It was predictable that feelings would run strong in the wake of the Norwegian terrorist atrocities, and it’s obvious on many blogs, and especially newspaper websites, that rational discussion on the topic has all but disappeared. I love a good discussion, and I enjoy being engaged by a good argument, but without certain guidelines for acceptable content in comments the substantive arguments get buried in a flood of reactionary soundbites and frequently eliminationist rhetoric. This is not merely disturbing, it actively perpetuates partisan/ideological bias.
Hoyden About Town decided long ago to stand up for our readers and ourselves by moderating disruptive commenters and declining to publish unacceptable content. In some circles, this policy has made us mildly notorious as banhammer-happy, although often we find people equate having some of their comments deleted, or being placed in pre-emptive auto-moderation following problematic comments, with being banned entirely – they really are not the same thing at all. However, it appears that once some people become aware that they do not have unfettered commenting privileges here, they prefer to disappear.
These two posts outline persuasive arguments for why more people should refuse to buy into whiny “what about free speech?” arguments about other people’s alleged right to set the tone for the discussions that you are hosting on your website (who’s stopping them from getting their own website and building their own audience with their own resources?).
Website owners are publishers and editors – just like sending a letter to your local newspaper does not take away their choice whether they will or will not publish it in part or in full, a reader submitting a comment to your website does not take away your choice as to whether or not to publish that comment.
THIS IS A SOLVED PROBLEM
As it turns out, we have a way to prevent gangs of humans from acting like savage packs of animals. In fact, we’ve developed entire disciplines based around this goal over thousands of years. We just ignore most of the lessons that have been learned when we create our communities online. But, by simply learning from disciplines like urban planning, zoning regulations, crowd control, effective and humane policing, and the simple practices it takes to stage an effective public event, we can come up with a set of principles to prevent the overwhelming majority of the worst behaviors on the Internet.
If you run a website, you need to follow these steps. if you don’t, you’re making the web, and the world, a worse place. And it’s your fault. Put another way, take some goddamn responsibility for what you unleash on the world.
If publishers will not accept the responsibility of leadership in their communities, they should at least shut down their comments and defer that leadership to other publishers within their community, instead of letting that leadership fall to the cranks, bigots and profane who pollute unmoderated comment sections online.