I’ve known for a while that I should write a comment policy for this blog. But I kept putting it off. Not out of any resistance to it, but simply out of laziness: I’m lazy about doing things that don’t need to be done immediately, and the blog seemed to be doing okay without an official comment policy. The overwhelming majority of commenters understood the “lively but respectful,” “listen to each other and cut each other slack,” “don’t treat each other like enemies” tone that I try to set here, without my needing to spell it out.
But it’s been borne upon me in recent weeks and months that I need a comment policy. This blog has been getting more heavily trafficked: and in what’s probably an inevitable result of that, comment threads have occasionally been getting more aggressive, and I’ve been having to intervene more than I usually like. I’ve had to ban my first commenters, and close my first comment thread. So to make it clear that I’m not doing these things on a mere whim, I’m posting my official comment policy. (I should have done this sooner; for that, you all have my apologies.)
Mine, mine, mine.
I ultimately have the right to moderate the comments here in any way I like. If I choose to ban all commenters whose names end in the letter W, or to delete all comments that post at 1:13 in the afternoon on any 17th of the month, I would be within my rights to do that.
And it would not be censorship or a restriction of free speech. Again, I refer you to the This Is My Blog principle. This is my free speech area, in which I am free to say whatever I want, and which I am free to moderate in any way I see fit. If I were a newspaper publisher, I would have the right to decide which letters to the editor I did and didn’t publish. Think of comments here as letters to the editor. My right of free speech means that I have the right to decide which letters get published in my newspaper, and which ones don’t.
Or think of it this way: Commenters in this blog are guests in my home. And I have the right to decide who I let into my home and who I don’t.
If you don’t like my comment policy, you’re free to visit other blogs… or indeed to start one of your own. Starting your own blog is cheap/ free. You can say whatever you want in your own blog, and you can set up whatever fickle, autocratic comment policy you like.
Now. That being said:
I’m not going to be fickle or autocratic, and I’m not going to ban all commenters whose names end in W. In fact, I generally moderate this blog with an extremely light touch. In three years of blogging, I have, as of this writing, banned only two people from commenting, and shut down only one comment thread. I don’t delete comments simply because I don’t agree with them; I don’t ban commenters simply because they disagree with me.
But I do moderate. This is my official comment policy. Violations will cause me to intervene, with varying degrees of severity, including warnings, editing or deletion of comments, disemvowelling of comments, closing of comment threads, and temporary or permanent banning from the blog.
In this blog, I draw a distinction between criticism of public figures and criticism of other commenters in this blog. If you want to call Rick Warren a bigot or Richard Dawkins a fascist, Ted Haggard a hypocrite or Christopher Hitchens a fucking asshole, that’s more or less okay. (I prefer that people keep that sort of rhetoric to a minimum even about public figures, as it tends to shed more heat than light; but I’ve been known to indulge in it myself, so I’m not going to insist that other people consistently hold themselves to a higher standard. Excessive use of it may result in consequences. Occasional use of it is cool.)
But if Warren or Dawkins or Haggard or Hitchens were to show up in this blog and start commenting, I would ask people to stop that sort of language immediately. When you talk about public figures, think of yourself as an op-ed writer. When you talk about other commenters in this blog, think of yourself as a guest in my home, engaging in conversation with other guests. If you can’t be civil, then take it outside.
There’s a difference between criticizing ideas and actions and insulting people. When you make comments in this blog, please draw that distinction. Lively debate is fine, but keep it respectful. Listen to each other and cut each other slack. Don’t treat each other like enemies. If you prefer a more aggressive style of online conversation, there are other blogs where that’s considered standard and indeed desirable. This isn’t one of them.
No comment hogging or hijacking of comment threads. When I moderate, I don’t just watch for things being said in individual comments. I also watch for patterns over multiple comments. And one of the patterns I watch for is comment hogging: excessive commenting by one person, to the point where that person’s conversation is dominating one or more threads. If you’re essentially using this blog as if it were your own, then maybe you should be starting your own blog. If you already have a blog, maybe you should be posting there.
Addendum: Posting extremely long comments is a form of comment hogging/ hijacking. I’m not yet going to put a hard upper limit on comments…. but if your comment is very long, please consider writing it as a post in your own blog instead, and posting a summary and a link in the comments here.
No repeated attempts to bring up the same topic over and over again. Again, when I moderate, I watch for objectionable patterns across comments as well as objectionable content in any given comment. And one of those patterns is bringing up the same topic of conversation again and again, in multiple comment threads, regardless of whether it’s relevant to the topic currently being discussed.
I get that a certain amount of topic drift does happen in comments, and I’m (grudgingly) okay with that. But bringing up the same topic again and again is potentially very problematic: especially if it’s a topic that’s irrelevant to the post at hand, and double especially if it’s a topic that’s proven fruitless and poisonous in the past.
Respect my right to moderate my blog. If I’m asking commenters in a thread to dial down the hostility, then please dial down the hostility, or take yourself out of the thread. If I’m asking commenters to stop feeding a troll, then please stop feeding the troll, or take yourself out of the thread. If I’ve had to shut down a comment thread, then please don’t try to revive the thread elsewhere: drop it, or take yourself out of the blog. If I’ve asked you to stop commenting, or to limit your comments to a specific nature (e.g., links to your own blog posts where you’ve replied to my posts), then please respect that request. Etc.
If you think the specifics of my moderation are unfair or inconsistent, email me and let me know. And if you’ve been put in the doghouse and want to be let out, email me and let me know. But don’t treat the very fact that I moderate my blog as censorship or a violation of your rights. It’ll result in you going straight to the top of my Think Hard About Banning This One list (not a long list, but I do have one), and may even get you banned immediately. And it’ll result in me giving you the giant horse laugh.
I think that’s it. If I need to add anything later, I’ll let y’all know. Thanks, and have fun!