Can We Burn Comments?

I grew up in a home filled with books.  Books I could read whenever I wanted.  Since they’d long since run out of bookcase space, my mother’s closet served as the repository for her most current Book Club books.  As long as she wasn’t reading a book, it was up for grabs.

In fact, I remember only one time when my mother asked me not to read a book.  And, even then, it wasn’t a “never” answer; it was a “later” answer.  As my 5th grade friends and I made our way through the collected works of Judy Blume, we came across Forever, a decidedly un-5th-grader-friendly novel about teenage sex.  While some mothers huffily returned their daughters’ copies to the bookstore and demanded the reshelving of the book from the Young Adult section to the regular section, my mother took a different approach.

“You know, that’s a book I think you might enjoy more in a few years,” she said casually.  “Why don’t we put it away, and you can read it then?”  I returned happily to Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret and Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself and promptly forgot all about Forever until much later.  So much later, in fact, that when I did read it all I could think was that it wasn’t all that well-written in the first place.  That, and I’d certainly never be naming a boy Ralph.  Two points to Mom for her smooth handling of that one and even more bonus points for instilling in me a love of both reading and freedom of expression.

I’ve tried to carry on that legacy with my own children and in my work.  Overall, if you asked me, I’d certainly say I oppose censorship.  Which is why the following comment from my This Is Just To Say post has me thinking.

58 | G
April 15, 2009 at 4:59 pmedit

wondering why mine was deleted? censored site?

And, yes, I did remove G’s previous comment along with another one posted around the same time.  Both poems crossed a line I wasn’t comfortable with in their sexual nature.  And, yes, something about the particular challenge to write a poem in the style of William Carlos Williams’ This Is Just To Say seems to bring out the need for sexual commentary.  I don’t really know why, since it seemed to inspire thoughts about laundry for me! 

As anyone who takes the time to read the 50 or so attempts at parody can see, I’ve left some that might be questionable.  I honestly can’t remember G’s post exactly, but it bothered me enough that I didn’t want it associated with my blog.  Censorship?  In its essence, I suppose so.

But, what responsibility do bloggers have to allow for complete freedom in comment posting?  Should all comments be retained?  I’ve kept comments on other posts when people disagree with me.  I’m not afraid of that or of allowing different viewpoints.  But I don’t feel bound to keep comments I find offensive.

Am I wrong?  I’d love to hear from other bloggers or just readers in general.  Because that charge of censorship stings enough to make it ring a bit true.

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7 Comments

Filed under Life in General

7 responses to “Can We Burn Comments?

  1. I haven’t had to deal with this often, but I come down in about the same place you do. I am definitely opposed to censorship of most types (there are a very few exceptions. Child pornography, for example, is just plain wrong. Not to mention illegal. And I have no qualms about censoring such things). But when you write a blog, you own the content, whether literally or figuratively, and that includes the comments. Even though you didn’t write them, they reflect on you. Do you have an audience you cater to? Does your child or mother read the site? Maybe there are things you would rather not have them see with your name on it. On the other hand, a practice of censorship can stifle discussion and discussion is one of the things I love most about blogging. In my own blog, it is very, very rare for me to delete comments (other than spam). I never delete them solely because I disagree with what they say. But I have received the occasional comment that was just inappropriate. If it seems like the person was just itching for a reaction, I delete it without comment. But if it seems like someone just didn’t understand my invisible boundaries, then I will sometimes hold the comment and make an attempt to contact the person individually, thank them for their contribution and explain why I wasn’t putting up the comment and offer them a chance to rephrase it, if that seems possible.

  2. Censorship is when the government (or government substitute, like a school) tells you what you can’t publish. Here, you’re the publisher. Your name (or handle) is on the site, you have the right to decide what does or doesn’t appear on it.

    Claiming censorship in blog comments is silly. Blogging is effectively free, with no barriers to entry. G. can set up his or her own blog for nothing at WordPress, Blogspot, or other free blog hosts and publish anything s/he wants.

    I’m a First Amendment absolutist, a firm believer in freedom of speech and the press, but your freedom to say or write whatever you want doesn’t give you the right to spraypaint it on the wall of my house.

    Here’s the comment policy I have posted on the sidebar of my blog: “With respect to comments, however, I reserve the right to modify or delete any comment posted on this blog, and by posting here you give me a license to do so.” You may want to put something like it up on yours.

  3. I am with Unfocused Me. A blog is still basically a personal space. Heck, you could choose to delete the whole darn site any time you want since you ‘own’ it. Some comments are graffiti, and as such must be scrubbed off your wall 😉

    It’s a shame, but often the people crying “censorship” are crying wolf, because of course what we choose to delete on our personal sites has nothing to do with that at all.

  4. heidilou

    It’s your blog, and you can delete what you want to. Other people can write whatever they want on their own blog.

  5. I am totally and 100% with the “get your own blog” people on this one. It is absolutely ridiculous to cry censorship on something like this. It’s not censorship, it’s editing for appropriateness. Calling that censorship minimizes the seriousness of what censorship is about.

  6. Dittos to those that commented before me. (Feel free to delete this comment.)

  7. There was a time when I was really into Judy Blume. And I did read Forever later on. I think Judy Blume is better with young adults novel than adult ones.

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