A Word about Comments and Moderation (and Grumpiness)

I have been running SBC Voices now since my birthday in 2010. I’ve written 1276 posts, 13,596 comments (not counting the ones I’ve trashed) and I’ve seen this thing grow far beyond what I imagined. I have also sinned more times than I care to recount – losing my cool in the heat of blog discussions!

There is no doubt that I am a different man than I was 10 years ago when I was invited to write for sbcIMPACT, or nearly 8 years ago when I started with this enterprise.

I think I am wiser, but I’m also less patient with certain things. I don’t put up with things I used to put up with. Is that right or wrong, wise or foolish? That is for a higher court to decide. But let me explain my process to you.

I enjoy writing blogposts, but there is one aspect of this (non-paying) job that I have not ever enjoyed – moderating comments. It is a big, fat pain in the….neck. SBC Voices is a place where people come to discuss things going on in the SBC world as well as in the world at large and there was a time when it was a wild-west free-for-all in the comment stream. I encouraged it to build our traffic. The Baptist blogging world is filled with strong-willed and opinionated folks who are not shy in saying what they think and we gave them a place to vent.

But we also created a monster. I don’t tend to delete old posts or old comment streams – they are a sort of Baptist history. But the comments here are not always proud moments! Since the day I took the helm I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what to do with comments and I’ve never been completely satisfied with my plans. In the last couple of years, I’ve shared the load with some guys and we bat this around often – how should we handle comments.

There are several ways to go.

  1. Shut them off entirely! Many blogs do that today, but that isn’t who we are. We are a discussion site.
  2. Moderate all comments. That is a great idea – if you have a staff that will filter comments. I don’t. Any volunteers? When we are hopping we get hundreds of comments in a day? None of us has that kind of time.
  3. Have a comment free-for-all. Free and open commenting, but it caused problems. Too many people failed to exercise basic self-control. There were angry comments, inappropriate comments, racist comments, trolling comments – our comment stream was a total dumpster fire. When that happened, we found ourselves held accountable for things that people said in the comments. “SBC Voices says…” included comments.

So, a different system evolved over time – for good or ill. We act on comments we see, but mostly we deal with commenters, not comments. If someone causes problems, we put them on moderation – we have to approve their comments. Sometimes that is just temporary if they got upset and lashed out or something. If he or she continues to cause issues, they go on the blacklist and their comments are immediately trashed.

Because I don’t have time to oversee comments, we are much more likely to put people on moderation if they are troublesome. Only a few folks are on the blacklist – you really have to earn that.

Of course, this system has a distinct downside.

PEOPLE GET TICKED!!

I am trying to remember, in the decade I’ve operated a blog (here and helping out at sbcIMPACT), when anyone said, “You are right, Dave. My comment was out of line.” Usually I get a spiritual colonoscopy when I delete a comment or moderate a commenter. People do not like being told their comments are inappropriate and they always make it an issue of my (or our) character or mental stability. I’ve been told hundreds of times that I am not a Christian because of moderating comments (mostly by one guy).

We’ve been getting some flak recently, here on our posts, from disgruntled commenters who have had their commenting limited in some way. I am told that we get roasted pretty good at other blogs, but I’ve stopped reading them entirely, so God bless them! Roast away. I do the best I can and I realize that people will not agree with my decisions. I tell the guys who help me to follow their conscience. We all make mistakes – sometimes innocently and sometimes sinfully.

One accusation, made here recently, aggravates me because it is fundamentally unfair.

We are told that we all have a common viewpoint and that we eliminate those who hold different views.

In fact, I have worked hard since I took over Voices to make sure we are not a single viewpoint blog. The accusation is ridiculous, and is often made from blogs where those who hold different viewpoints are blocked! But if I sound defensive, perhaps I am on this. It is the thing I’ve tried to do the hardest! And if you look at the facts you will see that we are NOT a monolithic blog.

  • We have Calvinists and non-Calvinists at Voices. (Though I am so tired of the Calvinist debate I encourage our writers not to focus on that issue. They can if they have a fresh perspective – good luck there!
  • We have a wide range of viewpoints on many issues. I have asked people to write counterpoints to articles. I asked Eric Hankins to write a series of articles here (which he did) and to respond to things I wrote. He is welcome to do that again.
  • The SBC Voices team was basically the same team in charge of the Pastors’ Conference last year. I challenge you to find a conference in recent SBC history that demonstrated greater diversity – racially, soteriologically, etc.
  • We are accused of being a “Calvinist” blog. Which seminaries did we partner with the most closely? Our chief partner was New Orleans Seminary – hardly a 5-point enclave. Southwestern Seminary and Dr. David Allen ran our colloquium. Last I checked, Dr. Allen does not have a reputation as a Calvinist.
  • With only a few exceptions, we are committed to point-of-view freedom. We do not tolerate racism or anything that even smells like racism.

If you don’t believe me on this, write a well-reasoned post that disagrees with something I have written. It cannot be filled with conspiracy theories or personal insult. But it can tell me I’m flat wrong. I will publish it. The fact is, many of the folks who whine about our moderation have had posts published here!

We moderate for tone and for temper, not for point-of-view. Test me on this.

Why We Moderate

So, what do people do that gets them in trouble?

1. Personal insult

This is a difficult thing – somewhat in the eye of the beholder. If I say, “Jim Smith (most common name in America) is wrong,” he will likely view that as an insult. If I say, “Jim Smith is a jerk,” I will be insulting him. The line between observation and insult is a thin one.

It is up to us to discern that. Usually, we try to ask people to tone it down before we step in.

2. Trolling.  

This is a catch-all term. I use it for the person who comes on Voices and ignores the topic to discuss what he (or she) wants to talk about. Whatever the post topic, he opines about Calvinism or some other hobby-horse issue dear to his heart.

We all do that. I mean, honestly, when is the last time one of us wrote a post about the Alabama Crimson Crud? That doesn’t stop our mascot CB Scott from putting the site on blast, does it? We always allow a certain amount of community rabbit-chasing here. But there are people who abuse this. There are those who consistently turn EVERY conversation to their topic.

It is disrespectful and it is annoying.

3. Racist and racially insensitive comments.

I am amused when people call racism in the SBC a thing of the past. They haven’t seen the trash bin at SBC Voices. Whenever we do anything as a convention that confronts racism (stand against the Confederate Flag, against the Alt-Right, etc), we get blasted by a firehose of racist comments.

We also anger some of our regulars because we classify things they think are innocuous as racially insensitive. Racial discussions are hard. We want to have a variety of views, but discussing race requires we walk a tightrope. And because of the SBC’s past, we choose to keep a tight rein here.

4. Titus 3:10

I have come to apply this verse more regularly recently. I’m morbidly obese and my blood pressure was 112/65 the last time it was checked. It may be because I do this! My friend, stop torturing yourself and obey God’s word. Let me include verses 9-11 here.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

There are blogs that traffic in foolish controversies and arguments – if there isn’t one they make one up. They seek fights that are unprofitable and useless. After we have warned them once and twice, we are commanded by the word to “have nothing to do with them.” I think we do wrong when we read and interact on certain blogs where foolish controversy and divisiveness are the primary purpose. Those who lead these blogs are “warped and sinful” and have condemned themselves by their actions.

We ought not to read what they write or interact with them.

As Bob Newhart said, “Stop it!” Don’t go there. I know it’s hard not to watch a train wreck or a dumpster fire, but the blog world is a better place when we do not. It is an act of obedience to God’s word.

So, we made a conscious choice to blacklist people who ran such blogs – two in particular. They will not be commenting here anymore because we believe to allow them a voice is to violate the commands of Scripture.

Our Commitment to You 

We make this commitment to you, our readers, the Voices community.

You are free to disagree with our viewpoints and to express comments that disagree. If you speak respectfully, within the boundaries of Christian discourse, you can tell any one of us that we are 100% completely and totally wrong.

I would say the following in response.

If you disagree with us, we get to disagree right back! Don’t challenge us if you are not willing to defend your view biblically and logically.

That is how this game is played.

Amazing Grace

I would say one other thing. Everything I say here is in the ideal. There will be days I get on here grumpy – I know, it’s hard to conceive, right? You will say things that annoy me and I will annoy you. Where words are many, sin is not absent. That be Bible, right? So, I will mess up and so will you. That is where grace comes in.

One of my greatest qualities as a blogger is that as I get older, my memory is fading. I’ve had people contact me to apologize for some interaction we had a couple of months ago and for the life of me, I do not remember it. Not at all. I’m not trying to sound spiritual – it’s my memory! We bluster and we get over it.

CB Scott is one of my best friends. I can remember some shouting matches we had online and over the phone. I think I called him a commie or something. I’ve had intense fights with most of my really good blogging friends (because they didn’t see that I was right and they were wrong – it can’t be that I’m a grumpy old codger). We just have to keep moving forward.

We are doing the best we can and that is sometimes a good thing. Sometimes not.

We will do better tomorrow.



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