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Fomenting happy mischief. Indeed!

Written By: - Date published: 4:41 pm, December 13th, 2009 - 52 comments
Categories: blogs - Tags:

David has a new innovation at the sewer. The old comment voting system has been enhanced to, amongst other things, hide comments when they receive enough votes against. I had some fun testing this last week under various logins that I set up some years ago and keep active. It looks like an innovate quantitative social testing tool. You can see how it is useful to an organisation like Curia with its close ties to the National party polling system.

How does it work? Well not as big bruv* expected when I was using my lprent login.

big_bruv_commentBy the time I saw that, my comment looked rather like this with a lower score.


My response to big bruv also wound up being hidden. It said that I was interested in how the rating system was operating, and explained why he actually managed to get banned at The Standard in the past.

In fact all of my comments as lprent got hidden. While sarcastic in parts as is my usual style,  each comment contained some substantive valid points or was responding to comments directed at me. See them for yourself. 1, 2, 3, and 4.

This type of innovative hiding of comments based on anonymous voting is interesting as it removes all level of personal responsibility for what is effectively a ban. It significantly reduces the feedback that follow-up comments by other commentators or moderators would give. As such you’d have to question its value in operant changes in behaviour.

Explaining the new rating system, David described it thus (my italics).

Comments with lots of positive ratings get highlighted. I have set the threshold for now to 5. I may need to raise it. I don’t want too many highlighted just those which get lots of people saying this is great.

Comments with lots of negative ratings gets hidden you can still read them if you want by clicking on them, but it allows you to skip over them. Now I have set the threshold at 10 negative comments, as I don’t want lots of comments hidden. I will increase this if people are voting comments down just because they may not agree with a comment, as opposed to it being a comment of poor quality. There is a huge difference.

Well I’d agree in principle, however you haven’t succeeded. Hopefully I’ve assisted in providing calibration data for your system, it looks like a threshold probably needs to be above 75 negative comments before the sewer rats stop voting against the person rather than the comment. However that is a ridiculous level. As it stands it simply entrenches bullying as the dominant social behaviour in the sewer by the majority in-group in a way that I have only seen in Hollywood high school dramas.

If that was not your intent, then you should probably limit the number of votes per period after the comment is made. That would allow your commentators to assess a value per each vote If you set it to say 10 votes per login per 24 hours, then less excitable people would have to think before using their votes up early. The coding would be trivial. Of course that also put a value on having several aliases that they use. But at least there is a cost to logging in and out that will reduce idle block voting.

But there are other interesting aspects to this system. Prior to this I’d left several comments to get a feel for the tolerances of the local in-group. These were from various well-established alter-egos on Kiwiblog. The results were quite interesting as an example of pack behaviours.

  • If the commentator and comment was left-leaning, they were hidden albeit with lesser anti-scores.
  • If they were distinctly centre and conservative then they got very close to the trigger values.
  • If they were outrageously right wingnut statements then they got very positive scores.
  • I didn’t try obviously green, elderly, female, young or old style comments as I’d need to establish some of these identities.

You’d have to say that this system, while low maintenance in terms of moderating effort, is very good at stifling robust debate on kiwiblog to a relatively small cohort of possible opinion sets.

I’m not expert at Skinner and related techniques. But this type of technique in operant conditioning (using punishment without clear feedback) is often used to drive test subjects either psychotic or into a hopeless unthinking conformance. Fortunately the commentators are not confined, so do have a choice of moving to other sites that do allow some freedom of expression which have clearly defined behaviour standards. Public Address, The Standard, or even No Minister come to mind.

However it does provide an interesting way of looking a social behaviours for sociologists, politicians, political activists and others looking at the tolerances and reactions in group behaviour. Put up an idea as a comment in the sewer and see how it votes amongst the wingnuts. This would be an invaluable way of examining the social attitudes and sensitivities to a meme by this group. However I’d suggest not using a well-known pseudonym as personal dislike appears to dominate the effect.

However I’m surprised that lab-rat usage wasn’t highlighted in David Farrars description of the rating system. The benefits should have been immediately obvious to someone who runs a social polling company like Curia. I intend to spend some time to write code to strip this valuable quantitative data from the public pages. It’d be far easier for David to do from the database, especially as it tracks who makes each vote as you cannot rate a comment more than once for a given login.

Because the bully system that the voting tends to assist, people whose comments get hidden will tend to not comment, leading to a purer test sample of the target audience. This will steadily increase the efficacy of the system to a polling company.

It must be a very happy mischief in creating your very own socially in-bred and  highly conformant lab group of wingnuts for testing.

* big bruv under that psuedonym was last banned for poor behaviour in April last year for tiresomely attacking this site rather than talking about anything with any substance. He has done a hundred or so comments since then with a few notes by moderators. Obviously the bans left a suitable, but not deterrent, impression to him expressing himself at odds. Just not repeating behaviours that were unacceptable – which is the intent of the moderation and bans.

updated: Spelling mistake in title.


52 comments on “Fomenting happy mischief. Indeed!”

  1. BLiP 1

    The echo chamber just got louder.

  2. Farrar is bad news, unless you fit into a very narrow range of thoughts and beliefs, you are wasting your time at Farrar, he has become a parody of himself,
    expect it to get worser and worser.
    The site seems old to me now, and basically drivel centre right politico think.
    Of course the equal and opposite but the same is true of the Standard.

  3. Tim Ellis 3

    Good to see that bullying behaviour by other commenters is of concern to you LP.

  4. Rex Widerstrom 4

    Then you have sites that are the exact opposite of Kiwiblog, wherein the level of debate is generally considerably higher and the posts far better researched and more original but one wingnut blog owner leaps so heavily upon the slightest transgression that it’s easier to stay away than be addressed in an arrogant and dismissive manner as though one were, say, a university student who’d dared ask for an extension due to a death in the family.

    I’ve yet to find the “perfect” blog site… PA rarely discusses the harder political topics so is a “must-read but rarely contribute” and The Standard, while coming close, seems a little too successful at deterring the intelligent righties (yes, Victoria, the intelligemt righty does exist!) and tends to be left mostly with those who run lines (though there are enough outstanding exceptions to make it still a very worthwhile medium).

    I too am a little concerned about David’s new system. “Karma” didn’t used to worry me because I ignored it, and simply read comments from people (including some you’d no doubt chracterise as “extreme righties”) who I knew usually had something to say which would likely interest me.

    Asidfe from the fact that the new colours which highlight “well loved” and “hot debate” comments make me nauseous, the ability to make a comment “disappear” by voting it down seems to be encouraging those of a “pack” mentality to attack it (perhaps uner different aliases?) until it vanishes.

    And it appears entirely motivated by the identity of the poster… philu being a good example. Mostly his “Waynes World” approach to life and commenting style drives me up the wall. But on some issues – drug treatment, for instance – I’m eager to hear what he has to say even if I have to scramble through a field of ellipses to read it because he has personal experience to offer and has clearly given a great deal of thought to the topic.

    His comments on that issue aren’t even what I’d call “left”… if anythiing they’d almost fit with those of the Libertarianz… but they’re inevitably attacked by the swarm mind and given low karma.

    Before, there was at least a chance the uniformed might glance at “non conforming” comments on their way to have their prejudices reinforced. Now they can be made to disappear then, as BLiP says, the echo chamber just got… echoier.

  5. lprent 5

    Rex: I have yet to find the perfect blog as well. Unfortunately I don’t have much time to find one either. Running a blog takes too much time.

    I wrote that last night, finished and posted at my parents, and I’m writing this while getting some quick food on way back. Have to pick up Lyn at the airport.

    Doing the look at kiwiblogs new system reduced my posts last week. This weekend ‘off’ reduces my output next week because I have a lot of work to finish before Xmas. Oh well the joys of being a part time blogger sysop.

    We just keep doing incremental improvementson this one and see how far we get

    • Rex Widerstrom 5.1

      I hope you don’t think I meant The Standard (and you) in the first par Lynn!

      You do an exceptional job keeping it all running, and the fact that those on the right capable of intelligent discourse don’t seem to come here much, while disappointing, is hardly your fault.

      The fact that you’re so tolerant of those who do run tedious talking points illustrates that if there was a better level of debate you’d be letting it through.

      Unless of course there is, and it’s all a conspiracy to make the right look bereft of any creative thought 😀 😉

      • lprent 5.1.1

        ….that those on the right capable of intelligent discourse….

        I found a lot when I was on the MBA. Quite a few when I’ve been working. Virtually none on the blogs.

        I’ve come to the conclusion that we get the dregs of the ‘right’ on the blogs. I guess the good ones are doing things.

        I think that the left seems to be able to multi-task better. Brain structure perhaps?

  6. infused 6

    I don’t see how it’s any different from you guys removing people/deleting posts. It’s rather good not having to read comments that some of your posters make over there.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      I’d assume that not having to read comments you don’t like does save you from having to think.

    • lprent 6.2

      We seldom actually ban these days – weeks go by without it happening.

      People generally know the standard of behaviour that will trigger the moderator to stir into action.

      We also seldom delete posts unless people are banned. They usually wind up with a [deleted] on comment sections when they do just go over the edge as a warning. Some of the newer authors are still figuring out exactly what to do, but they really only do it on their own posts.

      Notes get added reasonably frequently to keep people aware of the edges. Typically this mainly happens with newbies to the site these days – ie the ones that look at the site as being virgin territory to troll.

      Of course once people attract attention, it tends to stay on them for a while.

      It is a bit of pain when some people moderate without initialing who did it – but again that is usually new authors trying it for the first time. I don’t like it. You should always know the personality who is doing it. But that is more educating the moderators.

  7. felix 7

    All together now righties: “WE’RE ALL INDIVIDUALS”.

    The most predictable blog around just got a little duller.

  8. Interesting. I have posted comments on Mr Farrer’s blog before, always courteous and seeking to make a reasonable point, but I find that I have been hidden. It is his blog, but I don’t think that I will post there again as I clearly cannot reach the standards of his audience. I doubt if either of us will feel much loss in this outcome!

  9. vto 9

    I read it about four times a year

    • lprent 9.1

      It is about the same for me. But I often also read the posts and comment streams where there is a link to The Standard.

      I also read most of the blog links in the left column about 4 times per year when I deciding if the linked site has gone moribund and should be set to private.

  10. Andrei 10

    I have to agree Lynn burying comments is a stupid idea, as is playing the man instead of the ball a sad fact of life in blog comments. Both here and there.

    But are you admitting to sockpuppeting on Kiwiblog in this post?

    Is so shame on you

    • lprent 10.1

      Ummm I do that everywhere when I have time, and have done so for over 20 years around the nets. One of the more interesting things around is to exercise your brain in a different pattern than your normal frame of reference. I do it here under my main login. lprent as sysop/moderator is pretty distinctive compared to lprent arguing my own opinions.

      The key is to actually argue what you believe in whatever guise it is. In my case, I have 50 years of experience to draw on, so usually I just pull up past personalities. For instance the left is some of my current thinking outside of here (where my roles are bit constrained) and the centre-right is from when I was doing an MBA and arguing with my left/green girlfriend.

      The wingnut attitude of course comes straight out of my adolescence before I went in the army. In those days I was so sure that whatever I thought was always right. The army was pretty good at showing that usually wasn’t the case and could get your platoon members killed.

      Whereas I guess that the normal sock-puppet usage seems to be related to doing provocateur actions – something I don’t usually do except in posts.

    • lprent 10.2

      Incidentally, if you look up AncientGeek on this site, you will find one of my personalities expressing itself in 2007 and early 2008. I used it early on when I wasn’t doing much with the site because we hadn’t agreed to do moderation, and when I was holding lprent in reserve for whenever that had to happen.

      Lyn reckons that one is closer to reality than either of the lprent ones.

  11. Draco T Bastard 11

    But this type of technique in operant conditioning (using punishment without clear feedback) is often used to drive test subjects either psychotic or into a hopeless unthinking conformance.

    So, RWNJ behaviour creates more RWNJs?

  12. Ruth 12

    The whole ‘karma’ system is ridiculous – it’s like star charts for pre-schoolers. Now there is a naughty chair, it seems!

  13. IrishBill 13

    To be fair to David frogblog has been running a similar system for some time and over there it does seem to keep the trolls down. I’d be very uncomfortable with any system like that here.

    • lprent 13.1

      Yeah – consider this post to be my report about why we shouldn’t have it after due investigation. I can’t think of an way to code something of that style that won’t run into the similar effects without getting into a epicycle on epicycle debugging accretion of rules.

      Looks like we’ll be stuck doing our idiosyncratic moderating for a while. And the commentators having to put up with it.

      • Bill 13.1.1


        I comment in some out of order way (by what ever way you pile of fuckwits decide is out of order), then moderate or ban me.

        at least I have some idea of what I have to deal with in your dictatorial blogospage word and can self moderate fairly confidently.

        Moderated by an anonymous herd! No, no ,no! That’s lowest common denominator bullshit given the nature of the forum.

    • Gosman 13.2

      As Irishbill has pointed out frogblog has a virtually identical system.

      Why haven’t you made a comment about this pefore lprent, especially considering they had their system in place much earlier?

      Don’t you post under multiple user names on frogblog then? 😉

      • lprent 13.2.1

        There are relatively few links from frogblog to The Standard that draw my attention to it. I seldom read frogblog comments, and I read their posts every couple of weeks*. My experience has been that the comments section, while it has a lot of interesting stuff, is tied up with Blue Peter and a few others making particularly insipid repetitive statements ad infinitium. So I wasn’t aware of their system. But I’m sure that the same things apply apart from the possible interest of Curia.

        Most sites that I read, I read the posts but seldom the comments, because I simply don’t have time to read all of the material in the posts.

        Kiwiblog links here frequently, I frequently get e-mails pointing out kiwiblog comments or posts about this site, and they often show up on the comments here. That draws my attention to them. That is probably a function of how many people read both the larger blog sites.

        * for a comparision, my iPhone which I read sites on the way to and from work has
        The Standard
        NZ Herald
        Red Alert
        No Right Turn
        The Economist
        Hot Topic
        Kiwipolitico (so few posts now *sigh*, but long interesting ones)
        Bowalley Road (ditto)
        plus a couple of techie sites for areas I work in.
        plus the e-mail lists.

        Obviously I read The Standard during the day. The rest are pretty much confined to the 90 minutes commuting each day – unless I take a car – in which case they don’t get read.

        I seldom get to read more than half of the material on that per day apart from The Standard

  14. Adam Jarvis 14

    The system described seems very similar to that of youtube. Users can thumbs up or down a particular post, the highly thumbs down posts being hidden.

    The system works in some cases, while failing tremendously in others.

    In music videos for example, i’ve noticed the feature coming in handy. Censored posts generally contain something along the lines of:

    “Zomg! Fuk ths sht. u giys r all losers” etc.

    I find this in most in most youtube videos actually. Everything from vlogs about popular culture, through rare Jethro Tull recordings to professional starcraft replays.

    Then there are times when the feature fails. It fails in the exact way Iprent has described. Viewers of the video are split into two sides and whichever side gains the ascendancy censors the comments of the other side. I see this on political channels (through the entire spectrum this happens, from libertarian to socialist), religious channels (theist and atheist) and channels supporting various causes from abstinence to gay rights.

    Essentially, if the channel is at all controversial… the feature does nothing but hinder robust debate and, interestingly enough, encourage flaming (from the side in the ascendancy). All it achieves is to create a sort of group think. On other channels, it seems to serve to cut down on the moderators job in weeding trolls and other evil doers.

    • lprent 14.1

      Yeah, it is pretty damn partisan here a *lot* of the time.

      About 5% of my moderating time these days is tied down moderating people saying that other people should be moderated or change their behaviour (from all sides).

      felix, gitmo, and travellev are the most frequent requests 😈

      That is after making it pretty damn clear that the moderators are jealous ogres who don’t share their roles. Hell I’ve been moderated by the other moderators….

  15. I take the negative Karmas and the Hidden Comments as a badge of honour!

    It’s nice to be appreciated. 🙂

  16. yawn 16

    Got nothing else to do except moan, again iprent. How about you make up some stunning science about the warming of the globe.

    While we are talking about managing dissent why don’;t we talk about your totalitarian penchant for removing any comments or commentators you don’t like. You really are a hypocritical boring old prick.

    [lprent: Sounds like another satisfied customer. Why don’t you learn to type? Too hard?
    Like actually understanding science. ]

  17. yawn 17



    [lprent: Also has problems with the capslock, hasn’t read my comments about how often I look at kiwiblog, has an overrated idea of my capabilities (I suspect an inside job myself from what I know about the security at parliament), and doesn’t know my family but seems to feel qualified to comment on it.

    Keep commenting. You can be a pet so I can use you as an example of the worst type of unthinking moronic illiterate that helps to drag down the sewer and makes it unreadable. Sure you can vote, but it is hard to see how you can hold down a job. The system obviously failed you with the functional illiteracy you’ve displayed.

    Adding you to the auto-moderate. ]

  18. felix 18

    I don’t mean to be a spelling dick but there’s no “r” in “fomenting”.

    I’ve always thought David should’ve used “fermenting” anyway due to the unpleasant smell his site generates, but perhaps this new bully system signifies a move into distillation.

  19. oowdidums 19

    someones a little greek.

  20. sean14 20

    Your obsession with Farrar is a bit weird. If his blog is such rubbish let him keep going with it until it blows up in his face.

    I hate to think what your reaction was to learning that he’d made The Listener’s power list!

    • lprent 20.1

      I was looking at the rating system he’d introduced to decide if it was worthwhile using here.

      I pointed out the inherent flaws and did some speculation about possible uses of such a system.

      From memory that is the second or third post I’ve written about KB this year out of hundreds.

      How is it obsessional to observer the other major political blog to see if there are any ideas worth transferring? Are you more than a little paranoid?

      • Gosman 20.1.1

        It was pretty clear from previous comments you have made on this subject you had already come out against this system. Why you felt the need to create an entire blog post about it wasn’t exactly clear. Unless there was another reason to do so, perhaps because you decided the topic provided you ammunition to attack a rival blog?

        The tone of abuse evident in your comments against Kiwiblog, (i.e. use of the terms The Sewer, Sewer Rats, and Socially in-bred), would be highly indicative that you are just using this rather innocuous issue as an attack excuse rather than any serious interest in discussing if this system would have any benefits. This is further reinforced by the fact that you failed to pick up that it has been in use by other NZ Political blogs prior to now.

        If you really wanted to critique this system in a fair and balanced manner you should have included the other blogs as well.

        • lprent

          I’d spent time on looking at the system at Kiwiblog. I wasn’t impressed. So I said why, with some additional commentary about why such a system might be created.

          Also, in the case of kiwiblog, what goes around, comes around. I wasn’t exactly impressed with the opinions offered by kiwiblog, david, or the commentators over the last few years about this site.

          Besides the image of lab-rats running around the sewer being tapped for memes by National is kind of compelling. Of course being a lab-rat probably isn’t that appealing to you. But why should I care if it offends you?

  21. Chris C 21

    For what it’s worth, I treat all ratings systems with contempt, and just tend to vote for whichever side is losing. I like supporting the underdog, which is why I like Phoenix.

  22. randal 22

    looks like fatboy has his very own version of openness, honesty and democracy.
    drive tested in germany and the ussr in the 40’s.

    • Rex Widerstrom 22.1

      Would you be so kind, randal, as to offer a quick pen portrait of each of the posters at the Standard?

      It’s just that I’d like to be able to use epithets like “four eyes”, “fat arse”, “baldy” etc when critiquing their arguments.

  23. randal 23

    I dont know them and I dont know you.
    okay with you rex?
    however I do know fbf under another of his aliases on another site and his nastiness and mean spiritidness is legion.
    so if the cap fits wear it.

  24. randal 24

    and ususally rex people who have allowed their girth to expand beyond the point where it is noticeable is usually because of a psychological disposition to acquire personal power in the easiest manner possible.
    and to pretend that people are somehow internally objectively independent of their political philosophy is a conceit of those whose position is safe for the moment.
    merry xmas.

    [lprent: And that is hitting the bounds]

  25. randal 25

    I give up.
    I promise to stop being innovative, thinking outside the square and most of all I promise to stop vibrating.

    [lprent: Not pointing out people are fat when it has no bearing on your point would be sufficient. That goes to being a gratuitous insult unless you can wind it in to your point. ]

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    2 weeks ago
  • Government needs to act on voter turnout crisis
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    2 weeks ago
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  • A good night for Labour’s local government candidates
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  • More contenders for fight clubs
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    3 weeks ago
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  • Fight Club failings
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    3 weeks ago
  • Rethink welcomed
    The Labour Party is pleased that Craig Foss is reconsidering the return of New Zealand soldiers buried in Malaysia, says Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer. “For the families of those who lie there, this will a welcome move. The ...
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  • Disappointment over UN vote
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