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In Moderation

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Comments here at “Patrick’s Place” have been in moderation since shortly after I made the move from AOL. Originally, Blogger allowed its users to turn on a feature called “Word Recognition,” which required the commenter to type the letters appearing in a graphic image into a box before the comment would go through. This feature was added to defeat the “autobots” that otherwise could leave spam comments to advertise porn sites or low-cost prescription drugs.

Then Blogger began a new feature: comment moderation. Before a comment left on a blog will actually appear, the blog owner is notified via email, presented with the comment in its entirety, and given the choice to publish or reject it.

(This can be a problem when email notification doesn’t work, as happened recently for many AOL/AIM users who specified that address as their notification preference. Fortunately, there is a backup: a tab within the blog’s control panel that allows you to manually track any comments you weren’t notified about. The only catch here is that you have to make it a point to go there to look.)

But all of this leads to two important questions:

1. Should comments be moderated at all?
2. Is it fair to reject a comment that someone has taken the time to compose?

Some people say no, because to do so is either a form of censorship or that it detracts from the spirit of discussion that they feel is inherent in a weblog.

I don’t buy either argument.

Many of the people who scream about censorship don’t really know what it is. In this case, the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you the right to comment on someone else’s webspace. But those who do wish to comment on or about a weblog are generally not prohibited from starting one of their own, where they can say pretty much whatever they like, depending on their service’s Terms of Service and their relative fear of retribution.

As for the spirit of discussion, that is a lofty concept. Blogs do offer the chance for real discussions. The problem is, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t want to discuss anything: they’re not looking for intelligent debate, but rather to spread their own bitterness and self-righteousness and belittle those who they convince themselves aren’t on their side.

As my friend Rick recently said so well:

“The problem as I’m seeing it at this point in time is that more people are more concerned with being right than in becoming more right. They’re more concerned with standing on the truth-as-already-figured-out than further discovering truth-as-it-really-is. We shut ourselves off from each other, everyone bringing their opinions and no one open to anyone else’s offering in the conversation. In wanting people to learn what we want to teach, we become unteachable.”

We’re all guilty of it at times, either online or offline, and one doesn’t have to go all the way back to a presidential election to view examples of discussion in which neither side listens to the other.

If deleting a comment was never the right thing to do, I doubt that blogging services would allow their users to delete them or even turn them off completely. But there is no rule, so these options are available for the taking.

In an effort to be fair, some bloggers publish an official policy with regard to their handling of comments. I’ve never had one; the closest I’ve come is the last line right below my title bar:

“Comments — if they’re respectful — are always welcome.”

I’ve run comments that I didn’t feel were particularly respectful, and even a few that I was pretty sure were written specifically to be disrespectful. Since this is my blog, I figure that’s my right. I tend to believe that those who leave disrespectful comments or veiled insults do at least as much damage to their own image as they do to that of the person they’re attacking.

So far, since moving completely to Blogger, I’ve only rejected a handful of comments. One of them came from a reader who made an observation about a third party. While I’m sure that the remarks were completely honest and that the writer was trustworthy, it was still information that I could not independently verify, and the journalist in me led me to err on the side of caution. Another comment that was rejected questioned my apparent decision not to run an earlier comment from the same person. It turned out that I either missed the email when the initial comment came in, or it never arrived. In any case, I found the initial comment through the control panel and published it, so the follow-up comment seemed unnecessary. I’ve also killed a couple of “double clutch” comments. Other than those, I don’t recall having rejected any others.

When I do reject a comment, I don’t generally offer any explanation or make a big deal about it. There’s no blogging rule that requires me to do so. I suspect that most people who would leave a nasty comment would be able to figure out why it got no bandwidth here.

I’ve had people delete my comments before as well. I can think of one particular case in which it bothered me. I had left a comment that I considered to be completely respectful in an AOL journal. The post itself concerned businesses that fostered poor morale by not paying their employees enough money. My response suggested that the employees themselves had a hand in their own misery: by accepting jobs paying an amount of money they weren’t pleased with and staying with those jobs over a period of time, they’re sending a message to that employer that things must not be so bad after all. That’s not verbatim, but that was my general tack. Shortly thereafter, the comment disappeared and I found that I was blocked from leaving any others. The writer then posted a proclamation warning that no one would be allowed to disagree in that journal.

To me, that’s cowardice. If you’re so sure you’re right, you shouldn’t be so bent out of shape by other views that you wouldn’t even read them, and if you truly don’t want to hear what anyone else but you’re “yes men” have to say, then you should make that clear at the very top of your page and save everyone some time.

I do believe that blogs can be a good place to exchange ideas and consider other sides of an issue. That’s why I don’t automatically delete comments who disagree with my position. There are plenty of people who do. And believe it or not, I’ve learned things from those dissenting opinions. But that’s where “respectful” comes in. If I perceive that you’re not being respectful, I’ll likely tune out what you’re saying. Then you’ll probably tune out what I fire back in response, and suddenly no one’s listening to each other: Why bother?

The other day, I found a rather impressive, if overly-comprehensive comments policy. There are a few points with which I agree completely.

If I had to come up with a comments policy of my own, I’d start off with this:

1. Ad hominem attacks, those which include name-calling or that somehow attack the person, subtly or obviously, while ignoring the issue itself, have no place in intelligent discussion. This does not mean that you can only agree, but it does mean that if you can’t disagree intelligently, I’m not likely to listen to you.

2. Stay on topic. Don’t post about one subject when the post in which you’re commenting is talking about something completely different. That’s called common courtesy.

3. Don’t twist your opponent’s arguments into something else. There are lot of folks who like to do this. If I were to suggest that a new hybrid automobile I’d seen was not attractive, that would not mean that I was encouraging people to not care about the environment. If I wrote about my enjoyment of a nice steak dinner, it would be ridiculous to assume that I was condemning vegetarians. You get the idea, I’m sure, but some of you might be surprised how far arguments can get twisted if it serves someone else’s agenda.

Some people have issues with anonymous comments. I’ve gone back and forth on this. Over at AOL, you could not comment without leaving your screen name, but that was a function of the software, which required users to sign in to get to the comments window. Those screen names weren’t required to have profiles at all. Blogger allows users to have profiles without providing much information at all, and does not require people with Blogger profiles to have a blog in their service. For that reason, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask folks to have a profile. If Blogger were a paid service, I would feel very differently.

Others resent the use of IM-speak in comments. I do agree that when leaving a comment, one should take the time to write, rather than use the endless array of annoying abbreviations that are common in text messages and instant messages. But I have yet to reject a comment for this reason. If I got one that was just too annoying to try to decipher, I would reject it. And don’t get me started on posts thAt aRe wRiTteN liKe ThiS.

The funniest comment policy I’ve run across is this one, from the “Ex-Donkey Blog.”

For the rest of us, there should be that standard that if you wouldn’t put it in a Letter to the Editor to be run in a newspaper, you shouldn’t put it in a comment in someone else’s blog. But there are a lot of things people would say in an Op/Ed column that they probably shouldn’t. I tend to prefer this philosophy: if you were standing face to face with the blogger in real life, and they were within striking distance, would you say it the way you’ve written? If not, that might be a good test to encourage commenters to be more civil.

A while back, before AOL went bananas and ran off a lot of its journal users, I suggested that online journals were like people’s homes, where front doors were left open so visitors could come in and look around.

Sometimes I wonder what some people would really allow others to do in their living rooms.

12 Comments

  1. People don’t have to be honest. A screen name isn’t a signature. People can use anything. I’ve seen people say they won’t accept an anonymous comment unless the person signs it. Heck, I could do that and sign “Mary,” and no one would know that’s not my name. Even Shelly isn’t my name, not my legal one anyway.

    Another good point, Shelly. I think that at least for some people, knowing that they’ll be identified in SOME way, even if no real personal information goes anywhere, can be enough to make them at least be respectful. But you’re right: there’s no real requirement to be honest about anything you say on your profile.

    My blogs, I get to choose what stays. It’s subjective, it’s not fair, and no, it’s not a democracy. It’s my blog and I don’t blog for debates. People want to leave a respectful comment agreeing or disagreeing with something, fine, but if I don’t like what’s said and it’s not from a regular reader I can discuss it with, it goes, or doesn’t get published cuz I have moderation on most of my blogs. That’s it. Simple. And I see no need to defend it. After all, my blogs, my choice. Other people get to choose for their blogs and if it means deleting my comments, that’s fine. That’s their choice.

    That’s the best policy I’ve seen. Simple and straight to the point. Can I use that? 😉

  2. A few things, especially re: anonymous vs profiles. Anyone can be anonymous and have a profile and/or blog. I’ve had 3 Blogger accounts. I deleted one a long while ago and I think I still have the second. Even blogged with it for a bit. I didn’t have a profile for either of them, just some stuff I made up. I used them to comment on blogs that weren’t ones I read regularly, mostly political blogs.

    People don’t have to be honest. A screen name isn’t a signature. People can use anything. I’ve seen people say they won’t accept an anonymous comment unless the person signs it. Heck, I could do that and sign “Mary,” and no one would know that’s not my name. Even Shelly isn’t my name, not my legal one anyway.

    I don’t need a complicated comments policy, tho I have put one on Presto Speaks! If I need to shorten the sidebar, I’ll remove it. But my policy is simple:

    My blogs, I get to choose what stays. It’s subjective, it’s not fair, and no, it’s not a democracy. It’s my blog and I don’t blog for debates. People want to leave a respectful comment agreeing or disagreeing with something, fine, but if I don’t like what’s said and it’s not from a regular reader I can discuss it with, it goes, or doesn’t get published cuz I have moderation on most of my blogs. That’s it. Simple. And I see no need to defend it. After all, my blogs, my choice. Other people get to choose for their blogs and if it means deleting my comments, that’s fine. That’s their choice.

  3. And I don’t think a person should have to put a disclaimer on their blog stating if they only want yes men or not. What if that person does not know what he or she wants until the opportunity presents itself to teach them what they need in their life?

    Good point, Kathleen. You’ve opened my eyes to a possibility I hadn’t taken time to think about before. Thank you.

  4. I agreed with you up until you attempted to defend your comment that you left in a journal that was deleted (by the way, I know nothing of it but what you said here). I feel you contradicted yourself to make your behavior acceptable in that case. What you may find respectful may not be the case for everyone.

    I do not know where this desire for pseudo democracy in comments has started, but a blog owner should be able to delete or keep whatever comments he or she wants to. If someone can look from the outside and see that she or he are only allowing “yes” comments then so be it. What is the big deal? I think this post lost strength when you called someone’s method cowardice. People can only deal with something the best way that can at the moment they are dealing with it. If they cannot take a rejection at the time it is given who are you or me to force them to learn how to take that rejection or criticism.

    We all blog for different reasons. Perhaps some blog for lively discussions, some for growth, and some because they are in hypercritical relationships and for once in their lives they need only acceptance (I would think a battered wife would need this).

    And I don’t think a person should have to put a disclaimer on their blog stating if they only want yes men or not. What if that person does not know what he or she wants until the opportunity presents itself to teach them what they need in their life?

    People are not so in tuned with their thoughts and feelings as much as some expect them to be. I think that line of thinking is what makes our society so unforgiving and so eye for eye let’s kill them all for a mistake here and a mistake there.

    I have only deleted one comment out of my blog. It was from someone who was leaving her name so people would follow her over to her blog where she created and devoted an entire blog telling everyone how much she hated me. I do not provide lip service for people who feel it necessary to call me a bitch. And I will delete a comment from someone who was nasty to my “screename” somewhere else and decided to come over to my blog and pretend to play nice.

  5. Thank you for your comment on my blog telling me where to find the “lost” comments waiting for approval. I never thought to look there, and the link was right at the bottom when I approved yours!

    I moderate for a different reason than others. Most of my readers are old friends who have moved away, and although I never use real names in my journal, they know the real names and use them in their comments. I even had them say stuff like “and her new phone number is ….” Aaaagh! This isn’t a private chat room folks! I’ve managed to move the worst offenders to emailing instead of commenting, but impulse too often rules.

    Plus spam. I seem to get more spam comments than most, and I don’t know why, but I don’t want to turn that character regognition thingy on. I am dyslexic, and those things drive me batty. (Bleck. I just noticed you have it on. Luckily, this one looks easy.)

    ~~Silk

  6. I am keeping 2 journals (mirrored) at first i was moving to blogspot because of the HUGE ANIMATED AD aol thurst upon me.. then i heard a horror story of how aol lost someones 18 mo. old journal..and thought 2 is safer then one.. however when i first opened blogspot I had 2 “spam/ ads” in comments which i deleted.. late I found a comment “porn related” in my archives as i was moving it to blogspot.. I found anytime something is made to protect you.. many someones will work until they find a way to UNprotect you. All anyone can do is do what they feel is right for them in keeping a handle on it.

  7. A month or so ago, when a few bloggers were receiving a flurry of nasty anonymous comments, I felt compelled to acknowledge the ignorance and bigotry in my own comment only because I wanted to defend my friends. In retrospect, that was exactly what the perpetrator wanted: attention and needless drama.

    It is YOUR space and you’re certainly intelligent enough to know the difference between a comment that might hold some validity and one left solely to stir up the pot.

  8. lots to think about, as usual, Patrick. Its hard to know exactly what to do about comments in some people’s journals. I find myself wanting to “fix” their problems for them when they might not be looking for a fix, but a kind word. Then other times I have to refrain from writing what I would really like to write because after all, it is their blog; they are entitled to their opinions. So unless it comes down to something that they are “bashing” Jesus about, I’m trying not to leave what might be construed as a negative comment and leave something that might help encourage them.

    betty

  9. If it’s the person’s journal, then that person should have it as a choice or an option. I have had a few spam comments on my blogger journal that required me to turn on word verification. Before that on AOL I had to block five screen-names, because they were leaving spam about porn sites. I definitely think those are fair game.

    Not everyone is going to agree with what I or anyone else feels, so hey if they feel they need to delete a comment they don’t agree with, or they felt offended by them, it’s there decision, because it’s there blog. I had a comment that I posted on someone’s journal deleted before, but that is because I took it the wrong way, and I thought I said something wrong, and I wanted to try to make things right. I misinterpreted the entry the wrong way and thought that the journaler was writing about me. I have to say it depends, when it comes my journal. If some someone disagrees with an entry in my journal that’s fine, but if they are insulting me that is a different story.

  10. hi, patrick – thanks for your more-thought out post :). for me, i hate anonymous comments – if you want to say it, be a man and let me know a bit more about you. as for letting anyone post, i don’t have moderation on my blog, but do have it imposed on the church campus blogs i oversee. if someone wants to deride me, i then have the choice of deleting the offending post, or using it as ammo to shoot them in the foot. that’s real power. woo hoo.

  11. In the year-and-a-half I’ve had my AOL journal, I’ve deleted two comments. The first was an old online acquaintance I’d talked to in chat long ago; there was a huge split in the chat room, and he was on the “other side”. When I did an entry about a transgendered friend, and about the same time became online friends with a gay man, he made a comment like “some Christian you are, but I’m not suprised”. I wish I had not deleted it, because it only showed his ignorance.
    Then the other day someone said something seemingly harmless, but I detected an underlying message; when I tried to e-mail them, the screen name had been deleted. Anyone who has to hide behind a screen name to make a comment is going to have their comment deleted, no matter what they’ve said.
    If I didn’t have the power to delete comments, I would not have a public journal.

Comments are closed.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.