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Comments Do Not Necessarily Reflect The Views Of…

March 1, 2007

Should we judge a blogger by their comment section? 

 There was some debate (if you wanna call it that) in the blogosphere this week about etiquette and double standards when it came to using a blogger’s comment section as a source of criticism.  This arose after some conservative bloggers noticed that HuffPo’s (and other sites’) comments reflected sentiments of disappointment that Dick Cheney wasn’t killed in Afghanistan.  Or as Glenn Greenwald put it:

…began their attempt to politically exploit the attack on or near Cheney. Seemingly in unison, they all went digging deep into the comment sections of various liberal blogs, found inappropriate and hateful comments, and then began insisting that these isolated comments proved something.

I think Greenwald is correct, but the “in unison” part was undoubtedly due to the fact that left’s hatred of Dick Cheney is pretty much common knowledge at this point. .Some righty bloggers responded to Greenwald, calling him a hypocrite on the issue (they’re probably right).  Then Arianna Huffington got in on the action. Before you know it, everyone is pointing fingers towards the other side’s comment section or the smears made out of their own. 

It’d be entertaining if it wasn’t a little sad.  It got me thinking though.  Should there be some sort of netiquette for this kind of thing?   Do comments* have any reflection on the blogger?  Should they?

Many blogs address the issue by having a disclaimer in front of their comments section.  Take LGF’s:

Comments are open and unmoderated, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Little Green Footballs. Obscene, abusive, silly, or annoying remarks may be deleted, but the fact that particular comments remain on the site in no way constitutes an endorsement of their views by Little Green Footballs.

There ya go.  All a blogger has to do is put something like that in there, and they are immune from being beat up over the content posted in the comments, right?  On the surface, it would appear that way. 

On the other hand, the blog administrator has the power to post the entries (obviously), remove any comment they wish, or ban any members/IP’s.  It would be pretty silly to use the disclaimer defense if someone is pointing out the fact that you have a member that has made 10 thousand posts and every other one of them contains the same offensive stuff.  I think it’s fair to say that kind of thing reflects on the blogger.  One could also make the argument that some blog entries are posted for no reason other than to elicit certain types of comments, but that case would be a lot tougher to make in most circumstances.

In summary,  I think that the comments section can be fair game, but the case needs to be made. One has to ‘dig deeper’ if they want to argue that somehow the comments posted on a blog reflect on the blogger, let alone a particular side of the political spectrum.  “Cherry picking” doesn’t prove much of anything.  In that sense, I think Greenwald has a point.  He’s just guilty of it himself, that’s all. 

On a related note, I have no problem with engaging the comment posters themselves. I think it’s entirely appropriate to present an argument as “a Daily Kos poster said this” and debate the comment on it’s merit, even on another site. People post things on blogs and message boards to be responded to, after all. It may be just a commonly made argument that you wanted proof that somebody posted, so you post their handle even though it’s irrelevant. 

Personally, I’m kinda glad this came up. I think I’m guilty of “comment digging” to make wide sweeping generalizations myself.  In the future, I’ll try to think it through before I attempt that kind of thing. 

*I would put Kos-like diaries in this category as well. EDIT- On second thought, I should clarify and say Kos diaries that aren’t on the front (main) page and concede “recommended diaries” in the sidebar.

Update:  Huffington…well…ok: Limbaugh, Hannity, and the Right’s Faux Fury Over Anonymous Comments 

Update:  I forgot to mention another fundamental flaw in using comment sections as sources of criticism:  The existence of impostors (see LGF: “moby“) and other devious netizen flame warriors.

imposter.jpg

Since sites like Kos, HuffPo, LGF and others are open to all (at least sometimes), it’s possible this type of subversion is taking place.  I suppose it’s a matter of debating the extent of it. 

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One comment

  1. Blogs are a curious creature. Both public/private and individual/communal. Hard to decipher at times.

    ggw



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