Making the blogosphere
safe for decent folk
Lee and LexWolf are ruining your blog for everybody else. They… don’t just disagree, but demean and ridicule all those who don’t hold to their position. They… are blog bullies.
Trust me, Herb, when and if you ever come up with real arguments I will be sure to give them proper respect. So far arguments from your side are rather thin on the ground, if you catch my drift…
(E)xpecting civility on a blog where anonymity rules is a bit like expecting mud wrestling to be played under the same conditions as cricket.
By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor
After more than a year of lively participation – and in some cases "lively" should be read as a euphemism – I wonder whether my Weblog is a useful forum. And if it isn’t, what can be done to make it so?
These may seem odd questions to ask regarding something to which I, and many of you, devote so much energy.
How much energy? Well, since I started on May 17, 2005, I have written more than 600 times on that site. In the same period, I’ve had 68 columns in the actual newspaper. Readers haven’t been exactly watching the grass grow, either. Back here at the regular paper we have never received many more than 300 letters to the editor in a single week — including unpublishable scraps without signatures. In the seven days that ended June 16, there were more than 700 comments on my blog.
We’re talking a lot of activity here. A lot of heat. The question is, how much light?
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the comments lately. It’s not that many of them are rude, dismissive, narrow-minded, combative and hostile to anyone who dares to disagree. I mean, many of them are all those things. But that’s not the problem. That has been a factor since the first posts in May of last year. It’s the nature of the medium.
In the daily newspaper, we have a thing called "standards." Letters have to be signed. Writers have to be prepared for phone calls from us asking them to back up assertions of fact.
On the blog, very few sign their full names. Add to that the fact that so far, I have deleted only one comment ever for being unacceptable. That one was grotesquely obscene. (Of course, I delete "spam" messages on sight.)
This creates an atmosphere that some find, shall we say, liberating. And I don’t mind that. Call me what you like. If you say something I haven’t heard before, maybe I’ll send you a nice prize.
Here’s what I am worried about: My less mature correspondents are running off the serious, thoughtful people who came to the blog hoping for the very thing I would like that venue to be — a place to exchange sincere, constructive ideas about the challenges facing South Carolina and the rest of the world.
Lord knows we need a place like that. Check the "debates" in the Legislature, the Congress or on all those shouting matches on 24-hour cable TV "news." Where do most of those get us? Nowhere. Political parties, professional advocacy groups in Washington and closer to home, news directors who see themselves as entertainers, the Blogosphere itself and, yes, the pliable "mainstream media" have in a single generation dragged public discourse down to the point that it seems that a majority of us believe that public policy is about nothing deeper than scoring points with stupid, simplistic bumper-sticker quips.
They make me want to hurl, and I am far from alone. Why do you think voter turnout and involvement is so pathetic?
I have always wanted this page to be something better, and the blog was intended to augment that mission, not replace it in any way. The idea was to broaden the discussion, and share a lot of material that either I didn’t have room for in the paper, or just wasn’t ready for prime-time exposure as an editorial or column.
You have responded, and I have been humbled and gratified by your participation — at least, by some of it.
But now I’m trying to figure out how to make that space more hospitable to the most thoughtful respondents, a place where they are greeted with respectful dialogue rather than low-minded derision. I’m not talking hugs and kisses. I want the arguments lively, and no intellectual punches pulled. The childish stuff, however, needs to go.
Here are my options, as I see them at this point:
- Require registration to leave a comment, with full names. Free people should stand behind their words.
- Let those who want to maintain their anonymity do so, but cull out the comments that I personally see as destructive.
Of course, the best thing would be for everyone on the left, the right and the loony middle to learn how to be cool and play better with others. But if I have to be Daddy I will. And don’t look at me like that, mister.
People on the Blogosphere hate this kind of talk. But there are plenty of partisan blowoff sites for them to go to. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’d like this to be something more. And if I didn’t know that some of you want it to be something more, I would have quit trying long ago.
Anybody have any other ideas? Go to the blog, and speak up. I’m going to give this process a couple of weeks before taking any overt action, drastic or otherwise.
In the meantime, if you have visited the blog in the past and been discouraged, now is the time to come back and help me make the place safe for decent, law-abiding smart folk.
If you haven’t been there at all, what’s wrong with you? The address is right here…