Using Social Media And Some Ground Rules For Commenting On This Blog

A recent interview Jordan Peterson did with Dr. Jean Twenge, an eminent social psychologist, along with a recent post by Patheos colleague and eminent theologian Roger Olsen, have prompted me to establish some ground rules for commenting on this blog. While I’m a big advocate of freedom of speech, expression, and the free flow of ideas, there are serious concerns about how social media affects our ability to have productive and healthy conversations. As Twenge points out, using social media can actually reinforce certain pathological behaviors. In particular, the use of social media promotes narcissistic attitudes and dispositions. I therefore feel responsible for setting some ground rules for all of us, since we all (at least according to my worldview) have a tendency towards narcissism, which is a form of pride that Augustine saw as the basis of all sin.

A promise and some caveats

Before I lay down the ground rules, however, let me make a promise to my readers: I will also answer to the rules I present here. Anything else would be hypocritical as I would expect a standard from my commenters but would stick to a different standard. This is what we call “double standards,” and the Bible commands us not to do it (Proverbs 20:10, Matthew 23).

Second, though, let me make some general caveats about my interactions with commenters:

  1. Because I actually have to write this blog, and because I put in the effort to publish about two articles a week (which I don’t always manage), I can’t spend an inordinate amount of time replying to comments. I also have a personal life that prevents me from responding to each and every comment or comments with the appropriate depth and breadth. At some point I will have to stop replying to comments and continue producing new articles. This is a constraint that cannot be changed.
  2. Due to this limitation, please do not take offense if your comments go unanswered or if you feel I have not responded adequately. Time and capacity just don’t allow it. If you’re the type who gets easily offended then please refrain from commenting (I don’t want to allow that kind of narcissism). It can be healthier to actually hold back on comments.
  3. As a constant reminder to commenters who feel I’ve unfairly “blocked” them, there is a filter on Disqus that often automatically sends otherwise sane comments to the Trash folder. I don’t always see these as they don’t appear in my notifications. Please be aware of this fact and do not get upset about it. Only God is omniscient. i am not god So I’m not omniscient. If I later find that an otherwise acceptable post has been trashed by the algorithm, I will publish it. However, if I see it too late, there’s a chance I won’t get to act on it. Again, this is just an unfortunate limitation.

Okay, now for some ground rules for commenting on this blog.

The ground rules for commenting on this blog

Rule #1: Attack ideas, not me. In the still respected language of informal logic, don’t use any ad hominem Mistakes in commenting. Learn more about Types of ad hominem, look here. This rule is especially true for those commentators who consider themselves “woke” or who adhere to some form of “critical theory,” since these philosophical views specialize in making claims about a person’s character or background rather than addressing their arguments . If you can bring up a legitimate viewpoint on viewpoint epistemology, fine, but if you’re just throwing off fashionable insults of the day, then please know in advance that you’ll be blocked.

Rule #2: Don’t publish your own articles or article-length comments. These could be links to articles you’ve written elsewhere, or long papers that just aren’t responsive (due to caveat #1 above). For example, the first paragraph of this post is 140 words. While I don’t want to put a strict word limit on word count, I would strongly recommend keeping your comments to 300 words or less. Shorter comments are prioritized over longer ones. Again mainly due to time constraints. Think of reading this blog as attending a lecture. If you stand up at the end of the talk to ask the speaker a question in the Q&A, keep your comments short so other people can ask their questions.

Rule #3: Make sure you address claims that are specifically mentioned in the article. In other words, don’t rely on tangents that are irrelevant to what you’re writing. For example, if I see comments about “Republican” or “Donald Trump” or “MAGA” or “Qanon” I assume that you are not being serious as a commenter, just trolling. Unless these or other topics were mentioned in the article I wrote, please refrain from commenting. In over 100 articles here on Patheos I have never referenced any of these topics but have had to delete many such comments. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t write about it in the future, in which case feel free to comment if I do.

Rule #4: Use a real name. If you have an anonymous online name, I strongly recommend using your real name when commenting here. This is an issue related to the kind of online narcissism Twenge points out in her book. It’s easy to hide behind false names and act in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. I don’t want to facilitate commenters using false names that disguise their true identities. This is socially problematic because it distances us all the more from one another as human beings. I don’t want to interact with a troll or a bot. I want to interact with people, especially people who disagree with my ideas (although it’s nice to interact with those who agree with me too). This doesn’t mean you have to use your full name, but at least a first name or some real initials.

Rule #5: Don’t say anything in a comment that you wouldn’t say to me face-to-face. This is related to Rule #1, but it is also a pathology of our time. It’s like yelling at other people on the street alone in your car (something we’ve all done, myself included). Again, I don’t want to facilitate or facilitate any narcissistic behavior. If we were face to face (and I’m not a particularly tall or muscular person) would you have the courage or decency to say or not say what you post in the comments. If you don’t have the courage to say it, don’t post it. If you would have the decency not to, then don’t post it. Let’s not wear “internet glasses” like the average college kid wears “beer glasses.”

Rule #6: No sexually inappropriate or explicit language of a sexual nature (or profanity) allowed unless it directly relates to something in the article in question. Because I often write about sex, sexual identity, and sexual relationships, you may need to use sexual language to get your point across. However, you must make your comments on sexual topics appropriately and with decency. If you can’t keep it clean, just don’t post it.

Conclusion: A word of appreciation and encouragement

All to say that I hope for continued engagement with all my current (and hopefully future) commenters. In addition, I would like to thank all of you who have consistently dealt with my thoughts and considerations here, even if we often disagreed, often vigorously. In short, I appreciate you all, thank you for reading and look forward to further interactions. May God bless you (even if you don’t believe in Him).

Finally, I would like to encourage readers who participate in this blog to leave good comments. There is too little online dialogue with substance and charity. While I will always try to argue for my position, that shouldn’t stop anyone from commenting. It’s high time we started reasoning with each other again. That means if you don’t agree with me, you’re probably wrong.

The last one was a joke, kinda 😉