I was going to wait to do this until my archives had moved over. But I think I need to go ahead and post my comment policy now. This blog’s new home here at Freethought Blogs is getting a metric shitload of comments… which is hugely exciting, don’t get me wrong, I’m tickled pink. But while most commenters here are familiar with my comment policy from the old blog, and are generally good about adhering to it, there are some new commenters who aren’t familiar with the standards of this blog, and some of the ways that they’re different from many other blogs.
So now seems like a good time to spell out my comment policy. For the most part, violators of these policies will get at least one warning; repeat violations will result in comments being edited, disemvowelled, or deleted, and may result in commenters being banned.
In comment threads in this blog, I encourage lively dissension and debate. I do not, however, accept personal insults aimed at other commenters. I am fine with vigorous and even snarky critiques of ideas and behavior — but when that crosses the line into personal insults, I stop being fine. “That’s a stupid idea” is okay (I’d personally prefer it if you worded it differently, and if your critiques of ideas consistently takes that tone I might ask you to dial it back, but just by itself it won’t get you banned). “You’re stupid” is not okay.
UPDATE: Actually — I’m going to amend this. I’d personally MUCH prefer it if you don’t use personally insulting rhetoric aimed at ideas. I’m not going to absolutely rule it out — yet — but I’m going to VERY STRONGLY request that you not do it. If someone is being infuriating, please take the high road. Be the bigger person. Find the pleasures of skillfully disemboweling someone with icy politeness. And do not play the “But they said it first!” game. Do not assume that, because someone else was insulting first, therefore it’s okay for you to be insulting back. Do not escalate things. Dial things back.
I also 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 Sam Harris 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 Harris 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.
Again: 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. Cut each other slack. Don’t leap immediately to the worst possible interpretation of what somebody is saying, and 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. This is not, for instance, Pharyngula. I love that Pharyngula is Pharyngula — I have big fun over there, and I think it has a hugely valuable place in our community. But I also think there’s value in having a place where people can get their ideas vigorously critiqued without getting a faceful of venom. I want this blog to be one of them. Please respect that.
2: No trolling. I am defining “trolling” as “deliberate attempts to pick fights or get a reaction.” Disagreements and debates are fine; trying to stir up shit and get people mad for your own entertainment is not. I expect people to comment here in a good faith effort to express a sincere view, and possibly to persuade others of that view. If you’re just poking people with a stick to get them riled up or to “try to get them to think,” your comments are not welcome here.
3: 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.
And 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.
4: 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.
5: No bigotry or hate speech. Again, I welcome lively discussion and debate on controversial topics. I do not, however, tolerate bigotry or hate speech in my blog. “I oppose same-sex marriage, and here’s why” is an acceptable comment. (I find the content reprehensible, but it won’t get you banned.) “Fuck you, faggots” or “Die, faggots” will get you banned, with no warning.
Yes, people have a First Amendment right to express these ideas. I’ve spoken passionately in defense of that right. People do not, however, have a First Amendment right to express these ideas in my blog. (See below for more on the “This Is My Blog” principle.)
6: No religious proselytizing. I accept, and indeed encourage, comments here from religious believers who disagree with my atheism. Again, I welcome lively and vigorous discussion with people whose opinions I disagree with. But if you’re only going to spout your beliefs without being willing to engage in discussion and debate about those beliefs, your comments are not welcome. If you make a comment here that all non-believers are going to burn in hell, and other commenters ask you what evidence you have to support your assertion, and all you do is repeat your opinion that all non-believers are going to burn in hell without answering anyone’s questions or engaging in any conversations about your belief… that’s proselytizing, and it will get you banned.
7: Keep nitpicking to a bare minimum. A little nitpicking can be informative and entertaining, and if I misspell or misuse a word or phrase I want to be informed of it. But I hate, hate, hate it when a blog comment fixates on one word or sentence in a post or another comment, while ignoring the clear intent and context of the rest of the post or comment. I consider it a form of trolling. Don’t do it.
8: No advertising in the comments. Duh. Comments with obvious commercial content will have their links stripped at best, and at worst will be deleted and marked as spam with the commenters banned.
9: Do not behave atrociously in other blogs. If you are barely walking the line of acceptable behavior in this blog — but you have a pattern of foul, demeaning, sexist/ racist/ etc., insulting, violently threatening, or otherwise reprehensible behavior in other blogs — you will be banned from this one, with no second chance, and no warning.
10. Don’t be an asshole. If you are barely walking the line of acceptable behavior in this blog, but you are consistently being unpleasant, nasty, snide, sarcastic, nitpicky, assuming the worst possible intentions, or otherwise just generally being an asshole — towards other commenters, or towards me — you will be banned from this blog. If I’m feeling generous, I’ll give you a warning first — but I make no promises in that regard. If the entire tone of a conversation is going south, and it’s clear to me that you’re the one making it go south, you’re gone.
11: The usual legal stuff. No copyright violations, no threats, no incitement to violence, no slander.
And finally — and perhaps most importantly:
12: 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 else 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.
There is a very important basic principle at work here — the Principle of Benevolent Autocracy. Spelled out more clearly: This is my blog. Mine, mine, mine. I ultimately have the right to moderate the comments here in any way I like. As it happens, I generally moderate this blog with an extremely light touch: I don’t delete comments simply because I don’t agree with them, and I don’t ban commenters simply because they disagree with me. But if I chose 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. But in my blog, please respect my right to moderate it as I see fit.
If you think the specifics of my moderation are unfair or inconsistent, then by all means, 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.
That’s everything for now. If you have questions or feedback, please let me know. Thanks, and enjoy the blog!