Moderating a blog is a tricky business. Let me review why I write this blog and how I determine what comments can be published.
I have several goals in publishing this blog.
To begin with it is meant to provide readers information about local politics. With the decline of newspapers, the resources that newspapers have to cover local government have atrophied. Even when reporters cover local events, they rarely have the time to dig below the surface.
I do not presume to comprehensively investigate all that goes on in our city. What I can do is focus on certain events that interest me and dig into them. I can also alert readers to newspaper articles and television reports that I think are informative.
The purpose of “commenting” on my site is to engage people to create a public dialogue. In an age in which people shout past each other, I try to create an environment in which people feel comfortable sharing their views. They should be able to post a comment without fear of being personally attacked, humiliated, or berated.
Tolerance vs Censorship
This means that I allow opinions even though I may personally condemn them.
Simply not airing opinions with which one disagrees doesn’t mean these opinions disappear. In my mind it is better to air them publicly so that they can be examined and addressed.
I am not naive enough to believe that just engaging in civil dialog will mean that one’s preferred position prevails or that open dialog alone will be sufficient to protect us from the perniciousness of racism or movements like fascism.
I do, however, believe that a culture that is dominated by censorship and the suppression of ideas, even those one finds offensive, will lead to the domination by those with the most power, not necessarily those with the best ideas.
Moderating for Accuracy
Probably most of the readers of this blog are not fully aware of the time maintaining this blog requires.
I am very rigorous regarding the accuracy of my own posts. As those who follow my blog know, when I become aware of an error in one of my posts I acknowledge and correct it.
Moderating comments is a different matter. To begin with, time and priorities limit my ability to insure that everything other people write is accurate. I do, however, exercise my right to block or edit comments when I recognize inaccuracies. I make a special effort to remove false claims against public figures.
Is there a comment that expresses something so abhorrent it should not be published?
On the other hand, I have been reticent to edit opinions expressed in comments on my blog even when I find them troubling.
This is a problematic area with which I continually struggle. What kind of comment is sufficiently abhorrent that it needs to be censored?
A case in point was a comment from a follower who uses the name Justin Chase. In response to the Mayor’s call for Juneteenth to become a holiday he wrote:
“The symbolism surrounding a Juneteenth holiday is an important acknowledgment of the debt owed to the people who were enslaved in America.”
If they weren’t…where would they be today?
In a subsequent post, in response to searing criticism, Justin Chase offered that he was simply trying to be provocative to spur conversation.
I believe that I should have removed the above fragment before the full comment was published. I have subsequently done so.
Justin Chase has been a regular participant on this blog almost since it began. Considering his previous posts and his subsequent defense it appears that he thought he was being both provocative and amusing when he wrote the above.
To joke about the idea that black people today should be grateful that their ancestors were captured in Africa and transported under the most horrific conditions to the United States and then treated in the most barbaric ways as chattel is abhorrent.
This incident has caused me to rethink my policy on commenting. I do not believe that writing simply to be provocative is helpful. It invites unnecessary conflict. The substance of what happens in our city along with the thoughtful and earnest observations of the people who follow this blog generates enough interesting and useful dialogue.
With that in mind, I have written to Justin asking that in the future he limit his comments to what he actually thinks and believes although this will not be the only standard used in deciding what comments to publish. Comments that I believe are meant only to be provocative and trolling will not be posted.
The Need for Civility
I have on quite a few occasions censored comments that I considered to be outside the bounds of civility. Usually this is simple. Anyone who follows social media is familiar with ugly attacks that are simply personal and meant to hurt and/or anger. They commonly include profanity. They prompt me to quickly click on the trash icon.
More nuanced is the problem of tone. My standard is based on a question I ask myself. Is the tone of this comment so belligerent that the only possible response is either silence or an angry reply?
For my blog to be successful in my mind, persons willing to comment should feel confident that they will not be the victim of a response that they experience as humiliating.
I recently published a comment by a follower who identifies himself as Andy Reeder. He was addressing Justin Chase. Here is an excerpt:
You’re saying your post was to “promote a rather entertaining exercise in creative banter”? Is that what you call saying black Americans should be grateful their ancestors were brought to this country as slaves?
Was it “creative banter” when you said “Sweden had it right?” After apologizing for their approach earlier this month due to the high death rate, they’ve admitted they have made less progress than expected in achieving immunity and have one of the worst mortality rates in the world. ( https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-17/sweden-proves-surprisingly-slow-in-achieving-herd-immunity )
Was it creative banter when you said “everyone has the virus”, despite only 10-20% of the people tested in areas experiencing the worst of the the virus have the related antibodies?
This style does not invite dialogue. It is meant to bludgeon. It is meant to humiliate. It ends any conversation.
Andy is one of the most thoughtful people who posts on this blog. He brings a wealth of factual knowledge to it. I have in the past asked him to tone down a comment which he has done.
I debated with myself long and hard about putting up this most recent comment from him. I finally decided that given the disturbing nature of Justin’s comment I would allow Andy’s strong response this time.
In Defense of Civility
President Donald Trump is not responsible for the decline of civility in our country, he is a symptom. His attack on the late Senator John McCain’s imprisonment during the Vietnam War as some kind of proof that Senator McCain was a “loser” was only one of many degrading and gross insults he has made. As the “leader” of our country his use of the bully pulpit in this manner has without question promoted more of this kind of hateful behavior.
There are no simple solutions to what we face. What is irrefutable is that if we do not learn how to discuss our problems and differences then the future is bleak indeed.
I see my blog as a tiny effort to address our malaise. Civility is not an end in and of itself. It is the prerequisite to finding answers to the problems that are at the root of incivility.