Every two or three weeks, I get a comment on an old entry in this journal, from someone who's just happened across an entry while looking for something else. Some of those comments are interesting; some are kind of generic; but most are abusive in one way or another.
Some of them are personal insults, apparently from random passers-by who felt the need to tell me that (for example) I'm ugly as a blond. I started deleting those comments even before I turned on moderation for old entries; I don't really want my journal to be a venue for people who don't even know me to insult me. More generally, I often delete nasty personal comments even if they're not aimed at me; I want my comments section to be a place for civil discourse and discussion. Constructive criticism is fine; gratuitous insults aren't. If the commenter left their email address, I usually drop them a note letting them know that they can re-post their comment if they do so in a civil tone.
But there are some areas that I'm less sure about. For example, for a while I was regularly getting comments from people who were claiming that a certain online company was committing fraud; I have a feeling that since I do moderate some comments, I could be held legally liable for publishing defamatory comments that might or might not be true. So I deleted those comments, and changed the phrasing of my entry to stop it from coming up in searches for [company name scam].
And recently one of my posts about homosexuality received a comment that explicitly said that lesbians are perverts. (And not in an affectionate or reclaiming sense of the term.) This was after I had turned on moderation for all old entries, so I would have had to explicitly take action to publish this comment. And I thought about it, and decided that I didn't want to. There are lots of places on the Net where people can go to insult queer people; why should I provide another venue for that?
And yet, I'm not really comfortable with that last decision. I firmly believe, in the general case, that the answer to speech I don't like is more speech in response, not suppression of the ideas I don't like. I sorta feel like I should've let that comment go through, and then posted a response to it, and let y'all post responses as well if you wanted to. (I don't actually delete comments, just mark them as unpublished, so I can reverse my decision on this later if I want to.)
And yet and yet, I'm a lot more comfortable with that speak-up-in-response-to-negative-speech approach if I'm not the one doing the publishing. And if it's in a less personal venue than a blog.
There are a lot of other areas I'm uncertain about, too. For example, a couple of times discussion here has gotten pretty heated among regular readers; I really don't like it when people I like and/or respect insult each other, especially in my journal. So far, I haven't stepped in and deleted such comments, but I'm sometimes tempted to do so when that happens. And more generally, I'm a big fan of civility, but I know a lot of my friends aren't. (More on that in a future entry.) To what degree are the comments here a place for general discussion, and to what degree are they participating in a venue that is essentially mine, subject to my whims and my guidelines?
All of this leaves me uncertain about when to remove (or decline to post) comments and when to leave them up. I'm looking for input, though I reserve the right to stick with my current gut-feeling approach. What do y'all think?
Let me get one side point out of the way first, though: let's please not use the term "censorship" in this discussion. If we do, the discussion has an almost 100% probability of turning into yet another installment of the Floating Internet Censorship Flamewar that's been going on since about 1986. One person will say "That's censorship!" and another will say "No it isn't; only a government or other institution in power can commit censorship!" and another will argue with that, and the point of the discussion will get lost in a furious storm of semantic hairsplitting. In the context of this particular entry, I'd prefer that people pretend the term "censorship" doesn't exist; let's talk about issues rather than word definitions.