Readers jump at chance
for a civil conversation
By BRAD WARTHEN
LAST WEEK, I used this space to seek advice as to how to improve the quality of discourse on my Weblog.
Some have been less than civil in their interactions, causing some of the most thoughtful contributors to abandon the discussions – thereby defeating the very purpose of that forum.
I asked readers to join in a discussion (and you can still do so, at the address below), after which I would either require participants to identify themselves by their full, real names or just start deleting offending comments out of hand.
The response was overwhelming, and mostly gratifying. By the end of the day Thursday, there were 217 comments (256 late Saturday). Sure, some were off the subject, but there was plenty to provoke relevant thought. Some folks joined in for the first time, others returned after a hiatus, and stalwart regulars attacked the subject with gusto.
Regular "Herb," whose complaints about "Lee" and "LexWolf" started the whole subject rolling, was inspired to use his full name (Herb Brasher) for the first time, although he asked me not to make that a requirement:
"I’m not sure about the anonymity, but I’ve surrendered mine, as you notice. I’d rather see anonymity continued, in which case a bit of censorship might be needed. I’d go for option two, as long as you really enforce it."
Ervin Shaw agreed:
"I recommend that you (1) remember that yours is "Brad Warthen’s blog", (2) remember that Brad knows a "blog bully" when he sees one, and that you (3) decide to treat blog bullies as you treat spam. You know the type of participation that you want, and you are in control of the delete button. You’ll be criticized, but so what?…what else is new?"
But "bud" spoke for many Web denizens when he asked, "please don’t go overboard and edit this thing to death. We’re all adults and a bit of good natured jabbing is ok with me."
Spencer Gantt took the opposite view:
"Just make the requirements for posting the same as for ‘letters to the editor’. Have people participate on your blog by registering with full name, address, and telephone number. Names are published as above (Shaw & Brasher); address/phone are known only to you (unless one finds them in the Columbia phone book). People shouldn’t be ashamed/afraid to sign their name to their opinion or ‘good natured jabbing’ if that’s what it really is. Most of it is definitely NOT ‘good natured’. I quit with your blog some time ago for the very reasons noted in
From Bill Molnar:
"My suggestion is that you don’t allow respondents to go to far afield of the topic…. Monitoring what people … express is not an easy job. You don’t want to lose good thoughts/ideas or as Bud said, go over board and not allow the humorous jab. However, the blog cannot be a place where 2 or 3 people dominate, attack the person and ignore the issue in any type of intelligent manner. I wish you the best in re-fitting your blog and hope it will become a place that I want to return to for thoughtful discussion on the issue of our lives."
Regular "Randy E" suggested:
"(U)se an abuse reporting procedure like other sites use. A blogger can report another as being abusive or ‘destructive.’ If the reported blogger meets a threshold of complaints, incremental action can be taken; e.g. warning email from Daddy Warthen, a suspension, and finally even expulsion. This would allow the bloggers to police themselves and preclude censorship. Blogger registration may be necessary. As long as we can say the Yankees suck, I’m happy!"
I caused "Phillip" to examine his own conscience:
"Your column gave me pause, wondering if I have crossed the line into incivility on occasion. I’ve made strong statements but have tried not to make things personal. I also am not anonymous, as anyone who clicks on my name here can easily find out."
He needn’t have worried. (But then, it seems the people who are the least guilty are generally the first to feel guilty.)
"Dave" was unimpressed with the entire discussion:
"While the Israelis have over 1400 rockets launched at them indiscriminately where mostly civilians can be hit, we have people worried here about blog civility. Why is that? Let’s all worry about terrorists being civil to the rest of the world and after that is fixed we can worry about people who think other people aren’t nice to them. Sheesh!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"LexWolf," one of those Herb had specifically identified as a "bully," was unrepentant and took the occasion to paint things in partisan/ideological terms (which I take to mean that he actually considers me to be a liberal):
"The problem for you guys is that you are so used to getting your way and to having everybody just shut up while you spout your illogical socialist (minor expletive deleted) that you are stunned when people point out the truth to you. In your opinion, we are being ‘incivil’ just because we point out some undeniable facts but when your side accuses us of the usual sexist/racist/bigot/homophobe litany, I suppose you are exhibiting the height of civility. NOT!"
Fellow defendant "Lee," in one of his 31 comments on the subject, also remained true to form: "Anytime you ‘liberals’ want to clean up the threads by talking honestly about the thread topic with facts, get to it."
I was gratified by the return of former regular Paul DeMarco, who explained that he now visited the site "only occasionally because of its circular and predictable nature. I wonder if there is a way to make the conversation more linear so that we are driving toward a solution or consensus on a specific issue…. BTW, I agree with requiring full names. I’ve done it from the beginning because I knew it would help moderate my own commentary."
That just scratches the surface of the first half of the responses. Of course, in true blog fashion, the civility deteriorates significantly in the second hundred comments. Still, there is a substantial mass of sentiment here for something better, and plenty of ideas on how to achieve it. Please join in the discussion if you haven’t already. You know where to go, don’t you?