Warren Ellis has a great post about why he’s disabling comments for his blog:
Which brings up another thing, and I’m not going to ascribe it to Charlie, who is a nice man, but it’s real – sometimes, your commenters, by which you often mean your audience and your readership, are really fucking annoying, and sometimes you don’t like them. Which you can’t say. Who’s going to pick up another book by a writer who says “My readers are awful pieces of shit and I can think of twenty of them, right off the bat, who should be drowned in hot pig blubber”? Nobody. “My audience are all complete pissflaps. Have you read my website comments threads? Utter inane gibberish. I would like to train a giant horse to fuck out all their eyes.” Who’s going to say that?
(via Heidi MacDonald’s post on the rather essential comics news blog “The Beat”.)
My little corner of the Web gets the sort of traffic and comment volume that (charitably) marks it as “A cherished hidden treasure,” at best. At worst, it would indicate that my monthly sponsorship rates (if I sought advertising) would probably start off at “buy me a beer at WWDC” and max out at “buy me a non-store-brand beer.” Nonetheless, comment moderation is a universal problem…particularly when you stray close to the electrified fences of politics or religion.
It doesn’t even matter if you approach them from the left side of the pasture or the right side, either. I could have predicted that when I supported the President’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, I’d hear from all corners: Obama supporters, and those who don’t think he’s doing a very good job; people who want to recognize GLBT — I instinctively feel as though I must be leaving out an initial there but I’ll press on — people as having the same rights as anybody else, and those who are opposed on religious grounds.
But I got it just as heavy when I indicated that I don’t find “The Daily Show” very funny any more. I wasn’t saying anything about the show’s political leanings. I was just saying that the show has become stale and rote, that Jon Stewart is kind of a terrible performer, and the first half of the show usually substitutes playground mocking for shrewd political commentary and pious grandstanding for anything I can readily identify as Comedy. But many folks from the Left really got their wicks in an epic snit over it.
All of that happened on Twitter. I’m happy and grateful that everyone’s reactions to my recent post about Mitt Romney here on the blog were mostly quite polite. You can disagree with me and the other commenters all you want, so long as you abide by the quiet wisdom of the song that Steve Martin’s grandmother used to sing to him:
Be courteous, kind and forgiving
Be gentle and peaceful each day
Be warm, and human and grateful
And have a good thing to say.
[Edited: And this is as far as I got in the epic “Why don’t I print those lyrics as centered text?” coding project, which lasted about twenty minutes before I gave up on figuring out why CSS refuses to let me adjust the indent of the first line.]
[I have said before that every Skype podcast begins with the phrase “Oh, goddamn you, Skype!” Every CSS project, no matter how trivial, ends with the phrase “Oh, **** it. I can’t believe I’ve wasted so much time on something that should be so utterly trivial!”]
Isn’t that the perfect sentiment? It’s always possible to disagree with someone while still being courteous, kind, forgiving, gentle, peaceful, human, and grateful for the time you have on this planet (meaning: when I’m on my deathbed, will I feel as though the 11 minutes I spent cussing out a stranger about the powers of a Green Lantern ring were well spent?). And by “a good thing to say” I mean “something that adds shading and dimension to the conversation.” Though if you want to compliment someone on their awesome avatar, go right ahead.
The only other component of my comment moderation policy goes like this:
“I absolutely love free speech. I value it so highly, in fact, that I have purchased the sole exclusive rights to free speech on this blog.”
And I don’t usually get involved in the discussions here because…well, because I don’t. I feel like I said everything I wanted to say in the post. Also, I don’t want to contaminate the open spirit of the conversation. I’ve been on plenty of blogs and message boards where the author hijacks and steers the natural flow of conversation; it stops being about the topic and starts being about the writer and his opinions. I also don’t like to delete comments unless it’s absolutely warranted…otherwise, you wind up with a sanitized and self-serving conversation.
(Plus: I’m kind of lazy.)
I came up with a genius idea a couple of days ago, however, and if this blog ever got Roger Ebert-scale comment traffic, I’d definitely hire someone to code this up for me. I call it the “Wheel Of Fortune” system of moderation.
Many pro authors say you should try a dumb trick if your writing is moving frustratingly slowly: just banish a certain part of your A to Z for a bit. This paragraph can’t contain any “A”s. Try it. You find that your brain has to slow down and focus on that arbitrary limit. It distracts you, making you pick all of your words with caution.
Okay, that was just one paragraph without using the letter “E” and it took me about three hours to assemble. It’s a great writing trick because all too often, you get trapped by your own writing style. Water carves grooves in rock after a number of years, you see. When that happens, that’s becomes the only path the water wants to take. An arbitrary but ironclad rule forces your writing to flow into new directions.
A site that uses the Wheel Of Fortune moderation system believes that 26 letters of the alphabet isn’t a God-given right: it’s a privilege granted by the site’s owner. When you first sign up for the blog or message board, the system limits you to 16 of the 21 consonants. If you accidentally slip a banned character in there, the forum software will politely highlight the violating words and ask you to try again.
After your first post, you’ve proven to the system that you’re a human being and not a spambot. You will summarily be rewarded with two more consonants. If you make ten posts without doing anything to attract the Swift Fist of Divine Justice, you will receive the honors, privileges, and responsibilities of the full alphabet.
If consonants are used as rewards, then vowels are used as punishment. If you’re mean to someone, you’ll have a vowel taken away. Ideally, that would cause someone to step back and reflect on how they’ve chosen to present themselves to total strangers. But this is the Internet, so it would probably cause a certain percentage to crack their knuckles and mutter “Challenge…accepted.” Annnd then they lose another vowel.
Which vowels? Well, as with all forms of rehabilitation, it all starts with “U,” which takes at least three nuclear swear words off the table. Then you lose your “I,” which is useful from an enforcement perspective because it zorches the first-person singular and forces the commenter to speak in terms of “us” and “we.” That’s definitely a positive rehabilitative step.
Keep it up, and the miscreant is left with just an “A” and an “O.” At that point, I would let this person post all they want. I imagine it would be hysterically funny to watch someone try to be as meanspirited as possible with a desperately incomplete Scrabble set.