Comment censorship and comment policies VII: An interesting discussion on another blog
A very interesting discussion on this topic has arisen on another bloge.
A few issues of note:
A number of commenters feel that it is in order to delete comments that are too rude, lacking in constructiveness, or fall in e.g. the category of racism.
To a part they are correct; however, great caution must be taken to avoid over-interpretation and highly subjective deletes. Deleting based on opinion (e.g. alleged racism) is something that I emphatically advice against (see previous entries); in particular, as this is a highly subjective area and an area where many systematically abuse accusations of e.g. racism or sexism to distort the debate.
As one commenter succinctly expressed it:
Nobody knows the truth. Therefore it’s wrong to disallow any opinions at all. You should debate to reach constructive insights instead of making subjective assumptions about what is right and wrong.
An illustrating quote that shows the common sentiment of “my blog; my rules”:
I delete absolutely any comment that I feel like deleting, and I allow absolutely any comment I feel like allowing, and I don’t feel even slightly, remotely, even a tiny little bit inclined to justify or defend it anytime in any way.
Conversely, I don’t feel that anyone is in any way obligated to post any of my comments to their blogs (including this one). In the same way that you can walk up to me in a bar and start talking to me but I don’t have to listen, and vice versa.
What this overlooks: A comment on a blog is not (generally) a statement made to another person, but to the public. It is, in particular, not something that must be directed at the blog author—often the target is the readers of the blog. By restricting the opportunity others have to express their opinions on the matter, the public suffers. A better analogy would be a speech in a public place: The speaker has his say (the blog entry), invites the world to voice its opinions (the comments)—and when someone has an opinion that is unsuitable, poorly expressed, or similar, a “The world, but not you!” comes from the mouth of the speaker. (Other reasons why this attitude is problematic is discussed through-out this article series.)
As a general rule of life: That one has the formal right to do something does not automatically mean that one has an ethical right to do so—let alone should do so. A blogger should feel free to consider himself an aboslute ruler; however, he should make sure to be a benevolent dictatorw—not an arbitrary tyrant.
The topic of spam comments comes up repeatedly. The need to delete spam, however, is a different issue from deleting “real” comments—sufficiently different that they are likely best off being discussed separately. Consider, in the above analogy, that the speech is ended and someone stands up to say “Beautiful speech! Now that you all are here, I would like to invite you to my store where you can buy glass figurines for only $199.99!”—just a different beast.
I made a few comments myself, including two points that I likely have failed to emphasize enough in this series:
I have spent much time reading various discussions on various topics, including the talk pages on Wikipedia. I have found that it is often the back-and-forth, the contrast between different ideas and opinions, arguments and counter-arguments that best help me build a better understanding of the topic.
This does require a receptive reader and it does require reasoning and knowledgeable debaters; however, when it works, it works extremely well—far better than a one-man pulpit.
We should, as bloggers, have the humility to recognize that we have something to learn from our commenters. Disabling comments increases the risk (emails notwithstanding) that we miss what they have to teach.