Rights and Responsibilities of Bloggers and Commenters

I have been read­ing with great inter­est in the debate brought up by sev­er­al peo­ple such as Hank Williams and now being dis­cussed on both the Disqus and Intense Debate web­sites regard­ing  “A Commenter’s Rights” and who owns the com­ments. I believe that there is a prob­lem with the dis­cus­sions. This is my per­spec­tive.

When ever one dis­cuss­es the “rights” a per­son has, there needs to be the inclu­sion of what that person’s respon­si­bil­i­ties are as well. It also needs to include what rights and respon­si­bil­i­ties oth­ers have that are affect­ed by that per­son. Without this inclu­sive­ness, a person’s rights can be declared and they stomp all over every­one else’s rights.

I became intrigued by this dis­cus­sion since I have gone through many cycles of thought myself. Having run a forum for many years at my old ISP, we con­stant­ly ran into this whole issue of who owns the com­ments, how should they be dealt with, and what to do with com­ments that con­tain some good stuff that moves the dis­cus­sion for­ward but has some cruft as well.

We end­ed up using a sys­tem with explic­it guide­lines that explained what was accept­able. I based this on the guide­lines the local papers used for their let­ters to the edi­tor. The sys­tem then did three things. First, we let com­ments stand even when there were typos, idi­ot­ic opin­ions, etc as long as they had fol­lowed our forum guide­lines. Second, we would delete unac­cept­able com­ments total­ly if they were just inap­pro­pri­ate.  Finally, for com­ments that did move the dis­cus­sion along but had cruft we would delete the cruft if pos­si­ble and indi­cate it had been removed with the visu­al sig­nal , some­thing peo­ple used to do in e-mail lists to indi­cate non-essen­tial text had been removed in a reply. If we couldn’t remove the cruft with­out chang­ing the comment’s mean­ing, the com­ment would be delet­ed.

This sys­tem said basi­cal­ly, we want your com­ments but we want you to com­ment respon­si­bly. Cruft nor­mal­ly was bro­ken links (or links to inap­pro­pri­ate sites) and per­son­al attacks against some­one else on the forums (although if a post had a per­son­al attack in it, it nor­mal­ly was com­plete­ly delet­ed). It was my opin­ion that if some­one want­ed to show their lack of intel­li­gence by spelling poor­ly, spout­ing off real­ly stu­pid opin­ion, or just writ­ing non­sense, that was their priv­i­lege and we would let the world see it.

I decid­ed to do some research again to see what on-line papers such as the New York Times have now as their poli­cies. Most were brief and to the point: we own what you send us and we can do what we want with it.

However, I found the New York Times pol­i­cy rather inter­est­ing (I had dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting a good link to it). I quote, “We reserve the right to edit for space, clar­i­ty, civil­i­ty and accu­ra­cy, and we send you the edit­ed ver­sion before pub­li­ca­tion.” They then state that they ver­i­fy authen­tic­i­ty of the writer (they are who they say they are). They stat­ed the writ­ers have a respon­si­bil­i­ty for ensur­ing that facts cit­ed in the let­ters are accu­rate.  They say, “Letter writ­ers, to use a well-worn phrase, are enti­tled to their own opin­ions, but not to their own facts.” Finally, they state, “As with any let­ter, writ­ers speak only for them­selves or their orga­ni­za­tions; pub­li­ca­tion should not be tak­en as an endorse­ment of that view by The Times. The aim is to stim­u­late dis­cus­sion, not end it.”

This pol­i­cy of the New York Times has kind of wok­en in me what I have always felt with regards to com­ments. There is the right and respon­si­bil­i­ty of the pub­lish­er of a blog to ensure that all com­ments made respect the rights of the com­menter but also enforce the respon­si­bil­i­ties of the com­menter as well.

Blog com­ments don’t need to edit for space so we cer­tain­ly don’t need to wor­ry about that. Right now, there is no way to send an edit­ed ver­sion back to the com­menter before pub­li­ca­tion but we can always allow a com­menter to delete or request a dele­tion of an edit­ed com­ment. Of course, right now, Disqus doesn’t even allow for edits so it is a moot point. Using a sys­tem like Disqus or Intense Debate can pro­vide some authen­ti­ca­tion of who the writer is but in gen­er­al most on-line sys­tems can be fooled. Unfortunately, this allows some inac­cu­rate and mis­lead­ing state­ments to be made in someone’s name who had no idea it was being said.

I also have to say that if some­one posts a com­ment anony­mous­ly, they are obvi­ous­ly giv­ing up all rights to that com­ment includ­ing copy­rights since there is no attri­bu­tion. People just can’t com­plain at all if they post anony­mous­ly and it all gets changed.

I will be work­ing on ful­ly writ­ing this out but as a pre­lim­i­nary revi­sion of this blog’s stance regard­ing com­ments here is my pol­i­cy.

We reserve the right and feel we have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to edit for clar­i­ty, civil­i­ty, and accu­ra­cy all com­ments sub­mit­ted. All edits will be not­ed. If an addi­tion, the addi­tion will be sur­round­ed by square brack­ets, e.g., [ed: Sam Spade]. If con­tent is delet­ed from the com­ment, it will be indi­cat­ed by “”. If a com­ment is edit­ed, and the com­menter is known (anony­mous com­menters give up all rights since there is no attri­bu­tion), they have the right to clar­i­fy their com­ment, delete it, or request it be delet­ed.

Commenters have the right to look ridicu­lous, inar­tic­u­late, and unlearned. We, of course, hope for smart, artic­u­late and informed but feel that edit­ing should always be done min­i­mal­is­tic if at all. Don’t expect us to cor­rect your spelling, fix your gram­mar, or oth­er­wise become the “iron fist of edi­to­r­i­al con­trol.”

Commenters have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to respect oth­ers and the facts. All facts stat­ed in a com­ment must be accu­rate. If what you are stat­ing is an opin­ion, it must be clear that is is an opin­ion and not a fact. Broken links or links to inap­pro­pri­ate sites dis­re­spect oth­ers and will be delet­ed. Libel, mali­cious, hate­ful and/or dis­re­spect­ful state­ments against oth­ers will not be tol­er­at­ed.

Commenters speak only for them­selves and/or their orga­ni­za­tions. Publication of a com­ment should not be tak­en as an endorse­ment of that com­ment by this blog or any­one asso­ci­at­ed with it.

Our aim is to stim­u­late dis­cus­sion, not end it. This is a part­ner­ship between blog­ger and com­menter not adver­sar­i­al.

I doubt I would ever edit for clar­i­ty since if you want to look dumb, you can but in some areas, it might be good to do so. I have seen it where a name needs to be added to clar­i­fy who said what.

Civility is just right. It is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of both blog­ger and com­menter to be civ­il.

Accuracy of the facts is para­mount. Twisting the truth so that it becomes a lie is just wrong too. I don’t see  inac­cu­ra­cy or twist­ing facts as a right that a com­menter has, at least not on my blog. If they want to spew lies and mis­truths, they can do it on their own blog.

Note: at this point I am wait­ing to see how the debate works itself out at both Intense Debate and Disqus. I will not remove Disqus at this time despite the fact I can not do any­thing but allow or delete a com­ment which I feel is too lim­it­ing. I hope that one or both of them will end up at a posi­tion that will allow me to use them. If not, I will not use either and go back to the bor­ing old com­ment sys­tem that is built into WordPress.

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