Blocking Comments: Toward a Constructive Compromise

6 Jul

 

 Almost since the blog was initiated in 2010 I have wrestled with the proper and desirable scope of my monitoring role. I wanted to avoid two things: dogmatic bickering between opposed viewpoints and hateful, hurtful comments directed at either me or comment contributors. Although I did avoid the worst instances of defamatory and insulting attacks it was difficult to draw the line when substance was intertwined with nasty innuendo, and for a long time I leaned in the direction of inclusion, tolerating a certain level of incivility, some righteous anger, some insidious efforts to undermine and discredit.

 

A further concern, not evident to me early on, was the submission of long rambling comments that bore no discernable relevance to either posts or earlier comments. I have come to view that these too should be blocked for the sake of making the blog community feel the published comments were worth their time and attention. And then there was another case of unacceptable comments, those submitted by commercial entities peddling a product or vacation package, and attempting to gain smidgeons of free advertising by piggybacking on blogs.

 

I thank especially Gene Schulman and Laura Knightly (and a few others who contacted me offline) for pushing me to be more exclusionary, especially toward the repetitive hasbara contributions of several of the more persistent comment authors. This whole issue of how and when to block was really confined to a single issue on this blog—the flurry of defamatory comments pushing back against any and all criticisms of Israel, conflating anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli practices and policies with anti-Semitism, as well as those equating Palestinian resistance with terrorism, disregarding Israel’s defiance of international law, and placing the burden of blame for the Palestinian ordeal primarily on the slumped shoulders of the oppressed. Along similar lines were comments exaggerating calls for the end of apartheid or the end of exclusivist ethnic claims to be a Jewish state by treating such critiques as advocating the destruction of Israel as a state, or even of the Jewish people. This tendency to refute a charge inflated far beyond its obvious intention is a common hasbara tactic, and unacceptable.

 

The more common trope of the liberal wing of the mainstream is to do what Obama and J Street tend to do, which is to insist that both sides are responsible for the impasse and both must make ‘painful concessions’ if peace is to be achieved. Although I find such a diagnosis deeply misleading as it bypasses the structure of oppressor and oppressed, insisting on ‘balanced’ apportionment of blame and sacrifice in a situation of extreme imbalance, I consider dialogue possible, although rarely fruitful.

 

As I have made clear on several occasions, comments that support Israel’s positions and Zionist claims and activities will not be excluded so long as they are not fused with rhetoric that smears those who hold opposing views or not repeated dogmatically in redundant submissions. Likewise attacks on Israel’s policies and practices, Zionist ideology and tactics, and Jewish support for Israel have been and will be blocked if the comment includes demeaning and gratuitous personal insults.

 

In my view, the more restrictive approach is working. The quality of the comments section of this blog has recently in my judgment greatly improved, containing creative responses that engage with or go beyond the posts, and by and large avoid bickering and trivializing exchanges. I thank the participants for this enhanced quality, which was my hope from the beginning.

 

Finally, the blog domain is happily pluralistic in all its dimensions. There is no reason that a blog dealing with controversial issues needs to be neutral or non-partisan, including whether or not the blog manager wants to have a comments section at all. I felt that a dialogic format was the most valuable frame to adopt given my main concerns, especially in view of their often controversial character. On an intellectual level I draw a distinction between debate, which I have find rarely useful, and dialogue, which is a listening mode as much as a speaking mode, and if appropriately practiced is a lifelong learning experience.

 

Although it is somewhat more work for me, I think safeguarding this blog space for such dialogue is a better way to express my blog ambitions and goals, which implies a corollary willingness to limit access for those whose motivation is acrimonious debate. Without being too mechanical and dogmatic about it, and even acknowledging that a good debate can on occasion rise to the level of dialogue and that bad dialogue between narcissistic talkers can sink to the level of debate, the distinction justifies attentiveness if drawn with sensitivity.

 

I suppose in the end we who aspire to be good netizens all need a civics guidebook when it comes to enjoying a nomadic life in cyberspace.

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30 Responses to “Blocking Comments: Toward a Constructive Compromise”

  1. P. Safiya gabriel July 6, 2017 at 8:20 am #

    This is much better. I had stopped reading the comment section until now. I actually went back and read some of the comments from your last two postings.
    Thank you,
    Safiya

  2. Carlos July 6, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

    Once again Richard, I applaud your good sense and intelligence. I have been reading your blog for some time and also appreciate
    Gene and Laurie’s contributions.
    When some others go on with religious
    waffle, I shudder.
    Thank you for continuing to enlighten me.
    Keep it going.

  3. walker percy July 6, 2017 at 5:52 pm #

    Richard, maybe some anonymous counter-insurgency will begin posting fake pro-zionist comments on blogs and news sites so that everybody gets to see what they sound like. By creating sock puppet hasbara-bots, we could expose their phony logic through amplification and repetition. I am fascinated by the rhetorical skill and stylistic flourishes of some hasbarists, who must have training in casuistry or pilpul. This is a formulaic, almost Talmudic kind of writing that, in the end, (also) doesn’t make sense, and I am pretty sure we could build an online template tool to allow web workers around the world to generate thousands of fake, over-the-top, completely convincing pro-Israel comments.

    Every day, more young people are disabused of the idea that Israel is on our side, and every day the old, prejudiced people die. Not very many people have been exposed to Fred Skolnick, et. al., so they don’t yet understand what (and who) we are really fighting and dying for in the Middle East. Their work deserves a much wider audience, and we can give it to them through this grass roots effort. This is perfectly legal, but appropriately sneaky: what comes around, goes around.
    Walker

    • walker percy July 6, 2017 at 6:27 pm #

      Richard, this is Illumination. Walker.

      “What is thought to be the Jewish “genius” is often a mark of how pilpul is deployed. The rhetorical tricks of pilpul make true rational discussion impossible; any “discussion” is about trying to “prove” a point that has already been established. There is little use trying to argue in this context, because any points being made will be twisted and turned to validate the already-fixed position….Pilpul is the rhetorical means to mark as “true” that which cannot ever be disputed by rational means.”

      David Shasha, Director, Center for Sephardic Heritage.
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-shasha/what-is-pilpul-and-why-on_b_507522.html

  4. Laurie Knightly July 7, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

    Gratifying to see that comments are getting a bit of well needed scrutiny. Walker’s analysis is a strong reminder of why church/state separation is absolutely necessary. Time to try addressing the current subject at hand with rational civil discourse. To treat Richard’s much needed scholarship otherwise is discrediting – both to his work and those who have joined in seeking productive discussion. Not sure who those ‘netiizens’ are in his last sentence above. I don’t think it’s a word but we could make it one. Maybe persons who separate evidence based policies from ‘pilpul’.. {new word for me]

    • walker percy July 7, 2017 at 3:53 pm #

      Thanks for your reply, Laurie. I have become aware of pilpul recently, and have been looking into it. Richard can’t figure out why his lengthy dialog with Fred Skolnik never seems to get anywhere. It may be because Fred’s argumentative techniques are adapted from Jewish scholarship, and are not predicated on the desire for clarity or solutions. Fred is not trying to persuade as much as create a logical edifice that support his theological positions, such as “Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish people.” This rhetorical style is common among zionists, and once you become aware of this, it explains a lot.

      • Richard Falk July 7, 2017 at 9:50 pm #

        Thannks, Walker, for clarifying these language tropes that explain my frustrations
        with Zionist ‘debating’ tactics that avoid what I was trying to contrast with ‘dialogue’
        that accords core value to listening to ‘the other.’ Yours is the best explanation I
        have encountered, and more precise, and responsive to the actual experience, than is mine.

      • walker percy July 8, 2017 at 6:33 am #

        richard, what do you think of my idea of creating fake comments that emulate Fred’s argumentative style, but are even more outrageous and inflammatory? I can start the ball rolling here:

        According to scripture, God promised this land to my direct ancestors, therefore it now belongs to me. I prefer to be surrounded only by people who share my faith, and since this land is mine, I choose to banish those who have managed, over the last two thousand years, to infiltrate my homeland. They should have known about the ancient covenant and not set up their backwards societies here. Just like any victim of a home invasion, I claim the right to defend my home by any means necessary, including by deadly force. Just as Golda Meir said, ‘we Jews have a secret weapon: we have no where else to go!’. [editor’s note: except back to Minneapolis].

      • Laurie Knightly July 8, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

        Walker: ISIL claims religious, political, and military authority, over all Muslims worldwide – and that any assumed legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations become null and void by the caliphate’s authority.

        And you choose to discredit the only democracy in the Middle East, surrounded by hostile adversaries, by trivializing the sacred writings and endeavors of the Hebrew people.

        Note: The above tactic is an example of ‘whataboudery’. You could get enticed into doing it or you might consider beating yourself with cold towels. I’d suggest the latter………

      • walker percy July 9, 2017 at 7:32 am #

        Wow, “Laurie”, now my head is spinning. Are you the real Laurie Knightly showing me your chops at writing fake hasbara, or you an anti-anti-anti Zionist sock-puppeting Laurie Knightly, to say, “Yes…we are watching you: beware”? This is getting interesting. I hope that we can stimulate some discussion on this thread, who knows, Fred Skolnick himself might be enticed to weigh in on the potential of deceptive viral campaigns to sway public opinion, create mass confusion, and blur the distinctions between the opposing camps. We can all join in the abhorent, unethical games that Israel is playing, and there are many, many more of us. Now, all we need is a zioPuppet app…

  5. Brewer July 8, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

    When encountering “flat-earthers” and their ilk on the blogs I am always reminded of a story one of my Philosophy professors told.
    When Stephenson’s Rocket arrived at a certain village, an engineer addressed the gathered villagers and carefully explained the boiler, piston and valves that gave the machine motion. At the conclusion of his speech, the head villager thanked him for explaining so clearly then asked to be shown the compartment in which the horse was kept.
    There are a number of “horses” in the Zionist narrative to which hasbarists return again and again despite overwhelming evidence to their contrary. This has been particularly evident in these columns.
    I have long thought that the WordPress format is a possible contributing factor.
    Mondoweiss has survived and flourished despite similar sabotage efforts. It has a more open format that allows the various threads to be followed coherently but better yet (in my opinion) is the Disqus format. Disqus has an “upvote” facility that clearly indicates the level of support (or lack of) for a point of view. It also allows access to many fora with a single log-in, provides posters with summaries and notifications in a single dashboard and, best of all, allows the user to hide obnoxious posters from his/her view. Disqus opens its users to a broader readership through promotion. It is used on widely read news and opinion sites such as Truthout, Truthdig, Alternet etc where comments often reach several hundred on a single article.
    Global Justice in the 21st Century deserves a much wider audience and would benefit from many more commentators. Those of us who value it should link to it in other discussion groups as much as possible. Disqus makes this very simple and encouraging as, with a single click, one is on-site, logged in and ready to contribute.

    • Richard Falk July 8, 2017 at 11:54 pm #

      Thanks for this constructive and affirming comment. How would I go about shifting to Disqus without losing this
      website, with its archive and subscribers? I am digitally naive, but ready and willing to learn! Warm best, Richard

      • Brewer July 9, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

        Dear Richard.
        Ha! I shall have to consult the expert – my grandson!!
        Meantime you might like to check out those sites I mentioned that use Disqus and see what you think.
        Here is the Disqus website:
        https://disqus.com/
        At first glance, it looks like it will sync with WordPress:
        https://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/articles/960360
        Kind regards.

      • Richard Falk July 9, 2017 at 11:28 pm #

        Dear Brewer:

        Thanks so much for this. I will follow up, and see what happens..

  6. Don E. Scheid July 8, 2017 at 10:05 pm #

    Hi Richard,

    Your instincts about cutting back on commentaries is healthy and , in my view, correct. Cut the rhetorical jousting, and focus on positive suggestions that advance the issues at hand and points of evidence relevant to the situations under discussion. The rest is not worth reading.

    • Richard Falk July 8, 2017 at 11:51 pm #

      Thanks, Don. Good to hear from you. I am sure you are doing good things! Warm greetings, Richard

      • walker percy July 9, 2017 at 7:51 am #

        Richard, not to be provocative, but why don’t you simply require commenters to have an account if monitoring them is such a burden? Your blog is unusual in that you can post anonymously from any computer or phone without logging in. That must have been a choice on your part, suggesting that you wanted to encourage open dialog, with the accompanying fire hose of invective that you could never hope to successfully curate or police.

        I think your critics are correct when they accuse you of publishing opinions that are beyond the pale. That is to your credit. By remaining indefatigable in the face of organized defamation, and by assuming the role of the unassailable bearer of bad news, you have created a space for truth telling on the internet. Now that you have everyone’s attention with the Apartheid report, you are in a unique position to continue this work, even if it means sparring with intellectual lightweights like Fred.
        Walker

      • Richard Falk July 9, 2017 at 8:03 am #

        Walker:

        I appreciate your advice, but I have at this point decided that it produces a higher quality conversation
        not to include the dogmatic, the irrelevant, the hateful, and the various styles of barbara discourse that
        you have depicted in an illuminating way. I am not clear once we understand this style of what I would call
        anti-dialogue we need to dwell upon or waste energy showing how it distorts and deflects. What might be useful,
        it occurs to me as I write, is the development of the distinction between styles of discourse that seek dialogic
        interaction and those that don’t.

        with greetings,

        Richard

      • walker percy July 9, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

        I understand your reluctance to spend time thinking about about the motivations of Fred and others who have made it their business to badger you in a very public manner.

        However, it is probably necessary to learn to think like a Zionist operative to really understand what is going on. I used to think that most sayonim (helpers) are really working independently, doing what they believe is necessary to protect Israel and their families.

        But I now I think that these commenters are paid by GOI. We know that out of 29,000 police officers in Israel, 1000 are assigned to monitoring the Internet. Your site must be on the top of the list.

      • Richard Falk July 10, 2017 at 4:11 am #

        I am not clear how it would help me defend the blog space if I knew how a Zionist operative thinks.
        The nature of their approach, mixing personal innuendo with one-sided selectivity when it comes to facts
        and law is rather transparent. But tell me, Walker, what am I missing by relying on this naive approach?
        And what could I possibly do about the Israeli security people monitoring this website?

        Richard

      • walker percy July 10, 2017 at 6:37 am #

        Richard, I am not suggesting that you do anything differently. You have already achieved so much on behalf of all of us: your courageous truth-telling has exposed the other side as bad-faith actors, and that slowly chips away at the false image they want to project. We are winning and there is nothing GOI and its supporters in America can do about it. Every day, another 100 college students come to our side. After a few more years of exposing their false narratives, the Zionist state will have to reconsider its methods or be permanently shunned.

        When I saw the pictures in today’s NYT of the destruction of Mosul, I was heartbroken. Israelis must be very pleased to see how well their plan to use US military force to neutralize all of the Arab countries around them has worked. Just like they must have gloated to see Berlin and Dresden in ruins after WW2. But destroying other societies through retributive violence is not a long-term solution to their problems, as we see in the continuing threats they face from multiple highly-motivated, heavily armed adversaries on all sides. We only have to keep up the pressure, continue telling the truth, and working hard to win others over to our view.
        Gratefully,
        Walker

      • Kata Fisher July 10, 2017 at 8:43 am #

        Professor Falk:

        Denuclearizing the regions would be most security thing to do for everyone. They never know when they will end up with chronically Neurotic Psychopaths.

        I am not saying this as Church — but only due to observing all Religuism/s … from a consciousness perspective.

        In my view — Denuclearizing the regions will be beneficial security business..

  7. Laurie Knightly July 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    We do note occasionally that the devious plans of certain ultra Zionist activists do not succeed in their objectives. So it was with Mosada2000’s website – well known for its S.H.I.T, List, Self-Hating and/or Israel Threatening Jews. The list of over 8,000 names does not seem to be available anymore on the website but there is still a description of who Mosada2000 were/are and their objective to expel all Palestinians from Israel as a ‘cancer’. The idea was that their kindred folk would take whatever steps they could to ruin those Jews supporting Palestinians and they did succeed in some cases. Very widely, moreover, there are numerous individuals/groups dedicated to cause harm to any Palestinian advocacy. Another recent failure was Jewish Human Rights Watch in the UK which tried to prevent the Palestinian Expo from appearing in London. It did take place, however, with over 15,000 attending – speakers like Pilger and Pappe…….. Yay!

    Being included on the Mosada2000 list became an honor among many Jews, however, and was used for them contacting each other as short bio/contact info was included. Ami Kaufman when cited – big day for me, bigger than my wedding day, bigger than when my kids were born. Some Jews submitted their names for consideration. They began to compete for the recognition. The S.H.I.T. seemed to hit the fan and fly back in their faces.

    Thanks for the encouragement given me and may we endeavor to contribute productively.

    • Gene Schulman July 12, 2017 at 8:56 am #

      Here’s the Pilger contribution to Pal. Expo:

      https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/07/11/why-palestine-is-still-the-issue/

    • walker percy July 12, 2017 at 9:14 am #

      This is fascinating history, Laurie. I knew about the S.H.I.T. list, but I didn’t know it was cancelled because it had become a badge of honor. Maybe at some future, post-apocalyptic moment, we will rediscover that list and honor those who understood and tried to expose the Zionist menace, but who were defamed or ruined as a result of being stabbed in the back by their Zionist neighborhoods. Maybe, once we have rebuilt from the nuclear devastation Israel released as its last Fuck You to the world, we will create a S.H.I.T. List Museum, where we will honor these forgotten heroes. Statues of truth-tellers Norman Finkelstein, Max Blumenthal and Richard Falk will line the avenues of Washington, D.C., and Al Quds.
      Walker

  8. Kata Fisher July 12, 2017 at 7:41 am #

    One additional note on strategic world-security:

    Those who implemented (Nuclear Age) will also abolish it. Where it started that is where it will end.

    At First, North Korea is one Denuclearising and Strategic scientific partner with Asias and Mid East — while the US and Europe will be accountable to South Africa.

    Africa Nuclear Arsenals are one example/pattern that will hold the US and Europe accountable to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and dismantling of all of the nuclear items. All the items they all be/become at the stoppage and dismantlement process/reversal-construction.

    Time line to dismantle all nuclearism in each region should be no more than 15 years, in specified projections.

    South Africa is an excellent example of the case study on dismantlement process/reversal-construction that can be presented to North Korea by Arab Nations/ countries and Russia.

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