Thursday, May 10, 2012

Civility and Comments

Comments made to blog posts are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, having a dialogue with readers, even those who mask their true identity, adds a dynamic element to a post or story and makes it more interesting. On the other hand, some commenter’s are much more caustic online than they would ever be in a face to face conversation. As Joshua Topolsky writes in this column in The Washington Post, “Despite years of attempts to massage, curate, coax and moderate, the unbridled “discussion,” the Internet still seems mired in the kind of discourse best reserved for a bar brawl. Or that bar’s bathroom wall.”

“I think the problem with commenters isn’t so much a technology issue as a social one. Somehow we’ve rewarded, or at least learned to tolerate, a world where the drive-by insult is the norm. As we crank up the ease and pace of our “social” interaction while cranking down our standards for what actual discussion should look like, we seem to be increasingly comfortable with people simply behaving badly.”

I can certainly relate. About three years comments started getting a little out of hand here at To2C. Increasingly I found myself using the delete button. I didn't take these actions lightly. I actually appreciate it when someone takes the time to comment, even if they vehemently disagree with what I’ve written. In my view there is a very thin line between deletion and censorship. In an attempt to address that I will usually allow a nasty comment or two from a reader before I hit the delete button. My reasoning is that this type of comment says as much about the intellect of the person making the comment as the issue being discussed. Once that profile has been established however, its time to ask them to leave the playground.

Adding the Diqus commenting widget has helped somewhat. Initially it came at the expense of a drop off in comments but that seems to have leveled out now. The one thing I like about Disqus is that it allows the moderator to see if a stream of comments with different anonymous labels are actually the same person.   

That’s really just a band aid. As Joshua points out technology can’t really solve this problem.

“Maybe the way to encourage intelligent, engaging and important conversation is as simple as creating a world where we actually value the things that make intelligent, engaging and important conversation. You know, such as education, manners and an appreciation for empathy. Things we used to value that seem to be in increasingly short supply.”

And then there’s that…
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