Again revisiting that pesky comment policy.

Another housekeeping post. Feel free to skip this unless you’re really interested in my blog policies.

In April I posted about my comment policy. For years before that date, my policy was that I didn’t edit or remove anything but spam. In response to a barrage of nasty posts, and some suggestions from friendly readers, I rethought that policy and decided that, in the present environment of the Internet, with abundant resources for people to make their voices heard, there was no need for me to be so permissive on my own private blog. After a brief period of reflection, I put that new policy into effect, and it has stood for a couple of months.

However, in those couple of months I have once again reconsidered. The nasty comments have continued, particularly following Caitlyn Jenner’s public debut, and as I dutifully removed or edited them, I realized why I don’t like my new policy:

  1. It gives the trolls power. By taking the time to remove their comments, and suggesting that they shouldn’t appear on my blog, I am making them seem more relevant than they are. My actual sense about the nasty comments of trolls is that they should be ignored, but leaving empty posts where the trolls used to be makes it appear that their words were too vulgar, too powerful, to even be seen. It also calls attention to those posts–people are left to wonder what that troll could have said that warranted removal.
  2. It feeds the trolls. It’s become clear that removing a comment just encourages a troll to post another one. And then another one, and then another one. Since trolling is attention seeking behavior, any response at all–even just deleting their posts–encourages them to continue.
  3. It distracts from the actual argument. Every time someone cries “free speech” and I again have to explain that this is a private forum and *I* am in fact the one with the Constitutional right to control what’s said here, it distracts from whatever point we were discussing. I’d rather stay on topic than keep seeing the subject shift to whether I am a “comment nazi” or not.
  4. It conceals and covers up the ugliness of reality. This is the biggest one for me. Take that post about Caitlyn (at the time Bruce) Jenner, for example. One thing I’d like to avoid is for trans people who visit my blog to have to confront a bunch of transphobic hate speech from commenters. But trans people know that speech is out there, and they have for the most part learned how to cope. By deleting those comments, I am also concealing from cisgendered readers the reality of how common and how virulent transphobia is. I’ve long believed that the best way to discredit a bigot is to let them keep speaking–so by removing their comments, I am in a way helping their argument.

So, effective today, I am reversing my policy change, and I will leave all (or almost all) comments intact. I will allow commenters to show the world their own ugliness and stupidity, and I will encourage sensible readers to chose one of three responses to a horrible comment:

  1. Treat it with all the importance it deserves. ie, ignore it completely. Feel free to skip over the comment section entirely.
  2. Laugh at the idiot. It’s a well-known fact that Internet trolls are barely capable of reading, let alone writing anything reasonable. They only make themselves look bad, and I encourage you to laugh derisively at their self-mockery.
  3. Respond to it. I know a lot of people say “no argument was ever resolved by Internet comments,” but I don’t happen to believe that’s true. If someone posts some horrible, stupid argument and you respond with something sensible and well-reasoned, I believe that informs the thinking of anyone who takes the time to read the exchange.

I still reserve the right to modify or delete comments that cross particular lines. What are those lines? I am not obliged to tell you, and I don’t intend to. I will say that threatening physical harm to myself or anyone else will get you deleted pronto–and if the threat seems even the least bit credible in my judgment, I will report it to the authorities. So just don’t threaten.

If you have a problem with this policy, or want to comment on it otherwise, I welcome that. In the meantime, I hope you’ll understand the reasoning I’ve laid out here, and I hope you’ll stick around to read.

1 COMMENT

  1. I agree with your policy, in that I would uphold this same policy on my own website if I had one.

    In some respect, I view a website such as this no differently than being in a public forum….. a town hall meeting, etc. The one and only difference I see is in “real life” it’s much more difficult to ignore disruptions because they are spoken out loud and can interrupt and put a complete halt to constructive debate.

    The great thing here is the ability to leave a stupid or threatening comment posted and watch as no one, including you, responds, therefore making the troll look even more like a jackass than he did himself.

    I realize trolling comments might be very offensive for some. But that’s life. Life is full of hate and distractions and many unpleasant things. More important than the hateful comments is the way you choose to handle the comments. Completely ignoring them, and making an example of the trolls.

    Everyone’s time is precious. You don’t need to be devoting your time to people who are being jerks.

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