Blog Comments and Censorship

Recently a blogger left a comment on my post A grumpy guide to blogging etiquette regarding my statement that if someone leaves a comment on your post that disturbs you, you should go right ahead and delete it.  This blogger said that deleting comments that went against your point of view was  censorship.  That’s not the first time I’ve come across the freedom of speech idea being applied to blog commenting, so I thought it would be worth exploring.

The Google Dictionary definition of censorship is “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”  Wikipedia identifies several potential rationales for censorship: moral, military, political, religious, and and corporate.

Civil liberties groups tend to be strong defenders of free speech, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) writes that:

“Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.”

Most free democracies have some version of a right to free speech.  I think this is sometimes misinterpreted as a freedom to say whatever one wants, wherever, whenever, or however one wants to say it, which is simply not the case.  In the United States, the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits censorship by government, but this does not apply to private companies or private citizens.  That means from a Constitutional perspective, the argument that moderating blog comments is censorship is really a moot point.

One analogy I can think of is that your blog is your house and the land it sits on.  You can put signs up wherever you’d like on your property with whatever message you’d like, as long as it doesn’t contravene any laws.  Your neighbour is free to put up signs on their own lawn criticizing yours, but they have no right to come onto your property and erect their own signs.

The person who commented on my etiquette blog argued that it’s cowardly to put up a public post and not allow all comments, but like the property example, you’re not preventing other people from commenting on their own space  They can rant ’til the cows come home about your post as long as they do it on their own blog.  You’re just saying they can’t comment on yours, and they don’t in any way, shape, or form have the right to unfettered access to your own property.  I actually wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some overlap between the type of people who argue that removing comments is censorship and the type of people who would be inclined to tell you to get off their property or they’ll go get their shotgun.

Even major media outlets have no obligation to publish any and all comments they receive, whether that be online or via snail mail.  Social media platforms are also under no obligation to allow users to post anything they want.  I’ve seen accusations of censorship aimed at social media for taking down images related to self-harm, but as private companies, social media platform are able to restrict the type of content they allow on their sites.  Whether that’s socially palatable or not is a separate issue.

Facebook has been quite outspoken in defending their choice not to restrict what users can post, including allowing attempts at election interference.  The ACLU defends Facebook’s stance, arguing that the government definitely shouldn’t have the power to separate fact from faction, and Facebook probably would’t do much better:

“There is no question that giving the government the power to separate truth from fiction and to censor speech on that basis would be dangerous. If you need confirmation, look no further than President Trump’s preposterous co-optation of the term “fake news.” A private company may not do much better, even if it’s not technically bound by the First Amendment to refrain from censorship. “

For a closer look at Facebook and fake news, The Great Hack on Netflix is a fascinating (though disturbing) documentary.

One area where censorship can be an issue in blogging is through copyright abuse.  In 2013 WordPress published a blog post about its attempts to fight back against the misuse and malicious use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a piece of legislation in the United States.  If a copyright holder files a complaint through the DMCA, WordPress essentially has to take down the material associated with the alleged infringement, or they risk being legally liable.

All said, I suspect that it’s not the people in the mental health blogging community who feel they have a right to trample over other blogs and bloggers.  Our blogs are our own spaces, and we can run them in the manner we see fit.  My message from my original post remains – if a comment disturbs you, delete it without hesitation.  It’s not worth sacrificing your own mental wellbeing for some blowhard looking for an outlet.

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59 thoughts on “Blog Comments and Censorship

  1. Paula Light says:

    Totally agree with you! My first blog got destroyed because I allowed unlimited commenting, thinking that people should be free to say whatever, just like on Usenet forums, and if they had flamewars, well, that would increase my traffic, yay! No. Boo. Things got ugly and out of control. I had people impersonating others and being awful. Impulsively, i switched commenting platforms, and i ended up messed up my template. Ughhh.

    After that, I decided i WOULD moderate comments to some extent. No flames allowed. No insults directed at me! If people are nasty, i ban their IP.

  2. kristianw84 says:

    Absolutely!! I have always said constructive criticism is always welcome, but if it’s disrespectful or not helpful, just keep your opinions to yourself! It is your blog so you absolutely have the right to decide what you allow on it! People just need to get over themselves! Lol. Seriously, good for you for not allowing anything negative to your mental health, it’s unnecessary!! <3

  3. Meg says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking! I agree with your it’s-my-house analogy! With me, I allow almost any comment, as long as it’s not spam or overly offensive. (I don’t care if someone disagrees with me, except inasmuch as it makes me think, “Oh, no, they’re probably right, and I should’ve seen it that way!”) But unless someone’s disagreeing with me in a way that’s outright hostile (which has never happened, I don’t think), then I’m open to all commenting. However, I think it’s important for WP users to feel comfortable, so I’m glad that it’s doable to delete and/or block comments. It just occurred to me that it would be useful for all users to mention in their “about” page their policy for commenting! Couldn’t hurt.

    Great post! I didn’t get enough sleep last night, but thinking about this issue has helped me to wake up a little bit!! 🙂

  4. moreharmthangoodblog says:

    I agree! I actually apply this to my Facebook page etc. too – don’t agree with what I say? Then write about it on your page – go for it. But don’t come on my page, bashing what I believe and trying to make yourself look/feel like the better person. My page is mine, yours is yours… we’re free to do what we want in our own space, and we don’t have to accept unwelcome, abusive or disrespectful visitors. I don’t get too many comments on my blog, but it’s my choice which ones I allow to be made public.

  5. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    “The Great Hack” was very interesting, I had just watched that the other evening. I still have to finish it though because I fell asleep.
    Ashley, I love you “Sign” analogy. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve had to delete comments as well. What we do on our property (Blog) is up to us. If someone is disrespectful, ZAP, you’re outta here!
    Great post, Ashley!!! Excellent as a matter of fact!!!

  6. crushedcaramel says:

    Oh I would delete or edit anything objectionable without hesitation
    I won;t have bad language, racism or anything offensive.
    Call it censorship of you like! But as far as I am concerned, I want my blog to be family friendly, suitable for all ages etc. So I am going to stay in control of comments, which is why all comments have to be approved so I can check them first.

  7. Brendan Birth says:

    On my blog, I haven’t been strict at all about restricting comments. But, that’s a personal choice. People should be free to choose what they do with their own blogs.

  8. Amir says:

    Reblogged this on Notes and commented:
    Totally disagree and I hope you won’t mind my disagreeing 🙂 Blogging and indulging in a free discussion is not for everyone. Some don’t have thick enough skin to look beyond the nastiness of some of those “mere” words.

      • ICT Genealogist says:

        I agree with Ashley, having thick skin has nothing to do with it. I have a fairly thick skin thanks to being bullied in elementary – high school for being the skinny child that wore thick Coke bottle glasses and was a nerd back before Drew Carey and Urkel made being a nerd a cool thing.

        A good recent example of why to approve posts was a blogger who allows dissenting views. One commenter kept basically attacking the blogger on a post she made. It reached the point where the commenter was being a bully and pulled the standard bully tactic of accusing the blogger of being the bully. Shortly after that, the blogger stopped allowing that individual to comment. She commented around 40 times and kept beating the same dead horse and not addressing the blogger’s points. I will say the blogger had a lot more patience than I would have. Considering the blogger is a lawyer and a law professor, I am confident she has some fairly thick skin.

  9. me says:

    completely agree. however, i think i’ve only ever deleted 2 comments off’ve my blog. it takes abit to offend me & these weren’t offensive per se, they were more demanding that i should see things their way. i dont do demands 😉 & as you say … they’re our blogs / lives / opinions / experience : when in my house you’ll wipe your dam feet before you come in & play by my rules
    xx

  10. aguycalledbloke says:

    Excellent post Ashley, well said and expressed!

    I have only deleted a few comments in the last two years or so on my posts, but as of yet l have not received any truly hostile, just some that l consider diatribus [no, that’s probably not a real word, but l like it, plural of diatribe] The one’s that display they have not read your content at all but they plant a ‘Great Post’ and you know yes you KNOW, the moment you say thank you you are going to be hit with “Please visit my blog and read!” comment – my blood boils at that ha ha! It does upset my mental wellbeing l shit you not. Being commented on by the Likemonlibeast Clan with no thought for me at all, does strange things to me!!! and 2 more for effect !!

  11. Book Club Mom says:

    This is a great post – Although in my book reviewing blogging world, it’s unusual to get a negative comment, they do happen now and then. I don’t delete reader opinions that differ from mine, but they are usually respectful. But I wouldn’t hesitate to remove an offensive comment. I like your house analogy – the same kind of logic applies.

  12. Barb says:

    “[T]he type of people who would be inclined to tell you to get off their property or they’ll go get their shotgun” is spot. On. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t received offensive posts, especially because I only moderate based on if there’s a link in the comment, even a familiar one. I don’t want “marketers” using my blog as their platform. If I do get an offensive comment that doesn’t contain a link, I have no problem deleting it right then and there.

  13. Dee Kelly says:

    I completely agree! Your blog your rules. You have a right to monitor and delete any comments you wish. We never claim to be completely unbiased and even if we try to represent all sides we are not obligated to do this or leave up comments we find to be out of line (or even if we just don’t like them). Nor are we required to enable comments at all!

  14. sophienaylor1 says:

    Someone’s blog is their place to feel comfortable. If someone comments something that makes the blogger feel uncomfortable, hell yeah they have more than a right to delete it. Different opinions/constructive criticisms are fine for most people, but being nasty is never okay.

  15. buddy71 says:

    if you dont like what is being shown, change the channel or dont go to that blog or even that movie. you dont have to read the book or paper if you dont agree with what is being said. not only do we have a delete button, but also one that powers off and can take you away from whatever is offensive to you.

    i find blog post/comments to be difficult to carry on a debate of different views.

    if we all thought alike, how boring this world would be.

    this post is well written and should be said over and over and over…

  16. respain says:

    For rude and objectionable comments on your opinions I completely agree you should remove them. I do though thoroughly embrace a healthy and good natured discussion on opposing views. Healthy and good natured being the key.
    There is a line to be drawn.
    Only just found your blog posts as I am new to this but keep up the good work.

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