difference between these two arguments?

  • My opinion is popular. Therefore, I am right.
  • My opinion is unpopular. It is different. It is controversial. It is 'politically incorrect'. I was moderated down for saying it. Therefore, I am right.

Answer: They're both fallacies, but people usually only recognize the first one as such.

See also: the new Slashdot drinking game and propaganda and stuff (both mine - shameless plug).


MeatBall:KuroshinRatingIssues (4.25 / 4) (#28)
by Sunir on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 01:47:39 PM EST

Before you rehash the discussion, please read MeatBall:KuroshinRatingIssues. MeatballWiki probably has more stuff that would be relevant, but that's a good place to start.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r

When moderating... (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by slakhead on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 09:55:49 PM EST

I don't consider whether articles are controversial but rather whether or not they will make for good conversation and spawn some new ideas. I guess that is a pretty basic methos but if I wanted to hear about Microsoft vs. *nix I would take a pit stop at Slashdot. But Kuro5hin seems to be a better venue for more diverse discussions than the flamewars that the latter topic generates.

On the other hand, if you wanted to post a controversial article that you are worried about having modded down, you should try to make it clear what part of the article relates Kuro5hin readers to it. People here seem to be very openminded and want to keep the community cool and intelligent. People who don't feel that way will probably be shunned and sulk off to Plastic or any other sites that tolerate nastiness and trolling.

This is how I do it. (5.00 / 2) (#31)
by extrasolar on Wed Jan 24, 2001 at 02:09:51 PM EST

This is how I do it. If I agree with a post, I may moderate it up. If I don't agree with it, I won't trust myself to moderate it. But if I agree with the opinion but the post was badly written, I will moderate it down and perhaps make a comment to undo the damage.

On the k5 moderation system (5.00 / 2) (#32)
by kaitian on Thu Jan 25, 2001 at 09:09:06 AM EST

Note: I posted this to "(more) Problems with the k5 rating system" but that story is at -12 now, and it soon will be killed.

I think that the moderation system here is flawed, and it needs to be fixed.

One of the main flaws in the moderation system is that anyone can moderate. I know that this is one of the main features of k5, but it also opens up an opportunity for abuse. It is too easy to create a new user and use it to magnify your moderation power. To fix this I propose that before new users can moderate anything, they must have had an account for at least two weeks, and posted at least three comments in that time that are rated 3 or above. The time limit will help discourage people who manually create accounts, and the comment requirement would prevent scripts from creating accounts that could moderate.

I also believe that no benefits should be derived from having mojo above a certian level. If people can't get anything by modding their own posts up, they won't do it.

One a related note a k5 user (puzzlingevidence) has been modding some of my posts down and accusing me of being someone who who modded their own posts up. He has threatened to use a script against me that would automatically mod all my posts to 1. Info about it here. He also mentions a script that he is making that would "track every moderation made by every user, check the user number for how new the user is, and run comparisons in order to determine who needs to be watched or "balanced"." Read what he says here. I really don't like the idea of people running scripts like this. Do you really want some script running around k5 and looking for users who's ratings need to be "balanced"?

Moderation system idea for my site. (5.00 / 1) (#33)
by IronDragon on Fri Jan 26, 2001 at 07:10:38 AM EST

I am in the process of building a community-based site.

It will likely use slashcode with a few cosmetic changes, and a slightly different moderation system.

Rather than a numerical 1-5 value for posts, I have this approach:

   Good: user agrees with post, post gets +1 on its 'good' tally

   Bad: user disagrees with post, post gets +1 on its'bad' tally

   Ugly: post is marked as possible flamebait for a moderator to look at.

   <nothing>: User does not rate post.

The 'good' and 'bad' tallies would be added together to create a single score. Really good, or really bad, or rather controversial posts will achieve high scores after a while, thus prompting the large majority of the forum users to notice it. The bad rating doesnt mod the post down, it simply means that the user disagrees. That way, people can see these 'bad' posts, and learn what others have to say about them. This is in line with the site's general goal of providing a communication medium through which knowledge can accumulate and ideas can be readily shared.

Your thoughts?

If anybody is particularly interested in the prospect of space colonization, send me a mail at irondragon@gci.net, and I can tell you more.


Moderation Systems and Censorship | 33 comments (22 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
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