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Comment Policy – A Reminder

A number of comment threads in this blog have been getting very heated, to the point of being ugly and unpleasant. So I want to remind everyone of my comment policy, and review some of its key components.

Please note that this comment policy applies to EVERYONE. Whether I agree with you or not; whether you’re defending me or not. It doesn’t matter. I have banned people who were defending me passionately, because they did so in ways that consistently violated my comment policy. (If you’re wondering, “Hm, is she talking about me?” — chances are good that yes, I am.)

And I want to remind everyone of a key component of this policy:

Be respectful of other commenters in this blog. No personal insults; no namecalling; no flame wars.

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 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.

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.

Please note, also, that not respecting my right to have a comment policy and to moderate my own blog is, itself, a violation of the comment policy. If you want to question or discuss or critique details of the policy, I certainly welcome that. But please respect my basic right to moderate my own blog, and to try to maintain a certain tone in it.

And if you can’t respect this comment policy — please go visit another blog instead.

Thanks, everybody!

Comments

  1. John Morales says

    Well, Greta, I’m fine with “No personal insults; no namecalling; no flame wars”.

    But automatic, ongoing respect for other commenters, regardless of what people post — well, that’s too much to ask of me.

    (And that’s what you seem to be asking)

  2. Konradius says

    But automatic, ongoing respect for other commenters, regardless of what people post — well, that’s too much to ask of me.

    Well, first I’ll assume Greta isn’t enforcing thoughtcrimes, so what you do regarding respect in your own mind is your own business.
    The commenting policy is regarding your comments here.
    And I’ve reread the post and I think politely saying you don’t respect someone because of X falls well within the policy. You do not need to tone down your opinions, you only need to tone down the way you express them.

  3. says

    @3 That sounds pretty logical. I’d say there is indeed a huge difference between on the one hand saying you have lost respect for someone because of X, still respecting his personal autonomy and his right to make decisions which will cause you (a random internet person) to lose respect for him, and on the other hand causing your lack of respect to greatly influence your tone and the content of your criticism.

    It is basically the difference between informing someone “if you said this to me in real life, I would call you names and cut off all contact with you” and saying “you said this to me, so you are a Y’ing Z and I demand you should uninstall your internet browser immediately.”

  4. John Morales says

    Ben01, you raise a point of interest; I see both your examples (in your second paragraph) as indicating lack of respect (though the second furthermore fails the name-calling criterion), and therefore equally impermissible.

    (Perhaps Greta will clarify)

  5. John Morales says

    Konradius, re:

    I’ve reread the post and I think politely saying you don’t respect someone because of X falls well within the policy.

    Sorry, I fail to see how; “Be respectful of other commenters in this blog” is pretty unambiguous, and explicitly stating that you don’t respect someone is clearly breaching that requirement.

    Equally, stating something along the lines of ‘I would say I don’t respect you if you really mean X, were I able to do so” is no less disrespectul — it’s transparently disingenuous and still conveys the proscribed sentiment.

  6. Austin Green says

    I think what she’s saying here is mostly that she wants to cut the vitriol out of her comments. You can still express your opinions, whatever they are, as long as you don’t do it in a vitriolic manner.

  7. Sara K. says

    Being respectful towards someone is not the same has having respect for someone. I can *respectfully* tell someone that they have lost my respect. For example, telling person Z “You have lost my respect” is respectful. Telling person Z “You should have never been born and you should shut up and go to a corner and stay there for the rest of your life so that people don’t have to be disgusted by your presence, you [insert insult of choice]” would not be respectful.

    That said, it might be clearer if Greta says “be respectful TOWARDS other commentators” instead of “be respectful OF other commentators”.

  8. Didaktylos says

    One of the marks of a truly civilised person is to be able express utter cutting contempt while staying entirely within the bounds of courtesy.

  9. says

    But please respect my basic right to moderate my own blog, and to try to maintain a certain tone in it

    That’s certainly the way I see things. My webspace, I pay for it, my rules; if someone doesn’t like my webspace, he’s more than welcome not to come back. :)

  10. Azkyroth says

    One of the marks of a truly civilised person is to be able express utter cutting contempt while staying entirely within the bounds of courtesy.

    Given how “courtesy” is selectively defined this conceit is grossly classist, more generally toxic, and one of the most serious obstacles to progress and participation in societal decision-making. I wish (much like the “lilies of the field” nonsense) people wouldn’t unthinkingly give assent to it.

  11. Midnight Rambler says

    Azkyroth:

    Given how “courtesy” is selectively defined this conceit is grossly classist, more generally toxic, and one of the most serious obstacles to progress and participation in societal decision-making.

    “Classist”? That sounds like you’re saying that only upper-class people are capable of having polite conversations with people they disagree with, but lower-class ones just can’t help but run off a string of insults and curses in the same situation, so a comment policy that requires avoiding personal attacks would discriminate against the latter. Now that’s classist.

  12. Greta Christina says

    I think what she’s saying here is mostly that she wants to cut the vitriol out of her comments. You can still express your opinions, whatever they are, as long as you don’t do it in a vitriolic manner.

    Austin Green @ #7: Yes. That’s it exactly. You said it better than I did.

    We can discuss and parse the difference between “respectful of” and “respectful towards” if you find that interesting. (For the record: yes, “respectful towards” is probably a better way to say what I was getting at — although I do expect a basic level of respect of people’s personhood, an awareness that they’re human beings with certain rights connected with that, etc.) The point here is that many comments in this blog lately have been adopting a high level of venom and vitriol and hostility, and I don’t want that in my blog. I don’t object to it universally on high moral grounds or anything (hey, I love Pharyngula): I’m just trying to make my blog a place where people can have conversations about difficult topics that don’t involve venom and vitriol and hostility. Thanks.

  13. julian says

    @Midnight Rambler

    Actually, Midnight Rambler, your comment comes off as much more classist (to me anyway) than what Azkyroth wrote. Azkyroth seems to be recognizing that ‘courtesy’ is very loosely defined and that the weak definition we do have relies on other concepts that aren’t universally expressed the same way. Especially among difference classes.

    You seem to be saying that the way a lot of plebs talk is disrespectful and rude. I may punctuate my sentences with ‘fuck’ and I may refer to even close friends as ‘that fucker’ but within my group that isn’t disrespectful. In fact the only thing that makes it disrespectful is when we have to speak to higher ups and need to sound like we aren’t part of the group we’re from.

    One can be courteous in the traditional sense and still be completely rude and obnoxious. In fact, that’s likely the worst kind of rude and obnoxious because people chastise you for rebuking them unless you also play the flowery game. (This is, in my opinion, kinda ridiculous. Obviously such and such is being disrespectful even if his tone sounds reverent.)

    Anyway that’s just my 2 bits

  14. Azkyroth says

    One can be courteous in the traditional sense and still be completely rude and obnoxious. In fact, that’s likely the worst kind of rude and obnoxious because people chastise you for rebuking them unless you also play the flowery game. (This is, in my opinion, kinda ridiculous. Obviously such and such is being disrespectful even if his tone sounds reverent.)

    This.

    I have some firsthand experience with enforced nicey-nice policies in online communities (I was an active forum member at Spellhold Studios from about 2005 to 2009, and watched several such changes take place). My observation has been that they do two things:

    First, they have a chilling effect on open, honest, and enthusiastic conversation, because even if people “should” know what is and is not acceptable, self-policing and uncertainty (and since such policies are by nature somewhat subjective, there is always uncertainty) is both a distraction from thinking about the ideas you’re actually trying to express, and causes constant nagging doubts.

    Second, they provide an unfair advantage to people who could be described accurately – elsewhere, at least – as disingenuous little weasels, who poke and squirm and insinuate and constantly push boundaries, effectively wiping their asses with the spirit of the rule in question while sticking close enough to the letter for plausible deniability. Honest, straightforward, decent people trying to counter them and quite reasonably annoyed at their duplicitousness, to whom this kind of maneuvering doesn’t come naturally, then tend to wind up either “crossing the line” or simply being scared away and forced to let the weaseling stand unchallenged.

    Either way, I’ve found they really promote a “Stepford Smiler” kind of dynamic rather than improving commenting for reasonable, honest, straightforward people.

    My thoughts are a bit jumbled right now, but I think the point I’m trying to make is clear.

  15. LadyBlack says

    What you want though is somewhere where people aren’t afraid to post. I tried to enter some comments onto the Peter Hitchen’s column, and was shot down pretty brutally. Possibly this was my own fault, but from reading the tone of the commenter’s, it was clear that your posts pretty much had to be sarcastic and rude in the ‘wittiest’ way possible. I tried to stay with the thread, but it actually got to the point where I was physically shaking before I would log on, and completely relieved when my comments were generally ignored. However, what really got me was that about year later, Mr Hitchens decided that he didn’t like the way people spoke to him, and that some of his commenters were very rude. When it was suggested that it was because he made no attempt to police his own column, these posters were ignored, or else he selected a small error they had made, and attacked them for that, rather then addressing the fact that he attracted people who were ‘outspoken’ in what they said.
    I don’t know, perhaps reading the post afterwards and deciding, “Could this post hurt people’s feelings, or is this moving the thread on” would be a way to help tone down? Or would this prevent people from putting their argument together because they spend too much time thinking about who might be hurt by what?
    I don’t post often for fear of saying something someone will find stupid and irritating, but I’m aware that’s pretty much just me, and I am affected this way by all forums. I was thinking though that on the whole people here are pretty good in comparison with some forums, and that often these are contentious issues – I guess people might be posting in the heat of the moment?

  16. Brian Macker says

    The irony in this “classist” discussion is extremely entertaining. There are so many layers of irony.

    Ironic that calling someone elses argument “classist” is in fact a classy way to name call without name calling. After all who would make a classist argument except a classist. Ironic that the people who are against it are doing it.

    Ironic that the first charge of against someone who points that out is that he is even more of a classist. Ironic that the people who find it most offensive are actually most guilty of thinking that way and assuming poor people all have filty mouths.

    Ironic that the charge of being classist is in fact treating another as an enemy, and assumes the worst possible interpretation of others which is what Greta’s post is actually opposed to. Ironic that calling an argument “classist” violates the spirit of not using personally insulting rhetoric aimed at ideas as per Greta.

    I betcha the irony runs deeper. I very much doubt that any of you are actually in the “upper class”, just because the odds are against it. The irony there is that a charge of classism would only tend to undermine someones argument if they had something to gain from it. It rings hollow to accuse someone of being rich “classist” when they aren’t even rich.

    Personally my roots are in the lower class. The derogotory term is hillbilly, and I’ve actually been called a “possum”. My mom started picking cotton when she was six years old, and I never met my maternal grandfather because he was killed by a rattlesnake. I actually have a slight case of rickets because all my parents could afford to feed me as a kid was beans and rice.

    I wish you guys would stop trying to defend me against the rich if you are all a bunch of guilt ridden rich kids, because there is no need to call anyone a fool when you can demonstrate that fact.

  17. julian says

    Brian Macker, I’m having a less than easy time making sense of what you’ve written. It doesn’t make sense.

    Ironic that calling someone elses argument “classist” is in fact a classy way to name call without name calling.

    No, it isn’t. It is not ‘in fact a classy way’ of name calling. It’s a legitimate criticism that can be made when someone who’s (in this case) rhetoric seems to disproportionately exclude another class based on flimsy and arbitrary reasons. It’s as valid a criticism as any other.

    After all who would make a classist argument except a classist.

    Someone who didn’t consider the full scope of their argument or was aware of the unnecessarily exclusionary language they were using because it was something far removed from their experiences?

    Ironic that the first charge of against someone who points that out is that he is even more of a classist.

    I did not call Midnight Rambler classist. I don’t know nearly enough about hir to make such an accusation. My comment was only meant to communicate how I perceived his argument and that it seemed more classist than what Azkyroth had written.

    Honestly I don’t think either poster was being classist in their argument.

    Ironic that the people who find it most offensive are actually most guilty of thinking that way and assuming poor people all have filty mouths.

    Not following. It’s demonstrably true that language varies between classes, between education levels, between geographic locations and heritage. Hoe is it classist to point out that concepts of politeness and etiquette vary between social groups?

    I wish you guys would stop trying to defend me against the rich if you are all a bunch of guilt ridden rich kids

    I am not a rich kid. My mother was on welfare until I was 12 years old. I spent the ages 7-10 squatting with her in a condemned apartment building and we only managed to get out thanks to Section 8 who found us an apartment down the block. I enlisted right out of High School just to help her pay bills after she had to quit work when she broke her foot. Fuck, the highest degree I earned was a High School diploma (and might be the only degree I get if my living situation doesn’t improve).

  18. Brian Macker says

    Julian,

    Racist make racist arguments and classists make classist arguments. They don’t need to be aware racists to be racists. Similarly a classist. You may not be aware of the fact but it is a way to be polite and insulting at the same time.

    Your Marxist rationalizations just don’t work.

  19. Azkyroth says

    Wait…a…minute. Brian…Macker…

    Oh yeah… *chuckle*

    Unfortunately, you don’t seem to be arguing in good faith any more now than you were then. Pity, that.

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