Picture this: you’re a moderator/participant in a round table discussion. Someone has just brought up a very controversial point. Another person takes offense at this in one way or another, and rebuts. As the rebuttals go back and forth, you notice that they have strayed off topic, and it has become a contest of whose voice is louder and who can intimidate the other into submission first. What would you do?
Now let’s look at the other side of the situation. You’re another participant in the same round table discussion. Someone has just brought up a very controversial point which hits close to home. How will you respond? Do you retort in anger? Do you try to calm the opposing party down? Or do you simply do nothing?
Webmasters and blog owners, are in effect, online discussion moderators. They are faced with the tremendous task of making sure that discussion remains lucid and proceeds with minimal deviation from the actual topic. They are also under pressure to diffuse any impending tension between or among the opposing sides of any argument. It’s a thankless job; just by sheer virtue of being a moderator, they are subject to the insults of the commentators and proponents themselves. The challenge for them is not to get carried away by any apparent misbehavior shown. In other words, they must remain impersonal and unmoved by emotions.
As commentators, or discussion participants, we have the freedom to express our opinions and sides of the story or argument being presented. However, this comes with conditions. We must stay on topic, avoid obscene or profane language, and use a logical or rational approach.
The biggest difference, of course, between live table discussions and online forums, is the anonymity that the latter provides. Unfortunately, anonymity, combined with “freedom of expression”, has provided many people the opportunity to be assholes in online forums. And, boy do they pounce on it. In fact, there are terms used to describe this type of people, taken from online gaming terminology: griefers and trolls.
The dilemma with this so-called “freedom of expression” is that everyone is focused on doing what they please, yet they forget the responsibility that goes along with it. More often than not, people who insist on running amok like headless chickens on internet forums are those who cry foul of “internet censorship” when they are moderated by the blog owner. Let me post a comment to a post from one of benign0’s older blogs, to elaborate on my point:
“To have comments published is not a right. In my view every blogger should moderate comments. It’s in the best interests of readers that published comments are lucid, to the point and interesting. Too often respondents wander from the point, criticise other respondents and generally degrade the quality of discussion. If a comment does not add value to the original posting then drop it. Who judges what adds value and what doesn’t? Easy, the owner of the blog.”
While each blogger out there is bound to make his/her own rules for what constitutes both acceptable and objectionable content in his/her blog, the bottom line is that the blog owner has the discretion to weed out what to him/her is content that does not add value. That he stakes his/her entire reputation as a blogger on the content demands it.
Keep in mind that there is no absolute standard for acceptable commenting in blogs, and most likely there will never be one. But respect, decency, relevance, and lack of an ulterior sinister motive are good standards to abide by.
There are standards for the blogger too. If he/she can’t respect people who have an opinion different from his/hers what’s the point? You don’t need a blog to be a narcissist then; there’s nobody around to show how big your e-penor is. However, keep in mind that removing useless comments and censoring dissenting views are two things entirely different, yet confused for each other.
Now here is a tough question: Is it impossible for moderators/blog owners to balance out freedom of expression with maintaining the integrity of the blog discussion? Is it necessarily a dichotomy of having to choose which one to emphasize? Are these things, by nature, unable to coexist in the same place? The simple answer to all of these is no. The longer answer is that it is an extremely difficult balancing act to maintain both, and many bloggers stumble on this from time to time.
Is it too much to ask our fellow subscribers to think carefully before they post a comment on a website? Is it too much to ask our kababayans to understand the message of a post before they get into tililing and/or balat-sibuyas rampages? Is it too much to ask people to focus on the message instead of the messenger? Unfortunately with many Filipinos the above descriptions seem to be the case. They seem to think that freedom of expression means a freedom to be stupid, indignant, and an asshole on the internet, without any regard for the consequences whatsoever. It’s what makes us such lousy citizens of our own decrepit country, the internet, and ultimately the world.