Why I Blocked, Then Unblocked, Comments On This Blog
In a recent post, I blocked two people’s comments for a day, and then unblocked them. I said at the time (last week) that I would make a post in my blog explaining further. I was swamped at work all week, and swamped at home with a huge take-home final exam, so I couldn’t get to this before now. But my chronology of events and description of my thought process follows:
Chronology of Events
[Note: All times are EST.]
1. I posted part one of “The Reunification of Gallaudet” essay.
2. Raphael added this comment:
Raphael J. St. Johns Says:
December 4th, 2006 at 8:27 am e
i”d like to know- Ms. Shettle-I’d really like tto know- your words” percieve?”. Dr. fernandes was, in fact, hostile. Please look at her record. True healing will begin when people stop minizaing the situation. Otherwise, we are just spining our heads.
We have a very long road ahead of us to try to recover the damamges done to the Deaf community by the Pro-Fernades side-a very small , but vocal and powerful -side.
The vast majority of people were against her and her side.
Please do’nt mininzied us.
3. I saw Raphael’s comment and was concerned that his strongly worded comments could push buttons with Fernandes supporters and potentially start a flame war. I began this blog in an attempt to encourage sincere but civil dialogue on issues either directly or indirectly related to the protests. The “blame game” that has been participated in by all sides, from my perspective, carries high risks of further entrenching hostile, polarized sentiments. I also wanted to discourage name calling (e.g., the label “hostile”) in favor of calmer discussions that focus on the issues and not the personalities of the protesters OR Fernandes and her supporters.
I debated with myself how to handle his comment, but left it in place while I went on with other things.
4. While I was still debating with myself how to handle Raphael’s comments, gwl posted this comment:
December 4th, 2006 at 9:44 am e
Blaming on JK for the “damamges” to the Deaf community?
Sorry but I think it is the anti-fernandes who damaged the deaf community by showing how low class the deaf can be for chugging the beer together, the president of all deaf land riding on a guy’s shoulder giggling like a hyena with unnatural eye popping while burning the JK cardboard.
You are losers, period due to too low moral standing!
If you wanted to delete my command, I will write this to many different newspapers with photos.
5. This comment struck me as more divisive than unifying, particularly in labeling protesters as “losers” and stating that they had “low moral standing.” It also continues the “blaming game” by pointing fingers, this time at the protesters.
My concern escalated. I did not want to participate in censorship. But at the same time, I have been on the Internet since 1990, before most people even knew it existed. I have seen mailing lists become destroyed by on-going flame wars. In my experience, when flames are allowed to run unchecked, people who might want a calmer discussion of the issues tend to be driven away. Flame wars can be very intimidating to people on the sidelines. It makes them afraid that they cannot safely share their true perspectives without being attacked. This fear can effectively silence them. So flame wars are, firstly, not productive; and, secondly, they can be destructive in creating barriers to discussion that WOULD be productive–if people would give it a chance.
Thus, with very conflicted emotions, I blocked both Raphael’s and gwl’s comments.
6. I have read advice to blog owners (I don’t remember where now) that claims that, when you delete flames from your site, you shouldn’t announce your decision to anyone, including the person whose comment you delete. Otherwise (as the argument went) it just invites more flames. But I wanted to be as transparent as possible about my actions in this blog. Also, I was conflicted about my choice and wanted feedback.
Thus, I then posted the comment below.
[A side note: In the comments below, I use the word “delete” to describe my actions. However, as gwl points out later, it is more precise to say that I “unapproved” the comments which, in wordpress, makes it so I can still see the them–and I guess the authors can too–but general readers cannot.]
December 4th, 2006 at 10:52 am e
I would like to urge people to please adopt a tone of civility and respect toward other people when posting comments in this blog.
This means no comments that attack or insult people. No attacks on Fernandes and her supporters, either individually or collectively. And no attacks on the protesters and their sympathizers, either individually or collectively.
If you wish to express an opinion opposed to those expressed by someone else (whether me or another commenter), please find a way to express your disagreement in a way that does not involve attacking others.
I invite and welcome disagreement. Democracy requires that we learn to embrace differences of opinion so we can all learn from each other. None of us have a monopoly on the truth–we can only approximate the truth by inviting input from multiple perspectives. But when healthy debate degenerates into name calling, then this is where dialogue breaks down.
I tried to avoid censorship on this blog for as long as I could because I want to promote freedom of expression for people on all sides of the protests. But I must also balance this right with the need to promote a climate in which all people feel free to participate in open dialogue without fear of being attacked for holding opinions with which others do not agree. I did not feel that allowing personal attacks to occur in this blog would be conducive to creating a safe place for dialogue to occur.
In the interests of openness and transparency: I have now deleted two comments. One was from a protest supporter, the other from a Fernandes supporter. I will try to minimize my intrusion in your dialogue in this space as much as I can. But if further personal attacks occur, then I will delete those also.
If you disagree with my choice, then of course please feel free to say so, and say why. (If you prefer to use private email, I can be reached at ashettle (at) patriot.net) I welcome dialogue on the best strategy for dealing with conflicts in this blog space. I know I don’t have all the right answers, so I’m interested in hearing from people with differing perspectives.
7. “Anonymous” then posted this:
December 4th, 2006 at 11:10 am e
Civility cannot be forced on to other people; it can only be taught and often by example. If you feel the need to delete messages whether pro or anti, then, you’re just as much part of the entire discourse problem as everyone else.
8. And I responded with this:
December 4th, 2006 at 12:20 pm e
Thank you for your thoughts.
I am willing to consider alternate approaches to brute deletion of comments. Do you have concrete recommendations?
9. After I had gone to bed the night of Dec 4, gwl posted this:
December 4th, 2006 at 11:51 pm e
All right, I understand that you “deleted” my comment by putting it on awaiting moderation.
The protesters thought they were doing the right thing after brainwashing many little deaf children about how evil JK was. Who is meaner, JK or the protesters after all?
I learned that Gally is about to lose accreditation. Wow I never dreamed how stupid the students and staff can be. So long, again I want to say that NAD prez, the Gally prez wannabee, ha what a big joke that the deaf people could have in the history ever!
10. On the morning of Dec 5 (probably before I went to work, meaning between 6 and 7 am), I blocked this second comment from gwl.
11. I then sent an email to Raphael and to gwl (without disclosing either person’s email address to the other). My time stamp says 8:04 a.m. (EST). My email said this:
This email is going jointly to both Raphael St Johns and also to gwl.
Both of you recently made posts at the reunifygally site that, as you know, I have blocked.
I would like to remind both of you again that the purpose of my blog is to facilitate dialogue between protest supporters and Fernandes supporters, as well as other types of dialogue (e.g., those centering on diversity). It is meant to promote healing and reunification in the wider Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests
It is my feeling that personal attacks, justified or not, do not contribute to creating a safe place for people to share their honest perspectives and learn from each other. In my experience (primarily with mailing lists, but I assume the principle is the same), unchecked flame wars tend to drive away people seeking civil, respectful discourse, leaving only those who flame to the benefit of no one. Therefore, at least for now, I will be blocking comments that insult others without promoting true dialogue.
For what it’s worth, I do sincerely believe (as I say in my Reunification essay) that there are people on all sides of the protests who have the best interests of Gallaudet at heart and who are good people. I happen to know personally BOTH Fernandes supporters AND protest supporters, including some who I consider friends. And the people I know are excellent people who I admire. Neither side is universally terrible (or universally admirable, for that matter).
The purpose of my blog is to try to stay focused on the positive and promote civil dialogue. Although this blog has gotten a slow start, there do seem to be at least a few people who are interested in its purpose. I ask that the two of you please respect the spirit and intent of my blog and give it the space it needs to grow.
12. I continued wrestling with my choices throughout the day. On one hand was my concern, as explained further above, that unchecked flame wars can effectively silence those with alternative viewpoints. However, I also needed to consider that suppressing people’s comments can also achieve a similar effect. Some people might become uncertain whether their comments would be safe from similar action. And, for some, that uncertainty might inhibit them from sharing valuable opinions and perspectives.
“Anonymous” states that in deleting (or blocking) messages, whether pro- or anti-, I become part of the discourse problem. I think this person has a point.
People on all sides have felt that their voices, in one way or another, have been suppressed. Some protest supporters on campus still are afraid for their jobs, or feel fear toward some individual personnel who work for campus security, because they spoke out for their beliefs. Some Fernandes supporters hesitate to speak out for their own beliefs for fear of being attacked and vilified. People on all sides have had some of their comments removed from blogs (including, now, mine) because they were perceived, whether rightly or wrongly, as “inflammatory.” People who are deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind–regardless of where they stood on the protests–frequently have had the experience where well-intended hearing people take charge and make decisions without giving them a chance to speak up for themselves.
On the part of the protesters, the frustration of “not being heard” is one of many, complex contributing roots for the protests. For both protest supporters and Fernandes supporters, this frustration might also be part of the reason why a few feel the need to express their views with vehement, polarizing anger and divisive labeling.
These considerations eventually led me to reverse my position and allow all comments to stand. On the evening of Dec. 5, I unblocked all three comments (the one from Raphael, and the subsequent two from gwl) and added the following edit to my comment:
[EDIT: Text in this bracket was added about 6:15 pm EST Dec 5 ‘06. To clarify the chronology here: in the morning of Dec 4, I blocked the above two comments, and then posted this one. Comments 4, 5, and 6 were all written while comments 1 and 2 were still hidden from public view. I hid comment 6 at around 6 a.m. on Dec. 5. But for now, as of 6:15 pm Dec 5, I’m bringing back all the comments that were hid. I have no time to do it tonight, but at some point later this week I will write another blog post discussing the chronology of events and the thought process that I have gone through in the past 24 hours. Please do comment on these events and where you think I should go from here.]
13. That ends my chronology of events. Now, for some side notes:
a. Raphael has made one more comment (#7). I didn’t include it in this chronology simply because it came after I reinstated everyone else’s comments. His comment, like everyone else’s, is still visible if you go to the Reunification essay.
b. Side note to Raphael: the word “perceive” is purely descriptive and, as such, is meant to be neutral. It is not meant to “minimize,” nor is it meant to imply either agreement or disagreement. We ALL have perceptions (points of views). And ALL our perceptions, to some extent, are limited. For example: in front of my apartment building, there is a bed of flowers. When I stand on the balcony, I can look directly down on the flowers and see how they are planted in a circle of yellow and white flowers. That’s one perspective of the flowers. Someone standing on the ground near the front entrance to the building would see (“perceive”) the flowers from a different perspective, and someone standing on the other side of the flower bed on the sidewalk leading up to the building would see (perceive) them from yet another. All of these perspectives are “correct” or valid to a certain degree, though all three perspectives deliver different pieces of information, from different angles and with varying levels of detail.
14. Comments on my actions and thought process are welcome, including criticisms. I hope you will post your comments below, so we can have a dialogue on this. But if you prefer, you can email me in private at ashettle (at) patriot.net
I’m also hoping to see concrete suggestions for how we can work together to create an environment in this blog where all people feel safe to share their perceptions without fear of being attacked–whether by protesters or by Fernandes supporters.
[Want to submit your own essay for publication at Reunify Gally? It should be related in some way to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests. If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at) patriot.net]