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SEE UPDATE BELOW: The HetPat First Directive

I love comments on the internet.

Not all of them, obviously,  some of them are mean and spiteful, some are stupid and ignorant, some are very, very dull. And that’s just mine.

There’s a vile adage in circulation among professional journalists and more self-important bloggers: “Never read the bottom half of the internet.”

Fuck that. The bottom half is the internet; it is the raw, beating heart of the beast. I remember this realm when there was no top half of the internet. All the corporate-sponsored, proprietor-endorsed, Oxbridge-educated interlopers marched in late with their entitlement and their privilege and declared the internet theirs, with the same tactics and the same mindset as the baronets and princes who enclosed the commons in medieval times.

More to the point, I’ve learned so much from the internet, and most of what I have learned has been discovered below the line, not above. I wrote a Cif piece recently and was being heavily slated by a detractor. When another commenter challenged the criticism, he or she replied:

“I wasn’t criticising the article. I didn’t even read it (beyond the headline and a possibly couple more). I almost never read the articles here.”

I loved that. A guy or gal after my own heart. Just jumped straight into the barney below the line without regard to whatever nonsense I might have been spouting.

So, that’s a long way of saying I love getting your comments here. If you’re reading, please tell me what you think, for better or worse. At the previous home of this blog, I was graced with thousands of comments from regular or occasional visitors. We had a few tense exchanges and a few cross words, from me or others. That’s fine. I don’t mind people debating, arguing, squabbling, getting angry, offended or upset. If nothing here produces such reactions from some people occasionally, then I’m failing dismally.

But as is the way of these things, I should probably explain my position on commenting. I will be very, very reluctant to delete comments here. I’m basically an anarchist at heart, and have spent a fair bit of time in anarchist disorganisations over the years. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about anarchy it is that you need a hell of a lot of rules to make it work. So here are a few guidance points I’d like you to bear in mind.

1. The freedom of speech that allows us to be arseholes also allows others to tell us that we’re arseholes. 

That will generally be my policy. If you act like a dick or a twat (gender notwithstanding) do not complain when I tell you you that’s what you’re doing.

I generally believe in free speech, even for arseholes, and if someone is a complete arsehole, I’d rather the evidence were fully visible for all to see.

If you post racist shit, I’ll call you a racist shit, and I’ll ask you not to do it again on my blog.

If you post misandrist or misogynist shit, I’ll call you on it and ask you not to do it again on my blog.

Same goes for homophobia, transphobia, disablism and any other -ism that happens to get my goat.

2. The people here are my friends. 

I know it sounds naff, but trust me on this. You might fall out with each other, but please do me the favour of remembering that the person you’re slagging off and abusing is quite possibly someone dear to my heart, and it’s never pleasant to see friends cruelly abusing each other – so please try to talk to other commenters with  civility and respect. And I appreciate it isn’t always easy. I’m writing this as a memo to self more than anything.

3. Freedom of speech does not include the right to silence others

As I’ve explained here, online comments can be used to attempt to intimidate, bully or frighten people off a platform or into silence. Messages that are genuinely hateful or intimidating, whether aimed at individuals or groups, can have the effect of stifling the opinions of others. If, in my judgement, a comment is so abusive, hateful or intimidating that it is likely to drive other readers away from this blog, I will delete it without apology.

Incidentally, I’m generally more tolerant of abuse aimed at me than abuse aimed at others. Whatever else happens, you’re not getting me to shut up. So long as you understand I bite back, then knock yourself out. But please be as pleasant to each other as you can.

4. This is not an ideological safe space for anyone.

One thing I love about the comments I get is that they come from feminists, non-feminists and anti-feminists, MRAs and egalitarians from left, right and centre. Some I agree with, some I don’t, on all sides. I like it like that.

I’ll get jolly cross if anyone attempts to claim this site for any movement, so if you are upset to encounter a feminist voice or an MRA or anyone else here, then I’m afraid that’s your problem, not mine. Don’t look to me to intervene, and don’t try to bully unfavoured voices off the site. (See pt 3.)

5. The referee’s decision is final.

I’m making no promises about where and how I may or may not intervene. Any deletions or bannings or stiff talkings to will entirely depend upon what kind of day I’ve had. Sue me.

———-

UPDATE, JULY 2013: The HetPat First Directive

Following a discussion thread about moderation, I agreed with the regular commenters here that there should be an extra rule, which I hereby dub The HetPat First Directive.

Thou shalt not generalise about gender activist movements or judge people’s arguments by their association.

What this means in practice is that I shall consider moderating any comments that make sweeping generalisations about feminists, MRAs or any similar group. This is not because all such generalisations are necessarily false (although in my view they usually are) but simply because such sweeping generalisations act, almost without exception, to derail threads and discussions, spark angry reactions and foster an atmosphere that is corrosive to debate. More discussion on the HetPat First Directive here.

———–

And that’s about it. I reserve the right to change my mind about anything, anytime, ever. Does that seem fair? Why don’t you leave a comment.  I’ll probably ignore it. That’s my privilege.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    johngreg

    Even though I disagree with any deletions, other than spam or illegal stuff, I nonetheless think your policy is, overall, quite fair-handed.
    .
    And thanks for posting it. Too many ‘net blogs have no actual posted rules, or hosts who don’t follow what posted rules there are, and that always seems to lead to a blind mine field of discord, anger, and discontinuity.

  2. 2
    Jacob Schmidt

    Your warning that this will likely be ignored is currently being ignored. I am curious; sue me.

    If you post racist shit, I’ll call you a racist shit, and I’ll ask you not to do it again on my blog.
    If you post misandrist or misogynist shit, I’ll call you on it and ask you not to do it again on my blog.
    Same goes for homophobia, transphobia, disablism and any other -ism that happens to get my goat.

    -SNIP-

    Messages that are genuinely hateful or intimidating, whether aimed at individuals or groups, can have the effect of stifling the opinions of others. If, in my judgement, a comment is so abusive, hateful or intimidating that it is likely to drive other readers away from this blog, I will delete it without apology.

    How do you differentiate between the former and the latter? Why is “misogynist shit” or “transphobia” not genuinely hateful? Further, why do you trust your own judgement on the matter[1]. You (probably) aren’t the target, and you likely miss the 1000 other hateful messages a given person has possibly received in their life.

    1: assuming you do

  3. 3
    Skeptical Atheist

    Good to see that you respect free speech instead of mock it!

  4. 4
    Steersman

    To kill two birds with one stone, it looks like your blog will be well-worth following for any number of reasons, not least your rather commendable commenting policy – both are likely to be welcome additions to FTB if not actually a breath of fresh air (the foregoing has been a paid political announcement …. ;-) ).

    But as sort of a “heads-up” or a “forewarned is forearmed”, I expect that you realize that “gendered insults” – “twat” and “dick” for examples – are considered by many on this side of the pond to be tantamount to expressions of misogyny and misandry, respectively, although the latter less so for some problematic if not unfathomable reasons. And while I’m somewhat sympathetic to that argument and will readily agree that there are some uses of those words that would so qualify, I think it a serious stretch, if not a self-serving one, to argue that all of them are.

    However, I think that the general issue – profanity and epithets in on-line communities – has a number of implications which justifies, I think, some efforts to at least be consistent in their use for a number of reasons, not least to forestall charges of hypocrisy. For which reason I’ve periodically suggested a debate on this analogous question:

    Resolved: Calling someone a “cunt” is to a charge of “sexist” or “misogynist” as calling someone a “nigger” is to a charge of “racist”. Or, as calling someone an “asshole” is to a charge of “misanthropist”.

    That is, if someone wishes to argue that “cunt” is not necessarily misogynistic then, mutatis mutandis, I think they are obliged, for the sake of consistency, to agree that “”nigger” is not necessarily racist – both words used as insults. And if someone wishes to argue that those words are necessarily always misogynistic or racist then I think they are also obliged to agree that “asshole” is necessarily misanthropist.

    But, in any case, I wish you well in your blogging exploits here ….

  5. 5
    kacyray

    if you are upset to encounter a feminist voice or an MRA or anyone else here, then I’m afraid that’s your problem, not mine. Don’t look to me to intervene, and don’t try to bully unfavoured voices off the site.

    Your comment policy is the example all these other blogs would do well to emulate.

  1. 6
    gearing up | Freethinkers at Virginia Tech

    […] I view this as a personal safe space while not an ideological safe space; but this is something we can discuss and […]

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