Did you enjoy this post and the discussion thread that followed it? I did, and so did everybody else on it.

What made the discussion so successful? In a nutshell: everybody treated everybody else with respect and courtesy.

There are a number of factors that result in threads “going bad”.

First of all, just as the presence of litter encourages more littering, an off topic comment, trollish observation, personal snipe at another poster, or a ranty screed has the ability to wreck a thread. The effect of a disruptive comment is greater, if it is the first one posted on a thread.

Yes, it is very easy to say “ignore it”. But, as a matter of fact, people don’t ignore provocative and racist statements. They want to respond. And soon, the thread descends into a cesspool.

I have been very reluctant to “prune” threads. To do so inevitably results in further discussion about the moderation policy. “Why did you delete X and not Y”, somebody might fairly remark. Another commenter complains that she is being required to self-censor in order to continue posting. Somebody else, aggrieved at being deleted, reposts his comment 46 times on every other thread he can find. A thread goes up an another site entitled “What Harry’s Place Don’t Want You To Hear”, quoting our “Liberty…” strapline mockingly. And so on.

As things stand, though, I am quite often embarrassed by the content and tone of the comments on the articles on the site. I wouldn’t want many of my friends to see some of the filth that people post here. Oh, sure, it is vibrant debate, better out than in, and all that. But it makes me ashamed; particularly when this morning’s discussion has shown what a really good blog comment thread could look like.

There’s no reason for blogs to end up like CiF. Over-moderation can certainly wreck the community spirit of a blog; but then so can under moderation. I have lost count of the number of people, from all sides of the argument, who have said that they never read the comments, or have stopped commenting themselves, because when they have dipped their toe in, they have discovered a cesspool.

We’re better than that.

It isn’t even individual disruptive commentators, out to wreck a post. Well, actually, sometimes it is. But even the most disruptive posters occasionally make good and interesting points.

So, what I’d propose is this. I’m going to delete any comment, and any response, I think is a waste of space. I’m not going to give any reason for it, and – as a matter of policy – I’m not going to discuss my decision. That includes complaints about being deleted: something which, I acknowledge, will seem arbitrary and unfair from time to time, particuarly if you are very wound up by an arguement. This is my football. I’m not going to delete comments because I disagree with them. And I will cheerfully delete comments which I agree with, but which I think are improperly expressed, or out of place, or just plain rude.

What can you do to help? Basically, be polite. Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t say to a person’s face. If you see a snipey or trollish comment, ignore it. A blog is a community, and you make this place what it is: for good or for bad. In particularly, be charitable. If you think I should have deleted a comment, but haven’t, remember that running a blog isn’t my job. It is my hobby.

When you prune a bush, you remove not only the dead wood, but also a number of healthy shoots which seem to you to be in the wrong place. As an experiment, I’m planning to wander around Harry’s Place with a pair of secateurs, snipping merrily away.

What do you think?

Brett adds: Great! This is what I’ve been thinking for some time. I wholeheartedly endorse this.