Most of the time, moderating the AML blog is a fairly easy job. I line up potential contributors, then send out reminder notices. I help out every now and then when people having difficulty posting. (To the limit of my ability, which is, shall we say, limited.) And I read the comments, approve or disapprove those that our filter finds dubious spamwise, and try to take part in the conversation.
Every now and then, the job gets a little tougher, as it did this past week. Generally, this happens when the conversation has gotten really good — engaged with issues people really care about. Then it’s my job to look over the comments and see if any of them cross the lines of the AML guidelines. If they do, it’s my job to do something about that.
What? You didn’t know there were AML guidelines? That’s understandable. It’s been quite a while since we formally publicized them. In fact, I’m not sure we’ve ever formally adopted them for the blog. The last time they were posted was in connection with the now mostly moribund AML discussion board. Here’s a link to the rules as they appear there.
Obviously, some of these rules relate specifically to the discussion board format and don’t apply to the blog. Most of what’s there, though, does apply. Particularly relevant are the following:
* No flaming or name-calling. Reply to posts, not people. Respect the integrity, opinions, and beliefs of others.
3. THE TOPIC IS LITERATURE AND /OR FILM
* It is not politics, pet peeves, the general authorities, or even religious beliefs (except as they affect interpretation). It is also not a forum for the discussion of scriptures per se or your interpretation of them.
I would amend #3 to clarify that literary interpretation of scripture is indeed part of the subject matter of AML blog, as witness our category, “Literary Views of Scripture.” However, the overall purpose of AML blog is not to have doctrinal discussions. There are plenty of places for that on the Internet; this isn’t one of them.
So what happens when a comment goes over the line?
Back when I was moderator of the AML-list, many moons ago, all posts to the list had to be approved by the moderator before sending out to the list. Fairly frequently, I would send a post back to its author with suggestions for revisions to stay within the list guidelines. I liked that, because it enabled me to encourage resubmission and allowed me to encourage people that their opinions were welcome if kept within list guidelines — but it was a lot of work, and sometimes meant that the conversation got hung up when I couldn’t deal with the backlog.
Nowadays, that’s not the model we follow with the blog. Instead, after someone’s initial post (which is generally held up for moderation, I assume to verify that it’s not spam), as soon as a person posts a comment, it shows up immediately. Then at some point, someone — either myself or Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, who has general responsibility for the AML website — goes in and reads through the comments. If there are any that violate the guidelines as we interpret them, we unapprove them. If that happens multiple times with the same individual, we have the option of placing individuals on a “moderate first” list.
This method is far from ideal. For one thing, since the comment has already been out there, it can lead to confusion among those who read the comment — and then don’t see it anymore. Second, it doesn’t provide feedback to the author on what was wrong with the comment. Third, it adds an aura of mystery and opacity to the moderation process that I don’t particularly like.
We’re open to changing this process. In fact, we encourage people to express their thoughts on the best ways to implement AML guidelines so as to encourage an open process that promotes a vigorous and mutually respectful conversation. Possible changes that come to mind and/or have been suggested by others include the following:
- Go to a moderation-first model. Then, if a comment is rejected, send an email to the person in question saying that a comment has been rejected by moderation, and giving more or less detail about why.
- Keep the current model for posting. However, when a comment is rejected by moderation, send an email message to the person in question, as per #1.
- Keep the current model for posting. However, when a comment is rejected by moderation, post a comment from the AML moderator saying that a post has been removed by moderation, together with any appropriate guidance on directions the conversation needs to go in order to stay within the guidelines.
I should clarify at the outset that one thing that won’t change so long as the blog is sponsored by AML (based on my sense of the wishes of the AML board) is that it will remain a moderated blog. I also think that the guidelines are likely to remain more or less where and what they are now, although interpretation of those guidelines will naturally vary based on who the moderator is and on the direction that the conversation as a whole seems to be heading.
That said, I — we — welcome suggestions on how to improve the blog, and specifically our approach to moderation, either related to the suggestions I’ve listed above or going in some other direction.
In conclusion, I want to clarify that I value the range and diversity of opinions that we get here on the blog. I like it when the conversation gets intense, as it did last week. I also don’t hold it against people when, in the intensity of the moment, their comments cross the line. Goodness knows that’s been the case for me a time or two. (Or three, or four…) The purpose of my moderation is to try to keep the conversation going.