Tag Archives: debate

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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