Barry Ritholtz Declares War on Trolls

I’ve oft cited Barry Ritholtz’s comments policy as web standard, and sometimes have to remind readers that I’m more lenient in my comments policy than a lot of other blogs.

Having said that, I’ve tried to have robust, intelligent discussion in the NC comments section, and the overwhelming majority of the time, that happens. How I’m not quite sure (the participation of some regulars who help elevate the tone and substance is one part) but I know one factor is riding herd on people who break the rules of discourse here (which are complex and nuanced, but basically boil down to 1. Don’t be an asshole, 2. Don’t thread-jack and 3. Don’t hog air time).

Tending to the comments section has become more and more time consuming. It isn’t just that there are more comments, there is also less civility. Some of it is likely that a prolonged crappy economy and creeping authoritarianism are putting people on edge. But it’s also the rising tide of trolls. Some of this is clearly paid for or otherwise orchestrated, and keyword driven. For instance, if I write a positive post about unions, particularly with the word “union” in the headline, it’s certain that they’ll be an early, negative comment. If I write a pro union post but refer to it only as “organized labor,” the thought police don’t ride in.

Barry’s post, Why I Am Considering Getting Rid of Comments . . , might give you some insight into what Lambert and I are up against. Key extracts:

Some of you occasionally send me a pleasant email or say nice things to me privately. Quite a few of you impress the hell out of me. Most of you are kind, decent folk. This missive is NOT directed at you.

Managing blog comments has become an increasingly time consuming job. Policing the spammers, trolls, haters, and other purveyors of falsehoods has become a larger time suck than I am willing to accept. Dealing with such cretins hardens your outlook and shortens your temper more than I care for. Perhaps this is the reason so many high profile blogs have closed down their comments altogether.

Were I to shut down my comments, it would be for a reason I have not seen enumerated elsewhere: The intellectually disingenuous rhetorical sleight of hand that has become a substitute for legitimate debate. (See this and this). I simply do not have the time nor the interest in correcting every half-truth and lie. But I have even less interest in polluting the blog with this sort of nonsense…

To put this into some context: The blog has garnered ~half a million comments over nearly 11 years. That is also the number of monthly unique visitors. Do the math, and you realize the individual visitor-to-comment ratio is > than 132 to 1.

This ratio is similar to that of large media sites. For example, The Guardian has found that less than 1% of all readers actually leave a comment. And of those comments, more than 20% come from a tiny percentage — the 0.0037% who try dominate the discussion and shout down every one else…

hus, I have reached the conclusion that I will no longer tolerate this. To this small group of trolls and asshats, the the 0.0037%: EFFECTIVELY IMMEDIATELY, YOUR COMMENTS WILL NO LONGER BE PUBLISHED HERE.

Phrased differently, if I take the time and the energy to construct a coherent, sourced, logical argument that follows the rules of the art of discourse, I no longer feel obligated to post the comments of those who refuse to follow the same said rules.

But the assclowns will. I am aware some of them will scream censorship, and to you folks, I state: GYOFB. Nothing is preventing you from blogging on your own. I mean nothing other than your own laziness, lack of original thought and poor work ethic. Start your own blog, tediously build it into something filled with whatever sort of BenSteinery you care to vomit onto the page . . . Just do not expect to see it published here.
The rest of the readership will not notice any changes. Indeed, the vast majority of the people who do comment should not notice a change either. (Their comments will still be approved)….

To those of you I have emailed with and met and conversed and broke bread with, please do not stop. I am continually impressed with the quality and depth of what you have taught me. Most of you are intelligent, well educated, thoughtful people. You understand ideas, the value of data; you appreciate empirical evidence; you understand the rules of Oxford debate; you are open minded and thoughtful, positive souls. I revel in speaking with and meeting you. I appreciate your opinions. I love your attitudes. You make the world a better place.

Note that Ritholtz takes a much more stringent approach to comments than I do, in that he moderates them all. Even so, he seems to be close to a Howard Beale moment.

I assume anyone who has read this far is not part of the problem. But there are some ways the civilized members of the commentariat can become part of the problem.

First is by getting upset about a comment being lost or hung up in moderation. NC gets more spam comments than legitimate comments. Our tech maven threw out all our spam comments a couple of weeks ago and we now have over 21,000. So it’s fair to ask nicely for us to have a look but please do not sound aggrieved, impatient or whiny. It puts us in a bad mood and inclines us to deal with you later rater than sooner. Comments would be utterly unreadable without the spam filter.

Second is by questioning our decisions in dealing with trolls. Once in a while (thank God not often), they decide to prove their manhood by getting around our filters and making a point of their success. That simply leads to my deleting their new comments and in some cases, expunging their older comments for good measure. Occasionally I’ll have a reader question my decision. Don’t.

Having said all of that, one of the good things about NC is the commentariat is very good about riding herd on questionable comments. But if someone is really out of line, it’s better if you flag their comment as deserving of being expunged than shredding its content. It makes it easier for Lambert and me to deal with them if you flag the worst offenders that way. Remember: don’t feed the trolls.

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  1. Alex Bowles

    “Phrased differently, if I take the time and the energy to construct a coherent, sourced, logical argument that follows the rules of the art of discourse, I no longer feel obligated to post the comments of those who refuse to follow the same said rules.”


  2. HarrryofMoore

    The tone of the comment is a reflection of the society inwhich you belong. Sure we’d all love hearing lovey dovey comments, but the public is going under. They have been hearing stuff for Barry for a while and are waitng for more than just words. They want people of his kind to take action. Do some force gathering and oppose the world machine. Expection down and almost out people not to get pissy when hearing plenty and seeing nothing is misguided.

    “Talk is for lovers, lawyers and liars. Now pick up your sword, saddle your steed and get ready to lead.

      1. Optimader

        It’s Barry’s responsibility.. Besides, it’s just about time for Dancing with the Stars and Dominos Pizza just pulled in the driveway. 8o/

  3. SqueekyFromm

    I sure understand his feeling. That is part of why I took a break from blogging. I would write an Internet Article where I slam dunked something and the antis would ignore the argument. Then when I wrote something that the “pros” didn’t entirely agree with, they would do the same thing…just repeat their argument with zippo exposition. Very frustrating.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  4. sidelarge

    I think it’s kind of remarkable that this website attracts comparatively fewer of those “hyperinflation” “Zimbabwe” “evil fiat” “precious metal” types, though. Unless you publish a post that dismisses/ridicules the Austrian/libertarian school, of course… in which case, well, 100 comments in no time.

  5. Middle Seaman

    NC has a significant percentage of meaningful and insightful comments. That is not the case in the few other blogs I read. The commentors community should police its community. I believe NC’s community will do well this way.

    1. jake chase

      Personally, I enjoy all the comments, even the trolls and cretins. Crowd reactions are a special interest of mine, and I would not even read a blog that does not accept comments. I don’t follow Barry Ritholtz, who IMHO seems to have a highly exaggerated sense of his own importance and savvy.

      I suggest you encourage short rejoinders to obvious trolls and cretins, such as ‘this is horseshit; save it for Fox or the NYT.’

      I imagine quite a few of your regulars would find this no trouble at all.

      1. Optimader

        Agreed, a blog w/o comments seems to be little more than a rather sterile aggregation site. All kudos to Susan and Lambert but I think the trolls here seem to be rather efficiently sawed off. The comments section here consistenlty has rather fertile links and commentary, the idiots are rather obvious and seem to be at a low equilibrium level due to little objective traction.

        1. Eclair

          Yes! I shamefacedly confess that I have been guilty of – occasionally and only if the post is long and dense and I am short on time – reading the comments only. And, unlike many other blogs, where everyone weighs in with their two cents, ad infinitum, the quality of the comments at NC is such that I rarely feel I have anything to add to the discourse.

      2. readerOfTeaLeaves

        I have developed a lot of respect for Ritholtz, as well as some of his commenters.

        People who create blogs are creating a form of intellectual capital, and they need to protect it.

        For me, writing comments is a bit of a break in hours of consuming information. Writing a comment forces me to think a little harder, and in that respect deepens my engagement with the blog content. (Whether my comments are helpful to the blog, or other readers, is their call.)

        Blogs with no comments (a lat Jesse’s) can also provide outstanding content. However, at least in my case, the effort and time involved in making a comment ensures that I try to learn a bit more deeply, or think a bit more clearly, about a topic. That’s invaluable. Nevertheless, Yves and Ritholtz should not have to underwrite that level of intellectual engagement on their own.

  6. kimsarah

    I think shutting down the comments is a good idea. Even though I only occasionally comment and don’t mind if I won’t be able to. Trolls have gotten too far out of hand. Monitoring the commenting section is realistically a full-time job. You shouldn’t have to do that. I’d rather continue reading your excellent posts. I will miss the insightful comments, but perhaps someday when a better way to weed out trolls comes along commenting can return.
    Thank you for all you do.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I was neglectful in not articulating some of the reasons why I think the NC commetariat is helpful:

      1. I do like knowing real people are reading my stuff. I do not want my feedback to be solely from other bloggers, at least some of whom have political agenda and/or strong ideological biases (whether they recognize that or not).

      2. Related to 1. NC readers are very good at keeping me on my toes and debugging arguments (this was very helpful, for instance, when I was trying to figure out CDOs while writing ECONNED)

      3. I think a lot of readers come here at least as much for the commentariat as for the posts. We have people with distinct voices and personalities in comments, and I think a lot of people get a kick out of that. That is why I feel the need to get aggressive with trolls.

      Having said that, I don’t want this to become an echo chamber. But a lot of the newbie opponents wander in with bumper sticker talking points, and either start with or revert quickly to name calling. And they are usually lousy at arguing logically.

      1. OMF

        Having said that, I don’t want this to become an echo chamber. But a lot of the newbie opponents wander in with bumper sticker talking points, and either start with or revert quickly to name calling. And they are usually lousy at arguing logically.

        This is a very, very difficult thing to achieve on the internet, particularly if matters are contentious. I was going to suggest a technological solution to this problem(poster reputations, thread rankings, etc), but all of these can end up reinforcing the echo chamber effect.

        The most important thing is to stay reasonable and sane in the posts, and encourage the same in the comments. If a promotion/demotion system is implemented, then comments should be rewarded for challenging, constructively critiquing, or adding substantively to posts or points already made. “Me too” and “general rant” posts should be regarded as neutral at best. Sidelinings and derailing should be quietly shifted down (below new posts) as they begin to bloat. Randroid, illuminati and other wingnut comments should be the only comments/threads to be routinely demoted.

        The bottom line is that people need to feel like they can meaningfully add to the post and the discussion by commenting. And if they feel they can add to it, they will add to it; and the whole post benefits, and so does the site.

        1. steelhead23

          Shush! We all know that Lanny Breuer had Yves number on speed-dial – but its the kind of thing you don’t want everyone knowing.

      2. Larry

        Why not bring back the old Gawker system of letting the commenters moderate the comments? In the old system, you became “starred” if you proved to be a useful commenter. This meant that your comments were visible to all blog readers and that you could promote the comments of non-starred commenters. While this can create an echo chamber of sorts, at least it let’s a culture thrive in the comments. And as you note, most people do not comment. This allows you to dive into the comments only occassionally and not have to moderate it. I thought it was useful and random people couldn’t just populate the comments with useless stuff. If you look at Gawker now, you see that maybe they miss their old system. Every other comment is a spam bot or idiot blathering on about nothing.

        1. ohmyheck

          Larry, I’m sure you are a good guy, but to all those who think NC should install a ratings system, here is a great reminder, via riverdaughter’s blog, using DailyKos as the perfect example of why ratings systems simply suck.

          I would post the entire article, word for word, but it is long.

          Personally, I believe one of the most important reasons NC works so well is because of the lack of “community moderation” and a ratings system.

        2. They didn't leave me a choice

          The problem with the current concept of reputation systems is that they are way too easily gamed by concerted effort. Especially if you remove actual moderation from the picture. Just imagine what can happen when hundreds of randroids swarm the rep system and upvote each other incestually. In addition there’s two major problems with persistent reputations; they tend to encourage karma whoring and they destroy “anonymity”. You may think that this is solely a good thing, but consider this: When you remove anonymity, you also create an enviroment where /who/ says something begins to matter more than /what/ they say.

          IMO it is better to leave the comments ambiguous than to fool around with fake cures that don’t really do what they say.

          There are several questions that any valid rep system must solve:
          How do you know someone is being up or downvoted for proper reasons, or just because they put out an argument that is disliked?
          How do you know there is no conspiracy to game the system outside of the site itself?
          How do you neutralise potential personality conflicts from infecting the system?

          Amongst others… While it probably sounds like a good idea for someone indoctrinated to the election system (not democratic) to have votes on which users are more worthy than others, in practice it’s a whole new can of worms to open. And may indeed lead to more problematic comment moderation than the old system ever was.

      3. Optimader

        The value of diversity of opinion can tolerate the 10% noise.
        The POV of the asshats in fact has the intrinsic value of not having to speculate about what propaganda is being doled outto the mouth breather crowd.
        It’s all Demographic insight if the signal to noise ratio remains favorable.

      4. David Petraitis

        On debugging ECONNED:

        So when is the NEXT book (made up of the ironclad arguments and rhetorical artistry that we all know and love you for…) due? Something on BAC f’rinstance?

        p.s. for some strange reason, probably generational, I like reading books ;)

      5. oliverks

        Couldn’t trolls be identified by other readers? In essense the trolls would be given a rating assigned by readers. Readers who have had a successful track record of identifying trolls, would get more weight assigned to a troll up vote.

        Initially you would need to check the trolliness of people getting marked as trolls. Then as you confirm or deny the troll status, the people who had voted (troll or not troll) would get increased or decreased weights in troll identification.

        Pretty soon most trolls would be elminated more or less automatically, but you could have an override switch.

      6. Mel

        Many of the posts I do not fully understand, so step two is to the comments, to find the people who did understand. Whenever there are such people they make the blog much more useful. I was going to say “without effort from YS”. Then I find out that it’s Herculean work to make sure I can even find them.

  7. jessica

    In an age where so much has changed so quickly and no one has the answers yet (or even the questions in most cases), our capacity to think and learn together is absolutely crucial. The work that Yves and Lambert (and Barry Ritholz and many others) do is more valuable than even they may realize.
    We have productive capacities beyond the imagining of earlier generations and equally developed communication capacities. And we have a social system that devotes (largely mechanically and unconsciously) large amounts of energy to making sure that both production and communication serve the current parasitic elite.
    At this unique juncture in time, our physical capacity to communicate with each other is far too great to fit into such an anti-democratic economy. That capacity is far too elaborate for the kind of totalitarian uniformity that was possible in the days of radio (and when far more people worked in lock step in much larger institutions, such as pre-electronic, pre-robotic factories). Therefore, the only way to keep our communicative capacities safe for the current system is to fill them as much as possible with garbage. It is not necessary for the elite to convince us. It is only necessary for the elite to prevent us from bringing our minds and hearts together for the broader good.
    The paid trolls are the direct expression of that and the direct product of our current anti-democratic* ethos that allows poisonously concentrated power to affect every aspect of our lives. Those of us who function as unpaid trolls are the indirect expression of all this and of the way it constricts all our personal development. Developing the capacity to sustain intelligent discussion among ourselves despite the toxic atmosphere generated by concentrated power is a crucial aspect of our maturing. I am very grateful to all those who give their time and energy to this.
    (Lambert, I am specifically talking to you. What you do is much more valuable than your phrase “sitting on my Barcalounger” makes it sound. Because you are trying to help us have the conversations that we collectively need to have in order to become the people we need to be to make things better. That is crucially different from what careerist “progressives” do.)

    1. jessica

      *Anti-democratic: This is just a make-do substitute for a word that does not exist yet. Some day, we will have a word that refers to whatever works against the interests of humanity as a whole by promoting/supporting poisonous levels of power concentration rather than healthy dispersion. Obviously, it will refer to so much more than having elections of the elite, for the elite, and by the elite.
      This word will have real emotive power, but it will not refer to any bodily parts or body functions in a way that disrespects our bodily natures.
      We do not have such a word yet, because we have not created the social recognition of just how crucial the broad dispersion of all forms of power is. Yet.

      1. Eclair

        Nicely said, Jessica. A suggestion and already existing term for a system that supports poisonous concentrations of power/money and works against the good of humanity and of our entire eco-system: Capitalism.

      2. larry

        Hi Jessica,

        Loved your commment. Brilliant. I think “anti-democratic” is ok. It means exactly what it says.

        I have to confess I didn’t realize the troll problem was so bad. Even for this blog. Maybe the blogs I usually read don’t quite have the reach of this one.

    2. Goin' South

      Very well said.

      I think there are plenty of commenters on this site that can block out the troll noise and engage in the democratic enterprise you describe. They’re understandably annoying to Yves who puts in a lot of hard work here along with Lambert, but it’s not nearly so bad as most sites.

      I don’t see the comment threads as broke here, so I hope there’s no attempt at a fix beyond the filtering that’s already done.

    3. David Petraitis


      “We have productive capacities beyond the imagining of earlier generations and equally developed communication capacities. And we have a social system that devotes (largely mechanically and unconsciously) large amounts of energy to making sure that both production and communication serve the current parasitic elite.”

      Well said. Perhaps the most cogent short critique of capitalism I have every read. Thank you.

    4. Dave S

      “Developing the capacity to sustain intelligent discussion among ourselves despite the toxic atmosphere generated by concentrated power is a crucial aspect of our maturing.”

      I am in love with this sentence.

  8. SqueekyFromm

    Well, I have a Shibboleth Test thing you can try. It isn’t designed to catch trolls necessarily, but it sure will catch those commenters with the IQ of a bag of hammers. First, post an Internet Article here about minimum wages. Then, wait for those people who say something like “Why don’t we just make the minimum wage $100 per hour. . .”

    Because genuine idiots will say something like that every time. They can’t help themselves. It just comes spilling out of their vitals followed by literal and figurative strutting, even though it is like the dumbest most non-sequitar statement a person can make on the minimum wage topic.

    Then, (and this is the really nasty part) turn their email addresses over to the Nigerians, who will proceed to fleece them out of all their money. They will be sooo busy trying to get their money back, they won’t have time to ever post stupid comments anymore.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  9. toxymoron

    Hi Yves,

    If you/Lambert/others, have the bandwidth, you might consider acting on two levels:
    1. be VERY severe on the comments after an article (GYOFB if people don’t agree, this is your blog and you do as you wish).
    2. be at bit less severe at an ‘open thread’ (probably to be restarted every month) where the NC commentariat can come together and exchange off-topic.

    My eternal gratitude for having created this blog. Probably the best thing this side of the Internet.

    1. They didn't leave me a choice

      Given the format of the blog, a months worth of free discussion probably makes it unwieldy to find whatever one is looking for. A week would sound like a much better proposition. In addition, if there was a way of making that the current discussion thread was at the top of the RSS feed for the duration of its lifetime that would make sure it’s not lost so easily.

    2. Mel

      Pharyngula does that — — I don’t know how well it works for them, but they haven’t quit yet. They also have lounge threads where proper behaviour is expected. Prima facie that seems to be what happens in the links comments here at NC. I haven’t looked at the thunderdome threads because the the usual junk in the ZeroHedge threads is more than enough for me.

      1. wunsacon

        If I were Tyler Durden, I’d ban comments immediately. Oh, sure, there are a few oh-regional-indians and other interesting, thoughtful commenters. More than a few, actually, to be fair. But, it’s a drop in the bucket over there.

        Today, I skimmed the comments at ZH in response to a video about Elizabeth Warren. Ghastly. At one point, one commenter said something like: “I swear the IQ of the commenters on this site has dropped 20 points over the past 3 years.” I couldn’t agree more. When it’s that kind of quality, it’s just not worth it to read the comment thread.

  10. wunsacon

    Hey, Mr. Ritholtz and NC,

    Have any financial blogs tried and/or had much success with community-moderated comment system a la

    FWIW, I enjoy reading the comments on your sites. That is, the comments from *many* of your readers. (Not the comments from trolls — the comments you un-publish and which I probably rarely even see.) Personally, I guess I visit both sites as much for the discussion/reactions from your readers as for the main posts themselves. (Please take that as a compliment: your quality posts attract some interesting readers.)

  11. timotheus

    Completely and whole-heartedly agree. Passivity in the face of this constant hijacking is destructive of the forum. And incidentally, the same thing happens in social movements and nonprofits where the sharpies always come out to try to take over when some social asset is being formed and developed. It is theft and should be treated as such.

    1. They didn't leave me a choice

      Agreed. One only has to look at the godawful state of Grauniads comments section to see how badly it has been hijacked by those with political agendas. Say almost anything out of the matrix of “accepted thoughts” and you’ll get swarmed with dozens upon dozens of hate comments. It’s basically the most toxic way of shutting down even the idea of debate. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a non-accepted idea, as long as it’s not the safe mainstream groupthink it’ll get swarmed. Anything even remotely controversial is buried by trolls who doubtlessly endlessly patrol and search the boards for keywords. Their responses don’t even have to be insightful (they almost never are), as long as they can regurgitate the vomitous trash that passes as official public opinion and do it en masse it’s basically discussion over right there.

      I for one don’t have the energy to fight back on random forums every time this happens. If the mods don’t care, the board can die. At least this post (along with others) shows that Yves still wants to keep this blog safe.

      1. David Petraitis

        This got me thinking. Has anyone seen an exposé of who funds the keyword search algorithms/engines and the paid trolls? One would expect it is the same agnotological trusts as those that fund right-wingnut astroturfers. Err… meant to say “populists for freedom.”

        But anyone have information on reliable basis?

        It seems to me that the scams that I get in my inbox on how to make big bucks from working at home are trying to find ‘mechanical turks’ (to use Amazon’s phrase for piecework knowledge workers) for blog trolling. But we need a Barbara Ehrenreich of the new underbelly of low wage knowledge workers coerced by economic situation to become trolls. Not all are true believers I would guess. It would be worth a longer post if I could find some to interview by email I’d do it for my blog.

      2. Synopticist

        The Guardian is a bad joke these days. It’s a shame, because maybe 6 or 7 years ago you’d get some of the smartest debates on the internet on that site.
        Now it’s 90% emotionally driven ranting, fact and intelligent argument-free shite.

        They seemed to do it on purpose frankly. It was an editorial decision to dumb down.

        1. E++

          The Guardian anti-moderates. When Glenn Greenwald moved there from Salon, the more thoughtful regulars from Salon were within weeks perma-banned on the grounds of having violated unspecified “community standards”, while the Salon trolls that came over worked the comment section with near-impunity for months on end.

          The Guardian really isn’t that unusual either, much of the “moderation” that we’re seeing touted all over the blogosphere now is anti-moderation of this sort, which is why any site that starts throwing the term around gets my antennas twitching.

          1. Nathanael

            Important point. Similar “anti-moderation” problems have happened at a lot of other famous blogs.

      3. larry

        I think it’s ok to have a political agenda. NC and BR have such agendas. The problem comes when such an agenda arrives with no supporting evidence or even reasonable articulation of the position of the so-called critic. Abuse of the blogger or the blogger’s argument does not constitute legitimate discourse.

  12. AllanW

    I can understand your decision not only to filter bot activity and repetitive spam commenters but also to expel trolls on the basis you justify (time and money consuming), I just feel you heighten the risk of conformity. It may be a small increase in risk but nevertheless an avoidable one. The self-selected response community is already here for a (conscious or unconscious) group hug so why prevent them from being exposed to those contrary points they might learn from that happen to be inelegantly expressed?

    In the same way that denying public anti-gay demonstrations chips a little piece of our own freedoms away in principle, it also prevents in practice the opportunity to counter-demonstrate to such marvellous effect as in the link below;

    Without making too big a deal of it, the decisions that Rithotz and you are taking may seem small and insignificant in isolation but so do the driven wipes of the countertop by obsessive mommies that end up adding to the deprived immune systems of their children. I’m not against wiping and I’m giving full acknowledgement of your stance refusing to include full moderation (bravo); please just be aware that it’s not healthy to always avoid getting muddy or fighting.

  13. craazyman

    Another Hypocrite

    I don’t read any blogs so I wouldn’t know much about Barry Ritholtz. I saw him on TV once saying it “wouldn’t be so bad” to have had a hard recession in 2009. Maybe it wouldn’t if you’re Barry Ritholz with a $5,000 suit and money falling out of your pockets. I don’t know. He seems like a smart guy and I bet he has a lot of good ideas. I’m not sure that was one of them.

    Also, if you scroll down on his blog past the story about banning comments he has two posts — one about Dow Cycles and the other about 10 Monday AM Reads. And the weird thing is, after he does his yacking with both, HE SOLICITS COMMENTS!!!!! It’s right there on the page.

    How can that be? Every time I post a comment I feel a little guilty. Like I just wasted my time doing something useless and stupid. Who cares what I think? Sometimes I don’t even believe what I write, myself. Maybe that goes for him too. Maybe it’s human nature, somehow. Maybe he just wants attention.

    Why not just delete dumb comments. Even this one. Get in a really bad mood, go through the thread and just shoot them. It’s like Letters to the Editor, crumpling them with a sadistic smile and dropping them in the trash. Think how good it would feel. And people dumb enough to leave comments on a blog, it wouldn’t phase them at all. :)

  14. Chris Rogers


    Having always enjoyed your blog – a most valuable source of information & opinion – in my humble opinion the comments section has been a great success and one enjoys reading much of what others write, much of which is both articulate and highly informed.

    Whilst over the past 12-18 months your Blog has become quite politicised, this is quite understandable given there was a Presidential election and Primary campaign where little of the issues afflicting the USA – or indeed the Western hemisphere was discussed, never mind addressed.

    Effectively, the comments section of your Blog has become a safe sanctuary for left-of-centre sorts who yearn for meaningful change – change you highlighted in Econned and continue to highlight on this blog.

    I personally abhor any kind of censorship and take solace in JS Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ that one cannot have an actual opinion if there is not an opposite or opposing opinion offered by others – given the MSM just parrots what our Masters instruct them to parrots worries me greatly, as does the censorship they engage in on their own respective blogs – the UK’s Guardian newspaper being among one of the worst offenders when it comes to readers actually telling ‘THE TRUTH’.

    As such, whilst one dislikes spam, I certainly would not call most posts on this blog spam, or for that matter trolling – debate and dialogue certainly gets a little rough and we have all engaged in a little name calling, if only its the word ‘shril’l.

    Given all the positives and actual lack of propaganda shall I say, it would be better to let the occasional Troll post, than deny those without another home to post on to have such an ability removed, or at least curtailed.

    Do keep up the good work with Lambert and I’m positive that the community that has grown around this site is more than able to handle the odd Troll, even if this is my good self.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      While I understand the sentiment, you can’t have a garden unless you weed it.

      I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the assumption that you have is that the trolls are operating in good faith. They aren’t. Your use of the word “censorship” reflects a second premise, that we are running people off based on their views. We go after people based on behavior. For instance, there are two regulars who will go unnamed who absented themselves for months because we told them they were going after certain people in comments way too aggressively. And “censorship” also assumes that this blog is a public space. While I keep it pretty open, this is my hosted property. This is not a town square. If someone throws his drink in my face or pees in the potted plants, he will be shown the door, pronto.

      1. H. Alexander Ivey

        “This is not a town square. If someone throws his drink in my face or pees in the potted plants, he will be shown the door, pronto.”

        Actually, Yves, in the “old days” of my youth, if someone did the above in my hometown town square, they did get to spend the night in jail. The point is, as you say, there is no “free market”. For us humans to live together, there must be rules we abide by or suffer the consequences. Brave talk about letting the other person have their say, or to just ignore the trolls, itself operates on a set of assumed rules – every one is operating on good faith, and violence and pain is not considered an option. So when good faith is not there, or when pain and violence is used, then the brave talk will lose, unfairly, but lose.
        Personally, I think the trolls are paid professionals, not disgruntled former employees. The technology is too easy to abuse, and has been very well documented on how it is being abused, to think that trolls are just people with an honest but unpopular opinion.

        1. David Petraitis

          Incivility is not the same as having an opinion. It is used rhetorically to derail the argument as an ‘appeal to emotion’ (see for an interesting list of rhetorical devices used to ruin discourse).

          And as we are all aware, the trend toward groupthink, magical thinking, American dream-world fantasies lead to a sort of somnolence which is, at its base censored, imperialist, serving the elites and authoritarian.

          As this is Yves’ place and she does foster argument, opinion and counter argument the policing of incivility known as trolling seems to me to be not censorship but good stewardship of the NC space.

      2. charles sereno

        Someone, please tell me why “pees in my potted plants” makes me laugh and re-read it so I can laugh again. Yves is funnier than Shakespeare (not his strongest point).

      3. E++

        I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the assumption that you have is that the trolls are operating in good faith.

        I don’t see where Chris assumes that. He’s arguing that an open discussion environment is worth contending with the occasional troll.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Trolls seek to undermine discussion. They straw man, engage in ad hominem attacks, and thread jack (introduce inflammatory and typically irrelevant ideas to derail conversation). They destroy a robust debate of the issues.

          1. JohnSmith

            So why not simply point out these logical fallacies which invalidate their arguments, rather than deleting the original content?

  15. Keith

    It would be a shame to see the comments go Yves, I hardly ever comment myself but do enjoy reading them from time to time for some extra insight. A future possibility: Jeff Atwood co-founder of StackOverflow is also looking to declare war on Trolls by reinventing the comment system in his new project “Discourse”: “Complaining that forum software hasn’t changed in the past 10 years, Atwood and his co-founders Robin Ward and Sam Saffron set out to re-imagine what forum software should look like….”

    Could be an option for a future comment system on NC.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please reread the post. Barry Ritholtz is threatening to get rid of comments. I’m not.

      I’m just lifting some of his text to confirm I’m not nuts in thinking the discourse on the Web has gotten coarser and nastier over time, which means it is more work for a blogmeister to keep it civil.

      1. Peripheral Visionary

        With all due respect, I disagree. Having been on the internet for two decades, it has always been thus. Political and economic discussions in particular have always been nasty and overly personal.

        There may have been some mythical days of yore in the DARPA era when everyone knew each other personally and conversation was civil, but that came to an end as soon as internet access became generally available. There were spammers, trolls, and hateful invective all the way back in the flickering green screen terminal era. I will say that 2003 and 2008 were worse than years previous for obvious reasons, but if anything, things have slightly improved since then.

        (One reason that so many bloggers seem to think that things used to be better is simply because they are remembering when their blog was only distributed among family and friends and like-minded associates. Everything changes as soon as a blog comes into the public awareness, which in turn attracts the attention of the trolls. That isn’t the internet changing, though, that’s a simple function of the public profile of the blog.)

        One area that has markedly deteriorated, however, has been online computer gaming. While there were certainly issues with toxic people back in the old text-based MMORPG days, they are nothing compared to the hate and the rage that dominates online gaming in the current era. If you have hope for the future of mankind, just sign up for any online game and you will quickly be cured of that as you realize, meeting some of the most toxic people you have ever met, that these are the youth of our society, the representatives of the rising generation. Interesting times ahead . . .

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          That is just not true.

          This site (and Barry’s) had more traffic in 2008 and 2009. And the comments were on the whole more civil. So don’t advance theories that are counterfactual. And Barry has had a high traffic blog even longer than I have.

        2. Nathanael

          Yves, were you around in the era of Usenet? I remember exactly when it got overrun by trolls. (Around the time AOL gained access to Usenet. It really does help restrict trolling if you have to have a university account in order to participate…) Forums and blogs were a retreat from Usenet.

          The current situation with blogs is about where Usenet was in the last couple of years before it died. It’s not worse than it was then.

        3. different clue

          What percent of today’s youth are online gamers? And what are the other youth, who are not gaming online, doing instead?

  16. rjs

    i had meant to explain what happened to me a few weeks back & this is as good a space as any…

    for a period of between 10 days and two weeks i was unable to comment on any wordpress site including here using my normal blogger sign-in…apparently my comments were flagged by a wordpress plugin from a software firm Akismet that blocks spam comments across the spectrum of wordpress

    the symptom: when one hits the submit comment button, the page reloads, a comment # is added to the url, but no comment appears…

    apparently someone on a wordpress site flagged my comments as spam because they disagreed with what i had to say (i suspect the American Enterprise Institute, but it could have been the WSJ or anyone else) as a result, Akismet had blocked my comments on all wordpress sites when i was signed in with my gmail addr & blogger url…

    i ran a series of experiments here in an attempt to determine what the problem was: (starting here: )

    when i realized that it was my email address and url sign-in that caused the commenting problem, i went to wordpress support and described what was happening…one of their members in turn suggested i contact Akismet; they fixed it; but there’s still the possibility that getting banned on one wordpress site will stop you from commenting on another…

  17. Larry

    I in no way have anywhere close to the comments you and Rihotz get but I decided long ago that I didn’t have the time to waste with spammers and trolls. The comments that come to my blog are automatically screened and I get the opportunity to reject them before they get posted.

    Some of these idiots like to accuse me of violating their free speech rights and when I do take the time to respond to them before sending them forever into cyber space I remind them that if I was really violating their free speech rights I would have them arrested, gagged and imprisoned until they signed an oath never to speak out against me in the future.

    They’ve clearly never lived under conditions where their ability to say most anything they want to is restrained for fear of loss of limb or life.

    1. different clue

      Colonel (Retired) Lang runs his Sic Semper Tyrannis comments section the same way. He pre-moderates by pre-reading and only allowing the comments he approves of to get published.

      If Yves Smith and Lambert Strether applied the same standards to “permit to publish” that they now apply to “remove troll comments if/when needed”, then the same non-troll commenters would still get through as now. It would just take longer and they would have to wait a while to see their comments appear. And the trolls might give up knowing that their typing effort was never even seen at all for a while before being deleted.

      1. LifelongLib

        I occasionally post on another blog that has the same policy. It makes it very difficult to carry on any sort of conversation or debate with other posters, one of the great pluses of NC. If a change in policy is necessary I’d favor some sort of registration system for posters rather than pre-reading.

        1. different clue

          Hmmm . . .

          The threads at SST do look sustained and patient and persistent in terms of reply and re-reply and so on. Of course, he only does one post a day, sometimes less.

          1. LifelongLib

            In the blog I mentioned there’s no threading. Posts (if approved) are simply published in the chronological order they were received in, often after a lag of several hours. Even if a threading system like NC has could be implemented with pre-reading, that kind of time lag would be a conversation-killer.

  18. AbyNormal

    from Barry’s post: “Emotions come to the forefront faster than “rational” thoughts. Daniel Kahnman divides the cognitive processes as either “thinking fast” (Emotions) versus “thinking slow” (Logic). Scathing, emotional, negative, knee jerk comments can actually nullify intelligent, coherent, logical, sourced, data driven arguments through this technique.”

    i witness an opposite effect at NC…troll-yak, at a minimal, highlights the thinking person’s curiosities thereby, strengthening personal and communal growth.
    (No longer will i feed ‘jackhole opinion(s)’…apologies for this past transgressions)

    This site bleeds Quality thanks to Yves, Lambert, and the Naked Souls of Naked Capitalism.

  19. rob

    Despite being annoying and wasting space,
    troll comments are useful sometimes,if for no other reason than to put right in the discussion,moronic assumptions and the rest of the prevailing logic as to what passes as opinion about these real issues.In a way it is fascinating how blatently these voices come out of the woodwork ,especially on certain threads and topics.The sheer volume some of these posters supply, shows something in and of itself, when they have so little to say.
    That said, it does get old .And is perfectly understandable when you may have to just hit; “delete”.
    Thanks for providing a real discourse here.

  20. PeterP

    Ritholtz can do whatever he wants but I know of one example when he banned a guy for being an MMT-er. Sure he seemed like a troll, because he kept repeating that Ritholtz had no idea about debt and deficits, and he was right. He didn’t use any of the “disrupt the internet” techniques, he was just point out the truth, relentlessly, and this pissed Barry off until he banned him.

    I can imagine how much effort goes into policing comments, but it is sad to see this era of free exchange of opinion on blogs coming to an end. Blogs without comments are like announcement boards. Maybe commenting will move to sites like Reddit, I have no idea. I like reading comments under blogs, and yes, I am one of those 1% who comment.

    1. patricia

      Think of NC’s comment section as a neighborhood bar. There’s no “free exchange of opinion” when filled with angry drunks or when the competition’s toadies are sent in to railroad the convivial atmosphere.

      I am deeply grateful to the proprietor and staff of this bar. They do grueling labor on behalf of their community, and profit jist ain’t what it used to be.

      If they’d start serving pints, it’d be perfect. Can’t you find a replicator somewhere?

      1. Nathanael

        I really like this analogy. Good moderation is invaluable. I know it’s a big job. But there’s no excuse for not doing it. If you don’t moderate, you’re letting disruptive people disrupt the bar. If you close down comments, you’re *closing the bar*, with rather serious negative results (you never see outside feedback) which you may not even notice.

  21. Mcmike

    Seems to be an inevitable feature of webtropy. The fact that it is in some cases clearly organized is indeed highly annoying

    Here’s my suggestion: make commenters pay a nominal fee to register. Require payment by paypal account. You could allow anonymous user names to display, but the admin has the key that ties user names to the RW. This makes banning much more enforceable, and scamming harder.

    Then to keep admins honest, the banned posts are not dissapeared but instead go to a penalty box for all to see. Transparency.

    The upside is it retains the earnest dialog, that would a shame to toss out with the bathwater.

    Obviously this is more manageable as a business service some one could offer to several blogs.

    1. Nathanael

      Nope. The trouble is that paid trolls working for the Koch Brothers or Rupert Murdoch would have no trouble paying the fee, but some of the lower-class people who provide insightful comments would not be able to justify the fee.

      Money is the wrong filtration method.

      1. McMike

        It’s not the fee, it’s the fact that a paypal account must be linked to a name, address, and bank account.

        The name and address are available to the admin to see. This would mean only the really determined paid trolls would keep re-upping by opening new paypal accounts in dumy name/addresses every time they get banned.

        It should filter out a bunch of the amatuer trolls anyway.

        The second part of the idea I actually like better, which is that deleted posts get sent to a penalty box for all to see. Perhpas they leave behind a url so you tell a post was deleted. That way, everyone can see for themselves what the admin’s enforcement policy is.

    2. different clue

      I do not use paypal. If the proprietors do this I hope they set up a way to accept checks or Postal Money Orders or cash or stamps or something else real and non-digital.

      1. McMike

        See above. The purpose of the paypal account is to provide an on line proxy for social security number. Generally speaking, most people use their real name and address on a paypal account.

  22. Alyosha

    My experience is a little different. On twitter, last month Barry [or his interns??] posted:

    NO WONDER WE DONT DO WELL IN MATH OR SCIENCE IN U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View…

    Not liking the negative stereotype, I replied:

    So what happened 75 years ago when it was 80%?

    And was _immediately_ blocked.

    With American public education 100% secular, it seems fairly bigoted to bring up creationists; America was much more “religious” in the past than now; it didn’t stop me (as a “Creationist”) from getting my math degree.

    Barry is building and Ivory Tower with an echo chamber. C’est la vie!

    1. kris

      Agree. It happened to me, also a long time ago.
      Ritholz has an unpublished agenda in my opinion.

      Yves smith has a published agenda.

  23. andrew hartman

    i like this blog because of the reporting on bankster frauds and their government
    enablers. the OWS and MMT stuff: does nothing for me. the comments are usually fun and interesting, but the folks get pretty rough on dissenting views,
    and they get rough quickly. all in all, keep everything the same.

    barry ritholtz is way too full of himself.

  24. Renodino

    Limit posters to those who contribute money to NC. Make it a $50 minimum.
    Watch the troll problem go away. I like to apply the $50 rule to just about everything that requires separating the serious from the poseurs.

    This will raise needed funds and eliminate a nettlesome problem all at once.

    1. Zachary Smith

      I suspect a “payment” policy would make matters even worse. IMO lots of the trolls are subsidized by somebody. If they’re already paying for the trashing of topics they don’t like, what’s a mere $50 extra?

      What I like about this fellow is how ‘up front’ he is about everything. Assuming he’s an honest guy, that’s fine.

      I’ve had lots of experience with blog/forum operators who aren’t a bit honest. Back before the 2000 election I was a peon poster at the IndyStar Politics forum. That’s when I first saw how a site could be handed over to nutcases – in that instance right wingers. Before an important election the moderators would ban all but a token number of “lefties”, leaving the field clear for the righties. At other times if you crossed one of the favored goons by demolishing him with facts and figures, you were a goner!

      Not too long ago I objected rather vigorously to a blog owner’s praising the virtues of Tar Paper Shacks. He was a very self-important fellow and banned me before my first post appeared. :)

      Can blog operators view the IP addresses of posters? If so, complaints from ‘regulars’ known to be sensible folks might allow a focused moderation on the incoming messages from only those addresses.

      Finally, banning all comments would be better than allowing the trolls to have free rein. IMO they’re that much of a danger!

  25. Jeff N

    I don’t blame you if you want to do away with the trolls by killin’ comments. Maybe just “like” and “unlike” buttons? :)

  26. steelhead23

    Premise. First Affirmative Argument. First Adverse Rebuttal. First Adverse Argument. First Affirmative Rebuttal. Anon. That, more or less, is the format for academic debate. Internet debate is completely different. Premise and first affirmative are in the blog post. Then comes a group of cheerleaders, sometimes adding some interesting perspectives. Then, we get the doomers and anti-intellectuals, often accompanied by name calling and obscure text acronyms. And it goes downhill from there. Actually Yves, you and crew to a terrific job of keeping this blog space useful (yes, this is cheerleading, but its true). I have no objection whatsoever to you managing the blog as you see fit – and if I did, I could always go read ZH or MarketTicker for grins.

  27. Susan the other

    It’s interesting to hear how many troll comments get tossed. I thought it was just a hostile-creep problem, but obviously, dedicated twisters can take over the dialog. So thanks for the good police work. I enjoy the comments here as much as the posts. I think none of us should get too paranoid. If you make a good comment and it gets lost in the ozone, just rephrase it and try again. Works for me.

  28. Trendisnotdestiny

    Responses like these (Ritholtz & NC) really speak how much time and energy is required in running an interesting and valued blog site. Time is precious and information is valuable.

    If there is not a mechanism for dealing with the inefficient (at best) and parasitic (at worst) trolls, then the host websites are consuming more energy with potentially less value. One other issue this presents is the idea (as Barry points out) of tone. If a major objective is to learn, share and challenge ideas involving our financial ecology, then the process in which this happens should be sensitive to excessive provocation and mindless diversionary tactics.

    Obviously, it is not easy to measure and control for, but I fully support those who want to protect the salience of dialogue at the expense of an everything-goes banter.

    If we look at the political, financial, and social hyperbole in our present day culture, full of opaque obfuscation and propaganda, instituting “a Ritholtz” is not only necessary, but needed in a great gobsmacking quantities.

    All the best,

  29. libarbarian

    “4. Suggest extreme, over-the-top, counter-productive solutions which will hurt more than help, or which are wholly disproportionate to what is being discussed. ”

    I plead guilty .. but I’m no troll. My suggestions that we do extreme things like, for example, line Wall Street with the crucified bodies of traders, don’t come from a desire to discredit meaningful action but because (1) I’m pissed and (2) I like the idea of an homage to Crassus, who made his point by lining the Appian Way for miles with the crucified bodies of Spartacus’s followers. But yeah, it’s not really a serious suggestion.

    Besides, there is the concept of the Overton window. Having someone advocating something truly extreme can make ideas that are only “extreme” to the villagers (such as simply prosecuting elite criminals) look moderate (which they really are) by comparison. Should we let them actually define enforcing the law as “extreme”?

    Maybe it does more harm than good though.

  30. dennis mcf

    For what its worth , here is my first ever comment submitted to a blog . I read ( and very modestly subscribe to ) NC and read TBP because they give me exposure to people 1 ) more knowledgeable than I , 2 )more intelligent than I , and who actually care about what is going on outside the tiny sphere of their own lives . The level of the comments at both sites is higher by far than at other sites and definitely contributes to the experience . I had no real awareness of how awash in propaganda for status quo the popular media was and of the kabuki theater nature of our politics previously .

  31. grass mud horse covering the middle

    With all respect due to the blog post authors, I often find the comment string here following each more interesting, thought provoking and informative than the post which elicited the comments. The discourse here often is at a high level seldom seen on blogs and the comments add useful perspective and round out the subject. They are often also quite funny and entertaining.

    I find myself leaving blogs and conventional news writing venues that don’t have comments enabled and not returning. Much of the value of the internet is its interactivity–take that away and I simply lose interest.

    As a long time moderator and administrator of websites that generate a lot of user authored content I admire the excellent job done here in keeping the quality of what we see at the high level it is.

  32. EmilianoZ

    I’ve enjoyed the comment section ever since I discovered this blog (via Baseline Scenario) some time in 2009. Over the years, I must have contributed a few 100s comments myself.

    I’m sure the trolling is a concerted effort from the 1% and their laquais. They want to pollute this well as they have polluted so many other things. They’re totalitarian control freaks, always on the lookout for the next revolution. Don’t let them win.

    As a reader, I don’t mind the trolls. I don’t read them. As a regular here, I’ve developed a sense of whose comments are worth reading. These days I mainly read Richard Kline, Nathanael and a few others. I know this is not an option for the moderators.

    For spams originating from automated programs, why not use captchas?

    1. RanDomino

      I second this. A simple captcha isn’t a major hassle for a real human being. If it wouldn’t work for technical reasons (such as that it would be ineffectual) then never mind.

      Also, maybe deputize some moderators? Of course, then you’d be trading comment-management for moderator-management.

      1. Nathanael

        From what I’ve been told at another forum, “jigsaw puzzle” captchas are apparently quite effective at the moment. Standard captchas were outwitted by OCR.

  33. PaulHarveyOswald

    OK, guilty as charged. I am one of the 99.9963% that rarely post. Mostly because the content is usually over my head–but that’s why I’m here, to make sense of the financial mess we’re in. But when I get to the name calling in the comments, I stop reading and leave that post.

  34. barrisj

    I would be very curious to know if a more orderly-and less “trolly”- comments section would obtain if readers needed to register first before leaving any remarks. Do other blogsites which require user signups experience less of the sort of offensive behaviour that is the subject of Ritholz’s rant?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Barry requires that people register in some way and that leads comments levels to plunge.

      Personally I don’t like commenting on sites that make you register. I do once in a great while. It’s more the pain in the ass factor rather than the privacy factor.

      1. habenicht

        I found this site worth the while to register as it really has taught me a lot. However, one thing that I find slightly troubling is that it seems like I can not “log out” (regardless of how I try, I can’t seem to clear the name field in the comment box).

        Given the known issues with the trolls that Yves describes, I have never been sure if this is a “feature or a bug” (been dying to use that phrase), but figured this would be a good place as any to ask the question.

        Keep up the fantastic work Yves.

        1. Mel

          I know that Firefox saves that information on my own computer as part of its feature to remember information that I’ve typed into webpage forms, to be used if I fill them in again.

          Very probably that’s happening in your browser too — it’s not nakedcapitalism logging you in — it’s your web browser’s auto-complete feature saving those type-ins for you. If I use Firefox’s “Clear Recent History” menu option, my saved info gets cleared out.

  35. JEHR

    I wanted to know just what caused the financial crisis. I began reading books and blogs and I have learned so much. I know how money works (MMT); I know who corrupted and committed fraud (all the banks–I have their names and their deeds!); and I know what corruption and accounting control fraud are and the damage they have done to the world’s economies. I have read the originals of many important documents (from the FCIC, the Levin/Coburn Report, Occupy SEC letters to regulators, foreclosure documents, etc.) Reading has made me a better-educated and more informed person than I would have been without this access to the Internet.

    Thank you, Yves, Lambert and guest bloggers on NC, for all the time you take to help us get better educated in a most complicated world. I have also used many of the links provided by commenters. Thank you too.

    I also compile the the dark deeds of Goldman Sachs:

  36. Octavian

    I appeal to NC commentators, Yves and others – especially those with a rational bent – to not to be so easily frustrated by apparent trolls, hijackers and contrarians. Often I read comments that accuse commentators to NC of being trolls, agent-provocateurs, simple contrarians etc., and I’m not always convinced that it’s the case. Yes, there are many examples of each type – though not a disproportionate number with a disproportionate influence.

    One of the most common things I’ve seen, not just in my own comments, but in observing the discussions here and elsewhere on the web, is misleading rhetorical emphasis. For instance, obviously, it should be the very point you’re making that you should be emphasizing in your language. But if this emphasis is done poorly, or not with the typical rhetorical convention used within NC’s community, readers may not realize that you’re making a point at all, and often believe that there is an attempt to mislead on a point.

    It seems to me that it’s, most often, poor rhetoric that is mistaken for obfuscating a particular thread. Yet, by and large, NC commentators – particularly the usual suspects – seem able to filter out and distinguish genuine attempts to post a proper response, an emotional response, agent-provocateurs, simple contrarians, proper rational arguments, cogent rhetoric etc. Of course, in other cases, the wrong point is being emphasized, and the writer or speaker is dumbfounded when the commentator realized that his point was missed altogether (something I have seen many times on NC, even with some of the most seasoned commentators).

    Additionally, I think it’s often the case that ‘newbies’ are excited at finding, entering into and learning from a broadly rationalist community such as NC’s, and they very much want to participate. But, NC has already developed a set of community terms for various rhetorical tropes – terms that, often, begin the process of responding to each post by commentator (already ‘initiated’) engaging each other in rhetorical critique, as well as logical and grammatical critique. As such, it’s not always easy for newbies to engage ‘correctly’ and, consequently, have their own rhetoric misidentified, mislabeled or simply misunderstood.

    NC’s community is no wilting flower, it has a robust collective intelligence and formidable insight into many topics, they are not easily deterred by trolls, hijackers or serial contrarians and, it seems, are highly tolerant of those newbies wishing to learn and engage in NC’s collective wisdom.

    1. Dan Kervick

      I agree with this sentiment. As someone who has spent a lot of time as both a blog commenter and a blogger for about 10 years now, I think “troll” has become one of the most useless terms ever invented. As far as I can tell, it is typically used to mean something like “people who disagree so strongly and so stridently with my point of view, or the dominant point of view on this blog, that it makes me really really mad.”

      Also, people who do happen to take issue with what is the dominant point of view on a particular blog are frequently attacked aggressively by the other commenters as though they were antibodies ganging up to destroy an invading virus. Naturally they try to defend themselves against the attacks, one-by-one. But they are then accused of thread-jacking. Also, the alleged “troll” is often the one who is fairly even-tempered, while all of the other commenters are getting increasingly furious and insulting. Then the troll is accused of having an agenda to cause trouble.

      Blogs tend to develop communities of the like-minded co-dependency, and the congregants of those communities often try to police the comments so they can enjoy their faith in peace without being confronted by the disturbing evidence of infidels. I would estimate that 9 out of 10 times the word “troll” is used, that’s what is really going on.

      The main blogger may also be trying to get a particular dominant message across, and if a persistent commenter disagrees with that message and argues hard against it, the blogger may grow frustrated that the messaging is being disrupted. This becomes especially pronounced if over time the commenter is winning the argument.

      I differentiate all this from attempts to vandalize a blog with ridiculously off-topic content, or to play various kinds of stupid non-responsive games. And obviously, gratuitous cursing and insults directed at others tend to raise the temperature and should be discouraged, whether they are coming from the trolls or the faithful.

      One thing I have found in my role as blogger, rather than commenter, is that if somebody starts of early in the comments section by throwing a wild roundhouse punch, and you respond directly to the comment with all the reasonableness you can muster rather than getting defensive right away, that often dials things down quick and establishes a tone for the rest of the discussion. The commenter’s wild-swinging anger then looks a bit ridiculous, even to that commenter. Sometimes people are just frustrated and feel powerless. They want to be listened to, and when they find out someone is listening they settle down.

  37. dirtbagger

    “Phrased differently, if I take the time and the energy to construct a coherent, sourced, logical argument that follows the rules of the art of discourse, I no longer feel obligated to post the comments of those who refuse to follow the same said rules.”

    Very elitist, considering the vast majority of people have a limited ability to formulate logical arguments on paper. Is Ritholtz suggesting that only those individuals with a strong command of the English language are worthy of sharing their ideas, opinions, prejudices, and insights to their peers on his blog?

  38. Ron

    Barry has an interesting site but he does throw one out if you are critical of his love- Apple. Having been an early vendor to Apple and worked with them for many years I don’t see them as superhuman as I have personally watched them go through the ups and down of growing a big business but recently I posted on Barry’s site about Apple and didn’t describe them in glowing terms and was immediately considered a Troll!!!!

    No big deal but when someone has a very public site and invites comments one should expect wide range of views…

    1. McMike

      oh Lord, there it is. Why could’t my “find” feature locate it on the first three tries?

      The internets gremlins are a fickle lot.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It takes a TON more work to moderate comments. The more time we spend on comments, the less time we have to write posts.

      1. Nathanael

        Most sites have too many posts anyway. :-) Your posts are consistently good. I’m just pointing out that sometimes comment moderation is more valuable than posting; a lot of sites have a lot of posts which never needed to be made.

  39. The Dork of Cork.

    Hey , I was taken off the Irish economy site 3 times.

    Given the neo – liberal nature of that farce I am kind of proud of being a troll.

    And it does not extent to just neo – liberal sites.

    On a Irish Quasi Marxist site my comments were blocked when I said his concentration on tax issues will not solve the problem given the private nature of money.

    A government just prints the stuff without a need for a central or commercial bank.

  40. Paul Tioxon

    Yves and Lambert,

    I sympathize with you both because this is work, more than just a labor of love, with any love the honeymoon is over at some point and the long haul work begins. Good days, bad days and unfortunately at some point, days too terrible to bear, but we must bear them.

    By becoming public figures, on a daily basis, with no break, is a machine like endeavor. The production must go on everyday with no high minded statesmanship wave of emotion to carry you through the lows. Occupy is now a moment in history, that while not without import or effect, is now gone, leaving only its consequences and not the in- the-moment high points to motivate. You will be subjected to annoying stupid idiots, and even worse, but enough about me.

    This IS your site, and yes, like a garden, it needs weeding, maybe occasionally crop dusting, but without the deliberations of others, it is worse than an echo chamber, it is a monoculture, waiting for that one in million microbial blight to sweep through and make you go the way of the dodo bird or the Dutch Elm tree. Becoming out of touch and irrelevant is how to become the very last to know that there is real problem going on. Democracy requires voting in the booth, for whoever, but while that is a NECESSARY condition, it is entirely INSUFFICIENT. Democracy is the taking hold of social, national and economic institutions to the point where these institutions are in the service of the public, the whole, and not a private or extremely small minority group’s interests. The 1% vs the 99% is the biggest contribution of the Occupy movement, that almost everyone from childhood to old age understands that America is only serving the interest of 1% of the population and that is taken out the hide of the rest of us.

    NC points a more granular analysis of this truth, and specializes in the financial and economic policies that operate in the day to day lives of individuals in roles as varied as homeowners, taxpayers, political activists, and human beings in need of food, shelter, medical care and education. The role of NC is in policy analysis and opinion formation for the public and its interests. Not a lot of stock tips here. As result, you are targeted by lone individuals who have internalized the larger message of capitalism and American right political ideology, in all iterations.

    Additionally, you are targeted by the paid agents of various political operations, including amoral hired guns of PR firms, as well as card carrying true believers. You have become political as result of your commitment to accurate economic analysis. I doubt that you can remain a purely “non-echo chamber” when what I learn here and I am sure, others as well , take those lesson with them and write on local and regional sites. You may not be working in cahoots with the international communist conspiracy, yet, just give it time. The objective conditions of the daily operation of the economy in all of its quantified glory leave little room for widely divergent interpretations, unless you are a lying liar. The economy is still in the toilet. This year, already 3 more banks have failed and have been shut down by the FDIC.

    Capitalism is laid bare for all of the world to see here on NC, and what we see is a rotting corpse that remains unburied in full public view. The cruel inhumanity of capitalism is revealed by this harsh reality. Because when we stopped being animals, and we became human beings, one of the things we did to set ourselves apart from our animal nature was to bury our dead. It is among the most ancient of human institutions. It is where we derive our name, human, from humare, to bury. And like the seeds we planted in order to grow food, the dead are planted, hopefully to go on in some way which will support the still living. And respectfully, to allow the dead to be buried so we can remember them as they were when alive.

    1. bluntobj

      I have publicly disagreed with Lambert, Yves, and Paul here in the comments section over time on threads I found interesting.

      Paul, the metaphor of a monoculture was beautiful. We disagree on the direction democracy will go, or even what “democracy” means, but we agree that the process and discussion evolves healthier ideas and thought processes than talking into open space without feedback.

      Many years ago I used to have a weekly barbeque for some college friends. I always asked for feedback on the food. It was always positive. Looking back I shudder at the crappy quality I served up. No one had told me it was poor, bad, or not sufficent. I always had nagging doubts, because I know there are better creators of tasty food out there, better receipes, better ideas, and I never heard them.

      This blog is yours, Yves, and if you wish to have no comments, then that is absolutely your perogative. I would say that if I never heard or saw any negative comments I would have nagging doubts about what I wrote, and be left wondering if I was missing something.

      I do enjoy the comments, because it helps me understand what an audience is thinking, and that helps me understand what the various bits of society is thinking or being told to think, without third party interpretation.

  41. Phichibe

    Hi Yves,

    Personally, I welcome your efforts at “troll-motelling” (they check in but don’t check out). I definitely cut down on my comments here after several persistent anarchist-left/libertarian right types engaged in ad hominem responses. Life is short, too short to engage in persiflage with pinheads.

    That said, I think that the solution may be to require real names (I know enforcing it may be hard, but at the least you can pull IP addresses from your visitors’ posts and display them – who knows, these may be our new names in 100 years ;-). I’ve even done this in several exchanges here and for the record will do so again here. My real name is Philippe Byrnes.

    Another advantage of this is that the search engines will eventually pick the real names up, and persistent trolls/wingnuts (“The Lone Gunmen” of the “X-Files” come to mind, only less amusing) will soon find they have left a permanent trail of their in(s)anity. One of the worst things about the Internet has been the way anonymity has emboldened many who would otherwise be too cowardly to employ the sort of language they do were they required to publicly identify themselves.

    Best wishes


  42. craazyman

    Somebody should program up a “Troll Swatter (TM)” that would leave the graphic impression of a fly swatter imprint on an offending comment.

    You could leave the underlying text readable in a slightly transparent type, so the rest of us could see what got swatted, but superimpose over it an image of a crushed troll, maybe with a flattened bloody red body outline and a crushed troll hat, underneath a fly-swatter grid pattern.

    That would be a lot of fun. You could crush the troll and humiliate them, by leaving their stupid comment readable, at the same time.

    If somebody runs out of Pacifiex (TM) — which neutralizes the political pyschosis wave allowing the patient to resume rational discourse about problems of import affecting their local community and nation — the Troll-Swatter (TM) would be a form of therapy.

    People would scroll down the comment thread to see what got swatted. Then they’d read it. This may encourage trolls but that may be a risk worth taking, depending on one’s attraction to hilarity. There could be a million dollars here if somebody knows how to program for the web. I’d buy one if I was running a blog.

  43. JGordon

    Something you all have to be wary of is a tendency towards group-think. I have often seen people confusing comments that threaten their world-view with “trolling”. As in, I don’t like reading what you just wrote, therefore you are “trolling” when in fact this is a valuable service to the community.

    Ah, the real trolls who repeat MSM “right” and “left” corporate propaganda are admittedly annoying though. Especially those who try to pretend that we don’t live in a police state or that the economy is on the verge of collapse–which no paid for troll will ever do.

  44. citizendave

    When I started reading NC, the thing I found most interesting was the simultaneous openness and high level of discourse among the comentariat. I wondered “How do you do that?” Over the years I have formed the opinion that you, Yves, set the tone, and the more earnest of the participants here try to emulate your tone. Anyone is welcome if some time is spent to figure out how to fit in.

    Toward the goal of understanding how to fit in here, perhaps it would help to offer, somewhere near the top of the page, a link to guidelines for newcomers. It would not stop the hard-core trolls, but it should give pause to the casual visitors, maybe cutting the workload a bit. It would also offer a convenient way to warn transgressors. Each point in the guidelines could have a separate permalink, to which you could link in a reply to a comment if you want to give the person another chance, saying “Read this before you offer another comment”. Somewhat labor-intensive, but with a nice set of “do and don’t” guidelines as boilerplate, you could bring it to the brink of automation.

    As a student of philosophy, I understand how difficult it is to do philosophy when the people around you are not cooperating in the endeavor. It’s difficult enough when everyone present is working toward the same goal of greater understanding. So when somebody shows up and cries “But, inflation!” it would be nice to be able to say “Read #14!”, and carry on with the conversation. Maybe we could have some fun here working together to evolve the list of guidelines and refutations. Almost every day I read at least one comment here that contains a line I wish I could remember forever. With so many scintillating comments, perhaps a list of guidelines and refutations could become a popular feature.

    I know that moderating comments is a big job. My first experience as a mod was on John Kerry’s online town hall during the ’04 campaign. Anybody was allowed to comment, but they would get banned if they were unfriendly toward Sen. Kerry. It was wild, and a very big job. I was fired as a volunteer because I wasn’t harsh enough, didn’t ban enough bad actors. I wanted to argue with them. But I had to agree that it was necessary for somebody to be ruthless, or else watch the whole thing get ruined by the opposition.

    I would venture to say that true democracy is still unmanageable. Occupy tried to be leaderless, but people with agendas saw those leaderless people cooperating with each other and IMO regarded it as a power vacuum. Maybe the people who are cooperating with each other to do philosophy here could keep the distractors at bay by offering some education on how they (the distractors) should conduct themselves, without taking too much time away from the real battle. As for the real battle, nobody does it better than NC.

  45. Joe Q

    I publish, you publish, we all publish. Via blogs, comments, you-tubes, tweets, emails, radio, tv, … All of us edit what we choose to read, write, and acknowledge in various forms. I find all these warnings about the necessary caution on the issues of fairness, balance, group-think, personal intitative, openness, closedness, susceptibility to all the ills that may befall us, and all the possible benefits to be achieved by various approaches — all of this and more — very entertaining, and I think many other people do as well. There are a lot of people just watching the show, who don’t participate actively. They are called audience. My take is to just keep publishing whatever you want, as long as that works for you as a publisher. Moderate, delete, highlight whatever you want, it’s your show. Your audience may grow or shrink, depending on the choices you make. But so what? We all have different objectives. Find your own way, and even question it publicly if you want, as Barry R. has done. Good discussion doesn’t mean we all have to waste a lot of time worrying about the enormous clutter posted on any popular blog. Just keep the conversation going. There are lots of ways to do this. If one way doesn’t work, ask why and is it all worth it, and perhaps try another way. I am enjoying this topic, best question raised in a long time.

  46. JTFaraday

    “Do the math, and you realize the individual visitor-to-comment ratio is > than 132 to 1.”

    I bet that’s like catnip to some people.

  47. dan h

    Couldnt you implement the user +/- votes while still keeping your current moderation policy as a way to make the work behind that policy quicker? Or maybe you could publish the standard troll response in a kind of sticky, and have an alert set up behind the wall on your end that highlights posts receiving that standard response….Captcha also seems to work well against automated spam at least.

  48. JeremyGrimm

    I don’t know how large the troll problem is since Ives and Lambert do so well at trimming them. I appreciate and enjoy reading the comments and would miss them greatly [I do realize that Ives is not proposing getting rid of comments but the selection cited definitely evokes for me that specter]. However, I confess there are more than a few times when I have difficulty understanding some of the comments — sometimes on account of the complexity of what they’re saying or on account of my ignorance, but all too often on account of the peculiar verbal shorthand they use, an abundance of what to me are obscure acronyms, or a strangely indirect way of making their point. I would also appreciate if some of those who comment spent just a little longer to achieve greater clarity [though I do my best to compensate by reading more carefully]. The name-calling, put-downs, and the scathing tone of some of the comments disturbs me and contributes to my reluctance to make comments of my own.

  49. JohnB

    Great post, and this is something I encounter all of the time, and it is indeed hard to fight against; people in general are, unfortunately, highly susceptible to fallacious argument, since a high-degree of critical thinking doesn’t exactly abound in society.

    No matter how logical or well expressed your argument is much of the time, it only takes a handful of trite and repetitive variations of fallacious argument, to successfully muddy discussion; they might not win people over, but they’ll certainly spread doubt and fill up a discussion with garbage, so others lose interest.

    One of the more confusing things about it, is that I’m not always sure whether or not the people making these arguments actually believe them or not; some certainly do genuinely believe what they are saying, but very often, it is hard to truly pin-down the real shills, as they are not always so obvious (this is particularly the case, with the Austo-Libertarian types).

    It’s something that really irks me to a serious degree, seeing a shill who isn’t just spreading garbage, but who is successfully winning over acolytes, who just aren’t smart enough to see through the bullshít; it’s intellectual fraud, and basically an intellectual abuse of other people.

    I think what is really needed, is for people to actually unearth and document the ‘shill networks’; the platforms right-wing think-tanks/organizations use to co-ordinate trolling (like Hasbara and stuff), and if possible, grab databases of people signed up for trolling, to expose and shame them.

    That would be quite an enormous exposé imo, and really, how hard can it be to infiltrate some of these networks? They would likely be looking for as many people as they can get their hands on, so it could make for a great bit of investigative/whistleblower journalism, that would actually be very important for exposing negative discourse on the Internet.

  50. billy

    The way to cure bad speech is… No speech? Silly me, I thought it would be more, better speech.

    Your readers have the ability to detect and decide what to do with a troll’s post. You seem to ignore this and that is insulting.

    1. citizendave

      I find nothing insulting in this effort to maintain a certain high level of discourse. I like to try to read all the comments. We’ve seen some topics garner 300+ comments — and that’s after the filters and moderators have done their work to eliminate the noise that does nothing to advance the conversation. What Yves and Lambert are trying to do is keep the signal-to-noise ratio as low as possible. When there is a high noise level, a concerted effort to read every comment is an exercise in frustration — at best. So, yes, we readers can discern the difference between useful and useless comments. But as a practical matter, certain types of comments waste bandwidth. The hard-core trolls will not be deterred, and must be managed by humans. But there is a whole class of commenters, mostly newcomers, who have not taken the time to understand what is going on here, who tend to make silly, inane, casual, shoot-from-the-hip, ill-considered, illogical, not-well-thought-out comments. My view is that we commenters could help Yves and Lambert to reduce their workload, leaving only the inevitable deliberate trouble-makers, if we would take the time to educate ourselves and each other on suitable decorum here at NC. In any case, you should not feel insulted.

      1. billy

        I do not wish to live in a “walled garden” because you don’t want to scroll past a few lines. Nor do I think it is academic to censor criticism, especially for the reason that it is uninformed.

  51. dolleymadison

    “Ben Steinery” HAH that’s hilarious. Yves I hope you don’t get rid of the comments – I come to read what some of your regulars post almost as much as I come to read your posts. Especially Hugh, Susan the Other and Lulu to name a few!

  52. SH

    Keep up the good work. I’m now living in Bogota and still going even though I’m a troll and have an anecdote credit to my name. How many other trolls do? Get some class.

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