Anthony Grafton's prediction of the way the internet will inflect intellectual work is timely - especially for anyone who reads poetry blogs, e.g. Harriet. Should blog comments be moderated to reduce the number of inevitable "angry, scatological discussion threads?" The question has occasioned some interesting remarks by Stephen Sturgeon, Editor of Fulcrum:
"The right to free speech and the freedom to ignore disagreeable speech is being cited as the reason for allowing the posting of incendiary comments. Two thoughts on this:
1. Defending the right to free speech implies that words have power: you must let me say what I want because the power of words belongs to anyone who can use words; denying me free speech is therefore an inhumane sort of oppression. To follow this declaration of rights by exploiting the power of words in insult, and then to say that words are easily ignorable and that disagreeable comments can very easily be disregarded, is inconsistent. Either the words have power or they don't. If you choose to use the power in words after you claim a right to that power, you can't say hideous things and, when reprimanded, protest that there is little power in the words.
2. Website comment fields are a new space for the circulation of ideas, and the medium changes the rules for our usual personality interactions. First there is the basic anonymity internet communication allows; a real name might be attached to a message, but the usual social dynamics of actual conversation are totally absent (you can't automatically be embarrassed with the evil eye after saying something too risque, and amend the rest of your conversation, &c.). Add to this the quickness with which comments are posted, which is close enough to real time to give the illusion of immediacy, and which is far enough away from it to enable something closer to monologue than to dialogue; and add to that the element of a large AUDIENCE, and you have a stable environment for verbal violence. Most of what dissuades us from going wild in public is absent from internet communication. Since the mediating influences in talking face to face with someone are not present in your comment fields, since a blog disables the normal social protections we have against free speech becoming tyrannical speech, I see no problem in rejecting messages as they come in when they are unmistakably insulting and derogatory, or when a commenter is using multiple aliases to do . . . whatever that accomplishes.
To sum up, website comment fields much more easily facilitate tyrannical speech than free speech. The grounds of exchange are different than those of a real-life public forum or ordinary conversation, and these differences allow for a solipsistic treatment of others when the moon is full, and for some people it's always a full moon somewhere."
Addendum: Sturgeon himself has now become a target and victim of the comment box.