An apology from Vox Nova and a new comment policy

An apology from Vox Nova and a new comment policy September 22, 2009

If you are a regular reader of Vox Nova, you no doubt have noticed some changes around here over the last couple of months. First, we have added a group of new contributors. We could not be happier with these additions and look forward to their insightful posts. Thanks for the generally warm welcome that many of you have extended to them. We’ve also made some changes in the sidebar, particularly in the “blogroll” section, to better reflect our current interests and commitments. We are also likely to make some changes to the appearance of the site in the upcoming months. So expect a new coat of paint and some general freshening up.

One change you have likely not seen is a change in the general quality of the comments our posts receive. While we receive and appreciate much positive feedback for our work on this blog, Vox Nova has regrettably become a code word in the Catholic blogosphere for “brutal comment boxes.” In fact, one of our new contributors decided to leave us after a very short time in part because of the reception he received from our commenters. This is unfortunate, and should not have happened. Though we have discussed this problem behind the scenes for months now, Fr. Tom Rosica’s pointed commentary on the state of the Catholic blogosphere and independent online media have made us think even more deeply about this important issue. A recent speech by the Holy Father, though not referring to the conduct of Catholics online, also gave us much on which to reflect.

No doubt we, the Vox Nova bloggers, are not without responsibility for this situation. Our responsibility has at least two aspects. First, while we have our share of “problem visitors” and we cannot take the blame for their behavior, we do recognize that we have often sunk to their level, returning insult for petty insult. We recognize that this is not only a temptation, but it is a temptation to which we have sometimes succumbed.

Second, in allowing these problem commenters to dominate discussions through a former commitment to a basically laissez-faire comment policy, we have let them get away with verbal abuse that simply should not have taken place under any circumstances. In allowing this kind of abuse, we have let down the valuable commenters that we do have and we have no doubt allowed new readers to be driven away. We have also allowed the blogosphere to continue to be an occasion of sin for us and our readers. For both of these problems — what we have done and what we have failed to do — all of us at Vox Nova wholeheartedly apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

Behind the scenes, we have discussed various options for making this situation a bit better. We discussed disallowing comments all together, but we eventually came to agree that discussion is a good, and it would be a shame to do away with the good interaction that does take place. We discussed banning pseudonyms, as these tend to give posters the anonymity it takes to get away with truly awful comments and insults. Again, we opted against making this rule, as it is clear that in some cases people simply cannot use their real names because of employment reasons. Although we will not ban pseudonyms, we do ask commenters to consider using their real names if at all possible in order to “humanize” the discussion to a greater degree.

What we have decided to do, effective immediately, is to move to full moderation of comments. What this means is that all comments will be approved by our bloggers as they come in and will not show up immediately. This will no doubt slow discussion down, perhaps dramatically. There is no single moderator and each blogger will moderate the comments on his or her own posts. Some will moderate and approve comments faster than others, as time allows. We ask that you be patient with the process. Some contributors will have styles that differ from others, allowing certain types of comments that others will not. We will attempt to be consistent for the sake of our readers and commenters, so that you know what to expect, and especially so that you know what kind of comments we will and will not tolerate.

We think this new comment policy will benefit everyone. Commenters will benefit, as it will force you to think twice before posting rather than quickly (and perhaps thoughtlessly) writing something that you are not able to take back. Vox Nova bloggers will benefit for the same reasons, but it will also make us think more deliberately about the kinds of discussion we are attempting to have in each post and on the blog as a whole.

Additionally, commenters must provide a valid email address. Comments accompanied by fake addresses will be deleted, and IPs possibly banned. This is another way of fostering a sense of accountability. And again, although we encourage the use of real names, pseudonyms are acceptable as long as they are used consistently and as long as the pseudonym is not offensive. Individuals who are perceived to be posting under different names for the purposes of being duplicitous will be banned.

This new comment policy is an experiment at this point. After discussing it for a while, this is the process we agreed upon. It is not set in stone and the policy could very well change again in response to the results that we perceive taking place. You will soon see our comment policy page change to better reflect the issues discussed here. We ask that you please bear with us as we try this new system. As always, we welcome feedback on this comment policy as well as your additional thoughts on the blog as a whole: voxnovablog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Over two years ago we began Vox Nova with the intention of being a “new voice” in the Catholic blogosphere: faithful to the fullness of Catholic teaching; debating its implications in politics, culture, and everyday life; and always with a passion for the Gospel of life, peace, and justice. We have not always been successful. Our “new voice” has sometimes been drowned out or obscured by the “same old” voice of self-centered partisan rage. While we have no plans to let up in speaking truthfully and critically as an alternative voice, we want to live up to our name in our comboxes as well as in our posts. In an increasingly polarized and problematic Catholic blogosphere, we ask our readers to help us carve out a space, perhaps only a small corner of space, in which our passions do not get the best of us and in which we can truly be a “new voice” that reflects the possibility of a new Catholic blogosphere.

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