Abuse is Cheap

Or, a Rudimentary Comment Policy

Although it seems so much like a cliché, to say abuse is cheap is the most satisfying response to irrational and irresponsible comments left on blogs. Thankfully, Greetings Earthlings has only ever attracted pertinent comments, many of which have made me think again about important issues. Some – especially my exchange with Patrick Lambe about knowledge management – still have me thinking. But today the other blog I maintain, A Death in Hong Kong, received a ranting, possibly delusional comment about my wife and two close friends who have been working with me seeking justice for Vicky Flores and her family. So it’s time to reflect on invective, and think about what might pass for a comment policy here.

What makes someone rant at people who have given countless hours of time, significant amounts of money and sent themselves almost to exhaustion to help others? Jealousy could nail it, or derangement if the logic slips enough, but neither are particularly satisfying. Obviously the Internet offers convenient anonymity from which to fire barbs, although relatively few people realise just how simple it is to track down the IP address and thus location of a bitchy commenter. No, it’s not about ease of use. It’s got something do with quality.

Regardless of what else I could be accused, I pride myself in writing well, not only because I want people to read and agree, but also because I value ideas and their articulation. Not everyone sees things my way, but at least they can see what I’m getting at. Blog flamers, in contrast, really have no idea. Just as words strung out sequentially don’t necessarily constitute a sentence, a scattering of insults and wild presumptions are unlikely to comprise a comment.

As I mentioned earlier, abuse is cheap. Not only is it worth little in one sense of the word, but it’s also sleazy, both degrading of its context and demeaning for its perpetrators. And I intend to save abusive commenters from themselves.

So here comes what will pass for a comment policy on Greetings Earthlings. Any personal abuse of me or anyone else, including public figures, will be deleted. Attack my ideas or those of other commenters if you like. Attack the blog’s layout – criticise my choice of images if it pleases you – but I ask you to do so from a rational perspective.

After all, logic is everyone’s friend in this truly puzzling world.


One Response to Abuse is Cheap

  1. Greg Sadler says:

    Interesting read! I’m new to wordpress and have been trolling around looking for thinkers who are worth a regular read. You might have the dubious honour of being the first.

    What makes people flame is an interesting question. You propose jealousy and delusion. I don’t think jealousy is a correct answer. I’m sure we’d like to think that people flame us because we’re awesome, but I don’t think it’s true. Delusion might be more correct, the flamers probably aren’t that smart. But I don’t find it a very satisfactory explanation. That is, you might say criminals are criminals because they’re stupid. But that doesn’t really tell you anything about criminals our help you interact with them or prevent criminal behaviour or anything like that.

    I think you’re getting close with the idea of anonymity. Sometimes I think ranting, or at least vocally disagreeing, is important. I’ve vocally disagreed with people online (both anonymously and nonymously) and in person. You’re right that giving someone an earful in person is a lot harder than on the internet, but I don’t think doing it anonymously is any easier than doing in nonymously in the online environment. Therefore I’d be more inclined to say that people with a tendency to flame are held back by the social norms and conditioning of face-to-face interaction.

    The related question, and perhaps the more interesting one, is what makes something ‘important’ enough to warrant vocal disagreement. I.e. what will drive someone to flame in person or online. An answer I like is that people are driven to flame by posts or ideas that are repugnant to their world view. So if someone is doing, saying or advocating something which seems alien and wrong to me, I might be incited to flame. And, because of that difference in world view, the person I’m flaming might label me as ‘delusional’. But does that really warrant censorship? I’d be more inclined to say that warrants further debate.

    Sorry, this has got rather long. In short, I think if you want to filter comments, a good place to start would be to filter comments made by people trying to obfuscate their identity. Not a panacea, but a good start.

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