Monday, June 1, 2015

Editor's Note: On Internet Argy Bargys and Charitable Commenting

Editors Desk

Writing is an avocation for most who have blogs. Without the resources of a Madison Avenue magazine, a blogger is writer, editor and publicist. When a blogger shares his thoughts with the world, it can be a cathartic, but it also a desire to engage others with one’s thoughts. This desire to be read and engage readers can be likened to the philosophical conundrum: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?” 

 In the era of dead tree editions (traditional publishing), a commenter would have to go through the bother of putting a pen to paper and then mailing it to a publication. The editors sifted through the correspondences, selecting the best of the bunch and often editing them for space and content for publication in a future edition. This could take weeks to transpire. 

 Things move much more rapidly in the internet age. One can hurriedly compose a comment and immediately share it with the cyber world. Sometimes vexed writers rush to publish a poison pen reply to a piece before applying common sense and civil decorum. Or an impassioned commenter pushes “Enter” without spell checking or editing a response. 

 As one who writes and maintains a website, I appreciate engaging with readers. Feedback can be useful (and is often incorporated without fanfare). I prize having civil exchanges, even with those whom I do not see eye to eye. However, I believe that in social media that the veil of absolute immunity often brings out the worst in people. From my perspective, it’s fine to use a handle when responding. But a site which allows for unmoderated and anonymous comments tend to quickly degenerate into crude, ad-hominem snark fests which are far afield from the original point. I have no desire to let the lunatics run the asylum, so to speak. 

 When comments are on point, they move the chautauqua of ideas forward. Disagreement can allow for a refining of ideas, even if the internet interlocutors ultimately retain their original positions. I have friends with whom I strongly disagree and can keep honest by exchanging challenging comments. Yet I do neither hold it against them that we differ nor do I fixate on the disagreement. 

 In my experience, when comments amount to a prolonged back and forth between two posters, it loses the rest of their audience as they become indulgent and unfocused. Thus their dialogue should be taken “off line”. So after couple of volleys over an issue when there is an impasse of views, I act as an editor and end the exchanges. 

 Some over-eager commenters perseverate and want to continue “sharing”. I am of the belief that it is preferable to chastise in private. Thus, I will send an email as a courtesy to let the riled up reader why continued comments restating the points will not be published. 

 Another sort of commenter thinks that it is sufficient to damn the published viewpoint and then simply redirect readers to another site. It can be a courtesy to include source material via hyperlink at the end of an argument. But a one word response and a hyperlink is not argument, it’s crass marketing. If you want to promulgate a position and not engage on topic, attract your own eyeballs. 

 Then there are the self important commenters who thinks that they can dictate how someone else should run his site. Good for them. They can do what they want on their own blogs. So there is no confusion, let me state my editorial rules for comments: 
1) No ad hominen attacks (gratuitous personal attacks without reason for those in Rio Linda) 
2) No profanity 
3) Stay on point