I’ve used the analogy a bit — which I ripped off of Nate Oman — that corners of the Bloggernacle are sort of like cocktail parties being hosted by various sites. You’re in someone else’s house, enjoying various conversations as you mill around, Diet Coke in hand. You may not know everyone there, maybe you don’t know anyone there. But you’re among friends regardless and you all have a lot in common. Now, it’s pretty common to get into some lively discussions at some of these parties. You may not agree with what everyone says — in fact, some of the best conversations come from a sharing of ideas and challenging each other to improve. This much is clear, though: you’re a guest.
I’ve been doing this blog thing for over a decade. During that time I’ve seen a lot of heated conversations, a lot of people asked to leave and a lot of misunderstandings. I wish I could say things are getting better, but they’re not. Conversations are more polarized, more hurtful and more difficult than ever. People are talking past each other in record numbers, assuming the worst from each other and taking postures that are increasingly ridiculous. This is not a phenomenon unique to BCC. Except where comments are moderated heavily, this is happening all over in the Bloggernacle and is happening throughout American social discussion as well. We are drifting away from Zion.
I recognize that for some, the increasingly polarized discussion is inevitably shaped by the initial posts. It takes two to tango, after all. An outrageous post demands outrageous comments. But this is not true. You’re not required to boldly proclaim your opposition to something you read on the internet. If you disagree but are unable to do so in a cogent, kind, zion-like way, then you are not invited to participate. It’s really that simple. I agree that outrageous posts are an issue but the issue is the author’s and, for purposes of our civil conversation, it must remain that way; it is enough for you to note your disagreement and move on. I recognize that may feel unfair. The conversation game at BCC is rigged! And yet. The internet is a big place – if you want to vent some spleen, you can do so on many other sites (including your own!). But we will try to do better here in terms of conversation.
Let me make a few suggestions. Authors can try to provide some sort of notice to commenters where topics are especially sensitive, in an effort to keep the conversation civil. Authors can also be more involved in their own threads to steer discussion. Particularly with respect to gender issues, I’d like to encourage male participants to practice more restraint. There is a tendency to discuss such ideas as abstract notions, political philosophies perhaps. But these are not hypotheticals for many of our readers (and authors). Please consider this thoughtfully, and if you find yourself posting comment after comment, please take a break. The womenfolk will survive, somehow, without the fullness of our male wisdom. It’s ok! And lastly, recognize that we’ll moderate discussion when we feel it’s necessary. If you get a tap on the shoulder, it’s time to take a step back. Most people around here are pretty good about recognizing the value of taking a break.
Look, I’ve thought about these issues a lot. We’ve considered moderating all comments. We’ve thought about barring men from some conversations entirely. We’ve thought about a three strikes policy. All kinds of various approaches. But the basic solution is extremely obvious: we must treat each other as real people. That’s our comment policy.