Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How's the new comments policy working for you?

A belated Happy New Year to my readers! My head decided to ring in the new year with a two-day migraine that just ended at midnight last night, so I'm a little late getting out here.

I'm planning to do some real posting later on this week, but for today, I just wanted to revisit the new commenting policy. I think there's still some misunderstanding about it all, as evidenced by this recent comment from a reader:
Exactly. This is your place, and you can decide what you want to do with it. As I will decide if I want to continue reading you after observing the implementation of your new policy.

I've disagreed with you in the past, and it's unfair to "shut my mike off" when you allow other who probably agree with you to continue.
I'm going to say this again, because I think it's important to say it: I will not and do not withhold comments simply because the commenter doesn't agree with me. I will withhold comments under the following conditions only:

1. The commenter is unnecessarily rude or uncivil to me or to other commenters/readers.
2. The commenter continues to post anonymously, without even a nickname, after having been asked to supply a nickname.
3. The commenter is using a post merely to advance his/her own agenda which is not even tangentially related to the post, to spam, or to otherwise manipulate the commenting system.

If your comment doesn't show up and you're sure you didn't violate 1-3, above, please DO contact me! I have no control over which comments end up in Blogger's spam folder, and though I try to check it periodically, I don't always get to it in a timely manner.

Now: here's an example of a comment I did NOT approve. I'm sharing it here so that those of you who may have wondered about my institution of moderated comments can see the sort of thing that's been cropping up lately. Ordinarily, under the old system, I'd just remove these when I saw them--but in the meantime my readers might have seen them, too. However, since I'm a night owl and these sorts of drive-by commenters tend to post at night, I'd bet I've been able to catch quite a few before my readers ever saw them. This little gem was posted on Christmas Day, by the way, by an anonymous commenter who left no nickname:
thank you for taking time from your busy day of purging homos from your comments and fretting that somewhere a woman is using birth control to wish us a Merry Christmas
It's fairly mild, of its kind; the writer stays away from profanity and doesn't write pages of stuff about how evil I am or how wicked my readers are, but I share it here as an example: if you don't post stupidity like this, I'll probably approve your comment, even if we disagree about everything under the sun.

From my perspective, the new commenting policy has already done some good. I've seen readers who were hesitant to post comments before decide to do so, or to comment more frequently. I've seen a marked drop in the comments of the type I shared just above. And I don't have to worry that the first thing I'll have to do in the morning is scrape gunk out of a comment box, whether it's gunk of the "Please to be very nice posting!" variety with a link (which Blogger still sometimes doesn't recognize as spam) or whether it's gunk of the "Hope you rot in the hell I don't believe exists," sort, which is amusingly illogical but also, frankly, tiresome.

How is it working for you? Do you find yourself hesitating to comment knowing that your comment will have to be approved--or is it easier to say what you want knowing that attackers won't be able to spring out from the shadows? Let me know!


Will Duquette said...

Do I hesitate to comment because my comment must be approved? No.

I hesitate to comment because on the rare occasions there's something I want to say about something you've blogged, I usually find on reflection that it's some tricky little nit and that it would take far more words to adequately express it than it's worth, and why waste everyone's time?

But if I have something to say, the fact that you're moderating comments bothers me not at all.

On my blog, I've got it set so that once a commenter has had an approved comment, they can post comments without moderation. That works pretty well in my case.

Patrick said...

I am certain that I have had comments withheld for reasons other than 1,2 or 3. With all due respect, this comment policy will undermine the readers' belief and trust in this blog and its inegrity.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fine. I don't mind moderated comments at all, whether here or on other blogs. I like that you kept the anonymous option with a nickname!

~ Ann Marie

Red Cardigan said...

Patrick, all I can do is assure you that I've never held a comment of yours (provided, of course, that you didn't comment anonymously). You can choose not to believe me, but I'm telling the truth.

freddy said...

I think your policy is fair and just. It reminds me of the unwritten rules hosts and hostesses have been using for years: the uncivil or rude guest is cut off with a raised eyebrow and cold shoulder, the unknown or unexpected guest is required to make an introduction, and the bore or the zealot is asked his opinion on the subject at hand as a gentle reminder that he is guest, not host.

Barbara C. said...

I have no qualms about it at all.

I was once subjected to personal attacks and nasty insinuations on a blog in which I respectfully offered a disagreeing opinion. Not only did the blogger not put a stop to it, but I later found out that she was encouraging people to attack me further via her Twitter account. Needless to say that I have never gone back to that blog, no matter how popular it is, and I never will.

A blogger has a big responsibility to his/her readers. And I respect that they have a life beyond their blog and can't spend every second of their day monitoring for people who don't know who disagree without resorting to naming calling (or let their passions over-ride their better judgment in the moment--guilty).

Anonymous said...

I agree with Freddie, it's like hosting a party, except via the Internet, and because it's anonymous sometimes people do check their manners at the door. This way you get to help keep discussion civil, calm, and rational so that everyone can enjoy the party. If people do disagree they have to try harder to do so politely so that they can indeed be heard rather than firing off whatever incindiery reflexive thought comes to mind. So I think it's good. Hopefully we'll still hear from those who disagree to keep it interesting!


Patrick said...

I dissent. It is nothing like hosting a party. At parties everyone knows when someone is being a bore or impolite because you we can all see the other guests and their behavior!! This is more like some sort of moderated conference call, where your replies are not heard by the others on the phone unless and until the host has decided they should be shared with the other participants. It puts an extreme burden on the host (her efforts to support her own viewpoint are 100% at odds with allowing dissenting comments) and it requires an enormous amount of trust by the other participants. Participants will never really know if they are being denied access to important information. In that respect, it absolutely stifles robust debate. It has to.

Aside from my above comment, I personally have been censored over at American Papist and other moderated blogs solely based on offering a competing viewpoint. That is absolutely the blog owners right, but make no mistake, it stifles the voice of the opponent AND it causes the like-minded participants to mistrust the blogger. The blogger risks her very reputation by moderating. I don't believe that it is worth the cost. Andrew Sullivan, for example, accepts NO comments on his blog. Frustrating, but his integrity remains intact - we don't read his blog wondering if he is stifling the voice of traditional Catholics who are making cogent rebuttals by hitting the delete button.

LarryD said...

The blogger risks her very reputation by moderating. I don't believe that it is worth the cost.

The "cost" of what? Erin is supposed to be concerned about the frail sensitivities of impertinent commenters who feel their rights of saying whatever they want are being impinged upon? Or is she supposed to worry about what complete strangers will think of her? Ive never met Erin, but I'm fairly certain those things don't concern her. There is no "cost" to her in moderating comments at her blog, except the several extra few moments it takes to moderate them.

Mind you - I'm not implying that you're an impertinent commenter with frail sensitivities who feels his rights to say whatever he wants are being impinged upon, but there are those sort of people out there.

Not only that, Erin didn't even have to explain why she's moderating, what sort of comments she deletes, nor even allow commenting in the first place. It's her blog. In the same way, she doesn't have to justify what brand of car she drives, whether or not she prefers horizontal blinds to curtains, or whether she uses real butter instead of margarine. It's no one else's business.

Nor will she lower herself and compare this fine blog with Andrew Sullivan's. She's better than that.

Keep up the good work, Erin.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, Larry! It's sweet of you. :)

(Any thoughts on that blurb, btw?)

LarryD said...

(Any thoughts on that blurb, btw?)

I'm getting around to it. I got busy with a "baptism" post today that's generated quite some interest. I've been moderating comments. LOL!

Red Cardigan said...

I saw that! Very bizarre situation.

Angela C. said...

Normally, I'm extremely reticent about posting comments on any blog, unless I think that what I have to say would be both interesting to read and germane to the topic. So, the new policy doesn't make a bit of difference in my case. However, I'm very glad you're spared rotten anonymous comments. Keep up the good work Red!

Patrick said...

Angela, with all due respect, you're missing a crucial point. Erin's policy does not spare her from rotten anonymous comments. She will still receive them. YOU will be spared from knowing that Erin is suffering rotten anonymous comments, because she won't let you know that she's receiving them.

Larry- the cost is very real. The cost is a broadside hit to the blogger's integrity. Here's another stab at an analogy: You attend a debate as a participant, not as a spectator. The moderator will make a short address on a controversial topic and then invite all 10 participants to fill out comment cards that will then form the basis of the discussion that follows, depending upon the class' response and how important, challenging or interesting the class finds each comment. 10 response cards are received, but only 7 are read aloud. The woman next to you, and 2 others in the room, wrote comment cards that were not read. Why? "Because," the moderator says, "those 3 comments should not be given voice. Trust me."

The same debate scenario takes place next door, but the moderator reads aloud all 10 comments and lets the debate participants respond to what they determine is worthy or foolish.

Which room has the better appearance - the better reputation - of transparency, fairness and impartiality?

Red Cardigan said...

Patrick, I think your analogies are deeply flawed.

Think of me as an unpaid opinion columnist. I generate all of the content for this website, and I choose to allow comments. Were I a newspaper columnist, only a handful of "comments" in the form of letters to the editor would ever get published regarding my column (and I wouldn't be the one selecting those comments). Those that did get published would have to be brief, to the point, reasonably clear, and contain the writer's real name, address, and contact information (even though the paper will only publish the name and city, usually).

I am not hosting a debate, here. You, and every other reader, are totally free to create your own blogs (most of which can be created for free or with minimal costs). If you wish to debate me, then, you could write thousand-word manifestos on how I am wrong, and could link to my posts to prove it.

If, however, you choose only to comment as "Patrick" with no other identifying information and no website of your own, why do you think I owe you some sort of open forum? I'm actually fairly generous in my comments policy; I don't withhold comments because I disagree with them, or even when the commenter is getting obnoxious or tiresome. I do withhold comments that break one of my three rules--and yes, I do it to spare my readers from having to see garbage; I couldn't blog at all if I didn't have a rather thick skin. But it gets annoying to have to muck out one's comment boxes on a regular basis.

Even your debate analogy is flawed, frankly. If I attend a debate on the topic of campaign finance reform, for instance, and three comment cards are received which prefer to raise the topic of whether or not America should employ a flat tax, I would trust the moderator not to waste my time by reading out comments that have nothing to do with the stated topic. Again, I'm pretty generous, here, and don't mind a little straying off-topic, so long as it doesn't become a distraction.

But suppose I have a commenter whose comment on every single post I write is, "This country is going to hell in a handbasket because women got the vote!" Would I be honor-bound to let that comment stand on every post, in every iteration, complete with the link back to the commenter's own anti-female suffrage website, as the "price" of writing a blog? I hardly think so.

The bottom line here, I think, is that you don't actually trust me, and think you're better qualified than I am to determine which comments are worth responding to. Why you continue to read, then, is a mystery. Seriously, Patrick, why not start your own blog?

LarryD said...

I'm not sure you care about Erin's integrity as much as you care about your "right" to be heard.

And I'd bet yesterday's bowl of cold pea soup that she's posted every one of your comments in this post. Which makes you the one with the dented integrity.

Red Cardigan said...

Larry, I have posted all of Patrick's posts, though he seems to think that I've withheld a post of his before. I've never knowingly done so, but I have to say that sometimes I find the oddest posts held up in Blogger's spam filter. It took me forever to convince Blogger that Siarlys Jenkins wasn't spamming, for instance.

Patrick, this means that even if I don't moderate comments I don't always have total control over what gets through or what doesn't. I've had people complain to me about posts not turning up, and when I look, they're not in the spam filter either--meaning they disappeared somehow. I've had that happen plenty of times on various blogs--just software glitches or power surges or who knows what.

Point is: a blog can't be thought of as some sort of open town hall debate where everybody gets access to the microphone for as long as he or she likes. That might work in a small town's city council meeting, but it doesn't work for a blog, anymore than it would be possible for newspapers to publish every single letter to the editor.

Patrick said...

Larry, I've already expresly stated that commanders - including me - have no right to be heard. You're being unfair to me and not addressing the logic of my arguments. Accordingly, your last comment does not add anything meaningful to this discussion.

Erin - thanks for the meaty reply. Midnight here so please let me read it carefully and thoughtfully!

The Sicilian Woman said...

I think Erin's been overly accommodating, particularly to those whose every comment has been solely to snipe at the Church (and usually Erin, too) without adding anything of substance or an anecdote relative to the conversation. One commenter whom she recently banned is one whom I would have banned much earlier. Plus, there are individuals who have posted here often, sometimes hotly disagreeing with Erin (including attacking her on another blog), and they haven't been banned.

I find Erin's commenting policy has been a credit to her.

Red Cardigan said...

Thank you, Sicilian Woman! That's so kind of you. :)

Patrick said...


I think we need to agree to disagree here. You expressly asked us to tell you how we feel about your comment policy. I did that. You don't like what you hear: namely, that I believe it will have a chilling effect on the discussion.

To your recent points, in order (excuse the numbering, but it helps me organize a complete and thoughtful response which you deserve):

1. A newspaper column and letters to the editor is a terrible analogy and nothing like a blog. I don't know how you cannot see that. A blog with comments is much more like a discussion - comments are sent and viewed in real time - or close to it, allowing for comment response, reply etc, etc. That's nothing like your newspaper example.

2. I think you are in fact hosting a debate. Or a discussion, if you prefer that term. You are inviting comments and people frequently make statements and reply to each others statements, often independent of your intervention(until now). That's a discussion. It's a free exchange of ideas

3. Again, OY, I don't think you owe me an open forum. I never said that. In fact, I've said the opposite of that. I've expressly said it is the bloggers right to moderate. (See above) But you ASKED our opinions on comment moderation. So I gave it!

4. Yes, I understand the value of comment moderating. It allows teh moderator to weed out inappropriate comments or off-topic comments. you needn't repeat that. My point is not to discuss the value of comment moderation, my point was to discuss what I see as its flaws.

5. I won't say that I don't trust you. I WILL say that I have good reason to have a healthy skepticism of other bloggers who moderate BECAUSE they moderate, and as a fan of your blog I have been trying (in vain apparently) to encourage you to stand apart from those bloggers.

6. I am wholly unqualified to determine which comments are worth responding to. Taht is a burden I wouldn't wish on anyone, including you. (See above)

7. Great question about starting my own blog. The last thing the world needs is another blogger. I think the world needs a few more thoughtful and intelligent people contrubuting on existing blogs in the comment sections. For example, I see commenters all over the web routinely making factually incorrect statements about everything from free speech to the marriage laws to historical religious practices. It kills me that they often go unchecked and unchallenged. A new blogger wouldnt help.

In conclusion, you asked how your readers felts about comment moderation and, as requested, I answered. I honestly was trying to be helpful by giving you an honest answer. I thought that's what you wanted. I'm not too proud to admit that it smarts a little to be asked to give an honest opinion, to give it kindly and gently and logically and honestly, and then be attached for it.

I like your blog. I didn't offer my suggestions for purpose of destroying someting I like.

It seems that you are sorry you asked for an honest answer.

Patrick said...

And apologies for the typos that i now notice! Those da** priests didn't offer a typing course in prep school. They said we would never need to learn how to type. They said we would have secretaries for that!!!

Red Cardigan said...

Patrick, I am sorry if I came across as unkind. And I agree that we have to agree to disagree. :)

But I think that we're just not on the same page about this. I honestly don't know a blogger who randomly holds or deletes comments because he or she just doesn't agree with the commenter. Maybe there are bloggers vain enough, shallow enough, or fragile enough to do this, but honestly, the only blogger I know to whom I'd be tempted to attach any of these labels simply doesn't allow comments (and no, it's not Andrew Sullivan).

As you pointed out, the blogger will see everything anyway. I had another anonymous comment on the political thread above this one scolding me for my attachment to the RC Church and her "non-biblical" beliefs. How does it help discussions if I just let all those through? Believe me, it's a lot more tedious to weed them out afterward.

But I'm happy to agree to disagree, and hope you'll stick around. :)

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I am deeply impressed that Erin went to some trouble to convince Blogger I wasn't spamming (even though I have two Blogger sites of my own). I hold, sincerely and in good conscience, political and moral positions that Erin, sincerely and in good conscience, considers ethically equivalent to running Auschwitz and Dachau. She has never withheld my statements of opinion, as long as they were relevant to her original post. She has even had kind words to say about me from time to time as a valuable and welcome contributor to this site.

This is not a public square. It is private property. Getting lots of comments is part of the fun of course. It would be lonely to write all this material and not know if anyone is reading it. I mean, hardly anybody bothers to respond to my posts. The standards Erin has openly presented are modest, objective, and concern the tenor of the conversation, not the opinions expressed. What's to complain about?

I have had occasion to tell one blogger, who deleted my comments without explanation, that his action was cowardly, and there is another site that may or may not have indulged a vendetta against anything with my name on it, he isn't saying, but even in those cases, its their blog, they can welcome me or not, and if they don't want me, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

I am a fierce partisan of the First Amendment, but there is a difference between saying whatever I want in someone's living room, as distinct from saying on the public sidewalk the very words that got me ejected from someone's living room.

Red Cardigan said...

Well, Siarlys, I *hope* I've convinced Blogger. If any of yours get held again, please do let me know. :)

Patrick said...

SJ, I'm glad (dismayed?) to see that you too have been sensored on other blogs for what you determined are "cowardly" reasons. You have my sympathy and it seems I'm in good company.
And please forgive me for pointing out that The "First Amendment" is not implicated here, since bloggers and commenters are not government agents. Unless you meant something else. Regards.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I meant exactly what you just said Patrick. That was precisely my point. Unless "Red Cardigan" is a state, Erin is not a state actor. Even if it were a state, I am neither a native-born nor naturalized citizen. I would be here on a green card, or as an undocumented alien.