Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Comments and commenters

A popular Catholic women's website has decided to update its comments policy. Now, I can't link to that particular website, because every time I do so I get into what might be called "more trouble than it's worth," and thus have decided that it's better off to avoid directly linking to or discussing what's being shared there, as the better part of valor, so to speak.

Besides, I don't have any quibble with the notion that a website should set its own comments policy. If a website wants to declare that commenters may post on any day but Tuesday or Friday, between the hours of 7am and 7pm EST, and that all comments must begin with words beginning with vowels, that's a website's prerogative. I may find the comments policy at Rod Dreher's new blog (which is excellent, by the way) rather annoying compared to the rough-and-tumble of his older blogs, but having had the responsibility a couple of times of moderating the comments on one of his older blogs, I can understand the advantage to the blogger and his team of having a stricter comments policy. So as far as the Catholic women's site I mentioned is concerned, I have no quibble with the idea that they can lay down new rules whenever they like, in the hopes of producing the kinds of comments they are after and minimizing the kind they're not. If I, or anybody else, doesn't like it, we don't have to post comments there.

But I did want to talk about one thing that was said. The author of the post at that Catholic women's site said something about political blogs wherein people apparently feel free to call other people "idiots" if they disagree about candidates and voting, for instance. Now, I'm sure the author is talking about relio trulio political blogs which make their money on page hit advertising which benefits from the stirring up of combox controversy, not the blog of a mere political dabbling Catholic such as this one. But just in case there's ever any confusion, I should mention (as gently as possible) that actually calling someone else an idiot is not allowed on this particular blog. I may put up with it if you direct such a comment at me, but I won't put up with it if you direct such a comment at another commenter.

In fact, there are three types of comments I will delete on this blog:

1. Comments that attack other posters or call them names, or otherwise personally insult them.
2. Comments that employ excessively rude, rough, or hostile language.
3. Comments that say that they Liking my very blog post good!!! while embedding a link to the Psychic Herbal Discount Shoe Network, or some such thing.

I delete far more of "3" than any other; which brings me to the next point.

As bloggers go, I'm blessed in my commenters. Truly. Those of you who chose to engage here, to share your thoughts and ideas and opinions, and enter into vigorous debate and discussion of the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of others, are intelligent, thoughtful, civil people--overwhelmingly so. I never mind if conversations here get heated or passionate, because I know I can count on most of you to hold the line, and avoid the kind of petty insults that plague other blogs. This blog wouldn't be much without those people who chose to comment--because I think of blogging as conversation, not a kind of pontification on high which is then to be mulled over and appreciated by the readers (honestly, does that work for anyone, even Andrew Sullivan?). I learn a lot from commenters; you keep me honest, and inspired to try harder to do better every time I sit down in front of the computer to write a post.

I don't say it often enough: I appreciate all of my readers, and especially those of you who take the time to leave comments and tell me what you're thinking, or how I'm wrong about something. I would never want a blog to be an echo chamber--disagreement, even passionate disagreement, is not at all disagreeable as far as I'm concerned, because it forces me to take stock of my ideas, to read more about issues, and to pay greater attention to the world around me, far beyond my comfort zone of home and family and parish and community.

So, to all of you: thank you. Keep those comments coming!

20 comments:

Jen Ambrose said...

The author of that post also writes for the website of a self-described "politically conservative American monthly magazine looks at contemporary culture from a traditional Catholic perspective" which of course is very different from what you refer to as a "popular Catholic women's website" and they self-describe their online presence as "Our new daily blog and magazine is where everyday moms offer one another inspiration, support, and encouragement in Catholic living." The content between the "politically conservative American monthly magazine looks at contemporary culture from a traditional Catholic perspective" is wildly different from "Our new daily blog and magazine is where everyday moms offer one another inspiration, support, and encouragement in Catholic living." in fact, so substantially different as "politically conservative American monthly magazine looks at contemporary culture from a traditional Catholic perspective" is the place where you find such "idiot" calling where as "Our new daily blog and magazine is where everyday moms offer one another inspiration, support, and encouragement in Catholic living" seems a strange place to troll for the opportunity to throw around the word idiot. People who write for "politically conservative American monthly magazine looks at contemporary culture from a traditional Catholic perspective" thrive on the "idiot" calling--it is, of course, why such sites exist. Sites such as "Our new daily blog and magazine is where everyday moms offer one another inspiration, support, and encouragement in Catholic living" are sometimes just about laundry.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Hmmm. Well, I guessed correctly what site you were talking about, and went over to read their new comment policy.

And I hope the business method works out for them. Personally, I prefer more rough and tumble comments-- you have a good community going here, and I really love it when diverse voices chime in. There are some blogs (McArdle's, Althouse, volokh,) I read as much for the comments as for the blog!

But the unnamed blog's model has ALWAYS seemed to focus on not 'disturbing anyone's peace.' I could write a mini-dissertation on why that makes sense given the publisher, but I won't, because we're all exhausted and we've said it before...

Though Jen, the other blog (IC) HARDLY has a rough-and-tumble culture...things get heated over there, but...honestly, try Father Z's sometime! :)

I think, what it comes down to, is whether you're looking for discussion, or support.

But the 'net is big enough for both types of communities. And really, the regular readers of the blog that must not be named seem to go there more for the warm personalities and sense of sharing than for heated political, theological, or philosophical arguments. So, if the new commentors (probably drawn there by curiousity over some unfortunate messiness involving founders and what not) were driving away the people who the advertisers target, I can see why the editiors would make the change.

Glossy magazines, whether print or online, are all about selling ads. Just because something calls itself a 'blog' doesn't mean it wants a wild, knock down, drag out free exchange of ideas......

Which is, once again, why I'm thankful for THIS blog. ;)

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, Deirdre!

Jen, I wasn't even thinking about that--but now that you mention it, I'm pondering it all.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

Jen,
Should commenters then be blamed or chastised when forums that are "just about laundry" wade into deeper subjects like "How to Love a Homosexual"? That is, of course, only one recent example, but there are others. I really am curious...how are readers to interpret what kind of conversation a forum desires if they are so widely varied in their content?

freddy said...

Very sensible, and part of what makes this blog a joy to read.

I appreciate being treated as an adult in conversation, and that applies as well to blog conversation.

It is understandable that a blog with several writers on a diversity of topics might choose to implement more stringent rules, but it can make readers wonder what *they* might have said to induce a "crack-down." Better to start as you mean to continue, no?

Melanie B said...

Charlotte,

I for one think their new comment policy is reasonable considering the way things have got out of hand recently and given the mission statement of the site.

And I think that one can determine what are appropriate comments to leave on a blog post in part based on the tone of that individual post. When it's a blog post about laundry, talk about laundry when it's about hot button topic talk about hot button topic. But don't bring up hot button topics in comments about laundry.

When a mom posts a picture of her baby boy who has dressed himself in his sister's clothes she doesn't want to be chided on her mothering decisions and told she's endangering his future masculinity. She wants other moms to ooh and ahh over how cute he is. To cite a recent example.

I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out how to be kind and sensitive. Just treat others the way you'd want to be treated.

Motherhood is hard enough without having every little decision you make being picked over by insensitive jerks who don't know how to play nice with others and can't even leave criticism under their own names but hide behind anonymous. But maybe I'm projecting too much and assuming that a for-pay blogger deserves the kind of respect I expect on my own private blog. Or maybe I was imagining that some day soon I may write a similar post about my little boy who might get into his sister's clothes and thinking how I'd feel if people used it to launch a debate about appropriate dress for boys.

Amanda said...

Melanie, I truly did not understand that Arwen was asking everyone to only ooh and ah over how cute her son is. I mean, she did ask "what do you think?" at the end of her post. It was kind of naive of her to think everyone was going to agree with her, knowing how passionate people have been on the skirt wearing issue. If she wanted everyone to agree with her then she should have posted it on her personal blog. Also, I didn't find any of the comments to be offensive.

I like to hear differing opinions, and I haven't found too many uncharitable comments at F&F, but obviously many others have differing opinions about what constitutes an uncharitable/nasty/negative comment.

Jen Ambrose said...

I just think that if someone wants vigorous debate, they would normally pass on a website whose mission is to inspire and support mothers. Those words are a big red flag to me that there might be vulnerable types there who need, well, inspiration and support.

When I'm at the news stand, I don't reach for Family Circle when I really want Mother Jones. Why would I do the same with websites or blogs?

Deirdre Mundy said...

I see a couple issues here:

- The internet is a public forum and by my estimate, about 17% of the people who use it are either crazy or have a major axe to grind.

- The more popular your site is, the more crazies you'll attract. It's like how a bigger piece of flypaper catches more flies.


-The bloggers over at the other site are fairly prominent in the 'Catholic Mommy' world. They are going to attract some nuts.

-I'd assume, as public people who share their private lives very publically (I mean, it's not like they sent the picture to their friends or something), they understand the risks they take when they share personal details. Hopefully, they have the self-esteem and equiminity to be able to say "huh. another crazy." and move on without being deeply wounded.

BUT their personas are also supposed to be 'everymom'-- a lot of their readers seem to see them as the friends they wish they had, or the people they wish they could be... sort of a Mommy-wish-fufillment site. To THOSE people, attacks on a bloggers persona immediately become personal attacks... on the READERS... and mayhem ensues.

(As opposed to Erin, who blogs about issues, and invites arguments about ideas... and has the kind of reader who aren't going to take disagreements personally.)

But bloggers have a right to shut down/ moderate comments, especially when trolls get out of hand. (The anchoress has done that before, and some really big name blogs (The corner, instapundit) don't have comments at all. Father Z demands registration.....

So, it's pretty much a non issue. Jen is right--we're not going to reach for "Women's Day" when we want Mother Jones. On the other hand, when I pick up a women's magazine and they sneak in contraversial stuff under the guise of 'sisterhood' and 'support', I reserve the right to curse, throw the magazine across the waiting room, and inform my doctor that he really needs to put some National Review out with all the fluff.

On line, I'm not forced to read it, so I don't care.

It IS kind of a shame that there's no rough-and-tumble-Catholic-mommy-blog for those of us who like to argue AND have laundry. But it seems like an impossible line to walk, and bloggers seem to fall on one side or the other... probably because pub brawls and laundry seldom mix well. :)

But the more I think of it, the more I think we "irish brawler" sort of Catholic Moms are probably better avoiding the "Wish-fufillment" blogs if they annoy us. I mean, sure, it might be nice to have 15 kids who are all smart and cute and have pockets full of frogs and to live in a lighthouse off the coast of maine with out philosophy professor/ handyman husband and our sailing expeditions to catch lobster and our clean houses and deep thoughts and itinerant laborors who never turn out to be serial killers......

BUT honestly, if that was the life that would make us happy, wouldn't we be living it? Even the bloggers in question aren't living it! It's a persona! And really, givent the choice between support for laundry, and a Guiness and an argument about modern Arianism and it's effects on the body politic.....

Give me a pint! And make it a lukewarm one, none of this ice-cold nonsense.....

Red Cardigan said...

Well, one of the differences between this site and some others is that I don't mind if people want to discuss another site's commenting policy under a post in which I clarified mine and thanked my commenters...but then, I'm used to combox tangents. :)

As I said in the post, the other site has the right to set their comments policy, period end of sentence. But one aspect that I think gets overlooked is that a lot of the writers over there are what you might call "professional writers," which to me simply means they've written books, or speak at conferences, or receive a salary, or in other ways profit from providing that place of warm loving nonjudgmental support for Catholic moms.

Does getting paid to write or profiting in some way from one's writing persona change the rules somewhat? That may be a subject of debate for another time. Certainly the image of a site for tired, frustrated mommies gathering to gripe in a safe, judgment-free zone about laundry and other daily issues and receive some spiritual insights in the process is pleasant, but it's not really what goes on at most sites like these (again, not singling this one out specifically).

Jen, certainly if someone wants vigorous debate they're going to stay away from these sites--I usually do myself, except that sometimes what's being discussed there ends up being picked up and discussed in other places in the Catholic blogging world. But what sometimes causes contention is, I think, a twofold problem: bloggers will carelessly share rather personal stuff online and then react with shock and tears if people comment on such posts, and bloggers will also offer such personal stuff with an express or implied tone of "This is how *real* Catholic mommies handle this sort of thing," which tends to get other Catholic mommies' backs up (understandably).

Deirdre Mundy said...

Hmm... I think the 'getting paid' is one of the reason FOR the RealCatholicMoms (TM) type posts over there.

The question is, how upfront are they about the product they're selling? If you go to the Kraft Foods site, you expect all recipes to use Kraft, pictures and testimonials about how Kraft products make for happy, loving, healthy families, and whatnot. You can see through the hype. You realize that any bloggers on the Kraft Food site are marketers, that they are NOT your friends.

Their info may be useful if you want to figure out how to use the ten pounds of Velveeta your mother in law left in your fridge, but you're not going to trust them beyond their competency.

One problem with the CatholicMotherhood(TM) crowd is, I'm not sure they're always clear that they're selling a product. People DO start thinking of them as friends, or trusting them as guides to holiness and good parenting. I'm not sure if the cult-like following is deliberate, but they don't seem to discourage it either... which is why I think they DO get some serious rancor when certain readers realize they've been duped-- it's like finding out that the new neighbor who was so kind and helpful is actually trying to sell you Amway products.

In the end, I have serious doubts about the whole "CatholicMommy TM" model anyway-- it seems to replicate the worst problems with groups like "Focus on the Family." And it misleads by acting like there IS a Catholic answer to the question "How shall I raise my kids?"

There's a reason why the catechism is so vague on parenting advice. There's no one official church position because there's no one official CatholicChild(tm). When we look for gurus, we tend to do our families, and our Faith, a disservice.

Really, we have the Gospel, tradition, the saints and the Blessed Mother. That should be MORE than enough. And if we need to use up Velveeta, we don't need a mommy guru--we can hit Kraft Foods.....

Anonymous said...

I'm not a mommy, nor much of a Catholic anymore, but even if I were, I'd probably avoid whatever site you're talking about. I can't imagine how rough the mommy/parenting wars can be, re: judgmentalism.

Thanks, I'll stay here. No matter how much I might disagree with Erin at times, I find her writing to be very good, plus there are some interesting topics posted that are ancillary to the general theme of the blog, and the commenters on both sides bring good food for thought to the table and are generally civil with one another.

Melanie B said...

Deirdre,

I'm not sure I understand where you are coming from or what your real complaint is.

I think you've created a straw man when you claim that somehow being paid to be a mommy blogger suddenly transforms the blogger into someone who has created a "CatholicMotherhood persona" and is therefore somehow not real, is therefore somehow fair game for whatever muck gets thrown at that "persona" (instead of at a real person).

What is it about receiving money for a piece of writing that suddenly magically transforms both writer and written material into something so different and inauthentic? I'm curious because I sold a few pieces I previously wrote for my blog to F&F and received (gasp) compensation for them. Were they authentic before I sold them and somehow a sham Velveeta product after they were reprinted there?

I see my ability to write about motherhood, faith, my journey as a gift from God. If somehow my God-given ability to write about my own struggles and experiences helps other moms who are traveling a similar road, then thanks be to God who has given me the insights, the words, and the ability to communicate in a way that is helpful.

I don't think of myself as a guru or expert nor do I present myself as having "the answers," either on my personal blog or when I sell my writing to a Catholic publisher. Just a mom struggling to live the Gospel, sharing my experiences with other mothers hoping that in sharing them I'll get some answers too. As I have been likewise helped by writing I've read by other Catholic moms.

Some of my online friends have ads on their personal blogs and receive a small bit of money for each hit. Some have no ads. Some write articles for pay. I don't question the content because of the compensation the author gets (or lack thereof) but by the quality of the content and it's usefulness to me. Nor do I think those who choose to receive compensation are necessarily less "authentic" than those who don't. Sure, receiving money to write can lead some people to create a persona; but the fact of money exchanging hands doesn't necessarily mean an author is engaged in manufacturing a false persona or setting themselves up as an expert.

Or is it really the whole Catholic mommy blogging world that you take issue with? Women shouldn't share experiences, trade tips and advice, or give each other encouragement as we all struggle to raise our kids in the faith? We should just read the Gospel and Church documents and lives of the saints and pray to the Blessed Mother, we don't need the encouragement of our peers? The Catechism is vague on parenting precisely so we will turn to each other for encouragement and support in a community.

For many moms blogs take the place of what they used to be able to find in their extended families and their parish and neighborhood communities. Those traditional sources of traditional wisdom, of community and encouragement have by and large disappeared and we seek to replace them as best we can with virtual communities. Is it that substitution that you take issue with?

Or is the real root of your disdain the fact that F&F is linked to a certain discredited religious group? The criticisms you offer: "guru", "cult-like atmosphere", "sheep-like following" are ones I've often heard from people who criticize F&F for it's connection to that discredited religious congregation. If that's the real root then all this other stuff is a distraction and a smokescreen for the real discussion we should be having and is dishonest.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Melanie-- The "CatholicMommy (TM)" quote was in response to Erin's comment that :

bloggers will also offer such personal stuff with an express or implied tone of "This is how *real* Catholic mommies handle this sort of thing," which tends to get other Catholic mommies' backs up (understandably).

So my reaction was more to the "On right way to Catholic Parent"... and I was thinking also (but didn't mention it because the comments were already getting too long) about the backlash some people have had toward Kate Granju (not Catholic) and toward other "parenting Gurus." (Even going back as far as Doctor Spock.)

I think it's one thing to go looking for advice on how to solve a specific problem. I think it's another to become a groupie, and get upset whenever anyone disagrees with your idols. My guess is that the women who blog at F&F have much thicker skins than their commenters do....

Anyway, congratulations on your sales! You should be proud of them! And I've enjoyed your blog a lot when I've read articles over there (especially the LOTH for Mothers posts.)

But I'd argue that anyone who writes and publishes publically, whether paid or unpaid, has to expect a certain level of negative and even crazy feedback.

My dad was a journalist, and got his fair share of angry letters. Of course, the angry letters made the publisher happiest-- it turns out that people who violently disagree with you are more likely to be loyal readers than those who agree with you.

Angry letters are part of publishing. No one is going to make everyone happy all the time, everyone will spark arguments.

Katherine Paterson (author of Jacob I Have Loved, Bridge to Terebithia, etc.) is an ex-missionary and a minister's wife, yet regularly gets accused of spreading atheism with her books. In her essays about it, she's bemused, but not angry or hurt.

To be a writer in the public eye means not to take ad hominem attacks personally. To run a blog that allows comments means to accept the fact that people will disagree with you from time to time.

If you only want positive feedback and agreement, you share your writing with your grandma, not the world.

I have no problem with people writing for whoever will pay them. I DO have a problem with treating public writers and intellectuals as if they are somehow so pure and wonderful that they must not be criticized and that all their work must be met with cries of 'how lovely! You touched my heart! And I agree! Being a sodomite is EXACTLY like being a Methodist!' (the last contraversial post I read over at F&F.)

I think there's a place for F&F in the magazine market. I hope it survives the Legion crack-up. But I think their policy of encouraging only happy-talk DOES tell us a lot about what particular niche they want to fill.

Charlotte said...

Deirdre,

I agree with you on all that you say here.

Obviously, I'm the Charlotte that left the pointed comment for the editor over there.

That place drives me nuts. I go there now only occassionally (because it is an occassion of sin for me, most of the time) for entertainment purposes only.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ok-- I thought about this a little more. I think if a blog wants to SEVERELY limit comments, a better tack to take is the NRO model--

Have no comments, but include interesting correspondance in the blog. And ignore trolls via email.

I think one problem with F&F's new policy is the vagueness--the sense that they'll allow comments they like, and disallow the ones they don't.

It leads to the impression that they just want rah-rah cheerleading fans instead of honest discussion. At which point, why allow comments at all?

It seems to me that, unless the rules are fairly even handed and easy to apply objectively(say, no cursing, no name calling, no spam), they run the risk of abuse... or at least the APPEARANCE of abuse.

For instance, the vast majority of comments on the new comments post are of the "great job!" or "I love you, sorry I was mean, please don't block me!" variety.

Now, as a person-of-less-than-sunshine-and-lollipops-demeanor, I have to wonder. It COULD be that most F&F readers are really just 100% on board with everything they do. Which is an interesting data point. And, frankly, DOES strike me as guru cultish.

OR it could be that they are simply deleting the less than cheery comments... to create a world where everyone agrees....which would be an interesting data point... and more nefarious.....

Because F&F isn't really someone's personal blog...it's a fairly significant Catholic Media outlook. So while (Sorry to pick on you, Charlotte, but I like you and read you!) TiredTwang gets almost no negative comments, it's because she doesn't blog about contraversial things very often... if you don't enjoy her artwork and book reviews and cooking, you're not going to read her blog.

A major magazine SHOULD be attracting a more diverse range of reactions, especially when it carries more contraversial articles.....

(WV..fingnagl...As in.. I'd better go fingnagl some dinner for the kids, or they'll attack like a horde of pirhannas....)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Oh, and one last thing! (Sorry, thinking about the nature of blogs and publishing and whatnot.)

It seems like there are very few forums where Catholic moms CAN discuss contraversial issues and argue about them and pick them apart.

And I think this is because we've imbibed some of the harmful vapors of modern culture. It isn't NICE to disagree with people. All opinions and ideas are equally valid. If you disagree with someones ideas and assertions, it means you're not respecting THEIR PERSONHOOD.

The Church has a robust tradition of lovingly arguing. Jerome and Augustine respected each other AND argued. We have lots of great female saints...who were willing to argue. Arguing is how we can figure out the truth, and how truths apply to our concrete situations.

When we shut down discussion, we serve no one. When you can't disagree with a blogger because her fans feel personally injured, it's the beginnings of a cult of personality.

Now I'm really going... honest!

LarryD said...

Erin - I promise not to call anyone an idiot, but I can't promise that I will add anything intelligent to add to the conversation.

:-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Deidre, completely:

"Angry letters are part of publishing. No one is going to make everyone happy all the time, everyone will spark arguments."

and

"I think one problem with F&F's new policy is the vagueness--the sense that they'll allow comments they like, and disallow the ones they don't. "

Happy at all costs. Anger means something bad, so we just won't allow anger.

I've been banned. So has giselle, from life-after-rc. I've never posted anything ad hominem, nor have I attacked anyone or been rude. I have asked very honest questions sometimes. But if the honesty doesn't reflect their personal taste of shiny/happy/clappiness, you're given the boot.

I see this as intrinsic to F&F being an lc/rc apostolate. Nice-on-the-outside at all costs (because really, being given the boot isn't very nice, but it's hidden, so it's all good).

JMB said...

I actually met one of the F&F bloggers IRL and I told her that I viewed myself as an outsider because I didn't have a million children, wouldn't homeschool unless you paid me a considerable sum of $, wasn't economically challenged and didn't live in the boondocks. We laughed and she said that the blog did attrack a certain stereotype of rural, traditional uber-large homeschooling families. So be it. I think they've tried to add a few bloggers to get away from that stereotype and diversify. I personally like the controversial posts. I've learned a lot about modesty (petticoats still exist!) and although I don't homeschool, about the pros and cons of certain curriculum choices.