Sunday, July 27, 2008

Moderation in all things

I've just noticed that Caxton use the comment moderation facility on their blog, meaning that they see any comment left first and then decide whether to make it public. It's clearly a useful facility if you're running a site where you might get people libelling third parties in your comments and be held responsible, but I'm glad I haven't felt the need to use it, and hopefully never will.

It must present dilemmas. Suppose someone leaves a critical or nasty comment. If I don't allow it, it looks like cowardice or censorship. On the other hand, if I do, then it looks either like masochism, or - if I then respond - as if I'm looking for a fight. On the other hand, if someone says something nice, surely modesty should forbid my broadcasting it to the world once I have control over it. So I prefer not to be in control of what comments are posted. Very occasionally, I have deleted comments. Once, on impulse, to protect someone else's feelings; once one of my own, because of a spelling mistake - but I still got accused of censorship - and a couple of times when they were obviously spam. Since instigating the old squiggly letters thing I don't think I've had any more of that.

I don't require commentors to be registered with Google/Blogger - I've had that frustrating experience when I've carefully crafted a comment and then at the last moment find I can't post it unless I go through some signing up rigmarole. Finally, I haven't taken the option of not allowing anonymous comments. I can't see the point. I've been involved in debates about the rights and wrongs of anonymity - albeit in the context of political blogs - and am surprised by how many people are against it. Firstly, in an online context, any name or identity is pretty meaningless anyway. People choose who they want to be. I'm all for that. I'm not pretending to be anyone I'm not when I write on here, or post on CWF as WarriorWoman, but I am representing only one particular aspect of myself, and the name and online identity I use highlights that.

The arguments for and against anonymity seem to me to be analogous to those for and against the secret ballot. My hero, John Stuart Mill, although in favour of widening the franchise and, incidentally, one of the very earliest advocates of votes for women, was opposed to the secret ballot. He thought that people should be prepared to stand up and be counted, literally, because if they couldn't be identified with their decisions they might decide selfishly or irresponsibly. He was probably right, but the advantages of secrecy, in terms of the liberation from possible coercion or bribery, surely outweigh this.* At least, we seem to have accepted that they do in political life. In blogging there's probably even less grounds for denying anonymity, given that anyone can respond and make their own points in response. We should be able to consider points and arguments independently of our views or knowledge of the people making them.

*For this to work, it is vital that you not only can vote in secret and not show anyone else your ballot, but that you must, and that you must be prevented from showing it to anyone else. This is one of the reasons that the expansion of postal voting is worrying.

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