Let the authors and publishers determine the terms

My answer to this week’s blog prompt is more complex and complicated than a yes or no. I do not think that my stance is firmly grounded on one side or another. For me, it depends largely on a case-by-case basis whether or not the writer has the define who can comment or not.

Most likely, it is inevitable that even if there is not a convenient means to comment, create annotations or marginalia notes that that shuts out all online socialization over a text. There will be another platform to discuss, comment or make notes about the work through forum communities and websites like Reddit. For example, if a Youtuber disables comments on their video then that community can easily jump to that YouTuber’s subreddit and create a discussion post about the video. While the writer or content-creator can discourage it, and make it harder for online socialization to occur, I can only imagine that it is nearly impossible to completely shut it all out.

Then again, Audrey Watters brings up a great point in her blog post Un-Annotated where she says: “This isn’t simply about trolls and bigots threatening me (although yes, that is a huge part of it); it’s also about extracting value from my work and shifting it to another company which then gets to control (and even monetize) the conversation.” This brings up the messy ground where the authors also have the right to protect themselves from those trolls and bigots. Especially women on the internet who face a higher level of these types of attacks and threats all the time.

However, in some other cases where the writer writes a controversial or ignorant piece and disables comments to keep their echo chamber up then that is where I would take issue. If there is no constructive criticism, peer review or annotations then that can also be very problematic.

Although it is not a specific written piece, the arguments on both sides reminds me of the case where Discord, a private instant messaging app, began to shut down neo-Nazi, alt-right and other various hate-speech servers. It is important that it is also the publishers or server’s responsibility to shut down these types of toxic and hateful content. Websites like Blogger, Livejournal, WordPress, Medium and even YouTube (for the case of digital content publishers) should also have the right to shut down online socialization just as much as the author.

It is all hard to say. But ultimately, text that has a vibrant commenting section is a clear indicator of how much buzz it is generating and allows the writer to connect with their audience. Disabling the comments would mean to sacrifice all of that. On the other hand, the author may want to protect themselves for good reason and to keep their content securely within their copyright and no outside influence. It all really all depends on what your goals, why you decided to write the piece or create the content you did and what message you want to perpetrate.


One Reply to “Let the authors and publishers determine the terms”

  1. Thanks for your insight into this discussion, Shirley. The issue of online interaction over a text is indeed a complex one. Welcoming feedback makes your content vulnerable to trolls and blocking comments gives you the reputation of living in an “echo chamber”. I don’t think writers can entirely stop people from writing what they want about their work. They can control it for sure, by setting some filters that track certain words and remove those comments. It is not an easy yes-or-no situation. Feedback helps writers to keep their biases in check, as you have mentioned, and it can also facilitate a thriving community of like-minded people. I guess people need to temper their opinions with research and reason and then decide whether or not their comments are really contributing to furthering the conversation.

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