The Banning Business

We'll be back to regular programming soon.

An awful lot of people have said scathing things about me (here and elsewhere) over the banning business, so I'm going to come back to it for a nanosecond.  The apocryphal version was repeated at this blog by recent commenters. Here's Chris Mooney's account.

If there's an interesting question anywhere in here, it's whether a person who is called something very bad (a liar, dishonorable, obstructing justice, ethically blinkered, just to choose a few insults from recent memory)  has an absolute right to comment at the blog where the insult was paid.  Must a ban (even if not groundless) be postponed or temporarily reversed?

When Internet Ethics 101 is taught in philosophy or journalism departments some day, no doubt that question will be on the syllabus.  I'm going to say no.  When you get sent packing, you do lose your voice.  But not in some inexorable fashion, especially if you're a well-known blogger.  There's lots and lots of space on the internet.  The right to respond can still be exercised, just not in the blogger's "home."

If you want to know what she thinks about this, you know where to find her.


s. wallerstein said...

I always think of a blog as a space hosted by someone. The host invites you to comment, but, like a non-virtual host, he or she can ask you to leave his or her home, if your behavior is not up to house standards, house standards being determined by the host. When I comment in a blog, I am always aware that someone has generously set up a space where I can express my opinions and that I recognize him or her as my host.

Faust said...

I too like the metaphor. Let me try a slightly different angle that is related.

As it happens I attend some political blogs. Most political blogs are highly partisan. Liberals/Democrats and Conservatives/Republicans. These people frequently insult each other in all the relevant ways. They call each other "crazy," "stupid," "confused," "ethically blinkered," "dupes," "patsies," and so forth.

Occasionally rather than sniping from inside their protected compounds, intrepid souls will venture into enemy territory. Some of these places will allow "trolls" (defined broadly as "people who disagree with the dominant ideology of the blog") others ban them more or less swiftly.

On some very vicious blogs it is difficult to comment at all civilly because simply to disagree with the prevailing mindset AT ALL is to be trashed IMMEDIATELY. Like germs attacked by white cells in a body, invaders are to be destroyed by any means necessary. And since the enemy are subhuman (being "crazy" and "stupid") creative name calling is frequently part of the package.

The problem as I see it is the CONSISTENTLY UNEVEN TREATMENT that one sees in blogs relative to the commenters. On any blog that is explicitly partisan, one finds that commenters are, more or less, treated unevenly. Those that agree with the dominant position will be given more leeway than those that don’t. This is part of the “pruning” process that leads to the development of robust echo chambers, where like-minded individuals can congregate to share their views.

I regard this as an emergent phenomenon. I really don’t think that it’s always deliberate, or even conscious. I think it’s a product of bias, of cognitive filtering, which is a PRIMARY cognitive strategy that must be vigorously overcome through relentless self questioning (if the matter is normative), or relentless review of the facts (if the matter is descriptive).

For me, many questions fall out of the preceding: what obligation do blog hosts have to maintain a perfectly even handed treatment of commenters? Is this a problem of moral consistency that rises up independent of “blog hosting”? If one views comments as an “extension” of the blog’s principle message, can the primary blogger “use” comments to develop a secondary message through “pruning”? To what degree is the blogger responsible for ANY of the comments left in their comments section? And so forth.

This goes a bit past the focused question Jean asks, but these are additional questions to add to the course syllabus.

Deepak Shetty said...

"has an absolute right to comment at the blog where the insult was paid"
Huh? Not even Ophelia makes this claim.

The questions that should be asked is
a. Is it fair or ethical to allow people to call someone else a liar (something that your previous post claims you find so offensive, so toxic) and not give that someone else a decent chance to respond?
b. What responsibilities does Chris have(if any) - given that he hosts a blog provided by Discover magazine and presumably wants some feedback/discussion that will include criticism - If he wants to claim that he is fair/ tolerant/ pragmatic?
c. On a more personal level, why does Chris tolerate comments that are far more offensive than anything Ophelia has posted?. Go through the thread and check TB's comment. Im not asking you to be a mind reader here, simply your opinion.

Im not sure why you are creating a strawman version of the argument.

Jean Kazez said...

Faust, The question of even-handedness is a good one for the syllabus. I am often appalled by the lack of even-handedness of agenda blogs. It's so obvious, and yet the people who are being so non-even-handed don't even notice it. They will often still pride themselves on their fairness and rationality.

I think the Intersection is not quite like that, because it is largely unmoderated. Chris and Sheril are rather absent landlords, not stepping in to control the conversation or respond to insults, or whatever. At least, that was so until very recently. So people often say awful things about them and about each other. It's a free-for-all.

What was different about Ophelia (according to Chris's explanation) was that she had become litigious, accusing a real person (TB) of libel. Plus, she was both demanding airtime and asking for other people's comments to be deleted.

That sounds to me like a respectable justification for banning her, by anyone's lights. I think a lot of people would have done the same.

But now the question becomes, should she have had her privileges restored, given all the mud-slinging--which included attacks on her?

I think not. It's their place, she had become persona non grata. She had her own popular blog where she could link to any charges and answer them.

Background to this is that a lot of the intensity at the Intersection, at that time, was being stirred up by her own relentless blogging about Mooney. She wrote endless posts about him that become more and more vituperative. She was constantly calling Chris and Sheril "the Colgate twins," accusing them of moral bankruptcy, and generally stirring up a very overwrought sort of hostility toward them.

Deepak, The above is your answer. You're taking "absolute" too literally. The point is that she thinks her right to respond trumps their right to ban her. I don't agree.

Deepak Shetty said...

"You're taking "absolute" too literally. The point is that she thinks her right to respond trumps their right to ban her."
And I am saying the question is not whether Ophelia has a right. Clearly one can do as one pleases on ones own blog. That was never debated by anyone. You keep making this a "do you have a right" - No obviously not , thats a strawman.

The straightforward question asked was whether its fair/ ethical of Chris(you havent answered so I think your answer is yes - but you havent provided *much* justification on why you think so)
The other question was why are people who are clearly more offensive and use more offensive language not similarly banned ? The implication of the above , if true , is that Chris treats people who have opposing views using a far different standard. However that should then toss out his claims of being tolerant/ pragmatic / fair / reasonable etc.

Note that Ophelia is well within her rights to ask for comments defaming her to be deleted as Chris is within his for refusing to do so (but some comments were deleted , so not all of the requests were wrong ). Second since you find being called a liar is so toxic, why do you think that Ophelia would not also react angrily? To then ban her while keeping offensive trollish comments is unfair, is unethical.
Look at comment no 104 by TB and its response no 118 by Ophelia. Is stating
"It’s libelous to say that people are [telling falsehoods] when they’re not. I’m not [telling falsehoods]."
so much worse than stating
"So let me say that again and more emphatically: She is lying. "
"Benson doesn’t just disagree. She lies and asserts that they have nothing to back up their assertions"
even worse, this is the TB that Chris has chosen when he wants to share information? really?

So unless Ophelia said far worse to Chris in their emails, I think that while Chris is within his rights to take this decision, it was a wrong one.

Jean Kazez said...

To add: nobody should think my thoughts about Mooney and Ophelia sum up my whole attitude toward Ophelia. Not at all. We have, er, a little disagreement in that area. Fade to credits...

Deepak Shetty said...

I find it illustrative that you choose not to answer yes/no questions. Well atleast comments arent closed for this thread.

Jean Kazez said...

The point is that she didn't just express moral outrage about being called a liar (as I have)--she was using legalistic language (just as you are when you say "defamation"). She was sounding litigious. That seems like an extreme reaction, and lights up warning lights, as in: THIS PERSON COULD BECOME A REAL PAIN.

I think her comment was anomalous, and drew an atypical reaction from Chris and Sheril. On the whole they are even-handed, by which I mean they even-handedly tolerate insults directed at them, as well as insults that fly between commenters.

Given the nature of their concerns it seems to me it wasn't just their right (in some narrow sense) to ban her, but they couldn't be faulted. Again, given the nature of the concern, it didn't make sense to allow her back. What, so she could start talking about libel again?

It adds to my sympathy for their perspective that, as I said above, Ophelia herself was stirring up a lot of intense hostility and ridicule toward them Chris and Sheril at her blog, calling them names, etc. In light of that, I find it positively bizarre that she's the one complaining about their treatment of her.

Maybe I should have stuck with the fade to credits (2:19pm). Now I think I will.

Deepak Shetty said...

Apologies then , I did not realise the time order was messed up.
Well my last comment on this matter.

The libel comment is a factual claim(irrespective of its validity). Ophelia didnt say I could sue, I should sue or Im going to sue or you should be sued(then your view may have some validity)- The thread is missing a simple comment from Chris (made at that time would have some validity) stating Im banning Ophelia because she seems to be threatening or implying to sue. When I used the word defame I do not use it in any litigation sense.

"On the whole they are even-handed, by which I mean they even-handedly tolerate insults directed at them, as well as insults that fly between commenters"
I encourage you to see the various comments that people have posted that were rejected / deleted and the people banned - as well as the comments from the pro-mooney side which are allowed to stand. If after that you still have the opinion above , then fine we disagree.

"Ophelia herself was stirring up a lot of intense hostility and ridicule toward them Chris and Sheril at her blog"
In response to Chris's book right? I believe first valid criticisms with few insults were made, these were not addressed by Chris and things kept worsening after that. Do you have a different opinion(I promise not to respond again!)?

Whats missing is a clear statement from Chris stating why he has banned Ophelia
I see
"she was sending us emails demanding to have other posters’ comments deleted."
"If you come by and don’t behave–aren’t civil, aren’t substantive, aren’t accurate, engage in attacks, become a nuisance, etcetera"
It's only you who have added this *libel* as a possible cause.
By any definition , TB's statement was an attack. Why wasn't a similar standard applied? It isnt just that Chris banned Ophelia, It is also that he has not banned people who have behaved similarly hence unfair.

"You could mean several different things"
I guess philosophers or theologians can debate what fair means.

"I teach ethics"

"They did nothing wrong."
Not only Ophelia but everyone who has supported like Russel Blackford on Ophelias blog too.
Fine we disagree.

Jean Kazez said...

Re: libel. I think I am projecting what I would have thought about that. TB said "you're a liar" but she got litigious. There would have been a difference, in my mind.

I think some of the recent tighter rein has to do with wanting to close the discussion of Tom Johnson's identity.

I actually do agree with you that their not responding to her points made the situation worse, but I don't know what was going on behind the scenes--that might explain). And also, we all have to live with being ignored. It's not like they were replying to me either. I made some critical points on other threads.

OK...done. There would probably be more agreement if we were actually talking in person and look at details. Alas...must go now.

s. wallerstein said...

I participate in several related online groups about ancient philosophy and religion. Please don't ask me how I ended up there.
The tone is much as I imagine a Templeton Foundation seminar: tolerance for the views of others, polite discussion using rational language, no ad hominem arguments, the tacit assumption that we are all intelligent and well-intentioned (even if we are not) men and women. Abusive participants have been systematically banned. When I compare that virtual world with that of the "get Mooney" set, I see it more and more favorably.

Jean Kazez said...

I should be packing...

Just wondering. Is the peaceful crowd just a tad boring? :-)

Faust said...

I dunno Jean, your blog is mostly peaceful, and I don't find it boring :)