Despite the post name, this is not about getting rid of your principles (although that could be handy for folks considering a career in politics). Rather, it is about when it is acceptable to delete comments from a blog post.
To start off, let me get the easy ones out of the way. As I argued in an earlier post, deleting spam and web droppings seems perfectly acceptable. No blog has an obligation to serve as free advertising for spammers and web droppings have as much right to remain as bird droppings. Now on to matters a bit more controversial.
In general, there seem to be two main areas on which to assess whether a comment should remain or be banished by deletion. These are, obviously enough, tone/style and content.
In regards to tone/style, those that are excessively negative tend to provide a basis on which to delete in a principled way. Examples of negative tone/style include being needlessly hateful, needlessly condescending, or needlessly hostile. As others have noted, being negative (or, to be more technical, an ass) out of proportion to the provocation seem to provide grounds for considering deletion.
Not surprisingly, drawing a line that will allow consistent deletion can be a challenge. Despite this challenge, a consistent principle seems to be rather desirable. After all, as in law and ethics, the rules should be consistent and non-arbitrary. That way people know, in advance, what sort of behavior is acceptable and what is not. From a practical standpoint, this also helps avoid conflict over such matters and this is generally a good thing for a blog. After all, the idea of having a blog is to attract readers and active participants rather than drive them away.
Blog moderators will vary in what is considered tolerable in regards to tone/style. Those that prefer a rougher approach will tolerate more negative tones and styles. Those who wish to have a nicer environment or prefer a blog that seems more professional in character will no doubt tolerate less.
As a general principle, it does seem reasonable to expect civil behavior. Since there is already a well established set of principles in this area, it makes good sense to assume (unless otherwise noted) that these general principles apply on a blog. For example, being hateful, using needless vulgarities and being excessively condescending all violate the intuitive standards of civility.
However, to the degree that these are a matter of etiquette there is a great deal of flexibility. After all, what counts as rude or negative is often a matter of context. For example, some people are quite comfortable with the casual use of “obscene” words and see them as part of everyday vocabulary. So, while it seems reasonable to accept the general principle that excessively negative comments should be deleted, what counts as excessively negative will need to be defined by the blog moderator, preferably by working with the community of the blog.
On my own blog, I follow the “common sense” rules of civility: don’t be needlessly hateful, keep the obscenity in check, avoid being excessively condescending, and show the degree of respect that one would like to receive in return. Since I lack Victorian sensibilities and have been hardened by years of online gaming, I tend to be fairly tolerant of some rough talk-provided that there is some merit to the comments. This provides a nice transition to the matter of content.
Deleting on the basis of content is perhaps the most controversial (with some notable exceptions like spam). In some cases, it will seem quite acceptable to delete comments. For example, comments that entirely lacking in relevance but are full of racist, sexist or other hateful remarks are excellent candidates for deletion. Not surprisingly, many blogs have rules against such comments (as well as against comments that can cause legal trouble, such as threats and libelous claims).
In these cases as well as less extreme cases, a reasonable principle seems to be to weigh the positive value of a comment (its merit measured in terms of what it adds to the discussion) against the negative aspects of the comment. These negative aspects can include both style/tone and content. For example, a comment might be relevant to a post and raise a legitimate criticism of said post, but it might be presented in a condescending tone and might also contain insulting content.
As is to be expected, if the positive value of the comment is determined to be outweighed by its negative aspects, then deletion would seem to be justified. This can be justified by the obvious fact that the person making the comment could have written the comment without the negative aspects and thus made her point without all the negative tone/style or content. There is, after all, generally no need to be an ass and no one has a right to expect that such needless “assing” will be tolerated.
On my own blog I am inclined to tolerate a fair amount of negative content or style/tone, provided that it is offset by an even greater amount of positive content. Rather than deleting such comments, it seems that a better approach is to at least make an attempt to persuade the person to be less negative and thus contribute more to the discussion.
Some blogs take the approach of deleting comments that disagree with the slant, agenda or goal of the blog. For example, a liberal blog moderator might delete any criticisms that are conservative in nature even if the comments are well reasoned and civil.
While blog moderators have the right to do this, this does not seem like an appropriate approach to such comments. Of course, my view is based on the assumption that an open discussion that allows criticism is both valuable and desirable. Other folks, obviously enough, see “discussion” as a tool for advancing a specific agenda or view and thus have no tolerance for any opposing views or criticism. That, I believe, is the wrong way to run a blog on both moral and critical thinking grounds. I’ll leave my reasons here for the discussion that is likely to follow.
In the case of a philosophy blog, this sort of approach would seem to grossly violate the traditional spirit of philosophy. As such, on my own blog I never delete comments because they are critical of my views, arguments, or beliefs.