Saturday, July 30, 2005

Blogging and “freedom of expression”

The issues of “freedom of expression” and “censorship” come up every now and then, even in the J-blog world. Since I started blogging, not even a year ago, they've come up in big ways at least twice. Cross-Currents deflected the issue, and now, we have the DovBear/Amshinover controversy.

A blog, though, is just that — a web log. Usually, a blog involves presenting one person's or a small group's views. Some blogs allow comments, some don't. Within the rules of the terms of service of the blog host, though, bloggers are pretty much free to say whatever they want. In that sense, a blog is its author's. Commenters and temporary bloggers are guests in the owner's house. Is the owner doesn't like the mud on the carpet, he can tell the guests to take off their shoes or leave the house. There is, by no means, a dearth of blogspace for people to write their own contradictory opinions, cross-linked, and tracked-back ad-infinitum. In that way, (unless they present themselves as balanced journalism) blogs do not have the same journalistic responsibilities of neutrality as television news or broadcast media. If there is any analogy to the established media, blogs more resemble an unfiltered op-ed or letters page. Blogs also do not have the same power to ban an idea as a repressive government or a repressive religious institution.

What this means is that readers have the rights to comment and complain.... and blog authors have the rights to ban each other as they please. Free expression is in no way hindered. If readers don't like a given blogger's policy, they may simply choose to write on their own, ignore a blog, remove it from their links lists, unsubscribe theie RSS/Atom reader, etc.

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I think there are two separate questions to be considered. One question is whether it is "legitimate," "just," or "fair" for a blogger to ban comments, and on that issue, I think your position is quite right. A separate question is: what is the best way to create a forum for conversation? On the one hand, you want people to be able to read and respond freely to one another's views. On the other, you don't want to create a mud-slinging free-for-all. Each individual blogger has to set standards that make sense for him or her. Personally, I have only ever censored one comment, and that was because I thought that it was both completely unconstructive and potentially very offensive to readers. Still, I wonder: if I had more traffic, would I feel the need to delete more comments? And how would I decide which to remove? It's not a simple matter.
No, it isn't. But, it's really not an issue of freedom vs. tyranny, liberal vs. conservative, as it tends to be presented sometimes. It's more an issue of tolerance-levels and taste.
It takes a lot of internal fortitude to not-delete comments and not-ban commenters that/who just downright piss you off. I'm having a lot of difficulty, at the moment, trying to draw that line between "personal annoyance" and "disruptive interference" and a give a lot of credit to anyone who is able to do so properly.

I was one of the other guest bloggers on DovBear last week, and I have to say that Amshi's inclusion in our group did more harm than good. He can be insightful and clever, but most of the time he's a toddler begging for attention and will be happy to get it by any means. I'm sorry that the post that brought him down (as it were) was the pseudo-Holocaust-denial one, since I think some of his more inane stuff was much more worthy of his being booted.

(Wow that was convoluted. Need more caffeine.)
Of course, it's never easy to determine these things on your own blog. It gets even worse as the blog or forum becomes more public. One of the other hats I wear is as a moderator on a forum that is basically open for anyone to post. These issues of what's annoying, inappropriate, spam, etc. come up all the time.
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