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October 25, 2011


A Reminder About Commenting Protocol at StandFirm

A reminder about commenting protocol at StandFirm

Blogs are very like conversations at highly social cocktail parties—groups of interested people gather together and discuss various topics.  The conversations are wide-ranging, but centered around a particular area of interest.  People gravitate to and from the different groups with drinks in hand to discuss different topics at their leisure.

When erstwhile commenters enter into conversational groups [ie, the commenting threads at posts on specific topics] and 1) denounce blogs and blogging in general, 2) chatter on about how ignorant and misinformed the commenters are, 3) declaim against the chosen topic of the blog post and announce that such things should not be discussed or posted about, 4) declare that they are going to stand above it all by not commenting on the post, through a comment on the thread, 5) marvel over the ignorance and arrogance of those conversing for daring to converse about a topic about which they should be quiet, or 6) arbitrarily announce that they will converse loudly about another topic in the midst of the conversational group [ie, women’s ordination, Bush-lied, Islamic jihad, global warming, chasubles, etc. when the post is not about these topics] these commenters make themselves ridiculous by commenting off-topic among conversationalists who are indifferent to their opinions about blogs, StandFirm in general, the ignorance of the commenters, and more.

At a real cocktail party, the hosts of the party would calmly usher the rude conversational intruder who is declaiming against the particular conversation into a soundproof room where he or she can declaim at his or her leisure in splendid isolation.

The StandFirm bloggers will continue to do precisely same thing.

We urge commenters who are philosophically opposed to blogging in principle, despise StandFirm and/or its bloggers as a whole, dislike the alleged ignorance of all the commenters on the thread, loathe the topics chosen, are generally far more informed then 100% of the other commenters, or wish to talk about topics that are not being conversed about at the StandFirm cocktail party to begin their own blogs and speak to themselves and other interested parties within their own houses. 

We do not allow commenters to attempt to derail threads and we revoke the commenting privileges of those who repeatedly make the attempt.  We have done so to revisionists [recently revoking the commenting privileges of a long-commenting revisionist who had declined into angry trolling about the ignorance of the commenters] and we have done so to conservatives.

In the meantime, we value passionate and well-expressed disagreement over principles and details.  Indeed the particular thread that precipitated this reminder [although this reminder has been a long time in coming and there are numerous other examples from the past 9-12 months] about the commenting protocol exhibits several examples of clear, persistent disagreement amongst wide varieties of parties, defending their beliefs and perspectives with vigor and clarity.  We like that and urge commenters of all stripes to give it a try.


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18 comments

I think that many of our commenters will find this thread useful.

[1] Posted by paradoxymoron on 10-25-2011 at 06:51 PM · [top]

Dear staff, thank you for the work you do.

[2] Posted by Jill Woodliff on 10-25-2011 at 08:04 PM · [top]

If I might ask for some clarification:

On another thread (the one which prompted this post, if I am not mistaken), we are being admonished not to comment about ‘tone.’

First, I would like to point out that unless I have missed something, this post does nothing to elaborate on that policy, as it says nothing about ‘tone’ comments being prohibited.

Second, if ‘tone’ comments are indeed prohibited, I would appreciate some clarification of what, precisely, is meant by ‘tone.’

I ask this, because my own understanding of ‘tone’ is that it pertains to the way in which something is said, not what is said; a neutral fact can be stated in a combative or aggressive ‘tone.’ On the other hand, if someone makes a direct or indirect statement regarding another person’s competence or orthodoxy, I would attribute that to the content of the statement (what is being said), rather than the tone (how it is being said). As a case in point, the thread which I assume prompted this reminder is about a practical decision (competence) of an Anglican leader, with regards to its effect on his orthodoxy, and there are 100+ comments on the thread discussing precisely those issues. On the other hand, when such remarks are made offhand to other commenters as a way either of dismissing them or of raising the temperature of the conversation, regardless of whether or not they achieve that effect, as far as I can tell, (a) they conflict directly with the appeal for Christian charity which you all have so wisely posted immediately below the comment box; and (b) they would seem to me to be merely an alternate form or extension of proscribed category (2) above, and (I think) are quite reasonable extensions of category (3) in the comment policy linked at the bottom of the page. Consequently, I would think that in fairness, responses to such remarks should either be permitted as legitimate discussion of the content of a comment, or the remarks themselves should be banned (and possibly deleted).

(3) On the thread in question, some of the removed ‘tone’ remarks have been directed not at visiting commenters, but at members of the SF team. Even if the removed comments were inappropriate and in error, I think this raises the issue of ‘policing.’ If it is SF policy that comments are to be policed only by SF staff, I think that would be perfectly understandable, but it should be clearly stated, and (in fairness to your visiting commenters, and as a matter of good Christian accountability) someone should be assigned from within SF to police the bloggers as well. On the other hand, if you wish the community to be in a measure self-policing, that would certainly be in keeping with the ‘democracy of the blogosphere;’ but if that is the case might it not be wise to ‘err on the side of openness’ in allowing brief reminders of Matt. 5:43-45 that do not derail the main conversation?

(4) Might it not be advisable to include a few lines on these matters as an expansion of the comment policy at the bottom of the page?

It has always been my assumption that, by its placement, the verses from Matt. 5 constitute the foremost aspect of SF’s commenting policy.

I might add (regarding my reasons for mentioning these things) that I was originally attracted to SF from a certain other Anglican news blog in large part because the discourse here was civil, without losing any of its vigor; and because you offered a realistic assessment of the situation we are in, without gratuitous negativism or unbalanced railing against whichever revisionist or supposedly ‘compromised’ orthodox leader has struck the blogger’s nerve; and sometimes even with a touch of humour. Unfortunately, though understandably, this has slipped somewhat as the Anglican ‘unpleasantness’ has dragged on and in many places escalated, and the bloggers have become both weary and hurt. As a consequence, though, this blog has become less enjoyable to read, and less interesting. I do very much appreciate what you do, however, and I hope that the good that you do will continue.

Many thanks in advance for any clarifications that you might have to offer.

[3] Posted by tk+ on 10-26-2011 at 05:24 AM · [top]

Hi TK,

RE: “On the other hand, when such remarks are made offhand to other commenters as a way either of dismissing them or of raising the temperature of the conversation, regardless of whether or not they achieve that effect . . . “

1) These remarks we categorize as “tone” and we do not police them.  In cocktail conversations people may a) roll their eyes, b) snort, c) say caustic things, and d) exhibit sarcasm, all without being shuffled away by the party host.  Further, we don’t feel ourselves competent to police tone among the several thousand commenters who comment here—we can barely keep up with the egregious off-topics, name-calling, and complaints about the general topic of the conversation which commenters have wandered into without our attempting to police “dismissive commenting” or “comments that raise temperatures” of some people.  This is not a bar at 1 a.m. in the morning, or the parking lot outside the bar, but it is also not a classroom or academic hall or tutoring session.  We do not require that people “show deference” to academic or social or moral betters.  I suppose if Mother Teresa had commented here we *might* spring into action and try to get everybody to straighten their ties and take off their caps and wipe the blood off their brows—but maybe not.

Further, all of us exhibit “tones” which others will dislike.  Greg’s breezy indifference is a certain “tone” which many sensitive souls would endlessly bleat about and it certainly sometimes serves “as a way either of dismissing them or of raising the temperature of the conversation” even if the comment was not meant to achieve either effect.  Those are things that commenters should take up amongst themselves using the Private Message system.  If comments evoke *feelings* in other commenters yet those comments do not break the specific rules we have set out—which if you will note concern *actions and words* that can be clearly seen by everyone [ie, calling someone a name, denouncing blogging in general, etc—see other blog posts about commenting protocol] then we do not address those in blog comments but privately.  There are any number of commenters here whose tones for *years now* cause “feelings” to spring up in my breast—and I must swallow those feelings and wait for them to actually egregiously violate the rules before springing forth and striking the banning button feverishly.

2) We codify commenting protocol into “posts” after we have repeatedly said the same thing over and over and over again in comments.  For instance, all of the above post SF readers will be most familiar with already because we have literally said it for years [although some will claim that they are completely surprised and never heard such a thing].

Maybe it’s time we post something about “policing blog tone” [heavy sigh] since we have said that for years now. 

But as a practical matter, cannot commenters see that policing tone—that is, pointing out and complaining about comments that evoke certain feelings in certain people’s hearts or that appear dismissive or that appear disrespectful—will inevitably drag the post off-topic, since it is not about the ideas at all, but about the specific commenter and his tone or his feelings or his intent in his heart or the feelings that he in theory engenders in others?

3) The bloggers police themselves most vigorously via a certain tool that we use *every single day*.  We are almost in constant communication—while carrying on our actual money-making jobs.  For instance, last night I had to be out of contact for two hours and I informed the SF bloggers of that. All of us enter in and comment to one another privately about things we notice and share what we mean to do and how we mean to address things.  Others share how they might do something differently or urge the blogger to re-assess or point out other instances when things have been different.  ***But if our commenters have a problem with a specific blogger, the place for announcing this is *not* a thread, but via Private Message since inevitably this will drag the thread off-topic.***  Commenters can even use Private Message to email *all the bloggers at once* if they choose to.

On occasion bloggers have removed themselves from threads and allowed other bloggers to handle threads.  However, since all of Matt’s comments thus far lie within his normal range of “tone” over the years, I cannot imagine the SF team suddenly deciding that Matt has crossed the line into realms of cruelty hitherto unseen.

Generally speaking when people are mild with others, they receive mildness back.  When people are cutting and full of decrial to others, they receive that back as well.  It seems to me when I review the thread that this is what has happened.  I should also add that it also seems—from past threads—that there are “histories” of certain “tones” among and between various commenters, from all sides. 

Finally, I grew up with three brothers and one 6’4” “field marshal” Dad.  In order to survive and flourish I and my Mother developed more than a little steel.

I—as a woman—have seen nothing in the thread that I have not seen a thousand times over when I was 9 years old.

This is definitely an often caustic place.  Certain of the SF bloggers wish that it would be even more caustic and callous and that people could toss furniture around and brazenly insult others to their faces in the heat of the moment as a sort of “rub some dirt on it and carry on with the game” attitude.  Others wish that it would be a touch more gentle and forgiving.  You would be surprised, I think, at which is which among the blogging team.  But in any case, it is very possible that StandFirm is not for everybody.  For some it is too candy-and-flowers, for others it is too assertive and confrontational. 

All five of the bloggers value greatly the attitude that we will generally not allow hiding or cover ups of “negatives” or “divisive” issues, since we all have a revulsion against this from our experiences within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.  Let’s face it—every bit of what we talk about online here was once talked about in “small private quiet circles” in smoke-filled rooms amongst those “in the know” which were usually bishops and some clergy who moved “in certain circles.”  Now it’s “out there” and anybody can share information as long as they have the energy and resolve to get online and find it—and we’re glad of that and intend to continue that effort.  The thread in question is a perfect example of this philosophy and the end result has been a sharing of information that has been, frankly, spectacularly informing and clarifying.

It is possible that you will not agree with the above statements, but hopefully it serves to explain the thinking behind our various commenting protocols.  If you have objections, please use the Private Message system rather than this thread since we don’t want it to serve as a place to argue about commenting rules.

[4] Posted by Sarah on 10-26-2011 at 06:59 AM · [top]

Sarah,

Thanks for your comments, and (just briefly) I would say that something spelling out the ‘tone’ policy would personally be helpful in understanding just what it is.

[5] Posted by tk+ on 10-26-2011 at 07:32 AM · [top]

I know we have been through this before, and my view lost out, but I still think if you make peolpe use their real names, the commenets will markedly change.  It is very easy to call someone names, and be otherwise obnoxious, when it is done anonymously.

[6] Posted by David Keller on 10-26-2011 at 07:53 AM · [top]

Good Morning!
#6 David,  That doesn’t actually seem to be a problem because of the swift action in dealing with those (who forget to ponder Matthew 5: 43-45) that I have seen over the past several years on this blog…  As we can all see with the current trumped up charges against +Mark, under the current Title IV disciplinary rules it is possible to risk being inhibited or deposed simply for stating an opinion.  For that reason alone there is at least the perception of the need for anonymity by some of us.

[7] Posted by Soy City Priest on 10-26-2011 at 08:18 AM · [top]

Nos. 6 and 7: I agree with both of you! Anonymity is fine and makes sense for many. But I have found that using my real name really makes me review my comments carefully before I hit the Send button. I review for grammar, tone, fairness, and factual content. And then, you know, supposedly this stuff online is stored for eternity, or close to it. So using my real name does make a difference for me. Maybe I err sometimes on the bland side, but at least I don’t often say something over the line that I later regret.

[8] Posted by David Hein on 10-26-2011 at 09:02 AM · [top]

#8—I concur.  I understand the frustration #7 feels, which is part of the reason why I am leaving TEC.  However, I try to write what I believe and I am not afraid of being corrected if I am wrong.  BTW #7—I have it on best authority that had TEC passed the lay disciplinary canon, I was high up on the list to be “inhibited”.

[9] Posted by David Keller on 10-26-2011 at 09:10 AM · [top]

#7—Something else—I don’t know what diocese you are in, but I’ll bet “they” know who you are reguardless of your alias.

[10] Posted by David Keller on 10-26-2011 at 09:12 AM · [top]

D.K.  #9 That is a major reason that we worked at GC in Columbus to stop that, and at Anaheim to keep it from reappearing.  #10 If I were not in the Diocese that I am in, I would probably not still be in TEC.  I worry not about my Bishop, but about the equivalent of the “forum” that can be found even in solid Dioceses…  Or from the long arm of 815…  The pseudonym can be transparent enough that most who know me, and some who don’t, can figure out who I am, but (especially under title IV) that is different from talking about the Emperor’s (Empress’s?) New Clothes openly with my name provided to speed the process….

[11] Posted by Soy City Priest on 10-26-2011 at 09:46 AM · [top]

SCP—Thanks.  I hear its coming back up in Indianapolis.  Good luck this time.

[12] Posted by David Keller on 10-26-2011 at 10:16 AM · [top]

Thank you for the attempt to clarify the nature of this cyber-spot. As one of your tolerated progressive visitors, I attempt at least, to avoid spilling virtual gin on your virtual carpet. Besides, I really value the gin!  wink As the owner of one blog and the tech support of another, I try very hard to mind my manners. After all I expect others to do so where I wield the authority.

I do wonder, and if this is the wrong thread, I apologize, have you noticed that the greatest anger, the least courtesy seems to be among those with the most agreement? I see it on my place among liberals and here among a very different group.

FWIW
jimB

[13] Posted by jimB on 10-26-2011 at 10:41 AM · [top]

I am quite sure that my name would’ve also been added to the list of laity who would be “inhibited,” David.

[14] Posted by cennydd13 on 10-26-2011 at 12:46 PM · [top]

Don’t worry, there will be no requirement that anyone use real names for a screen name. Anonymity is important in these times.

[15] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 10-26-2011 at 02:36 PM · [top]

Cennydd—We seem tomhave many things in common!

[16] Posted by David Keller on 10-26-2011 at 03:26 PM · [top]

Re [13] I have noticed over my life numerous cases of those reacting poorly to those they do not recognize they are actually agreeing with. I call that “violent agreement.” I wrote a weekly column for a local paper for many years and got angry phone calls. One was from someone whose position was similar to mine. After he reread my column he actually called and apologized. It would be good if bloggers self-policed to the exent they carefully considered what was being written that may anger them and, if in doubt, first blog a request for clarification before they take up the rant. I very much appreciate the civil discourse and the efforts on the part of management (and bloggers) to keep it that way.

[17] Posted by Don+ on 10-26-2011 at 03:42 PM · [top]

Yeah, I agree.  People who use pseudonyms.. can be really obnoxious. 

Seriously - I second Jill’s hearty word of thanks.

[18] Posted by J Eppinga on 10-26-2011 at 06:27 PM · [top]

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