Giles Fraser on bloggers

From this week’s Church Times:

Yet, despite the social unacceptability of sending hate mail, those who post comments on websites — also known as bloggers — are able to get away with the most disgusting bile, wrapped in the clothing of anonymity. “Comment is free” is what The Guardian calls its blog site. Comment is cheap, more like. Sadly, nasty and insulting comment drives away all the interesting stuff. Who wants to get involved in a serious discussion only to end up trading abuse?

In reality, intemperate bloggers are poisoning the wells of open debate, not enhancing it. Many of those outside the blogsphere are put off by the sheer unpleasantness of internet debate. So it is abandoned to people with thick skins and short tempers. And that is hardly the open forum that many bloggers claim they are protecting.

[Click the link above to get these paragraphs in context]

My first reaction to this was one of defensiveness. First of all, there is a difference between ‘bloggers’ and ‘blog commenters’. The people Giles is referring to on Comment is Free are the commenters, not the bloggers. It is an important difference I think – bloggers tend to have more of an interest in the ongoing wellbeing of their website, whereas for commenters there can often be a ‘hit and run’ sort of an approach. Secondly, not all sites are like ‘Comment is Free’, which has a bad reputation (deservedly) for the quality of its commenters.

But on the other hand he does have a point. There are a lot of bloggers spouting a lot of nonsense out there, and I regularly get very annoyed by what I read as I said last week.

My advice to readers would be to choose the sites you read and comment on. There are plenty of places on the internet offering constructive debate. If a site annoys you because debate is conducted in an abusive manner go somewhere else. Life is too short to be wound up every time you look at the internet.

As for blog owners: I think we have a responsibility to keep an eye on the way debate is conducted. I moderate all new commenters and I think, on the whole, the comments boxes here are generally quite friendly and constructive places. I think Giles is right that the Guardian need to do some work on the registration procedure for Comment is Free.

[As an aside, there’s another not unrelated conversation going on here, where Iain Dale is responding to Polly Toybee’s comments on bloggers – again meaning blog commenters I think.]

Update: Further comment from Mark Harris and Stand Firm.

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