Website Administrative Note about Comment Spam

Spam, the food.

Spam, the food. Probably a lot easier to digest than the 'comment spam' that hit our website this weekend.

Over the weekend, our website was swamped with something called 'comment spam'. Like the unwanted stuff you get in your email, this spam is just as annoying and difficult to get rid of. The best solution this weekend has been to run comments from unregistered visitors through an approval queue. These 'anonymous' comments will be filtered for spam, then released onto the web a short time later.

This marks a small change in the way we're letting comments through on the website. We still want to provide a way for anyone to leave a comment, but need a way to prevent spammers from abusing the system. I had tried a couple of behind-the-scenes automatic spam filters and ip-blockers, but those didn't seem to work this weekend. As much as possible, we have tried to create an open forum where anyone with an opinion, or with more information about a particular story was able to add their thoughts. And as such, we will continue to let almost any comment related to the article or to another comment pass through our system un-edited. We're not here to play referee or umpire, picking and choosing which comments we like best and then approving them, rather, we'd ask simply that you consider your comments in light of the many people who will be reading them before you hit the 'submit' button. I rarely hit the 'delete' key as an administrator, and am provoked to do so only when I believe the comments are particularly unfair, uncivil, profanity laden, are filled with hate speech, or are completely unrelated to the topic at hand (like spam).

Being able to add comments anonymously, or under a pseudonym, has been a hallmark of the National Parks Traveler website from the beginning. That isn't about to change anytime soon, but please understand that if you choose to leave a comment without having registered first on the website, you may experience a delay in viewing your words published here.

If you believe you'll add a lot of comments to the website, you might consider creating an account. As a registered visitor, any comments you leave on the site will be published immediately, without delay.

Comments

I understand the desire for security when putting your email address on a national website; I don't want a bunch of spam, either. Nonetheless, the days of hiding in anonymity behind a computer (pre 9/11/2001) are behind us. We, as a nation and as citizens, deserve to know who is talking to us. If you want to offer comment filled with hate rhetoric, profanity, or that is just plain uncivil pretend that you have some internal fortitude and identify yourself. Otherwise, you are just another lunatic shouting in the breeze and, noone cares what you have to say.
LE

I have to admit... I've not seen this spam, so I'll take your word for it that it's intrusive and unneeded. And I appreciate your working to keep the comments here relevant.

But even harder on my nerves is the level of nasty that the comments have often attained since you guys moved to the new site. The incivility and... well, nasty... that is often thrown around with seeming ease by some of the folks on this site really boggles my mind. (This is NOT a reference to the fine gentlemen who run this site who have always been about public information and commentary and have very high journalistic standards.)

Lately, it's become hard to read comment threads here because of the level of vitriol. I understand the desire to not edit people's responses and the freedom to speak one's mind. But does that have to mean the level of discourse must be kept at such a low place?

I understand that the parks and their issues bring out passion in all of us. But we can discuss ideas and comment on things without insulting and abusing one another. I also understand that the parks are in a political arena, where things have become so polarized that no one can reasonably debate anything anymore without calling each other names and meaningless labels. But nature tends to abhor polarities and move toward diversity and perhaps our discourse should do the same.

This incivility is so not what the parks remind me of. There is a code of ethic in the wilderness which the majority accept when they enter. There is an understanding that we're in this together and there is a camaraderie and generosity of spirit there... not everyone agrees on how to experience wilderness but there is also a feeling of leaving the urban screw-you attitude behind... a feeling that we all are a part of something bigger than our differences.

Call me optimistic, hell call me a romantic or a liberal or a lugnut or whatever... but I sure do miss nice.

Glenn,

I can't agree more. Having been gone for four days for a memorial service for an old friend, I've been out of reach of my keyboard. Upon returning and reading through the comments, I was taken back by the lack of civility that appeared in some.

We are developing a code of conduct of sorts for the site, though, and it will clearly spell out some ground rules.

As Jeremy has already indicated, we're not censors and believe in free discourse. But some of the comments have been totally out of line and we'd much prefer folks take their thoughts to a higher level.

I also understand that the parks are in a political arena

Which is why the National Park Service needs serious reform or abolition, or the protection/management of national parks should somehow be pried from the talons of vultures who circle Capitol Hill, and the reigns transfered to a non-governmental organization.

I, too, dislike the name calling and framing of issues in political hues, particularly by those who, lacking information and the ability to form a cogent argument, use the term "liberal" (often inaccurately) as a pejorative term.

NPT is Jeremy's and Kurt's site, so the 1st Amendment does not apply here (and even if it did, the Supreme Court has ruled "fighting words" are not protected speech). In my opinion, those who use profanity and spew hatred should simply be ignored in the market place of ideas. Censoring comments is a slippery slope and speech (comments) on this site, in my opinion, should be largely unregulated. It would be nice (but maybe not feasible) to have a tool to allow offended users to ignore or block comments they don't want to see. A filter of sorts. I'm worried that strict demands for civility might stifle creative ideas, and critics writing in sarcastic tones (such as myself) will be silenced.

What ever happened to "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? Those who are offended are responsible for their own feelings.

Just my thoughts.

PS
I apologize to any vultures out there who were offended by their comparison to politicians and lobbyists. At least vultures serve a ecological purpose.

This serves my point exactly, though. By putting the commentary outside civility, by making the argument about the arguer and by using tones that beg for irrational, emotional response, you cease the flow of creative ideas altogether.

I don't want to put words into Kurt & Jeremy's mouth, but I think this was what they were getting at in the "blog vs. webzine" post. There is a blogosphere culture which says it's about the anarchy, about the chaos of words and the cleverness with which we express them. Blogs are inherently about the personalities of the commentators. But this is, if I understand the point correctly, the reason why they are distinguishing the site from a blog. This site is inherently about the parks themselves and we are presenting ideas not simply out of gut-reaction but from thoughtful, reasoned and studied places.

Unless we engage some sense of civility in these discussions, the free flow of ideas is actually stymied and the site becomes nothing more than a huge public personality conflict. And there's plenty of webspace for that.

Exactly how does this serve your point? I'm not following you.

Sounds to me like you're advocating stripping people of their voice and editing word choice so comments read like technical manuals rather than commentary (notice the root "comment"), which is by definition personal (the root of "personalities"). Writing is an emotional process, humans are emotional creatures, and when discussing preservation and politics, people will react emotionally. I understand a need for civility, but I'd rather err on the side of freedom than see voices censored.

I wonder if outspoken, passionate, and sometimes offending advocates like Ed Abbey, Jack Tuner, Doug Peacock, or Gary Hathaway would be censored here for their voice and general cantankerousness? Such censorship can lead to inquisitions and can spawn thought vigilantes.

As for "blog vs. webzine", take a look at commentary on Slate.com and you'll find plenty of personality, lots of individual voice. The webzine "Slate" separates discussion from its original content and also provides an avenue to report abuse. While I applaud the authors' move from blog to webzine, to me NPT still looks and functions a lot like a blog.

And I think you've confused anarchy with freedom.

There's certainly nothing wrong with passion (see my original post). But when passion and outspokenness becomes personal, it can change the debate from something constructive and problem-solving to something merely mean. Reading the above conversation seems to prove this point. My post was simply to say that this place could use a bit of civility... that the point of the comments often get sidetracked by personal, vitriolic attacks.

There are plenty of maverick, thought-provoking people (Edward Abbey and Gary Snyder definitely come to mind) who didn't need to sink to vindictive, snide personal attacks to get their points across. Instead they used poetry and muscular prose and the strength of their argument. If a writer can't avoid petty nastiness, I wonder at their power to write.

We are living in a cynical, nasty, bloggy culture. My point is merely that we try to rise above the teenage-level, me-vs.-you dialogue so prevelant on the web and talk about the parks, their problems and their solutions like (passionate, opinionated, maveric - but civil) adults.

Thank you, Kurt, for working on some "codes of conduct" for the site. This may help provoke more passionate and (com)passionate speech on the web.

But when passion and outspokenness becomes personal, it can change the debate from something constructive and problem-solving to something merely mean. Reading the above conversation seems to prove this point.

Again, you're not being specific enough for me; guess I need to have the dots connected. "Reading the above conversation" is so vague, that I'm not sure to what you're referring.

I think maybe you're mistaking a satirical and sarcastic jab (in metaphorical form) at our elected officials and lobbyists as a "personal, vitriolic attack"?

Never mind. I'll just resolve to be confused and leave you with an excerpt of a letter Abbey wrote to the Earth First! Journal:

"Them there knee-jerk liberals," says my neighbor Foster Bundy, "they cain't say the word sh*t even when their mouths is full of it." True fact, Foster. ... it is a writer's duty to write and speak and record the truth, always the truth, no matter whom may be offended.

PS
For some great explicative-laden vitriol that'll have your heart pumping in excitement and your hand slappin' your knee, check out "Postcards From Ed".

Are we splitting hair over this, and forgetting to dot the i's and crossing the t's? I admire the journalistic in put of Frank and Glenn's, but is this getting to be a frivolous discussion now? Regardless, how strongly you feel about your view points, I believe the law of the jungle will prevail...that is, stifled voices will be heard over the gun shots...stifled speech should not tolerated at any cost. Crusty speech is colorful, but to put your words into a spin of a drunken sailor without intelligent reasoning only becomes counter productive...and looses it's point quickely. I alway's did admired old Ed Abbey (now deceased) and his cantankerous behavior, a master of a writers crust that coated his guts with literary fury. I sort of miss that kind of fire in the belly journalism.

My, my such heated debate over something as simple as be nice and don't attack other people. There is a difference between cantankerousness and rudeness. Maybe we should learn that one.

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jr_ranger
http://tntrailhead.blogspot.com
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President, CHS SPEAK (CHS Students Promoting Environmental Action & Knowledge)
Founder and President, CHS Campus Greens