I’ve been thinking quite a bit about some of the criticisms from others that there’s a culture of pile-on here at HaT. My response in the past has been very defensive, because I think our regular commentors are mostly marvellous and I was resistant to the idea that the commentariat were doing something that acted to silence others too indiscriminately (we all know that every blog attracts some commentors with opinions that deserve silencing, but other opinions deserve discussing, and discussions have been getting cut short by segues into acrimony lately).
So after letting it stew for a while I’ve concluded that while you are all marvellous as individuals, we can indeed in the aggregate overdo the challenges, simply by a few too many regulars stepping in to have their say as part of a challenge to another commentor for either an infraction of the comments policy or a dissenting opinion. Sure, someone who expresses dissent here is never deleted just for dissenting, but a pile-on in response to dissent is not welcoming to debate in the way that I for one would like.
There really should be a better way to balance a principle of explicit non-toleration of marginalising language/arguments on HaT and a practise which appears to be driving people away from discussion here entirely. So how about we explore that a bit?
Here’s some rules from another blog which might be useful to add/adapt to our comments policy here:
- Consecutive comments by the same person are discouraged, unless there’s been a substantial amount of time (12 hours) elapsed between the comments or the second comment is brief.
- No more than two consecutive responses (by different people) to a previous comment. A third response should not be posted unless the original commenter has posted a counter-response, or at least 12 hours have passed. In other words, if Alan makes a comment, then Betty responds to Alan, then Cathy responds to Alan, everyone else should refrain from responding to Alan until either Alan counter-responds or time has passed. Commenters may comment on other aspects of the original post, though. (The purpose of this rule is to eliminate the ‘gang tackling’ effect.)
This is part of the comments policy over at Feminist Critics, which I don’t read particularly often any more. But I like the way that they have structured this.
Obviously the consecutive comments/responses rule wouldn’t apply to our playful threads about LOLcats and other sources of squee!, but it’s a very good guideline regarding responses that are challenging another commentor.
Tangentially related, and not necessarily relevant to all cases of pile-on, I’d also like to remind anyone who wasn’t around when I first posted it to FF101 of the suggested Three Comments Rule for newcomers expressing highly charged views. I think it’s useful up to a point – the idea is that a newbie commentor should not be flamed without mercy until they’ve made at least three comments indicating obtuse offensiveness. On a blog such as this, there are obviously some comments which would be so beyond the pale that 3 comments is an unnecessary indulgence of vexatious/malicious speech, but such are going to get deleted as soon as detected by a moderator anyway, so no need to have too many commentors registering strong objections after the first couple of responses have been made. Move on with discussing other aspects of the post.
Although the intent of both rules is to avoid pile-ons, the other effect is that they can also short-circuit derails. The poster of a derailing comment will gets at most two direct responses, then the next response is going to be deliberately on topic for the thread instead, rather than once again challenging their comment. Then while they are composing another attempt at a derail, there could well be a few more on-topic comments in the thread. How terribly frustrating for a troll that would be, don’t you think?