I’ve got to admit it, I’m sick of the whole thing. I’m sick of moderating comments and the blowback that comes with it. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reevaluating my own blogging experience and I’ve worked with the contributors here to hammer out a commenting philosophy and some guidelines.
It is safe to say that our policies and my moderation decisions have not been well-received by all, especially those whose comments I felt needed to be deleted. Evidently, people don’t like that much. Who knew?
I’ve received no end of advice on these new policies – both solicited and unsolicited, public and private, positive and negative, welcome and not so much.
So much comment, so much advice, so much sniping and snarking and grousing and grumping has come that I’m sick of the whole thing. However, I do not intend to let that deter me from what I think is the right thing – to keep our comment streams focused and honoring to Christ. It is a conviction, one I will stand by regardless of uproar or criticism. On this, I have the enthusiastic support of the vast majority of the contributors here.
I take some comfort in the fact that we aren’t the only ones who have felt the need to harness things a little. Kevin DeYoung wrote a great post, The Ten Commandments for Commenting on Blogs, dealing with similar issues. Denny Burk shared his struggle with some of these same things in his colorfully titled post, “Don’t Feed the Trolls.” In the spirit of full disclosure, I referenced SBC Today’s comment policies when I was writing up ours. If you read both you will note the similarities.
I thought I would take one more crack at making sense of this, from a different perspective – a more positive outlook. What makes for a great comment at this blog? Instead of identifying what makes a bad comment, why not focus on what makes a good one?
So, here it goes.
1) A Great Comment advances the discussion of the topic.
Really, boiled to the bone, that is what it is all about. A great comment doesn’t attack another, or settle a score, or initiate a rabbit trail. It takes the topic the author wrote on, engages that topic and adds something to the discussion. If commenters would ask themselves a simple question before they hit “send”, about 95% of commenting problems would be solved.
“Does my comment make a contribution to the discussion of the topic the author wrote about?”
2) A Great Comment is focused on issues, not people.
This dovetails with the first point. Your comment should deal with the ideas presented by the author, or by others who commented on the author’s ideas. They should not focus on people. If you want to see the problem, find one of our many posts that have a comment stream that has 200 or more comments. Read the comments (if you can do so and maintain your sanity). Note how many of the comments address the topic of the post and how many of them are pointed at another person and how badly they are behaving.
3) A Great Comment does not play amateur moderator.
Actually, we are all amateurs here, even the designated moderators. But too often, and especially after we announced our new standards, commenters have tried to help us apply the policies. A good comment just comments and does not try to make Gomer Pyle-style “citizen’s arrests” on other commenters.
I don’t mean this to sound rude (well, maybe a little), but if you want to control a discussion, start your own blog. Here, we have a team of people working on moderation. Let them do their job.
(NOTE: Since there’s been such harsh criticism of the moderation principles here, I’m doing all of it now. Once this dies down and people get a little more used to how things are going, we will begin sharing this time-consuming task. For the time being, direct all your anger at me.)
4) A Great Comment gives evidence of having actually read the post.
How rude is it to criticize a post or enter a discussion of that post when you haven’t read the post?
I cannot tell you how often in the eternity I have been blogging that someone criticized my post (often pretty harshly) when my post actually agreed with their criticisms. It’s bizarre. People read a title and perhaps the first paragraph and then assume that they know what you are saying. Then they make comments that do not actually have anything to do with the post, or even evidence misunderstanding of it.
No one has to read our posts. But if you are going to comment, its a basic courtesy.
5) A Great Comment edifies the Body of Christ.
Even those with whom we disagree in that Body.
This is the hard part. What do I do when someone says something I see as offensive or untrue? It happens on this blog all the time. How should I respond to such an offense? I confront the idea, demonstrate why it was wrong, but I do it without personal insult. If you make a solid biblical argument.
What about heretical comments that are not in line with the biblical gospel? We get plenty of those here. Comments like that need to be answered. But we need to focus on the false ideas, not insult those who promote the false ideas. People like that may be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but they are also deceived by the enemy and enslaved by his lies.
Confront the lies without insulting the one who is deceived by them.
It’s not that hard. We were all taught this in kindergarten. Play nice with the other kids.
6) A Great Comment (sometimes at least) demonstrates wit, creativity and humor.
This is a personal opinion, but then again, everything we write on blogs is opinion, right? I like witty comments, ones that make you think and make you laugh. Those are the best kind.
7) A Great Comment(er) listens to other views and processes them.
There is one thing we all have in common. Imperfection. Because of that, we all say things that shouldn’t be said and advocate ideas that fail the test of biblical logic.
One of the common faults of bloggers is a tendency to caricature those with whom we disagree, to twist their views into unnatural shapes and build logical straw men.
A good blog commenters listens to those he (or she) is talking to, processes their ideas fairly, learns from them and lets his own ideas grow.
I’ve got to go out and mow the lawn. In March. In Iowa. It’s weird. But maybe you can tell me what you think makes a great comment.
And then, next week, maybe we can just POST and COMMENT without spending so much time talking about commenting.