Community Matters . . . Seeking Balance Between Comments and Censorship

It was a bit of a lark that I decided to start Community Matters 3-1/2 months ago. Although I have done some writing over the years, I had never written a blog post or participated in regular blogging. But I had a vision for Community Matters; this would be a place that I could present issues that were important to me or that I thought were important to others in the community. I guess I figured it would be my online ‘watering-hole’ for local information. Although I had occasionally visited other blogs, I did not spend much time analyzing the ‘hows’ or ‘whys’ before venturing in to the world of blogosphere.

There was never any question in my mind that I would include comments on Community Matters. I wanted this to be forum that people would visit often; a place where they might learn something or provide thoughtful commentary themselves. Naively, I did not expect that Community Matters would become so popular . . . yesterday marked the 65,000 visitor. I did a monthly statistic check and found that February had 31,000 visitors. I guess the wintry weather forced many of us to remain indoors.

Making the decision to include comments on Community Matters was an easy decision. When it came to the decision whether to allow ‘anonymous’ comments . . . another easy decision, I wanted people to feel their identity was protected. In my opinion, a blog with comments disabled is more analogous to a newspaper editorial. But even with a newspaper editorial, readers can make public comments by sending a letter to the editor, which may be published in a later edition of the paper. A blog with comments disabled would tie the reader’s hands (and also struck me as elitist). To deny public conversation by disabling comments right out of the gate –based on the presumption that the comments would be negative or of low quality — again, seemed awfully elitist.

In my view, there’s an interesting cultural difference between a blog that allows comments and one that does not. A blog that doesn’t allow comments seems to me to be saying “this is the final word on this topic.” To me it seems there’s something formal about such publications — they distance themselves from readers; they hold themselves up as a paragon rather than engaging “on the level” with users.

As the administrator of Community Matters, I have the ability to edit comments but I made the conscious decision not to edit or to remove a comment (unless there was the use of profanity). What I was not prepared for, nor could I have forecasted, was the vitriol of negative comments. In my opinion, constant snark does not a credible blog make. But I did not want an overly processed, censored forum. The rough edges are what give Community Matters the patina of authenticity. But too much negativity and my blog can seem petty and immature. There is an ongoing desire to find a balance.

When people have criticized my choice of subjects or what people have perceived as my personal bias on topics, it has caused me pause. But I did not delete those negative comments; I did not want to give readers the sense that Community Matters had been wiped clean; especially because I myself resent censorship. I hoped that by leaving the negative comments showed that I respected other people’s perspectives and opinions.

The more difficult problem has been how to handle the negativity expressed between individuals that have posted. I have come to the conclusion that although I have been committed to letting people have their opinions; it does not mean that they should be allowed to run rampant. It’s okay to disagree with what people write, but the key word here is to respond respectfully. I do not want readers to turn away from Community Matters because of flame wars in the comment section. I enjoy passionate debate and discussion on issues; it tells me that people are engaged in our community.  However, comments that are mean-spirited, disrespectful, and off-topic do not generally make a positive contribution to Community Matters.

The question remains . . . are comments worth it?  The more I think about this, the more I keep coming back to my original position: a blog without comments enabled is not a blog.  I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but it definitely isn’t a blog.

_______________________________________________________________________________

As a postscript, I received the following comment from JudgeNJury as I was writing this blog post.  His/her comment speak directly to this topic:

JudgeNJury, on March 5, 2010 at 8:44 AM Said:

“[A]llowing people on your blog who resort to namecalling and ad hominem attacks (see John Petersen’s comments above) will not lead to open and meaningful dialogue.”

This is unfair to Pattye. A sure-fire way for Pattye to kill any chance of an open a meaningful dialogue would be for her to start censoring comments. If readers thought that Pattye might censor their comments because she either disagreed with the content or did not like the way the commenter expressed his or her ideas, they would stop taking the time to submit them and the discussion section of the blog would die.

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41 Responses

  1. Blogs that don’t allow comments have zero credibility. Censoring comments is a slippery slope. At the end of the day, it is your call. The problem you run into is how the lines get drawn.

    At the end of the day, the folks that read and take the time to comment are adults (allegedly).

    One of the issues you have to deal with is that many do not understand the medium, social network, protocols and the social contract therein.

    I work in the technical space where opinions fly fast and sharp – so in that regard – the type of discourse here is actually very tame.

    Often, folks that disagree with an opinion simply label the opinion as namecalling, etc. That is a strawman tactic – and it is a tactic that I am well versed at thwarting.

    I find it interesting that some folks who find some of the conversation here objectionable, apparently find no issue with what our local government has done.

    Bottom line, if you don’t allow comments, your blog will under-perform from value proposition standpoint. Sure, you get a soapbox to say what you want. That however, is simply the start of a conversation. The real value comes in the conversation.

    But what do I know…I’m just the guy who actually got the block of 4 to do something that they really didn’t want to do. I take action and it actually lead to some positive results. Many of the detractors here see that as a threat to their power base. To those folks, I am happy to be a source of aggravation. That is my intent and like it or not, that adds to the conversation…

    • “Blogs that don’t allow comments have zero credibility.”

      for once I agree with john petersen… as his own blog TTPN disallows comments.

      • Not true. ttpn allowed comments.

        #fail on your part

        • just went to your blog john and there is a note that says:

          “Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.”

          true, at one point you did allow comments, but then you changed it so that no anon comments were allowed. now you have to be a screened ‘member’ of your cult to post comments, with no means of getting that approval in plain sight. talk about credibility… you speak about your blog in the past tense, although you have posted things recently, have you not?

          i find comfort that so many people finally see you for what you actually are, a bitter blowhard trying to settle a personal score by whatever means necessary. it gives me hope for our community.

          #success on my part

          • The blog is no longer active

            good for you that you know the thoughts of “so many people” Sounds like Paul Olson fuzzy math.

            It’s amusing to see how GOP/Kampf synophants operate. .

            • sorry john, i forgot you have a monopoly on knowing what people think and everyone’s motivations.
              I assume you meant to call me a sycophant? here i thought you wer supposed to be some kind of computer-guru and you cant even work your spell check?
              regardless, it is so predictable of you john – trying to define me as a gop/kampf foot soldier. you are truly a one-trick-pony.

    • You did not get anyone to do anything… this community blog would have a better spirit and be more productive if you signed off. If you do not like this community or how it runs… LEAVE. You complain about everything… BIG intellectual words… John you are a joke and your involvement takes away from the good tool this blog could be!

      • If you don’t think my suit forced the issue, then you are deluding yourself. And for the record, Pattye has zero issue with my comments. I have zero issues with this blog. The block of 4 and some in the GOP… They may have an issue as this place encourages the free flow of info.

  2. If you don’t have something constructive to say, could you take your comments elsewhere. Pattye has repeatedly asked you to be respectful but you ignore her — please just stop with the unnecessary rhetoric. It’s people like you that has Pattye even talking about censhorship.

  3. Pattye and the vast majority of the posters maintain an air of respect and civility on this board. We conduct ourselves in the same way we would in a personal conversation. Even though we apparently “do not understand the medium, social network, protocols and the social contract therein.”, my hope is that EVERYONE will think about the tone of their comments and “take the high road”.

  4. P-

    As a marketing executive, I have to say I am skeptical over your traffic claims. In your stats there is something called a “unique visitor”. Maybe you should start quoting that daily/monthly number instead. I’m just trying to save you from looking like you are trying to mislead people. You might find the information below helpful.

    Peace,
    techie

    Unique Visitor

    A unique visitor is a unique IP address that has made at least one hit on one page of the web site during a certain period of time. If this visitor makes more than one visit during this period of time, it is counted only once as a unique visit.

    *Basically, if I visit your site 1 time today, I am counted as a unique visitor. If I come back to your site 10 more times today, my visits are counted as 1 unique visit and 10 visitors.

    Visitor

    A visitor is also known as a session or a user session. It is the total number of people who access a website over a certain period of time. Unlike unique visitors which is a net number, a visitor is a gross number. This means two sessions by a single user would count as two visitors.

    *Basically, if I visit your site 5 times today, I am counted as 1 unique visitor and then as 5 visitors for the day.

    Page Views

    The number of times a particular web page is requested from a Web hosts server and delivered to a users browser. The number of page views delivered across an entire website can be used to demonstrate the volume of traffic a website receives.

    *Basically, this tells you how many pages are being viewed by your visitors.

    (For more search this: define age view)

    Hits

    This generally means ALL requests from a webserver including requests by a web browser for html pages, jpegs, gifs and other images. Hits is a phrase often thrown around but is generally not very meaningful in quantitfying search engine traffic.

    *Hits count every single thing on your page that loads. It’s not an accurate measure of anything worthwhile.

    • Thank you for your comment; you have provided interesting information.

    • As local blogs go, Pattye’s blog gets significant traffic. As a developer in the web space and a blogger and from talking to key folks in the community, I know this to be a fact. This blog could easily determine 500-1000 votes.

  5. Pattye
    Chet and John had quite an exchange yesterday that i did comment on — did you remove that or can I just not find it? I agree with your decision not to censor — and encourage comments like Mike In Berwyn’s about conducting ourselves. I’ll try for sure — and hope that John P. understands this is not his forum for debate. This blog serves us all well to inform and educate — to discuss and ask questions. Debating one comment at a time doesn’t take us anywhere…I’d prefer to express opinions and learn from others. Thanks!

    • Sarah,
      I have not removed any comments from Community Matters. You will probably have to go back through a couple of posts to find the thread where that referenced exchange occurred, but you’ll find it — they are all there.

    • It is through discussion and debate where opinions become informed. If you opine and I disagree, then I will post an opinion that differs with yours. Whether that results in a debate or not depends on many factors. True debates are beneficial. If you put an opinion out there, that makes you accountable to defend it.

      The echange between Chet and I could be called many things – but it wasn’t a debate. It takes two reasonably informed people to do that.

      • John
        Two reasonably informed — you never fail to take a shot.

        I’ll assume that means you consider yourself as one — but IMHO you are not reasonable. Chet seems as informed as you — you need to respect other opinions and not just turn this into your chance to debate them. Parsing is tiresome.
        Whew.

      • Chet and ME, not Chet and I… Now maybe you will be informed. HA!

  6. Thanks pattye. Found it — but know that I would not for a moment object to its deletion :) Feels a bit like a sandbox without rules some days….but keep up the good effort.

    JP — I appreciate your candor, but please don’t claim credit for the SDGC change too many more times…you’ll break your own arm patting yourself on the back. If you believe you are a hero, let someone else declare it. Believing it doesn’t make it so.

    • It’s not about taking credit. Rather, it is about less talk and more action. Perhaps when it is time to do it again, somebody else will step up to the plate.

      I take great satisfaction in forcing LOKR’s hand. That showed you the power of a slam dunk argument. Lamina would never admit it….but the facts are the facts.

  7. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

    NPD is characterized primarily by grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. Narcissism occurs in a spectrum of severity, but the pathologically narcissistic tend to be extremely self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ perspectives, insensitive to others’ needs and indifferent to the effect of their own egocentric behavior.

    .

  8. What does everyone think about the use of anonymity/screen names by commentators?

    An advantage is that we get interesting information that might not otherwise be made public. The inner workings of party committees, for example. A disadvantage is that behavior is not constrained by possible consequences and social norms.

    My thought is that it is helpful to keep things civil so that commentators feel free to post without being threatened by people on the other side of an issue, and that requiring actual names is a good way to do that. (You don’t have the time to censor, nor would it be viewed well). If someone wants to post anonymously it should be the exception, not the rule, and you can decide upon request (that would take time, but less than censorship!) if it’s good for the blog.

    When John posts, we know exactly who he is and where he’s coming from, and can view his comments accordingly.

    Note to all: TESD Budget Meeting at the High School, Monday March 8th at 7:30pm.

    • Thanks Ray. And thanks for the reminder re TESD meeting on Monday night. I will be making a post tomorrow about the budget meeting and adding the agenda. Hope you and Carol enjoy the spring-like weekend — maybe we can finally say goodbye to the remaining piles of snow!

    • Ray, I am not a fan of comments made by anonymous sources. I believe that if someone feels strong enough to state their opinion, they should be strong enough to stand behind it by putting their name to it. I personally find little credibilty in those who do so. To all those who have a problem with JP, you must admit, John comes to each topic well informed and never hides behind a screen name. I sometimes don’t like his tact and often times don’t agree with him on the issues – but I will always respect his opinion.

  9. I sometimes find John’s comments off-putting and harsh. At times he’s criticized and called me out when I questioned his positions. And I disliked being a target of John’s “truth-telling” as much as anyone.

    But stepping back, I respect his opinions and believe they are grounded in fthe acts – as he interprets them.

    Some of the anti-John comments on this blog sound self-righteous and uncivil. References to one’s mother, name-calling and psychological evaluations based on comments made are as egregious as the most uncivil comments made on this blog.

    Let’s concede that there is no shortage of hot air coming from all directions.

    And let’s agree to disagree and give the guy a break. Personally, I think John played a significant role in changing the minds of LORK.

    I believe Pattye envisioned this blog as a place for dialogue by thoughtful people on issues and events that impact us in Tredyffrin. She didn’t anticipate the amount of hostility and personal attacks.

    Opinions are charged these days – on a lot of issues. But IMHO this is not the venue for personal attacks on public officials or fellow bloggers.

    • who even listens to him critically? Looking for his comments is like going to the circus.. what next will happen? Billy Joel.. “angry young man”. what he has to say just isn’t that important. I should stick to my guns and just ignore him. He will then go away.

  10. My name is Chet

  11. If you go back and read Mr. Petersen’s entries, they are always laced with bad humor, personal attacks, caustic rejoinders. .. Never have I seen a kind word, even in agreement from this individual, even if he has the courage to give his name, appear on the GB and Ugly or point fingers yell and scream and raise tensions at the BOS meeting. I am sure he will come back with a right cross, or left hook. It seems if he wasn’t a contributor here, maybe the whole blog would become more civil. We have lost the jist of some of the topics here; for example why has NO BOS ever taken up the issues now coming to a head at Mt. Pleasant? Maybe this can happen anywhere in the township, maybe in Mr. Petersen’s neighborhood.
    I am glad I am not his kid. Must be hard to go through life with a chip on your shoulder.

    Grew up in the mean streets of NYC. I know street justice too. Glad to be in Tredyfffrin!

    • >>I am glad I am not his kid.

      What a nice thing to say….

    • Chet, You talk about John Petersen but you need to re-read your own rants. Read the post that Pattye wrote . . does she not ask for civility from the readers when they post. Your words are harmful, disrespectful and unnecessary. I suggest that you not call someone else out for their behavior unless you are willing to comply yourself.

      Good debate on issues is good but can we all please take the personal attacks out of the comments. We are better than this and need to treat each other better.

  12. TT Independant.. re read his posts my friend. Frankly some of my posts are tongue in cheek but we know that via the internet that doesn’t come off well sometimes. But you are admirable in your defense of this bully. I hate bulllies, and I have tried to add to the conversation by posing questions about some of the topics discussed here. So I don’t care about your indignations anymore than those of Mr Petersen’s. It is tough when the shoe is on the other foot. I have taken a few shots from this guy and now it’s time to retaliate. My momma taught me to call a spade a spade too, but to try to communicate nicely in the face of arrogance and obnoxiousness. But she also taught me to stand up to the bully, So please don’t be to quick to defend this man. I don’t know him except from his self exposure on these boards and on television. I would be happy to shake his hand, disagree with him though, and walk away with an understanding that we are entitled to our own opinions, no matter how different but at least have respect for one another. Like Reagan and Tip Oneill. But if it isn’t mutual, then I won’t beg for niceness, bow to incivility, or succumb to his force of personality. I have always been a team player, and I consider this board a team in a sense, where we pool our thoughts and concerns and discuss. Pattye has done a good thing by starting this, But I have a suspicion that she knows Mr Petersen, and perhaps she should have a friendly chat with HIM…

    I have to wonder who you are. Have you been reading this clown? Maybe you are a friend,. fair enough. But stay out of it. I can be incredibly civil. But I won’t let him impugn me with smug comments, blather and weak kneed retorts that are the mark of a repugnant bully, where cowardice runs through his veins. I am not sure why he is this way, but I know he hates , lets see, Lamina, Olsen, and Kampf.. I would love to know his basis for this. Maybe he has reasons that I for one am not aware of. It could be good for all to hear him, but his hatred and anger gets his message lost. Did Warren steal his girlfriend in high school? Enough.

    Now, on to the more pressing topics.

    • Chet,
      I think that you have made your point loud and clear. We have all heard it.

      I made a decision yesterday when I made the post, Community Matters . . . Seeking Balance Between Comments and Censorship. I stated my thoughts clearly on name-calling, negativity, civility. This post was for ALL the people who make a choice to visit Community Matters and then make a decision to comment. As I have said, I like a lively discussion and good debate but it needs to be on the topic of discussion. The very fact that I take the time to write on censorship would encourage 30+ comments, some of which are laced with name-calling and negativity is driving me absolutely crazy. I have stated that I don’t think a blog is a blog without comments but this need to ‘have the last word’ on subjects, negative attacks on other people, talking about family members of those that posts, all of it . . . enough. I mean that for ALL the people that post their comments on this blog. As I have stated, and will re-state, I spend an inordinante amount of time on Community Matters (3-4 hours a day) and I will not see it get in to quicksand over mud-slinging. Frankly, it’s not worth my time.

      For the record, whether I personally know John Petersen, Christine Johnson, Freddy, Sarah, Paoli Voter, Ray Clarke, Kate, TT Independent, James Bailey, YOU or anyone else that decides to comment on Community Matters will remain confidential to me. In most cases I do not know the posters, in some I do know those that post . . . but, in the end that information remains with me.

      Chet, I am posting this comment of yours; but I am asking that you and all who read this comment, to please, please move one to really important issues facing this township. In fact, I’m hoping that many of the readers are actually at the Cool Valley Preserve helping on Vine Day and won’t read this until the sun goes down. Everyone needs to get out and enjoy this beautiful sunny March day!

      Thank you,
      Pattye Benson

      • Pattye, I will take your advice in the spirit it is intended. But you are imperfect too . I have never seen you respond like this to Mr.Petersen. I really think that he is a de facto censor, bullies usually are. Why no direct admmonition to him? YOU can be better too.

        By the way, aside from my responses to him, I have tried to keep civil conversation going with some of my questions. I am new to Tred politics and I’m disappointed in you. Maybe only YOU can stick up for civility, but you need to do it for all. I haven’t seen it. You let him get away with all kinds of crap. Or maybe you respond to him privately, I don’t know.

        I am wondering where all the conversation has gone? Into hiding perhaps.
        Have a nice day. TIme to go outside. I was offended by Mr Petersen at the meeting, on GB Ugly and him here on the blog. Why the heck aren’t you? Looks like I’m the most vocal against his MO. Sorry Time to put it to bed.

  13. I found this blog just a few weeks ago. I don’t know that I agree with everything that Pattye posts, but I give her credit for voicing her opinions civilly. I also give credit to all of those who comment civilly.

    I will say, though, I have been somewhat hesitant to post my comments simply because of one person: Mr. Petersen.

    In reading through every, single post it is he who seems to be the most egregious when it comes to lack of civility and unwillingness to “agree to disagree.”

    In fact, the one time I did post something providing a different view than Mr. Petersen and asking him to perhaps stop and think about it, the simple reply was “No.” That speaks volumes to me.

    I am not very happy with chet’s recent retorts, but I get the impression he will once again go back to being calm in his comments. Sadly, I do not believe John P can ever get to that point.

    Pattye — good job and good job with not censoring. I hope for the sake of what you are doing that others on your blog can become respectful or choose another outlet to make their opinions heard.

  14. Pattye, Chet and John, Sadly, what’s happening on this blog is a microcosm of what’s happening accross America. I am convinced that our countrys tradition of respectful disagreement has become an antiquated idea. We have become a system of; black and white thought, winners and losers, close minded individuals who believe the name of the game is scoring political points and inflicting as much damage as possible on the other party. That discourse creates animosity and paralysis where nothing gets done. Everyone agrees that we as a country are in for difficult decisions on fiscal and social issues ahead. We need to come together as a society and learn to compromise or we will leave our children a country whose best days are behind it. Let’s be agents of change and start here! I encourage everyone when blogging to pretend the person you are replying to is your brother or sister. Maybe then, we can disagree without being disagreeable! Just my two cents, thanks for listening (reading).

  15. If it’s technologically possible, perhaps you could place all off-topic comments in a separate thread dedicated to off-topic posts? That way, you would not be censoring, while at the same time preserving the integrity of the discussion on any given topic.

    • Nona, Good suggestion. The problem is that when comments come in they are associated with a specific post and there is not an easy way to move them from one thread to another. Actually usually what happens is a writer will start out on-topic in response to a particular thread but then sometimes veers off-topic and that’s when things sometimes spin out of control. So unless I can figure out some creative way to make Community Matters work differently, we are stuck with the system as it now stands. But ever the eternal optimist, I believe that if all challenge ourselves to ‘stay the course’, we can make this work. Thanks for following Community Matters.

  16. Pattye – I am sticking my toe back in the water here — but I have to agree that we need to apply some standards to Mr. Petersen. He specifically ran me off by posting my linked in profile and suggesting that I am responsible in some part for the TESD teacher salaries. He made it personal and doesn’t even know me.
    One suggestion you might consider is that you can change the level of comments on WordPress to 1 — so that people can’t keep replying to replies. One of the ways it degrades is by having multiple reply levels so people can ignore the topic and simply respond to the responses.
    Just a thought. I have said before — you obviously put an inordinate amount of time into this. Perhaps you could ask people to register for your blog and then automatically approve comments of those who have registered. I believe the Suburban has just implemented that idea as well. Anyway — good luck and I’ll keep lurking — but I will hope that the civility improves and maybe I’ll comment on school matters going forward. Thanks!

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