Fighting Trolls: A Note About The Phoblographer’s New Comment System

With the Phoblographer turning 10 years old in a few months, I’ve had a change of heart about comments and trolls.

For those of you who have been with us for this 10 year ride and 1/3rd of my life, I want to genuinely thank you for coming along. It means a lot to me, and at one point I used to quite literally print out your emails of kindness and surround myself with them in my office. It helped get me out of very dark places in my 20s. I’ve worked to cultivate constructive criticism (which has helped us, thank you) and a good sense to community here at the Phoblographer in different ways. Part of this is essentially with comments–which to be honest, I’m still very torn on. But I’d like to liken my new policy towards them to an old fairy tale.

In the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, a troll lived under a bridge–sort of like the ones that I’m positive hang around in the comment section. The youngest goat and the middle goat were captured by the hungry troll. But the eldest goat fought the troll in a battle of brute strength and won. This fairy tale is one that I’ve quietly contemplated for a long time in my thoughts on countering negativity in the comments–and is one that every publisher faces. For a while, I let it be a free-for-all with heavy moderation. Then I gave into my sanity and got rid of commenting completely because I genuinely didn’t feel like it added to the site. Many long time readers agreed on this. Then I brought them back, and so too the trolls came back. We put in some stricter rules and started banning a few outliers, but overall it was still annoying. The truth about this is that the newest and greenest of writers are the ones that care about comments. The more gray you become, the less you tend to care. Most days, I don’t read the comments for my own sanity. Beyond that, I’m too busy working to keep the site going between editing, writing, testing, interviewing, and the various parts of running the business to ensure that our workers stay amongst the highest compensated in this industry.

Returning to the story of the goats, most publishers try to be the elder goat. But with a small team, I’m not one that can fight harder, I need to fight smarter. Instead of taking the troll on directly, I’m choosing the burn the bridge down. And so new algorithms in our comments are working to keep trolls at bay and flush them out as much as possible. My ultimate goal though is to build our community and make it truly ours. Ideally, we want you to log in and we want you to sign up for our daily newsletter. If you want to spew toxicity, do it on Facebook or other social media platforms. Don’t bring it here. That’s the beauty of democracy–you always have a platform to spew negativity and you still can; we just don’t care for it here.

In the coming months, we’re going to be making adjustments to the system accordingly to keep trolls out. If we can’t play nicely with each other, please leave. There is enough toxicity on the internet and enough places to spew toxicity from underneath the bridge you dwell. And for the rest of us: thank you for catching us on the mistakes we make, for adding to the conversation, and for overall just being good human beings who read thoroughly and fully.