Topic of the week - Comments
This is going to be the first in what I hope is a series of editorials that we host on relevant topics. We'll sticky the post for a 5 or 7 day period and see if we can have some civil and compelling conversations about topical (and site related) topics.
We'll start with a standard one.
What is the purpose of comments on anarchistnews.org and what is troubling about moderation of these comments.
The goal of anarchistnews.org, since it's founding, is not just to repost stories with the word anarchist in them (which I've had to defend on numerous occasions) but for the broad anarchist population to have a space to discuss what is being done, in our name. with each other. This, as it turns out, is an impossible tension because there are dozens (at least) of different kinds of anarchists, many of which have their own motivation to use the word that is nothing like the motivation of other stripes.
This unshared motivation should be an opportunity (and often is) for compelling discourse about the context of positions, personal back stories, and generally good faith discussion about where the divisions lay. Instead there seems to have become a kind of split between purists along a couple different lines. On the one hand there are the critics who seem to only be happy when they are poking holes in the logic of anarchist activity for not being anarchist... enough. On the other are revolutionaries who are doing things on the ground to "attack this society." This is an honest tension that I respect and honor and attempt to not take a side in (and shouldn't have to as both kinds of content gets posted here all the time).
I am sympathetic to the argumentation made by SamFantoSamotnaf along these lines. If I felt as though the issue were just about 2-3 bad posters who disrupted good faith (cough) conversations I would not have a problem being censorious of their postings. But the problem, if we are going to agree to that framing is that the nature of an anonymous site is that it is very difficult to moderate. It isn't just a matter of scanning for bad words and people's legal names (which is mostly what I do, other moderators have different eyes). It is a matter of reading every thread for their degrees of good faith which is damn near impossible. It is a matter of taking sides around critical vs revolutionary anarchism (along with any number of other divisions btw) which is really the opposite of what we want to do with the site.
A sidebar on American culture. In the past 11 years I have come around on the topic of free speech. In the past I would have said that it is part of American (even radical) culture and that it will be impossible to have something (like a movement) be successful in the US context without strong sympathy to free speech as a principle. I now see free speech as a Shibboleth used to confuse and waste time (but in this category I would put about 50% of anarchistnews.org stories). One of the moderation points we have made a long time ago is to remove anti-anarchist comments but with the layers of sarcasm and back talk it is some times quite difficult to keep the anti-anarchist clearly differentiated from the populist politicians that use the word anarchist, the anarchists who will not use the word for recruitment purposes, and the people who have no idea what the word means but are practitioners of the principles.
I'll wrap up this rant with a few conclusions. There are a few posters who I am close to banning, but I don't think it'll exactly solve the problems people think it will. I'd like comments to be less than 1000 (better 500) words. I'd like the use of personal insults to be stopped. I'd also like people to stop creating near infinite recursion by responding to these insults in kind (which makes it very difficult to moderate btw). I am more-than-sick of people using their perception of my political position to use this platform as a way to personally insult me (especially since these same people never do it to me personally or to my posted email address). I wish for more better quality posts (call them editorials) that spark shared conversations about topical, relevant issues for all of us.
And just so you hear it said, the strong reason that I continue to fight for comments, especially of the anonymous kinds is that most anarchists (who do the work and identify as such) do not live in towns, in collectives, or next door to others who are doing the same. Keeping discussions about these matters to Facebook or to the insider cliques who refuse to be criticized (on their platforms) is a sure way for the beautiful idea to become more constrained, surveiled, and dominated by big men than it already is. I consider anarchistnews.org to be the best introduction to the best and worst aspects of this cantankerous and wonderful way of seeing the world.