Friday, August 13, 2010

Silliman's Comment Monster [Part I]



On July 31st, Ron Silliman announced that he had decided to terminate his Comment Stream (or comment box), including all the comments which had accumulated over the history of his Silliman's Blog postings, since its inception in August 2002, a total of eight years of archived data. Originally opened as an unmoderated comment box, Silliman eventually set it to moderation, following a weird spam incident in which someone dropped about 100 pointless comments which had no relation to poetry or the instigating post. His site has been relatively well-attended over the years, though there had been a perceptible fall-off in comment box postings over the last 18 months or so. Whether this was the result of Silliman's blocking more comments, or a simple decline in contributions, is of course unknown.  

   
 
The internet, and blogging, are new technologies. There are few rules of the game, and those are intermittently enforced, for the most part. Copyright and content challenges are still rare, and the policing of content and behavior are mostly the responsibility of individual site "administrators" though these sites are technically the property of the host services which facilitate them, and are subject to various regulations, which may at any time be imposed. 
  
At The Compass Rose we have received, to date, a single copyright complaint, but its originator (and the nature of the complaint) are difficult to determine, since the record clearing-house (Chilling Effects) employs a search engine which is ineffective. Because the number of such notices, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), is so great, only an automated filing and notification system can handle them. The net affect of this is that anyone seeking to silence or remove an item posted online, need only file a formal complaint through a legal entity, and this effectively stalemates the site, since the Blogger Sites don't have the means or opportunity to investigate or defend client users' interests.
 
From a legal point of view, a Comment Stream box feature is controlled by the site administrator, who holds exclusive rights to access, under the terms of the implied contractual agreement between the client site owner and the service provider. In this sense, Comment Boxes "belong" to the administrator, but that authority derives from the service provider, and each is subject in turn to regulations governing (community) standards of decency, copyright, permission, national security, and so forth. Blogging, like other online "publication," is subject to the rights of free speech as expressed in the U.S. Constitution, and the various State Constitutions. Any abridgment of free speech as practiced by an online "publication" could be tried in the same way such issues are handled in the other media organs (newspaper, periodical, radio, television, broadside, public speech). However, this right of free speech does not extend to proprietary, editorial censure, expurgation, censorship of various kinds. In other words, the right to censor or edit for content is generally reserved, except in the instance of selective quotation/misquotation, visual collaging, misleading representation, slander, false claims, etc. In general terms, any blog administrator can block a comment box submission without redress. Insofar as I am aware, blogger administrators don't have the right (or a way) to "edit" comment submissions, though they may delete them once they've been initially posted. Therefore, legally, there is no "free speech" claim against the moderation of commentary on blog sites.
 
Since the application of principle or doctrine by individual blog administrators is not dictated by law, there is no legal basis for attacking any blog administrator as a matter of policy or practice. There is no organization or custom or standard against which to measure the propriety of any act of censure of online comment submission. In other words, every blog administrator makes up his/her own rules, considering the guidelines under which his right of access is authorized by the service provider. Since the service provider is technically legally liable, as I explain above, comment box moderation falls within the same limits as outlined above. What this means in practical terms is that a site administrator can't get into trouble by censoring a comment (which never appears), but may be liable for a comment which is published. This would have the effect of dampening free speech where liability may be at issue, even by a "third party" such as a commenter, since the choice to "publish" is under the control of the site administrator. Administrators wary of actionable or questionable content submitted through the comment stream would, predictably, usually err on the side of caution. 
 
The internet has enabled a whole new universe of communication--immediate, global, interactive--which is challenging the old communication and dissemination systems--telephonic communication, radio and television, newspapers and periodicals. One of its great advantages is the mutual colloquy of voices, a universal participation, around the clock, by which people everywhere, sharing the same language, can communicate about anything. This facility has enabled an unimaginably broad stream of interactivity, without obvious limits. The opportunity for discussion, comment, debate, dissemination of data and information appear almost limitless, obsoleting, for instance, mountains of old media reference material, and breaking up centers of authority and limited access. As information and opinion flows freely, barriers of all kinds are broken down. This opportunity tends towards openness, freedom and equality, and is one we should honor in the name of values of a free society. Though there are no laws that govern the value of access, per se, each one of us, each isolated "administrator" has a moral obligation to keep open the conduits of access. The same principles of freedom embodied in our laws, should be encouraged in the private sector, even when it may seem inconvenient, embarrassing, or counter-productive to do so.
  
In explaining his decision to close his comment boxes, and delete the large comment archive on his site, Silliman gave three specific reasons:
 
One) Some of the comment submitted to him for moderation has contained what he considers sexist, homophobic or anti-Semitic content. Having to confront this material offends his sensibilities, and has "inured" him to a "despicable level of chatter."
 
Two) Some of the comment submitted to him for moderation has "verbally attacked" the work of a handful of writers whom he has chosen to praise, and this has allegedly "discouraged" these writers from writing or otherwise pursuing tasks or activities associated with their writing. 
 
Three) Some of the comment submitted to him for moderation really belongs on other blog sites, but is posted to his site because his offers a convenient "venue" for their submissions. 
  
There are a number of fallacies regarding blogging which these pretexts reveal. One is the fallacy of the association of the comment with the purpose or personality of the administrator. If a site owner/administrator sets up a site designed to broadcast a certain controversial position, then the existence of a "comment box" implies that objections or disagreements will be entertained. But a system of comment administration which is not guided by principles of free debate flies in the face of the very principles which the internet has been invented to serve. We take pride in the idea that the internet is "opening up closed societies" (such as China), while condemning unreasonable kinds of censure in our midst. In reaching out to others across the world wide web, each of us is participating in a grand experiment in the breaking down of barriers. The kinds of standards which Silliman is implying in his decision to close down comment (responses) are based on private, even secret, criteria; secret and private because we don't know what's been censored; standards which include, apparently, fatigue, revulsion, and the interests or preferences of privileged individuals whose interests may be selfish, reactionary, limited, biased, or simply naive
 
In a free society, the decision to attack or criticize is open to anyone, within the limits of free speech and the law. In an ideal circumstance, a free press has a precious tradition of the obligation to permit the free exchange and flow of different ideas and opinions. For the first time in history, the internet offers society, across the breadth of its interests, the possibility to expand and enhance its access to this free exchange and traffic. In practical terms, this has meant that this privilege will be subject to abuse. Users of the world wide web will address this issue in the same way it has been historically addressed by the free press media. Without formal instructions and guidelines maintained by service providers, site administrators must police these matters themselves. 
 
I believe that site administrators have a duty to follow good principles of publication practice, the same kind of principles which news editors and publishers and events coordinators must follow. When Silliman began to publish partisan position papers on literature, he knew that there would be severe disagreement in the literary community, to some of his pronouncements. He knew that the comment box submissions would constitute a de facto forum for discussion, observation, and disagreement. In addition, he knew that there would be a fair dose of "spam"--the new brand of irresponsible, occasionally scattered or scatological, "junk mail" which has become common on the internet. Again, since we can't see what he's received, we have no way of verifying anything about what he's said about the amount, or the severity, of this kind of matter coming into his box. Should we take his word for it?  
 
Silliman remarks, regarding the "fragile" sensibilities of his blog victims--Joseph Massey, Jessica Smith, and Barbara Jane Reyes--that "everyone has a right to feel exactly what they feel." This is of course a tautology which means exactly nothing, and is in no way a logical explanation of how a standard of courtesy or propriety might be deduced, which could be used to guide moderation; because "feelings" are neither sacred nor estimable. Silliman's own "feelings" could never form the basis of a theory or criteria for practice in moderation, so why should those of his subjects? Are we to accept a principle of "protected feelings" over the more precious, and valuable "protected speech"? Is anyone who criticizes the work of some writer whom Silliman values, by definition a "yahoo"? Isn't it just as likely that a yahoo is someone who believes that free speech is anything which he/she "feels" is fair or decent or proper or nice or irresistible? 
 
End Part I           
                        

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

copy-right infrigment?

politically correct -ness''what a crock of HORSE SHIT the Net is!

it is so so so so

SURERealAL!


you, my face-book friend are LOOSING IT!

Curtis Faville said...

I ain't on Facebook.

What'cha talkin' about?

DId you even read the post?

Apparently not.

Curtis Faville said...

Also, anon, you misspelled LOSING.

2nd grade education?

J said...

In general terms, any blog administrator can block a comment box submission without redress. Insofar as I am aware, blogger administrators don't have the right (or a way) to "edit" comment submissions, though they may delete them once they've been initially posted. Therefore, legally, there is no "free speech" claim against the moderation of commentary on blog sites.


You are correct Sir F. insofar that no blog-admin has an obligation to allow all comments, or to not "moderate" (censor and ban, really). It's Silliman's blog (well, actually Google's...another point). So, technically speaking, the little poesy groupies (like J Smith's crowd) defending S-man's recent decision to shut down his comments were correct from a strictly legal perspective. That doesn't mean the decision was proper or ethical or whatever normative term you care to use. And...I suspect there were other considerations for shutting down the comments (like not offending certain groups...we'll leave them unnammed). He was probably ordered to do it....

Poet Im not and don't really have a stake in the issue as far it relates to the poesy biz. S-man however does feature prose and non-fiction on his renowned "lists", even political themes and so ...at times discussion, responses, even dissent seemed merited. And given the ...literary and political context, some heated discussion not to say gonzo and passion's to be expected, is it not. I mean, the dude's features beatniks one every three posts. Beat kitties were not exactly playing fair, being nice, sipping earl gray , chatting about Edna St focking Millay

IN short, just looking at it legally doesn't suffice. He operated a popular site with lively comments, and after just a few flames shut it down--that was wrong, selfish not to say rather..spineless, and ....fill in the adjectives. (and lets not forget he was already moderating years ago...less than 1/2 of my comment got through...and I wasn't the spam king on Massey's weedwhacker ode-- if anyone's asking) .

So, the proper response should be...f**k the fat mutha-f-er.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Curtis,

I find this a well-reasoned presentation of the scope and limits of online freedom of expression.I'm afraid a lot of the initial reactions to Silliman's closing his comment box(including mine)wasn't dispassionate enough to look fairly (as you've done) at both sides. As a result something vital may have been overlooked and the condemnations a bit misdirected.

There are a lot of grey areas in the area of copyright, intellectual property and artistic expression, of course, & a host of other debatable issues around site administrator rights & obligations. I agree that online communication (aside from its more radically accessible formats)doesn't differ all that much from the traditional media it's properly thought to have displaced.

Those of us who celebrate the liberatory powers of Internet writing may sometimes forget that any notion of freedom of speech must still commit to conventions & practices established (in law and publishing in general)to prevent terrible abuses. It's sobering to think that a blog is a contractual event: and I as site-owner can't plead ignorance of terms of use (to which I've agreed) if and when I receive complaints of my own.

But Silliman's decision to close the comments stream at his blog still strikes me as so egregiously anti-free speech I can still scarcely believe he's done it. I've often wondered why I can't give him a pass on it. And I suppose it's because of who he is, his influence and prestige as poet and theorist, and the many ways in which Silliman readers have benefited from his extremely influential online presence.

Comment monster? It's been hard for me to reconcile the elegance of a forceful poet & poetics to what (to me) amounts to elitism and perhaps a disdain of the notion of poetry community itself,something for which I've always praised American writers.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Curtis,

I find this a well-reasoned presentation of the scope and limits of online freedom of expression.I'm afraid a lot of the initial reactions to Silliman's closing his comment box(including mine)wasn't dispassionate enough to look fairly (as you've done) at both sides. As a result something vital may have been overlooked and the condemnations a bit misdirected.

There are a lot of grey areas in the area of copyright, intellectual property and artistic expression, of course, & a host of other debatable issues around site administrator rights & obligations. I agree that online communication (aside from its more radically accessible formats)doesn't differ all that much from the traditional media it's properly thought to have displaced.

Those of us who celebrate the liberatory powers of Internet writing may sometimes forget that any notion of freedom of speech must still commit to conventions & practices established (in law and publishing in general)to prevent terrible abuses. It's sobering to think that a blog is a contractual event: and I as site-owner can't plead ignorance of terms of use (to which I've agreed) if and when I receive complaints of my own.

But Silliman's decision to close the comments stream at his blog still strikes me as so egregiously anti-free speech I can still scarcely believe he's done it. I've often wondered why I can't give him a pass on it. And I suppose it's because of who he is, his influence and prestige as poet and theorist, and the many ways in which Silliman readers have benefited from his extremely influential online presence.

Comment monster? It's been hard for me to reconcile the elegance of a forceful poet & poetics to what (to me) amounts to elitism and perhaps a disdain of the notion of poetry community itself,something for which I've always praised American writers.

Anonymous said...

you know, of course, the definition of indecent?


if it is hard enough
and big enough and in far enough...
it is in-decent

how much does "free speech" cost?

Kirby Olson said...

People don't really have the right to feel what they feel, but that's another truism of the left, that feelings trump logic, or trump proportionality (if I feel that I have been raped, then I have been raped). But there are technical and objective distinctions that matter, too, so that obvious distinctions can be made that allow the letter of the law to get its i's dotted and its t's crossed.


I fear the left that uses subjectivity so tyrannically.

And yet, although I don't know Jessica Smith or her cohorts, I have been blogging since 2004, and have some of the same commentators that Ron has had (though they are less welcome at my blog, and I don't deal with them, because I don't feel even remotely that I owe them any of my attention).

He is in something of the position that Warhol was in at the Factory. Ginsberg was in that position, too.

Ron has the remove of the net, but he is more remote as a character than Warhol or Ginsberg, and less on the make.

I suppose it comes down to economics: what use is it to him to have to spend so much time (and let's face it, time is getting shorter for Ron and for us, as well, whereas for a lot of the younger set, time means nothing).

I'm glad he shut his comments down. I worried a lot about his mental health.

J said...

And let's not forget Silliman's rants re his generalization the "School of Quietude." And he apparently suggested like most academic belle-lettres by that. So the beat-counterculture writers (and lang-po) were an alternative, supposedly. Yet...the portly S-man definitely does not hang with the more macho (rather than...er non-macho) of the beats does he.

can we imagine Ron Fatsman on the road with Kerouac and Cassady, duking it out in bars and brothels OR street fighting ala Bukowski and his cronies...Brautigan ?? Hell no. Or peak-bagging with the zen goats such as Snyder...Nyet to all of that.

He's the school of quietude--,rather, the school of quiet obesity

Anonymous said...

J--

Why do you bring up violence and alcohol to criticize Silliman's 'school of quietude,' which is a generalization based in poems?

J said...

as Ti Jean said:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

That's not Ron S-man, is it (and it wasn't just violence and booze, but sex...gals, dope, politics, travel PLUS violence and booze! yeah). S-man's the School of Quietude, ie poetical Decorations, Inc. Just the obscure, techie School of Quietude.

His writing may be interesting at times...but note it's usually fragments strung together. Dogwood trees. Strip malls. skateboarders. Vietnam. yada yada yada. Grandmother's attic. The old attic school! Not really saying anything, just sort of combinations of images. Whatever. Maybe it's great for some hipsters, tho seems pretty formless, "techie" if not bor-reeng and even nihilist. A well-crafted 8 pages minimalist tragedy penned by Ray Carver says something, even important and poignant. So does Conrad's Heart of Darkness, or any klassic. or the rise and fall of the 3rd reich. Some of us bagged the random kaliedoscope jazz back like in 80s.


And S-man's got this sunday school PC-moralistic 'tude about everything as well--pretty ssss-square, daddy-O. He mentions a Kerouac or Pound , and in the next sentence he complains about their "far right" politics--not really accurate anyway, for Pound. Blackshirt praxis was a bit more complex than most PC liberals realize. And the comment issue ...well I've said enough about it but...snitch like

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Who are you J? What is your real name?

J said...

Ah that's another thing--anonymity's a right, since the supposed hipsters and leftists of SillimanCO have gone all legalistic and such. So..my name is J. Mr. J.

You could run some snitch gear tho' as some in blogdom do and probably get the info. for ID theft, libel, defamation whatever.

if Curtis Faville, fairly moderate politically speaking, considers Silliman's actions mistaken , arrogant, selfish, etc they probably are. bastante

Curtis Faville said...

J:

As you know, I'm not a big advocate of anonymous blogging. It has its place, but when expressing opinions about others, it's risky and potentially unethical.

Anyone's welcome here provided they don't carry a weapon.

J said...

It's far less unethical than shutting down comments--ie discussion, debate, dissent-- on a popular site simply because the moderation's become a pain or a bit ugly.

The proof's in the pudding. When Anonymous X has something to say, the anonymity shouldn't bother us (and to demand non-anonymity seems pretty conservative as well). When Anonymous X rants and raves like a redneck at a "tea-party" for Sarah Palin then...he can be ignored (or in some cases...moderated, but Id say only when there are direct serious threats, or endless "hickspeak" should someone be ignored...tho even that's borderline.Some of us have been in the game since like 90s, CF. The old bulletin boards and USENET were far uglier. So if someone had an interesting or clever threat, it was left...we catch you, we'll harvest your skull for our red wicca ritual in the sonora with the hells angels, fats...bwahbwahbwahbhwah....that sort of thing. "Trolls" were often approved (and a type of hacker, not just outsider, etc)

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

I just think when you spew things as acidic, hurtful, bigoted and ignorant as you do, J, you really ought to own them. It has nothing to do with your opinion. In fact, your comments rarely express an actual opinion, but are essentially and consistently hateful and uninformed. I'm sure the person you are, the human hiding behind your anonymity, probably has redeeming qualities. But you behave in comment boxes like an unethical coward.

Right after freedom of speech comes taking responsibility for what one says. It's basic. You don't do that.

Anonymous said...

I always identify myself
(am never 'anonymous)
just before I 'pull-the-trigger'!

Just like The Lone Ranger
"who Was that Masked Man
in a cloud of dust ... and a Hei Ho-Yo, Silver,

away!"

J said...

No, you are mistaken, Miss Annandale. And it's not cowardly at all. I said Silliman's a rat. Capichay?

You didn't read my comments, either. There was a community of sorts, however odd or offbeat. Silliman nixed that...without any sort of heads up--in an afternoon.

He at least could have announced his intention a day or so before deleting (as Miss Meg said as well) a few years worth of commentary. And as I said (you didn't note) I suspect his rabid rightist-zionist palsie Olson had something to do with it (oops. the z-word). No mercy. It was a snitchy, ratty decision. He's the coward

J said...

(disregard last post. and this Im finished on this Mr Faville.---must return to arbeiten... Appreciate your commentary, though I think you're a bit tame (and you probably think im too violent or something)--and note that as per usual yr pal Olson defends the censors, the rightists, the nutbags. He's insane, sir

Curtis Faville said...

J:

I'm not sure I follow the business about "zionist" as applied to Olson. Properly applied, Zionist refers to adherents of radical Jewish thought. That seems gratuitously tangential, as applied to him. I disagreed with Meg on several points--does that make me "zionist" too?

J said...

Not sure it has to be radical, but does generally mean approving of Israel at all times, though...opposing zionist racketeering --say in finance, entertainment, academia, etc. does not necessarily imply anti-semitism (see Zizek's discussion of this issue and others). Someone might want to bust mafiosos--that doesn't mean they hate all italians (or sicilians).

The GOP is probably 95% pro-israel (then Demos are probably 75% pro-israel). AIPAC remains the most powerful lobby in America, and let's not forget the founding of Israel itself, accompanied by gas and various purges of palestinians and arabs (all approved by that neo-con fat boy Churchill). Even Bertrand Russell, hardly a maoist (or whatever -ist the right finds objectionable) had some issues over the founding of the zionist state.

One other thing, since we're on a roll: I generally avoid the PC-chats, but one couldn't help but note that most of the writers and "poets" featured on Silliman were...WASP or jewish (and probably more women than males). A few blacks appeared once every few months, and hardly any hispanic, muslim or asian writers--or, really even european (german, french,etc). Honkay-land

Perhaps Silliman got tired of pretending to be PC or continental (did he ever pass a french or spanish course?? no se pienso) and returned to his mission st roots.

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Call whoever you like a rat, J. But someone who is bitingly critical, who hurls around antisemitic, cruel invective after invective, and doesn't identify himself, IS a coward. Be your baaaad self---whatever---but stand up and own it.

J said...

I don't have to do anything. I own it. My site is linked (and has been up for...7+ years).

Or perhaps a bit of anti-AIPAC rhetoric offends you, Annandale? Perhaps respond to my post, instead of making yr usual hysterical points.

Opposing the likes of say DiDi Feinstein or Kissinger (or GOP and Foxnews in Olson's case) doesn't mean one denies the holocaust, except in the twisted minds of some rabid zionists.

I don't really think you understand what literature's about (one, most of it stems from latin...and greek sources). And...I doubt Silliman passed one french or spanish course, or any romance language (usually two years for those who attended real universities, not the lang-po decorator centers...)

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

What is your name?

J said...

You show me yrs; I show you mine.

(my emails on me blog, Annie--no reasonable offer refused!....and we note that yr profile is unlisted)

Silliman's....Bogus with a capital B. That's the real issue.

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Lynn Behrendt. It's no secret. Most people know I'm 'annandale dream gazette.'

What is your real first and last name?

J said...

Johnny Conquerroo

I'm here to f**k wityoo


see, it's like this, see. Yr little confessionalist, sincerity school was wrong from the start (besides, you might be lyin'). Sylvia Plath worked for ..El Diablo, as do all those little sob sisters (m or f), including beat kitties.

capichay that, Sir Faville? In fact the EFF won a court battle a few years ago to protect anonymity rights. In Ellay many ID thieves use the internet to get bio-info, and then hack yr credit card, etc. I find it quite ironic (if not typical) that lit-people, the supposed hip, progressive whatever tend to be the most anal about s-names. You must tell me yr name! Zee Paperwork! fock that.

Curtis Faville said...

Thank, you, Lynn, for outing yourself.

Curtis Faville said...

J:

I ain't buyin' it, dude.

Come clean with the ID, so we can see ya' dance in your underpants.

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

You're welcome Curtis, but it really isn't and never was a secret. I just kept that blogger name because that's the first blog I started & I thought it was a little bit of exposure for the dream gazette, too. I can tell you 15 poets off the top of my head who know that annandale dream gazette is me. Maybe I should sign my posts or something. I very strongly believe that anything that a person says online should be able to be said in person. I am pretty sure you would agree with this. Antisemitism is a very serious thing. Some people use online pseudonyms like Ku Klux Klan caps, verbally rampaging behind the safety of a mask.

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

Yeah, J, like I said: coward. You have no credibility now.

J said...

Nope. In fact it's a rightist meme to demand non-anonymity, and even illegal in some areas to demand "names" (google the EFF court case). And it's not "dude". Yr avoiding the actual issues on point as usual Sir Faville, in favor of vague rhetoric and policy-speak. The issue is Silliman, Mr. Bogus. Not J.

J is for John. We'll leave it at that.

J said...

You have no credibility, Annandale Freud grrrl. You sound about like Lynne Cheney with PMS.

This isn't yr classroom. this isn't yr ethics class either, and the topic's Silliman, not J. In fact, Im upholding the law, which says, humans can be anonymous online if they want (and Im linking to a blog, with a s-name anyway. So not really anonymous anyway. You're anonymous, with no profile). And I don't give a f**k about any east coast supposed literary credibility. Joyce Carol Oates works for El Diablo. A fortiori.....

Now, back to Silliman's bogus not to say ugly vulgar scribbling

Kirby Olson said...

J are you regularly under the influence of illegal substances?

Just curious.

peN said...

& we wonder why Silliman removed the comment feature from his blog. Wow.

steven said...

i have no problem whatever with J's remarks which I find to be both amusing and apt; you all are insuferably genteel

sillifart was a noxious vapor, but he's over with

steven said...

go J-man, go...