I discovered two days ago how to change the settings of this blog to allow anonymous comments, which I did. The next day, an anonymous comment appeared (about the move to living in virtual reality): "you still have to go number 2 physically though ... " Thus I am immediately faced with a deep, fascinating question: to delete or not to delete, that is the question.
I occasionally participate in blogs, and my comments often get deleted. For example, once I tried to put a comment on Archbishop Dolan's blog, correcting some information (about the sexual abuse scandal, if memory serves) by giving a few facts, with links to supporting documents. But my comment never appeared. I was surprised because it expressed no opinion and only stated facts. How can one object to that? That blog sometimes contains criticisms in the comments, so I had not thought that comment moderation was unfair. I spent a few days observing the blog regularly after that, and now have a conjecture: the moderator lets through a balance of positive and begative comments, but biases them so that the negative comments are emotional rants rather than rational arguments. It gives the illusion of being open-minded while subtly veering readers in a certain direction. If my theory is true, that's a pretty sneaky manipulation!
Another time, on a similar site, I tried to post a comment. I knew the moderator was ruthless in deleting whatever he didn't like, so I tried to game the system by posting a quote from his own writing, carefully chosen so that in the context of his post it would be a subtle rebuttal of his rant. I figured that he surely would feel guilty about deleting that post, and was hoping to pass his filter successfully because of that. I naively thought I was being clever. What happened next was impressive: my comment got marked as "waiting to be moderated" before appearing... but half a day later. So, yes, it did appear. But by that time, many readers had moved on to some other topic. Additionally, it appeared at the place in the list of comments where I had originally posted it, so it was buried deep underneath all the comments that appeared in the intervening twelve hours, and so I expect that no one read it. Clever! He outwitted me.
So, the main purpose of moderation is propaganda: then moderation is most effective if it does not consist in stupidly deleting everything that does not fit the moderator's agenda, but in letting some carefully filtered, well-chosen criticism go through.
I have lost a lot of my excitement about blogs as measuring the pulse of public opinion, when I realized that comments do not express the vox populi but the moderator's portrayal of the vox populi. It's a sham.
One burning question: how to test such theories? I would love to see some formal study of blog moderation, preferably extended to information control in general. How can the user figure out whether a blog is biased, and how badly? In both of the above examples, I realized it by mere chance, and I did not repeat the experiment. What about blogs that claim to follow certain rules for moderation: how can we verify that they follow the stated rules, when we do not get to see the deleted comments?