Politics and Comment Threads: You Should Read
Allow me to put on my “community manager and mallet owner” hat for a second:
Guys, I’m getting to the point where I’m dreading posting just about anything here because there is a small class of commenters for whom everything is fertile ground for politics, and an additional, overlapping class of people for whom any discussion of politics is an excuse to go full, foaming firehose in response, with a third and again overlapping group of people who have a hard time having a discussion with people of non-parallel political views without implying, usually sooner than later, that all those who hold views not their own enjoy frottage with infant monkeys and regularly set fire to the infirm. And it’s August of 2011, which means it’s only going to get worse over the next sixteen months at least.
It is tiring to feel like have to be on my toes in every comment thread, waiting for some person, either unintentionally or because they just can’t help themselves, to drop some political point which gives other people excuses to vent bile-spurting and likely derailing responses, which require me to go in and wrench the thread back onto the rails. Or to put it even more bluntly, it’s fucked up that I more than occasionally don’t want to post on my own blog, because it means I have to commit to dealing with some of you and your goddamned political hobby horses. This isn’t a right or left thing, since there are people here on both sides of that spectrum that do this here. It’s a “not everything has to fucking be about politics” thing.
There are ways that I can deal with this. The first is simply to turn off commenting. Other folks have done it — Toby Buckell did it, and is very happy with the results — but I don’t want to do it, nor am I seriously considering it, since I think comments add value to the site; they do for me, at least, and I know they do for others, too. I could also just ban the people I find I have to police the most, but I don’t want to do that either, because as much as they occasionally irritate me, when they actually are on topic I’m happy to have them about and adding to the discussion.
So I’m going with a third option, which is to note how I’ll be dealing with this stuff moving forward, and offering guidelines for people to consider.
How I’m going to deal with this stuff:
1. On threads whose posts are not explicitly about politics, if someone’s comment goes political I’m going to be a lot quicker on the mallet. It doesn’t mean any mention of politics in a non-political thread will be malleted; it does mean that if in my opinion that political-oriented comment is not directly and immediately on point, and free of unrelated cheap shots at [insert politician you hate], I’m not going to hesitate to whack it down. I will feel free to be expansive in my definition of “not directly and immediately on point.”
2. When I’ve allowed a political point to stand in a non-politics thread, if a person responding to it blasts out a screed that is not in its majority directly and obviously related to the point raised, down comes the mallet. I’ll either edit out what I consider cruft, or just boot the whole thing and tell the commenter to try again, this time with less unrelated froth.
3. In any political-related comment, I’m going to be very quick to mallet if I sense the commenter is attacking another commenter and not what the commenter is saying. Because almost none of you are twelve anymore — you know what, scratch that, since my daughter is twelve and even she knows better than that. None of you are eleven any more.
So how to avoid the mallet?
1. Before posting political content in a non-political comment thread, ask yourself: “Is this political comment actually necessary? Or at least directly and immediately relevant?” If the answer is “no” — and it very well may be –go ahead and stop. If you’re not sure, probably the safest route is to err on the side of not making me have to do the work.
2. In responding to a political comment in a non-political thread, ask yourself: “Is my response compact, polite and to the point?” If it’s not, go ahead and stop. If you’re not sure, again, the safest route is to err on the side of not making me judge for you.
3. If at any point I tell you (and others) to drop the discussion and/or take it into e-mail, do it. I leave a little leeway for cross-posting, but not much.
4. Above all: Remember that everything does not have to fucking be about politics. If you are one of those people for whom everything does have to be about politics, consider a hobby. And if you can’t not post about politics, keep them to the threads that are about politics here. There are many; they are not difficult to find, nor will they be in the future.
There; I have spoken. If you have questions or comments, you know what to do.