Rearranging The Deckchairs

Frank O'Dwyer's blog

Blog Comments and Censorship

Matt Gemmell has collected some interesting thoughts on the idea of switching off comments on blogs. However one thing I have not seen mentioned in this whole discussion so far is the relationship between blog comments and censorship—and in my opinion the potential for censorship is greatly reduced with comments off.

This is most obvious when you look at political blogs, where discussions can become very heated. On such a blog with comments, it’s very easy to make the assumption that the comments on the site itself are the whole discussion. Very often, they aren’t.

Especially on blogs with a strong partisan viewpoint, individual participants may be banned entirely, or their comments may be edited by the blog host, without any indication that this has happened. This occurs not necessarily because those contributors are trolls or rude (though that of course is also common) but often enough because their viewpoint and/or the evidence they bring in support of it is inconvenient. For example in the global warming ‘debate’, both sides (rightly or wrongly) claim censorship of comments exists on popular blogs such as Realclimate and Watt’s Up With That.

In a centralised discussion with blog comments administered by a site host with a strong viewpoint, some degree of such censorship is almost inevitable. Whereas in a decentralised discussion across individuals’ own blogs, this kind of censorship is simply not possible.

Of course, some blogs will command almost all the audience, while others will command almost none, so the ‘right of reply’ is correspondingly skewed, but that is unavoidable. Still I think it’s clear that ‘comments off’ helps in so far as it decentralises the discussion and creates the expectation among readers that if they wish to get the whole story, they need to go look for it.

Naturally, none of this is going to help with the problem of finding rebuttals to political arguments, for those who are happy to stay in an echo chamber of those who agree with them. These people will never even look. But at the very least it makes it less easy for them to pretend that they are participating in some kind of ‘debate’ on a level playing field when they aren’t.