I spent part of my day in Washington, D.C., at the annual convention of the Religion Newswriters Association. The topic? What in the world is going on with blogging? I opened my remarks in a panel discussion on the topic with echoes of an earlier GetReligion post about how hard it is to control comments on websites about religion. That earlier post was a kind of WWW-era meditation on the depravity of man. In part I told about a witty comment by Steve Waldman of Beliefnet.com, who once told me something like this.
At his freewheeling interfaith site, people are allowed to leave comments that say something like this: "According to the teachings of my faith, you are destined to go to hell." What commenters are not allowed to say is this: "According to the teachings of my faith, you are destined to go to hell and I would like to assist in that process of sending you there as soon as possible."
Wise words. There are limits on offensive speech, but not many.
Alsong these same lines, Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe -- who was at the session today -- has written a very interesting "Articles of Faith" column about the love-hate relationship that veteran religion writers have with the harsh, snarky tone used by many people on their comments boards. David Waters of the "On Faith" site at the Washington Post spoke up.
... Waters noted that comments about religion are often ugly -- something I've observed here in my short time blogging. Here's what he said:
"Even Jerry Springer would be ashamed of the comments that we have on our site. They're that bad. Our philosophy is that the web is a platform that we are part of -- it's not ours. ...We have to abide by the rules of the Web, and the Web rules have always been very democratic, very open, and anonymity is fine. ... We will remove comments that go over the line, but some really awful comments go on line. I think eventually somebody's going to get sued for a comment on some site, and we're going to find out how the courts feel about this.''
Waters observed that at On Faith, they now talk about the three Ms -- Muslims, Mormons, and Moosekillers -- that are most likely to generate discussion, and vitriol.
Paulson adds to this. Mull this over, please:
In my own brief blogging career, Sarah Palin has been the gift that keeps on giving -- she has generated an astonishing number of comments, from both ends of the political, and theological, spectrum, many of them saturated with incredible hostility directed by the non-religious at the religious and vice versa. And, I must say, four groups in particular seem to draw a huge amount of venom on this blog: Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims and Scientologists. I've junked all kinds of comments that I have found just beyond the pale -- those that use certain obscenities, of course, but also those in which readers allude to the sexual fantasies they have projected onto Sarah Palin, those in which people express pleasure at the crucifixion of Jesus, and so on. But that still leaves plenty of room for name-calling and a lot of mean-spiritedness, bias, and, arguably, hatred, that, at least to me, is unsettling.
So, let's open this up to talk this over -- yet again. What should sites such as this do?
Some people refuse to allow us to place their comments into moderation. They fight back and we go around and around in circles. Most of all, why are comments-page folks so anxious to talk about doctrine and personalities, instead of journalism issues (the purpose of this weblog)?
Keep it clean.
IMAGE: Back by popular demand.