June 11, 2010

Clarifying my comments policy

In the comments to A Mascot for White People, reader John wrote:Anonymous, though I might get quite so harsh in my criticisms of Rob, you do bring up what I feel is a serious shortcoming in his blog. This selective choosing of what posts to allow people to comment on.Let's discuss this.

I'm glad you thought my blog was perfect for the first three years, John. Unlike thousands of other blogs that moderate and screen comments, I've generally let people speak freely. I've had to endure countless foolish and ignorant comments from Russell Bates, reader Stephen (not to be confused with blogger Stephen), and others. It was a full-time job to keep up with them, and still is.

This is a common problem with race-based blogs. We hear the same sorts of complaints over and over. For instance:

  • Genocide never happened.

  • Indians owned slaves and killed people, so they're just as bad as Europeans.

  • Racism and white privilege don't exist.

  • Liberals are just as prejudiced as conservatives.

  • You're just being politically correct.

  • Lighten up, it's just a joke, why do you take everything so seriously?

  • Who are you and how dare you speak for Indians?

  • Why do you hate white people, Christians, and Americans so much?

  • Why don't you quit complaining and get a life?

    I've heard all the arguments before, and I don't want to debate them again. I've answered such questions dozens if not hundreds of times. Therefore, I'm limiting the comments on some postings--especially the ones where I make broad generalizations about America, politics, and race. I'm tired of repeating myself.

    Behind the scenes

    Here's why maintaining Newspaper Rock is harder than most other blogs. This isn't like Racialicious or Comic Book Resources where you have half a dozen bloggers and thousands of fannish supporters. I'm putting out more challenging opinions each day than most people do each a week, and doing it all by myself.

    Consider one of these popular blogs. They typically get 25 to 50 or more comments on every posting. The commenters debate all the sides of every issue. If someone posts a question, another commenter usually answers it. Only rarely do the moderators have to intervene, and then only to issue minor clarifications.

    In contrast, my postings typically average, I dunno, maybe 3-5 comments. Yet people often raise huge questions. I don't get comments on the order of "I didn't like Grant Morrison's work in FINAL CRISIS." I get comments on the order of "There goes ignorant Rob again, claiming America committed genocide when it didn't."

    If I could respond to every comment in a matter of seconds, I'd do it. It isn't the the subject matter that bothers me, it's the time needed to address certain issues over and over. I used to have time to fight every battle to the finish, but I don't now.

    What other blogs do

    Let's see what Racialicious, a blog that posts analyses similar to mine, says. Some excerpts from its official comments moderation policy:We generally delete the comments that contain the following words without reading them: “get over it,” “you’re overreacting,” “whiners,” “nothing is ever going to change,” “why don’t you focus on real racism,” any variation on “playing the race card.” Be forewarned.

    We also delete blatant self-promotion and comments where it is clear the source material was not carefully considered. If you aren’t going to bother to engage with the post, we aren’t going to bother posting your comment.

    Don’t make personal attacks. If you’re not smart enough to win an argument without resorting to calling someone fat, stupid, crazy, or whatever, maybe you should work on your rhetorical skills.

    In general, let’s stay away from long, drawn-out arguments and fights. Once a thread descends into point-by-point refutations and denials, it has (not always, but a lot of the time) turned to crap.

    Don’t respond to a post or comment by saying “why don’t you focus on some real issues like the war/starving children in Africa/police brutality/etc.” Newsflash: this is a blog about race and pop culture. If you’re not interested in discussing the intersection of those two things, please go elsewhere.

    Don’t respond to critiques about racism by telling the person making the critique that they’re just too sensitive, or they need to “get a life,” or that they need to stop playing the “race card.” We welcome disagreements here on Racialicious, but make an intelligent case for your point of view. Don’t just dismiss others’ views.

    If all of your comments are variations on the same theme, we reserve the right to ban you. If every time you post a comment it is a variation of “that’s because white people hate black people” or “you need to stop generalizing about white people,” it is generally not conducive to our discussion and only serves to stir up animosity.
    And its unofficial guidelines:This should go without saying, but if you aren’t interested in discussing race and pop culture, or racial identity, this is not the blog for you.

    If you only care about your ethnic group (and feel the need to pull conversations away from the experiences of others) this is not the blog for you. If you don’t think other minorities have it as hard as your group, this is not the spot for you.

    Don’t like what we are discussing? Don’t comment. Skip to the next post. But don’t sit there and derail when others are trying to make a point.

    Please remember, outlandish comments or accusations will not be tolerated in this space without a pertinent--and credible--link to back up your argument.

    Don’t be a jerk. If you are just arguing with someone for the purpose of trying to sound smart, or if you disagree without thinking about how you might learn from their differing perspective, you are not making a constructive contribution to our community.

    Since our writers generally offer their work here, for free, in order to interact with an engaged and informed community, we will do everything in our power to keep the community a rewarding one to participate in--for you and for those of us on the back end. If the comments section becomes a place we do not want to visit, we see no point in maintaining it.

    Racialicious is not a democracy. ... We are the ones who make the rules for engaging in this space and we expect those rules to be followed. If you have a problem with that, there are thousands upon thousands of others blogs on the internet.
    These are all good points. I haven't done much to enforce them before, but I may now. If anyone here doesn't like it, you know what to do.

    Help wanted

    If you want to help write responses from my point of view, John, feel free to volunteer. Or find me some college interns willing to devote their time to this. If not, you'll have to wait until I get around to your comments on SCALPED or whatever. I simply don't have the time or energy to do everything myself.

    Alas, I can't turn on comments moderation for individual postings. If you'd prefer that I turn it on for the entire blog--as thousands of other blogs do--just say the word. It's no skin off my nose if people waste time writing comments that I end up deleting. Is that what you want me to do?

    Therefore, until I hear a vote for full comments moderation, I'm sticking with the present policy. As for your other comments:When Rob is clearly in the right about something--when he's exposing undoubted idiocy or a highly offensive stereotype--sure, he'll leave the comments open for people to agree with him.Sorry, your guess about my motivation is rubbish. Most Americans dislike talk of racism and stereotyping. They don't want to think about their prejudices or mistakes. On almost any issue I raise--mascots being an obvious example--something like 80% of Americans would disagree with me. Yet I'm leaving those postings open for comments.

    So you're flatly wrong about that. Again, the issue is time, not subject matter. I have so many counterarguments at my fingertips that I can rebut any mascot argument easily. Not so when people say things like, "Obama's election proves that white privilege no longer exists." Or, "Americans aren't prejudiced against minorities; they just expect everyone to pull their own weight."

    Moderation in all thingsEither put everything you say out there for people to respond to and maybe critique, or say right from the get-go that you're not interested in anyone else's thoughts and the site is only for you to broadcast your views unopposed.Those aren't the only choices, friend. I'm taking a middle course. For the time being, I'm limiting comments on maybe 5-10% of my postings. You're free to:

    1) Comment on the vast majority of postings.

    2) E-mail me your comments for my consideration.

    3) Post your critiques on your own website or blog, Facebook or MySpace, or elsewhere.

    The last is what I did with my SCALPED critiques, as you know. I didn't want to debate with a thousand people who know less about Natives and Native stereotypes than I do. I didn't have time to correct people's mistakes and educate them one by one. I put my views out for my fans, not for fanboys who'll reflexively defend comics companies and pros from an unknown critic.

    I've been way more tolerant than most bloggers in my situation. That's coming to an end. If I become rich and famous, I'll hire people to help write my blog and respond to every comment--because I think it's important. Until then, you'll have to accept a few modest compromises.

    All clear? For more on the subject, see Anonymous Cowards Dislike Stereotype Postings.

    John Lees said...

    Hi Rob,

    Out of respect for your previous request, I'm no longer going to remain anonymous.

    A lot of what you say here is pretty reasonable, but I'd just like to point out an interesting thing about your choice of words:

    "Therefore, I'm limiting the comments on some postings--especially the ones where I make BROAD GENERALIZATIONS about America, politics, and race."

    But isn't that the very kind of thing that a blog that has so eloquently illustrated how damaging broad generalizations can be should be striving to avoid, and would in fact want its readers to warn against if they were indeed used?

    I can understand not wanting to have to read torrents of abuse and flames on your blog. But my concern stemmed from the fact that so often you'll use phrases like "Nobody can disagree with me that, etc etc etc..." and then in a follow-up post on the same subject, "I've yet to hear from anyone able to voice a counter-argument to etc etc etc." And at a glance, someone might look and not see that replies have been locked, but just instead see the "0 Comments" marker and think "Wow, Rob's right, nobody can think of any possible way Rob might be wrong here." It creates a false positive.

    Insults and personal abuse? Unacceptable, absolutely. But debate and counter-argument, if kept civil, is very healthy - it can even help strengthen your own stance on something if you have to think about it and think about precisely why these opposing argument are wrong. And nobody would seriously expect you to reply to everything. You've always done a very good job of linking back to previous commentaries that cover similar ground, so people can get an easy reference to the "Cliffs Notes" of your opinion on that matter.

    But you have your policy on comments, and you explained it, and that's fine. I was just elaborating on my viewpoint.


    John Lees said...

    As far as SCALPED is concerned - yes, it is very easy to dismiss fanboys who just reflexively lash out at someone who attacks the comics they like. I'll admit in my early postings I was like "Who the hell is this guy, your knickers are in a twist about nothing!" and I veered dangerously close to that throwing insults mentality. But then I stopped myself, and actually didn't comment for some time. Because that's not me, I generally find attacking someone or something I'm not fully informed about to be mortifying. So I went back, and I read, and I researched your blog, and I tried to get up to date with your views in order to form an informed rebuttal. And I think in your later SCALPED pieces I was able to come armed with arguments that were researched, that provided evidence, and didn't resort to abuse in disagreeing with you.

    I was certainly disappointed that you never did try and answer some of the questions I raised. Maybe it's because you couldn't (just as I would find it hard to debate with you on Native issues I know less about than you do, perhaps it would be similarly hard for you to debate with me on a comic you know less about than I do) or maybe it is just a matter of you not having time to get around to it like you say.

    But here's one thing I will give you credit for. You never deleted my posts. I wrote some lengthy pieces that I feel did a lot of damage to some of the points you'd built your argument around, yet you allowed them to stand when it would have been easy to delete them and ban me. I think back to that repugnant fellow who ranted against Captain America for depicting Tea Parties (his name escapes me, but we were both in agreement in condemning him) - he deleted every comment that dared disagree with him on that topic on his blog. So even though I strongly disagree with a lot of what you say, I do respect you in this regard.

    I did take your advice and go write about SCALPED elsewhere rather than simply replying on your blog. The article I wrote on the subject can be found here, if you're interested:


    Are you still planning on attending Comic Con? If Blue Corn Comics has a booth, I'd very much like to shake your hand and say "no hard feelings" in person. And maybe give you a couple of SCALPED issues I think you might grudgingly like. ;)