Citizens For A Better Norwood

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blog commenting etiquette

For our civilly challenged commenters only

This year has seen an increase in sporadic rashes of uncivil comments, in many cases filled with mocking, demeaning, sometimes hateful language and unsupported accusations directed at community members, elected officials, other commenters, and CBN. We have had to spend extra time we really don’t have moderating and deleting comments, revoking commenting privileges, answering emails about our decisions, etc.

Our vision for the Citizens for a Better Norwood blog from its inception in 2006 has been essentially twofold: (1) In the absence of a local newspaper at the time, we wanted to provide a conduit for news and information about the Norwood community that might not otherwise be readily available to residents, and (2) we wanted to provide a forum where community members could comment about local issues and news in a civil manner. We did not start off with a commenting policy, preferring to moderate comments on a case by case basis. Things went along pretty well this way, with a minimum of moderation required, until January of 2008 when we published this blog entitled “Commenting policy - should we have one?” Following is an excerpt, which is a driving force in our decisions about topics we choose and comments we moderate:

“Last week, the Daily Bellwether’s Bill Sloat wrote about his own conflict over comment moderation in a cautionary blog we recommend entitled “Ohio Blog Sued by School Principal: Toledo Lawsuit Tackles Anonymous Comments.” Three of us put our names on our first blog on 8/2/06, and we have no desire to be sued over either our blog content or anonymous comments. We will continue to moderate in a way we will think will best protect all of us from litigation.”

But it isn’t just the threat of lawsuits that concerns us. We are also concerned about the negative effect of uncivil discourse on our visitors, our valued guest bloggers and others who contribute important information and material for publication, so we want to be crystal clear: the comment boxes are not and never have been intended for use as repositories for rude, crude, disturbing, sniping, personal, hate-filled, mocking, short or long rants. If you find yourself composing an inappropriate rant to post, it’s time to vacate these premises until you can compose yourself. If the urge persists, you can proceed to the seemingly not moderated, wild west City of Norwood Discussion Board and have at it. That’s the online venue to express venom, not this one. And let there be no confusion about this, either: It is government that is mandated by the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment to protect free speech rights. Citizens for a Better Norwood is not a government entity and, therefore, is not charged with protecting free speech. CBN is, however, going to protect ourselves and everyone else from speech we deem entirely too free for publication.

We want our civilly challenged readers to know that we have always viewed this blog as an online home away from our actual homes where all are invited to partake of our offerings, and, using their best guest behavior, participate in rational discussions and debates. Using this analogy, we’re going to describe what it’s like for us and perhaps many of our readers when comments go awry:

Let’s say you, one of our guest bloggers, and 8 other Norwoodians accept our invitation to lunch at home to review and discuss the pros and cons of City Council’s proposed chicken ordinance. Lunch is served, and one of the guests turns to us and says, “The only reason I came today is to tell you directly that inviting people to talk about the chicken ordinance has got be THE most stupid idea ever conceived. But I also see you’re serving us picnic food. I was expecting a hot lunch, not sandwiches, pasta salad, and deviled eggs. I’m offended at your lack of effort.” Another guest, Ed, pipes up and says, “Yeah, I’ll second that, plus I don’t understand why you invited Virginia here. Everybody knows she’s an idiot and a slut.” In defense of Virginia, yet another guest picks up the plate of deviled eggs and begins hurling them at Ed. Just as we’re telling these 3 to leave, you stand up, horrified, and storm out muttering about the people we associate with and how you’ll never come to our home again. And who would blame you?

What unfolded above is intolerable, so we plan on starting the new year with a simple commenting policy that will be accessible under the links on the right hand side of this page. It will express our belief that it is possible to disagree about local issues without being disagreeable. With that as the standard, commenting here may not be for everyone.

P.S. One of us reads foreign affairs expert Steve Clemons’ blog. Just last night, coincidentally, we saw he wrote this blog yesterday about his disappointment in toxic comments left on his website The Washington Note. He responded to a mentor of his who wrote to him, in part: “I hope you realize that you are providing "acceptable" space for some truly hateful rantings. With "friends" like these that you are attracting, you don't need enemies.” Steve’s thoughts about these kinds of comments pretty much echo our own, but, of course, he expresses them so much better than we can.