The discussion comes up periodically of what it takes for a commenter to get in trouble here at the NOVA TownHall Blog. Those of our visitors who know the blogosphere know that I allow an extremely broad and unfettered discussion to take place here compared to most Web sites. It is truly hard to get warned or edited or, certainly, banned. We have been open for 5 1/2 years and only four people have been banned. That is about as unregulated as you can find this side of Somalia.

But before I tell you about our policy, I would invite you to check what another local blogger wrote today, for comparison purposes.

I am the one who doesn’t like people attacking other people on-line.

I don’t like to see insults passing back and forth.

I don’t like comments on blogs about people’s looks, or level of intelligence, or sexuality, or state of mental health, or whether they are gender-conforming, or their personality problems, or who they may or may not be sleeping with…

…. on this blog, we do not allow you to call anyone a bitch, even if I am one.

And I do not allow you to say, “That’s so lame” or “that’s so gay” or “that’s retarded”.

“Lapdog” is a phrase that is used almost exclusively about men whom people are accusing of being under the thrall of someone else, (almost always a woman). It is belittling, and sexist, and I’m unhappy with its use on this blog.

Go read all of that, with the comments, and also this post on the same blog.

From what I have seen, that degree of scrutiny is not unusual in the political blog world.

Below is our moderation/banning policy.

As a rule, doing one of the things specified will cause your comment to be edited or deleted, and sometimes you will be sent some type of notice as to what you did wrong, if I think you won’t figure it out from the edit or deletion. If the first case is REALLY egregious and I can’t tell who you are, you will simply be banned. This has happened twice in 5 1/2 years. If you have a comment edited and receive a warning, and persist in the same behavior, you will be banned. This also has happened twice in 5 1/2 years. So we have banned four people in 5 1/2 years, period.

  • PORNOGRAPHY OR EXCESSIVE OBSCENITY. No set definition, but I know it when I see it, and since it has almost never occurred here, apparently so do you. Using a bad word now and then is generally fine, but using that word in the context of what it technically means would be problematic. Images and art should be kept PG-13, unless your sense of subtlety is at the Mensa level.
  • VILE FALSEHOODS. Again, vaguely defined, but in general an infraction would be a blood libel against a known local person, rather than a whimsical fancy about some distant figure. Has only happened a couple times, so again, we are all on the same page.
  • INTRUSION INTO THE PERSONAL OR EMPLOYMENT SPHERE. Our talk among ourselves out here is the wild west and just about anything goes. Start messing with another commenter’s or poster’s livelihood or family, however and it’s personal and forbidden. We don’t want to be messing up anyone’s real life. Everyone gets to set their own boundary as to what is injurious, so if you don’t want your name published, it won’t be; if you don’t want your child’s photo or address of their school known, it won’t be; if you want to keep yours or your spouse’s employer out of discussion, we’ll keep it out. Calling someone an idiot or saying they dress like a porn star is fine, because we are not here to defend their vanity, but telling where they work will get you edited or deleted if that information is not supposed to be known. Nearly everyone understands this, and those who don’t are invited to stay away.
  • WASTING JOE’S TIME. Whether through violation of the above, or doing things that cause me to have to watch the blog too closely, don’t push me. My ideal is everyone carrying on vigorously and screaming at each other and calling each other names for months on end with none of the above rules being violated. We have gone through stretches of half a year or longer like this, even during very contentious debates. My nightmare is having to monitor comments hour by hour – when that happens, people get banned.

By way of reference, out of well over 50,000 comments left here, no more than 60 have required editing or removal. So these rules which have never really been spelled out but just mentioned here or there have been extremely easy to follow, intuitively, for most users.

Some examples: When someone’s spouse or child’s identity has been revealed a couple times, that information was excised. Some photos have been cropped and reposted. On quite a lot of occasions, someone has commented from a place that could have been a problem: I remember during the gay marriage and illegal immigration debates of 2006, I went from being called racist and homophobe to having the same person email me later in the day and ask to have a string of comments deleted because the IP could have been traced to a loved one’s employer. I said, “Sure”, took care of it no questions asked, and went back to being accused of being a hater by that person the next day. I have deleted information and admonished commenters both among my compatriots and my ideological opponents in equal numbers.

(As far as the name-pseudonym issue is concerned – for the few of you who do not already know – some of our posters and commenters are extremely serious about minimizing the appearance of their real names on blog sites. Some have pseudonyms just for fun and people use them interchangably with the person’s real name. If you use someone’s real name and later find it deleted, that is your hint. If you persist you will be breaking two of the above rules. Luckily, such violations have been very few so most of you get it.)

I will reiterate that, in my view, our permission policy here is rational and understandable because I have had to step in so rarely over the years. Once in a while I am asked to tighten it in a certain instance and generally I don’t. I hope stating this policy has been helpful and if you have a problem with it I order you to go away now and never return.