9.21.2006

slippery

Long-time wmtc reader Dean, a progressive living in Texas, has the uncanny ability to read my mind. He's forever leaving comments today about tomorrow's posts. Yesterday Dean noted:
Barbara Ehrenreich maintains a website that she apparently doesn't make off-limits to hate-filled, sociopathic right-wing commentors. You Canadians might want to check out some of their comments on Ehrenreich's recent posts to get a taste of the obsessions and hatefulness of the American right-wing.

For example, one from a few days ago declares that he doesn't care anything at all for those who suffered and died from Hurricane Katrina, that it's every man for himself and he wouldn't want to live around poor people anyway. And this in response to an Ehrenreich essay on how the unemployed in the US too often blame only themselves for their predicament. And even that comment is pretty mild compared to what you can hear on the street here or on many other sites any day of the week. Laura's probably received much worse.

When I read comments like that, attitudes that are all too familiar and widespread here in Texas, I am so glad Laura deletes them. At the same time, as Laura says, I don't think the rest of the world really realizes just how aggressively hateful many in the US are.
"Aggressively hateful" - that's exactly how I think of it.

A new wmtc reader, going through our backstory, recently emailed me about a nasty comment that I left up. (It was snarky, but not hate-filled, so it didn't meet my standard for deletion.) His email and Dean's comment reminded me of just how many of those comments wmtc used to get, especially right after the 2004 "election". Out and out hate mail. The comments I have deleted could fill a large, hate-filled book.

There were the angry right-wingers, furious that someone could actually choose another country over TGNOTFOTE, that anyone would dare suggest there was a better place to live. (Of course they all claimed to be happy we were leaving, along with the ubiquitous offers to help us pack.)

There were the angry left-wingers who said we were giving up and abandoning our country. They were certainly less mean-spirited, and there were fewer of them.

The third type of comments - a subset of the angry wingnuts - were intent on telling us how awful Canada is, and how much we would hate it there. How our (non-existent) children would be forced to speak French, how we would be arrested - dragged out of our beds at night, I think was the expression - if we disparaged the queen of England, how we would die while we waited for health care. That is, if the cold didn't kill us first.

Sometimes I would delete the comment, but copy it into a post so the wmtc crew could kick it around some. That was fun, and had the added benefit of making me feel welcomed and accepted.

Everything calmed down a lot after we moved. The last spew wmtc received was actually from a Canadian left-winger who thought I moved to Canada for stupid, uninformed reasons, and just had to tell me about it. But it's a pretty rare occurrence now, where it used to be fairly common.

It was always very clear to me that I couldn't leave that stuff on my blog. It felt like a violation of my personal space. I think of this blog as my online home. Someone came to my home to insult me, and I had to ask him, or force him, to leave.

Deletion is inevitably followed by accusations of censorship and "echo chambers". But I'm not the government, I'm not preventing anyone from getting their own blog (although we move to canada sucks is already taken, ha ha!), and not everyone who posts here shares the same opinions. But deleted commenters always whine about the same things, and I just continue to delete them.

Different bloggers have different takes on this. Jere, the reader who I mentioned above, reading some old posts, said he leaves all the hateful comments in, bad spelling and all, to expose them. I recently read Crooks and Liars's comment policy and thought it was brilliant. My own ground rules for commenting are here. Many bloggers don't monitor comments and don't seem to care what goes on in them.

A recent comment war on one of my favourite blogs confirmed for me that my instincts were right. (Right for me. Each to her own.)

Egalia, of the great Tennessee Guerilla Women, posted a powerful, emotional piece, when her daughter was beaten up by her then-boyfriend. (Daughter's boyfriend, not mom's.) Egalia's post, which includes photos of her daughter's bruised and swollen face, was called "Men Are Scum Until Proven Otherwise".

It's a provocative title, to be sure, and taken in context, an excellent one. Egalia explains it was actually a quote from her daughter's father, from when their daughter first started dating. In our violent world, women must be on guard and distrustful, until it's clear that the man in question is worthy of trust.

Egalia and her daughter were engaged in "naming and shaming": refusing to be silent and let abusers slip under the radar, masquerading as normal men. Other bloggers joined the campaign; Egalia posted a round-up here.

Although I missed the opportunity to name and shame Matthew Allen White, Egalia's daughter's assailant, I applaud their campaign with all my heart. It seeks justice, and it puts the blame where it belongs. I know from personal experience how powerful it is when you own your story enough to lift your head proudly and say: This was done to me. I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Now, go back and scroll through the comments on those two TGW posts. Look what people wrote.

A woman posts photos of her daughter's battered face, and people yell at her for casting aspersions on men. They say she's as bad as the man who beat up her daughter. And worse.

Egalia has many friends and defenders, and many readers came to her defense. The comments devolved into a shouting match.

I'm sure Egalia has her own reasons for leaving up all the comments. Maybe it's to expose the hate. Maybe she finds it easier and less upsetting to ignore comments altogether. Maybe it's some combination of the two plus other reasons I haven't guessed at.

But for me, the comments at TGW are the cautionary slippery slope. That's where wmtc could have ended up if I didn't nip it early on. Instead of the interesting discussions we have here, we'd have one big ugly shouting match.

* * * *

Although this post is about blogging and comment policy, I hope you'll take a few minutes to check out the TGW posts I linked to (one, two and especially three). Powerful stuff.

31 comments:

Jere said...

It's fitting you linked to me today, on a day when that rival team officially knocked the Sox out. Because, of course, their fans came crawling out of their holes, more worried about mocking ME than celebrating their own team's victory.

And then basically spouting a bunch of things about my personality that are so far off from the truth, with their usual bad grammar.

(The second guy is the one I'm "ignoring,"--the one who suggested I use my girlfriend like a piece of meat, basically--which is why I don't respond to his ridiculous charges.)

L-girl said...

The whole your-team-sucks blogging thing is simply beyond my comprehension. How small-minded must a person be to derive joy from such nonsense?

The girlfriend-as-meat comment you shared with me was just plain nauseating.

Tom said...

I post on a faith forum pretty regularly. A similar topic to yours came up and a minister posted this to me.

"But the flip side is this
by PastorLarry, 9/20/06 15:07 ET
even those that maybe are not on board, will also see the hate that is spewed by opponents or read aboput it and want to distance themselves from that.
For me, that is the hardest part of me being evangelical, I see the hate that is attached to it sometimes. I witness those people and their actions, but what it does for me is make me work that much harder to get the real evangelical message out"

Lone Primate said...

I personally am uncomfortable with what Egalia said. We're living in a time and place where some groups are still liable to open discrimination and ridicule, and currently it's "okay" to bash men in general. I don't think it's right to do this.

To make my point, I'll pose the question: had her daughter been beaten by a black person, would we be alright with Egalia posting "all blacks are scum until proven otherwise" (even if an African-American had offered her that opinion)? When she came to us with statistics showing how out of proportion black imprisonment for violent crime was with the share of the population black people represent, would we be expected to nod and defend the point? If not, then why in this case?

Some human beings -- men, women, white, black, Jew, Gentile, whatever -- will hurt others given the chance, will cheat others given the opportunity. But does that make us all equally culpable? Of course not. We're human beings, and we're due exactly the same respect and consideration until we are, as individuals, demonstrated unworthy of it. None of has to earn it. That's what the whole last three or four hundred years have supposedly been about. If it becomes fine to claim that since men are responsible for most violent crime that every one is a suspect until he redeems himself, why stop there? Go whole hog and warn your daughters, "Oh, and if it's a black man, run like hell; just look at these stats, double whammy!"

Egalia is hurt, and she's angry, and her feelings are understandable. But the comments they give rise to are not laudable, and not acceptable. One man, and one man alone, is responsible for what happened. Not the other three billion of us. As for justifying it by pointing out it was a man she's quoting, as far as I'm concerned, that hints darkly more at what might be going on inside his own skull than provides evidence about what's going on in anyone else's.

L-girl said...

To make my point, I'll pose the question: had her daughter been beaten by a black person, would we be alright with Egalia posting "all blacks are scum until proven otherwise" (even if an African-American had offered her that opinion)?

Several commenters on TGW said as much. But it was, in my opinion, neither the time nor the place to say so.

Egalia and her daughter's father were speaking in a personal sense - that a woman cannot trust a man until she knows him, that it is not safe to give her trust unearned. That is clearly true. It's something all women know, what we all learn growing up. It's self-protection.

Egalia is hurt, and she's angry, and her feelings are understandable.

That's the point.

The people who couldn't put their own defensiveness - however justified - aside for a few moments, and offer condolences and sympathy, but instead called her names, accusing her of being just as bad as the man who beat up her daughter - they are much worse, in my eyes, than a statement made in anger and hurt about "all men".

I was hoping I'd get away without discussing the content of Egalia's post per se, but I know that was wishful thinking.

L-girl said...

Tom, I'm not sure I understand what the pastor is saying. That the hate spewed in the forum will turn people away, and that's why it gets deleted?

L-girl said...

One man, and one man alone, is responsible for what happened.

Although I know you don't mean it this way, LP, this is actually part of the problem that gives rise to so much violence in our society. Each of us are responsible for our actions, to be sure. But violence by men against women is a societal problem.

It's not one man's problem or one woman's problem. It's not just a "domestic disturbance" and "nobody's business," as used to be thought. It's every man's problem and every woman's problem. It's not possible to reduce the frequency of intimate-partner violence unless we all address it as such.

That's partly what Egalia's talking about, although in her anger and pain, she expresses it in a way that offends you.

L-girl said...

hints darkly more at what might be going on inside his own skull than provides evidence about what's going on in anyone else's.

It may hint at what's in his own mind, but it also very accurately reflects the world around him. It's the world that millions of men and women live in every day.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Interesting post.

I have a rather different comments policy--or, more accurately, I have none. I've never deleted anything. There are a couple of reasons for this: One is that if the commenter is just being ridiculous, then they're throwing themselves to the wolves in terms of exposing their silly thoughts to people who are going to rip them to shreds with logic. Another is that I don't look at my blog as personal space, but as public space (I also have a much more personal and private online journal that I keep, and I feel very similarly about that one as you do about your blog here). And another, quite honestly, is that my blog doesn't tend to attract the most vicious kinds of trolls anyway (possibly because they find my longwinded nature simply too boring!).

Judging from the verbal crap I took back when I moved to Canada, though (long before I had a blog and probably before the word 'blog' existed), I can very much imagine that you'd get lots of comments of the trollish type. The "how dare you leave the greatest country in the world" sort of sentiment from the U.S. right would get awfully old after a while--as would the "you should stay and fight" guilt-tripping from what passes for the U.S. left.

I would *love* to hear what the Canadian left-winger said to you about your stupid reasons for moving to Canada, by the way. In all my years as a part of Canada's left wing, I've never heard that from anyone.

Lone Primate said...

I don't think I would have taken issue with it on Egalia's site pretty much for the reasons you gave. But here we're dealing with it as a subject of discussion aside from the emotion, and that's where it ought to be dealt with. I agree that she's not objective because of emotional duress, and in those circumstances we all give vent to what we're feeling. But for other people, who supposedly are thinking clearly and without emotional bias as justification, to defend those sentiments is troubling.

What do the numbers tell us? Egalia tells us that in the US, the current prison population is 93% male, and a quick look around backs that up. The US prison population is around about 2 million, give or take; the current population of the United States is about 300 million (of which we can safe assume roughly 150 million are male). That means that something like 1,800,000-1,900,000 men are in prison for various crimes -- not all of them violent, not all of them against women (drug possession/trafficking, theft, B&E, etc.), but let's put those criteria aside for the moment. In other words, 1,900,000 people out of 150,000,000 are currently incarcerated. That's about 1.25%. One person in 80. On this evidence, the other 79 are supposed to willingly wear the hair shirt of "scum", and slave for permission to remove it?

I certainly hope not.

Scott M. said...

You deleted my deleted emails! I was just trying to have some fun...

:)

L-girl said...

The "how dare you leave the greatest country in the world" sort of sentiment from the U.S. right would get awfully old after a while

It got old immediately. And they were often accompanied by personal insults and invectives. If you want to see a few that we used for sport, you can search this blog for "Kyle Couch" and "Big Soccer".

I would *love* to hear what the Canadian left-winger said to you about your stupid reasons for moving to Canada, by the way.

Search for "GaryStJ", and follow the links back to the original comments. I had to delete his later posts, because they were so filled with hate. Some of the things he said to me, posts I didn't show anyone, were among the most viscious I've ever seen.

L-girl said...

On this evidence, the other 79 are supposed to willingly wear the hair shirt of "scum", and slave for permission to remove it?

I understand what you're saying, Lone Primate. But the bulk of this problem has nothing to do with prison or who is incarcerated. Most abusers are among us every day. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, construction workers and sanitation workers. They are regular people, not thought of as criminals. They're the boy next door. Not every boy next door, but some of them. That's why, especially for young women, males have to prove themselves first, and be trusted only later.

L-girl said...

One is that if the commenter is just being ridiculous, then they're throwing themselves to the wolves in terms of exposing their silly thoughts to people who are going to rip them to shreds with logic.

I never delete posts that are just ridiculous.

I only delete posts that are either mean (personal insults) or grossly offend my morals, such as long anti-abortion or anti-gay rants.

L-girl said...

You deleted my deleted emails! I was just trying to have some fun...

Ha! I didn't even realize it. I just automatically delete those "this comment was deleted by" posts. I didn't know what the heck you were doing.

Careful Scott, you don't want to kill this thread... :-)

Tom said...

Sorry for the confusion. The pastor was saying let the haters have their platform it only encourages him and others work harder against them.

This is a man who changed his mind on GLBT people.

scylla said...

I don't know what to think about the fact that it only took me half a second to figure out this acronym:

TGNOTFOTE

Does that make me smart? Cynical? Brainwashed?

Seriously, I was surprised it came to me so quickly! Yikes.

I wish I had something to add to the actual discussion. Trolls and hate speech upset me. I'm glad you delete it from here; otherwise I'd find the comments on your blog unreadable.

James said...

For example, one from a few days ago declares that he doesn't care anything at all for those who suffered and died from Hurricane Katrina, that it's every man for himself and he wouldn't want to live around poor people anyway.

Want to bet that this guy considers himself a devout Christian?

L-girl said...

Trolls and hate speech upset me. I'm glad you delete it from here; otherwise I'd find the comments on your blog unreadable.

And that is basically my motive. I would find my own blog unreadable - blogging would be an unpleasant experience for me.

Scylla, you did add something to the discussion.

Does that make me smart? Cynical? Brainwashed?

Smart and suitably cynical. :)

L-girl said...

The pastor was saying let the haters have their platform it only encourages him and others work harder against them.

I admire his attitude. I say, let them have their platform: elsewhere. A platform of their own, not mine.

I'm completely against anti-hate-speech laws or censorship of any kind. But as I like to say, I'm under no obligation to rent them billboard space in my backyard.

sister.susie said...

I'm with scylla on this, too. Personally, I'm glad you cull the posts and delete the dross, L-girl.

I came across wmtc quite accidentally. (I believe I was Googling "mammogram" "canada" & "caffeine"!) I was immediately attracted to the topics of conversation, and I BEGAN reading wmtc from start to finish.

I STAYED because it is an intelligent, respectful, and entertaining blog space. I simply won't stay where people waste time bad-mouthing each other.

I find it interesting that some people consider blogs "public" spaces and others consider them "private" spaces and manage them accordingly...

L-girl said...

Thanks, sister.susie! Wow, you went back and read the whole thing? I'm honoured.

I find it interesting that some people consider blogs "public" spaces and others consider them "private" spaces and manage them accordingly...

Yes, it is interesting! And it's funny that a place on the internet that is open to anyone could feel at all private. Perhaps it's better said that my blog is my personal (rather than private) space, a reflection of me personally. And since I don't like those kind of nasty yelling matches in my own life, I don't like them on my blog.

redsock said...

One reason why I delete over-the-line posts from my Red Sox blog:

If I was a part of a fairly intelligent blog that suddenly had a lot of trolls taking over, I'd probably leave. And I don't want anyone to feel that way at my blog.

In a nutshell: You can't come into my house, take a dump on the living room floor and expect to be invited to stay for dinner.

...

(Unless you are a really cute dog! ... Then we can talk.)

sister.susie said...

...my blog is my personal (rather than private)...

What a difference a word makes. Personal is definitely more accurate.

My cubicle at work is my personal space, but it is f-a-r from private. There are NO secrets in "cubicle land".

If I was a part of a fairly intelligent blog that suddenly had a lot of trolls taking over, I'd probably leave.

So would I, Redsock. Life's too short.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Perhaps it's better said that my blog is my personal (rather than private) space, a reflection of me personally.

Right, whereas mine really isn't any sort of personal reflection of me. It's a place for my political opinions, but I actually say very little about myself there. I have my other online journal (available only to friends) for that.

deang said...

Long-time wmtc reader Dean ... has the uncanny ability to read my mind. He's forever leaving comments today about tomorrow's posts.

I had no idea.

On the whether-or-not-to-delete-ugly-comments thing, commenters of mal intent can not only offend readers, they can also lead well-intentioned commenters into counterproductive conversational cul-de-sacs. For instance, a guy on Ehrenreich's blog, by emphasizing over and over how he thought of those on welfare as corrupt poseurs, got normally well-intentioned commenters to start talking about instances where they had suspected other poor people of just trying to take advantage of the system. The conversation then briefly devolved into criticism of many/most welfare recipients, along the lines of (that fascist) Reagan's lies about "welfare queens." And these commenters were people who are or have been unemployed. The right-winger thus successfully moved the conversation in a toxic direction, much like professional agents provocateurs do, preventing anything constructive from happening. If I had my own site/blog, I would not allow comments largely because that sort of thing infuriates me.

L-girl said...

The right-winger thus successfully moved the conversation in a toxic direction, much like professional agents provocateurs do, preventing anything constructive from happening.

Allan frequently mentions to me that he sees this in 9/11 discussions and suspects the diverters are plants.

deang said...

Allan frequently mentions to me that he sees this in 9/11 discussions and suspects the diverters are plants.

I've thought that before myself, though I realize it's hard to prove. These days, though, there are so many right-wingers out there who voluntarily devote themselves to disrupting activities they don't agree with that my feeling is professional plants aren't even needed and probably make up only a small percentage of troublemakers.

L-girl said...

Good point. And either way, it amounts to the same thing.

Cornelia said...

The Republicanand such-like bunch likes to become abusive and to bully people, I know. I always say they are among the best candidates for a sound violence protection act restraining order (so that they couldn't impose their trash on me any more, I mean, if they were not willing to leave me alone otherwise.) Good for you for deleting their nonsense and trashtalking!
And anyway, it's no one's business but your own where you decide to live!!! Some people should simply mind their own business instead of trying to tell other people what to do.

L-girl said...

Indeed!