The Jury Talks Back


Comments on comments

Filed under: Blogging Matters — Justin Levine @ 3:47 pm

[posted by Justin Levine]

There have been some good postings recently on the subject of comments on blogs.

Orin Kerr has a few observations here and here.

Andrew Sullivan tackled the issue earlier in the year and pointed to another great analysis here.

Much to frustration of many who visit this site (along with Patterico himself), I am the one poster who has not allowed comments on his posts for some time now (for many of the same reasons that Kerr, Sullivan et al. refer to in their writings).

I have a very different sensibility on commenting policy than Patterico seems to have, and have differing views on appropriate civility, keeping topics focused, the definition of commenting trolls and the level of toleration for them.  I know that Patterico does not want to be seen as one who shuts off debate, so he tends to put up with much more than I would. However, I doubt that I am alone in observing that this site seems to attract more trolls looking to stir the pot in an unproductive manner than the average blog with similar readership levels (perhaps a function of the ‘Broken Windows’ theory that is referenced in the last two links above).

Since it wasn’t really possible from a practical standpoint to have separate moderating policies among different posters on the same site, I decided to simply close the comments altogether.

But beyond the troll question, I find the comment section to be the most unproductive method of effective communication that currently exists in the electronic medium. It is very time consuming to have to type out a coherent thought that you could do in a fraction of the time over the phone. And with comments, you are usually doing it for a rather small audience (often an audience of one). However, because the comment function is also convenient, it ends up attracting thoughts that are either not well thought out, not well written, or throw-away thoughts that are not worth the time to read. 

This is certainly not to suggest that I have never found useful information in comments, or been effectively challenged in my arguments.  But in the end, it is a trade-off of the benefits versus the annoyance factor in terms of effective moderation. Once again, Patterico and I have differing perspectives on this, though this may be a function of the fact that Patterico puts much more time into blogging (and responses to the blogosphere) than I do. 

This is also not to suggest that I don’t want feedback on my posts, or are somehow afraid of challenges. But I have found that people are likely to make arguments that are far more intelligent and civil when they write in an e-mail or separate blog post, rather than when they make arguments in the comments section. I don’t know why this is so – but I am convinced that it is the case. I suspect that many posters here in the Jury Talks Backblog would agree. Would they take the time to write their arguments the same way in the comments section in Patterico’s main blog than they do in posts to this site?  I doubt it. 

Many of my favorite blogs have never allowed comments, and it hasn’t affected my enjoyment of them, nor have they given me the impression that they are somehow “above” criticism or feedback.

I also want to turn back to Orin Kerr’s theory and observation that “The web brings people into close contact with other people that they don’t actually know, and it’s much easier to be nasty to someone you don’t personally know than someone you do. Most of us connect with people we meet in real life. The personal meeting humanizes the other person. ”

This is certainly true. I know this not only from blogging, but from practicing law. Opposing attorneys usually make the dumbest, rudest and most frivolous comments and arguments in their written briefs that they wouldn’t dare repeat when they are standing next to you in a court hearing or mediation session. They always seem much more reasonable and accommodating when discussing matters in person. I’m sure I’m not the only attorney who has experienced this.

This is why I have always decided to use my full name in my posts, and discourage the use of anonymity and pseudonyms in blog posts. If I am going to insult someone, I want to first convince myself that I’d be willing to say it in person to their face. Using your real name is a small step towards keeping yourself honest in your posts and a check in preventing your writings from becoming too bilious in heated debates.

Obviously there can be legitimate reasons for staying anonymous – as was the case when “Patterico” started this blog. Some are in sensitive jobs or positions where they legitimately need the protections that anonymity brings in order to help encourage writing about things that others should know about. [LAPD officer Jack Dunphy is another example that comes to mind (even if many in his social circle may know his real identity.] The key test is determining if the pseudonym helps to protect more than just your ego when you feel the need to write something controversial.

I realize that many will still disagree with me on this issue. You are always free to comment and criticize me in other posts (and in their comment sections that I have no control over).

So says I.

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