4 thoughts on “Blogging and Blog Comments: Freedom to Say Anything or Civil Discourse? – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
Comments are published at the sole discretion of the owner.

  1. The junior high school student’s interpretation of “freedem of expression” doesn’t leave much room for understanding of the concept of “editorial control.” A lot of people never develop a more sophisticated view of freedom of expression than that early impulse.

    Freedom of expression has consequences, both for those who publish and those who are shouting nonsense on the streets. I have the right to express something threatening, but a threat is also an action, and in some cases punishable by law. Not all speech is “just speech.”

    I can certainly complain if my voice is ignored by someone who has the power to publish, but there’s no reason to deny them their right to editorial control. If you create a forum for expression, you create the rules. The rules may be just, open, or random and capricious. If I don’t like the rules, or the dynamics that result from that editorial control, I’ll depart and move on.

    Censorship is not the same as editorial control. When the state controls whether a thought may be published or expressed in a particular medium, that is censorship. On the other hand, the New York Times won’t publish every death threat they receive, and, although I certainly have my disagreements with what the New York Times chooses to publish or leave out of their paper, I don’t begrudge them the right to choose which voices appear or do not appear in their paper.

    I delete trackback spam, the occasional random/irrelevant hostile comment, and an occasional comment that I consider inappropriate for my audience, such as profanity laden nonsense. People may have the right to express themselves, but I have the right to set the parameters and consequences in my own forum. When someone comes to a site that I publish, it’s like visiting my house, or at least the front door. If I have a visitor who comes to a dinner party I’m hosting, and they become drunk and behave inappropriately, I have every right to ask them to leave.

    On the other hand, if someone at the same party disagrees politely and respectfully with my thoughts on trade, spirituality, or politics, I’m not going to make them leave the house over that; I’ll happily engage them in dialogue if I’m in the mood, or just change the subject if I’m not, or let that guest argue with someone more interested in corner somewhere. I don’t have problems with people disagreeing with me; I have a problem with hostility and uncivility.

    At the same time, I don’t feel like I have any right to force myself into a party with Christian evangelicals promoting gay bashing, and then scream and yell at them. They shouldn’t feel any obligation to allow me to stay if I do so.

    There are so many channels for expression online that people shouldn’t feel any expectation that their host must entertain them on their own terms. Civility should be valued as much as expression.

  2. You’re on the right track in exploring software solutions to make this new technology do what you want.

    I have been using an analogy similar to what Jason offered (inviting people to my home for a conversation) in thinking through similar issues on my blog. As the host of whatever conversation takes place, it is my part of my role to set the boundaries for the conversation I hope my guests will have. I’ve invited people for a conversation, not a brawl or a shouting match.

    I also think of myself as a publisher. Leaving an abusive comment on my blog means that indirectly I am continuing to publish that comment, even if it is not my opinion. Not even the newspapers publish every letter to the editor they receive.

    The harder issues for me are the borderline cases, where the commenter might be well-meaning but inexperienced or unsophisticated in how to express his or her idea politely. When the comment is from a total stranger, I also have to wonder whether the borderline comment was cunningly written by someone pushing my limits. In the borderline situations I wish I had an easy way to keep the comment from being published while I give the commenter an opportunity to edit it appropriately or tell me they won’t change a letter.

  3. Thanks to Stewart and Jason for their cogent & articulate responses which approach the issue in the kind of broad, comprehensive way that is truly necessary. It is all too easy to make blanket pronouncements like “censorship is bad” or “freedom of expression is an absolute good.” Those slogans sound good. But if you think about human civilization it is not based on the Hobbesian premise that “anything goes.” It is based on norms & codes of conduct. It is when we divorce ourselves fr. these norms that we get into trouble as a species. So I see nothing wrong and everything right with acknowledging that while the broadest possible range of expression is best, there are some limits to blog speech.

  4. You are well within your rights to deny any comments. It is your blog after all.
    Personally I just remove the profanity with comments at the end on why I removed them. And of course spam.
    It doesn’t hinder freedom of expression. He is free to create his own blog at blogspot and indulge in as much freedom as he wants. However freedom of expression doesn’t imply that he can share any podium to express his views. In real life he doesn’t have the right to stand on your garden and ridicule you and your faith or family. However he can do it outside.

    BTW: Any update on the permissions front you were investigating.

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