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Jun 27 2012

Bwahahahaha

Apropos of the links on comment moderation from Monday, I offer you Sean Carroll’s beautiful comment policy (not currently in effect):

Axiom 1: This blog exists for the enjoyment of these bloggers.

This is the foremost principle to keep in mind when you are wondering why certain comments pass muster while others do not. Our blog is not a public service. We don’t get paid for it. [Update: now that we're at Discover, we do get paid a tiny amount.] It’s not our real job. It’s just a hobby that we choose to pursue, as others pursue fly fishing or watching TV. The blog is not here for you. You do not pay any fee, in return for which you have the right to expect a certain level of service. The only obligation that we as bloggers have is — well, we don’t have any obligations at all, actually. We could decide tomorrow to devote all future posts to our favorite varieties of cheese, or to elaborately detailed discussions of our continuing health problems. Whatever we want.

The purpose of the blog is to amuse us. That’s it! Anything that does not amuse us is contrary to the spirit of the blog. Admittedly, we do hope that the blog is occasionally informative or entertaining to others, as well. But ultimately, the blog is Not About You.

This one principle should really be enough to figure out everything that needs to be figured out about comments, and the blog concept more generally. But just to be absolutely metaphysically complete, we’ll make explicit two other axioms that are generally true things about life.

I subscribe more to the “I am God” school of comment moderation for myself, which is why I have no formal policy, but this is a thing of beauty. Enjoy.

H/T: Ronja.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    jamessweet

    You can’t blog about your favorite variety of cheeses… I thought this was Science Blogs!

    Oh wait, I’m late to the party, aren’t I… Let me try again:

    You can’t blog about your favorite variety of cheeses, or whatever else you happen to freely think about… I thought this was Freethought Blogs!

  2. 2
    davidmc

    mmmmmmmmmm…..cheeeeese

  3. 3
  4. 4
    karmakin

    Am I strange that I think a post on favorite cheeses would actually be interesting?

    But I am a bit of a food geek, soooooo…

  5. 5
    Jason Thibeault

    My only rule is “don’t piss me off”. It happens that pissing my friends off often pisses me off too. Also, sometimes when I’m pissed off, I will squeeze every last bit of usefulness out of a disingenuous commenter before brooming them.

    And yet I’ve only got ten-ish people (including dozens of sockpuppets) in moderation.

    Mmm. Cheese! *Wallace-hands*

  6. 6
    Silentbob

    Yeah, but… um… remember what happened to Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.

    With power comes responsibility.

    If the only people who read your blog are your Mom and your Auntie, then sure, by all means, be as arbitrary and inconsistent as you want. But when you’re part of a blog network that brings in a lot of traffic, you have influence. And I think there is a moral responsibility not to abuse that influence. Readers may not be paying you with cash (except by clicking on some ads), but they are paying you with attention. I think there is an onus on an author in that situation to reciprocate by providing a good service to their readership.

    I hasten to add I’m not saying you don’t do that already. But I don’t really buy the argument, “It’s my blog, I’ll do whatever I like, and people can like it or lump it”, once you grow beyond a certain size. I believe there is such a thing as a duty to readers (and commenters).

  7. 7
    Jason Thibeault

    No. Blog content is free for the user. They do not have to consume it, they choose to. The author has zero responsibility to make it worthy of the attention it gets. Its worth determines its popularity, because it is a meritocracy, so it is a self-correcting problem if people are inconsistent or unworthy of this attention. And you’re showing your entitlement if you think in any way otherwise.

    With great blog posts comes great hitcounts. Not the other way around.

  8. 8
    Chris Clarke

    I hasten to add I’m not saying you don’t do that already. But I don’t really buy the argument, “It’s my blog, I’ll do whatever I like, and people can like it or lump it”, once you grow beyond a certain size. I believe there is such a thing as a duty to readers (and commenters).

    “As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.”

    My own blog traffic is comfortably low for the most part. A few years back it was often in the tens of thousands of visitors per day. (Nowhere near Pharyngula levels, but significantly higher than my current couple hundred du jour.) And in those days every once in a while I would have someone tell me that my position as a blogger with a significant amount of traffic obligated me to do something for them. Sometimes it was an out-and-out favor. Sometimes it was weighing in on a blog war, and my silence would be interpreted as agreeing with the side they didn’t like. (I sometimes got that from both sides in the same day.) In the very small group of people that make up my group of regular commenters, this is injokily referred to as Gazaing.

    As I mention in that comment thread linked immediately above, there is a group of people who are entitled to tell me I have to write some things or not write other things. They are called “clients,” and my base rate starts at 50 cents a word. For non-writing tasks such as design, editing, and blog comment thread moderation, that’s $75/hour.

    Barring that kind of pay and a contractual agreement therefor, I do what I feel like doing. At my site that’s writing about what I want to, not posting for weeks on end if I don’t feel like it or I’m too busy, and letting friendly comments go unanswered, while nuking unfriendly comments with extreme prejudice.

    I did have an obligation when I was a B-lister to refrain from hosting vile hate speech in my comment threads, but I have that same obligation now and I would if I had no visitors at all. Traffic has nothing to d with that one.

  9. 9
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    I’m very amused today by the tone-troll on Thunderfoot complaining about the terrible tone of the comment sections on FtB, insisting that there needs to be a FtB-wide harassment policy. To protect those tender teen readers, of course, who would be traumatized by happening on the mean people of Pharyngula or the wonkish people of Dispatches or…

    I was less than sympathetic, given that FtB has been fantastic for my Spawns and for a whole lot of other teenage readers…

  10. 10
    JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

    I think writers of any sort have some responsibility to write honestly and responsibly. If someone is writing malicious, false or misleading things, that is wrong, and should be criticized. But that is very, very different from having a responsibility to host comments by others. I think a level of transparency is justifiable — i.e. mentioning when someone is banned, and being clear why. Beyond being the right thing to do, it’s also a valuable defense against the Streisand effect.

    (Your pardons if this doesn’t fully make sense — I’m writing late at night.)

  11. 11
    researchtobedone

    My favorite comment policy, a flowchart: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/05/17/because-flowcharts-make-everything-clearer/

  12. 12
    kagerato

    No. Blog content is free for the user. They do not have to consume it, they choose to. The author has zero responsibility to make it worthy of the attention it gets. Its worth determines its popularity, because it is a meritocracy, so it is a self-correcting problem if people are inconsistent or unworthy of this attention. And you’re showing your entitlement if you think in any way otherwise.

    With great blog posts comes great hitcounts. Not the other way around.

    I lean more with Silentbob on this one, and I think you’ve misrepresented the argument there.

    The argument you have presented, Jason, comes only a few notches away from the handbook of libertarians. “If the content is wrong/false/illegal, then readers will just move on to greener pastures. Self-solving problem!” Hardly. If that were the case, CNN, Fox, and most of MSNBC would not even exist today. People actually enjoy lies, slander, and misinformation a hell of a lot when it aligns with their preconceptions.

    Anyone who writes on any topic of importance and has a large audience does need to adhere to a standard of conduct that includes high attention to detail and a consistent effort to determine the truth. Doing otherwise really is irresponsible.

    It would be different if we were talking about something totally inconsequential, like someone’s taste in music/art/whatever. For tiny backwater blogs that write about that kind of subjective topic, they can say whatever they want. There’s no significance to it.

    Even supposing that your blog deals with tastes alone, on occasion it is going to venture into territory that intersects with society in other ways — most especially if you accept comments. For example, if your blog deals with gaming, then it’s going to be forced to address social discrimination and hostile atmosphere eventually. This is all the more true now that so many games are multiplayer and directly attached to social networks.

    None of this means that any particular blogger is legally obligated to accept comments to their blog, or to respond to criticism, or to be a good person. However, if you run a huge, popular blog in your sector of the internet and do not accept input, no not respond effectively to criticism, and generally act like an asshole to everyone who doesn’t already agree with your positions — well, you ought to be taken down a few notches, for sure. Yet absolutely nothing guarantees you will be, and if there are enough vested interests in your slanted commentary it will likely continue indefinitely.

    I already mentioned television media, but talk radio has made a business of this sort of thing too. It would be hopelessly naive to think the same factors that operate in those markets don’t work on the internet. Note that TV and radio are also “free” in the narrow conception of the word, where externalities and indirect costs do not exist.

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