Bloggers Behaving Goodly?

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blogging, News Media

The front page of the New York Times today features an article by Brad Stone titled “A Call for Manners in a World of Nasty Blogs.” In brief, some techie bloggers have thought up code of conduct rules intended to make the web a little less hostile.

It strikes me that many of their supposedly brand-spanking-new recommendations are things that I and other political bloggers started doing a long time ago. The techies need to catch up.

One of the techies, Tim O’Reilly, summed up the recommendations thus:

    1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.

    2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.

    3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.

    4. Ignore the trolls.

    5. Take the conversation offline, and talk directly, or find an intermediary who can do so.

    6. If you know someone who is behaving badly, tell them so.

    7. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.

The first two items already are in effect here and on many other leftie blogs. As you know, I keep a pretty tight lid on comments here. Some hostile commenters take offense when I delete their comments and accuse me of “censorship.” But as I see it, this blog is not a public utility; it is my personal property. I pay for the bandwidth, and I’ve worked damn hard for nearly five years to build up a readership. I feel no obligation to allow anyone to piggyback on my work to publish smears, vulgarity, lies, or anything else I find offensive. Anyone who is deleted or banned from this site can start his own blog.

This policy has paid off, IMO. I love it that you regulars often write long, thoughtful comments, whereas comments on some other blogs are mostly one-liners. There are plenty of other places on the web in which to indulge in flame wars, if that’s what you like.

There are many blogs on Right and Left that don’t allow comments at all, or hold comments in a moderation queue for approval, or that don’t allow comments without prior registration. I think that’s fine; individuals need to do what feels best for them. If I’m getting a lot of hostile traffic from a link on a right-wing site I sometimes suspend comments on a particular post, or I’ll turn on the moderation queue for a while so that nothing gets posted until I approve it. Usually in three or four days the flamers get discouraged, lose interest, and go away.

I think if I allowed flamers to post here freely they would have taken over the comments a long time ago. Allowing a pack of bullies to dominate comments is not “free speech.” It’s “mob rule.”

Regarding #3 — I don’t mind if someone is anonymous if his/her comments are within comment guidelines. I require commenters to provide an email address (which could be bogus, I suppose), but this is mostly to discourage spam. I get thousands of spam comments every day, most of which are filtered out automatically without my having to deal with them. Sometimes legitimate comments get caught in the spam filter and are not posted, and I’m sorry about that, but without the spam filter I’d have to turn off comments altogether. Technically, I wouldn’t know how to ban anonymous posters. I could require registration, but lately there have been many new registrants that I believe to be bots. I assume this is part of an attempt to circumvent the spam filter.

Regarding #4 — I don’t ignore trolls. Trolls are disruptive. If I conclude a commenter is a troll, I ban that commenter.

Regarding #5 — No, sorry, I don’t like to take conversations offline. I’ve got other things to do with my life that carry on ceaseless email arguments. I respond to emails about my posts once in a blue moon, but mostly I ignore them. I want all comments and discussions about my posts to be in the comments. If someone’s arguments are so offensive I delete them from the comments, this is probably someone I don’t want to waste time arguing with, period.

Regarding #6 — Occasionally I do caution people they are skating on thin ice and risk being banned. Or sometimes I just ban people outright; it depends on how nasty the comment is, what mood I’m in, the weather, the phase of the moon, etc.

Regarding #7 — That I do not do; I am much snarkier on the blog than I am in person. Good blogging is being gut-level honest about what one really thinks. Face-to-face discussion has a bigger element of social interaction that must be respected.

I do wonder why the New York Times thought this story was so important it deserved being on the front page. I guess the (formerly) Gray Lady just couldn’t pass up a chance to wag her finger at us unwashed peasants and tell us to mind our manners. ‘Twould be nice if the Times and other news outlets showed as much concern for the quality of their own work.

Update: While we’re talking about blogging — why I’ve got no respect for the TTLB Ecosystem.

Update2:
What Digby says.

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7 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Daniel DiRito  •  Apr 9, 2007 @12:42 pm

    Where is my Easter Bonnet?

    While some may see the blogosphere and the behavior of its participants as a new phenomenon, it isn’t difficult to find an appropriate predecessor model. That model is found on the streets of any metropolitan area and it is called traffic and the prevalence of road rudeness…or in its extreme…road rage.

    Granted, personal attacks and snark on the internet are not likely to lead to fatalities, but if computers had wheels, it certainly would.

    Read more on the relationship between blog civility and Easter Bonnets…here:

    http://www.thoughttheater.com/2007/04/web_civility_and_easter_bonnets.php

  2. Bucky Blue  •  Apr 9, 2007 @3:07 pm

    I think you’ve struck a nice balance while allowing for the enthusiasm and, well, rage that many of us feel toward many of these issues. I liken the lefty blogs to the rightie talk radio. Lefty blogs are infinitely better researched better written and more civil than anything coming out of Rush or Sean’s mouth. I may have missed the Times getting on them for their lack of civility and vitriole, but I don’t think so. Keep up the good work, Maha.

  3. justme  •  Apr 9, 2007 @3:17 pm

    Ok…#1 made me shudder… sure it’s technically true…one can have the final say by way of the delete option(which I greatly respect the fact that this blog is YOUR labor , your property and I am a guest in your home when I visit here and I never have a problem with you using the delete function should you ever find that I have crossed a line) but the thought that you are responsible for some of the rants I have rattled of makes me want to hide in a corner…. that idea makes me feel much less free to speak my mind… somehow I don’t mind making an ass out of myself but the thought that it extends to you or anyone else really freaks me out.. if #1 is true I feel like I should say I am sorry…oops.Now I feel like the woman who goes to her kids school with her skirt tucked into the top of her pantyhose…Geez!!!!!!
    #1 is a sticky one….Sure, certainly any great blogger(such as yourself) would delete a comment that included outrageously nasty because it is never going to be productive to a good conversation but isn’t that where your responsibility ends? The idea that you have to carry my baggage via my words or feelings on a topic takes from me the freedom to speak for myself and instead try to speak for you…I could never fill those shoes..that is just too much pressure….
    Also I don’t like ugly comments but I think they need to have their place, perhaps not here, but somewhere.I think ugly comments are sometimes important because they allow other readers to see it and it may open someone elses eyes.I think in life in general we are too quick to discount comments we don’t like instead of embracing them for what we can learn from them.For example when Donahue had klansmen on his show all those years ago it was an awakening for me.I sat thru the whole show with tears streaming down my face.I knew about hate before that day oh but too well, but hearing it that day hurt so bad, to see humans hating other humans so much…it woke me up to the world around me in a new way…if I was the only one who it affected isn’t that enough?I learned so much that day from speech I found/find so sickening and beyond what I can fathom in my own heart…if I would have tuned it out because I found it so repulsive my eyes never would have been opened that way maybe? Perhaps we try to shield ourselves from too much sometimes and think of what lesson we could miss from it…in the end those kkk jerks were annoying as hell, I knew that before I watched, but the lesson they provided was priceless.If you have to take responsibility for every word what lessons will be missed?
    Oh and I am more blunt and frank in person than I am here.For some reason I feel like I have to be nicer here than I am in person.Imagine that.So I really hope that you are only responsible for the words I say here on your blog or your in a lot of trouble.

  4. VJB  •  Apr 9, 2007 @5:23 pm

    First time commenter here. I’m with justme@3 in my discomfort with taking responsibility for comments. In the worst case somebody posts physical threats against someone, or links to child porn. It’s like a burglar in your house tripping over the rug in the dark and suing you. Only it’s the Bush DOJ now. I am not sure the folks who are pushing civility are really plugged in. I know that the lefties tend to use profanity as a means of emphasis, and that doesn’t particularly bother me (I get sorely tempted myself), and yes we have a few of our own wackos. But most of the actual venom resides on the right hand side of the aisle. There are so many documented instances of borderline criminal incitement to be found on the right (Michelle Malkin’s and other’s publishing of home addresses comes to mind). I fully expect that the left wing blogs will responsibly toe the line (while complaining heartily), and the right wing will yell, ‘Suckers!’

  5. maha  •  Apr 9, 2007 @6:16 pm

    VJB — Actually I do “take responsibility” for the comments, to an extent, and have for some time. I try to read all of them, and will delete a comment I think is inappropriate or otherwise annoys me.

    (The spammers try to post links to porn sites all the time, btw. Since the “scarf” post I’ve gotten a lot of spam linking to sites featuring “beautiful Arab girl,” for example.)

    I assure you none of the leftie bloggers most of us have heard of are going to change their current practices one iota because of this dumb article, and I think anyone who actually posts one of the dumb badges the article talks about will be subject to much derision. Many of the big-volume bloggers like Kos and MyDD already require commenters to register. The rest of us delete posts that we don’t like. Big whoop-dee-doo.

  6. anon  •  Apr 10, 2007 @5:23 pm

    *shrug* This stuff was addressed WAY LONG AGO.

    Let’s see, take a look here:
    http://www.faqs.org/faqs/feminism/info/

    I have no idea whether the newsgroup is still active or not, but as you can see, a moderation policy was carefully worked out at least a decade ago.

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