Over at the blog of the Lowy Institute their editor, Sam Roggeveen, has a handy little essay about free speech and civility online.
Long-time readers of this blog will know that this is an issue that Andrew and I continue to grapple with. Over the past few years of New Mandala‘s evolution we have taken a pretty liberal approach. From time-to-time I know that this makes the conversation more robust than some would like. We do, for instance, allow a much wider range of anonymous commentating than the Lowy blog. As we see it, commentary on political and social issues in mainland Southeast Asia requires that extra space. Increasingly we are finding that our best informed sources and contributors are the ones with the greatest need to remain anonymous.
We also bin a fair quantity of repetitive, unproductive or “low quality” contribution. And we are open about that. Sometimes we let marginal comments through to ensure that the “debate” is balanced. Every comment is hand-moderated. As such we do our best to keep abusive material offline. This is a labour intensive process, and sometimes it takes a few more hours to get things approved than we would like, but it also helps to ensure that opportunities to contribute remain both open and fruitful.
As Andrew and I have argued elsewhere it is opportunities for collective review and refinement that make websites like this so valuable. Whether it is the approach taken by Lowy’s Interpreter, John Quiggin or New Mandala, there are some good Australian examples of how a productive online conversation can be encouraged. There is no short-cut and it all takes a great deal of time and effort. Without simply bemoaning the obvious failures, this is an exciting moment to be exploring the possibilities of Internet debate for anyone interested in the future of ideas.
Ready or not…that future will be online.