An Exemplary Flame War
I've long argued that weblog comments are not worth the risk -- that they inevitably devolve into damaging, acrimonious, and expensive flame wars. (Links at the end of this post) I continue to think comments and blogs are a bad mix: if you want to respond to a blog, write the response in your own blog.
If you still want to have comments, or manage a forum or wiki or other social software system, I'd strongly recommend a careful study of this long (and growing) thread at eGullet, discussing The Seasoning of a Chef, a recent memoir by Doug Psaltis. (Via Meg Hourihan)
This is a spectacular accomplishment: a managed flamewar that appears to be burning under control, despite a host of factors that I would expect to leave the thread a scorched wasteland:
- Participants post using handles, rather than full names. This usually leads to juvenile and irresponsible writing.
- The stakes are high: the controversy stems from questions whether accusations made in the book are untrue. The reputations of the author, of the high-profile chefs who endorsed his book, and of the famous restaurants and chefs whom he criticises, are all at stake.
- Famous people are participating in an open forum with an hoi polloi (some of whom may themselves be famous people writing anonymously). Tony Bourdain. Michael Ruhlman, The author himself. The notables are themselves the source of much of the fire, and have sometimes been censured by the moderators.
- The moderators are active -- including frequent threats that posts will be edited or deleted.
- Multiple moderators participate actively in the discussion. They do not present a unified front and they take sides in the argument: indeed, two moderators have taken opposite sides in the controversy.
Yet, somehow, this controversy has raged through two weeks and 13 pages without passing the boundaries of civility.
I'm taking a very liberal view of civility here: the underlying question is whether author Doug Psaltis was deceitful or not. These were, literally, fighting words, said in public and soon picked up by major newspapers and magazines. Still, nobody has violated Godwin's law and called someone else a Nazi, and I fancy most of the participants might eventually be willing to speak to each other.
I think that a the management of this fight might repay careful study.