Saturday, March 09, 2013

Is TitusOneNine Changing?

June 12, 2013: I no longer appear to have a problem posting, but since this incident did occur, I intend to keep this entry public. I never heard directly from Kendall (whose daily e-mail count is probably off the charts) or the Elves (which I'm less inclined to overlook), but there you are. 

A frequent charge of conservative Anglicans (and conservatives generally) is that their views are silenced in the mainstream media and on liberal blogs through forms of moderation that edit out dissident voices. Such a charge almost certainly has a degree of truth. At the same time, conservatives insist that their own blogosphere is open to all, although that does not mean that liberal comments will not be challenged vigorously.

It therefore has come as something of a shock to me to discover something of that selective moderation at work on one of the most respected of conservative Anglican blogging sites, TitusOneNine (T19), which is operated by Canon Kendall Harmon of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. For almost a decade, Harmon has maintained one of the most frequented sites in the Anglican blogosphere, with an interesting mix of religious and secular news items. Two features of the blog stand out: there is very little commentary (and, indeed, very little material from the host himself) and the commentators hail from across the political and theological spectrum.

Since 2006, I have been a frequent reader of T19 and have posted many comments (1,112 at last count). For an independent scholar without day-to-day interaction with colleagues, joining such discussions has been a great solace. I have also had the privilege of several links to my own blog, particularly my reports for Pittsburgh's diocesan conventions from 2006 to 2011, which has certainly given my jottings a profile they would otherwise not have enjoyed. The general approach to commenting has been that comments were not pre-screened, except in certain cases where Canon Harmon deemed passions would run high.

To assist what had become a major operation, Canon Harmon recruited a number of assistants (dubbed Elves) to manage the system, monitor comments and occasionally delete those that had strayed off-topic or become needlessly personal. From time to time, an Elf has posted an article on their own account, but the lion's share of selections were Canon Harmon's and his alone. Recently, Canon Harmon elected for family reasons to reduce his presence on the blog, turning over more responsibility to the Elves. It is under these circumstances that I experienced what I feel is a change in tenor at T19.

In an entry on February 7, the Elves provided a link to the "Statement on the conclusion of the meeting of the [English] House of Bishops," which they headlined CofE: House of Bishops ignores General Synod. I added a comment pointing out, as Canon Harmon was wont to do on such occasions, that the T19 headline was not the one in the original and that using it conveyed a misleading impression of what the report actually said. I don't think the House of Bishops covered themselves with glory on this occasion, but I did feel that the former standard of T19 should not be sacrificed. As you will observe, my comment was deleted without explanation. I wrote an email both to the Elves and Canon Harmon on February 8 as follows:

I have to say that I consider the failure to offer an explanation for my deleted comment (and then to delete a follow-up comment) a profound discourtesy. I have been a participant (and a linked contributor) on these boards for some years and have always endeavored to uphold the standards that Kendall+ seeks to maintain.

The Elves have frequently failed to police comments that were much less charitable, perhaps because they reflected their own ecclesio-political biases. I'm unclear why, simply because I call into question an Elf's choice of headline, that should be grounds for removal.

Kendall+, Ultimately it's your blog, but I must say I expected better. 

Answer came there none.

On March 8, the Elves posted a link entitled TEC Witness Intimidation Process Concluded. The link was to the report on the "conciliation process" for those TEC bishops who signed the amicus curiae briefs in Quincy and Fort Worth. This particular saga is one that none of us can feel happy about, but again I thought it inappropriate not at least to reference Cheryl Wetzel's original headline. This time my comment was not deleted because it never appeared. When I posted, I was informed that my comment was being moderated. Unlike Canon Harmon, who always stated that he would take comments by e-mail when he moderated a post, the system is now set up to do it automatically. Just for me, for taking liberties with Elvish prerogatives, or for everyone? I've no idea, but I can guess.

I therefore wrote another e-mail as follows:

My comment on "TEC Witness Intimidation Process Concluded" received notification that it was being moderated for approval. Is this a new policy for all posts on T19 or just ones posted by the Elves? I ask because up to now moderation has been retroactive.

The last time I was moderated it was simply for pointing out that the partisan headline that the Elves employed was not the original one (something that Kendall invariably did when he modified a headline). To me this is important because the whole value of T19 is that, despite its conservative credentials, it tends to post news items without partisan commentary, except where a specific theological issue has to be clarified.

If the Elves start to post material in the manner of Stand Firm, T19 will cease to be read critically across the spectrum, which to my mind, as a historian, would be a loss.

No one ever responded when I asked about my last moderation, which I thought unusually discourteous. If somebody could take the time to respond to this, I would be grateful.

Is comment moderation now the norm and, if so, what criteria are being used to exclude comments and is Kendall aware of this approach? If it's peculiar to me, why is simply pointing out a fact judged so heinous as to merit exclusion? While I certainly wouldn't claim to be the most learned poster, I think my views are not wholly irrelevant to the matters under discussion. After all, several of my blog posts have been made publicly available by Kendall over the years. 

No answer as yet, but several new comments on that post since I was moderated, all employing the same kind of partisan language. I hate to think that T19 is moving away from its former commitment to being an open forum but it's hard not to view such an experience in this light. There's a place for blogs like Stand Firm, which make no secret of their position (and have never moderated me for my dissent), but T19 is, or was, different. If what I wrote is all it takes to get one proscribed today, then T19 will cease to be the resource it once was. And that will be a loss both to the Diocese of South Carolina and the Anglican Communion.

Update, March 10: Comment moderation is still in place. I wait with anticipation to see if the Elves will post my comment on Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, here. Further Update, March 10: It looks like I'm banned, since I can't really see why a link to historical documents at Project Canterbury shouldn't be posted. I remain bemused by it all and will miss being part of the conversation.

Update, March 11: The link to Bishop King has now appeared; perhaps an oversight on somebody's part. I hope so. I also hope that automatic moderation has been lifted, as losing the discursive element of T19 would be a sad loss. Though sadly one doesn't see the same extent of in-depth discussion as was once the case.


The Rev Canon Dr David Wilson said...

Hi Jeremy

I was banned by Stand Firm in December 2009. Stand Firm has a lifetime ban policy. I tried to be reinstated for two years. Their policy is no mercy, no forgiveness, no reconciliation, NO GRACE.

Wonderful Christians, these folks are

Jeremy Bonner said...

As you say David.

Incidentally, I'm hopeful that our parish project should be getting under way in the next ten days or so. Dave Ball has been a most enthusiastic participant thus far.