this blog entry has been updated
Since Raise the Hammer implemented community moderation via comment voting, we have had a policy of only deleting comments that are obviously spam. Comments that receive lots of downvotes from registered RTH users start to fade in text colour until they are a faint grey or are hidden, depending on your user profile settings, but they never fade all the way to white or get deleted (even a hidden comment can be un-hidden by clicking a single button).
But every now and again, a comment appears - usually posted by an anonymous reader - that leads me to question whether this is the right approach. When a deeply offensive comment was posted in May, I responded in the comments with my concerns about deleting comments, specifically:
Another round of deeply offensive comments today has me thinking about the RTH comments policy again. Is it time to establish some kind of path to deletion for such comments? If so, how might it work and how can we protect RTH against moderation that is overzealous or arbitrary?
I've seen what happens when tyrannical moderators start clamping down on a forum, and it's highly damaging to the kind of freewheeling participation that makes for a healthy, nuanced discussion. (I've also seen what happens when abusive comments are ignored or accepted, and it's just as damaging.)
Yet the power to silence carries an insidious scope creep. It turns out to be quite a small stumble to reason from truly abusive comments to trolls all the way to mere contrarians, and by the end of the exercise, the discussion is so emasculated by censorship chill as to be scarcely worth following, let alone joining.
My fear is that the precedent set by deleting harmful comments could ultimately prove to be more harmful still.
So my personal inclination is pretty strongly against censorship, but RTH has to be about what its community wants, and I'm open to a respectful discussion of possibilities. If a specific, objective plan comes out of it, I'm willing to put it to the community for a vote.
Be sure to read the follow-up blog entry, Please Vote on Proposed Change to RTH Comment Policy.
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