Taking Responsibility For What People Say On Your Website

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.


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.

links h/t Podblack Cat

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy

Tags: , ,

9 replies

  1. Heh, if people think HAT is ban-happy, they should try Geek Feminism. If we had taglines, one of them would be “happily banning you since 2009″.
    As a slightly tangential note, one thing I find hard about sites like Facebook and Google+ is that there’s less perceived ownership of threads than I find in many blogs. People just leap right in and start stoushing if they’re in the mood: there’s no notion of different people having different preferred comment policies or no-go areas or simple intolerance for conflict in their space.

  2. Man, the “but my free speech!” line shits me to tears. What’s worse is when some arsehat has said something that is now resulting in negative consequences pulls out that old canard.
    Free speech does not work that way, arsehat; you’re free to say what you want with your own resources. This does not mean that your speech will never have any consequences to you. I just means that the government will not punish you for expressing a non-actionable opinion.

  3. At risk of sounding like a suck-up, I appreciate HAT’s comment moderating policy. It makes it a much more pleasant place to visit, and does away with many of the problems that other online feminist communities that I frequent have.

  4. Exactly what Alien Tea said.

  5. Thanks all – it’s not a policy that comes without costs. Some people whose voices I generally value have reacted badly to being moderated just like any other commentor, and have stuck the subsequent flounce. I miss some of those voices.
    I don’t miss most of the others who flounce at all.

  6. just de-lurking to also express appreciation for HAT’s comment moderation!

  7. Signing on to Alien Tea’s view as well.

  8. I don’t say much, but I too appreciate the comment moderation here.

  9. indeedly & thank you so much.
    (( one of the reasons i rarely comment is that i agree with so many of “your posts” and i assume it would be “dumbz” to comment (being a non-blogess, non-australien, non-american, non-english-speaker in fact etc., yet avid reader/ess, appreciating & enjoying, ponderously e.g. the “food for thought” i find with “you hoydenz”) just to say “ohyeah & thank you”))

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