I'm pretty suspicious of open threads. I like the "talk back" aspect of them, but I don't much care for the lack of control. As you know, I'm interested in keeping this blog mostly focused on the life of the mind, particularly (though not exclusively) relating to issues of medieval literature. The focus isn't laser-sharp; any kind of talk of medievalism or language or faith or thought can be found here. I'm already finding that I have to be careful about too much drift, having deleted about a half-dozen posts simply because, upon further thought, they were too far off topic. Enough other sites are out there for political posturing and mouthing off that I can't bear the thought of this blog becoming another such forum.
The other concern I have about open threads is accountability. My name appears on this blog, and as I am the only contributor, I am the one accountable for it. What if someone posts something nasty in an "open thread?" It doesn't have to be anything obscene, just something snotty. Who is accountable for this? I think, to some degree, I would be. Even though I didn't post the snottiness, I provided a forum for it.
Take the Daily Kos for instance. Though 'Kos himself tends to be slightly more circumspect, very often has open threads (more often than any major conservative sites I can think of). Reading through them is exploring one of the darker sides of the internet. Every sort of implausible conspiracy theorist, factually-challenged nutcase, hate-filled bigot, and generally disagreeable person can be found posting there. When browsing them, I sometimes get the feeling that I'm visiting a decadent and failing commune, and have accidentally seen something going on behind the outhouse that no outsiders were supposed to witness.
Who is responsible for all that nastiness? On the one hand, 'Kos didn't post it ... he just opened the thread. On the other hand, he permits it to happen on his blog. I don't think hosting bloggers can play Pontius Pilate and completely wash their hands of the comments made there. If I opened a thread about medieval literature and someone posted something objectionable (and I don't delete it), I would hold myself at least partially accountable for that material.
Despite my misgivings and suspicions, I'm strongly considering creating some semi-open threads, in which I simply declare a topic and wait to see if anyone has anything useful to say. If I do go with semi-open threads, I'm going to have an entirely subjective and arbitrary floating policy on deleting posts. Some of the vague guidelines, subject to change at my whim, would be:
- Any commercial advertisements. I'd let people post links to their own non-commercial sites, though ... unless I really didn't like what was on the other end of that link.
- Anything nasty. I don't mind the occasional "damn" or "hell," but when the posts start sounding like a South Park episode that didn't make it past the censors, I draw the line.
- Anything too far off-topic. If I open a thread about Arthurian themes in Babylon 5 and people start whining about how SciFi always cancels the good shows, that's probably drifted too far. Unless I feel it doesn't. Or it does. Whatever I think when I look at it.
- Anything too political. It's my soapbox, and I don't much care that you think Cindy Sheehan should be sainted/arrested/ignored. This rule would also go for the most common form of political bullying in academe, the assumption of consensus. We don't all agree on everything, and you know it, so when you pretend otherwise, all you are doing is trying to bully people from disagreeing. Shame on you.
- Anything else that I don't like. For example, I really, really hate when people post pictures of their cats on the internet. You post a cat, and I will probably both delete the cat and make insulting comments about its appearance.
- I would reserve the right to break my own rules whenever I want to. If I want to post pictures of myself naked, surrounded by cats, accompanying a screed about why I hate Barney Frank, and why I hate Anne Frank, and why the SciFi channel should re-run old episodes of The Prisoner, along with a link to my commercial site selling used paper cups -- I'll do it. If you don't like it, go start your own blog and open your own threads. So there.