So Blogger now allows its users to screen comments. That marks the end of an era, I say.
I can understand where Blogger is going with this. Recent spates of blog spam have hit the service pretty hard, prompting the administrators to implement an image-recognition system for comments last August. While this security option appears to have been well-received among many users, it's failed to deter die-hard spammers and generalized kooks, both of whom will go as far as to post individual messages on peoples' posts.
Still, I feel that the latter situation is a lot more tolerable. I mean, how many die-hard spammers and generalized kooks are out there, anyway? We can take 'em.
I do, however, find Blogger's latest move more than a little strange, for reasons I'll explain below.
Comments are seen by the public as an indicator of the quality or popularity of a blog; They create certain assumptions, you see. The presence of a lot of comments, for example, may be seen by users as an indication of a large stable of readers. Blog comments can also express praise, sympathy or condemnation, and the frequency or strength of such statements can easily determine the public's all-around view of the author.
The problem with this is that blog comments do not necessarily form an accurate snapshot of the blog itself. I mean, it's altogether possible to have a quality blog that simply caters to the wrong crowd. More damnably, in a universe where anyone can strap on multiple Internet identities, it is all too easy to sway public opinion through misrepresentation. I know of at least one blog that uses different names to give itself a lot of positive comments, for example, and I sincerely doubt that it's the only one of its kind.
And now Blogger comes up with a feature that allows writers to determine which comments are fit for their blog, and which aren't. I can't help feeling that there's something wrong there.
What stops certain bloggers, for example, from filtering out any negative criticism against them in this way? We're at a point in time where weblogs have begun to establish a certain degree of credibility for themselves, after all. Blog writers may be seen as informal journalists, unpublished essayists or run-of-the-mill reviewers -- all positions that carry a certain amount of influence regardless of anything. If one of us screws up, then the public has a right to give the offending party a piece of their minds... but will we necessarily let them do so?
Our only conclusion, I believe, is that the responsibility of blog moderation must depend on the blog writer himself. My problem with this setup is that it won't be immediately obvious as to what kind of person we'd be dealing with.
Let's take your favorite blog -- the one that has a lot of positive and encouraging comments -- for example. How do you know that the writer hasn't merely cleaned out what he sees as "bad" criticism? How do you know that the writer's friends aren't just placing a bunch of compliments on the the site? How do you know that the writer will see the words in your very next comment as being worthwhile?
The short answer is that you don't. You can't, or at least, not with the new setup.
Yes, that might be a serious blow to credibility, folks.
I don't see the new moderation system as being entirely negative, mind you. A number of people out there are remarkably immature, after all: They'll stalk you, they'll constantly flame you, they'll make random obscene gestures, and they'll make rude and undeserved remarks. The ability to moderate comments would probably be a godsend for bloggers who have respondents like these.
What I worry about are those people who would take a beneficial tool and twist it to their own selfish needs. There are more of them about than we think, or even expect.
Personally, I won't be moderating anything at the moment. I prefer that the users who post comments on this blog have some degree of freedom in doing so. I like constructive comments, yes, and I trust that those are what people put to virtual paper here.
But you won't necessarily believe me, won't you?
For all you know, that next comment you write down here won't ever make it onscreen.