I’ve been blocked, but not banned
Yesterday I was checking into the Express-News comment boards on some of the articles I commented on recently. I’ve been noticing a funny thing about them. No thumbs up or down, the later being pretty common for me because some people in there just don’t like me and would thumbs down my comment if it were about ponies and puppies. But I was also noticing that some people were commenting about not being able to see my comment in a thread, complaining about blocked comments. Strange, because I could see the comments. That led me to see what was happening. Logging in anonymously I discovered the following text where my comment should have been – “This comment was left by a user who has been blocked by our staff.” AH HA! I’d been blocked. Looking deeper I found a number of people in the same predicament as me. So what’s up, E-N?
I’m pretty sure the block came as a result of some pretty heated threads on several issues lately. As some of you know, my personality is one of those that’s just short of stubborn. Not proud of it and I try to work to be a little less stubborn. But that also leads to me being a bulldog on issues, to the point of driving it down your throat. Yet ANOTHER trait I’m not proud of. As some have said, just let it go Randy. However, my biggest peeve is when someone posts inaccurate or false information. I try to research my points as best I can and will admit mistakes when I make them. When others don’t follow that approach it REALLY ticks me off and causes a rebuttal. Okay, now that I’ve come clean on the reason for the block let’s talk about the approach the E-N took and why I think it’s bad.
The E-N uses a moderation service to manage their social media comments. It’s a practice most highly visible sites do these days because frankly speaking, it’s just something that others can do much better than you and more efficiently. They use services like eModeration to manage the comments, leveraging software for the first level and a team of people for the next level of moderation. In the end, the company is ultimately responsible for how things are managed. What doesn’t usually get conveyed through those services is the sense of community because people are always flowing through the services with the tribal knowledge of the community being lost in that flux of employees. You could be the best person in the community, a respected leader, have a bad day and you’re banned by a new employee. Not saying that’s what happened with me but you get the point.
So, connecting the dots, you can see I had a pretty bad day, actually week, and someone felt the easiest way to fix the problem was block me. The problem with the block is that because of the way it was implemented I could still post comments and, from my point of view, had the impression they were right in the middle of the conversations. But they weren’t, leading me to see how much worse this situation really was. The E-N was faking me out and leading me on to believe I was just like everyone else when, in fact, I wasn’t. In social media terms, that’s just wrong. If you’re going to block someone, block them and give them feedback that you did it. Don’t create this false world of community that really doesn’t exist.
The tools that organizations use
The E-N, or more accurately Hearst Corporation, uses Pluck, a common community platform used by news organizations across the country. Just a simple Google search reveals quite a few links to various newspapers with the exact same phrase followed by “Powered with Pluck.” It’s one of several social media community tools recently reviewed by Social Technology Review. Looking at the list points me to another interesting point in this discussion; the use of Facebook’s social plugins.
I bring FB’s plugins into the mix because, in my spelunking about what was going on, I found that one section of the E-N site, the Perry Presidential blog, uses the FB plugins for its social community. You see, the Perry blog is actually running on WordPress and not the news content platform the E-N and Houston Chronicle are running on. It’s hosted at the Chronicle’s site but is an entirely differently platform. What’s most interesting about that platform is that the comments look a LOT like Pluck comments. The difference is that the identity used is your FB, and only your FB, identity for making comments. That means I’m not banned there (different ID) but only FB users can make comments in the blog. If you’re not a FB user, sorry buddy. Enjoy the read but that’s about all you can do.
Using FB plugins exclusively starts to bring up another interesting issue about identity in comment boards. One of the good things about using a FB identity is that it removes the aspect of anonymity in the community. After all, you’re leveraging an identity that’s becoming pretty ubiquitous these days. Why not leverage it using FB’s community tools to manage posts. The problem is that it could become more invasive than you might be ready for. People can “invade” your personal FB space by clicking on your identity to go to your FB profile. You avoid the issue by managing your FB privacy settings, almost another blog entry in itself. The good thing is that any interaction with my comment (replies, likes, etc.) are posted to my FB notifications section, giving me an easier way to keep track of what’s happening.
So what’s my beef?
Actually no beef at all. I sent an e-mail in to the E-N staff complaining more about how the process is managed than being blocked. I have a way to express my thoughts. I don’t have to use the comment boards to express myself, I have my blog. In fact, I usually think through my thoughts more clearly here in the blog than in the comment boards. I hate to say this but many of the people who comment in the E-N boards are either so right wing they call Obama a communist or just want to make incendiary comments just to get a rise out of people. Only a few REALLY do take the time and effort to dig into subjects. It’s not really an intellectually stimulating area for opinion. I’m not trying to be condescending. I’m really just stating fact. At times, I’ve also dropped to those levels in there. Just like in sports, you typically play at the level of those around you and I was doing that in there.
So I’m blocked for now and will just sit on the sidelines while the rest of the community comments. It’s probably a good thing and I’m going to enjoy this sideline experience for now. They may take me out of the doghouse but I’m not worried about it. What this has also made me do is look deeper into the area of online journalism and news sites. I plan to dig into that more in the next entry. There’s so much changing in that world and the Express-News is not immune to the change. I hope they are addressing things properly. Looking into the architecture of the E-N and Hearst sites doesn’t give me a good feeling but more about that in the next entry.
Update – 10/25/2011 9:20 a.m. – I got an e-mail last night from the Express-News staff telling me what some of the problems were and that my block had been lifted. One thing I didn’t realize was that when I reported a few comments as spam abuse that was causing excessive work with staff at MySA. Not a problem. I’ll let them worry about cleaning the spam up. Didn’t realize it was that big of an issue but okay. The other was what I had suspected regarding the heated discussion with a few others. Regardless, I’m going to take a break from the comment boards. As I stated in the later part of this entry, the level of good discussion in the boards is pretty limited. It’s not like some other boards I’ve been in where the people are informed, engaged, and not doing things like mangling people’s IDs to look cute (that’s a BIG problem in the E-N boards). I’ve never figured out the later. I thought we gave that stuff up in elementary school. I guess not.