Once there was a story called Cunt in this happy little democratic community. This was before the edit queue, so as soon as it was submitted to the queue everyone was able to vote for it. It was a pretty good, well written article, so once the users starting voting for it, it became pretty obvious that it was going to make it to the front page. Rusty decided that the title was inappropriate and renamed it to "Profanity Reconsidered", which is the name that it wound up going to the front page under. Why am I telling you this? Because its the first time I can remember rusty stepping in to change the content on K5 against the rest of the community will. It caused a pretty big controversy at the time, and I bet you either weren't here or had completely forgotten about it.
More recently K5 continued to grow, and grow, and grow and then the trolls came. People complained about them and how they were ruining K5 and how the signal-to-noise ratio was hurting and how something had to be done about them and oh god won't somebody please think of the children? and life went on, and the comment rating system pretty much took care of them.
I'm not sure if at some time rusty took an active role in censoring the trolls, but recently he decided to remove the posting privileges of one, which is causing a bit of controversy in the diary section. The responses predictably fall into two categories:
- Censorship is evil! Rusty shouldn't be deciding who's allowed to speak.
- Who cares? He was a troll, he was detrimental to the site.
Even if you fall into category two, I think you'll agree that there's much more than one troll on this site and unless rusty spends the rest of his days sitting at his computer, removing posting abilities from various users the "problem" isn't going to go away.
So how do we fix the problem? Is there even a problem? Was rusty right to remove Michael Jackson's posting privileges? Obviously your answer to the second two questions will effect how you answer the first one, but I'm going to propose a few solutions to the first question in the hope that the rest of you can come up with some more, and maybe even wind up with a solution that makes everyone the least unhappy.
Solution 1: Ignore User
This is the obvious solution which most of you probably come up with. Its pretty self-explanatory: give users the ability to ignore the postings from other users that they consider trolls. In a way it's a milder version of letting rusty delete all the trolls, because it still amounts to censorship; the only difference is it's a form of censoring the information that you intake, without forcing your opinion on other people.
Personally, I think this is a horrible idea. I think we have enough bias and groupthink here as it is, and the ability to ignore users won't help that any. You have no fundamental human right to not be offended, and I don't think you should either. Your ability to ignore other users means that if you decide to ignore someone because you don't like them, the rest of the community doesn't get the benefit of seeing what happens when the two viewpoints collide. If all the socialists start ignoring all the libertarians and vice versa (for instance), this will quickly degenerate into a very boring place to have any political discussion.
It's possible (likely, even) that I'm overly cynical of peoples' abilities to tolerate dissenting views, but what happens to the rating system already in place if the ignore user option is implemented? Let's assume that you manage to get all the trolls, crapflooders, their dupe accounts, and whatever else you don't like ignored. Now they keep posting, and there's no one left to rate them. Anonymous users come to K5, and now all the content is lost in even more noise, because all the people who would have rated the comments lowly before are now just ignoring them.
Solution 2: Form Cliques
This idea might require some modifications to Scoop, but I think it would be a pretty neat experiment to try.
The idea is based on accepting the fact that communities will never be able to scale very well, and instead trying to make the website consist of many smaller communities. In real life this already happens on an informal basis when large groups form. They pretty quickly break down into cliques, hence the name of the idea.
In the K5 version of this what would happen is the website would try and identify what posters you tend to read and converse with the most. K5 would then highlight any posts or stories made by them so that no matter how many trolls come along they'll never get lost in the noise. This could either occur on an individual basis, or it could be arranged so if someone is in your clique it would also mean that you're in their clique. In the latter case you could also belong to many different cliques, and they would each be highlighted differently. The members of your clique are likely to have similar opinions to you when it comes to ratings too, so their comment ratings would be given higher priority when the decision is made on whether to hide or show a comment. As a result of this the people you're not likely to want to see will be culled out, and the "troll problem" disappears (assuming you have your comment preferences set to hide hidden comments.)
Solution 3: More Democracy
If you think that rusty is right to remove the comment abilities of trolls but will never be able to keep up, then this solution is for you. The idea is that we, as a community, get to vote on what permissions other users have. If you decide that Michael Jackson or Hide The Hamster is a nuisance to the community, then you simply vote for them to not be able to post anything. If you think that drduck is abusing his rating privileges, then you vote for him to not have them. If enough of the users of the website decide that a user is abusing his privileges, then they lose them. It has the same effect as rusty going and doing it (i.e. we still have censorship), but at the very least it only occurs if the entire community decides that someone is a problem, not at one arbitrary person's discretion.
The direct democracy approach does, of course, have its drawbacks. What happens when people start making multiple accounts and then vote away your ability to vote? Well then there's not much you can do within the democratic system. In theory dupe accounts will be spotted and lose their privileges, but in practice who knows how it would work?