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Rocco Pendola
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Rocco Pendola is the Director of Social Media and Writer for Please go visit TheStreet to read his articles: He no longer writes for Seeking Alpha.
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  • The Why Behind The How: The Quality Of Comments On Seeking Alpha Articles 64 comments
    Mar 26, 2012 11:01 PM
    Seeking Alpha reached an incredible milestone the other day. As company CEO David Jackson explained, SA now has over one million registered users. One of the things David thinks "you need to know" in relation to this development resonates with me:
    Seeking Alpha has become the leading platform for intelligent discussion of stocks and the markets. We publish about 80,000 comments per month, after moderation. Unlike "Web 1.0" message boards, the intellectual framework and tone for comments are set by articles, and article authors actively participate. This results in comment discussions that are higher quality and more valuable to investors.
    I could not agree more. And, based on the comments David received to his article, a considerable portion of the SA readership agrees. Consider the following selections from the reaction:

    Seeking Alpha makes it clear to every author. We must focus on writing articles that help make people better investors. Broadly speaking, we must deliver value. That comes in various forms and means different things to different people. Personally, I attempt to write creatively and articulate unique and hopefully somewhat novel perspectives. From there, I aim to provide actionable investment ideas on the backs of strategies I feel comfortable using in my own personal portfolio.

    In the process, I like to think that I disseminate useful information not only on stocks and the stock market, but on topics, such as options, that often trip up even experienced investors. What keeps me - and the readers, I think I can safely assume - coming back has quite a bit
    to do with the conversation that follows a Seeking Alpha article. I would say that 80-90% of the articles I read on this site provide an education not only in the body of the article, but in the comments that follow.

    I spent my time writing this somewhat unconventional article because I think point number four that David Jackson brought up is critically important to this site, all of financial media and "Web 2.0" in general. In fact, I would go so far as to say that what happens in comments' sections and message boards impresses and influences investors as much as, if not more than, what an author puts forth in an article.

    More often than not things go remarkably well in the comments' section of an SA piece. Instances do occur, however, when things do not work out. Without a doubt, authors, including yours truly, deserve some of the blame when a comments' section degenerates and the lowest common denominator takes center stage. We all deserve some share of the responsibility when things go awry in this new era of "social" communication. I argue that when personal attacks and content void of any value whatsoever dominate comments' sections and message boards on a Website, we collectively create and perpetuate a modern social ill.

    One of the most talented and wonderful people I have ever known, Dallas, Texas media personality Gordon Keith, summarized part of the why behind the how when online discourse turns sour in a blog post that's nearly three years old now, but still awfully relevant:

    Maybe my opinion is jaundiced by the fact that I have a public job and am exposed to an unhealthy level of vitriol, but is the world really a better place now that every ego has a storefront, and every negative part of you can have a screen name ? Weren't we more civil when our critiques of each other involved eye contact? ...

    Speaking of comments sections.. So far D magazine has not reestablished theirs. I know the editors miss feeling the stage under their feet, but I think they made the right call for now. Look at the DMN (Dallas Morning News) comments. Still amazes me what snarling dogs we are under our thin veneers. Sure, you can simply tune them out. But snark (and meanness) is mental porn. It's fun to make it, and damn hard to look away once you glance at it ...

    Just like you must dehumanize the "enemy" in a war to bring yourself to be able to blow his head off, you need to forget that the direct recipient (or recipients) of your online comment has a face that looks just like mine in order to get all snarky, mean or worse. It's a sick process. And, the more I think about it, it comes as no shock that comments' sections and message boards tend to devolve more often than not. On the bright side, it's even more shocking how high-level the discourse typically ends up being on Seeking Alpha.

    I'm the type of person who has a difficult time settling simply for how things are. I want to know why. Gordon's blog post as well as other writing he has done helps us understand why things go horribly wrong online. An email I received earlier today speaks to the why behind the how of when things go right online.

    When I was a budding academic, I got myself on a mailing list out of Stanford called "Tomorrow's Professor." I still receive it daily and find the topics it covers useful. You can subscribe to the newsletter and view its archives here. The following is a reprint of Monday's email:

    Intellectual Habits of Critical Thinkers

    Fair-mindedness entails a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one's own feelings or selfish interests. It is based on an awareness of the fact that we, by nature, tend to prejudge the views of others, placing them into "favorable" (agrees with us) and "unfavorable" (disagrees with us) categories. We tend to give less weight to contrary views than to our own. Fair-mindedness requires us to develop:

    1. Intellectual Humility

    Awareness of one's biases, one's prejudices, the limitations of one's viewpoint, and the extent of one's ignorance. (e.g., Many U.S. and other Western students consider their ways of life-competition, individualism, materialism, democratic forms of government, nuclear family arrangements, work ethic-superior to non-Western values and living arrangements. Their biases have a profound impact on their understanding of important concepts in the social sciences, the arts, and the humanities.)

    2. Intellectual Courage

    Consciousness of the need to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints toward which one has strong negative emotions and to which one has not given a serious hearing; the recognition that ideas that society considers dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified - in whole or in part, (e.g., Any culture has its set of taboos that also affect scientific discourse. Recent examples include stem cell research, gay marriage, Muslim radicalism or any other radicalism for that matter, global warming, atheism, affirmative action, assisted suicide, and pornography. It takes courage to openly investigate any potentiality rational roots for any of these controversial behaviors and beliefs.)

    3. Intellectual Empathy

    Awareness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others so as to genuinely understand them. (Old paradigms in the social sciences often treated their research "subjects" as variables that were to be looked at with no emotional involvement in order to guarantee "objectivity." Nowadays, many social scientists are taking a different approach to understanding social environments. To thoroughly understand others' behaviors and intentions, young scholars need to acquire the ability to take their research subjects' perspective, requiring a degree of personal identification previously denounced as a contamination of the research process. Similar abilities have always been considered a precondition for producing and appreciating good literature and other types of art.)

    4. Intellectual Integrity

    Recognition of the need to be true to one's own thinking and to hold oneself to the same standards one expects others to meet. It also means to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one's own thought and action. (e.g., Cutting corners, plagiarizing and cheating have become pervasive not only in college, but also in graduate school and beyond. Society's expectations for accelerated output in every realm of life, including academia, can put tremendous pressure on students to impress with productivity at the expense of academic rigor and relevance. Admitting shortcomings in one's thinking requires just as much courage as fairly addressing viewpoints with which one vehemently disagrees; see point 2.)

    5. Intellectual Perseverance

    The disposition to work one's way through intellectual complexities despite the frustration inherent in the task. (Many students in our current school system learn to avoid those things that seem too difficult: "Engineering is too tedious," "Math is too hard and "A PhD in Accounting doesn't pay off." Delaying gratification for the fruit of one's labor is as hard for a student as it is for a child to wait for dessert. This applies also to the daily struggle with intellectual tasks. Many students ask for simple answers and are suspicious when their discipline has not yet produced answers to difficult issues, or when those answers remain ambiguous.)

    6. Confidence in Reason

    The belief that one's own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason, by encouraging people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties; faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves. (Confidence in reason is also confidence in others. It is a pedagogical principle that good teachers live by. Students should not be persuaded to adopt their teachers' viewpoints or drilled to approach tasks in one particular way only. Complex understanding needs to be nurtured, not forced. Experiencing the freedom and encouragement to solve problems in one's own way helps create intellectual maturity. This includes the freedom to make one's own mistakes and learn from them.)

    7. Intellectual Autonomy

    An internal motivation based on the ideal of thinking for oneself; having rational self-authorship of one's beliefs, values, and way of thinking; not being dependent on others for the direction and control of one's thinking. (The traditional teaching paradigm of telling students what to learn through lecture and textbooks turned students into passive recipients of knowledge. Teachers were the experts whom students trusted to always have the right answers. No thinking for oneself was required. The new learning paradigm puts students in control and makes them accountable for their own learning. Learning theory has discovered diverse learning styles, and motivation theory shows that deep understanding is linked with learner autonomy. The more confident students become in finding their own direction, the more likely they are to develop an integrated understanding of the subjects of their study.)


    Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2001). Critical thinking: Tools for taking charge of your learning and your life. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    As is often the case, you're better off looking within, as opposed to blaming everybody and everything else, when something goes wrong. If we all take the time, as individuals, to think critically and be intellectually honest with ourselves, more of the interactions we have online as well as off will look like the discourse that has helped take Seeking Alpha to one million users and growing strong and steady.

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Instablogs are blogs which are instantly set up and networked within the Seeking Alpha community. Instablog posts are not selected, edited or screened by Seeking Alpha editors, in contrast to contributors' articles.

Comments (64)
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  • Rocco,


    Thank you for such an insightful and thought-provoking post.


    The fact that people behave online in a way they would never do face-to-face is an issue that impacts anyone who uses the Web. Is it because we forget that we're interacting with real people? Is it because the tone is set by those who behave the worst, and they encourage otherwise reasonable people to be be aggressive or rude?


    We made a crucial decision about comment moderation on Seeking Alpha. Initially, we cared most about free speech. As long as a person's comments weren't abusive, eg. racist or contained personal attacks, we'd publish them. But with time we understood that, to build a site that helps people invest better, we'd need to set the bar higher. For example, there are some people who just annoy everyone else, even though their comments aren't technically abusive; and they drag the discussion down and draw out the worst in other commenters. So now we're willing to delete comments if we think they meaningfully detract from the quality of the discussion.


    It all comes down to what your goals are. We don't view Seeking Alpha as a platform for free speech as much as a community of investors, where inclusion is earned by constructive participation.


    Sometimes this policy is misunderstood. For example, when we try to stop useful discussions about investing degenerating into acrimonious political rants and slogan-trading, we're sometimes accused of censoring positions we don't agree with. But we never do that.


    We simply want Seeking Alpha to be highly useful to investors, and certain behaviors detract from that.
    27 Mar 2012, 03:08 AM Reply Like
  • I believe this is a 5Star* article, can only many will read and take heart.
    Mr.David Jackson thank you for the wonderful investment website. X
    27 Mar 2012, 04:19 AM Reply Like
  • Funny,need to fit that word hope* in there, it was very late for me here in Europe when I wrote the message,good day all.
    27 Mar 2012, 07:12 PM Reply Like
  • It should make all of us look at ourselves a little closer, and how we choose to comment, and what situations we should prevent ourselves from being drawn into.


    I will certainly readjust my writing style.
    27 Mar 2012, 04:23 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Thanks for the comments thus far. I hope we get more because I really do think this is an important topic. And it's nice to know that I am on the same page as David.


    Years in talk radio influence in my opinion here. I came to realize that getting on the air as a caller is akin to making a comment on a Website like this. Some folks seem to think that it's their "right," afforded by free speech to get on the air or freely comment. Not so, for the reasons David outlines.


    It seems that a faction of abusers believe that talk radio or an online venue is their ticket to act in ways they otherwise would not. It's sort of like a "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" mentality. This is not Vegas. This is real life.
    27 Mar 2012, 09:02 AM Reply Like
  • Rocco, I'm curious what efforts were made to mitigate that in talk radio. While a completely different medium, there might be some ideas that we can apply to be as proactive as possible.


    27 Mar 2012, 12:44 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Great question, George.


    The fundamental difference between the two mediums is level of control (for want of a better word).


    In talk radio, when it works well, there's a pretty important relationship between the air personality and producer. Some of the best shows rarely take calls. Some never do. But, no matter the number of calls a show takes, it's the producer's job to only let calls through and order them in a way that allows the show to flow the best that it can.


    That's not to say that I think talk radio should be a completely controlled, inorganic experience. That's not the case at all. Frankly, it sucks when it is. That said, you do have a bit more control over the trolls and the freaks and the meanderers who create train wrecks that simply are not entertaining.


    And, of course, it's all very subjective and brings up plenty of important questions regarding the role of gatekeepers like producers.


    In what we do, we do not have the ability to screen everybody like a talk radio producer does. First off, it's not feasible from a time and resource standpoint. And, second, I do not think we really want or should even have that level of control.


    While I like some of the moderation systems that are in place, I am not sure that's the answer. Or that there even is one. Disqus is great. And I have read there's some software out there or in development that will be able to weed out comments that are just completely LCD and such. Stripping away anonymity helps, but, again, do "we" want to do that, using "we" as this collective called the Internet?


    Not to be melodramatic, but I think this is one of those societal problems that needs to evolve over time, hopefully for the better. It's like asking "How do we fix the education problem in the inner city?" or "What do we do about immigration?" What we need are seismic attitude and behavioral shifts on the part of the parents, the students, the educators, the immigrant, the native, the state, and so on and so forth.


    Everybody needs to act not only in their own interest or in the interest of their own immediate gratification and ego management, but with respect and consideration for the greater good. When I act, it has an impact on everybody and my action influences the action that follows it and so on...


    Without that type of critical thinking on the parts of more and more people, I'm not sure this is a "solvable" problem, at least not via some fix or new system.
    27 Mar 2012, 12:55 PM Reply Like
  • Moderating the comment stream on articles and blogs is challenging. I think its always an effort in trying, never perfect, and always room for improvement. Appreciate you taking the time to write on this topic Rocco and appreciate that Seeking Alpha management is regularly working on this and monitoring this discussion. Hope it will get more input.
    27 Mar 2012, 03:53 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Thanks, Jon. I appreciate it. The folks in charge at SA are among the finest I have interacted with. They're always trying to enhance the experience. No doubt.
    27 Mar 2012, 03:57 PM Reply Like
  • I have been a Seeking Member for nearly four years, and congratulate David Jackson, and all the Seeking Alpha staff on attaining their 1,000,000th member. Incredible milestone.


    Early on, David Jackson actually approached me, seeking my opinions of how to make Seeking Alpha into the best social interactive investing website on the planet. I thoroughly enjoyed those exchanges of positive discourse, took them seriously, and know that David Jackson is quite aware how much importance Seeking Alpha has become in my life. I truly enjoyed his personal touch.


    The first thing I do every morning is to "turn on" Seeking Alpha. It's not just the fabulous collection of news and articles, it's also to see what is up with so many brilliant friends I have made via this site. I consider the friends I have made through Seeking Alpha equally important as friends I hold in the "non-cyber," flesh and blood world. To the point that they have shared with me, as I have with them, the successes, failures, sickness, pains of close kin parting, to laughter, to winning trades, as well as offering support for the losers. Several I have met in person, many more I have spoken with using a phone.


    Incredibly, several Seeking Alpha members will be joining me on a trip to Honduras near the end of this year. This fact I hold dear and special.


    Further, Seeking Alpha has enabled myself and several other members to create Instablog series of all manners and sorts; one blog, where virtually any topic can be discussed, especially investment ideas, has now accumulated well over 35,000 comments! An Instablog I created about one single company last July, has now exceeded 13,000 individual comments.


    Yes admittedly with this kind of success brings adversity, as the outstanding comments and depth of knowledge from so many bring with them what my SA friends and I call, "trolls." Peoples who sole mission is to disrupt and create havoc. Recently, I have noticed that Seeking Alpha has stepped up the moderation, and duly applaud and greatly appreciate their efforts to keep Seeking Alpha a site devoid as possible of people whose intentions are menacing and sinister.


    Rocco, I very much enjoyed reading your, "Intellectual Habits of Critical Thinkers." Lots to think about, and ponder the actions of humanity.


    Perhaps the best way to sum up is because of Seeking Alpha's business model, and their staff, and of course a lot of hard work, I was able to do an end run on the post-Lehman disaster.


    No way that happened without Seeking Alpha...the best by far social interacting investment website on the planet.


    Congratulations again to David and all Seeking Alpha staff on this 1,000,000 member achievement!
    27 Mar 2012, 04:14 PM Reply Like
  • Awesome reply Mayascribe and great observations. SA is also where I turn to first in the morning, and then again frequently throughout the day. The quality of articles and the interaction between contributors and readers is fantastic. I have learnt so much since being put onto this website about two years ago, and I have made some good connections through here as well. Thanks for writing this piece too Rocco.


    Cheers, Col
    13 Apr 2012, 05:56 PM Reply Like
  • Wow, some high-falutin comments here Rocco! I think your 'instablog' is timed right to take advantage of (use, in a good way) SA's 1million. Comments here from SA editors show they are serious in trying to get/let SA to grow. As a gardener, that's a good thing....wink.


    So, Dr V is ....Dr V. And I for one am glad he chimed in above. While I initially wrote him off because he 'seemed' to go against The James (JAK), (I told the good Dr. he was 'condescending' in one of my comments), I have since learned to shut up, reread his posts until clearly understood, and then process that information. No immediate reply is necessary...and probably not wise. So, now I just listen to the Dr.(who is NOT condescending), reread his posts until they sink in.... and learn.


    In that sense I now learn from you Rocco, James A. Kostohryz, Dr V, and many others.....none of whom seem to agree with each other...LOL.


    And this I think is a part of the problem you are trying to investigate here......
    ..... listening without needing to talk back. At least until we really understand what the other person is saying.




    27 Mar 2012, 07:42 PM Reply Like
  • Perk - You comment is very insightful, yet I think I prefer people to ask questions as long as they do so respectfully. If everyone remains quiet, we all learn a lot less. I find that when someone just goes off without thinking through their argument just because they disagree with what I have written, usually the emotional outburst is over. If I respond with a respectful answer using factual information and explanations, pointing out how I arrived at my opinion(s) they often do one of two things: leave me alone or apologize. I think the degeneration of a comment stream is usually just as much the fault of the author's method or tone in reaction as it is the fault of the initial outburst.


    When I do get a persistent troll commenting on one of my articles (very infrequently) I find that many of my followers will take up my position for me until the troll gives up and leaves. Once the followers intercede I no longer pay attention to the troll and life is good. I don't ignore anyone initially, mind you, but after I can tell there is nothing more than emotion emulating from the other person, I think it is better to ignore their insults than to stoop to their level. I'm not condescending, but I am also not the sort of person who will intentionally berate another. I refuse to feed their lust for a fight.


    I don't consider myself a professional writer, even though I'm retired and this is all I do for income outside of my pension and investment income, but rather just a senior member of society who can add some value for a few who have less experience than myself. I have been blessed with some wonderful followers who catch me when I make a mistake (usually a typo) and point it out in a respectful manner by asking a question like, "Didn't you mean....?"


    Some of my followers ask some rather difficult questions and I actually appreciate their "tests." I answer all questions that I am able (I rarely miss one) and, while every reader does not always agree with me, the discussions are usually very rewarding for all readers as I believe sincerely that investors need to look at things from all side and perspectives. Even after the occasional "rough" discussion I generally thank my "opponent" for unveiling their side of the issue and we agree to disagree when we, in fact, do. Some of these more difficult discussions have resulted in much closer relationships fostering greater mutual respect. Where else, but SA can one something like that happening?


    I don't know everything (nobody does) so I don't see any reason to be condescending to anyone. I've been reading articles and blogs on SA for nearly three years now, even though I only started publishing articles semi-regularly since last September. Over that time I have noticed that the number and frequency with which I come into contact with trolls has really decreased. A big Thank You to the editorial staff for all the improvements and changes that have lead to this result.


    I started out just commenting and noticed that there were many games being played to gain rankings in that area. And I believe that those games and that particular ranking category attracted a lot more trolls because they could remain anonymous while achieving either personal goals or revenge on others for holding differing viewpoints. Initially I was saddened when the comment rating system disappeared. In retrospect, I now think it was a good move on SA's part because it removed a method for trolls to achieve something. Today, trolls have less power. That is a very good thing and I believe it has done much to clean up the site. Again, thank you to the SA staff for continuing to create a healthy environment that fosters a respectful exchange of investment information and ideas!


    SA has become, for me, a place to discuss whatever is important to me with those I call friend, folks like Mayascribe and Jon. It is a wonderful community where I know I have learned more than I have provided to others and I look forward to the day when we celebrate the 5 millionth user! And I am confident that day will come sooner than expected!


    Rocco - Thanks for the instablog; very apropos. And congrats to SA for this, the first in many milestones!
    28 Mar 2012, 12:22 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Thanks for the great comments.


    I agree-- in no way, do I think we should stifle things. Asking questions, even seemingly "dumb" or critical or somewhat aggressive ones is the way we learn.


    And, personally, I like it a little bit edgy. But, some of the stuff you see online is just LCD or worse. You could possibly pull any value out of it whatsoever.
    28 Mar 2012, 08:43 AM Reply Like
  • SA is us.
    28 Mar 2012, 03:19 PM Reply Like
  • attacks against individuals instead of content are a big red flag. some disruptive comments are easy to identify as they are flat out name calling.


    the private messages system should require a friend before PMs can be sent, or at least offer people the option to only accept private messages from people they follow/ allow.


    if you remove more than half of a members comments because they are always being reported as abusive that person is disruptive. it no longer matters what the content of their posts are at that point. they are being rejected by the people they are trying to interact with for a reason.


    it isn't up to SA to evaluate the reason, as there are plenty of members people can interact with, encourage these repeat offenders to find other, hopefully more friendly people to interact with. in other words: trolls are lazy. force them to move on to other groups and if they continue to get reported feel free to ban them.


    rely on the community to moderate, but respond quickly to reports of abuse.
    29 Mar 2012, 04:01 AM Reply Like
  • Here's a link to a 13 point comment about the nature of trolls in a rolling instablog chat room (edition 82) where there has been one particularly malicious poster (whose posts are regularly deleted in less than an hour by the blog host at this point).


    I think many people who are called trolls, are not. In this case, the poster who caused the linked reaction is undefinably angry singularly with this instablog group.


    I don't think the linked post helps anything, and some of my own actions with the troll in question probably didn't help either, though I did invite him to comment on my articles. However, occasionally there are difficult people to deal with that also don't let you walk away.


    It reminds me a little of an angry customer I had in a hotel a long time ago. He came down and screamed at us front desk folk that his room had not been cleaned. We asked his room number as he walked off, still yelling. He screamed, "I'll tell you my room number. Zero zero zero!" Sometimes, people don't give you an option to help them or dialogue with them, and won't let go of their anger.


    Rare, but sometimes.
    29 Mar 2012, 02:09 PM Reply Like
  • Rocco, great points. I think it has a lot to do with the nature of an anonymous reader (you don't see people with their "real names" out there getting at it as much). When most people speak face to face, usually we attempt to charitably understand the main points of what someone is saying. In other words, we try to get the "gist of it." But that goes out the window when anonymous commenting removes personal responsibility. Instead of trying to pick up an author's main points, we often look for slight inaccuracies or technically disputable points, in an effort to either experience the thrill of trolling or building oneself up by tearing others down.
    1 Apr 2012, 11:35 AM Reply Like
  • Well said, Tim. That's one of the reasons why, when I signed up for Seeking Alpha, I used basically my real name, and when I was required to have an avatar image in order to post, I chose to use my employee badge photo (which, fortunately, doesn't look terribly like a mug shot, at least IMHO...) I am what I am, and I didn't want to hide behind a false persona. (No offense to anyone out there who uses a clever pseudonym, there's no problem with that.) But I think the anonymity does bread some level of license for contempt.


    Nice blog, Rocco. Hopefully it'll get "real article" status...


    5 Apr 2012, 07:53 PM Reply Like
  • Don't take this the wrong way (it is intended as compliment) but you should get this up as a premium article. I'd much rather read this than the other articles of yours that I have read (not that they were bad). Buy this or that articles are good, but this one, is one of the reasons I joined SA in the first have or create discussions that really make one think.


    And regarding the bad comments, I totally agree. Whenever I see a denigrating comment I wonder if the person would actually say it to to the author if they had to look them in the eye.
    4 Apr 2012, 05:38 PM Reply Like
  • SA Editors? What do you think? Could this be migrated to a premium article?
    4 Apr 2012, 06:18 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Wow... there's a groundswell of support for this. :-)


    I have put in a request. We'll see.
    4 Apr 2012, 06:38 PM Reply Like
  • "Whenever I see a denigrating comment I wonder if the person would actually say it to to the author if they had to look them in the eye."


    Interesting that this principal is recognized.

    5 Apr 2012, 11:59 AM Reply Like
  • Hey all,


    Truly love the commentary here. Rocco and I discussed this via email and agree that while it is great stuff, it is instablog, not an article. (We also discussed hockey, but that's more painful for him than ill-conceived comments, so let's not discuss that here.)
    5 Apr 2012, 08:20 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » I agree with George. It really would take the focus off of what SA is about. That's why we have instablogs, I think, or at least one of the reasons. I do appreciate the sentiment though.


    Alright, back to calculating the Leafs chances to win the NHL draft lottery.
    5 Apr 2012, 08:57 AM Reply Like
  • Makes sense to me. I always try to make positive statements in the comment threads about why I publish on SA and the benefits of the in-depth discussions that occur here that everyone benefits from. I think we all need to make such supportive comments occasionally to plant seeds of membership in the minds of new readers. As SA grows, we all many ways!
    5 Apr 2012, 11:49 AM Reply Like
  • Rocco:


    I firmly believe that SA needs to raise the bar (as David Jackson termed it) and do a much better job of weeding out commentary that is destructive to the culture of the site. I believe that this has been a shortcoming and I have addressed this issue in forums with other writers and management.


    Ironically, the better known an author becomes, the more abuse will be heaped on him. However, there is only so much abuse that quality analysts are willing to take.


    My personal recommendation is that SA give authors "right of first refusal" on all comments. I believe authors should be the first line of moderation.


    The interests of author's and SA are aligned in this regard. Authors know that encouraging lively debate will drive PVs. Overly censoring comments will tend to drive down PVs.


    In theory, the latter argument is presumably why SA does not want to give authors more control. However, this is ultimately short-sighted because the PVs won't be there at all if quality authors get tired of the abuse and ultimately decide that subjecting themselves to it is not worth it. Furthermore, what price can you place on the deterioration of the culture of the community?
    11 Apr 2012, 06:38 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » I do agree; authors should play more of a role.


    I think the issue is that not all will use a system like the one you propose fairly. Personally, I would let most comments through, regardless of whether or not the poster agrees with my point. I just would not let the spam, namecalling, personal attacks and stuff that looks like it was written by a 1st grader through.


    Another issue- that's a lot of extra work for us.
    11 Apr 2012, 06:40 PM Reply Like
  • James,


    Your articles have been highly useful in expanding my ability to break down a macro issue and think through some of the moving parts.


    More importantly though, I value your leadership, encouragement and thinking on learning to know thyself, as I have found emotional intelligence to be an under-rated, but critically applicable skill.




    11 Apr 2012, 07:23 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Well-stated David.


    I consider James of my favorite writers not only on SA, but across the web. He's as good as they come.


    Happy to see people still visiting this article.
    11 Apr 2012, 07:27 PM Reply Like
  • James - you sound justifiably tired of dealing with some of the nonsense in your comments sections!


    Please don't be discouraged and keep writing for the silent majority. Your articles are a highlight of a site and offer a fantastic perspective on the 'big picture'.
    11 Apr 2012, 08:07 PM Reply Like
  • Thanks for saying so, David.
    11 Apr 2012, 09:32 PM Reply Like
  • Major honor to hear that from you, Rocco.


    You know it's mutual.
    11 Apr 2012, 09:33 PM Reply Like
  • Ycajal: Your comments mean a great deal. Thanks.
    11 Apr 2012, 09:34 PM Reply Like
  • moderation is a fine line. I do not believe the author of an article would in general have the correct perspective to walk that line.
    13 Apr 2012, 10:23 PM Reply Like
  • James and everyone else here,


    Thanks for the great comments. We have internal debates about these issues, and the following point James made particularly resonated for me because it was a position I took for a while:


    "My personal recommendation is that SA give authors "right of first refusal" on all comments. I believe authors should be the first line of moderation. The interests of author's and SA are aligned in this regard. Authors know that encouraging lively debate will drive PVs. Overly censoring comments will tend to drive down PVs."


    I moved away from that position for two reasons:


    (1) Some authors rarely check the comments on their articles, so they can't be relied on to moderate comments. So we'd have to have a mixture of author-moderation and editor-moderation. But having a mixture is logistically complex, for example leading to cases where SA moderators "step on the toes" of authors who do moderate the comments on their articles.


    (2) Commenters care a lot about consistency and predictability. The most frequent complaint we get about comment moderation is that we're inconsistent -- "If you deleted my comment, why didn't you delete his?!!!" (This then leads to conspiracy theories that we delete comments of a particular political orientation, because many of the comments we have to delete are political slogan slinging that become abusive.) Allowing authors to delete comments would lead to massive inconsistency in the eyes of users, and I think that's a problem.


    Instead, we're thinking about something similar which could avoid these problems: Allow authors to nominate the best comments on their articles, and highlight those comments. This would be similar to the way the New York Times has a separate tab for NYT Picks - but instead of comments being picked by SA editors, they'd be picked by the article author. If the author didn't pick any comments, the tab wouldn't show.


    For the comments which the author picks, we wouldn't show replies - there would be a "replies" link below the comment which would skip you to the main tab to see the whole conversation.


    What do you think?
    Thanks again to everyone for your input and help on these issues,
    15 Apr 2012, 02:03 AM Reply Like
  • David: I'm not an SA Contributor (yet!), but as a commenter and thorough reader of comments, that sounds like an interesting proposal...


    15 Apr 2012, 02:58 AM Reply Like
  • the change i most regret on the comments was the elimination of the "dislike" button. I thought that was an important source of information, especially as a contrary indicator.
    15 Apr 2012, 08:20 AM Reply Like
  • David,


    I was actually going to suggest something along that line of thought, so it must be a great idea! lol!


    The reason I like it is that it allows the authors minimal control, but at least some control. If a reader wants to read the additional replies to that comment, they can open the replies and read on. There are often multiple excellent comments to certain articles that should be highlighted to draw readers attention to them. Many of the others can also be interesting but more repetitive or congratulatory in nature. The system you propose could make reading articles and "great" comment streams more efficient and beneficial to us all, imho.


    A couple of questions, though: will all of the other comments remain viewable or accessible? Will there be a limit on how many comments can be highlighted? Several of my earlier articles had a dozen or more invaluable comments, but once the series got rolling there were fewer as reader tended to go back to the earlier articles for more background. Thanks for the dialogue!
    16 Apr 2012, 03:30 PM Reply Like
  • Hi David:


    I know that SA thinks hard about these issues. That has been evident to me from my conversations with SA management. So there are no complaints from me there. Furthermore, SA management has always been responsive about listening to my suggestions (even eliciting them).


    I am just adding my voice to various people that have probably argued my position with regards to comments.


    I think it is a great idea to reward readers.


    On author moderation: I agree that there WOULD be inconsistency from author to author in terms of how the handle comments. There is also inconsistency in the type and quality of articles from author to author. Inconsistency in that regard is unavoidable.


    It seems to me that how an author is able to cultivate healthy debate in his comment section is part of how authors can build a niche for themselves; create a "brand." Again, the interests of authors and the site are aligned in that regard.


    If an author sensors too much, he will lose readers. But those readers will likely not abandon SA; they will just abandon that author.


    SA simply needs to be aware how destructive abusive comments can be to the culture of the site and to the morale of authors and other readers.


    I think that the focus needs to be less on losing or offending a few pain in the neck commenters and more on authors and the "silent majority" that are really the ones that make this site work and that are adversely affected by the actions of a few .




    20 Apr 2012, 12:08 AM Reply Like
  • Rocco,
    Thanks for the thought provoking article. I have been a follower of yours for a good while and appreciate your hard work. Unlike some web forum posters I have an accurate bio and have generally only commented on articles in which I have an opinion or feel that I can add to the dialogue. SA has published a few articles that had not been fully researched or contained errors and generally the commenters mad e the author aware of the issue. Our collective knowledge as members hopefully will educate us as we try and navigate turbulent times. I have learned many things on this site and always enjoy opposing viewpoints. Keep up the good work.
    11 Apr 2012, 06:50 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Thanks for your comment. I agree. And I really appreciate your approach. I think the majority of SA users follow the same or a similar route. I have no problem with anonymity, until it provides cover for what really amounts to bad behavior.
    11 Apr 2012, 07:11 PM Reply Like
  • some typical self-contradictory relativist nonsense, which this author has chosen to republish:


    "Fair-mindedness entails a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one's own feelings or selfish interests. "


    So author, does your concept of "fair mindedness" extend to treating all viewpoints alike, even viewpoints that don't feel the need to "treat all viewpoints alike..." ?


    Just for example, I don't treat self-contradictory arguments like other arguments. Self contradictory arguments violate the rules of logic, and are therefore false, and don't deserve any significant consideration.


    BTW i think the value in the SA comments is the well argued variation in the opinions of posters, not adherence to "post-modern" or relativist modes of commentary.
    12 Apr 2012, 08:28 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » You might want to contact the author who wrote those words with your gripe.
    12 Apr 2012, 08:35 PM Reply Like
  • ok so you quoted it at length but don't want to defend it, i guess it's yet another "viewpoint to be treated equally"...
    12 Apr 2012, 08:52 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » I do agree with the piece or I would not have included it, however, I do not think I can vehemently defend what somebody else wrote because somebody else wrote it. I interpreted it and built a case using it as partial support. That's it.
    12 Apr 2012, 10:51 PM Reply Like
  • Angel: You are completely oblivious to what it's like to have to deal with trolls. Treating viewpoints equally gets compromised by "sinisterism." There are devious folks here on SA whose whole goal the moment they get out of bed, to the moment they get back into bed, is to be as disruptive and disingenous as possible, all while throwing delineating, mocking comments, casting as many irrational and vial aspersions as Seeking Alpha will let them do.


    Narcassistic as it may be, trolls covet this very attention. They get off and devote themselves to creating havoc. And they aim at the higher commented articles or Instas here on Seeking Alpha.


    Fortunately, SA is working on this disgusting development.


    I wish there was a "global ignore" feature, where when a commenter is getting out of hand, the author of an Insta, or any commenter of an Insta, can hit an "ignore button." That way, only the author can "see" the troll's comments, and no one else in the Insta can see what the troll is writing.


    When it comes to "published articles," the contributor should not be able to control content. But, the commenters should, by hitting their own "ignore" feature. But before that, they should hit "Report Abuse."
    12 Apr 2012, 11:14 PM Reply Like
  • Maya, maybe i wasn't clear enough but it is the author, not me, who thinks that "critical thinking" requires one to treat all view points equally.


    The SA comments are valuable when they are well argued and backed by data.


    If SA comments are ever allowed to degenerate into the crude sexual references and "gold... bitchez" of Zerohedge etc. we will all be the losers.


    I support the "report abuse" process but i don't think that authors should be able to delete critical comments.


    For example, i took the author in this post to task for pushing relativist/post-modern claptrap. I don't think he should be able to delete it, and "report abuse" won't work because i was not abusive.
    13 Apr 2012, 10:33 AM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » I think we took the meaning of that piece I included in the article differently. But, it's all good.


    Why would I delete or report your comments? There would be no reason to. At the same time, you display part of the problem by referring to something you do not agree with as "clattrap."
    13 Apr 2012, 11:34 AM Reply Like
  • Proposed solution:
    "the author flagged this comment for review." Click to view comment.




    Comment reported as abuse. (comment by user inaccessible but user name still shows up)
    13 Apr 2012, 09:20 PM Reply Like
  • One person's "claptrap" is another person's "written by a 1st grader."
    13 Apr 2012, 10:27 PM Reply Like
  • I know of other websites that emply an "Ignore" feature where each member can selectively ignore any other members posts. It's a broad-brush approach, and can lead to some confusing "gaps" in the commentary, as replies to filtered posts show up but the filtered (ignored) post preceding it does not. It's not perfect, but it's something to consider...
    15 Apr 2012, 03:06 AM Reply Like
  • I actually like the "ignore" approach on forums where there are frequent trolls and idiots. Fortunately SA seems to have very few of those types but perhaps there is already some moderator/editor already screening. I appreciate good debate wherein facts and opinions are thoughtfully offered. It is a testament to this community that personal attacks are rarely seen.
    15 Apr 2012, 12:02 PM Reply Like
  • Igonre. Spot on. Never give another person the power to insult you. Once you do, now they have the power and a reward via your reaction. Its the same childish behavior you see on playgrounds. If you feed it, it grows, and if you are going to try and stop it, then you are going to spend an ever growing amount of time policing it, until it consumes the majority of your time.


    The only way to seriously reduce it, would be a private club model, wherein every potential member is rigoursly evaluated for member ship. Of course, then the members must fund the club, and that would probably get expensive. The other model is the open forum model that looks for large numbers of participants. That way you can sell to advertisers who are looking for a large number of viewers. In that case, you are going to get the disrupters (or at least what the author might consider a disrupter). With those kinds of odds, you will find more and more of your time is spent policing the disrupters, especially if you feed them by responding to them or being bothered by them.
    15 Apr 2012, 12:22 PM Reply Like
  • I'd like an 'ignore" feature.


    Preferably during comment display it would show a marker in the conversation for ignored comments (either a marker for each or a marker for each consecutive group). That marker should have the ability to show the ignored comments, or to hide them again.


    Having the ability to show makes it easy to check your aren't ignoring someone in error. And the marker makes the gaps in conversation much less confusing.


    I find such an "ignore" feature very helpful to supplement my built-in ignore capacity. Sometimes I don't notice the author of a comment until I've read or started reading the comment. At that point my built-in ignore doesn't work as well as it should.
    15 Apr 2012, 06:25 PM Reply Like
  • Gentlemen,
    As a commenter only I will give you some of my impressions of SA. For some background I am not a sophisticated investor and am here to learn. Some of the authors I follow have made comments here and even though we may disagree I have learned a lot from you, sometimes forcing me to really search through what I really think and why. This is the true value of SA, forcing me to throw away false assumptions and emotional bias. To the editors I have one request. There are very few ladies on SA, but the ones I have encountered are generally amazingly focused, sharp, knowledgeable and perform fantastic due diligence. Would it be possible to somehow encourage them to become authors?
    13 Apr 2012, 01:29 AM Reply Like
  • Do we need to do a tie-in with the NFL during October?


    How many complaints will David Jackson get when Seeking Alpha goes pink in October? Would it be worth it?
    13 Apr 2012, 09:07 AM Reply Like
  • Jon,


    If the move built broader awareness within the investing public forum, it just might make sense. There are still millions of folks who could benefit from what we have here on SA out there who don't even know this site exists. Those of us already here would probably benefit additionally from all the additional perspectives from new commenters and potential contributors. The only downside to a broad awareness campaign is that it could attract more trolls. If adequate countermeasures, as discussed above, were in place already, the troll influx could be moderated and eventually culled from the site as they decided it was not worth their trouble. Without the countermeasures, though, I would think the broad exposure might backfire, harming the quality of what already exists.


    I strongly agree with Stilldazed's comment about the quality of comments and due diligence that I've noticed coming from female contributors. Those I have come across have really been excellent and I would enjoy more such quality (not that the guys aren't making intelligent comments, as most do, especially many of those in this thread above). I don't know why SA couldn't reach 10 million members if the word were out there.
    16 Apr 2012, 03:53 PM Reply Like
  • Rocco you hit a home run.
    26 Apr 2012, 05:55 PM Reply Like
  • Author’s reply » Thanks, Chuck. I appreciate that.
    26 Apr 2012, 06:34 PM Reply Like
  • Hmmm... I got this comment from last year deleted today from a moderator and don't know why. I felt like I was stepping in to defend Buffett somewhat from abusive comments on the thread I posted in. This makes me think less of SA honestly.


    No appeal process for deletion. Risk of losing ability to post over this?


    We have deleted your comment because it contains insults, obscenities or abusive language. In an effort to encourage high-quality discussion of articles, we encourage you to avoid such language. We still welcome your post if it contains a strong and polite disagreement about the issues under discussion, but we ask you to resubmit it in a form that is more appropriate for the serious tone we aim to encourage on the site.


    Please note that a history of comment deletions can lead to your account being set to Read-Only.


    Users tell us that they appreciate the quality of the community on Seeking Alpha and that, unlike other forums or message boards, the site is largely free of spam, promotion, and offensive or abusive material. To understand how we achieve this, and what we expect from you as a commenter, please read our Comment Guidelines:


    Due to the volume of comments on the site we re gret that we cannot discuss or revisit individual moderation decisions, but we warmly invite you to familiarize yourself with the Terms of Use regarding your participation in our online community:




    Seeking Alpha Moderation Team


    User Data:
    Posted by: Shane Milburn, userID: 5307, email: XXXXXXXXX@XXXXX.XXXX
    user since: August 2, 2006
    Content Data:
    Content submitted on August 22, 2012, 16:20
    On Article Does Warren Buffett Have An Ally? by John M. Mason
    Original comment:
    Both government action and government inaction have associated sets of issues. Pick one devil or the other. And I admire Buffet. Folks call him a parasite or worse, but if most companies were run the way he runs Berkshire this stuff wouldn't happen.
    Content link:
    7 Jun 2013, 07:06 PM Reply Like
  • Shane,


    We use a variety of methods to flag abuse. Your recent deletion was due to an auto-flagging tool that we have just restarted using thanks to improvements in efficiency with our other systems.


    Comments are never deleted on Seeking Alpha without review by a human moderator, although it has quickly become clear that we need to revise our procedures to avoid false positives such as this. I offer you my apologies, and my assurance that we are already working on improvements.


    In addition, you should know that, except under exceptional circumstances, we will only change a user's account status when they have a substantial history of deleted content, and are certainly open to appeals of such decisions when based on mistaken deletions.


    Tim Bernard, SA Community Manager
    10 Jun 2013, 11:01 AM Reply Like
  • Tim, Thanks for the comment on what happened. Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but the wording of the message feels a little monolithic and ominous including no avenue to appeal and the risk of losing the ability to post. My first thought was maybe a rogue moderator, but I hadn't considered a bot might've just misinterpreted. Thanks again for easing my concern. Shane
    11 Jun 2013, 05:43 PM Reply Like
  • Thanks for the feedback, Shane. I will bear in mind next time we revisit the wording.
    12 Jun 2013, 10:17 AM Reply Like
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