Metablogging Censorship: Is It Ever the Right Call?

As most common readers will know, this blog, normally a pleasant and fairly civil place, has seen a not-so-subtle deluge from birther hordes, on account of our few posts on Orly Taitz. Thankfully, it’s also brought in a lot of inoffensive readers, and some great commenters, too. Welcome!

Of course that leaves the question of what to do with the set of crazies. Screeching about birth certificates and other such nonsense is one thing, but wishing for public figures to die is another entirely, and no part of any civil discussion. I’ve never censored commenters (the farthest I’ve gone is disemvoweling a few persistent birthers), but this particular individual, and others like her, seem to push the limits of my commitment to free speech.

Although the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private actors, no-one should silence another lightly, even on the internet. You’ll notice that any blog that does censor comments for ideology alone quickly descends into an echo chamber, useless at best, and a breeding ground for disconnected extremists at the worst (RedState, Confluence, Conservapedia).

Still, with narrowly tailored rules, that worst-case scenario can be avoided. I’ll never spam or delete comments for their political content alone; never have, never will. But I will censor comments that fall outside the lines of First Amendment-protected speech, if any emerge (they have not), and I am open to censoring the comments of those who add nothing to the site, and instead make it a less pleasant place for other readers. I say “open” only, because I remain unsure of the best course to take. Your suggestions are welcome to break my mental deadlock.

On a more pleasant note, a big “thank you!!” to Mike C., for the e-mail I received, copied below: an excellent summation of the problem posed by some pundits. “You’re welcome” for the review, but much more, thank you for reading and taking the time to write.

My father gave me a copy of the book with a very heartfelt note saying how worried he was for me and his grandchildren with the direction the country is going.  He used similar terms as Mr. Beck to describe the current administration – elitist, intellectuals, etc.  It saddened me very much that a well educated and well traveled man in his late 70s could be drawn into this propaganda – but my father’s generation, I believe, is the foundation of Mr. Beck’s (and Limbaugh’s) audience.  They truly are the Greatest Generation, but also the most exploited – mainly for the undying desire to follow self-proclaimed “patriots”.

Your review [of Beck’s book – Ed.] was insightful and mirrored my own feelings while reading the book – although I think I was far more horrified at the prospect of Americans buying into this viewpoint.   Now I just need to figure out how to gently tell my father what I think about the book – but most importantly to show the love and respect he deserves for writing the letter of concern for me and my children.

Thanks for providing common sense about something that lacks it completely.

Again, thank you for reading, Mike C., and thank you to all readers.

Advertisements

5 comments

  1. Anzezzle · ·

    Could you make a rule for NO EXCESSIVE mixing of CASE unless you are QUOTING e.e.cummings? I feel that would remove some of the more fringe elements.

    In a more serious tone, I’d shy away from any outright banning (unless matters become seriously drastic) and tend more towards disemvoweling. When offended parties cry “censorship” I’d like to be able to figure out what’s been censored.

    1. I agree. I’m much more in FAVOR of a subtle use of bold and italics. But actually that’s a bit tougher to pull off in the comments.

      1. Yeah, I much prefer bolding and italics to capitalization to add emphasis. Basic html is allowed in comments on many blogs these days, and basic html is something I think all denizens of the internet should be familiar with. Of course, everyone should also know how to use emphasis appropriately, understanding that it is not necessary in every comment.

  2. BerlinCitizen · ·

    Attracting comments from the far right might also be a good sign: Your blog gains popularity, even on the other side of the political spectrum. (OK, I have to admit, Convervapedia is a counterexample — they have more “popularity” on the liberal side than on the conservative).

    Announcing the removal of comments makes me a bit afraid. I think it’s easy to start with an “remove what adds nothing to this site” policy, but you have to restrict yourself carefully such that this rule does not expand slowly. Remember: In the beginning CP was much more open to liberal comments. Most of the admins really tried to stick to the commandments. This eroded slowly, and after some years, the last “good” admin (PJR) left.

    On Wikipedia, they collaps talk page discussions which they consider worthless. These contributions are still there for people who are interested, but not in the way of others. Maybe your blog-software also allows for such a thing. Or you move stupid comments to a stupid comment area (with a note about the move, such that people can find out where the comment was supposed to be).

    Keep up the good work. Your blog gives me interesting insights (I don’t know any better word for this, although I hate it since Andy S. started loving it) into US politics.

    1. I don’t think that madjewess posting mean incoherent comments on every page is good for the blog. It makes less for discussion and more, insult back and forth with madjewess comment section.

      I like aol-blog’s comment system which highlight upvoted comments and grays out downvoted comments. But sometimes that can be used to create a community of people who approve of arguments they agree with and disprove of ones they don’t.

      As an example:
      http://www.joystiq.com/2009/08/06/risk-halo-wars-gets-a-bombastic-gameplay-free-trailer/#comments

      I’m not sure how hard that kind of stuff is to implement.

%d bloggers like this: