There’s an ongoing discussion among bloggers concerning comments. Every so often, the dialogue intensifies before going to the back burner again, only to be revived periodically. In the process, volumes have been written about why the vast majority of readers do not leave comments on blogs and how to encourage them to do so. Many bloggers have sponsored contests in pursuit of comments. On the flip side, a fair number have disabled the comment function altogether, preferring to simply let their writing speak for itself and foregoing interaction with their readers.
Much of the debate has focused on the question of whether or not comments should be moderated, i.e., require the blog owner’s approval before appearing on the site. I have never moderated comments on my own blog, largely because I encourage my readers to be honest and forthright in a respectful fashion. If a reader disagrees with my viewpoint, I want them to express their opinion. I guess that I have been lucky so far — no reader has ever abused my open approach by leaving inappropriate comments on my site.
So I really never gave the topic a lot of thought. Until this past week, that is.
Twice in the past week, I have had the experience of being censored by bloggers who opt to “moderate” comments on their blogs.
I wish I could tell you that I said something outrageous, outlandish or even slightly controversial. I did not even attempt to provoke the blog owner into vigorous debate.
In both instances, my remark was extremely benign: On one site, I merely stated that I disagreed with the author’s statements, but did not elaborate. On the other blog, I respectfully suggested that the author’s conclusions about cause and effect in a particular situation might be reevaluated in light of one factor he failed to take into consideration. In neither instance did I insult, belittle or attack the author. But the result was the same: My comments never showed up on their sites. They apparently chose to eliminate my contribution to the discussions. Checking back several times over the course of several days, I noted that comments on both sites are exclusively compromised of endorsements of the author’s ideas and conclusions.
This experience has caused me to reconsider the issue, beginning with the purpose of comments. Obviously, the goal is interactivity. If an author is not interested in getting feedback from his/her readers, a static site is a perfectly acceptable solution.
But once an author determines that he/she wants to “open the floor,” so to speak, is there an implied obligation to monitor one’s site in a fair, balanced and egalitarian fashion? Is there an obligation to allow reasoned and civil discourse that includes the assertion of a viewpoint at odds with the site author’s?
Or is it the province of the site owner to moderate comments in any manner he/she deems appropriate, even to the point of banning any comment from a reader who espouses a viewpoint that differs from his/her own?
It seems to me that it is incumbent upon bloggers who desire to be perceived as responsible and fair to post a comment policy in the event that he/she elects to moderate comments, setting forth the precise standards by which comments will be assessed. Even that is not a fool-proof system, however. In the latter instance I have cited here, the author devotes a whole page to an explanation of the “comment policy,” even proclaiming that “disagreeing with me is positively encouraged.” Obviously, the second part of the equation is simple but elusive for some: If you establish a policy, live up to it in order to assure that, as a blogger, you establish and maintain credibility.
To those of you who maintain blogs, I pose this question: Do you have a comment policy? Is it displayed on your site? Do you moderate comments? If so, why? If not, why not?