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Comments Threads as Parties:

One of our readers took exception to our comments policy (see the bottom of this page for its text) as being "inappropriate." Oddly, he was complaining about the policy itself, not its application. This suggests that he thinks it's inappropriate to ask people to be "as calm, reasoned, and substantive as possible," to "avoid rants, invective, and substantial and repeated exaggeration," to "[s]tick[] with substance," or, "[i]f you think people would view you as a crank, a blowhard, or as someone who vastly overdoes it on the hyperbole, [to] rewrite your post before hitting enter." Those seem like pretty reasonable requests to me.

But in any case, this prompted me to speak a bit more explicitly about how I see comment threads. To me, a comment thread on our site is like a party to which we're inviting you. Thanks to technology, we don't need to worry about our beer and chips budget, or about your breaking our furniture, and you don't need to be stymied by travel time or your having another party that evening. The party could thus (in theory) be much larger than a typical party we'd throw in real space.

Still, we throw parties because we think they would be fun for guests; and a few guests can sometimes ruin this fun (or at least as best we, as hosts, can guess) for other guests. Chiming into a conversation with insults is one way. Coming across like a crank, or ranting and throwing around exaggerated invective, is another. Or so we think based on our experience as party planners.

That's why some guests don't get invited back to future parties, and occasionally even get thrown out of the current party. Same thing goes for comment threads — if a host thinks that a commenter is making the party less fun, the host doesn't have an obligation to keep having the guest over.

Now naturally sometimes the host might get it wrong, and kick out a guest who only looked like a crank, but was really a Valiant Seeker of Truth who sees the world much more clearly than the host and the other guests. The natural check on this is that the host wants to be known as throwing interesting parties, and if he kicks out people who have important things to say, his reputation may suffer; plus it takes time and effort to kick someone out. Yet sometimes despite this, the host errs.

But remember, (1) it's the host's party, and (2) hey, it's only a party. If the host's narrow-mindedness led to your being shown the door, what have you really lost? Not much — it's a big Internet out there, you can go to lots of other parties, and you can even throw some parties yourself.

If you're a thoughtful visionary with lots of interesting things to say, people will likely be eager to show up to your shindigs. On the other hand, if no-one comes to your parties, and people don't want you at theirs, you might think a bit about the reason why: Might you not be using enough deodorant? Might people be alienated by your rhetoric, and as a result miss your substance? If they think you're a crank, might you actually be a crank, or at least someone who doesn't take the trouble to avoid seeming like a crank?

Of course, maybe you really are a genius, and because of our foolishness, self-interest, or conventional thinking, we're not seeing it. Indeed, they laughed at Columbus (well, except the ones who paid him, and who sailed with him, and . . .). But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. On the Internet, you have lots of opportunities to prove that you're the former and not the latter. Go to it. Build yourself a great reputation and make us feel sorry that we struck you off our guest list.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Comments and Civility:
  2. Comments Threads as Parties:
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