Respectful Insolence

Wow, I really need me one of these!

Given the general level of intelligence and erudition of commenters here, rare would be the need for a product such as this:

(Fortune Magazine) — Internet veterans have long complained about the steady erosion of civility — and worse, intelligence — in online discourse. Initially the phenomenon seemed to be a seasonal disorder. It occurred every September when freshmen showed up for college and went online. Tasting for the first time the freedom and power of the Internet, the newbies would behave like a bunch of drunken fraternity pledges, filling electronic bulletin boards with puerile remarks until the upperclassmen could whip them into shape.

Things took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1993, when AOL (Charts, Fortune 500) loosed its tens of thousands — and then millions — of users onto the Net. The event came to be known as the Endless September, and true to its name, it continues to this day.

It’s a serious problem. Fools and bandwidth hogs have a way of driving traffic away from the most successful online destinations, a phenomenon that could ruin the emerging social networks and user-generated aggregators like Digg.

But there’s still hope for intelligent life on the Internet. A team of software developers is hard at work on a “stupid filter” that promises to do to idiotic online comments what a spam filter does to junk and unwanted e-mail: put it in a place where it can’t hurt anyone anymore.

As I said, only a very small percentage of my commenters would ever run afoul of the Stupid Filter, but think of how much nicer it would be. In fact, though, you can help by visiting the StupidFilter page and contributing examples of stupidity for the crack programmers there to use as examples as they develop their filter. They’ve already gathered around 225,000 stupid comments from YouTube and elsewhere and are working on a stupidity ranking system, but they can still use more.

Actually, I’m a bit ambivalent about this project. When a troll invasion hits, as so frequently happens whenever I post about vaccines, anthropogenic global warming (PZ got an even larger influx recently), secondhand smoke, or homeopathy, there are times when I wish I had such a filter. On the other hand, the impressively unsinkable stupidity of many of the “vaccines cause autism” crowd, homeopathy supporters, or global warming “skeptics” is a bit entertaining to behold. It’s also educational, as such people are perfect examples of logical fallacies, cherry picking of data, and just plain stupidity. Shutting them out may in some cases be counterproductive.

At the very least, they provide us something to laugh at.

Comments

  1. #1 Graculus
    November 10, 2007

    Where I think this has merit is that before the ‘net stupidity was controlled by social pressure. Your neighbours were unlikely to be as stupid as you on any given subject (and vis versa), so engaging in public stupidity was relatively rare.

    Now, no matter how much of a fruitcake you are, you can not only find like minded individuals to support your stupidity, but you also egg each other on to greater depths of stupid.

    If you think I’m joking, Google “otherkin”, “ana-mia”, or “chemtrails”.

  2. #2 John McKay
    November 10, 2007

    A easy first step to a stupid filter would be something that filters for a too high ratio of capital letters to lower case and for strings of exclamation points.

  3. #3 Sandy
    November 10, 2007

    “Me too!”

    (In case you don’t have don’t have Usenet experience, that was the typical AOLer post in the newsgroups… :)

  4. #4 blf
    November 10, 2007

    When a troll invasion hits, as so frequently happens whenever I post about vaccines, anthropogenic global warming …, secondhand smoke, or homeopathy …

    Are you trying to be invaded by all of ‘em at once?

  5. #5 Bob O'H
    November 10, 2007

    Please, make sure Uncommon Descent never gets one of these. There’ll be nothing left for us to laugh at.

  6. #6 Robster, FCD
    November 10, 2007

    Graculus, sadly, I don’t need to google any of those. TSIB

    John McKay, CAPS LOCK is cruise control for cool.

  7. #7 Grodge
    November 10, 2007

    At the risk of running afoul of your stupid filter, I was reading the posts on secondhand smoke, and I have to say that I tend to agree with the “libertarian comic” on tis issue, while I tend to agree with Orac on most every issue.

    Correct me where I am in error. SHS in bars takes place on private property and shouldn’t the owner of the bar and employees be able to exhibit their free will? I can see outlawing smoking in public places, even outside on the streets… but in private bars and restaurants?

    Certainly there are a multitude of risks to which we expose ourselves for enjoyment or employment– automobiles, for one– so why pick on SHS.

    Disclosure: I do not smoke (I hate the smell and gagging) and I do not work for a tobacco company; in fact, I am in a health care profession.

    Feel free to filter me out, I do not mean to troll.

  8. #8 David B.
    November 10, 2007

    I would love to take this technology and combine it with IBM’s, AT&T’s, and Northern Telecom’s voice recognition systems and apply it to television in a real-time way.

    First I’d filter Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and any discussion re: their comments. Then I’d apply a real-time fact checker so that when watching a presidential debate LIAR would be scrawled across anyone speaking untruths. The question is how to handle the brutal twisting and distortion of facts, which seems to be the great American pastime of late…

    *sigh*

    David B.

  9. #9 DuWayne
    November 10, 2007

    Wow, I would love that, if only to filter out my own stupid comments, made in my more manic moments.

    It would be really tempting to put it on my own blog. I recently made the mistake of not deleting an HIV/AIDS denialist, who started out very politely. Instead I responded. Within an hour, there were fifteen responses from other denialists, including three or four that added comments about 9/11 being caused by laser beams, to extra-terrestrial/UN/new world order bs. Then after I deleted those, the original denialist commenter turned rather nasty too. On top of that, my posting about the SoH’s thuggery turned up a few really stupid, really rude comments.

    I wonder if it could be integrated with the ghetto filter. Instead of not posting the comments, it could translate them before they appear. I could totally go for that.

  10. #10 Coin
    November 10, 2007

    Anything which can be quantified, can be gamed. Put a learning “stupid filter” in place and the only impact will be that the filter, now your single point of failure, will become a target, and be mobbed by people trying to convince it that stupidity is sense and sense is stupidity.

  11. #11 Sastra
    November 10, 2007

    “When a troll invasion hits, as so frequently happens whenever I post about vaccines, anthropogenic global warming …, secondhand smoke, or homeopathy …”
    blf:
    Are you trying to be invaded by all of ‘em at once?

    But it’s true! Global warming is really just an illusion caused by us having been vaccinated with solutions containing trace homeopathic amounts of secondhand smoke!

  12. #12 blf
    November 10, 2007

    Global warming is really just an illusion caused by us having been vaccinated with solutions containing trace homeopathic amounts of secondhand smoke!

    That’s more understandable than the individual crankpotterys. But what’s it got to do with Sept-11, pharma shrills, and chemtrails? The theory is obviously incomplete! You are clearly a CIA world government tool of the green HIV-AIDS Darwinista liberals.

  13. #13 Marcus Ranum
    November 10, 2007

    I keep trying to post, but my messages get rejected. That crazy gizmo really works!

  14. #14 Liz D.
    November 10, 2007

    My objection to the stupid filter:

    What would I do for a self-esteem boost without having regular access to Fore Sam’s bloviating?

    And in the same vein, regular laughter is supposed to be good — the daily news is too depressing, but daily stupidity is always good for a laugh!

  15. #15 John Pieret
    November 10, 2007

    That would be a minor improvement to the quality of life but let me know when they have a Stupid Filter for the entrances to voting booths.

  16. #16 Graculus
    November 11, 2007

    Graculus, sadly, I don’t need to google any of those.

    Ok, if you know what “otherkin” are you are either an old SlashDot hand or spend waaaay too much time at SF cons.

    Anything which can be quantified, can be gamed. Put a learning “stupid filter” in place and the only impact will be that the filter, now your single point of failure, will become a target, and be mobbed by people trying to convince it that stupidity is sense and sense is stupidity.

    By the sounds of it, it is a trusted user system. Can’t be gamed. No one has gamed Vipul’s Razor yet, and it’s been around for years.

    This one doesn’t filter stupid content, it filters stupid presentation. AOLisms, execrable grammar, caps locks, bad punctuation, etc. It is, as they note, content and irony blind. So we would still have plenty of stupidity to laugh at, but it would be semi-coherent stupidity. Most of the trolls at scienceblogs would not even be noticed by this filter, as you don’t see too many “Orac iz teh gay!!111 lolololol” comments.

  17. #17 Mithandir
    November 12, 2007

    Ehh …

    As I understand it it uses the same Baysian statistical approach to filtering as many anti-spam systems. That means it relies on “stupid people”‘s spelling and structure to be consistent. We’ve all seen how creative spammers can get in spelling banned words and in my experience idiots don’t even need to put effort into butchering the english language.
    Either way, even if it worked you’re still only filtering for patterns, not contents. Worse yet, while spam patterns are pretty unique, that is: a clear distinction can be made between words used in a spam mail and words used in regular mail, the same is not true for stupid comments which, repulsive as the thought may be, share a culture with us. This increases the risk of false positives substantially.

    I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  18. #18 Graculus
    November 12, 2007

    That means it relies on “stupid people”‘s spelling and structure to be consistent.

    It is, for the kind of stupidity they are filtering. Consistently wrong.

    This increases the risk of false positives substantially.

    I don’t think it’s even capable of a “false positive”, given the nature of what they are filtering. What it could end up catching is inadvertent stupidity (excessive typos, for instance – that’s me). But that’s not a “false positive”, because it’s still stupid.

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