Comments. Boy, I Don’t Know.

I don’t generally like comments sections. Though I appreciate the ethos behind them, the notion that a blog is a place where folks can continue an article’s discussion beyond the written post, it rarely serves this purpose. Most of the time, in my experience as a reader and writer, comments are usually a bulliten board for banal or thoughtless exclamations, and at worst, a cesspool of hostility and idiocy.
Freethought Blogs clearly is identified with a robust commenting culture, and its commenters have exemplified both the best and worst of this. Indeed, most of the time in this particular blog’s short history with FtB, the comments have been friendly and considered.

But it doesn’t take much to draw the attention of the parade of fanatical ignoramuses.

So, look, I want to give the well-meaning folks a fair shot at participating in the discussions here (and I’ve actually really enjoyed some of the comments on posts about technology and gadgets) before I decide to shut the whole comments section down. Which I’m really close to doing.

But in order to have folks behave in a manner that I think suits this blog, I probably need to lay out what the comments policy actually is. Fine then.

So here’s how this is going to go.

First and foremost, this is my blog. I am the supreme evil dictator of this stake of Internet property. It’s not a democracy, it’s not a town meeting with the city council. I’m not disinterested in other people’s perspectives, but in the end, this is my space and it’s going to reflect that fact.

I have no obligation to host a comments section at all, and many of the best blogs have none (Andrew Sullivan, John Gruber, etc.). And no, that’s not an example of “censorship,” and it’s not silencing anyone. The Internet is a big place, and if you really want to respond or react to something I’ve written, you can do it on your own blog. Your links back will only increase my Google ranking.

While I do have comments, here are the rules, and they’re simple. You can’t comment here just to abuse or be an asshole to me, other commenters, or anyone else. I will be the one who decides what counts as abuse or “being an asshole.” Debate and disagreement with me is fine, but if you get shitty about it, I’ll mark you as spam. I may just decide you’ve got a crummy, nasty attitude, and that’ll mean you’re out. Again, I will be the one who decides what counts as shitty, crummy, nasty, or what have you. Again, if this doesn’t please you, start your own blog and complain about it there.

Needless to say (or is it?), racist, sexist, bigoted comments, or anything containing threats, won’t be tolerated.

If a comment thread goes off-topic, straying into subjects irrelevant to the post in question, I’ll probably turn comments off for that post.

Life is short, and I have no incentive to waste my time by subjecting myself (or my tens of readers) to a bunch of abuse and garbage.

Hopefully, things will be cool, and there’ll be little reason to act on any of this.

But if it becomes a waste of time or even an additional source of stress, well, I’ll just shut the section down.

(Note: The title of this post is inspired by this immortal exchange. I hope Jed Bartlet does not want to kick my ass.)

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22 thoughts on “Comments. Boy, I Don’t Know.

  1. I think you’ve officially joined the #FTBullies now… Banning people who disagree with you!!11! Although it took a bit more for Crommunist -> him editting the trolling/asshole comments from some loons into highly amusing and more truthful statements very quickly moved him from “One of the reasonable FtB’ers” to one of the “craziest”. Apparently childish piss taking is the worst thing in the world to the loons with “@ElevatorGATE” etc on their “side”… I think as not being one of the key hate figures you’ll probably get away with little rubbish to clear up, but I could be wrong.

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  2. Hi Paul, I think it’s totally okay for you to draw the line however you want — it’s your blog, do whatever is going to make you happy and give you less headaches. Even if that means turning the comments off sometimes! One of the stupid memes going around is that FTB is some big echo-chamber group-think hivemind, which falls apart once you look at the comment sections and the comments policies of all the various blogs. For example, Dana Turner, Zinnia Jones, and Greta Christina all run very different ships compared to the PZ leviathan, yet the fanatical ignoramuses you mention tend to believe all of the varying blogs run exactly the same as Pharyngula, with wholesale banning of FREEZE PEACH! and where the slightest dissent confines you to the Dungeon. Tosh, I say.

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    • And again, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with bloggers who ban and block as much as they want. Nothing stops anyone else from responding at any length anywhere else on the Internet.

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  3. It’s interesting (for certain values of interesting) the kind of entitlement mentality that allows certain people to presume that bloggers are beholden to them, both in terms of content and providing them with somewhere to voice their opinions.
    At this point in the history of blogging it appears the two most heinous crimes you can commit are writing about things those people don’t want to hear about (say, misogyny in the atheist community) and not allowing anyone and everyone to spout their ill-advised and poorly considered drivel in your comments section.
    If only you were prepared to only write about how bad/dumb/evil religionists were and appreciate the veritable orgy of self-congratulatory comments it would inspire…

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  4. I think the level of exaggeration, demonization, and general mindlessness we see on the comment sections is a problem. Hosts such as yourself are not obligated to listen to a demoralizing toxic brew of garbage all the time!

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  5. I recognized the reference, but I’m not sure it’s apropos. Bartlett was slamming… Ritchie? I seem to recall the other guy was called Governor Ritchie, but I may be getting mixed up with another character… for not having any sort of clear stance. It’s a weird reference to make when laying out a policy.

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  6. I think I can understand a tiny bit why you would post this. In defense of comments, I have learned many, many things, been both amused and absolutely horrified at the depths some people are willing to plumb thinking it will make their point or wound another person. I can’t say I enjoy or even read all comments when things start to get ugly, life’s to short to fill it with that much crap. I want to think most people are generally well meaning and I wouldn’t be able to do so if I read to much of that stuff.
    I can only imagine what it would feel like to be the person that put in the work of creating a blog only to see that sort of nastiness dumped onto it, I’m sure it would be depressing and infuriating. I do appreciate your effort here, thank you.

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  7. From that clip maybe I should have given West Wing a chance, I find so much of TV to be about the caliber of many comments. I don’t exclude my own from that judgement.

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  8. Fair enough, Paul Fidalgo.
    Sometimes I think some comments can add a lot and be interesting informative and make you ,well me, think and reconsider and learn.
    Other times .. meh, not so much.
    I try to make positive contributions in the comments myself even if I don’t always succeed and its one good way to get feedback on what blog X’s readers think of what the blogger has posted so I think there’s that advantage to comments sections which I like having but… Yeah.
    Your blog, your rules, your preferences – that simple. No worries.

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  9. It should be pointed out that Andrew Sullivan will sometimes post emails he receives which comment on a post. One of the things I appreciate about him is that he will post comments that take issue with him, so his blog is not always an echo chamber.

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  10. Your blog, your rules. My interest in your blog, vanishingly small. There are other places where I can comment without the blogmeister deciding “this conversation is not what I want so I’m shutting it off.” Quite often I find the initial post by the blogowner to be uninteresting but the comments to be fascinating. Your opinion is otherwise. I might visit if I see what appears to be interesting title on the Recent Posts sidebar. Or I might not.

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    • Wow, I was going to leave a snark filled comment but out of respect to Paul and his wishes for civil discourse on his blog I will not follow the example above. See how that works, Rodney? Considering someone other than yourself?

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      • If Paul doesn’t like comments he can limit comments or go comment free. If I don’t like Paul’s comment policy then I don’t have to visit his blog. Win-win, except for people like you who are too stupid to understand how personal preference works.

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  11. I don’t let people who yell at me into my house, I hang up on telemarketers and rude people and I see no reason for anyone to allow those kind of comments on their blog. No one is obligated to give the Oliver Crangles of the world a platform…
    I’m enjoying this blog, even if I rarely comment…

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  12. Every time someone posts one of these sets of rules, I wonder if I’m the one to blame for it.
    “Your blog, your rules” and “guest in your house” are definitely the right attitudes towards rule changes. If someone doesn’t like it, they can post elsewhere or start their own blog. The only objection I have to limited comments is one that I’m not going to say publicly (hint: I’d like to ask privately but there’s no email address).

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  13. I just realized that my own blog will need a comments policy, as soon as anyone starts commenting there. I agree with your general thrust… my blog has my kids in it, I plan on having a heavy moderating hand.
    On the subject of blog comments in general, I have an old school attitude. If your blog doesn’t allow any comments at all, Andrew Sullivan step right up… then you don’t really have a blog as much as you have a column. There is nothing wrong with being a columnist or having a column, its is merely that I think the ethos of blogging is different than the ethos of column writing. This cat may be out of the bag, seeing as major news outlets have rebranded a lot of their content as blogs, but as someone who loves the blog/comment format I wish we had protected that brand better.
    This has nothing to do with how much I loathe Andrew Sullivan. But OMG I do loathe him so much…

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  14. I support you 100%, Paul Fidalgo. There is way to much crap going around here, and, for example, unmoderated threads on news sites, computer mag sites – watch the Apple/android/Windows/Linux crew get going.
    Only at some sites, the computer ones more so, when bullying and extraneous putdowns and insults start breaking out, it is the other commenters that start to maintain order by pointing out, and chastising, the people that do it, and the error of their ways.
    The shit you are talking about needs to be fought, or eventually it will corrupt almost all discussions, as being abusive starts to become allowed, and then the norm.
    What’s the adage? Two things you should never talk about are religion, and politics. But I love FTb, because that is all that gets talked about, lol.

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