I started this post probably two years ago (like so many ZD drafts, it then disappeared into the depths of our queue), but a few incidents in recent weeks have inspired me to come back to it. These are some tips (some composed with the help of my co-bloggers) which I hope will be helpful for those participating here. They’re probably unnecessary for the majority of our commenters, but they might be worth mentioning for those who are less familiar with our style and assumptions.
(Reading through this again, I realize that it might come across as bashing people. I apologize for that–I wanted to be very direct and explicit, in hopes of reducing situations in which clashes arise from people going against our norms and expectations without even really being aware of what they are. It seemed only fair to try to do a better job of spelling them out.)
1. A basic premise of ZD is that honest questions, no matter how difficult they may be or how uncomfortable they may make us, are always okay. We don’t assume that the church is always right. Nor do we assume that it’s always wrong. If you can’t have a conversation within this framework (whether because you see it as unfaithful, or you think the church is a giant fraud), this probably isn’t the best environment for you. We don’t really want to spend gobs of time and energy arguing about the validity of those premises. Take them or leave them–but if you want to debate them, you’re in the wrong place.
2. Following from that–unless it’s the specific topic of the post, don’t start an argument about whether the church can ever be wrong. In most cases, an assertion that the church is always right, no matter how heartfelt, doesn’t actually add anything of substance to the conversation; if anything, it has the effect of shutting it down. And it gets exhausting when people continually demand that we debate that before talking about anything else. It’s as if we were trying to discuss a specific religious question, and an atheist kept coming by and demanding that we first defend the existence of God.
3. If you’re new, it’s not a bad idea to lurk for a while and get a feel for the kinds of discussions that take place here. Every blog has its style, and taking the time to get a sense for it can be quite useful. For example–you can be silly and somewhat irreverent on ZD. But if you’re condescending, you’re likely to ruffle some feathers.
4. Assume that the poster and other commenters are familiar with the scriptures and basic LDS teachings. Comments which do no more than rehash the kinds of statements which might be found in Church manuals generally come across badly–whether intentionally or not, such comments send the message that the commenter doesn’t think the poster is aware that (for example) Latter-day Saints are encouraged to seek personal revelation through prayer and scripture study. I would propose that one good rule of thumb for commenting on ZD is that if your comment is generic enough that it could easily come from lds.org, this isn’t the best place for it. After all, we all have access to lds.org.
5. Don’t assume that discussions of difficult personal issues are invitations to point out the poster’s failings, recite platitudes, or give lectures. And unless it’s specifically requested, giving advice is dangerous territory, especially given how little you know of a person’s circumstances on the basis of a blog post.
6. Read the whole post before commenting. You look pretty silly when you raise a question which has been addressed at length in the post, or make a comment which is clearly a response to the title of the post (or perhaps the first paragraph), rather than the post as a whole.
7. Watch your tone. We don’t react well to people who give the impression that they’re here to enlighten us with their wisdom (whether about church teachings, or about feminism). Talk like a person. Talk in your own voice, drawing on your own experience. Don’t put on a missionary hat, or try to be faith-promoting, or attempt to channel a General Authority. Share ideas–don’t make pronouncements.
8. Don’t call into question people’s righteousness. (This is specifically mentioned in our comment policy.) Note that this doesn’t just apply to individuals–e.g., Lynnette, I can tell by your posts that you have the spirit of the devil–but also applies to generalizations–e.g., those who disagree with GAs should examine themselves for spiritual flaws.
9. Don’t hijack discussions with either your pet topics, or (as mentioned in point 2), by trying to bring every conversation back to some broader question (can a prophet be wrong? is feminism inherently un-Mormon? how do we account for the problem of evil?) Not that these aren’t worthwhile topics, and we do address them from time to time, but sometimes we want to focus on more specific issues. Tangents aren’t necessarily a problem–often we’ll cheerfully go along with them–but don’t pursue an argument if you’ve been asked to drop it. Which leads me to my next point:
10. When it comes to monitoring comments, our general policy is that the person who writes the post has the final say on what topics are relevant to the conversation, and if comments are in need of moderation. (Though other bloggers may jump in to try to keep things on track, especially if the original poster isn’t around at the moment.) As a guest on our blog, it is expected that you will respect the requests of the person who wrote the post. If you’re asked to drop something, drop it. If you’re asked to adopt a calmer tone or to stop fighting with another commenter, do so. Complaining instead that you’re being censored won’t get you very far. The great thing about blogging is that you can always write a counter-post somewhere else.
11. We’re a feminist blog. This means that if you come by to argue against feminism, you’re probably going to trigger a lot of disagreement. This isn’t at all meant to discourage different points of view; I’m just thinking it’s probably good to be aware of that before jumping in. And if you choose to spend a lot of energy arguing here, we probably won’t be terribly sympathetic if you then portray yourself as a victim who is worn down from defending the faith. No one is forcing you to participate.
12. In case you didn’t read the “About Us” page, we’re family. Really. Half of us are related by blood, and the others are very much spiritually adopted. I’m mentioning that because I imagine it might be worth knowing, as it undoubtedly influences the dynamics here.
Likely because we’re a smaller blog, we don’t actually moderate people very often. It usually happens because of personal attacks, comments which suggest that those who disagree are unrighteous, or failure to drop something after being asked to do so. Things do get heated at times, and we may not always live up to this, but we do generally make an effort to keep it civil.
I worry a little about posting something like this, because I know we have lurkers who might be hesitant to participate, and I certainly don’t want to scare people out of commenting. I would say in brief that we blog because a) it’s entertaining and we get to meet fun people, and b) it’s nice to have a place where you can have discussions that you probably wouldn’t be able to have in Sunday School (and without being berated by the Orthodoxy Police). So if you’re on board with contributing to that kind of environment, please jump in.