Andrew Sullivan shares some interesting thoughts from Dan O'Connor: "It is time, I think, for us to accept that disabling or deleting idiot comments is no more anti-democratic or elitist than refusing to engage with a person harrassing you on the street. Just because everyone is allowed to have their say, it does not follow that the bilge they say is worth listening to. I love the internet. I love social media. And the only way we will save them from themselves is by accepting that, more often than not, comments are rubbish."
I find it interesting also in light of my recent decision to take down a post that I think was really twisted around by another blogger. At first I wondered if it was a mistake, then after some criticism started to regret it a little, but have since decided it was exactly the right decision.
Blogging is a pretty consuming activity, and the point is it's the blogger's blog - not yours. We do this to put our thoughts out there. Comment sections are meant to flesh those thoughts out and discuss them. But we don't have an obligation to anybody but ourselves. I don't write posts so that other bloggers can do textual analysis on them like Noah Smith was doing. I write posts to get my thoughts out. If people want to respond to my thoughts, that's great! But if they're not responding to my actual thoughts I feel no obligation to host an exegesis seminar on my own blog posts - I'll just tell you what I think more clearly! And if - once we're in agreement on what I am saying - you still don't like it, then fine! Argue all you want!
In the same way, comment threads are there to develop, criticize, and discuss the blogger's initial ideas. If that's not happening, there's no reason to feel bad about deleting things.
I don't delete many comments at all, but I do do it more than I used to. My rule of thumb is that if it's a new commenter - even if it's really a zero contribution - I try to highlight what's wrong with the comment rather than just deleting it. I have less issues with deleting regular trolls, and that has actually been successful in chasing a couple regular trolls away. But even if a troll puts up even a semi-substantive post, I won't delete it.
Anyway - I think these are good thoughts. Draconian editing can be counter-productive, and I know a lot of people confuse critical commenters with legitimate thread-wreckers, so a light touch can be important. But ultimately, if you're a blogger - it's your blog, and it's your mouthpiece. Don't be afraid to act like it. Don't let others use it as their mouthpiece.