No Comment? What’s the Point?

By Jason Menard

To paraphrase the sage Uncle Ben, with great blogging comes great responsibility — and, for me, that responsibility is first and foremost to allow reader comments.

However, I believe there is a caveat: allowing reader comments does not equal allowing ALL reader comments.

I believe that if you’re going to publish a blog in a public forum — sharing your thoughts, opinions, and ideas with the world — then you have a moral obligation to allow readers to reply. To not do so, in my opinion, betrays a touch of arrogance combined with a heaping helping of missed opportunity.

I won’t lie. If I read a blog that does not allow comments, it tarnishes and undermines what’s written. I feel it shows that the author not only doesn’t care about the readers’ opinions, it suggests that he or she is also not interested in listening to outside perspectives in formulating those opinions.

It’s a matter of trust and respect. And I have a hard time doing either when one is so restrictive.

I’ve said it before and I continue to hold to it to this day: if I present an opinion or an idea, I want it to be scrutinized. I appreciate comments, suggestions, and new information. I don’t know everything and if my opinion is lacking for whatever reason, then I want to know where it fails.

We grow and learn not through absolute belief in our sense of right, but rather through embracing what we don’t know and working to improve that lack of knowledge. It’s akin to hyperpartisanship — listening to only one side or drinking only one flavour of Kool-Aid based on its colour means you’re missing out on different perspective and viewpoints.

I keep saying it because I keep believing it — no one side has the monopoly on right.

The danger of commenting without allowing comments is that it eliminates balance. I can publish whatever I want and I hope to engender a sense of trust amongst those who read me. But if I publish something that’s wrong — without allowing for questioning or fact-checking, then I’m doing my readers a disservice.

Unfortunately, a minority of commenters ruin the experience for the majority of good quality respondents. These people are often referred to as trolls, but I find that term’s too widely applied, especially on social networks. (Troll is often a label applied to people who don’t agree with your particular ideology.)

There does exist a sub-culture of negative commenters: those people who hijack every post for their singular focus, or flood the comments with personal attacks and puerile insults. We all can agree that there’s little to no value in that type of behaviour. And some bloggers and columnists are scared off by that sort of behaviour.

There is a solution: moderation. Most content management systems and publishing software will allow you to monitor comments and choose whether to publish them. A responsible blogger will be judicious in restricting that commentary. I believe in establishing ground rules for your blog up front and enforcing them throughout. I draw my line at libel and personal attacks. And I’m proud to say that I’ve allowed all but one comment on my blog, both positive and negative (the only one I restricted was one that was comprehensively libellous towards someone in the community that I was writing about).

Understand, just as the comments can be abused, so too can the moderation tools be abused by the blogger. It’s something you see in business, where negative comments are deleted, and the practice can spill over to the personal. Allowing only those comments that are positive or support your viewpoint is no better than not allowing them at all.

No system is perfect. But we shouldn’t let aspirations for perfect get in the way of doing better.

And if we blog because we want to affect change in our society — whether it’s large or small — we have an absolute obligation to engage in that two-way discussion of ideas.

We’ve always encouraged interaction with opinion makers. Since the dawn of newspapers, editorial boards, op-ed pieces, and comments have always been balanced by letters to the editor.

Earlier today I asked this question on social media and received a variety of different answers. Some felt there was no obligation, while others felt it was a breach of blogging etiquette to not allow comments. One person sagely replied that if you’re not going to allow comments, then essentially you’ve got an on-line diary — so why are you sharing it? An on-line journal is one thing, but when you choose to actively drive traffic to it, either through Facebook or Twitter, to me that crosses a line where allowing comments is a must.

There are no hard and fast rules, just opinions. To me, if you’re willing to stand up and state your position, you should be willing to allow that position to stand up to scrutiny.

You may disagree — and that’s fine. You can share your thoughts because, as always, my comments’ section is open.

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