Sometimes on iBrattleboro, we find ourselves forced to delete comments that violate our community standards. We hate having to do that, but there are times when comments cross the line — for instance, when a commenter personally attacks a business owner for promoting a product, service, or event that the commenter thinks is wrong. Deleting comments, no matter how harsh the comments may be, inevitably leads to accusations that we’re denying the commenter their free speech.
We strongly support free speech, but we do think there’s a time and a place for everything. On iBrattleboro, we’re taking the tack that business and event announcements are not the place to debate the rightness or wrongness of whatever it is that these community members are promoting. In no instance have any of these announcements been promoting something illegal, immoral, or otherwise forbidden by social convention. The arouser of the skeptics’ ire could be a religious group, an alternative healer, or basically anyone promoting a service, event, product, or idea that pertains to something the commenter considers dangerous.
We like science. There is a science section on the site, woefully under-used by science lovers, to celebrate all things scientific. That’s our place on the site for scientific debate, and we encourage it.
(We also protect readers from an enormous number of scams and offers that never even make it to the home page for comment. Just today, there was a story submission with a scam offer for skin whitening cream. It was deleted without publication.)
We disagree with the skeptics, however, that just because someone writes about a topic such as spirituality, religion, alternative healing, or the like makes them fair game for attack from those who don’t believe in those disciplines. In a small community that values neighborliness, we believe some restraint must be exercised so that people will be able to promote their activities freely without fear of attacks from other users whose beliefs differ.
There are, of course, levels to this and shades of grey. Sorry. We tend to tolerate more criticism the higher someone is on the proverbial food chain. With regard to political figures, large institutions, and/or more significant dangers to the community, such as a cult or hate group, we would tolerate more criticism.
We try not to censor ideas and have no problem with people posting stories on science, or debunking of pseudoscience — but we do not want people to use comments to insult each other whenever someone runs afoul of the another’s definition of an acceptable idea. There are ways to express a warning or doubt without hurting people.
If we were to call out every danger, we would lay into 5 year old kids with lemonade stands for offering sugar-laced, diabetes-inducing concoctions, and would do our best to shut them down to save the town from the danger. We think most would agree that this would go too far in the pursuit of public safety.
We celebrate and enjoy the quirky side of Brattleboro as much as the official, scientifically-approved side of Brattleboro. These two sides of Brattleboro are often at odds. We hope for peaceful co-existance, so that adherents to a strict scientific method and those who plan their garden by moon and use pyramids for energy can both share their passions.
If this makes us evil censors or tolerant of pseudoscience, so be it. It’s a fine line between free speech and a free for all, and we try to ride as close to that line as we can without alienating anyone, a tall order as you might imagine. We draw the line at personal attacks, or attacks that by their context, are likely to be read as personal.
Sorry if we’ve upset anyone, and to everyone else, thanks for understanding. We’re always happy to work with someone to craft a response that retains the intention but softens the blow.
– Lise and Chris, iBrattleboro moderators
Postscript: Something about this reminds me of the following quote from philosopher (and logician!) Bertrand Russell, who when faced with a party with whom he completely disagreed, is said to have said: “The emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.” – Bertrand Russell