Toxic Commenting Policies

When a contributing author on your blog leaves, not because that author dislikes you, but due to the toxicity of the commenters there, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your commenting policy.

That’s exactly what Chris Clarke has recently done. He was a contributor to the Pharyngula blog over at the FTB site. On his own blog he gave his reason for leaving:

OK, so it’s no secret that I’ve left Pharyngula. Not because of any falling out with PZ, whom I still adore, but because of the tenor of the commentariat. There are a number of regulars there who are fine people, and a number who are deliberate jerks in situations that do not call for deliberate jerkery, and a Venn diagram of those two sets would overlap considerably.

So, P.Z. Myers, the author of that blog has decided to revise his comment policy. A bit. But instead of just telling people what they may or may not do, he’s looking to crowdsource and take ideas from people as to the changes that need to be made that will, I guess, make the experience less toxic. Possibly attract new commenters since he’s already driven off all reasoned discussion on any topic in favor of his “I agree” bots.
But even these bots are starting to feed amongst themselves because there’s no “fresh meat” out there to hunt and if anyone new does pop up in the comments that may have a different perspective on the topic, they’re quickly driven away.
All of that is okay though, because it’s his blog. He can allow or disallow anything he wants. Of course, with his current policy, being a skeptic is not necessarily something anyone wants to identify with when commenting. The reason I say that is Dr. Myers formally divorced himself from skepticism earlier this year.There was an conscious decision to embrace ideology over reason. Most of us already knew this of course. Dr. Myers took a particularly hard turn to becoming an ideologue a couple of years ago. Not that he wasn’t even then, it’s just more pronounced now. Since then, he’s been barreling ahead full speed, ignoring the warning signs. We all know what will happen sooner or later when you do that.
As far as I’m aware, all bloggers have a comment policy. I do. Mine’s simple: feel free to disagree with me or any other commenters, just don’t be abusive. Pretty simple and as to the blogs I normally peruse, that’s fairly common. And this contribution from Chris Clark, which Dr. Myers heartily endorsed (see comment 37), doesn’t seem to inspire confidence that anything substantial will occur.
As my friend NotungSchwert tweeted: I give whatever “solution” they come up with about a week before it becomes Lord of the Flies again.
So why am I writing about this? It’s not that I really care about what goes on at Dr. Myers’ blog, it’s just to show that there are people out there that place ideology over facts. Ideology over reason, and it doesn’t matter how much anyone attempts to have a dialogue (did I actually just use that word?) on matters that for the atheists and skeptics I know , are important topics. I’m also not saying that we all agree. In fact I know that there are many different perspectives to issues discussed online. The difference is that most of us are willing to hear a dissenting opinion without having the conversation devolve into abuse and threats.
And I agree with NotungSchwert’s comment above because as he also said later when several of us were tweeting,specifically discussing his commenters: They control him, not the other way around. He’s responsible though ofc.
So, I think I’m done here. I just want to leave you with one final quote from Chris Clarks blog, quoted above:

Really final update: those of you tempted to leave comments excoriating PZ for not hewing to the misogynistic status quo in your tepid and useless little “movement” should decide not to bother. Your comments will never see the light of day.

Yep, pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

2 thoughts on “Toxic Commenting Policies

  1. It will be interesting to see if he actually makes any real changes. Like you suggest, those who would offer reasonable dissent have already been chased off so it may be too little too late.


    • Yeh, I am pretty sure his credibility in the wider community is gone. It’s really interesting that he wants the commentariat to come up with the new rules. If he was really serious, he would just come out with a blanket statement.
      EllenBethWachs told me last night that he did a similar move after the debacle with her earlier this year and did we really notice any changes? No.


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