I’ve engaged in a lot of discussion about comments on websites lately. I used to allow unmoderated comments on this site until the spammers forced me to change that. Then I had moderated comments. That changed when the flamers started. It took too much time to filter out the awful, off topic, and just plain stupid comments that people left. There was not enough spirited discussion and too much mean spiritedness.
Part of the problem is with Blogger. I’ve used Blogger for as long as I have had Tom’s Technology Take. I like a great many things about it. Most of all, I have tools for composing and uploading my writing to the platform. For example, I have a plugin for OpenOffice.org’s Writer that uploads directly to my blog. Lately, I’ve been using Microsoft Live Writer and really like it. It too can interface with Blogger.
Where Blogger really falls down is in comment moderation. There is no good way to verify that people who comment are who they say they are. You can leave comments using only the flimsiest and false information. There is no attempt to verify more than an email address which can be fake too. Subsequently, I saw a lot of comments from spammers and flamers that traced back to nobody. Without accountability for their remarks, some rotten people feel that they can be as nasty as they like. I’m sorry folks but I believe in basic civility.
This has come up recently at my hometown newspaper, The Buffalo News. They have had rather loose commenting rules ever since they introduced comments, about a year ago. This has resulted in comments that were:
- from political operatives not real people;
- really nasty;
- racist, sexist, and every other type of “ist” you can think of;
- full of unverified claims that bordered on defamation and some that crossed the border.
This has led to a change in their commenting policy. They are not eliminating comments but now require a login with a real name and phone number. They have my support. The Buffalo News doesn’t want to cut off discussion or even criticism. They just want people to be civil and accountable. What cracks me up is the number of people who got all up in arms about not being able to anonymously flame people. Makes you wonder at the health of our civilization.
Margaret Sullivan, Managing Editor, in her article about the policy change makes a compelling case for commenting. She wrote:
“The aim of publishing reader comments, all along, has been to have a free-flowing discussion of stimulating and worthwhile ideas — something of a virtual village square. “
This is what is missing when you turn off commenting - the exchange of worthwhile ideas. It is sad that good discussion has been drowned out by the buzz of virtual mosquitoes who only want to suck the lifeblood from civil discourse.
So, I’m going to try an experiment. I will turn commenting back on. It will be moderated. It will require a Google account since the Registered Users option didn’t do the trick the first time. Comments that are nasty, off topic, or plain counterproductive will be summarily eliminated. Comments will not be axed because they are critical or because I disagree with them. I will, however, kill anything that is not civil.
It is time to stand up for proper behavior. The Internet does not give people a pass on decency or allow them to be awful. Even if, as the old New Yorker cartoon said, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” you still have to act like a human being.
Author’s Note: I never publish two blogs in one day. I like to spread them out a bit. This was written but slated for publishing a week later. Wouldn’t you know it, someone asked again why I didn’t allow comments. It’s a sign maybe. Anyway, I have accelerated my schedule and am publishing this now as well as changing the commenting.