html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I knew it'd come back.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I knew it'd come back.

Back when I was telling y’all that when you see incivility on the internets, it is your responsibility to speak against it, one response was that “we are mere commenters. If we said something, it would only fan the flames. It is up to the moderator to take action and delete nasty comments. The blog owner has to do it.” I’m not letting commenters and lurkers off the hook, but I now think they’re right that blog owners need to take responsibility for their comment sections. Small bloggers, you and your buddies may never need to deal with this. Craft bloggers, this may not be a problem for you. But if you run an opinion-based blog with an active comments section, I believe you have a duty to adopt a comment policy and moderate your comments.

If you do not have a comment policy and moderate your comments, you are defaulting to the baseline standard of the internet. That baseline standard is not civil discourse. The baseline standard for the internets is often regular chatter, but at its worst, it is sexist, racist, violent and mean personal attacks. A considerable portion of the time, it is personally demeaning snark. All of the time, it demonstrably discourages full participation by women and other marginalized voices. Unless you explicitly choose a higher standard, that is what your blog will represent.

Civil discourse is a high standard, but it is the one that underlies wide participation and a thoughtful exchange of ideas. The power behind blogging, the part that is something new, is the potential for widely distributed thought to rapidly emerge, be critiqued, polished, spread and adopted. Civil discourse fosters all of that; rudeness discourages every stage. Blogging is a subset and microcosm of participatory democracy and self-governance; it should be training grounds for learning the skills of civil discourse. I think that civil discourse on the blogs needs to start where the fights are – in the comments sections of large blogs.

I think that large opinion bloggers can enforce civil discourse in their own comments (and arguably, no one else can) and I think they should. The benefits are enhanced communal thought and the costs are intimidation, hurt, anger, fear, polarization and exclusion. I think that combination, ability and imperative, create a duty. Large bloggers, I think you have a duty to adopt a policy of civil discourse and enforce it.


I objected for you, to get us all started. Here you go:


But blogland is the wild West! Rough and rowdy! You gotta toughen up! We’re wildmen here! You wrassle with bears, you’re gonna get bit! … You’re probably a chick, aren’t you.

I hate this notion that by going on the internet and typing on blogs, we forfeit the expectations of the rest of our waking minutes. Civility is the norm for the rest of our dealings. Why should people expect a different rules because they have switched to typing? * Dealings on the internet are a big part of life for many bloggers and expectations for how people act carry over from real life; there is not a magic discontinuity that means that we don’t feel shocked and hurt at personal slams if they are typed.

Second, this attitude allocates privilege to the rude. Under this attitude, rudeness holds sway; civility and thoughtful speech has to wrest away space. There’s no good reason for this initial attribution of privilege. No one picked ad hominem attacks, sexist and racist slurs or snarky misattributions for policy reasons. It arose as an unthinking default, but it is a harmful one. Posting a comments policy flips that allocation, so that privilege goes to civility and rudeness must justify itself.

And then!? Why on earth would being thick-skinned be a collective goal?** Being ‘thick-skinned’ means what? Becoming dismissive of what people say? Tolerating rude behavior towards you and others? Becoming callous, building a shield between you and the world? Those aren’t goals. Those are penalties. The world is less gentle and open and playful when people become “thick-skinned”; that’s a real loss. I also think becoming thick-skinned is a first step towards belittling the Other and ignoring opposing viewpoints. Toughening up is not a goal.

Finally, this attitude, the “you asked for it by showing up”*** approach favors people who like a rough and tumble approach. I think that that is a bias in favor of men, and it isn’t like the internet needs more biases that favor men. A rough and tumble approach is not self-evidently better than others; the fact that the people who are already here are comfortable with it doesn’t make it the best way for blogland to conduct itself.


Free Speech is everything to me. I love Free Speech SOOOOO much that I can’t bear to restrict my comments in any possible way. Because of Free Speech.

I’m going to give this the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is genuine and not a way to avoid the work of enforcing respectful content-based commenting. If it is genuine, it is misplaced. Having an "anything goes" comment section does not lead to a free exchange of ideas. It leads, very predictably, to spats that escalate into flame wars. That is one very narrow idea. Seeing it lots of times does not make more Free Speech.

If what you mean by Free Speech is an open exchange of ideas that hears marginalized viewpoints, then you must moderate comments. People will not speak unusual views when they’ve seen other people personally attacked. People stop listening to others’ ideas after they’ve been attacked. And the thoughtful people that will help think about ideas are repelled by nasty forums. The thoughtful, interesting people that hold blogland together have lives. They have better options than watching predictable and hurtful blogfights. They’ll leave.

Policing your comments for ad hominem attacks and correcting misattributions will not decrease the amount of Free Speech. You will be trading the predictable content of personal nastiness for the more interesting content of a wide range of views and engaged discussion by reasonable people.


But I can’t. I’m busy. I put enough time into the posts and I do other things.

If you can not put in the time and effort to moderate your comments section, you are shirking the responsibility of a major blog. You have options. You could turn off your comments. You can hire a moderator or sucker some regular into moderating. You can put in time upfront, training your regulars to step in and conduct discourse in the manner you prefer. Or, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say “It is OK with me to host and sanction rudeness. My convenience is more important to me than the feelings of people I link to, than the hurt and anger generated when people fight in the comments, than the idea of civil discourse, than the voices of people who are disgusted or timid or marginalized or anything less than thick-skinned.” Say it out loud. At the very least, you can post a comments policy, so you don’t feel bad about banning the conspicuous assholes.


It is really hard to moderate comments. It requires me to really think about what people said and correct them when they’re assholes (even when they’re on my side!) or extract the valuable point while contradicting the personal attack and also you have to be sincere when the snark is so much fun.

Yes. It takes skill and it is personally demanding. It is hard to moderate comments.












*Please do not explain to me about anonymity and the limits of text and how the internets are different. That means that civility is more necessary, not less. Besides, explaining that dynamic doesn’t justify it or convince me that it is the only possibility.

**You can skip your emo sensitivity strawman, too. I’m starting from reasonable people, who can take jokes and have a good sense of self, but who are hurt by being personally attacked and having their fundamental selves demeaned for all to read.

***Which, I’ll remind you, many people DID NOT ask for. Many people just thought they were talking about something. Being told in retrospect that “this is how the internet has always been – it was like this when I was on the bulletin boards – if you come in here, you have to expect this” does NOT mean that people gave implicit consent to being attacked when they started reading, writing and commenting on blogs.

33 Comments:

Anonymous Mitch said...

Having spent time in higher-volume comment communities like Slashdot, I'm always surprised when people talk about moderating comments all by themselves. Having a community moderation system not only eliminates the burden on the blogger, it also resolves a number of these objections.

First, in a community moderation system a large number of people are doing the moderating, rather than just one person. This makes it much harder for people to claim that the moderation is biased. It may still have some bias, but then the bias belongs to a whole group of people, which makes it much more legitimate.

With one (or a few) moderators, some people are also going to claim that moderation is personal--that they got excluded from the conversation not because their contribution was bad, but because someone just doesn't like them. One way to mitigate this is to have a moderation policy, but it's impossible to develop a policy that's universal. People will find fault with whatever you come up with, and that metadiscussion can be a distraction from the main discussion. Community moderation systems can side-step this problem entirely. This means that the occasional rude comment still gets to be a part of the conversation if it's funny/worthwhile enough, without making the whole thing into a free for all. In other words, a community moderation system can get away with being inconsistent, because it has the legitimacy of a larger number of people behind it.

Second, these moderation systems usually work by scoring each comment, rather than by removing the bad ones. Changing from a black-and-white present/absent system to one with shades of grey prevents people from making the "free speech" argument. On slashdot, all the comments are still there, it's just that it's easy to filter out the low-scoring ones. So if your comment gets a low score it reduces your readership, but it doesn't make you feel like you've been stifled.


Community moderations systems have so far mainly been used only in very high volume situations, mainly because you have to do it there. So slashdot's exact system might not work well in a blog where each post gets tens of comments. But I think it's entirely possible to tweak those systems to work in a lower-volume context.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I like that system, although there is the problem of the much smaller comment section. I'm happy with personally moderating my comments, but I know how much work it is. I understand that lots of bloggers think that that isn't a good use of their time. But going unmoderated has externalities.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous D said...

excellent points, all. running through them, but perhaps not as explicit, is this. This is My blog, and I OWN it. I mean, of course, your blog. It is a knife edge to dance where you encourage opposing views, while demanding groundrules, precisely because some dissenters won't accept them. In all the places I have modded, I have taken the tack that this is kinda like a neighborhood tavern. It's a great little place, and once in a while you have to throw someone out because they cross a line. It is really helpful if that line is a bright one, but even if it isn't, this is YOUR place.

I think active mod on your part is intrinsic to it's continuation, and it's fun. Even if you were to have some friends help you mod, they don't always make the same choices you do, so you have to be a part to reinforce your style.

It's a good style. I hope you keep it.
D

9:32 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

d - that cracked me up. I started imagining my friends moderating the place. They'd be hilarious. I wish I could get them to do that.

10:51 PM  
Blogger billo said...

Excellent post and very thoughtful. The only slight disagreement I'd have with you is that blogging is a microcosm of participatory democracy. I'd say it's more in line with late capitalism: "just express yourself" or passiveness and the spectacle.

A real public space would mean we listen to other people and respond to them. Just having the *right* to express an opinion does not make for a conversation (in my opinion)

I don't know, I still think a part of blogging is about narcissism or a search for recognition and not a genuine openness to other people and their views.

11:31 PM  
Blogger John said...

In the ideal world, the blogger should maintain the comments, since a blog is supposed to be a conversation. If it's not, then there isn't much reason to allow comments.

On sites that are just too busy for one person to moderate, then I prefer the SlashDot community moderation model -- ranking best to worst and by default only displaying community ranked good to best comments -- but that requires a community.

My favorite moderation concept if you have a lot of comments but no community is self-moderation that is similar to what some forum sites offer. It would work like this:

After each comment is a button that says "I object." Click on that and the comment disappears -- but only for you. You are then offered the option to make everything the objectionable person has said disappear.

The "objectionable" comments remain visible to everyone else -- after all, you're the only one offended -- and the moderator has a queue of objectionable comments that can be reviewed to see what is just too bad to live.

Obviously, the biggest problem with my idea is that it will only work when people have to register to use the site. But on a very popular site with lots of commenting going on, I think registration is a reasonable request.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Dagon said...

Ugh. Duty.

I want to agree. I really do! I like rational (and even ir-) discussions with smart people that are pleasant and friendly.

However, I don't agree that it's a duty I can impose on someone else on their property.

If you phrase it as "allowing this kind of talk makes your home unpleasant, and I won't visit", I'm completely with you. When you say "you have a duty to make your site pleasant for me", I have to disagree (civilly and with respect).

It seems likely that this ownership and moderation difference is the entire reason that a lot of blogs have entries like "I read X, please discuss here". That's a pretty workable solution IMO.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

However, I don't agree that it's a duty I can impose on someone else on their property.

If you phrase it as "allowing this kind of talk makes your home unpleasant, and I won't visit", I'm completely with you. When you say "you have a duty to make your site pleasant for me", I have to disagree (civilly and with respect).


I don't think *I* am the person imposing the duty. I'm the person who described that duty explicitly, but I think the duty arises from the fact that we in a complex and heterogeneous society, and we've chosen the values of open policy speech and self-governance. Given that we live like we do and we talk about it in public and those discussions get de-railed in predictable ways, there are ways that the people in conversations must act to prevent the consequences I described in the essay. That's where the duty comes from.

AND, I am happy shunning conversations I don't like, but that is the symptom: "moderates getting forced out of the discussion", which leads to polarization and crappy public debates. AND, I think reducing the argument to "make your site pleasant for me" suggests that my interests are more selfish than they are. I didn't argue that large opinion blogs owe that kind of duty to ME. The duty is to public speech and participatory democracy and self-governance.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Dagon said...

I think reducing the argument to "make your site pleasant for me" suggests that my interests are more selfish than they are.

But Megan, your interests *ARE* selfish. You're complaining that someone else's actions (allowing unfettered useless speech) are contrary to your goals (public speech and participatory democracy).

I share your preferences, but I recognize that they're preferences. I can't demand everyone who provides a forum do so for my benefit.

I think the duty arises from the fact that we in a complex and heterogeneous society, and we've chosen the values of open policy speech and self-governance.

Even then, doesn't the duty arise only for those who are actively supporting those values? If someone is running a blog for other reasons, I don't see where the duty comes in.

I think you're spot on when you point out that failure to guide the discussion shows a clear lack of support for the goals of open, rational discussion.

I'm just missing the step between "uncontrolled speech doesn't support participation" and "there should be no blogs where mean and useless comments are allowed".

4:08 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Even then, doesn't the duty arise only for those who are actively supporting those values? If someone is running a blog for other reasons, I don't see where the duty comes in.

Yep. I think that duty arises for the bloggers who support those values. If you don't value those things, if your goals, for example, are position advocacy or propaganda, then this duty is only a slight tug on the person. (Although, I still think that living under the American Constitution does impose a generic duty to support Free Speech and participatory governance, no matter your goals. This is more attenuated, though.)

BUT, I also believe that a lot of the major policy bloggers do support the values of public speech. They are running public forums, and when you become a public forum, you should think about the history and uses and obligations of a public forum. It isn't all hits, booze and groupie sex. Becoming a small node in the public conversation poses obligations on an ethical host.

I'm just missing the step between "uncontrolled speech doesn't support participation" and "there should be no blogs where mean and useless comments are allowed".

I didn't say that there should be no blogs where mean and useless comments are allowed. The fact that people who don't value civil discourse can always start up an unmoderated blog is one of the safeguards that consoles me in case I am wrong in my thinking.

I proposed no penalty for shirking the duty of a public forum to civil discourse, except that I would like the authors of those sites to feel ashamed of themselves in proportion to their belief in public speech and participatory democracy.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

I'm with Dagon. Let a thousand flowers bloom here. Including the rough and tumble ones. The Megans of the world will find their way to Megan-friendly environments, and the thickskinned rude-boy types will find their way elsewhere. Selection will sort it all out. Because the internet IS different. Anonymity and text are different from in-person and voice, and one of those differences is more room for all kinds of experimentation. Both pleasant and unpleasant. Let's see what happens.

I saw your comment on the Crooked Timber thread that perhaps inspired this. I've known Seth Edenbaum for a while, yeah he's a raving fanatic in many ways, but his ravings often have some content and interest. And once such a person has revealed his personal demons, people know not to take it that seriously when he unloads on someone.

Then you go up the food chain to people who are some of the best commentators and thinkers on the internet -- like e.g. Daniel Davies -- who often post things that could be taken as insulting to others. But I wouldn't want to be deprived of what they have to say, because people like Davies are flat-out fucking brilliant and add a ton whenever they speak up. Granted, it can be a somewhat boyish and abrasive sort of brilliance, but it works.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Just to be clear: I also appreciate and enjoy sites that moderate comments and strive for a more civil atmosphere (like this one). The greatness of the internet is precisely that because barriers to entry are so low, many different speech environments can flourish side by side.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Two objections:

Current standard internets default would be OK if:

1. It didn't HURT people. I'm talking people of reasonable sensitivies being abused in shocking ways. Joan Walsh's essay on Kathy Sierra lays out how prevalent and extreme it is. SEK's life got significantly disrupted because an un-moderated blogfight got moved to the real world.

2. It didn't chill public speech. Joan Walsh talks about pulling her punches. People leave the conversation. The conversation polarizes, which narrows the range of views presented.


and then,

3. I don't think that civil discourse restricts abrasive speech. Respectful discourse includes strong engagement and disagreement with other speakers. I call people out in all sorts of vivid ways. But ad hominem attacks add nearly no content to people's interesting speech.

And once such a person has revealed his personal demons, people know not to take it that seriously when he unloads on someone.

You've got the privilege switched again. The burden is not on the public and the target to tolerate the asshole. The burden is on the asshole to cut that shit out.

(I don't actually have an opinion on Seth, having not read enough to form one, although I didn't like what he wrote on the CT thread. I was referring to a generic asshole.)

5:31 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

If you want to convince me, you'd have to show me that:

The "rough and tumble" approach offers enough additional free speech value to be worth repressing marginalized voices, narrowing the range of likely discussion, intimidating (or just disgusting) people until they leave the public forum AND the predictable hurt it does people.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Let a thousand flowers bloom here. Including the rough and tumble ones.

That would be OK if the default was moderated civil discourse and the exception was a free-for-all, chosen for some reason with an awareness of the trade-offs. But as long as the default is a system that damages speech and people, saying "let a thousand flowers bloom" is saying that the externalities don't really bother you.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

I get what you're saying, Megan. I wonder, though, about the credibility problem posed by a one-person-approval system. And I feel like people have said so much crap about me by now that if I start it's like I'm trying to quash the "but-she's-a-bad-student" voice of dissent.

My therapist absolutely hates blogs, though. And I think she has some good points. As do you. So I'm not sure.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Ivan said...

linked here from the masculine marginal revolution blog. honey, blogging doesn't favor women, well, except lesbians. it's competitive, argumentative, nerdy - all unfeminine characteristics. so if you aren't ready for the locker room talk of the average male then there is no point in being a blogger.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

There's a big difference in judgment level and implication of control between "I think you, the site owner, hold these values but your actions don't show it" and "I think the abstract concept of democracy requires you to have this policy".

Everything said here applies both on teh intarweb and in actual real life. In both spaces, there are gatherings and forums that are conducive to pleasant, useful, safe conversation. In both spaces, there are places where there's fighting, threats, posturing, and poor debating style. In the online world, there's no actual violence and the beer never runs out, but otherwise the diversity of venue maps fairly well.

Part of my disagreement is about what I perceive as an incorrect aggregation of "online communities". Each is individual, each has owners who choose how to run their site. There is no default system, there is only a whole lot of systems each chosen and each attracting various people acting in various roles.

You may think you're talking about changing a generic unowned pattern, but it sounds to me like you're demanding specific behavior from specific people.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Diz, moderating comments about yourself is SO HARD. The biases and instincts are almost overwhelming. I should tell you a story Chris told me about that. Maybe later this evening.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I am delighted by Ivan, who makes my points for me so clearly and reminds me that I left one fundamental underlying principle unstated.

If this turns into a discussion, this might be a good time to remind people that MY comment policy is affirmative kindness to your fellow commenters and to me.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You may think you're talking about changing a generic unowned pattern, but it sounds to me like you're demanding specific behavior from specific people.

Yes. I am. I have to run an errand, but I'll tell you why when I get back.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Truth is, I do think the asshole has a privilege to speak and the burden is on others to show why they need to prevent him. Indeed, this is the core of the right to free speech, without such an assumption there is no free speech.

But that has limited application to the situation of the blog host, which is not a pure "public square" situation. To follow along with Dagon again, each blog or site is like a different semi-private room. The right to free speech is preserved by ones ability to host ones own page if desired. The question here is how the host should regulate the space they control. The host is under no obligation to allow "free speech", any more than I am obliged to let someone make anti-semitic remarks in my living room.

You argue for one kind of regulation, that puts a strong premium on preserving the feelings of commenters and the sense of community. I argue that the other is valuable in some circumstances. We can both be right, and the argument can be settled in the public square of the entire internet...some blog hosts will gravitate toward your sort of moderation, and some towards a more permissive kind. Indeed, if you value diversity that's a better outcome than blogs going all one way or all the other.

As for the distinction between spirited comebacks and ad hominem, isn't that sort of subjective and in the eye of the beholder? The distinction between "your argument is idiotic" and "you're an idiot" is a pretty subtle one. It's quite possible that speech ends up regulated to the level of the most easily offended person in the discussion.

Sorry if any of this came off as patronizing, I just tend to rehearse every step in an argument, even if it's obvious. I lecture myself in my own head too, it's horrible to have to listen to it all!

11:38 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Marcus,

No, I didn't think any of that was patronizing, but I think that you didn't either:

tell me that my arguments were wrong about how uncivil speech aggregates,

or

say that you are OK with the aggregated consequences of uncivil speech, that asshole speech is worth those effects.

Second, the asshole portion of Free Speech is not protected by the First Amendment. That's dicta, and a heavily constricted doctrine, but nevertheless Judge Murphy said in Chaplinsky:

It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

Allowing offensive speech is a strong value in our country and one I have a lot of respect for. I'd go a long way to support it, but not as far as repressing the speech of quiet voices, having moderate voices leave the sphere, and having people get hurt. (People getting hurt is the last priority, but still more important than speech with little content besides nastiness.)

4:10 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

There is no default system, there is only a whole lot of systems each chosen and each attracting various people acting in various roles.

There is a default. There is what exists. What exists has a broad range, from sending people doctored pictures of themselves sexually mutilated with a noose next to them, to a norm of rage-filled pissiness (such as the Salon comments before they were moderated, and arguably, most sites (there're reasons people say they never read the comments anywhere but their favorite places)), to great discussions and friendliness. But I think that people have an expectation that they can address people any way they choose. And because of the lack of tone over the internets and the quickness of posting and the anonymity and the need to use strong words to get attention, the road to uncivil speech is smooth and downhill. You have to work to do anything else. Given that human inclination, and that what we have now has heavy costs to our public discussion, I say the default is not acceptable.

So that pattern has to be changed. I tried to tell you to start with yourselves and police the conversations you are part of, and lots of people said "oh no, not me, if I say anything it'll just make the trolls madder.". OK then. Who can fix it? The site authors can fix it. They should fix it, or they should explicitly choose the costs of not requiring civil speech.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

I'm still of the opinion that you're combining a bunch of different specific evils (and they are that, don't get me wrong) into a general duty that does not exist.

It's not wrong to host an uncontrolled comment board. It's not wrong to allow hateful speech. It's not my preference, but it really is a fundamental right.

OK then. Who can fix it?

This is the crux of the problem.
Nobody can fix it. Because there's no "it".

You can't talk about fixing "it", you can only talk about "all of them", and each is an individual.

Remind me sometime to opine on the rights of the large number of sad, mean, incomplete humans in the world. It's related to this, but not directly enough to derail this thread...

Anyway, they can't rant, attack, or deface things in my house, or (thanks to your comment policy and vigilance) yours. Which is why I tend to stay in those places. But I can't tell them not to do it in their own places.

I heartily recommend avoiding those places where uncaring and evil dominates. I even encourage letting site owners know that you avoid them for this reason.

But the underlying principle is that it's their site, and they have no duty to make it pleasant or useful, or even safe (beyond failing to actively encourage crimes).

Actually, I'll go a bit further: It's not a site-owner's duty (though I recommend it). It's not a reader's duty (though I recommend it where the trolls aren't well established and may respond to such help).

It's YOUR duty: don't go to places you don't like. Not everywhere is pleasant, or even safe. And that's often enough a good thing that we should be very very careful not to make rules that prevent it when we think it's bad.

Even when it makes us sad, angry, or afraid, we don't understand the massive complexity of social interactions well enough to know how to limit freedoms.

11:08 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

This is the crux of the problem.
Nobody can fix it. Because there's no "it".

You can't talk about fixing "it", you can only talk about "all of them", and each is an individual.


There is an "it". Every person is raised in a society. Unless you believe that modern American society has no influence on how people interact for one another and it simply a confluence of genetics that causes different societies to have vastly different interaction dynamics?

The "it" is the emergent structure of our interpersonal actions.

I find it beyond baffling that you not only think this is an intractable problem but that it is somehow Good that things are this way.

"Avoiding" places of evil is why situations like Darfur continue to exist. Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" and that is precisely the policy you seem to be advocating.

I think Megan is entirely correct here.

Also: there is no such thing as a "fundamental right". There are only preferences. Sometimes a lot of people with similar preferences get together and decide they are rights.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Anyway, they can't rant, attack, or deface things in my house, or (thanks to your comment policy and vigilance) yours. Which is why I tend to stay in those places. But I can't tell them not to do it in their own places.

You can point out the consequences of they way they are acting and ask them if that is what they intend. You can identify the values their behavior violates and point out what a blogger has to do if upholding those values is important to him or her.

It's YOUR duty: don't go to places you don't like. Not everywhere is pleasant, or even safe. And that's often enough a good thing that we should be very very careful not to make rules that prevent it when we think it's bad.

The lines aren't so simple as that. First, assholes come to ME with their trained asshole behavior. Lots of people seem to think that a comment that builds on snark until a final mean jab is The Way We Do On These Here Internets, and they got trained in that format somewhere. Second, some sites have really good thought and many good comment threads, then inexplicably allow streaks of bullying. I should avoid them altogether, when they could instead require civil discourse of their commenters and get a better conversation for themselves as well?

I heartily recommend avoiding those places where uncaring and evil dominates. I even encourage letting site owners know that you avoid them for this reason.

Look, this is great. I say to them, 'If you care about the quality of our public discourse, and making everybody heard, this is what you must do to ensure it.' and they say 'You're on crack. I care about my fucked-up doctrine and we're going to talk about it however we want.' And I say 'Fine.' and they say 'Fine.'.

But I think most large opinion bloggers hold internal values that they aren't living up to. And I'm writing out the mechanism by which public speech is damaged, and I'm telling them the costs, and I'm saying that they should own that choice about what they do in the space they control.


*******
Yay! Support from Justus.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

I recently read "The No Asshole Rule" which is a semi-fluffy management book about how corporations trick themselves into letting assholes lower profits by keeping them around. It was interesting and vaguely relevant. It turns out that when you actually bother to measure things, it isn't too hard to see that assholes are bad news for any group of people.

I doubt the story is any different with blogs. There is a productive middle ground between conflict avoiding pollyannas and assholes and finding it just requires that people stop being such gigantic pussies.

Off topic: what is the proper protocol for adopting a potentially stray/abandoned cat. Like, say, for instance, someone had a kitten show up in his backyard last week. And further presume said kitten has no name tag and hasn't left and likes to sleep in the sun at the edge of my deck. It also likes having its belly rubbed and tries to follow our hypothetical person into the house at every opportunity. At what point do you decide that it is never going to go "home" and whoever owned it isn't looking for it? (Added difficulty: it doesn't appear to be particularly hungry.)

3:56 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dunno. My sister has had two kittens decide they liked someone else's house better and go live there even though she still wanted them to be her cats. You might check with your neighbors to see if they think they have a new kitten. The 'not hungry' part makes me think the kitten is just using you for sun and scratches.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

The neighbors are asking me if I got a new cat. It likes taking naps with the neighbor's dog that it met less than a week ago and doesn't seem to mind sharing my backyard with the two foxes who live in the hole by the tree. I have decided to call it Nicodemus.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Seems like things are pretty settled with Nico. Congrats!

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

You can point out the consequences of they way they are acting and ask them if that is what they intend.

Absolutely!

Pointing out likely bad consequences is very reasonable, and a good thing. Telling people they have a an absolute responsibility to the concept of democracy is much harder for me to agree with.

8:17 AM  
Blogger devi said...

Long-time lurker coming up for air: I think its a very good idea to moderate. The Internets do encourage bad behavior, and I dont think there's much you can do to change that, however nicely you ask. The net gives enough privacy for people to indulge in the verbal equivalent of nose-picking and crotch-scratching.
Which you don't have to tolerate, and also puts the sensible readers off from commenting.

Btw I came across ur blog a month ago, and I am hooked.

11:04 PM  

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