Debate 2: Lassez Faire v. Big Brother
Smart Bitches and Dear Author has seen it share of fearsome comment debates. Some of the commenting debates are prompted by the blog posts and some by the commenters themselves. We took a look at our positions on moderating blog comments. We would love to hear what commenters think on this issue.
We’d talked about discussing (which is like setting up a task force to form a committee ew ew ew) the role of the Blog Owner when the comments get fractious, especially when there’s a thread that’s on fire, literally. Sometimes there’s heated discussion, and sometimes people don’t argue fairly, and then there’s times when the discussion as a whole takes a right turn in Albuquerque and heads off into directions unknown.
On one hand, my first thought is, “We’ve strayed sufficiently off-topic and this is beginning to disintegrate into bluster and yelling with no one reading and thinking before they fly off and post a comment. Also, I haven’t had enough coffee yet.” Then I ponder whether saying anything is appropriate.
On the other hand, this is not abnormal, as there are those that stir the pot du poop with alacrity and enjoy doing so. And moveover, SBTB’s commenters have often been a erudite, self-policing bunch. However, that self-policing does have a limit, and I wonder at times what the limit is, and when it’s reached.
How far is too far when people stop thinking afore they post? And do we have a responsibility to address the situation when that happens? Do I step in and say “Everyone calm down!” just because a few people are making statements that are bound to make other people see red? Or do I let this play out because, let’s face it, in “real life” few people know how to handle conflict anymore?
I think I’ve mentioned this but there’s a blog devoted to, of all boring subjects, my town in NJ, which gets very VERY heated, and they’ve had to put a disclaimer that says, “YOU are responsible for your posts, and the content thereof.” My reaction was, “You seriously had to TELL people that?!” but it seems the blog owners were repeatedly called out on the site and elsewhere for not appropriately toning the discussions down to a less confrontational level. Jeeez.
The question of how one employs consistency is a big one. There’s often a point in really fractious discussions wherein I think the tone has gotten so cranky on the current thread that most of the regular voices of reasoned debate have gone elsewhere, but still the discussion is still interesting and worth having, if people can keep their cans of whoop ass relatively unfizzy.
There is a fine difference in host conduct, though: am I moderating or am I refereeing?
Moderating to me implies that I’m going to edit/delete/remove posts or sanction the poster.
Refereeing to me implies that I’m going to say, “Foul! Unnecessary use of the word ‘assmonkey!’ Five yard penalty! First down!”
Of course, my analogy falls apart when it comes to throwing a player out of the game for calling the ref a “cocksucker.”
Interestingly I was looking at the topic of forum host responsibility this am. The courts have generally said we aren’t responsible so it seems to be an issue of moral correctness. And then I think who am I to be the one to impose my idea of rightness on anyone else. How do you employ any consistency? Is it better to err on the side of laissez faire so that everyone can have their say? Do we provide a docile atmosphere and possibly chill heated but important debate?
I think consistency is the biggest challenge. On the one hand, if your feelings are easily hurt why come and debate. On the other handwhy can’t certain commentors control themselves? I think that no matter what someone is going to be unhappy whether you moderate or choose not to. The question becomes, then, who do you make unhappy?
Isn't it amazing how everyone hates the contentious arguments but weirdly they all get the highest amounts of hits and comments.
For the record, Dear Author has deleted and edited only a few comments. I think it would be under five. We haven’t deleted posts even if we regret them because part of blogging is a learning process and we wouldn’t learn anything if we revised our history.
Some people seem really, really indignant that we don’t moderate more; others think we’re malicious biznitches when we disagree strongly with a commenter’s position and highlight as much by using the comment into a separate post. Some clarification seems to be in order, so here’s our not-especially-official stance when it comes to running our site:
We almost never edit comments. What you say, stands. If you said something that made you sound like an asshole, too bad. If you want to take it back, feel free to do so further down the line. You can say almost anything you like here, and that runs the gamut from agreeing with us fangirlishly to telling us bitches WE’VE GONE TOO FAR and need to be banned from the Internets.
Seriously, those of you who cry about how mistreated you’ve been on this board should take a look at some of the things people have said about us in the comments section and that we’ve allowed to remain. When it comes down to it, we don’t believe in suppressing dissent, even if the dissent is phrased as a personal attack. My personal philosophy tends to be this: That the remedy for bad speech (read: opinions I disagree with–or even find downright repugnant) is not moderation, but MORE speech. I won’t shut you down, but I’ll sure as shit talk you to death, or watch somebody else do it.
I do find it ironic that the two people I’ve noticed making the most noise about inadequate moderation and who have advocated that we either pull or heavily edit comments and posts are self-declared libertarian types. What the fuck, yo?
That said, we do occasionally tweak comments for the following reasons, should we catch them:
1. There was bad HTML.
2. There was some sort of egregious grammatical error, and the commenter asked us pretty please to correct it for them. (This is really rare.)
3. Somebody is using us to promote themselves in a completely inappropriate context.
The one time I threatened to edit comments that verged into personal attack? Didn’t get around to it. Dudes, it’s a LOT of work, and I really, really can’t be arsed.
We also almost never, ever delete comments. The two reasons Sarah and I have deleted comments in the past:
1. It was spam.
2. It contained sensitive personal information.
We will occasionally edit our posts extensively. The reasons we have done so:
1. We got something wrong.
2. We accidentally posted sensitive personal information.
3. We accidentally left something important out.
4. There’s an update to events that didn’t merit its own post.
Whenever we do so, we make it really, really clear that we’ve edited the post.
We have never, EVER pulled a post entirely–not even when we feel embarrassed by what we said, or when we were met with widespread disapproval, or even when we’re wrong. This is not to say that we won’t do it some time down the line, but remember what we said above about not taking down comments even though the commenter looks like an asshole? Yeah, that applies for us, too. (More to me than Sarah, because I’m far, far more obnoxious than Sarah tends to be.)
On closing down the comments
Sometimes, the comments section gets fractious. This is not a bad thing. We like fractiousness. That said, Sarah and I have agreed to close comment threads on a couple of different occasions. They were:
1. A couple of years ago, when the Monica Jackson/AAR slapfest started up in our comments board, and really, we didn’t want to take part in that particular trainwreck.
2. The 600+ comment thread on costumes once it was derailed started to get REALLY ugly.
On disagreement and dissent
It’s not about you.
No, really. It’s not about you.
It’s about your opinion. I don’t know you. I’m not, to be perfectly honest, especially interested in YOU, unless we happen to become on-line buddies. I am, however, interested in what you have to say.
I cuss. A lot. Holy fuckmonkeys, do I ever. I’m also not especially kind or patient. I often sound brusque, because I’m short on time and/or attention. But I can tell you this: when I disagree with you, I will address your comments, even if I couch it in personal terms, like “You have a mean way with a false dichotomy.” I will not speculate on your motive for saying or doing something (“OMG UR SO MEAN U NEED 2 GET LAID MORE LOLOLOLOL,” etc.) because that crosses all sorts of lines for me. When I call somebody a douchebag, I am almost always a) addressing a fictional construct, like a character (either in the story or as represented on the cover by a model), or b) talking about an opinion or a type of attitude in general, and not a person in particular.
The one time I can remember breaking this personal rule was during the whole Gail Northman scandal, when people were hysterically bidding us GOODBYE 4-EVA, and I couldn’t resist poking a little fun at them.
Honestly, I really enjoy the fact that we have such a lively community of readers and commenters. Sarah occasionally steps in when things get a little crazy, but given what opinionated bitches we are as a whole, our disagreements have been largely civil, with only a few notable exceptions.