Yesterday I went through a familiar cycle: someone posted a generic right-wing comment, I deleted it, and then I got caught in an e-mail dispute over my intolerance for dissent, etc. It should be clear from our comment policy that we don’t aspire to be an open forum embracing “free speech” for its own sake. Our comment threads are curated discussions that we wish to keep focused and productive.
In the case of generic right-wing comments, the best result is that the comment would be ignored, whereas the most likely result would be that certain readers would go down the rabbit hole of trying to argue with someone who’s clearly never going to concede even the smallest point or, more importantly, offer us anything but endless repetition of views that we’ve all heard a million times because they saturate all of public life. In short, there is no upside to allowing such comments and considerable downside.
Even worse than the initial waste of time (and considerable frustration!) such a discussion would produce, there’s also the fact that a blog comment becomes a permanent part of the post. Everyone who ever came across the post would be implicitly invited to relive yet another pointless argument over right-wing talking points. People do not consider this factor enough when complaining about restrictive comment policies — your free speech does not require me to permanently enshrine your views as part of my blog post. Feel free to respond in any other forum! Complain about me on Facebook! Start your own blog devoted to denouncing my close-mindedness! Tweet snarky remarks! The sky’s the limit, really.
I have no control over your ability to express yourself in general, nor do I aspire to such power. I do, however, have a choice about the viewpoints expressed and the tenor of discussion on my own blog posts, and I will not apologize for exercising it. And indeed, I think there’s widespread and growing recognition that the implicit norm of making every internet forum a completely open forum has been actively destructive of genuine discussion. Hence I have every reason to hope and even expect that AUFS’s more aggressively moderated approach will increasingly be the norm rather than the exception online — where comments are not simply turned off entirely. And for this development, about which they will surely complain to the high heavens, all the entitled, (mostly) right-wing assholes who have turned almost every internet forum into a replay of the same fruitless arguments have no one to blame but themselves.