August 12, 2008

For My Next Trick, Watch This Comment Disappear!

By Cyndy Aleo-Carreira of Shakespeare I Ain't (E-mail / Twitter)

There appears to be an interesting trend appearing more often on FriendFeed: comment moderation. Users have been able to moderate comments on their own FriendFeed threads for as long as I've been using the site, and most use it to remove any spam that makes it through and trolls. But increasingly, I've seen incidents where thread owners are using the moderation feature to control the conversation and remove comments that are contrary to their stances on an issue.

This form of censorship online really isn't anything new; many sites, especially personal blogs, moderate all comments so that only those that agree with the writer. Seeing it happen on FriendFeed, however, isn't the same as seeing it on a personal blog.

The FriendFeed fans have always maintained that FriendFeed is an equalizer, giving everyone from A-listers to the most unknown tech afficianado a level playing field for conversation. The reality, however, may not be so egalitarian. I can't count the number of times in the past week I've seen comments that I read suddenly vanish, or viewed comments on a thread that don't seem to reply to anything.

I have always had a policy that anything but spam or truly offensive commentary gets put through, whether it's on my blog or a FriendFeed thread or a forum that I've hosted. There's no sense in writing anything if I'm going to silence my critics, and while I may not agree with some of the comments, if I view things only from one viewpoint, I won't learn anything, and certainly can't consider myself to have a true understanding of any issue.

I'm beginning to wonder if the ability to moderate comments on an individual basis needs to be taken away. While I appreciate the ability to moderate a comment if I really needed to, the ease with which it can be done seems to be used far too often to skew conversation and make it appear that only one point of view is the norm. When I posted this past weekend about a mob mentality resulting from group think on FriendFeed, I realized that there are many times when I just seem to have a completely different viewpoint than the one prevailing on the site. Now I wonder if I'm actually not the only one thinking a certain way, but rather, am the only one creating my own thread, or have enough visibility to not have my comments deleted.