Toward a formal comments policy

It’s true that I enabled comments on this blog by accident a couple of months ago. But I kept them up because everybody seems to be playing nice. And: I had always envied how Roger Ebert had built a community of polite, but no less passionate, discourse on RogerEbert.com. I thought I’d keep comments going until I ran into a great reason to shut ‘em down.

I guess this experiment got its first real test this week! A blog post about immigration is always going to inspire good debate, and then the post got Fireballed, bringing in tons of new folks. Whee!

But overall, I’m pleased with everybody’s behavior. I did unapprove a couple of comments today, and none of them were actually all that bad; as such, I had to think hard before clicking them off.

I’m going to write a static page with my commenting policy. Until I do, I thought it’d be helpful to quickly write an alpha version:

  1. I am an enormous fan of free speech. I’m such a big fan of it, in fact, that I purchased the exclusive rights to it on this blog. So I’m going to approve, unapprove, or disable comments in a post as I see fit.
  2. Comments that seem to be directed at specific readers attract my full and most cautious attention. I want to avoid ad hominem stuff, so if I’m worried that a comment seems to be directed against a person as opposed to the comments they’ve made, I’ll err on the side of keeping the discussions at room temperature.
  3. As a visitor to other sites, I get bored when I see a comment thread that’s dominated by two readers arguing with each other. I’m inclined to cut off those back-and-forths after a couple of exchanges, unless the exchange of ideas seems to be deepening the conversation.
  4. If I’m on the fence about keeping a comment visible, the fact that you used a real email address will tip the scales. A real name is another big plus, but I appreciate that some people choose anonymity on the Web to maintain their personal safety and other good reasons.
  5. Try to keep the language PG-rated.

That’ll do it for now. Keeping comments on adds another item to my daily to-do list — at minimum, I need to nuke spam comments — but it’s well worth it if people feel like I’ll have their backs if they speak their minds and treat others with dignity and respect.

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