Comments sections

Tauriq Moosa linked to a 2014 article of his on comments sections after making this tweet:

His current handle being “end comments sections” which may give away the punchline a little.  He says at The Guardian:

Some find great value in comment sections and one feels almost obliged to say “Not all comment sections”. They are, like the internet itself, tools: we don’t discard wrenches because of a few accidents. Yet, if people start using wrenches to mostly beat each other with, maybe it’s time to radically rethink whether they should be allowed at all.

The precious way comment sections are viewed as a kind of right – by site owners and commenters – needs to change. At best, they should be heavily moderated and shut off without apology, viewed as gifts; at worst (?) removed altogether. No one is shutting off every open blogging platform and internet forum in the world where commenters are free to take their opinions.

It’s about time we combated entitlement by prioritising safety, solidarity and quality (as places like CreepyPMs do) over so-called “free speech”, that benefits only the loudest and usually most vile.

Or you know: shut them off altogether.

He’s mainly addressing comments sections on major news sites, which are admittedly the whole Mos Eisley rather than the mere cantina of Twitter.

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But I think the same points apply to comments on blogs, chiefly: you may not make the comments, but they are part of your site. Reading them is part of the experience many visitors will have when they open a page you have created and published for the world to see.

I’ve had this argument a time or two with leftwing blogs, though it’s best represented by the wide-eyed, “who me?” defences offered by David Farrar every time some slut-shaming/genocide-advocating/homophobic/bigoted/hateful crap goes down in the comments at Kiwiblog. Most recently, one leftwing blogger lamented that comments from notorious rightwing agitator Redbaiter always slips “right through” the spam filter.

When we run blogs, we’re responsible for the content we host. We may do this in our free time, and I’m speaking from a position of hardly ever having to moderate comments because Boots Theory may be amazing, but it isn’t a Top 10 on Open Parachute kinda operation. Heck, one reason I’ve not been blogging at The Standard is avoiding the shitfights that occur when multiple moderators have very different views of what’s appropriate to publish.

But these spaces are ours, big or small. Right now, I have four username/email combinations set to automatically go to moderation (a ridiculously small number). All first-time comments need to be manually approved. It’s a single tick-box in WordPress. It’s that easy. Bad stuff may slip through – and the solution is to edit, delete, ban or auto-moderate as need be, not throw our hands up and say “oh well, I guess I’ll just let this horrible pile of dogshit sit on my doorstep then.”

That’s how I like to run a blog. It’s not about deleting everything that I disagree with – you can look for yourself, and stop using that tired old “echo chamber” line while you do. It’s being proactive and conscious of the kind of content I am in charge of – even if someone else wrote it and hit the Submit button.

After all, it’s a big ol’ internet out there. Anyone can go start their own blog and say literally anything they want on it (barring a few of the classic no-no’s like “making death threats against the President of the United States”). And other people will judge them by the company they keep, and the conversations they nurture, too.

3 Replies to “Comments sections”

  1. Of course, starting your own blog and building up a readership takes time and effort. Far easier to coast along on someone else’s blog and comment away.

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