Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thoughts on Blogging

The Compass Rose is a new blog.

I started it to join the burgeoning caravan of online discussion sites which have sprung up over the last decade.

Temperamentally, I am resistant to technology. I swore that I would never use a cell-phone, swore that I would never own a computer, swore that I would never use a digital camera. 

But convenience and efficiency are their own best recommendations: I now carry a cell-phone, but I don't leave it on--I can't receive calls; I just make them. I use a digital camera to make quick pictures of things I want to show other people, or for e.mail communications. It's astonishingly quick and efficient, and, like all such "labor-saving devices" it soon becomes an indispensable part of your daily life. 

The computer, and the internet, however,  open a huge, almost limitless, window on the world, and there is no denying that they have changed the way we think about communication. The appearance and accelerated growth of intellectual and social sites, along with incredible, lightning speed of transmission, has obsoleted snail-mail, telegraphy, and the dissemination of news and information through older traditional media such as radio, television, newspapers, magazines. Soon, direct hook-up for movies and live interpersonal media communication will become generally available. The material text is under assault by a technology so much more powerful than it, that some now speculate about the possible disappearance of the book!

The laws and standards governing behavior and liability with respect to the public internet is now a hotly debated topic. If, as seems ever more likely, the internet replaces newspapers and broadcast media, a whole new body of legislation and regulation regarding conduct and performance will eventually be written to accommodate this new forum of human intercourse.

Blogging would include not only sites underwritten by public entities, private organizations and other official entities, but individual sites generated and maintained by single individuals or small cooperative groups. 

Like many people, I have browsed hundreds of such sites, frequently commenting and engaging other posters and bloggers. 

One issue that seems to crop up over and over on individual (private) sites is the matter of censure or censorship. 

All media have standards of practice, even if they are not openly stated. In America, censorship has generally been defined with respect to standing law(s), and community culture. Aesthetically (and otherwise), an individual blog-owner is the final arbiter of taste and appropriateness on his or her own site. There are also, of course, standards which may be enforced externally, with respect to slander, fraud, copyright, pornography, publicly or privately through legal interventions or challenges.  

From a vantage point of fairness and integrity, any site owner wishing to create the appearance of a site with a free exchange of ideas and viewpoints, probably should give some thought to the limits and standards which should apply, not only to what is expressed in the body of posts, but in the comment boxes which the "administrator" (site owner) moderates

Comments which we have made elsewhere have often been censored, even revised (or "bowdlerized") by moderators. Sites which routinely "edit" commentary--in the same way that Letters-to-the-Editor editors do--usually warn contributors (or bloggers) if this is a likely or possible use or mis-use of their contribution(s). 

It has been our experience generally that most blog site administrators generally have an agenda. In other words, they have an ulterior purpose in posting information or opinion on their site, and will routinely utilize the moderation function selectively to censor or "channel" discussion towards or away from a given persuasion or line of argument. 

Is this selective moderation a form of propaganda? 

We would say it is. That is not to say, necessarily, that all such propaganda is bad. Everyone knows that there is really no such thing as unbiased reporting or commentary--everyone has a bias, no matter how subtle, or well-meaning. 

Site moderators who selectively censor commentary risk exposing their biases in a way that defeats open debate.  An open society--a democratic society--is built upon a foundation of tolerance for, even an active defense of, difference of opinion. Probably the most pernicious aspect of private site moderation lies in its invisibility to the public; since no one knows what may have been sent for moderation, a blog-site owner can create the illusion of openness and accommodation, while in reality denying it through concealment.    

Private site moderators may choose to censor and "channel" commentary--that is their right and their privilege. But in doing so, they forfeit their right to be considered relevant. A confidently expressed opinion in clear language has an inherent value apart from the uses to which it might be put: That is the standard upon which Free Speech is based, and which has formed one of the key cornerstones of our way of life. The first duty of citizenship is making oneself informed; the second duty is participation; the third is sacrifice and unselfish devotion (to the principles which these duties embody).

At The Compass Rose, we would find it very difficult to deny the privilege of free expression to any commentator, no matter how seemingly irrelevant, abusive or trivial their contribution might seem. 

As a matter of policy, The Compass Rose believes that Authors of commentary stand on their own with respect to responsible behavior, and to the responsibility for their own opinion. It is not our function to censor and control commentary towards a pre-ordained end. In other words, we would never knowingly or deliberately censor commentary for political or other reasons, because that is un-American, against the spirit of free thought, free speech, of the principle of freedom itself. 

Readers can make up their own mind(s) about what people choose to say about our ramblings and biases. It isn't our duty to protect anyone out there from other people's words. 


Anonymous said...

i don't participate on sites that censor their comment fields. i may regularly read blogs that censor, but i generally don't think very highly of these censors. censors, in my mind, are cowards.

Kirby Olson said...

Yes, I agree with this. A great number of bloggers don't care to hear anything they haven't already thought. It's wicked to censor other viewpoints, as if you know more than anybody else. At the very least, it's paternalistical.

Kirby Olson said...

I should have said, It's paternalisticalalitarianesqueish.

Curtis Faville said...

Coin of the realm, Kirb.

hedera said...

In general, I agree with you. My request on my blog site is that commenters maintain civility, and in general, they have. I'm willing to be disagreed with, and in fact often post a response to a comment I disagree with. As long as we all agree that blog posts represent opinion, this is acceptable.

I do think that a blogger who wishes to present a fact, on which she has an opinion, should also present a link to some kind of authoritative source which supports the fact. This is why I'm so concerned about the current financial problems of the newspaper industry. The newspaper industry maintains, in general, a standard of not publishing information as fact unless they have verified it; and as a blogger I rely on them to back up the facts I want to comment on. The absence of standards-based journalism would be a serious loss to the blogging community, whether they all realize it or not.

Steven Fama said...

Most blogs get no or very little "discussion" (posted comments from readers), so to call them "on-line discussion sites" ain't right.

In the future, maybe near future, you (and I) will mostly likely have to pay to blog, pay to keep what blog we have from being delted, and pay to visit others' blogs.

Cf the recent move by Kodak with its on-line photo storage site, and the David Lazuras LAT Times business column re the same.

Enjoy the ability to post and read others' while it lasts.

Steven Fama said...

And Curtis,

If you're committed to not censor and control commentary toward any end, why not just remove the comment moderation function? Let anything be posted?

That you do require approval shows that you do want control.

It's okay. You are keeping out -- as most do who moderate comments -- the libelous, and the blatantly commercial unrelated comments that come through if you don't moderate comments on Blogger.

Curtis Faville said...


My wife set up my blog page, and the moderation was an as-is thing, I think.

I've not censored any posts, and I don't intend to.

Silliman had some real pests at one point, which necessitated their being, finally, excluded.

But, then, Ron deleted some lively posts of mine which he deemed politically incorrect--even going so far as to characterize them in the comment stream as racist and sexist (!). I don't intend to fall into that trap. If I delete something, I intend to tell that person why in a private e.mail, and engage him/her privately; if I'm convinced I've done wrong, I'll make it right.

Kirby Olson said...

I'm terrible with the complexity of settings on my blog, and it took me two years to figure out how to post links. But actually this is just because I was lazy about it. Once I actually thought about how to do it, it was a snap. I think that resetting the comments box to open comments is fairly simple. I've had an open policy for the five years my blog has been going, and although I get lots of people swearing and calling me a moron under the shelter of anonymity, I haven't actually received anything truly horrible. Silliman got 500 stupid comments from some guy in Florida in one day when he used to have the open policy. About that time he shifted to a closed policy.

The problem with a closed policy is that you have to read everything before it goes up, which in Silliman's case might mean two days before he gets around to reading and posting a comment (he held mine up sometimes for up to two days). This means the conversation has to wait for the blog-meister.

One of the fun things about the open comments policy that I have is that I can turn it on after being offline for 20 hours and there will be 70 new comments added on. I find this amazing. I can open a thought, and have 70 people pile on to it, adding new ideas to the stream, and often helping me to think the topic through a little bit further.

The same guy in Florida once hit my blog with 50 bits of Spam. It's the only time I've ever deleted anything.

I don't know why, but I never get advertisements. Some times I've had bits of spam in Korean or Japanese that accrete in a comment box but only years and years after the original post.

I find it amusing. There have been for instance links to gaming sites featuring roulette wheels and so on. I don't know why this is a problem. One always wishes for intelligent, articulate contributors who will not be too merciless toward one another, and who will actually address one another with a sense of community in mind, rather than a Cyclopsean attempt to knock the other one out of the box, like it's Sumo, or something.