May 13, 2014

To comment, or not to comment (on blogs)

Posted by Laura Guertin

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 11.58.19 PMAs I was preparing for the official kickoff of GeoEd Trek, I was able to make a list of topics to write about, create a timeline for when the posts would go live, double-check the links in my previous blog postings… but the one item that I could not (and still cannot) have control over is what others will write on my blog if they utilize the comments box.  In an ideal world, I would love to see thoughtful and engaging comments that would encourage conversation and advance the discussion of what I begin.  But then, there is the reality of what we as an online community are seeing more and more – the need to develop an online commenting policy.

Let’s be fair about the “good” of commenting.  If we take a step back, we must acknowledge that all of our freely-available online technologies have created a new public commons that allows anyone to deliberate, organize, facilitate, and participate in democratic practices.  I used to chair the civic & community engagement minor on my campus, and I always made it a point to discuss with students how the internet allows people to have a voice as eCitizens, giving some people a voice they felt they never had.  But how do we show students (and remind ourselves) that with this freedom of expression comes an expectation of using our voice responsibly, where we can make effective contributions and encourage deeper thinking?

Many people find value in the comments section of website.  In fact, when Wired Science was upgrading their blogging platform and decided they were not going to migrate the old comments, this triggered a campaign to Save Our Comments from the Wired bloggers.  Fortunately, their Comments are Saved.

But sometimes, an individual or group takes the discussion in the comment box to a place where it should not go.  Hope Jahren, a geobiologist at University of Hawaii Manoa, has decided to turn off comments on her own blog.  The magazine Popular Science turned off the ability to comment online on new articles, with concerns that negative comments can alter the view and perception of how the general public receives and feels about the scientific work described in a story.  More and more, blogs and websites that offer the ability to comment are putting very clear commenting policies in place, such as the ocean science blogging community Deep Sea News.

Of course, it is not just bloggers that have concerns about comments and the moderation process.  On February 12, the Facebook page of NASA’s Earth Observatory dedicated an entire post to remind everyone that they “…moderate when absolutely necessary in order to remove spam, bad language, name calling and other assorted ad hominem attacks.”  And then, there are the comments we see posted in online courses…

So I reviewed some of the other comment policies in the AGU Blogosphere, such as those posted on Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal and Magma Cum Laude.  Then, I wrote up a comment policy for GeoEd Trek.  I’m wondering how many of my colleagues have written up policies or statements for their students addressing comments on course blogs…



Additional sources for exploration

PewResearch Internet Project, Civic Engagement in the Digital Age (April 25, 2013)

I. Kouper (2010). Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities. Journal of Science Communication, 9(1).

G. Mishne & N. Glance (2006). Leave a Reply: An Analysis of Weblog Comments. Third annual workshop on the Weblogging ecosystem.

And if you are looking for an interesting commenting story, check out this 5-minute TED talk by 13-year old McKenna Pope and how she handled negative online comments she received about campaigning for gender-neutral toys – and then, check out the comments posted below the video about her.