World Table: an experiment in troll-resistant commenting

World Table: an experiment in troll-resistant commenting January 8, 2016
"Troll," www.daily25.org
“Troll,” www.daily25.org

Everyone knows the number one rule of navigating the blogosphere: don’t read the comments! Which is really kind of a shame. What would it look like to cultivate an online community that actually interacted respectfully rather than constantly trolling the opposition? World Table is a new commenting platform that is exploring this vision. Patheos has asked some of its bloggers to give World Table a test drive.

World Table has created a means for the commenting community to provide feedback to individual commenters through a rating system. Each comment can be rated according to four categories: respectful, honest, helpful, likable. When comments are rated poorly, World Table collapses the comment box as a default, so you’re still able to see every comment if you want to, but you don’t have to look at the ranty ALL-CAPS ones. It’s a brave experiment.

I decided to try commenting on a blog with World Table. It was a Patheos evangelical blogger who’s a professor at Patrick Henry, a school that serves as a pipeline to shuttle the brightest students in the fundamentalist homeschooling community into culture warrior jobs in Washington, DC. So it was hostile territory for me. The blog post was about the way that UN initiatives to bring sex education, contraception, and abortion to socially conservative societies in Africa represents a new form of colonialism. To be honest, it’s an interesting argument that I’m somewhat conflicted about.

So I made a couple of comments. One was a little bit snarky. The other was a fairly respectful and nuanced articulation of my views. Almost immediately another commenter swooped in and rated my comments as zeroes across the board. So my first response was to go through all of his comments and zero-rate them. But then I saw that he’d been around for a long time and had a thousand or so ratings so I could do very little to bring his score down. Plus, it felt very juvenile about an hour after I did it. So I went back and deleted my zero ratings.

Then I tried writing an “I’m actually a living human being” comment in response to his negative rating and comment. He said I was being “passive aggressive” and rated me with zeroes again. So then I was frustrated and commented elsewhere that I thought this kind of system would never work because it would inherently devolve into ratings wars between the commenters. Another commenter agreed. Then the guy who had been trolling my comments said he completely agreed with me and he hated the way that the ratings system made people behave so pettily.

It was kind of weird what happened to me next. I decided that I wanted to give my zero-rater a high rating as a sort of olive branch. Something in what he had said made me think, “He’s actually a living human being.” And I flip-flopped on my view of the commenting system. Yes, it’s all too easy to turn a rating system into another form of unleashing your inner troll. But it also created the opportunity to show grace to someone I perceived as a troll and have that delightful “He’s actually a living human being” moment take place.

So I decided to roll with it. I’d love to know how my commenters experience it. I’m sure you’ll grumble at first like I did. But allow yourself to be convicted of the pettiness that may come up in your hearts. Allow yourself to use the system subversively to show grace and becoming a “living human being” in the eyes of your adversaries. Maybe we can build some kind of community together this way. It’s worth a try.

Registering for the system is very easy. You just need an email and password or Facebook login and then you’re in. Be honest. Be kind. Listen well. Share the floor. Presume good will. Acknowledge the differences. Answer the tough questions. Give credit where credit is due. Speak only for yourself. Keep private things private. World Table calls this the way of openness.

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