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.
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.