The Jury Talks Back

12/20/2008

Comments on Comments – Take 2

Filed under: Blogging Matters — Justin Levine @ 3:16 pm

[by Justin Levine]

I previously posted my arguments for not allowing comments here, which generated a response here.

A few more points worth noting:

While comments can be read by many people, their substance is only directed towards one person (unlike blog posts). Since it takes just as long to think of your argument and type it out in the comments section than it does in a blog post, it remains a very ineffective form of communication (hence my argument that phone conversations are better for one-on-one discussions. Less time, more civility, same substance.).

“Amphipolis” is right when he/she states:  “The constant pattern of make a statement, defend against the straw man, defend against the next straw man, and again, and again, until the “debate” ends with ad hominems is very frustrating.” Some people treat blogs as a full time hobby, so they don’t mind taking the time in their lives to go through the process. That’s not the case with me. I don’t enjoy blogging in and of itself, I only enjoy stimulating discussions. The time ratio of responding to straw men arguments and simple opinions without further facts or analysis versus actual stimulating discussins doesn’t make comments worth it to me.

I am confident when I say that by forcing Amphipolis to respond in an actual separate blog post, he/she ended up writing a more thorough and well thought out response than would have taken place if he/she had simply been allowed to place a comment underneath it. So I feel that this only goes to prove my point.

If I could enforce my own policies regarding banning commenters or force commenters to register for this site and have access to the information, then I would certainly reconsider. But since I am only a guest blogger here, that is obviously not the case.

I am not at all convinced by the response that “Anonymity can encourage abuse, but it can also lead to more openness.”  As I’ve stated, anonymity can certainly be valid – but only when there are substantive reasons for it (i.e., legitimately fearing workplace retaliations or consequences for your comments, as was the case with Patterico and Jack Dunphy). Trust me on this, putting your real name to every one of your arguments makes you have better discussions with people. It also makes you more honest. I feel that there are an awful lot of morons who comment on this site, which in turn attracts other trolls and morons (thus proving the Broken Windows theory of blogging correct). Using my real name convinces me that I would have the guts to say it to their faces if I ever met them in person and discovered their true identities. I suspect that comment sections wouldn’t be so problematic if everyone were forced to reveal their identities.

Still don’t believe me?  Then I challenge every poster on this site to take this test:  Post your real name and the city you live in. Then try blogging for two or three weeks and see if you notice a difference. Afterwards, you can go back to your pseudonyms if you still want to (or different pseudonyms if you feel that your ‘cover’ would then be blown). If you use a pseudonym for legitimate reasons, try to explain what those reasons are.

Obviously a name doesn’t change the substance of any given argument, but it still gives you a moral legitimacy that has great value (even if it is somewhat intangible).  Consider some the leading figures of the blogosphere (Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, the collective posters at Volokh who all use their real names) – would they get the continued and sustained attention that they do if they remained anonymous with names like “QST598’s Whipshaw”? I doubt it. They have brand names that command attention because people know who they are and know that they have nothing to hide in their arguments. It’s hard to argue that they aren’t “open” with their thoughts or arguments (even when you consider the fact that neither Reynolds nor Sullivan allow direct commenting either).

It should also be noted that Hugh Hewitt has now decided to stop allowing open comments on his blog.  He still allows feedback through Twitter and via e-mail, and claims that he will allow direct comments in the future once he has stricter registration requirements to allow him easier moderating abilities. I think this is good. By forcing people to go through Twitter or e-mail, it will confine feedback to those with substantive responses. I want feedback too — but only substantive feedback. Forcing responses in other actual blog posts helps with this goal. It seems that in shutting off his comments, he also managed to delete the comments from all his previous posts that he wrote before he made this decision. This seems to be a pity. Even if I think comments aren’t worth it in the end, I don’t think that previous comments should necessarily be erased.

What’s also interesting however, is that the townhall.com website reprints all posts from those associated with it (including Hewitt), and allows comments on it. People are obviously upset with Hugh Hewitt just as they have been upset with me.

I’m sure that at least part of the reason for Hugh’s decision is that he got tried of people telling him that he is a Republican sycophant who often puts fidelity to the party over substantive ideas, so I don’t blame him in shutting off comments (even though these views about Hewitt are true, in my opinion). It won’t shield him from such criticism, but it will make sure that those who say it really want to take the time to say it, instead wasting everyone’s time with off-the-cuff remarks. If I get upset enough with Hewitt to want to tell him that he is being a partisan ass who looks unfairly down on legal commentators who don’t happen to have a law degree, it is far better for me to do it in a blog post than in a comment on his site.

This is an important topic, so I may have even more to say on this in the future. But for now, I still encourage feedback via other posts or methods that help to encourage substantive responses.

So says I, Justin Levine.

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