Comment Of The Day On Civility And Blog Moderation Ethics, By Ampersand

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It doesn’t really matter what post generated this Comment of the Day (it was the one about Melissa Harris-Perry’s second try at apologizing for inciting her guests to treat Mitt Romney’s adopted black grandchild as the human equivalent of spinach on a fashion model’s front teeth—further ethics developments: Mitt Romney was as gracious as one can be yesterday while accepting Harris-Perry’s mea culpa, and the clueless Alex Baldwin griped that she kept her MSNBC job by playing the weepy girl card, while he was sacked after his umpteenth public meltdown over a paparazzi), because it is off-topic. Ampersand, a.k.a. Barry Deutsch, and I have been fencing about the proper level of invective that should be permitted on blogs like Ethics Alarms and his blog, Alas!.

I take the topic very seriously, as does Barry, because we are both trying to build and maintain an enlightened and diverse community of serious readers and participants in ongoing discussion of serious topics. Barry’s blog is an ideological one; Ethics Alarms, despite being alternatively called on the carpet for being tilting either conservative or liberal, is not. Beyond question, from Barry’s own position on the ideological spectrum, this blog is well to his right. This particular exchange was prompted by complaints by some commenters that my moderation is too loose, that I should censor particular words or eject commenters here who engage in harsh personal denigration. I remain in flux on this problem.

It is true that I have moderated my moderation in recent months, though not as much as some people think. I still bar some commenters, and frequently refuse to accept comments that are nothing but name-calling, as well as those which are objectively moronic. But it is true that regular contributors here who have demonstrated serious intent and valid commentary acquire the privilege of going off the rails, civilly speaking, from time to time. I wish they wouldn’t do it, but despite my belief that civility is critical to societal harmony and professional conduct, I am persuaded that routinely filtering out the passion expressed by vulgarity (and worse) may go too far. I have also been influenced by the recent escalation of political correctness, especially in the media, epitomized when a CNN host announce that the verb “target” was no longer considered appropriate on TV—a threat, don’t you know.

Another factor in my thinking was Popular Science’s decision in September to ban online comments to its articles, rooted in its conclusion that research had proven that aggressively worded contrary opinions could be psychologically persuasive, and were thus “bad for science.” I don’t like the looks of that slippery slope at all.

  I explained my evolving thoughts on the issue in the earlier replies to Barry  and Beth, a commenter here and a personal friend, who has been the target of some of the least civil attacks.  I wrote in part… Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: My “Disrespectful” Comment

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There has been an epic thread, over a week long now, I think, on Ampersand’s blog about the Zimmerman trial. It has been very illuminating and valuable for me, because the vast majority of the discussion consists of articulate knee-jerk liberals desperately searching for some way to hold on to the myth that Trayvon Martin was the victim of racial profiling, and that George Zimmerman, a closet racist cold-blooded killer, got away with murder. It is fascinating, if depressing. So many seemingly smart people who just “know” that Zimmerman was really guilty, and that Martin was gunned down because he was wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles.

One of the outnumbered rational commenters there, a chap calling himself Conrad, responded to a persistent Zimmerman-hater who kept saying that it was “50-50” who started the fatal fight, and that it should disturb anyone that there is, therefore, a 50-50 chance that Zimmerman got away with murder. Conrad pointed out that the evidence, in fact, strongly suggested that Zimmerman did not provoke the physical encounter, and, sure enough, none of the  factual arguments to the contrary were deemed persuasive. I had intervened several times in the discussion (since it was launched in the blog post by Ampersand saying that my assertion that there were no legitimate grounds on which to challenge the jury’s verdict as anything but compelled by the evidence was biased), and this was the final straw.

I wrote, to Conrad:

“Fascinating, isn’t it? So many compassionate, fair, intelligent people tying their brains into knots because they have staked everything on a badly cast George Zimmerman being the epitome of a murderous, conservative, vigilante racist. Oops! He’s not white! Oops! His prom date was black! Oops! He voted for Obama! Oops! He never used a racial slur! Oops! He was jumped by the victim! Oops! He really was injured! Oops! The evidence and all the witnesses support his account! Never mind…you just KNOW he did it.

“This is the real lesson of this endless mess–how confirmation bias makes good people into bigots and persecutors.

“There is another piece of evidence: when police, while interrogating Zimmerman, told him that the entire altercation was caught on a security camera—a lie, to check his reaction–his instant response, according to witnesses, was “Thank God!” Clever guy, that George. Quick thinking!

“But this has never been about evidence. It was about making Obama’s base fear for their lives just in time for the 2012 elections, and increasing racial divisiveness for cynical political gain. At least I hope that was what it was about, because if there wasn’t some tangible reason for it, it is the stupidest self-inflicted wound on society that I can remember.”

I was shortly thereafter shocked to receive Ampersand’s stern reprimand for this comment.

“Jack, please reread the moderation goals for this blog. In particular, this bit: “Debates are conducted in a manner that shows respect even for folks we disagree with.” If you don’t find it possible to disagree with people while treating them with respect, then I’ll ask you to stop leaving comments here. Where would make me unhappy, so I hope it doesn’t come to that. –Amp”

He generously left my entire post up with a strike-through, making it unreadable as well as  hanging a scarlet letter on the content. Nice. Apparently it was all too disrespectful. (In fact, I would judge many of the approved comments in the thread far more directly insulting to specific commenters than mine, which impugned the whole anti-Zimmerman chorus.)

Your Ethics Quiz as we head into the first August weekend:

Was it too disrespectful? Continue reading