What responsibility do you think Web sites bear for the comments they host?

An interesting and important discussion.

We have had problems with comments on the blog in the last two weeks, particularly in regards to tone. I do not know if it is Winter, the national mood in America, the Anglican church struggle fatigue, or what, but I really do want to encourage people to try communicate in a Christ like way. Also, please remember our strong preference for the use of real names–KSH.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Blogging & the Internet

26 comments on “What responsibility do you think Web sites bear for the comments they host?

  1. Katherine says:

    Most blogs which allow comments put up a statement about their comment policies. Some reserve the right to delete any comments but state clearly that the fact that a comment remains does not constitute agreement with it by the blog host. It’s easy to determine whether the comments on any particular blog are going to provide useful commentary and information or whether they’re wild. Just read them a few times and you quickly get a flavor for the blog “community.” I read several political news blogs without ever looking at the comments, and I often look into “reappraiser” religious blogs without looking at the comments.

    When the host provides a clear disclaimer, it seems unfair to blame the host for the views of the people who comment.

  2. ElaineF. says:

    Strong preference for real names noted…so I’m “outing” myself this morning. : )

    Elaine Fox

  3. Karen B. says:

    Personally, I found a comment made by James W. in the past few days (on the new Tanzania Primate thread) to be insightful and, I believe accurate, in explaining much of the anger or seeming personal animus that’s been appearing in blog comments recently:

    James wrote [addressed to Dr. Seitz]:

    [blockquote]My impression from both real life and the blog interactions is that while the top GAFCON/FedCon leadership is very committed to pursuing the path which you characterize as the GAFCON path (i.e. away from Canterbury, etc.), the majority of parishes, laity, clergy in the FedCon (i.e. who see realignment as a very unfortunate necessity) would much rather be in the CommCon camp. These people look to you, the ACI, the CA bishops FIRST for hope, and only to the GAFCON leadership SECOND in FRUSTRATION.

    I believe very much that the anger you hear in the blogs against Howe and the ACI is not people enjoying personal attacks for the sake of personal attacks, but rather people lashing out as a result of unmet expectations. It is anger from hope (thought to be) dashed. At least that is what I think it is.[/blockquote]

    from here:

    For many others, the reaction to the unmet expectations and dashed hopes is apathy or crushing fatigue. Personally, I find it increasingly hard to care about things Anglican since the fiasco of the New Orleans HoB meeting and the utter meltdown of the “Windsor bishops.” Increasingly my attitude is one of “wake me when it’s over” — and in the meantime I’ll focus on my life and ministry here locally.

    And certainly a decrease in participation on many of the blogs suggests that I am not alone, and others have the same apathy or frustration.

  4. Harry Edmon says:

    I agree we need to watch our words and tone, but I also would note that Christ’s communication method also includes Matthew 23. Jesus was very frank with false teachers.

  5. Irenaeus says:

    Pen names are not the real problem. If you regularly use a pen name, you have the same sort of reputational interest in that name as you do in your real name. Indeed, many blog commenters are far more widely known by their pen names. In any event, many of the nastiest, most ad hominem comments on T19 and Stand Firm come from people who use their real names.

  6. DonGander says:

    I think that the only obligation to hosts is to maintain consistancy. It is disappointing when they break their own rules. Such has not happened on T19.

    In mentioning consistancy, it would seem, as we differentiate between men and women in ministry, that it is wise for women who post to defend their anonymity. I do think it gutless for a man to fear to identify himself with his statements.

    I commend Mr. Harmon on his position.

    Don Gander

  7. Karen B. says:

    [i]Can you see how this might be frustrating?[/i]

    Indeed Matt+, I can. I wasn’t trying to argue that James W.’s explanation is the only valid one, or his framework re: ACI – Gafcon correct. But I do think he’s nailed one cause of the anger, that’s all. I don’t want to sidetrack this discussion onto a discussion of the Communion Partners plan, so perhaps let’s leave it at this, or carry on the discussion off-blog?

  8. Rick H. says:

    What responsibility a website bears for posted comments depends, in part, on the mission of the website. If it is intended to be simply a free-for-all forum, no holds barred, where the comments of all comers constitute part of the information exchange, then a disclaimer and some policing of defamatory comments and the most gratuitous of verbal violence may be all that is necessary. If, on the other hand, it is an explicitly Christian website, then, I would argue, the website owner should consider whether the site is functioning as a good ambassador for Jesus Christ. This is largely a matter of judgment, of course, but I would simply point out that a single ill-considered comment that provokes a defensive reaction in someone who might be disposed to hear the gospel message if the message is presented more tactfully could have quite terrible eternal consequences. We bear responsibility for the mischief done by our tongues– “how great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire”– and, in the information age, we bear responsibility for the mischief done by our keyboards.

    We are not our own. What is fair and right for others may not be so for us. If we hold ourselves out as Christians and evangelists, then we have voluntarily taken on the duty to always speak to others candidly, but also with great love and compassion and humility. Our message is good news. Does it come across to others as good news? I think that the hosts of Christian websites must evaluate this question when deciding how closely to police their comments.

  9. Wilfred says:

    This is Fr Kendall’s blog, and he makes the rules. We must all be nice.

    (There. That should fool the old Elf. But maybe the cute Elf is on duty today. She’s cool.)

    (Ah, Permanent Moderation. The ignominy! Even innocuous things, like the helpful suggestion that Mr Obama improve his electoral chances now by wearing a yarmulke, get filtered out. And only one week till Orthodox Lent begins, when comments & food must both be bland. I’ll never have time to get all the insults in.)

  10. Undergroundpewster says:

    In the interest of inclusiveness, I think all comments should be welcome whether they come with authenticated human legal names, pen names, avatars, we should “Bless ‘Em All.”
    Seriously, it is helpful to avoid the “Anonymous” commenter label, because it becomes difficult to carry out an online converstation with multiple anonymous entries. Allowing pen names is reasonable. People in my congregation are sometimes afraid to identify themselves, so I don’t mind having a comment box as do many businesses. Now, would a “Christian business” put in a suggestion box for anonymous comments?

  11. Abigail Ann Young says:

    I think Rick makes a good point in #10 about a particular obligation incumbent on professedly Christian websites. Another thing that I notice is that even those sites which profess to “police” comments according to some standard of courtesy or good taste are far more likely to note and act upon comments that in general tend against the website’s point of view.
    I try to avoid the comments on some sites on which I often find them offensive, like Fr Jake and Stand Firm. Usually on T19 I find them not so much offensive as depressing. But there are sites I’ve simply stopped reading altogether, partly because of the comments, like Of Course I Could be Wrong. With others I simply know to avoid reading certain commenters! But I do often wonder what kind of an impression the articles and comments on most Anglican or Episcopal blogs would make on an outsider. I certainly don’t think he or she would be struck by the love shown.
    In my experience, some of the best sites in terms of their comments as well as the general tone of the articles are Felix Hominum, Anglican Centrist, Anglican Scotist, Covenant, and In a Godward Direction.

  12. Chris says:

    part of the commenter problem, I believe, are the circumstances of ECUSA and Christianity in the west in general. not much this blog can do about that.

    Also, I think the tone (where there is one at all) of nearly every economic/political article posted in the last few months, is negative. Just becasue that’s all the “leading lights” are writing about these days is not sufficient evidence that they are correct. More positive articles (I realize they are not easy to find, afer all, the President is a Republican) would be nice.

  13. jamesw says:

    I use as much of my real name as I feel wise. There are a few reasons why I am reluctant to use my full last name.
    1. In my profession prospective job applicants often informally have their names searched on the internet. Any hits of a religious nature (no matter the content of the post) are often regarded as red flags by secularist academics who tend to dominate my profession. I already know that simply having a theological degree is enough to raise concerns. And yes, I know this has happened on several occasions to me – it’s not just paranoia.
    2. If I used my last name, I could damage the employment opportunities of those related to me, again simply by my commenting on a site such as TitusOneNine.
    3. Having said that, I am amazed at the number of *real world* people who know who I am.

    For me, when I read comments on this site, I find that they can often be put into one of a few categories:
    1) Additional facts or insights into the story – usuallly well worth reading.
    2) Analysis, suggestions or constructive criticism of previous such postings – again, usually well worth reading.
    3) Cheerleading or Lashing out comments – when the poster just wants to pile on, either in a positive or negative sense. I skip these once I determine their nature. Posters should really think twice before posting these.

  14. Cennydd says:

    A personal note to Kendall: My screen name is my name in Welsh. I do agree with your comments regarding content and tone.

  15. Eclipse says:

    [b]Re: Using our names
    Well, the reason I use my ‘pretend name’ is simple: I have a few friends at church who still are under the fear that somehow (don’t ask me how) TEC is going to come and get us. So, while I could care less – I try to do per Romans 14 and respect their wishes. However, after a time, I have to wonder how much of that is honoring and how much of it falls under ‘enabling’. So, at some point, Eclipse is going to come out of the shadows – I just have to know that God is OK with that… and that is not a question Titus 1:9 can answer for me.

    [b]Re: People commiting suicide with blogs[/b]

    Well, there are two sides to this issue – 1. Why should we allow our self-esteem be wrapped up in a blog? 2. We should, as has been said before, write as if we were talking face to face. If you won’t say it in public – don’t write it – probably a good standard from which to go by

    [b]Re: Posts being angry

    I agree with those who state that the situation has created the problem – not the people. I started reading blogs when I tried EVERY avenue to solve the TEC problem and got nowhere – w/ my priest and bishop. It was a ‘last resort’.

    And say what you would like – but StandFirm was a Godsend to those of us who were isolated by distance in revisionist dioceses – if it had not been for them, and this blog here, Titus 1:9 – Knowing that there were others out there trying to keep the Faith besides ourselves, I don’t know where we would be today.

    Greg might allow a little more banter – which frankly I find interesting and illuminating – but he doesn’t allow cruelty or meanness.

    If we cannot openly state our differences – state our opinions – how can we understand one another? How are we to appreciate the problem? Can’t be done.

    When polite discussion overwhelms honest discussion – then no one goes away understanding anything. It’s the entire history of TEC in a nutshell.

    Give me honesty at the price of a little politeness any day – don’t remember Christ being real polite with those he disagreed with – just honest with a deep love behind it… even when it meant he called them ‘vipers, and white washed tombs’.

  16. Rick H. says:

    Yes, Jesus did call the scribes and Pharisees, “white washed tombs,” but he is our Lord, and, more important to this particular point, he is the judge of all men. Unlike any of us. Who among us would wish to stand before God’s throne and be shown that a post carelessly made here led someone who was sincere but confused away from the authentic Gospel message to embrace revisionist theology? Honesty is good, and I enjoy a post that lances through heresy as much as the next person, but we must also remember Whose we are. It is not mere manners. It is refraining from judging others, which we are forbidden to do. It is presenting good news as good news. We are not called to win arguments on God’s behalf, as if he needed us to lawyer for him. We are called to proclaim the Gospel.

  17. Marty the Baptist says:

    None. And this whole business about “tone” is vastly overrated.

    Tolerance means having a thick skin — not a dull wit.

  18. Henry Greville says:

    Re: Rick O.P.’s two comments above, yes, “if we hold ourselves out as Christians and evangelists, then we have voluntarily taken on the duty to always speak to others candidly, but also with great love and compassion and humility.” Also, yes, “we are not called to win arguments on God’s behalf, as if he needed us to lawyer for him. We are called to proclaim the Gospel.”

    Yet, the Apostle Paul would have us at least be ready – by which can he not have meant “sometimes at least try”? – to defend our faith – the faith that we only know is true by faith [i](yes, circular, pace St. Anselm)[/i] – when our faith is misrepresented or attacked.

    My Internet [i]nom de plume[/i] is therefore truly a [i]nom de guerre spirituelle[/i]. The real Henry Greville inspected lunatic asylums in Victorian England, and was not always able to keep silent about all that disgusted and outraged him. Still, dear Kendal and elves, I will do my best from now on to express myself through a final filter of mercy, as you do and for which you deserve all our thanks.

  19. Ross says:

    On the topic of anonymity, I find that the thought, “Someone who knows me could Google my name and find this comment” is a salutary restraint in those moments when I’m tempted to express myself in, let us say, unhelpful ways.

  20. Ross says:

    …and I was going to add something about my full name and et cetera being available by following the links in my signature line, but my signature doesn’t seem to be there. It’s still in my profile, and I still have the checkbox to display signatures set… perhaps signatures in general have suffered from Elven wrath?

    [i]Ross, yes it’s true, I’m afraid. We had some problems with comment threads being taken off topic by folks responding to what people were writing in their signature lines, so we disabled the feature. Sorry all. [/i]

  21. Rick H. says:

    But, H.G., the question is, how do we defend our faith? I suggest that we defend our faith, first, by living (NOT living into, mind you!!) our faith– by demonstrating that we have been transformed by Jesus Christ, that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, that we have given way to him, which results in us showing outward love and humility to others.

    Second, we defend our faith explicitly by proclaiming the gospel, by keeping the focus on Jesus Christ. We are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. But for that to work, we must believe that we are beggars, dependent on God alone for a handout, and, we must convince others that they are beggars in need of the bread of life. The hard part of evangelism is convincing people they need a savior. Once they become convinced of that need, pointing them toward Christ is fairly easy.

    Obviously, there are many Episcopalians, and many especially in our leadership, who do not believe that Christ is the sole route to salvation. I submit that this is symptomatic of an underlying belief that they do not really need a savior at all, a belief that it is possible to be reconciled to God by one’s works, or a belief that God loves us all so much that he will simply bring us all into the kingdom.

    What makes it difficult for us to have a conversation with them is pride– theirs AND ours. To come to believe that I cannot get into the kingdom on my own merits or efforts is a humiliating realization. When we evangelize non-believers we are asking them to humble themselves. I cannot ask you to humble yourself with any hope of success if I speak to you from pride. I must first humble myself to you. I must show you that I believe that I am a beggar.

    We witness here not only to those who post here and engage us in discussion, but to many, many lurkers. Every post has the potential to either point someone toward Christ, or point someone away from salvation. I am saying that we need to be very mindful of the way we represent Jesus Christ to others.

  22. Eclipse says:

    Rick O.P. :

    [b]Re: Expressing our Faith[/b]

    Yes, the first point of Evangelism is to point others to Christ and yes, we must live what we believe humbly and in love.

    HOWEVER, as has been demonstrated through the centuries – starting with Steven and continuing until now – part of our Faith is proclaiming it when it is not ‘acceptable’ to the hearers. That is also part of our walk with Christ.

    Does this mean you slam a Bible on someone’s head and tell them they are going to hell? No. Does it mean that when your bishop is trying to sell another gospel that you stand there and allow it since to stand against him would be ‘mean’? NO.

    Remember we are to speak the truth in love… but speaking the truth is PART of the equation.

    So many orthodox I knew in TEC were so busy being ‘loving’ that they never go around to the first part. So much like a parent so busy loving their child they were too afraid to hinder their exploration crossing the street… in busy traffic… when a semi was coming along.

    We walk along the edge of truth and love – and cannot afford to fall to either side. It is not a balance that is easy BUT it is what we are called too – as our brothers and sisters have been and will be – and we need to do it well.

    Better to try and not be perfect THAN hide in the shadows and allow apostasy to run rampant because you don’t want to offend anyone.


    That was really funny.

  23. Rick H. says:

    Eclipse, I couldn’t agree more that we should not let fear of offending someone keep us from speaking the truth. I personally am convicted because I did not speak for my faith with a louder and clearer voice prior to 2003. I sincerely hope no one reads my words as advocating that we should ever fail to speak up for our faith and speak the truth.

    But the fact that someone is wrong, the fact that someone says something that offends us, or the fact that we are angry, should not grant us a license for sarcasm, for ridicule, for name calling, or even for betraying our anger.

    If someone were to post a comment, “I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, and anyone who says that is a bigot and a fool,” we are surely called to proclaim the authentic Gospel in response. But how do we proclaim it? We might say, “You are wrong, go back and read St. John’s Gospel,” or “Clearly you either know nothing of Scripture or don’t believe the plain words of the Gospel,” or, “Please take your heretical views elsewhere,” or, “Tell it to the Judge. I don’t want to hear it,” or, “You revisionists are exactly what’s wrong with the Episcopal Church.” All of those responses are truthful and honest. But are they a good witness for Christ?

    A hostile comment from an opponent of the authentic Gospel might also be viewed as an opportunity to witness for Christ. I could say something such as, “Maybe I am a fool, but I nevertheless proclaim that he is the only Way to the Father because we are all helpless to save ourselves and the cross is our only life preserver,” and perhaps even go on to explain more about what why I choose to believe the Gospel.

    I am not advocating shirking from the truth. What I am advocating is that in posting comments on a Christian website we focus on the Truth incarnate, and not on the intelligence, education, obtuseness, arrogance, or lack of faith of those with whom we disagree. And that we bear in mind always that someone, somewhere, may read what we write and will form conclusions about Christ and about orthodox Christians from the demeanor of our words.

  24. Eclipse says:


    Don’t think we are falling to far apart on this particular issue. I don’t see anyone on the thread advocating cruel or unkind speech. Nor do I believe it is a right course for anyone to take. I think you agree with that.

    What you are saying is “Be kind and speak the truth” I am saying “Speak the truth and be kind”.

    I think we are reacting from the basis of our experiences. I worked with those who in the name of ‘love’ would not confront evil. Perhaps you worked with those who chose to confront evil, but not in a loving manner. Puts a spin on what one might be saying.

  25. Rick H. says:

    Well said, Eclipse. We are not far apart at all.