Tuesday, November 1, 2005
The privilege of commenting.
Now would seem to be a good time for a metablogging post — a meditation of sorts on what a blog is, and especially on what blog comments are for. I'll be speaking, of course, about this blog and about the expectations I have for comments on this site. I'd be eager to hear about your thinking about your own blog and/or the comments you contribute to the blogs you read.
For most of my readers, what I'm about to say will seem obvious and natural; for others, my operating assumptions may differ from yours and maybe we can come to some new understanding; for trolls, this is explicit notice about why I feel no shame in deleting your comments and limiting your participation.
First, my blog is mine. I set it up so I could easily publish what I'm interested in talking about. If for some reason you think my site should be transformed into a publication that takes up your cause, I'd urge you to get your own blog. I enjoy receiving your suggestions, but I resent efforts at manipulation. (You're unlikely to get a ringing endorsement by cajoling me.)
Second, I welcome reader participation through comments. Not all blogs do. Unlike some blogs, I don't require users to register before they begin commenting, nor do I screen comments before publication.
This has apparently led at least one reader to conclude recently that Philocrites is an unmoderated forum where absolutely anything may be said at any time. Not true! It's a personal blog that welcomes reader comments. Happily, blogs enable pretty much anyone with access to the Internet to set up their own small periodical: The Web itself is the unmoderated forum; this blog is a moderated conversation hosted by me.
I think of comments on this site to be very much like conversation at a dinner party I'm hosting in my home. I set up the space and furnished it with amenities like my Annotated Guide to UU Blogs. As readers, you're my guests. If someone's behavior begins to disrupt the basic quality of the conversation, I disinvite them.
Commenting on this site is a privilege, not a right: I am under no obligation whatsoever to publish or promote your words, although in almost every case I'm delighted to host your contributions to the conversation here.
I have disinvited three people in the past three years. (Plus several thousand spam robots, of course.) Every large blog I've encountered has attracted trolls, and many blogs have systems in place to corral or block them. I moderate comments — which means rarely and selectively deleting them — for a small handful of reasons: I delete duplicate comments; I often delete extremely brief "gotcha" comments and "me too" comments; I delete expressions of raw bigotry and racism; and I delete comments that verge into accusatory gossip and scandal-mongering. I try to err on the side of toleration, but my first priority is maintaining a civil and welcoming space.
I've been greatly influenced by Teresa Nielsen Hayden's contribution to “Spam, Trolls, Stalkers: The Pandora’s Box of Community.” One of my goals in hosting reader comments is to encourage people to use the Web to raise the level of liberal religious discourse and to make it more visible to more people; I can't encourage people to participate if it looks like it's easy to derail or dominate the conversation. You can set the rules of engagement at your blog, but to the extent that I can simultaneously encourage openness and dialogue here while keeping the volume down to a lively roar, I will.
Do I delete comments because I'm afraid of criticism? No. Two things need to be said about this: I'm happy to be shown where I'm mistaken; I'm even willing to be very strongly criticized. But it's almost impossible to offer a defense for what someone perceives to be a sin of omission. Why haven't you said X about Y?! is the sort of comment that I have little patience for. If you want somone to say X, you say it. If you wonder what I think about Y, ask me; I'll decide whether I have something to say about it or not. But do not presume that I must say what you want me to say about anything.
Second, many readers are aware that professionally I'm one of the editors at UU World, and that I'm the editor of uuworld.org, the magazine's weekly online publication. To the extent that it's possible to do this, I attempt to keep my work separate from this site. I do not use this site as an extension of my role at the magazine or at the UUA, nor am I a spokesperson for the magazine or for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. (Nor does the magazine represent an extension of my own particular point of view.) Because I do not speak here on behalf of the magazine, I won't defend or justify editorial decisions in this space; it's simply inappropriate to blur those boundaries. My comments on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of the Periodicals Office, Communications staff group, administration, board, elected or appointed commissions, General Assembly, member congregations, or affiliate organizations of the UUA; they are certainly never intended to look like official statements on behalf of any of those groups. My comments here are strictly my own.
If you have a comment, story idea, news item, letter to the editor, or complaint to lodge about the magazine, this is not the place for it. Here are the magazine's submission guidelines. I am naturally very interested in what other people have to say about the magazine, and am glad to see people comment about it here and on other sites.
Here endeth the disclaimer. I've been thrilled to see the conversation evolve here over the years, and I can't tell you how happy I've been to see comments here stay at such a relatively high level of respectfulness and thoughtfulness. Thanks, readers, for your participation, feedback, constructive criticism, lively disputations, and patience. Thanks especially for coming back again and again.
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 1 November 2005 at 7:45 AM