Blog Comment Policy and Conflict

Blogger Michael Iafrate of Vox Nova has written a post objecting to a comment moderation incident which occurred last night/this morning here on The American Catholic. Michael had written a comment in which he described a fellow commenter as:

typical of the death-worshiping Christofacists that this blog… attracts

Such comments are typically deleted in keeping with our comment policy. However, in this instance the comment was, for humorous effect, replaced with new content so clearly out of keeping with Michael’s online persona that Michael himself admits the effect was amusing. However, Michael objects to having content posted under his name which is not in fact his creation, and we agree that this represented a momentary lapse in judgment, however humorous. Clearly, the right thing to do in this sort of situation is simply to delete the offending comment or verbiage, and in cases of repeated offense to ban the commenter entirely. We, the editors of The American Catholic apologize for this lapse in our judgment, and commit to our readers that we will not, in future, modify comments. If comments contain objectionable statements which detract from civility and discourse, they will be wholly or partially deleted, but never replaced, even for humorous effect.

–The Editors


Given that Michael made several more specific complaints about TAC blog administration, which are doubtless of interest to few, I will address those briefly below the fold.

In an effort to clear the air, I will briefly address three specific concerns that Michael expressed in his post in regards to TAC and it’s editorial procedures.

It is probably no secret that in some respects there exists a sort of ongoing blog “spat” between this blog and another Catholic group blog that is politically and theologically “conservative.” As much as one might like to wish that such rivalries did not exist, it is simply the case that this blog was founded quite deliberately in response to the emergence of this blog, taking cues from Vox Nova’s style (right down to the very WordPress theme!) and tending toward direct commentary in response to our posts.

Since similar concerns have been expressed on several occasions by Vox Nova contributors, I think it’s probably best to take the chance to address them here. It is true that at a basic conceptual level Vox Nova provided an example of how a diverse (this is before the right-leaning writers were hounded out of Vox Nova) Catholic group blog could be a successful and interesting format for a site. Other inspirations included sites such as InsideCatholic, CatholicExchange, Catholic Online, the First Things blogs, etc.

Other similarities, however, are purely incidental. For instance, though we initially launched with another WordPress theme, we eventually moved to the same template because there’s only one fairly restrained-looking two column WordPress template which includes the sidebar on every post page. We do certainly hope to get the chance to customize the template one of these days, but we haven’t had the chance.

But I’ll be the first to admit that the relationship between the two blogs has gotten ugly. Which is why I was strongly in favor of issuing an apology for any ways in which this blog has contributed to scandalous and abusive exchanges among members of the Body of Christ. Indeed, I ended up being the one to draft that apology. One commitment that we made at that time — reluctantly, for various reasons — was to moderate the comments at this blog in order to weed out problems before they started. This has since taken the form of simply not approving comments or of editing comments by removing irrelevant or insulting portions. A large percentage of comments are approved. Of the “problematic” comments, most are simply unapproved and only a few are edited.

As could have been predicted, the blog mentioned earlier responded by increasing its own tendency to moderate comments, especially those left by writers from this blog. This is certainly their prerogative. It seems obvious to me why some of our comments are not welcome there, especially when we point out that some of their contributors promote ideas that seem quite contrary to the faith and to human flourishing.

I think it’s worth making an effort to clear this concern up, though I have no idea if Michael will take us at our word. There has been and is not any concerted policy of moderating Vox Nova writers in our comment boxes. It is certainly true that some of our contributors have over the years found themselves on the receiving end of frustrating instances of comment moderation at Vox Nova, I’m sure that a few Vox Nova contributors may at some times have felt the same way about us. However, our comment moderation efforts strictly relate to comments which openly insult TAC writers or readers — as well as, obviously, profane, blasphemous or violent comments.

Perhaps the confusion may stem from the fact that Michael Iafrate himself often seems to feel it necessary to “point out that some of their contributors promote ideas that seem quite contrary to the faith and to human flourishing” by calling people “fascists”, or “death-worshippers” or when imagination fails simply “idiots” or “morons”. It is our belief that this kind of unconstructive (to put it mildly) conversation only serves to lower the level of discourse on the blog and cause more anger and strife, and so we routinely moderate such comments.

It is, however, an entirely different matter when comments are deleted and manipulated in order to distort the conversations that take place or to show a commenter in a bad light. This is a regular occurrence on the blog in question. It often takes the form of deleting a reader’s comment and then replying to the deleted comment by saying something like “We will not tolerate your insults” when no such “insult” ever took place.

This is doubtless very much a matter of perception. The difficulty which editors face in dealing with comment moderation is that if a commenter posts a number of comments which insult the editor in the most extreme terms, the editor is, naturally, made angry. If the editor deletes all the comments, he actually ends up making his antagonist look better, because only the antagonists more reasonable comments get through. (What is worse, some such commenters catch on to this and intentionally post comments intended to “get the goat” of the post author, who of course needs to read each comment before making any deletion decisions.) And yet, invariably, if one lets all the worst comments through, the comment thread descends into a flamewar. Anger (righteous or otherwise) is a very contagious emotion.

We have begun to consider the possibility that the solution to this is to ban totally any regular commenters who are so routinely offensive that their comments are frequently deleted.

30 Responses to Blog Comment Policy and Conflict

  • I’d like to note that only ONE person from Vox Nova that I know of is on moderation here: Michael Iafrate.

    I’d like to note that Nate, Darwin, Chris and I have been having a fruitful and civil discussion on theological matters.

    I’d like to note that, while the prank we played on Michael may have been in poor judgment, his behavior here has been outrageous and obscene.

    I consider our regular commenters to be a part of the TAC community, and we regularly consider inviting some of them to join as full time contributors. To insult our regular commenters, who have not been placed on moderation, who have been here for months, is, as far as I am concerned, to insult all of us.

  • As I argued as one of the former rightist contributers to Vox Nova, error on the side of free expression. Let people make a fool of themselves, give them the benefit if doubt, seek clarification. I wish all involved here the best, but remember it’s all pretty silly, and we all are under the charge of the Golden Rule.

  • …or when imagination fails simply “idiots” or “morons”.

    Complete lie.

    And as you know, the reason for the apology in this post (an apology that is now submerged under a bunch of garbage) is the fact that you lied.

    The lying continues, folks. It’s hard to stop once you start.

  • Since so many of your contributors insisted that they were not responsible for what happened, I wonder how they feel that the author of this post does not take personal responsibility for what was done. An apology from the blog as a whole does not cut it in this instance. As DarwinCatholic pointed out in a recent post, all sin is personal. By your own word, you cannot apologize collectively.

    Your readers, myself among them, await a personal apology from the one person who tampered with my comment, and an apology that does not contain lies and blame-shifting.

  • Michael, I have personally had to moderate comments of yours in the past which have called people “idiots” or “morons”, though you did not do so on yesterday’s thread.

    Of course, since I deleted the comments, this is rather a “he said/he said” situation, but I don’t think many people will find this hard to believe.

  • Feel free to fix the formatting in that last comment. You have my permission for that kind of modification.

  • Darwin – It is indeed a “he said/she said” situation. Anyone who believes you after this entire episode is foolish. Sadly, your team has proven to your readers what kind of people you are. You are not trustworthy.

  • Your readers, myself among them, await a personal apology from the one person who tampered with my comment, and an apology that does not contain lies and blame-shifting.

    Well, not to be tendentious, you can keep waiting. This was discussed at length among the editors, and was chosen as the appropriate approach.

    As for your link to my recent post, I don’t think any sin was committed by the person who over-wrote your comment rather than deleting it. A breech of custom is something that should be avoided, and it can be impolite, but I certainly do not consider it to have been morally wrong.

  • I get it. Taking a cue from the Vatican.

  • I have called various folks “christofascists” and “fascists,” for sure.

    But if my supposed “name calling” has been such a perpetual problem, then surely you can provide an instance when I called you or one of your co-bloggers a “moron” or an “idiot” as you have claimed.

    Provide evidence of this claim or take it back.

  • An apology from the blog as a whole does not cut it in this instance

    Just silly, Michael. It was a joke. You knew it was a joke. Anyone who knows you at all knew it was a joke. The edits – and your post in response – were made within a three hour window between 12:30-3:30AM, and the comments were updated not long after that to clarify you were not the author. No harm has been done to you, other than the harm you do to yourself by posting such routinely vitriolic comments.

    An apology has been made for the joke, and the apology may have been more than you deserved given your prior conduct, and your current conduct, which involves deleting most of the responses to the post at your blog. I think we’ve had enough of your hate-filled and destructive comments.

    Your comments should not have been edited. We’ve apologized. You can take or leave the apology that’s been provided. Stamping your feet and saying you want an individual to apologize doesn’t really help you or anyone else.

  • Sorry, Michael. I won’t be taking anything back. I think it’s pretty obvious to any reasonable mind why I can’t link to comments which were deleted weeks or months ago. And while blogging is a rather ephemeral hobby, I’m pretty confident that I’ve built rather more credibility at it over the last few years than you have.

    If not, so be it.

    Now, I’m not going to argue with you further. And I would strongly advise my fellow authors here to follow suit.

    My advice would be to state whether you’d like the offending comments taking down or not. Given the nature of this thread, we’ll go ahead and keep approving your comments on this thread so long as they don’t stray too far beyond the bounds of Christian discourse, but I don’t think anyone here wants to see it sink into a flamewar.

  • I see. An apology, followed by further insistence that “it was just a joke.” Some apology.

    Oh well. We have tried to call you to conversion. We can only do so much. The choice is ultimately yours.

    —–

    Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.

    Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

    Despite your hard hearts, love to you all.

  • The bottom line is that you can’t provide evidence of your claim.

  • You disgust me.

    In spite of the hate-filled, utterly intolerant, uncharitable, anti-Christian verbal violence that you commit against everyone who posts here:

    Love to you as well.

  • Darwin – The fact is, you can say that I posted all sorts of things on your blog and then claim that the evidence disappeared because you deleted the comments.

    Why, then, would you DELETE every single instance when I called you or another blogger an “idiot” or “moron” but RETAIN comments when I called you “fascists”? It makes no sense. You are a liar, and you are repeatedly being caught in lies. It’s time for you to grow up and to stop this nonsense.

  • Joe – Prove it, then, with an authentic apology.

  • Sadly, Michael, your generally acerbic & confrontational tone over the last several years makes your citation of the Beatitudes reek with hypocrisy… *you* are the one who excludes and insults. I’ve tried to persuade you publicly & privately to moderate your tone, as it inhibited real engagement with some of your compelling ideas. Unfortunately, it seems that at least online, your prefer a confrontational approach in most instances. I don’t know why… it doesn’t win your views a hearing with anyone who disagrees with you but is open to persuasion.

    We all need conversion, Michael. Including you. May this Easter season find us all growing deeper in Christ.

  • I see. An apology, followed by further insistence that “it was just a joke.” Some apology.

    It was a joke that has been apologized for. Your knew it was a joke, and said so in your post. But jokes can be in poor taste, and they can violate our comment standards. Like this one. And when that happens, as it did, we apologize and state that it won’t happen again. You’re free not to accept an apology sincerely offered.

    Oh well. We have tried to call you to conversion. We can only do so much. The choice is ultimately yours.

    Is this a joke or are you that lacking in self-awareness? Name-calling and juvenile taunts are hardly a ‘call…to conversion’.

  • Michael,

    We have a POLICY of deleting comments (why the heck would we let a thousand ugly comments pile up in the moderation queue!?), and the one you made WAS deleted – I just happened to copy and paste it to share with the group before it was deleted. We still have the comment. And since you KNOW you said it, your claims that we don’t have evidence are even more dishonest! Of all the sleazy things to argue!

    I’ve already apologized to you. On your Vox Nova post. I said I was the one who did it, and that it was the idea of a handful of us, and that we are all sorry. And we issued the post above, another apology.

    Now will you apologize for calling our commenters – and I believe a reasonable person could extend the insult to the contributors as well – for calling us “death worshiping Christo-fascists”?

    Do you realize how demented and dishonest it is for you to point out the faults of others without acknowledging your own? For you to act as if you are justified in saying such vile things to us, while whining like a hypocrite about ethics?

  • We still have the comment. And since you KNOW you said it, your claims that we don’t have evidence are even more dishonest!

    I said you have no evidence that I called you “idiots” and “morons.” If you have the comment where I supposedly called you such things, then produce it.

  • And no, I will not apologize for calling some of your commenters and some of your contributors fascists. (When it comes to the latter, only a few of you could justifiably be called fascists.) Had I really called you idiots or morons, then surely I would apologize for that. But I did not.

    I hope you can understand the difference between confrontational, prophetic speech and mere insult. When some of your folks call me a heretic or a baby killing liberal, I can roll with that because I understand that you are trying to be confrontational and prophetic yourselves. Insults are something different entirely.

    Again, if calling some of you “fascists” is so offensive, why did you let so many of those instances stand, while supposedly deleting every single instance when I called you “idiots” or “morons”?

  • Again, if calling some of you “fascists” is so offensive, why did you let so many of those instances stand, while supposedly deleting every single instance when I called you “idiots” or “morons”?

    Because the former is at least a slander worth responding to, while the latter two are boring.

  • The latter do not exist, Darwin. The more you lie about it, the more serious this gets for you.

  • Stop feeding the beast, guys. As a regular reader, it’s painful to watch from the outside, and it’s an argument not worth engaging in.

  • Prophetic speech?

    You really think you are a prophet, come here on God’s authority, to tell us what to think, don’t you?

    I’ve always suspected it but I couldn’t bring myself to believe you were that deluded.

    You called us “death worshiping Christo-fascists”, death worshiping! I don’t care how you see it – to us it is an insult, its disgusting and despicable for you to call good and faithful Catholics who post here death worshiping and Christo-fascists.

  • Agreed, Kevin. I will gladly close comments tomorrow. It won’t be allowed to fester.

  • Thanks Kevin. I think you are right.

  • Well, it looks like Michael does not have any interest in expressing a preference as to whether or not the joke comments are taken down. At the risk of this thread somehow getting worse, I’m going to close comments.

  • Unfortunately for Mr. Michael Iafrate, we have decided to ban him after 48 hours of debating this amongst ourselves.

    We take this very seriously and have been quite charitable in our dealings with Mr. Iafrate in the past.

    We wish him well.

    Mr. Iafrate can appeal the decision next year on April 9, 2011.

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