html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: As usual,

Saturday, October 06, 2007

As usual,

I agree with Chris Clarke:
There is an odd conceit in the blogging world that deletion of bad-faith comments is a violation of the rights of the hater. Even when the point of the comment is expressly to disrupt, to inflame and derail, the canonical response is not to simply delete the comment, but rather to warn commenters against “feeding the troll.” Thus the blogger’s responsibility for maintaining the community of the site, his or her responsibility to refrain from publishing hate speech and slander (which is in fact what allowing such comments to remain live on one’s blog amounts to) is externalized. As are so many other externalized evils in this world, the people most likely to be harmed by an act of bad faith are the ones saddled with the task of minimizing the effects of that bad faith act. Who is most likely to be harmed by a comment such as the one I deleted from the spam queue last night? Well, Muslims, for starters, and people whose loves include Muslims, and people longing for justice and a cessation of racism. And there are those who find unpleasant the pissing matches that usually arise from such posts. And those who prefer not to comment when the response might be a nasty slam made in bad faith. And those of us who may not mind the provocateurs, but who would benefit from hearing the points of view of those remaining silent.

The usual reply — one usually made by the people being banned for making bad-faith comments — is that such “censorship” results in a blog becoming little more than an echo chamber. But go stand at your local Echo Point and determine which mode of talk raises more echoes: conversation, or shouting? The best, most thorough discussions and airing of differences take place in venues where comment vandals are absent. When trolls and thugs are allowed free reign, that is when the echoes ring out, when peoples’ skin gets so thin that a mere untutored question or a legitimate piece of dissent or criticism is taken for just another sample of the background noise of trolling.

Despite the protests, it is not that hard to separate the sheep from the goats. Thoughtful disagreement, even when frustrated or angry, is wholly different from bad-faith argument. A community in which members have made a baseline commitment to respecting the humanity and intelligence of others is a different animal than an echo chamber.

Maybe it’s my background in print, where one must make an affirmative decision to print a vindictive or slanderous letter to the editor. I recognize that not everyone online feels those same rules apply. I recognize in fact that many bloggers would fight like hell to keep from being considered ultimately responsible for the comments left on their sites, and further that there are some extremely good reasons for feeling that way. Enshrine this sort of thing in the law, and what was responsibility for allowing hate speech becomes liability for infringement when a commenter posts song lyrics or an AP photo. I’m not advocating setting legal precedent here.

But there is no such thing as not making a decision. To hold to a policy that all comments remain (or that only the worst repeat offenders are banned after abundant complaint, or if a pre-defined set of magic hate words is used) is to decide against participation by those who are intimidated or annoyed into silence. It is to decide that the comment vandals are of higher value to you than are the thoughtful and hesitant, or that — at the very least — your desire to think yourself a defender of comment freedom is more important than the freedom to comment of those who prefer not to be set upon by trolls.

I am reassured by the company I keep on this.

4 Comments:

Blogger shanusmagnus said...

It's strange to me how much some people seem to agonize over this. I suppose the reason they do is because they're the sort of thoughtful people who worry about laying about themselves too ham-handedly; who are willing to take a punch on the off chance that the thrower might have a bit of right on his side; or are comfortable with moral absolutes.

Anyway, whatever the reason, I don't worry about it. Partly this is because I'm an asshole, but more important is the fundamental metaphor I apply to these sorts of endeavors in the online world, which is this:

I feel like I'm hosting a party. I bought all the shit, I laid out the plates and the food, I borrowed folding chairs from somebody, and, splendid fellow that I am, I threw open the front door. Come in, have a good time. I feel profoundly satisfied that when I see people gathered in a little group talking about why The Transformers sucked, or arguing about why it didn't. I don't even mind that annoying guy who insists on controlling the stereo. If I'm talking about Scottish literature, or Lisp, and some clutch of boors interrupts and tells me that both suck I'll usually be ok with it, depending on their boorishness, and my mood.

But if some dickhead I don't even know, who heard about the party from a friend, shows up, drunk, and starts hitting on the girls, well, that guy goes. Not only do I not feel bad about it, I feel good about it.

Maybe that's the first step down the road to damnation. If so, I'll try to keep the pace leisurely.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

My problem is the people who don't agonize, and don't see the need to moderate. The ones who worry will eventually arrive at a philosophy that guides them. The one's who think it is OK to leave their comment sections unmoderated are the ones pushing that work and hurt on to other people.

2:37 PM  
Blogger jens said...

To me, it's certainly OK to delete spam if you WANT to. In fact, I regard it as a plus. But if it's too much of a burden, I'd rather have a good blogger NOT delete spam or trolls than quit.

By the way, one of the most important reasons for the "do not feed the troll" rule is that this facilitates the task for the moderator if there is one. An ignored troll can easily be deleted - one that has spawned dozens of responses can no longer be, without making those responses puzzling and sometimes senseless.

I've been on a VERY courteous "board" before where they had a sort of a pet troll. He or she posted EVERY day, several times, usually only to two or three threads that people hardly ever read (to be fair, the posts were not particularly HATEFUL...they were psychotically delusionary, though). There ended up being practically no disruption at all.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

From my point of view, the fundamental anti-censorship argument is that it is unwise to allow any agency to have the power to universally declare any particular idea to be forbidden.

This logic certainly doesn't apply to private fora. It seems a great benefit to allow various people to host the types of conversations they each want to have. And then everyone can visit the places they enjoy, and no-one runs the risk of having their particular kink declared badthink by the powers that be.

Megan, I've spent some time trying to figure out why you would think that people who host unmoderated fora are creating work for others. I'm guessing you view them as a form of pollution? That the existance of unmoderated fora increases the frequency of undesirable comments on other boards?

Please elaborate some on that, because I've got some thoughts on the subject, but want to understand where you're coming from before expressing more.

8:44 AM  

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