I’ve been thinking about comment policies today. You see, there’s a comment sitting in the mod-queue for yesterday morning’s post about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It’s mildly snarky, not particularly offensive in its content — no slurs, hate speech, or anything like that. But the one-liner is also sufficiently, provocatively disconnected from the facts and the issues at hand that I keep asking myself: “Are you someone trying to have a sincere disagreement, or are you just a troll?”
To borrow an operative definition from Hubspot:
Trollers are people who leave comments on posts to try to get a rise out of either the author, or other commenters. The best practice for dealing with trolls comes down to one easy-to-remember phrase: Don’t feed the trolls. This means the more you engage with trolls, the bigger and stronger they become — that’s what they want! To get a rise out of you.
So the distinction I’m trying to spot is whether A) the would-be commenter strongly disagrees with my politics but is wiling to have a substantive discussion, or if B) the sole purpose of the provocative one-liner is to be a shit-stirrer. And of course, with nothing but words on a screen and my regrettable lack of psychic insight to go on, that is a very hard distinction to distinct.
“Are you human or troll?”
It’s a little bit of a conundrum. Do I delete the would-be-comment and take the chance that I’m silencing someone who’s coming from a real-person rather than a trollish perspective? Or do I approve the comment, respond to its reality-disconnect, and take the risk of getting dragged underneath the troll bridge? It’s a tricky, charged decision. Not because of this one specific comment on its own — again, let me acknowledge that it’s more a snarky one-liner than anything else — but because my choice today carries the weight of creating a precedent for how I may address disagreement, dissension and doucehoundery on JALC in the future.
I’ve been thinking about the aggressively clear commenting policies at two of the feminist communities I’ve long-admired: Shapely Prose (where I participated) and Shakesville (where I’ve not participated but look admiringly from afar). Both of these documents are the result of years of community-building, resulting in a vibrant commentariat and also an astronomically high frequency of trolls and bigots targeting their posts and threads for attention. Obviously, JALC is a baby newborn blog, with a teeny-tiny readership and an even smaller community (if that term can even legitimately be applied.) So a lot of what those policies contain aren’t on-point for me. I do not have or need a group of co-moderators to keep up with the comment traffic, nor do I yet have an establishing commenting culture I need/want to protect.
And yet, there are value statements in those policies that ring true to me.
Whether you can comment at Shakesville is ultimately at our discretion—and plaintive, angry, or accusatory wailing about free speech will be met with yawning indifference. This isn’t a public square. This is a safe space. (Shakesville.)
I am not a representative of the government; when I tell you, directly or indirectly, to shut up, it does not in any way violate your Constitutional rights. If you want to speak freely, the fine folks at WordPress will be happy to provide you with the exact same kind of platform I use. . . . [W]e have probably, on occasion, banned or berated a perfectly decent person who might have eventually blossomed into the kind of commenter we can’t wait to hear from. And you know what? We’re okay with that. We’re not proud of it, and we certainly don’t set out to exclude bright, interesting people from the conversation here. But if it happens every now and again, oh well — because overall, our being hardasses helps keep this blog readable and only rarely crazy making. (Shapely Prose)
All of this is resonant with the sort of community I would want to create, if I am ever so fortunate as to have JALC (or some future endeavor) blossom into becoming an online community. And you know what? Even though I feel an embarrassing level of grandiosity in modeling my choices after these communities that have literally changed my life for the better, there’s another, more immediate lens through which I’ve been contemplating my decision.
If nothing else is certain, I know the would-be comment is an anti-feminist statement. And there are so many other places in the world where the patriarchy and the kyriarchy hold sway as the dominant discourse. (Exhibit A: SCOTUS and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.*)
Do I really need to give that perspective untrammeled sway in my own digital living room? No, no I do not:
My blog is my living room in my home. I set the rules. I determine the tone. I determine the topic of conversation. When you post a comment on my site, you agree to abide by my rules, you stick to the topics I determined, and you keep the tone I deem OK to be used in my home (imagine reading out loud your comment in front of my wife, mother and kids). I have the right to warn you and to kick you out of my home – it’s my party, after all. You have no right to be here, no right to say anything – it is up to me to welcome you here, and up to you to ensure you are welcomed. (A Blog around the Clock)
So, ultimately, would-be commenter: I’m
sorry not-really-all-that-sorry, but your comment will not be getting airplay this week. It’s not as if I’m setting a zero-tolerance policy for anti-feminist speech here on JALC. (Not yet, at least.) But anti-feminist speech that looks a bit more trollish than human?
Just not worth the odds.
* And also McCullen v. Coakley. (But as far as the June 26th decision goes? I can’t even, right now. Not enough spoons.)
Image credit: http://mystrangefamily.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/under-the-bridge-with-the-fremont-troll/