It lures you in with notions of fair dialogue, engaging discussions, and interesting Socratic clashes of thought.
Then you're dashed on the rocks.
The reality is, left unchecked, unmoderated online comment forums quickly devolve into havens of the angry and the deranged. Thus, one's first instinct is to moderate.
In the early going, moderating blog comments is not a bad solution. When you start, traffic to your blog isn't typically very heavy and neither are the comments. But once you've built a forum that attracts interesting comments by earnest and informed readers -- once you've built an audience -- a phenomena seemingly unique to the Internet occurs.
The trolls are born.
Wikipedia defines the term this way:
In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.That's where we find ourselves now.
Together, we've developed a forum of concerned readers and thus an audience for trolls and others unconcerned with our purposes here: dialogue and a search for the truth. Once trolls appear, moderating comments becomes more challenging.
My default position is to let everyone speak. Let's have a true marketplace of ideas, where the good ideas compete with the bad ideas, winner take all. This default position presupposes, of course, that the participants are actually sharing ideas (which trolls, by definition, do not).
So, it pained me to reject my first comment over the weekend. For those betting in the informal pool about who would be censored first -- I had put my money on my acid tongued sister -- there were no winners. Instead, the distinction went to one "Michael Howard," who offered a particularly nasty message that he said he'd received from Guru. (Note to Michael: thanks for the message, we no longer require your services.)
Since then, I've started getting more comfortable with the "reject" button. So, beware friend and foe alike: if I don't like your comment, I ain't posting it.
With that in mind, here are some guidelines and tips for commenting:
1. Click on the title of the blog post. When you click on the title of the blog post, the page will reload and all the associated comments will appear in an easy to read fashion at the end of the post.
2. When you submit a comment, give me some time. The site forwards your comment to my email account. My choices are then limited: I can either publish your comment or I can reject it.
3. I cannot edit your comment. I would never do so anyway, but early on I wanted to correct some obvious spelling errors in a comment and learned that I couldn't do so; Blogger will not allow it. So, proofread before sending!
4. Remember the "Coffee Shop Rule." This is my virtual coffee shop. I love it here. It's my baby and I'm very jealous of it. If you wouldn't say something to someone's face over coffee, then don't post it to my blog. (There is a true forum for unmoderated ideas at the Yahoo! Sri Chinmoy Information site, which can be found here. Beware the hot coffee there!)
5. Use emoticons. If you're being snarky or using irony, give some indication of it. Remember, blog commenting is the lowest form of human communication because such comments are so easily misunderstood. They permit none of the visual cues that we normally rely upon so heavily in face to face discussions.
6. We don't have to agree! But consider which of the following comments is most likely to be posted.
I don't believe the allegations leveled at Guru because you're an asshole Yogaloy.
I don't believe the allegations leveled at Guru because I was in the Center for 30 years, went to the House every night, and I never saw anything to indicate Guru was having sex with his disciples.Now, while it's certainly true that I'm an asshole (I think I could find a friend who might agree -- you know who you are), that's not really a reason for disbelieving the allegations.
Though I'd disagree with the latter argument, it's a good faith and respectable argument.
7. Don't impugn others' motives. I make this mistake myself sometimes, but let's all work to avoid doing so. If someone says something that you don't agree with, don't assume they're liars, dupes, or anything other than someone wrestling with some very difficult information that may be central to their identity.
8. Email me. For any reason, but especially if you've posted a comment and it doesn't show up. When you comment, I don't get your email address. So, I might have a good reason for holding your comment, but I won't be able to share it with you if you don't ask. Also, I may not have received your comment. I've noticed problems with the Blogger comment function and have lost some of my own, so communicate.
9. Please don't criticize anyone by name, other than yourself or Guru. That's been a working principle of mine, which I've been pretty good at following. I ask that you do the same. This isn't about Ashrita or Ranjana or any other current disciples. I'm not saying you shouldn't use their names to make relevant points or to offer constructive suggestions, but other than that and your risking comment rejection.
The image above is The Siren by John William Waterhouse.