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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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11 Comments
  1. Melissa permalink
    September 22, 2009 4:54 pm

    You are the only blog I’ve found thus far that has kept as humanly close as possible to Catholic charity, and I thank you for it. I look forward to continuing on the journey with you, and will pray for the continued success of Vox Nova.

  2. adamv permalink
    September 22, 2009 6:49 pm

    I’m going to assume that this being at the top of the post for the first time in a few months that I’ve actually visited Vox Nova is a sign that I should start reading it again.

    Thanks for taking this common sense approach.

  3. Fr. J. Patrick Mullen permalink
    September 22, 2009 10:30 pm

    I am delighted with the spirit of these changes. The Letter to the Ephesians, 4:29-32,says, “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

    You have set a worthy goal for us, and I thank you!

  4. dpt permalink
    September 22, 2009 11:50 pm

    Fr. Mullen- Thank you. Some of last week’s Mass readings reminded me of our behavior towards one and other.

    And name calling is beneath us too. The Catechism teaches us that each person’s name needs to be respected. In one area, we can do better is in referring to our leaders and to use their proper title. It is Pres. Obama, just as it was Pres. Bush before that.

    Commenting at a blog can be quick, easy, and “dirty”. I find if I remember to include the person’s title it causes me to take heed in what I am typing.

    Dan

  5. September 23, 2009 9:26 am

    Kudos, VN! This is a joyful thing to see. I hope you all can set the standard for charitable discussion in the Catholic blogosphere.

  6. Brian Killian permalink
    September 23, 2009 9:46 am

    Vox Nova doesn’t have the worst comment boxes. One of the nastiest comment boxes on the Catholic blogoshpere, unfortunately, is [...] blog. At least it was before I stopped visiting there. I think every Catholic bloggers should revisit his commenting policy and enforce decent, charitable behavior. It’s a scandal that completely secular blogs have more polite commentators than many Catholic blogs.

  7. markdefrancisis permalink*
    September 23, 2009 10:27 am

    Let us please not let this thread devolve into a commentary on which particular blogs’ comment boxes are among the nastiest. We all share in the guilt.

    Let us, each one of us, instead look forward and do our best in displaying full Christian charity to our neighbor, as we dialogue with one another and about one another.

  8. Marjorie Campbell permalink
    September 24, 2009 1:43 am

    This looks good to me, with one question. I think the comment web should not be spun too tightly. There are those who rightly want and need to weigh in with words that contain emotion with inexact but working reasoning who can and will benefit from discourse, despite the initial umbrage their words might cause. I think that’s okay … we are a community of people, and express ourselves over a broad range of emotion/reasoning, as long as there is exchange, let the dialogue happen. That’s the opinion of this one. Maybe, you should consider allowing comments without a valid email … unless it’s abusive. Sometimes, I think people need to be heard, without the avenue of direct response. But, if it’s abused, and you are monitoring every comment anyway, why not let them talk/ask? ~issue a warning, ivite them to try again, and block them only if they don’t get it.

  9. Marjorie Campbell permalink
    September 24, 2009 1:47 am

    Honesstly, I am working on an article on “Catholic Comments” and would like to hear from those who think “the worst” or “the best” is …. here. Please feel free to email me at memlouise@aol.com or marjorie@geniusofwomen.com. We will get to a good standard together in Christ,

  10. Rocco permalink
    September 25, 2009 9:06 pm

    Among the most uncharitable commentary I’ve read on this blog didn’t actually come from the comment section but would you care to add it to your apologies anyway? I’m biased I’ll admit but read this one over again and consider:

    “…. the ‘peace president’ Obama is preparing to send 21,000 more reckless troops to Afghanistan to fill more tractor trailers with pieces of human bodies.”

    As someone who knows, cares about, and is related several of those so called “reckless” troops I’ve been quite steamed about this reckless statement for months and I beg you to refrain from such insulting and uncharitable hyperbole going forth.

    Good luck with your new policy. It seems prudent to me and I commend your dedication since I know how laborious that kind of attention can be.

  11. September 25, 2009 10:04 pm

    Hi Rocco,

    The passage you quoted was from one of my recent posts. I apologize from any discomfort you felt from reading those words. It’s difficult to be confronted with the reality of war especially when we know people involved.

    I too know, care about, and am related to people who are u.s. soldiers or who have been u.s. soldiers. I know a few people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, including my cousin. The comment was not intended as an insult but as a description of reality. We need to be confronted with the reality of what we teach our soldiers to do, and what they are, in fact, doing. Just as I would not expect discussion on a Catholic blog to talk around abortion as if it were not the killing of a human being, I don’t think we should talk around the reality of war.

    I can’t speak for the other contributors, but to me this is a perfect example of what was meant in the above post when we said, “[w]e have no plans to let up in speaking truthfully and critically as an alternative voice.” I do not plan to tone down my posts on war. To do so would not be “charitableness” but neglect. I respect and care about soldiers enough to help our readers see the dehumanizing things we do to them so that somehow this will stop.

    For the sake of control, as this is an issue that is brought up repeatedly, I’d like to not revisit those discussions in this thread. Moderation will continue with that in mind. I do appreciate the comment as well as you giving me another opportunity to say where I am coming from.

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