Turning off the comments spigot

This struck a nerve with me too.

Deacon Greg Kandra, the Brooklyn, N.Y., uber-blogger and director of news for the Brooklyn Diocese’s cable TV channel known as NET (for New Evangelization Television), announced last night that he was turning off comments on his Beliefnet blog, at least temporarily, after a reader noted how coarse the comments have become since he moved from the less-formal Blogger over to Beliefnet, a leading site for religious news and discussion. The key comment by the reader:

They (the comments) are no longer uplifting or Gospel-centric. Indeed, the anger and the backbiting are childish — and arguably sinful.

Many in the mainstream media, including some of us at CNS, have been debating the role of comments sections for news stories and blogs. While we want to hear from readers in a Web 2.0 world, many of those who comment only want to spread vitriol. We moderate our comments and sometimes have to edit out the name-calling and other uncharitable drivel.

Deacon Greg’s rationale for turning off his comments — “Maybe a week. Maybe more,” he says — in the second half of his blog announcement is worth reading by any Christian media professional concerned with how we discuss church topics and the church’s interaction with the wider world.  As he concludes:

Among the deacon’s first words in the Mass are “Lord have mercy.”  His last are “Go in peace.”  As those words frame the celebration of the Eucharist, I want them also to frame my work here.

So, for now: Go in peace …

What do you think? Should we just drop comments altogether as Deacon Greg has?

34 Responses

  1. I blogged at Beliefnet for a few months, and the poor quality of the comments was one of the reasons I left. It’s not that it’s a broader audience – it’s that it tends to be a knee-jerk/reactive audience that relies on trading stereotypes/caricatures instead of thoughtfully engaging.

  2. I would be sorry to see the Comments on this blog turned off. . .seems to me the editors have done a good job of editing out any unhelpful negativity that came in, and the comments I’ve seen have been positive and interesting. . .

  3. This probably shouldn’t surprise anyone, but even professional sports franchises — in this case our local Washington Capitals hockey team, which is one game away from having the term “choking dogs” applied to them (again!) — are not immune from the issue of comments on a blog:

  4. The whole nature and appeal of blogs is to be interactive and engage the reader. To allow no comment at all seems to me off-puttingly didactic, like attending a lecture with no question-and-answer period.
    I know from the two blogs I write that comments can be a pain, and certainly must be moderated, but even the painful comments can lead to teaching moments (or even epiphanies).
    Keep the comment box. ;-)

  5. It seems to reflect the general courseness of our culture. You can see this in TV, and Movies and on the streets. Common curtesy has been replaced with a general screw all of you attitude. Its not everyone, but there are enough people that do this to cheapen the culture.

  6. No I do not recommend removing these comments sections, though that is well within your rights. I feel you have a very good system where you review comments to decide which should be omitted. One time you did not include one of my comments because it had the appearance of being too self serving. I felt it was a good choice for the benefit of all of your readers. I respect and honor your decissions and tempered my comments accordingly. Keep up the good and thought provoking work. God bless!

  7. Keep the comments. Censor the really course and nasty stuff.

  8. I didn’t read the comments on Greg’s blog very much, but I know from my Beliefnet experience, the problem there is, first of all, a core set of anti-religionists who will chime in, pretty early on, in every thread, something like, “What do you expect from people who…(insert insulting allusion to some religious practice or belief here)…”

    It just shuts down discussion right away – distracts from the real issue, gets people on defensive tangents. It’s similar, I think to the comments sections on regular newspaper articles which are, for the most part, useless.

    I like blog comments – when I was blogging heavily and regularly years ago, I was pretty proud of my comments section. I had a lot of intelligent readers who were able to really flesh out discussions and bring good new information to the table.

    Having only registered commenters comment is one solution when things get out of control, but I find that it produces a rather closed set of commentators and a clubby atmosphere. I think if comments threaten a blog – that is to detract from the discussion and distract from the issues at hand – moderation is the key. It takes more time at first, but eventually people understand what’s acceptable or not and the trolls just go elsewhere.

  9. Too bad someone can’t seem to opt out of the ads with the nearly naked people too on Beliefnet. Please keep your comments section & the good editing you are doing. Thank you & God bless your ministry to all of us.

  10. As a reporter and blogger for a secular newspaper for years, I came to the conclusion that blog comments can be useful, thoughtful and engaging, but comments on stories are usually hateful, ignorant and bigoted. I always had to monitor the blog comments judiciously, but it was worth it for the reader interaction.

  11. Oh and I also firmly believe that if the “anonymous” feature is removed, people will stop hiding behind it to say unproductive hateful things. We as reporters and bloggers have to put our names on our words, others should be held to the same standard.

  12. With the exception of this post, which has 8 responses before mine, the other 9 “Latest Posts” have only a grand total of 11 replies. Two of the posts have 0 comments. It appears to me that this blog is not being overwhelmed with activity. Perhaps the topics of late are not controversial enough to elicit strong opinions. With everything going on in the world and the Church today it would seem that lively subjects, and energetic opinions about them, would not be hard to come by. Its up to Catholic News Service to decide if they want to receive the honest/ forthright thoughts and concerns of their Catholic (and non-Catholic) readers. I would guess that knowing what people are truly thinking would be, or should be, valuable information. If some are sending inappropriate (unmerciful, un-peaceful, vulgar, nasty, disrespectful) comments, it certainly won’t be a big job to censor them.

  13. Rick,

    True enough. In fact in my original post I should have said that we’ve not been overwhelmed by comments and have been fairly successful at moderating them (though it is a lot harder to edit comments on my smartphone than at my computer. ;-) ).

    But it is a problem for our journalistic brethren as well as for bloggers like Deacon Greg, and it’s still at least somewhat surprising that followers of Christ would resort to such nastiness.

    For a related commentary, take a look at this recent column in the Miami Herald:

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/03/31/1555967/anonymity-brings-out-the-worst.html

  14. Hi all…

    Since I got the ball rolling here, I thought I’d chime in.

    I don’t suppose comment moderation is as much of a problem for a place like CNS, which is something of a boutique in the blogosphere, with a fairly select niche audience. (Here, a dozen comments over a couple days is a lot!) But over at Beliefnet, the Wal Mart of spiritual blogging, the volume of responses can be overwhelming — hundreds on any given day. Sifting thru them can be time consuming, and difficult — particularly when some commenters make good points badly (or mix valuable insights with uncharitable spite.)

    I’ve also found that a lot of the commenters at B’net are badly in need of decent catechesis, and require direction to other resources (or even the right sections of the catechism) to get them on track or to disprove their biases.

    Commenting can enhance any blog — at my original site, it was often a blessing. But it does demand vigilance, and a finger that doesn’t hesitate to hit the “delete” button when things get out of control.

    Blessings,
    Dcn. Greg Kandra
    “The Deacon’s Bench”

  15. One approach, used by the Lead blog at Episcopal Cafe (http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/) is to require all commentators to use their real names.

  16. Eugene,

    How do you check their names? Newspapers traditionally call the writer if someone submits a letter to the editor for publication, but that was before the Internet meant that no one only circulates locally. That can make it a little harder to track people down to verify.

  17. Jim — I checked out the Miami Herald link you provided and also Deacon Greg’s comment above. I can certainly see where both of you are coming from. I appreciate the opportunity to make personal contributions to this site now and then. That is, if your topic inspires me. My opinions are not always well received by other writers and that’s OK. Its what a free forum is about. But, when we make a comment, all of us have a responsibility to be courteous and respectful of others.

    Its a privilege to be able to publicly express ourselves like this. Thanks for addressing my comment. — Rick

  18. I do not know how Episcopal Cafe checks identities. Another method used by Commonweal’s Dot Commonweal blog, is to show the comment maker’s e-mail address if the cursor is placed over the person’s name.

  19. I think I already invited you to reconsider posting comments here after pointing out a comment that called Obama an illegal Kenyan immigrant. I still stand by my invitation.

  20. I am so glad that Deacon Greg did that. I like him but do not like Beliefnet. I miss his old blog. It was far better and has a different audience. altogether.

    As for turning off your comments, I generally do not read them. If they are mostly uncharitable, I would think that this would be in order.

  21. Perhaps one option is to show each person’s IP address after their name. That would give at least some idea of where their writing from and, if necessary, it would give the option of being able to track them down.

  22. As a longtime reader of Greg’s blog and now a real life friend of his, I have some observations here.

    The quality of comments at Beliefnet, at places like Politics Daily, newspaper and other large scale blogs in general is sadly in a bad state. These sites, like talk radio, so often bring out the angriest, most vitriolic and hostile people who hide behind anonymity.

    I do try to keep a prayerful outlook but it is hard.

    Greg knows that I have commented less and less… I used to get into dustups at his old blog, but we kind of all knew each other, even those that did not comment under a real name. Beliefnet has been another animal altogether.

    Recently I got into a bit of a comment war at Greg’s and I vowed not to do it again. Now I can’t – thanks be to God.

    As someone who has two blogs and has been in this arena for 3 years, I love the good things that such forums bring forth. I teach a class at our annual catechetical event on social networking. It is a great environment for faith sharing.

    That said, there is a cautionary tale here and I wish that there were a good answer of how to be in this part of the public square in ways that promote unity and the re-membering of the Body of Christ rather than dismemberment and more.

  23. I really enjoy Deacon Greg’s blog but some of those who posted comments were very angry and self-righteous. I am actually glad that he turned the comments off…except I’d like to send him a note thanking him for some of the thoughtful articles!
    And I have to say that the angriest and nastiest comments come from those who claim to be orthodox Catholic, not the people from other faiths.
    I also read Fr. Z’s WDTPRS blog and he also has some similar people commenting. I don’t even read the comments anymore.
    If the nasty and angry comments are not manageable, I vote for turning them off.

  24. What fun to see some familiar names. :-)))

    For me, Internet blogiing is a very thin slice of the real world with relatively very little importance One can find jerks and geniuses with the rest of us being somewhere in the middle.

    Many of us have either been to or have hosted “open houses” for all kinds of celebrations or simply to become better acquainted with the neighbors. It’s fun. However, it would not be fun if one of the guests turned out to be a jerk, looking for confrontation, belligerent, hostile and was deliberately trying to pick fights with the other guests. I believe many hosts would politely give that person a private warning and, if his/her anti-social behavior continued, that host would demand that they (the jerk) leave the party.

    What’s so different about blogging?

    It’s fun to interact with our fellow (in this case) Catholics. The issue is how to handle incivility that seems to inevitably occur on the internet.

    I read somewhere recently that a person was so upset by the acrimony that took place at a blog, that person felt like “crying.”

    Lord, have mercy! This is the half-real world of the internet. If your 6 month old puppy runs in the street and gets run over by a fire truck, cry. If your neighbor’s house burns down and his young children are injured or possibly killed in the fire, cry. If your spouse of 15 years leaves you for some hoochie, cry. But, if somebody calls someone else “a creep and a hater” and if you’ve been told that “you aren’t capable of discussing anything” my recommendation is to laugh out loud, get their ID and have them bounced. BTW: The above comments have been directed toward me but I didn’t turn the perp in.

    I will never be confused with a ‘shrinking violet’ and I give as well as get. However, better moderation is the key to a more enjoyable open house party and a more pleasant blogging experience for all of us including the moderator.

    Pax vobiscum
    HC

  25. I know this may not be too popular a view but I believe it is part of the problem.
    The emphasis has been only on the people who comment. I think it is good to look at those who blog and the format they use.

    Many bloggers seem to get caught in the statistical trap of how many comments they can get and how many hits their site has…..and this is a real trap. There are bloggers who even spin their entries in ways to provoke strong reactions. And for sure there are too many bloggers who just paste and post news and articles from other sites,
    In other words there is a whole network of co dependent bloggers who mostly copy news from other sources, spin it and then cry when the comments go down the drain.

    I think if bloggers gave more time to what their real mission is, who their audience is, what is the appropriate form to fulfill that mission and then put in the hard work to accomplish the mission…the sire would work and have a purpose. Too many bloggers are caught in an old paradigm that all one has to do is set up a blog, post articles they find here and there, give some off the cuff comments and voila, check the stats! The format is different but the mentality is the same as some old yahoo groups from 10 years ago.

    If one really wants to blog then it requires a lot of work, there is no way around it. It must be clear on its mission and work hard to stay faithful to it. And there are blogs that do this very well and have a very good group that shares and comments. They do not put the emphasis on just giving their opinions and everyone jumping in with theirs.

    It seems to me that a blogger gets the comments that reflect his blog…if he is doing the work, sets the tone and keeps it on point by moderating it, then the comments will reflect the hard work he has put into it.

    So I do not think turning off the comments will do anything, it is better to do some real hard work at the mission, tone and style of the blog.

  26. I have to agree with patrick that the blog author bears some responsibility for what goes on in the comboxes of his or her blog.

    If a blogger consistantly blogs controversial topics and then spends little time monitoring the comments, then the usual combox bullies take over and the regular folks stop reading. I’ve also noticed some blog authors who allow a core group of regulars to get away with a lot of bad behavior they don’t tolerate from others — especially from those who don’t agree with them.

    The ego rush of the sitemeter is part of the problem, too.

    I also agree that large, impersonal sites such as Beliefnet may attract commenters who would not normally be so badly behaved at a smaller, more personal site.

    If a blog author doesn’t have the time or inclination to monitor comments, he probably should close the comboxes.

  27. Newspapers historically only printed a letter to the editor with a full name and town.

    For Deacon Greg and CNS – I would suggest the same in the blog world along with a valid email address and an IP address. Amercia added a requirement for full names and discloses email addresses within the comment. It is not perfect but it has helped eliminate some of the empty noise.

    While I miss communicating with Deacon Greg at his site – I do not miss reading 40 – 50 comments to find the 4 or 5 that actually focus on the topic at hand, are remotely charitable and are not part of some personal war of words.

  28. Anonymous comments have a deeper effect than many people realize. Over time, they change the tone of debate and how the community talks within itself.

    People are emboldened when they aren’t accountable – they’re nastier, more ignorant, less tolerant. No, not everyone, but enough to dominate what used to be civil conversation. People who want to have regular conversations are turned off and driven away.

    At least, that’s what I’ve seen at dozens of news sites – large, small, mainstream, alternative, urban, rural and everything in between.

    If anonymice can spoil a Catholic news site in the same way, that would be especially telling.

    Anonymity of this sort violates the ethical principles for commentary that are widely accepted in print publications: Insults, libel, wrong information can be posted (and the author not verified) until – IF – they’re taken down.

    Most will say this format is here to stay. Perhaps – although we don’t have to follow. Try cutting it off for a little while and see if you really lose anyone.

    If, however, you allow anonymity, you can do a little extra to keep conversation civil – registration, a comment “rating” system that allows smarter comments to rise to the top, strict moderation, occasional reminders by a monitor.

    It’s your platform. You can set whatever rules and limits you want. Enforce civility. Think ethically.

    -Andy Schotz
    chairman
    SPJ Ethics Committee

  29. As a regular over at Deacon Greg’s blog, I have to admit, I’m now a fan of “no comments.” The past few days have been refreshing to just read, learn, and savor, without cringing upon opening the combox.

    For the most part, comments were always predictable, and based on the topic, you could almost guess when the trolls would come. I’ve come to realize that I think I mostly felt the need to respond BECAUSE of the comments, either being misguided Catholics distorting the faith or of course the mean spirited.

    That said, interactive thought provoking comments are a real blessing, and that’s what we had at the “old bench.” If I were to make any suggestion, it would be to keep the comments off on a regular basis, however, make them “rare and special.”

    I have two ideas:

    1. Let people send in comments via email and at the end of the week, Dcn Greg coud have a thread posting the ones he feels acceptable, on topic, and might be a benefit to the readers. I suspect it wouldn’t be as much work as thought, because the trolls would know there is no chance they would be printed, so wouldn’t waste the time. It might even be a nice “weekend ediition” if it’s not too time consuming for Dcn. Greg.

    Most of all, by using the above method, the comments would all be independent, not interactive, which has both an upside and a downside of course.

    2. Just open a day once in a while for comments when time permits for proper monitoring, and see how it goes. It could be a diaster, or a success; something probably not known until tried.

    As for the name, town, and IP, good luck. I know computer savvy people who have “moving IP addresses”, and anyone can make up a fake name with a matching email box.

    For now, it’s nice just to go back to reading and not feel like I have to go into battle, although, once in a while, I think it is nice to be able to comment on especially interesting topics.

    The Holy Spirit will guide!

    .

  30. I was a regular reader at the Deacons Bench for over a year and like many others I was disenchanted when he switched to belief.net. However, initially that had more to do with format and the ad pressure than comments. I used to read the postings every day and the comments contributed to the value but about two months ago the vitriolic comments and diatribes became overwhelming and as a result I stopped going to the site. I enjoyed his homilies and the insights of other contributors and missed them. I revisited just in time to read the contribution assessing the disruption and negative contribution of the comments and Greg’s decision to stop the comments. I am thankful and now back to checking the blog daily. I miss the positive contributors but I guess that’s the price that must be paid.
    Keep up the good work Greg. As an ADW deacon and father of a Pallotti Alum (1987) I am proud of your contributions to the Diaconate through the Deacons Bench.

  31. I don’t think the average person is likely to give up the kind of personal information required to do away with all anonymity, at least not at independent blog sites. After having my credit card number stolen by the husband of a moderator at a small, private forum, I sure wouldn’t advise it. Small, independent bloggers don’t have the kind of software necessary to protect sensitive personal information.

    Frankly, the level of nastiness and self-righteousness found in the blog posts and comboxes following the recent scandal revelations have turned me off religious bloggery in general.

    The whole situation was a real eye-opener for me. Our relationship with God and our relationships with each other as Christians belong in the real world. Face to face encounter is what Chrsit was all about, and it’s what we’re supposed to be about. For all that Catholic bloggers like to claim Christ would have embraced blogging, I don’t think that’s true at all.

    Blogging is too removed, too impersonal. It allows the author and his or her selected, approved group of like-minded commenters become their own “holy spirit” or magesterium.

    Blogs are about the self, the ego. Christ was about putting the other first.

    It’s all too self-selecting, anyway — people find the blogs that echo their own perspective, reject those that don’t, agree with the group that agrees with them, and gangs up on the group that doesn’t.

    Most of Christ’s encounters involved people who were somehow outsiders, other, not approved of. Blogging and manipulated comboxes are exactly the opposite.

    Comments on or comments off, I find myself turned off by Catholic blogging lately.

  32. I agree more with Nora on this, it seems to me that most blogs that are done by individuals are more for their needs. It has a lot more to do with self promotion, they may be promoting their books, ministry, homilies..whatever the agenda.
    Most of these bloggers would be better with Facebook, it would fit their real purpose. At least on facebook they have friends instead of groupies!

    There is no doubt that the internet offers incredible opportunities and challenges, but it is also wasteland of fluff and junk that just wastes time and energy. And just because there is a religious title on the blog or before someones name does not mean it is not fluff. Some bloggers moan on how busy they are with ministry etc…..yet they even blog 7 days a week? Some bloggers are drifting into this internet fantasy/virtual world and need to get out or get some help before they become part of the ‘collective’ and can’t return to human communication. There is a point when resistance is futile and they are gone! The even start. To communicate. Like robots. Have you noticed?

    Lets hope in the near future some creative people come up with a safe, civil and interesting way to communicate ideas that just can’t be done in the current comm. box style. It might be time to move on and cast into the deep with some new creative ways to communicate?

  33. Regarding anonymity: consider Abraham’s conversation with anonymous persons or the two anonymous disciple’s conversation with an anonymous person on the road to Emmaus. Perhaps there is a model in there somewhere for both a blogger and a commenter . . .

  34. The comments here are always well thought out (those I have kept up with). Editing them before publication seems to keep out the vitriolic nastiness. Keep up the good work, and keep the comments. They are always food for thought and help many with considering the issues affecting us all in our Catholic faith.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 751 other followers

%d bloggers like this: