Moderation and Free Discussion

Ever since I’ve gone to moderation, I’ve gotten a lot of flack for it. Hell, even before going to moderation, I got a lot of flack for my discussion rules. Especially by the very people who flagrantly broke them and only received a warning. Recently, my blog was criticized as being “like 1984″ with the implication that my discussion rules are in direct opposition to “open communication and free-thought.” All this said, of course, without knowing or caring about the history behind my choice to go moderated.

Do all of you honestly believe that the decision was made easy? That this is what I wanted from the start — having to wake up and pick and choose which comments can go through? I know this may be shocking, but it’s not my idea of fun to sit here and approve appropriate comments, delete the vicious attacks, nitpick the borderline comments, and then agonize whether my decision was wrong or not. I revise the rules as much as possible, to make it as clear as possible to me (and hopefully all of you) what will and will not make it through, but even then it’s hard for me to reject posts that deserve discussion because the person making them couldn’t be bothered to abide by all of the rules.

I’m going to talk about this once, and hopefully never again. I know it won’t stop the flames. It won’t stop the people out there who act all affronted that I’m somehow taking away their ability to have an “open discussion”. But maybe it’ll be something that I can look back on when these people make me feel bad, or for others to look at if they’re going through their own process of deciding what — if any — level of moderation is appropriate for their blogs.

Because, I’ll let you in on a secret. As much as having your comments moderated sucks, and moderating comments sucks, nothing sucks as bad as needing to moderate comments. And that’s something that I hope anyone who reads this post will understand.

I. Background: The Slow Road to Moderation

You see, this blog wasn’t moderated until about a month ago. It didn’t even have discussion rules until about six months after its conception. My original intent was for this place to be a safe space for discussion and personal growth. That remains my intent.

I’ve just had to learn some painful lessons to realize that I can’t have that without harsh moderation. Not with a feminist site, at any rate.

Maybe not even with a non-feminist site, as all the “true, open discussion” that the site my recent accuser comes from haven’t responded to my invitation to discuss what I said — here or there — with anything but more attacks, or in the best case scenario ignoring me completely to tell the OP how great she is and how she’s unequivocally right and I’m unequivocally wrong. That blog may be getting a lot of comments alright, but it’s having no better a discussion on the issue than I am over here.

But, anyway, back to the past. When I first started my blog, I didn’t want to have any rules at all. I believed, as many of you do, that the only way to have a true discussion was to have it free of modly interference. And it worked when my blog wasn’t known at all; when the only people who commented were friends or the few blog friends that I had made. And then I got into a debate with this random person who didn’t like one of my posts. After a lot of problems, I decided to draft my first discussion rules. They were more a guideline to myself than my posters, so the next time a problem flared up I could know how to handle it instead of sputtering and returning fire.

This mostly worked, but as I began gaining popularity I started getting pseudo-comment spam. After deleting one that had nothing to do with the post at hand except for a vague connection in subject matter, I got an angry e-mail from the poster about how I was censoring them. I tried to explain why it was inappropriate, and it ended with them ranting and raving at me and me not responding anymore. After that I clarified my guidlines and moved on.

Soon my posts were picked up in some feminist carnivals and highlighted on some of the more popular feminist blogs. That’s when my real problems began. You see, there are a lot of angry people out there who don’t like what I have to say. No, not even that. They don’t like that I’m a feminist who says things. It doesn’t matter what they are, because I’ve gotten flames on some of the most bizzare posts. I began to have people threatening me, dismissing me, cursing at me… and these began to overwhelm my threads. I know from experience that the few regulars I have would not be able to help themselves and if I didn’t step in, it would become a flame war.

I still held off. I became more viligant about deleting posts and banning offenders. I didn’t want to go to moderation. I didn’t want to be like the blogs where only the fans get a say. I still don’t. But two incidents made me see that moderation, at least, was necessary. I’m still remaining cautiously optimistic by some of the polite disagreements that I’ve had over my opinions that good discussion is possible.

But, anyway, as for the reasons that I believe moderation is necessary. The first one is very personal. See, I own my own domain and until this incident I didn’t think anything of it. I had vaguely thought of getting a P.O. Box in the past. I knew something like this would happen eventually. But I didn’t think that it would be so soon. I am not, after all, that popular of a blogger. Some guy who was angry at me for banning him sent a threatening letter to the house my domain is registered at. It is not, by the way, my house. It’s my dad’s house. And he was the one who read the letter. It was a tense, upsetting week, especially since I’m in Japan and he’s in America.

Eventually I e-mailed Dreamhost, my host, about it — they did not yet offer a privacy protection service. I explained my situation and why it might mean that I could no longer host my domain with them. Despite receiving an e-mail from them about why they didn’t want to offer that service, the next day the suggestion was approved and now you can’t find my address so easily online. In fact, any mail you try to send to me via my domain will be destroyed without me — or my family — ever even knowing it existed.

But, still, it frightened me to know the length that people would go. Would moderation stop that? No, of course not. But these are the kinds of people who read and try to comment on my blog. People who have no qualms with threatening me and frightening my family.

The second, more direct cause, was brought to a head with my BK post. It has, and continues, to receive a lot of attention. Almost all of it negative. And I’m not talking about the, “I disagree with you, and here’s why,” kind of attention. I’m talking about the “you’re a bitch” kind of responses. But I’ll get more into that later.

Suffice it to say, I realized that I was neither in the right time zone, nor did I have the time, to properly moderate these comments. My BK thread was being overwhelmed by trolls who contributed nothing more than, “I am MAN!!!!!!” and whatever their favourite way of attacking me was, from saying I was overanalyzing to slinging their favourite epithet.

That wasn’t discussion. It was a travesty. It was the destroyer of discussion.

And so I realized that I had two options: let their bile be read until I had a chance to get rid of it (and risk retaliation from my readers in the meantime that would lead to flame wars — further killing of discussion), or slow down discussion by only letting approved comments past.

Taking a deep breath — knowing I’d come to regret it, but knowing it must be done — I stepped forward and put my blog to moderation.

II. It Can’t Be THAT Bad…

I can see it now. You’re rolling your eyes. Thinking to yourself that I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. You have a successful blog, or are a regular at one, and they don’t get that much crap! Sure, maybe sometimes things go off topic. Sometimes you have an idiot or two. But that’s a small price to pay for free discussion!

I’m sure there are bigger blogs that don’t deal with scary issues like feminism or other oppression activism that can pull it off. Maybe even do it and have some good discussions now and then — no matter what the policy, what the topic, what the circumstance good discussion is hard to come by, I think. I cited the offline harassment above not because I think that moderating comments will affect that kind of stuff, but rather to try to impress upon you the scale of harassment I get. And I’m just a small blog.

If you aren’t convinced, here’s just a small sample of the kinds of comments I get daily:

The feminist reactions are really retarded, EVERY other commercial is a slam against men. PERIOD. They make men look like idiots or perpetrators of violence.

Get a life, seriously…Retard.

Your an Idoit. The commerical is entertaining and catchy

youre an idiot. thank you for reinforcing stupidity. is it THAT hard to take a joke? morons

Oh wahhhhh, so bitch girl can have an opinion, but someone else has one and you ban them! *THAT* is a bunch of crap.

BK can have their opinion about having fun too.

And those are just some of the recent ones. I was scrolling through looking for one that wasn’t BK related, but I realized that it would take me a long time to find it, simply because of the sheer volume of hate I’ve gotten in relation to it. I don’t even want to give these people a voice now, but I think it’s important to realize that this is exactly the kind of comment I get at least once a day, usually more. This is what I primarily cut from my blog, not the mostly reasonable comments that break one or two rules.

Yes, I make decisions on those, too, and I’ve been sticking to my guns more closely since moderation. I’ve cut things that before moderation I would have responded to with just a warning. I usually try to e-mail the authors of borderline comments with clarification on why I deleted their comment and an invitation to modify it slightly and repost it — so as to actually have the discussion I assume they were originally going for. So far none of them have responded, and most of them have used bogus e-mails so they didn’t even know I e-mailed them in the first place.

III. Conclusion

If you come away with nothing else from this post, then come away with this: I probably hate moderation more than you do. It’s tiresome. It wears me down to get the flames. It wears me down to have to read posts from people I don’t know carefully as to figure out if they have obeyed the discussion rules or not. It wears me down to think that some of my more vocal regulars might not always obey the discussion rules and since I only read their name before approving I’m likely going to get shit for it one day. I hate getting shit for having a moderated blog, as if that’s the worst thing anyone could ever do to the sacred ideal of discussion.

I hate this, people. I hate having to do it. And I hate that most people who I direct to this post will not read it and not care. You may think I’m out here to be a bitch, to take away your freedom, or that I’m some power trip. And I can’t stop you from thinking that. But, honestly, all I am is someone who wants to have some discussion that doesn’t involve being called a bitch, idiot, or any other kind of slur.

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15 Responses to Moderation and Free Discussion

  1. dorktastic says:

    I, for one, fully support your decision to moderate comments. It’s your blog, and you are entitled to lay the parameters of discussion.

  2. It really, really sucks that you have to deal this. I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate all the work that you do that ensures that your blog is a safe space.

  3. Lake Desire says:

    The comments that get deleted at abusive. And they think you’re restricting them?

    I’ve been meaning to link earlbecke’s Right to Insult:

    People have an unalienable right to be insulting for no reason, with no actual relevance to the sentiment they’re expressing, just because they can, without being questioned about it. This, truly, is the American Dream. The ideal the founding fathers meant to capture when they penned the US constitution was obviously that people be able to make insulting and pejorative remarks at any time with no repercussions, because the only way to actually communicate is through direct and indirect ad hominem attacks. Freedom of speech isn’t about protecting those who disagree with the government or popular ideals. It’s just about people’s right to be insulting.

    Good thing your blog isn’t the USA.

  4. Darth Sidhe says:

    My dear, I’m sure you well know that it is absolutely impossible to have a reasonable discussion with someone who disagrees with you that does not involve having threats and insults flung around. I mean, even if you don’t need to become verbally abusive to make your point, many other people do, and you just have to respect that! Surely you realize that you must put up with someone else’s filth in order for them to think you’re a decent person and worth listening to. After all, if you don’t just deal with something they think is too trivial to argue about, they might just give you something to cry about.

  5. Dora says:

    Because moderating throwaway comments by anonymous trolls which consist of slurs and nothing in the way of ACTUAL DISCUSSION MATERIAL is … stifling discussion?

    None of this is preventing any of these trolls from organizing in public, writing letters to newspapers, calling their government officials, or any of the other substantial aspects of free speech. Yet, somehow, being told not to be an ass on a private webspace is violating their rights. Uh-huh.

  6. deviousdiva says:

    I’m doing the same. I am sick of comments like this from today:

    “Black people love to destroy white women with drugs and big black *(#@.”

    and
    and why don’t you f*** off and die”
    and “I know who you are”

    Like you said I “hate moderation more than you do”

    I hate that I am alone when I read these comments. No-one else gets to see them and see how wrong they are. But if I left them up it’s would be an invitation for all the other idiots to come in and copy. I hate that my regular readers get scared to post comments in case they get attacked too. I worry about my personal safety with these people out there. People may think this is exaggerated but we are not talking about the odd insult.We are talking about an almost daily occurence. And mine is an extremely moderate blog. It seems that these men (and it is 99 times out of a hundred men) see a woman, a black woman at that, and they go ballistic. It’s not discussion. It’s not disagreement. It is threats, racism, personal insults and downright trollishness. I would rather spend my time actually writing and discussing than continually moderateing and hitting delete. Sorry for the huge rant but I have battled with this stuff for too long and I am tired, angry and this post hit the nail right on the head. I would love to link to this post but I would only do so with your permission, I would hate some of the idiots to migrate over here.

    Thanks for the post.

  7. Darth Sidhe says:

    Deviousdiva: I remember reading an article somewhere about how female newspaper editorialists face a disproportionately huge amount of personal, vituperative threats and insults from their readership as compared with male editorialists. Have you seen that article?

  8. tekanji says:

    Not directed at me, but the article can be found via earlbecke’s blog.

  9. Guilded Lily says:

    Here’s the beauty of blogs – if someone feels cheated out of expressing themselves because of moderated comments – they can get their own damn blog! With very little effort they can have their very own forum from which they can spew their own particular brand of wisdom with as much hatred and wickedness as they can muster. And maybe if they are lucky, someone will stumble across their blog someday by accident and leave a rotten comment for them. Thanks!

  10. Killer B says:

    See, I didn’t used to moderate either. I have two vlogs, and one doesn’t get nasty traffic because while I do explicitly state that I’m a feminist on both, one has a feminist title. I also blog on Modern Feminist, so people have more to hate, I guess. Anyway, it took extreme “you bitch whore slut who lost her tampons” kind of hate mail to make me moderate too. I can’t believe you got actual mail. That is terrifying. And yes, moderation sucks. What happens when we go on vacation? It’s insane that we’d have to do it, but whatever. Stand your ground. As I read this, I even went to your rules to make sure I stuck with them and laughed – no offense – when I realized they were so obvious to those of us who get it. I’m always amazed we have to state the basics. And yes, we suffer our hate mail alone. I outta start a hate mail blog where can post it all and feel better. So anyway, keep it up. This is a great space, and the discussions are good because you take the time to make them such. Thank you for that. We do appreciate it.

  11. tekanji says:

    I can’t believe you got actual mail. That is terrifying.

    Tell me about it! It was really the last thing I wanted to deal with because I was in the process of adjusting to life in a foriegn country. At one point I was afraid that I’d have to stop blogging because my dad was so upset.

    What happens when we go on vacation?

    I’m lucky enough to have other people who post here, so it’s unlikely that we’ll all go vacation at the same time :) I understand, though. I’m worried about two weeks from now, because I’ll be gone to Tokyo for a week without internet (I could bring my laptop, but I’m afraid of it getting lost or damaged on the train). I know that Ariel, Jeff, and Luke can hold down the fort, but any borderline comments on my posts won’t be dealt with until I come back.

    As I read this, I even went to your rules to make sure I stuck with them and laughed – no offense – when I realized they were so obvious to those of us who get it. I’m always amazed we have to state the basics.

    I know. It depresses me when I think about how some of those concepts aren’t just basic knowledge that everyone has.

    I outta start a hate mail blog where can post it all and feel better.

    I was actually thinking about the same thing. I usually just take one or two and post them in my private LJ with a nasty fisking. It’s not the mature thing to do, but sometimes it feels good to just blow off steam among people who know me well enough to know that it’s venting rather than a personal testimonial about who I am.

    Thanks for your support. It really means a lot to me to know that the discussions are worthwhile to others in the community. :)

  12. Pingback: The Life and Times of a Video Game Design Student » Game designing while female

  13. Jennifer Lee says:

    I stumbled upon your page as I was doing research for a paper. I would really like to become a member of Shrub.com, but I do not see a link that would allow me to do this. (I’m pretty much computer illiterate, and would greatly appreciate your help, that is if I am welcome.)

    Actually, I was hoping to use the sight to do a bit of informal research on domestic violence, if that is okay.

    Jennifer

  14. Jennifer Lee says:

    Oh, I probably should also state that I appreciate your rules and your site. I attend a small university in Tennessee, so I encounter a lot of hosility from men (and women) who are anti-feminist. I appreciate a place where feminists can express their views without the conversation degenerating into a defense against hate-mail or their right to express feminist views. Thanks for the site.

  15. tekanji says:

    Jennifer:

    I would really like to become a member of Shrub.com, but I do not see a link that would allow me to do this.

    There’s no official way to become a member and I don’t have user registration turned on for this site (although I’ll probably turn it back on once I do my layout update). Back in the day I had a registration system but it kind of fell to the wayside. Sorry for the misunderstanding ^^;

    Actually, I was hoping to use the sight to do a bit of informal research on domestic violence, if that is okay.

    Use away! That’s what we’re here for :) Just be sure to give proper citations if you reference an article.

    I appreciate a place where feminists can express their views without the conversation degenerating into a defense against hate-mail or their right to express feminist views.

    Thanks! :)

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