August 8, 2012

Is a Blogger Responsible for Comments Left by Others?

CommentsI agreed with much of what Sam Harris wrote in his recent post, "Wrestling the Troll;" however, there was at least one point of potential disagreement I'd like to address. I say "potential disagreement" because I'm honestly not sure yet. I had already been thinking about this a great deal before Harris' post, but I'm still undecided. I'm interested to see what others think as I try to decide.

In his critique of PZ Myers, Harris wrote:
It is difficult to overlook the role that blog comments play in all this. Having a blog and building a large community of readers can destroy a person’s intellectual integrity—as appears to have happened in the case of PZ Myers. Many people who read his blog come away convinced that I am a racist who advocates the widespread use of torture and a nuclear first strike against the entire Muslim world. The most despicable claims about me appear in the comment thread, of course, but Myers is responsible for publishing them. And so I hold him responsible for circulating and amplifying some of the worst distortions of my views found on the Internet.
It appears that Harris is holding Myers responsible for the comments others make on his blog. Is it fair to hold a blogger responsible for the comments left by others on his or her blog?

I receive only a small number of comments here, but I already struggle to read every one. That is part of why I use a comment system where readers can report objectionable comments, bringing them to my attention. Can someone like Myers who may get over 300 comments on most posts really be expected to read each of them?

My experience with Myers' blog is similar to what Harris describes when he says that the worst stuff comes not from Myers himself but from the commenters. He claims "…Myers is responsible for publishing them." I see his point in that Myers is providing the platform on which the comments are left by enabling comments, etc. But can he really be held responsible for what he didn't even write? Clearly, Harris thinks so. I'm not so sure.

At least one comment shows up here almost every day with which I do not personally agree. Would Harris suggest that I should delete these comments? That certainly does not seem consistent with freethought (because I might be wrong). Who would possibly want to visit such a blog where the only comments allowed were those that mirrored the views of the blogger? Not me.

To be frank, I am still trying to sort this out. I'm not sure how much responsibility I should accept for the content of comments left on this blog. I've been wrestling with this question for awhile, and I still haven't answered it. I am happy to have the perspective offered by Harris, but I'm not sure I agree with it.

Update: Just after writing this, I noticed that Hemant addressed the subject at Friendly Atheist. He makes a good point about how the tone of the comments on his blog is very different from the tone on Myers' blog. More food for thought.

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