Sunday, February 03, 2008

Comment is Free?

WARNING: This is a boring post about utterly self-important bloggers.

In the very introspective world of Internet journalism, there's a debate raging about commenting policy.

Most blog systems, such as the one I use, Blogger, allow other Internet users to leave comments on posts bloggers make. Take a look at Why People With a Peanut Allergy Annoy Me to see some doozies.

It's very similar to the old fashioned 'Letters to the Editor' except commenting allows feedback to be instantaneous. It's one of the major reasons why Internet journalism is so much more dynamic than the regular printed kind.

Like all things, commenting can be abused - offensive posts or 'spam' are a regular problem for blog owners. But for the most part, commenting sparks earnest debate from the issues raised in a particular post.

Responsible bloggers allow uncensored commenting on their blog. This means that whatever facts or opinions they post are opened up to consideration by the readers - and any mistakes or dissentions can be posted for all and sundry to see.

However, a surprising number of bloggers either censor comments on their blogs - or refuse to allow any at all. Just ticking a box in the Blogger menu allows you to cut off any comment or criticism of your postings.

This kind of Stalinesque policy is pretty cowardly, as far as I'm concerned. I'm always surprised at the bloggers who adopt any form of restriction on commenting. They often claim to be the biggest advocates of 'free speech' but are enthusiastic in stifling it at a grassroots level.

Prime examples of these have been Telegraph contributors Oliver Kamm and Neil Clark. Oliver Kamm is more than willing to adopt a pompous, self-righteous tone regarding free speech when it suits his purpose - but until recently, rigidly refused to allow any form of commenting on his blog at all.

Neil Clark, on the other hand, ruthlessly censors any posts on his blog to eliminate what he calls 'criminal defamation' - which in reality means deleting anything drawing attention to previous actions he feels particularly embarrassed about.

It's all pretty pathetic, really. The first rule of journalism is not to write anything you're not prepared to stick behind and face the consequences of. Instead of addressing debate, like we should do in a society that embraces free speech, Kamm and Clarke end up smothering it.

Much more responsible are the opinionated antics of Jenn of the Jungle and The Exile. Both are outspoken bloggers on opposite ends of the political spectrum (Jenn is a right-wing Republican in anything-goes California, while The Exile is a pseudo-Socialist living the Bourgeoisie lifestyle in Mexico city.) Both of them allow uncensored commenting on their blogs and will tackle any criticism head-on. Good for them.

Allowing uncensored commenting on your blog means more than just opening the door to debate. It's a commitment to following through on the blogging principles that got you posting in the first place. A blog gives anybody the platform to spout their opinions. It's nothing short of hypocritical not to allow people to respond to them.

To that end, I've been surprised and impressed by Oliver Kamm's recent decision to allow commenting on his blog. Typically, he manages to drown this decision with a nauseating wave of self-righteousness - but at least it's a first step towards really taking ownership of his opinions.

I look forward to Neil Clark, who holds slightly higher moral ground than Mister Kamm, adopting a similar policy in the very near future.


slapheads anonymous said...

I look forward to Neil Clark, who holds slightly higher moral ground than Mister Kamm, adopting a similar policy in the very near future.

Since Neil Clark has been banging on endlessly about Oliver Kamm refusing to allow comments, I tried to make a post on Clark's blog this morning suggesting that, since Kamm's comments policy is now considerably more open than Clark's, he might wish to reconsider his pre-censorship approach, since it would clearly be absurd for his comments policy to end up being more restrictive than Kamm's.

Several hours (and two fresh Clark posts) later, it has yet to appear.

And since it was a perfectly polite comment, entirely devoid of anything criminally defamatory, your guess is as good as mine as to why he didn't want to publish it.

Anonymous said...

If your letters to the editors are not printed, you can publish them at and share your opinions with the world.