Decline to publish unacceptable content

Kos thinks women (well, specifically Kathy Sierra) whine unjustifiably about being harassed online, which is not a big deal, apparently. Bitch PhD explains to him that he is being an arse, as do quite a few Kossacks.

Kos and Bitch are both right about the unpracticability of some universal blog civility code, as I ranted about a bit in another post. However, unlike the proposed highly prescriptive Blogger’s Code, a simple statement that a blogger declines to publish unacceptable content (lifted from BlogHer) makes it clear that they are asserting their right to control their own publication as they see fit.

Pavlov’s Cat made a great comment last week at LP in response to my noting that “free speech” arguments tend to confuse government censorship with a blogger’s control of their own blog:

It has always totally bewildered me that anyone should use the ‘free speech’ mantra in this context, for that very reason — and interestingly it’s always the private-property cheer squad that seems to squeal the loudest about exercising their freedom of speech on someone else’s blog, which indicates to me a fundamental incoherence about their world view in general.

It also strikes me that many bloggers who proudly flash their libertarian comment anarchy credentials are simply too lazy to adequately monitor their comment threads. Bitch PhD alludes to this as well. Time on the comments threads is what it takes to ensure that abuse and cyberbullying comments are simply not allowed to stand. If one doesn’t have the time to do that, then perhaps one should either not blog, or at least not allow comments at all.

Choosing not to allow someone else’s comment on one’s own space is not censoring them (they are always free to say it on their own blog), it’s simply not publishing them. A commitment to the principle of free speech does not mean forgoing one’s right (and responsibility) to shape the content on your own web publication, including the comments made by readers (different bloggers will obviously have different thresholds for “unacceptable” and will explicate those thresholds as they choose).

In the end, no publisher is obliged to publish unacceptable content. The comments policy at Hoyden About Town has been amended to make this explicitly clear.

originally posted at Hoyden About Town

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writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

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Posted in culture, Ethics, sociology
28 comments on “Decline to publish unacceptable content
  1. Alex says:

    Blogs are not democracies.

  2. Laura says:

    Most democracies are not either.

    As I said in a comment on the civility 2.0 post, the sheriff’s badge code of conduct thing seems to me a case of vaguely good intentions but not a lot of thinking through.

    It won’t do anything at all to prevent the kind of cyberbullying which takes place on other sites, or to stop idiots from emailing harrassment, which is more or less what happened to Kathy Sierra and exactly what happens in Australia with blogs like the Spin Starts Here.

    At bottom the code of conduct looks to me like an attempt to curry favour with under-informed critics of the blogosphere who think it’s a free-for-all. People who don’t get blogs don’t usually bother clicking around to learn that comments are in fact mostly moderated or screened or vetted in one way or another.

    I think this is a good post, tigtog, but I don’t agree that not moderating comments is necessarily lazy. I don’t like to feel like I should have to nanny and boss the jerks who occasionally annoy me at my blog, especially as I have the feeling that the attention is exactly what they’re after.

  3. tigtog says:

    but I don’t agree that not moderating comments is necessarily lazy. I don’t like to feel like I should have to nanny and boss the jerks who occasionally annoy me at my blog,

    But you do delete them if they annoy you, don’t you?

    It’s the peeps who are proud about not deleting anybody I’m talking about.

  4. Laura says:

    No, I don’t delete them unless they are really beyond the pale. I found that deleting them resulted in a flood more comments apparently written on the presumption that only I would read them, ie a lot more personal, and without the minimal restraint that publicity seemed to create. It is a case of choosing not to feed and stoke exhibitionist tendencies or to make myself feel stupid by wasting a thought on idiocy.

    This is partly because on blogger you can’t single out and block individuals in advance. I think that moving to a paid host just to get that ability, when everything else about blogger is great, would be letting the knobs win.

    I quite see that not everyone would feel the same way. My point is basically the same as yours, tigtog, the regulation of comment threads is best left to individual blog owners and not prescribed for others by well-meaning bossy types. Again, moderating comments doesn’t do a thing to stop internet harrassment. They are two completely different issues.

  5. Laura says:

    And yes, I know that boastfulness about not deleting comments that you’re describing, and it’s the other side of the same bossy-prescriptive coin: the underlying message is, everyone should do it how I do it. Cos I Am Teh Best Blogger.

  6. tigtog says:

    the underlying message is, everyone should do it how I do it. Cos I Am Teh Best Blogger.

    That definitely seems to be Kos’ opinion. I think flea took his excuses for not researching this properly down wonderfully at Feministe [link]

    Again, moderating comments doesn’t do a thing to stop internet harrassment. They are two completely different issues.

    I don’t entirely agree. If comments hostility is allowed to escalate into a circle of abuse, with commentors egging each other on, that’s when the hostility gets taken to the next stage of internet harassment. If abuse simply isn’t tolerated at all, then the next stage of harassment is less likely to be triggered.

  7. Another Kim says:

    Laura, you are a good combo.

    Not accepting crap and not afraid if it happening, either.

    I like your style. I try to be that way myself.

  8. genevieve says:

    Nope. Agree with Tigtog. Moderation is a tool that is worth getting comfy with and learning to use well. Defusing before things get sharpish is a better tactic than coming online and waving comments policies around when the horse has bolted.

    I prefer to have a quiet conversation via email with anyone who sounds a bit cross (not that I’ve had to do it often) – clarification one on one can sometimes cause a remarkable shift in someone’s ability to see more than one aspect of a question.

    I like the system at LeftWrites, it looks like a reasonable solution for a group blog to me – is this what LarvyProd is doing now?:

    Leftwrites aims to encourage debate within the left. Serious discussion about tactics, campaigns and radical analyses of the world requires at least a basic understanding of (and agreement with) some left-wing principles. We are therefore not interested in debating the Right on this forum, and we will not engage in flame wars with right-wing trolls.

    First time comments automatically go into moderation. Once your first comment has been approved, your comments bypass moderation and appear immediately on the site. If, however, subsequent comments breach our comments policy, they may be deleted and all future comments directed to moderation. If we believe that a user has accidentally breached the comments policy, we may issue a warning first before taking any further action.

    Moderation is undertaken by Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow.

    We expect comments to be polite, and will intervene if debates become abusive or sexist, racist or homophobic. We will not accept advertisements (except for political or community projects), off-topic posts or personal attacks on other site users.

    All of LW’s writers use their real names. Those making comments are not necessarily required to do the same but we encourage people to take personal responsibility for their comments, even if using a pseudonym.

    Being able to declare your audience that openly is clearly not for everyone, but the moderation seems to work pretty well there.

  9. Kim says:

    Genevieve, our comments policy is here:

    http://larvatusprodeo.net/about-larvatus-prodeo/comments-policy/

    We’re not following LW’s lead in restricting the ambit of the community of commenters, though I don’t have a problem with their doing so if that’s what they want to do.

  10. Laura says:

    Point taken, tigtog, about trying not to incubate escalations, but despite best efforts nobody can stop a group of like-minded thugs getting together and seeking out harmless teenage boy-bloggers in Canberra to bully, mock and humiliate, if they’re doing it on their own site and via email.

    Genevieve, I think everyone’s entitled to their own methods and don’t accept that any of us is in a position to take other bloggers to task about how they administer their own sites. As it says in the comments policy here: our blog, our discretion.

  11. Kim says:

    While I don’t disagree with what Laura says, I still think having a campaign out there for a code of conduct (and it doesn’t have to be uniform and the sheriff badge is lame) sends a good signal that many bloggers won’t tolerate defamation, bullying, abuse and general crap.

  12. genevieve says:

    I didn’t hear myself taking anyone to task, Laura. I was agreeing with Tigtog that moderation can be a useful tool in defusing debates.

  13. tigtog says:

    Laura, your point about the mindless thugs in their own space is also taken. I’d totally forgotten about that particular bullying.

    All that can be done in such circumstances is shunning the offenders (delinking, boycotting comments threads there etc) and encouraging others to do the same. That will matter more to some than others but it’s what should be done.

    Wampum points out the dearth of A-list bloggers calling Kos out on his shit. Hell, even Malkin hasn’t called him out, perhaps because a 600-comment thread to his idiot post where he gets called a fuckwit over and over is hard to spin as the liberal echochambers not taking sexism seriously, which is her usual schtick.

  14. Atticus says:

    I tried to post the Blog Advisory System content warning, but for good reason it can’t be done in a comment — so I’ve appended it to the post, here. I hope Tigtog doesn’t mind.

  15. tigtog says:

    I have not objection to the update in principle, I just wonder whether it broke the sidebar, which as I type is underneath the comments instead of floating to the right of the post.

  16. tigtog says:

    Sorry Atticus, when I edited out the javascript the sidebar was fixed, so it was the culprit.

    I’ll see if WordPress will let me post the code in comments because I’m the post author:

    UPDATE: Yes it did, but it broke the sidebar again. I suspect that javascript has to be corralled in its very own sidebar module before it will behave.

  17. Atticus says:

    Unfortunately, it did. I’ll try to fix it.

  18. tigtog says:

    Oh well, anyone who follows your link above will get the idea.

  19. Atticus says:

    I actually think it’s adding an unclosed <div> tag. I won’t post it to the sidebar, because it will still break the page. What a nuisance.

  20. polluted skies. says:

    So prescriptons for the blog owner and proscriptions for the blogging contributor.
    Could I pass on a great way of thinking about anyone’s behaviour on a blog site ?
    Years ago I spent a lot of time reading Antony Loewenstein’s blog and it was a very atmospherically violent site if such an adjective is appropriate.
    One long term and very erudite contributor was Edward Mariyani Squires. He was a fountain head of information about Afghanistan, the Middle East’s culture, politics ,religion and so on.
    He debated with all contributors in a most civil manner .
    His standard for suitable behaviour was along the following lines – I will communicate with others here as if I am talking to them in a social situation ( say having an energetic debate in a pub ) and I expect their behaviour to be suitable for such a venue.
    Unfortunately as a site which attracted extreme opinions and contributions a long debate about standards became necessary after many threads became nothing but disgusting abuse. People offering to explain complex issues were vilified including Mr Squires.
    Most of the issues mentioned in the current civility debate were gone over. People were urged to identify themselves , to try and avoid trolling and use references to support their arguments.
    Antony Loewenstein’s site now has very little traffic , no scholarly contributors and while I understand Antony is a rather self promoting figure the standards debate contributed to a very sterile and partisan feeling developing on his site.
    As an alternative to this outcome WebDiary became dominated by the most aggressive and extreme and few readers are left.

    How to resolve this conundrum then ? From it’s inception anonymity has been a curse and blessing for blogging and while it is allowed spirited but unruly enconters will continue. For the more serious minded though I think this a fatal flaw and their contributions will dwindle.

  21. tigtog says:

    You put your finger on the balance point, polluted skies. How does a site strike a balance between endless abusive stoush and sterility?

    A certain level of moderation is crucial to substantive debate IMO, but I think it’s wise to at some point say that “beyond these rules we just decide, orright” and leave it there.

  22. Helen says:

    I would hope that if a genuinely squicky comment was allowed to remain in my comments for more than a reasonable amount of time, my bloggy mates would assume that there’s a good reason –
    on holidays? Ill? etc.

    I’d hate to come home / wake up to condemnation from both sides.

  23. tigtog says:

    That certainly makes a lot of sense, Helen. Long time bloggers probably have a reasonable reservoir of trust established with their usual readers.

  24. Ken Scott says:

    While out of control abuse tends to diminish enjoyable debate and flaming will intimidate some people from blogging again on a site (which is reprehensible and self-defeating for a blog) there is such a thing as overly authoritarian attitude in policing a site. In the end you end up with sycophants and tame contrarians, and who would want to read just the usual suspects?

    I think a blog, such as LP, has now slipped the choker chain of its proprietors and has become part of the community’s toolbox of expression, especially in contradistinction to MSM. This is a great thing for it to happen and akin to, say, Conan Doyle “losing” control of his creation Sherlock Holmes, who took on a life of his own.

    In effect, a symbiosis is created whereby the nom de plume characters we have given life to on this blog, encouraged by its handle, also live on their own.

    I say symbiosis because it is a two-way, interdependent relationship. The contributors do not get rewarded for posting their ideas, some of which have taken some considerable time to put together a coherent and thought-provoking response or post, except by way of praise fromn fellow bloggers.

    Such collective effort enhances the blog space enormously and indeed, the blog wins plaudits for attracting such cognoscenti.

    It is then a bit disingenous to treat bloggin’ guests like i5t is done with pub patrons who, having spent their money on the pokies and the drinkie-poohs are then shoved out the door unceremoniously by a bouncer, sometimes on the latter’s a whim, and no correspondence shall be entered into.

    In cyberspace everyone can hear you scream. And whinge, and cajole. Slipping into Ken Scott allows me to inhabit a persona which is not strictly speaking the real me. But neither was it me when I “played” various other characters I have dressed up as on the blogosphere. Each persona, after a while, for me, at least, assumes a voice of his own. Having it silenced or interfered with and harassed by a trigger-happy blog proprietor, sometimes for spurious and unstated reasons and sometimes for no reason or explanation at all, is nasty and authoritarian and it leaves a lasting impression that the blog mogul is a closet control freak whose behaviour is at odds with his or her professed publicspeak.

    I do not agree that laziness is the necessary (and sufficient) explanation of why some libertarian blogs do not censor contributors within an inch of their lives.

    If libertarian means anything – and the term is such a moving feast these days – it means anti-authoritarian. And that can’t be bad, from where I sit.

  25. Mark says:

    That’s well said, Ken.

    I think if you go way back to the archives right at the start of LP, it was always already a commenter/community centred blog!

  26. tigtog says:

    Ken, I agree with most of what you wrote.

    Each persona, after a while, for me, at least, assumes a voice of his own. Having it silenced or interfered with and harassed by a trigger-happy blog proprietor, sometimes for spurious and unstated reasons and sometimes for no reason or explanation at all, is nasty and authoritarian and it leaves a lasting impression that the blog mogul is a closet control freak whose behaviour is at odds with his or her professed publicspeak.

    I don’t think a moderator owes any public explanation of moderation decisions over and above the stated principles in their comments policy. If a commentor cannot ascertain why they have been moderated, how hard is it to fire off an email asking for an explanation? When asked, the blog moderator certainly should answer, but that’s what email is for.

    As to your point querying whether it’s just laziness that inspires the lack of moderation on libertarian blogs, I now agree with you that laziness is not a sufficient explanation. I expect it’s more an ideological bias towards overestimating everybody’s capacity to be rational actors and non-abusive of a permissive moderation policy.

    It’s interesting to read the current comments policy at the Australian Libertarian Society:

    While the ALS will generally be tolerant of most non-spam comments, this blog is private property and we therefore have the right to control it as we see fit. Therefore, we retain the right to delete or moderate comments if/when we deem appropriate. […]

    This policy is not contrary to libertarian philosophy. Libertarian philosophy suggests that people should be able to use their property (and only their property) any way they like, so long as they don’t directly harm another person. Libertarian philosophy does not suggest that you have a God-given right to write comments on another person’s blog.

  27. Laura says:

    I think Ken has a very good point that commenters contribute to blogs and are thus entitled to some consideration – but I do wonder whether it ever happens that commenters are moderated or banned without warning or without reason.

    My hunch is that most people who get banned know exactly why they got banned; correct me if I’m completely wrong there.

    I don’t really think that in the blogosphere it is valid to speak of being ‘silenced’, when anyone can start a blog for their own use.

  28. Kim says:

    I think the ALS comments policy was largely designed as a response to one particular commenter, as was Catallaxy’s decision to start doing some moderating.

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