Wednesday, April 09, 2008

culling the crowd

Some of you may have noticed that this blog, unlike many others, does not require a word verification or a blogger name/password in order to comment. That's mostly because I blog about things most people aren't interested in discussing--personal news, occasional theology and posthumanism just doesn't get much traffic. That's fine, because that's how I like it.

But other blogs and groups are organized around the purpose of generating discussion and/or debate. GKB's was a veritable hotbed of controversy back in the day before he got kindler and gentler. It can be an enjoyable or exasperating distraction, and it can sometimes lead to a helpful clarification or expansion of a topic, a sort of virtual seminar, if it goes well. But it doesn't always go well and probably mostly doesn't; many people have noted that the anonymity and disembodiedness of virtual encounter in the blogosphere tends to encourage loosened standards with regard to the epistemic virtues of intellectual rigor, honesty, humility, and courtesy.

Which brings me to my question. How do you determine when enough is enough? What standards are fair when deciding to block comments or bar participation? And how do you balance this with maintaining a spirit of openness to dissent--an absolutely necessary component to any collaborative human effort at seeking truth together? When does moderation become censorship? When does dissent become blasphemy? When does consensus become tyranny?

And what might our alien friends think of all this misbehavior?


Scott said...

I have very rarely censored a comment. When it crosses a line (subjective) I have done it.
But usually I let people say what they want. I don't comment on blogs that moderate comments.
But you ask great questions. It is much the reason that I don't blog about nonviolence, the atonement or politics as much as I would like. It's impossible with the dogmatic.

JTB said...

I find that I have a very strong impulse to comment on just those threads of discussion that promise to suck me in to the angry/distracted/obsessive frame of mind that is so bad for everyone. This post was an effort to not comment on a facebook group discussion. I also emailed a complete stranger from that group in an earlier effort to avoid commenting in the actual discussion (though I'm happy to say that this odd action was not received as weird and stalkerish and I have a new facebook friend out of it). But it just seems so twisted that I have to sublimate my desire to participate in discussion because I know it isn't healthy...because it's clear IMO that this particular discussion is one gone so awry that collaborative pursuit of truth is no longer really one of the epistemic goals. Ugh!

Anyhow, I'm all in favor of basic ground rules for courtesy but when one of the requirements is that everyone sign on to an ideological agenda beforehand, I can't see how the result is anything but collective intellectual masturbation. I guess that can be affirming but this gal would rather stay the hell away.

R-Liz said...

It's handy Scott's commented on this b/c I was thinking about his blog when reading this. There are many regular commenters on Scott's blog that just plain tick me off. And sometimes I wish they were reined in some, but then I also don't want massive censorship. And I appreciate that he doesn't want to whittle his blog audience to only those who completely agree with him.

And then sometimes I wonder where you are, JTB, in the midst of those heated comments on Scott's blog b/c, well, we tend to agree on a lot of things and I think you're better at being succinct and non-emotional when commenting than am I. But it looks like you may not be commenting for the same reason I'm not. You know where it may take you, and will it really be worth it in the end?

This is something I also struggle with, though. As with the example above, I LOVE Scott's blog, and have been challenged and stretched in so many ways through it. But I absolutely HATE the mean-spirit behind several of the commenters (and what they incite within me), so lately I've been shying away from his blog so I'm not so easily angered (or disappointed in fellow believers). I'm not sure if that's the best thing to do, though.

JTB said...

where am I...somehow my ability to keep up with blogs has been steadily degenerating of late. I read and comment far less than I used to and I also blog less frequently myself. So I guess I'm totally unaware of heated discussions over on Scott's blog of late...

Anonymous said...

I have mostly decided that it is necessary to bracket online discourse--like all other discourse--before joining it. It took me a very long time to learn the fact that "Someone is WRONG on the Internet" is not sufficient reason to join or continue an argument, especially given the peculiar fact that online arguments somehow (whether because of the anonymity you speak of or something else) encourage trolling. So it is important to decide what one's realistic purpose for online argument is. In ad hoc arguments, it is largely unrealistic to overturn the status quo or even to counter through the force of one's logic misconceptions held by others. Even if one always counters suppositions with facts, one will be unlikely to sway another entirely; one may, however, make it such that the person stops supposing. Online arguments that establish upfront rules for discourse can have other results.

Similarly, it is worth deciding whether it is more or less effective to expend one's passion and advocacy in alleyways or in the forum.

Scott said...

R-Liz, I'm saddened you stay away from my blog because of a few. I have been frustrated with my blog as of late and much of it has to do with a few people who refuse to participate in a healthy manner. My comments on controversial matters have about ended, although I have plans to try again.
I think one of the reasons that the nonviolence discussions went so well is because I did set some guidelines first. Those guidelines weren't assent to an ideology but the idea that we could agree to disagree and still work through issues in a christlike manner. I'm afraid some people just can't understand that.
I hate that this struggle exists. I don't want to censor and I don't want to avoid difficult discussions. I live in the reddest of states and work in a largely evangelical culture. I don't have many outlets in which I can work through these issues with like minded folks. When my blog first began to get some comment traffic it seemed that those who understood where I'm coming from weighed in frequently and there was some good give and take. I think a lot of them, like Ruthie, gave up when some refused to do more than raise their voice.
Oh well, there's always Twitter.

JTB said...

Scott, if there's one thing that might keep me away from your blog in the future, it's Twitter.