A tough call

I spent a few hours this morning reading through all 1,500 comments posted in the three months since this blog went live. I am overwhelmed by the comments and commenters.

Before launching, I seriously debated whether to take the risk of allowing comments. I am now enormously gratified that I did so.

On the whole, the comments are intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful. I thank all who are contributing to an impassioned debate and elevating the level of discussion.

I made a tough decision this morning. For the first time, I banned a commenter from future posting. After three months, I am still a fledgling blogger, so this was a tough call for me.

Substantively, it was easy. This commenter had clearly and repeatedly violated item #2 of my comment policy (emphasis added)

Please refrain from personal attacks. Treat this as a discussion among friends. Debate vigorously, and play nicely, please. If necessary, I will moderate comments as needed to keep the discussion civil.

I worked in the United States Senate for 7+ years, and developed tremendous respect for the Senate’s rules of decorum in speaking on the Senate floor. Senators must always address the Chair, rather than speaking directly to each other. Ad hominem personal attacks are a violation of the Senate rules. Members from radically different ideological perspectives refer to each other as, “My good friend, the Senator from [State], even when they despise each other.” Over time, this artifice creates an environment of vigorous, impassioned, yet civil debate that focuses on policy questions. It infrequently descends into gutter attacks. I hope to create the same environment here, and will do what is necessary to enforce a polite discussion. If you’re a jerk, I’ll boot you. Permanently.

While going through the comments this morning, I redacted personal attacks and insults directed from one commenter to another, as well as most instances of gross vulgarity. While this commenter had posted almost 100 comments, many of which contributed significant substance, more than half of all violations were posted by this one commenter. I had posted multiple warnings about the tone and policy violations (and not just by him/her) over the past 10 days or so, warning that I would be banning those who violated my policy.

This person is now permanently banned from commenting on my blog. I tried to notify him directly in advance, but his email address bounced back.

What made this difficult is that his (her?) comments are intelligent and provocative. Aside from the tone and personal insults directed at other commenters, he contributed a challenging and different perspective to a vigorous debate on my health posts. I value highly that intellectual diversity, and am sorry to lose it going forward.

I want to reiterate item #1 of my comment policy:

I welcome, invite, and enjoy substantive comments from any ideological perspective. Please contribute to the discussion. I welcome those who disagree with me.

I think and hope that I can attract more commenters with his perspective on policy, which differs from my own. Had I not made this decision, I feared that I would soon lose and be unable to restore the environment of impassioned yet respectful debate that has otherwise been growing here.

Again, I thank all those others who are contributing to the debate here, and especially those who disagree with me.

3 responses

  1. Keith,

    You made the right call in booting the insulting commentator. I do not know who you are referring to, nor have I read his/her comments. While I am sorry that we will all be losing the benefit of his/her informed perspective, everyone needs to know and understand that being knowledgeable and intelligent does not give one the right to be a jerk. There are many talented people. The vast majority of them are not jerks.

    Keep up your excellent blogging!

    Sanjeev

  2. I’m really glad I found your blog/website (linked from Reason.com) and I appreciate that you took the time to explain where you’re coming from and how you made this decision. :) It isn’t easy to find reliable and civil people these days. Looking forward to joining the conversations and learning more!

  3. Being an avid reader of blogs, unfortunately, meeting people with pent-up rage to get out, coupled with the anonymity of them(blogs), makes for some nasty reading sometimes.Good job making a tuff call. It will get easier with time(making the tuff calls) especially when you are out their trying to debate, and some people just want to flame and debase. Hope this the last opportunity to do this Mr. Hennessy. I found this blog froma link from a Doug Giles article.

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