Thursday, October 27, 2011

internet comments and free expression

After many years of allowing each and every comment to remain on my personal blog, I have decided to change that beloved policy.

It pains me to do this, most especially because I've had my own comments tampered with on certain high profile free culture sites, like those edited by Cory Doctorow and Michael Geist, and I've been very critical of this activity when it's happened. I believe it's a common, ugly feature of free culture debate that reasonable commenters are immediately attacked, insulted and hounded in order to shut down good-faith discussion. When that doesn't work, the perceived enemies of free culture are simply silenced by having their comments removed, or worse, by having repeated nonsensical comments made in their name by folks who are not them.

All that history notwithstanding, I've decided that several of my regular critics are well past their best-before dates in terms of good faith behaviour here in my personal little apartment on the Internet. Let me be as clear as I can about this - the fellows calling themselves Darryl, Gruesome, Crockett and Pieter have painted for me as detailed a picture as they ever will of their views on copyright, as well as their opinions of me personally, my blog, my thoughts on free culture, my debating style and my psychological health. I believe I simply don't need to hear anything else from any of them in order to expand my understanding of the issues with which I regularly engage here.

As guests in my apartment, they are no longer welcome. I have been as clear as I can be about asking them to change their behaviour. Where they have not, I simply no longer allow their comments. This morning, I have had to remove a number of comments as two of these fellows persist in trying to use my intellectual space for their silly games. This has prompted me to turn on comment moderation.

I want to stress that I'm not trying to stop these people from speaking their minds on copyright, and my commitment to broad freedom of expression remains. I'm saying I've heard enough of these particular loud and obnoxious voices in my own space, and I'm demanding they take those voices elsewhere. Last week, I attended a conference on copyright reform that featured refreshingly respectful and reasoned discussion, using real facts and real-world scenarios. As a result, I simply no longer have the patience for the blather, intentional misinterpretation and just plain ignorance that so much free culture activism features.

I can tell from my web-stats and from private feedback that the copyright thoughts I post on this personal blog are widely read by people who are central to the positive evolution of copyright in the digital age. Professional artists, academics, theorists, policy-makers, etc. are regular visitors here. I also know that all these folks do their truly impactful discussion at levels higher than a blog comments section, and so that is where I will focus all of my copyright energies now.

Genuine, respectful, insightful comments and questions from real people continue to be welcome.

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Roger Colbert said...

Don't waist a second worrying about it. I too have been attacked and badgered for my views on the importance of copyright and support for what helps regular people put food on their tables.
I'm sorry I haven't commented with support before but it seems to attract even more of the free culture types. They come crawling out like cockroaches.

John said...

Thanks for the note of support, Roger.

I don't enjoy doing this at all, and while I wouldn't generalize your buggy comparison to any group there are certainly quite a few in the free culture crowd who do little else but suppress discussion through comment spam.

davegravy said...

I've had discussions with most of those individuals and not had any issues.

Based on this experience, rather than these individuals being the problem, I'd suggest that it is your relationship with these individuals (i.e you should accept at least _some_ responsibility for the degeneration of the relationships). Takes two to tango, know what I mean?

davegravy said...

I was prepared to accept your decision at face value, except that you seem to have decided not to post my respectful and genuine comment simply because it was critical. I was testing you john, and you failed.

It appears therefor that your censorship exists partly to stifle criticism. If that's indeed the case then the value of this forum has become next to nil. It's a place for like-minded people to gather and unite, but it's clearly not a place for debate and social progress.

John said...


A few things.

First, I was busy this weekend doing fun things that have nothing to do with free culture comment spam. You might want to time your tests better.

Second, I hope it's okay with you that I don't care if you test me. Nor do I care about your critical judgement of my blog.

Third, no, you're wrong. The problem is with those individuals and not with my relationship with them (whatever that means). I don't have a relationship with any of them. I write a blog that is widely read by people interested in creator copyright. They do something else... I'm really not sure what... and also try to derail discussion in this comment section.

This message is what as known as good faith response. If you repeat yourself, expect not to be answered.

Anna W said...

I was following that discussion closely and was curious to see answers to questions asked. Your frustration while apparent seemed disproportional to the comments. I'd have to say at first glance it appears deleting comments may have been somewhat of an over reaction. From my point of view it is often better to allow the discussion you see as faulty as it is usually readily apparent to others, especially those that matter.

John said...


I can understand how my response would seem disproportional on first glance. Of course, that was not my first glance at any of the folks who are dearly departed from these comments. I encourage you to visit Michael Geist's blog where all those fellows can be found quite regularly. I'm sure they would be happy to answer any questions over there.

For the time being, I am very, very happy indeed to not have them in my digital home. And, I don't think their absence will have any measurable effect on worthwhile discussion on the blog. As I wrote in the posting, genuine, respectful, insightful comments and questions from real people continue to be welcome.

Bill Curry said...

Well it's your blog of course John, but I did enjoy seeing your responses to those comments, as well as the occational response from Sandy and others. I think it made things much more interesting.

Bruce Wilson said...

John, I had no idea your blog was so lively. These days, I'm associating with a number of academics who seem to have glopped up a lot of Geist's misinformation. Sadly, some of them are former freelance journalists who have gone over to the Dark Side. Amazing what a comfortable university salary will do to a good mind.

I've recommended they refuse their salary for a few months because after all, high quality educational materials should be "freely available" at the lowest cost possible. Anyway, I'll be following you more regularly and pointing people your way.

John said...

Hi Bruce,

Long time no see. Hope you're still filling the Laurentians with deep, spiritual music.

The academic economy is different, of course, and who doesn't support the drive to make creative works as freely accessible as possible? What's so disappointing is the idea that you and I can see and respect the desires of the academy, yet so much of their thinking forgets that most cultural creators are not economically shielded from poor sales the way they are.

I was at the Kingston WritersFest recently at a rare reading by South African novelist and Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. There was a book table as there always is at festivals.

All the creative works by all the visiting writers were for sale, all within the $20 price range, and the sales were brisk. One of the writers, though, was a professor at Queens U who specializes in South Africa. She was on a panel with Romeo Dallaire discussing truth and reconciliation commissions (fascinating talk). Her book, a purely academic text, was also for sale - for $60 (trade paperback).

I didn't see a single person buy her book, and I would imagine she doesn't particularly care. The credit is on her CV, all those who need to read her book probably got it as a matter of course (on an expense account through their own professorships), and the academic economy trundles on undisturbed.