Anti-comment policy on popular law blog
New comments policy at Balkinization
Since last week I have implemented a new policy on the blog. The default rule is that comments are turned off. Each author will decide individually whether to turn the comments on for his or her postings.
For the first year and a half of this blog, there were no comments, and the blog operated quite successfully. I added comments in the middle of 2004 . . . . .Many blogs have developed successful communities of commenters, with many very interesting and substantive contributions and discussions. Unfortunately, this has not happened here.
Generally speaking, there are two things you want from a comments section: quality of comments, and civility. If you cannot have one, at least you want the other. Recently, with some exceptions, it has become obvious that neither is occurring in our comments sections here. Instead, the comments sections are populated by regular trolls and many threads have turned into little more than name-calling. There is very rarely any serious analysis; mostly there is point scoring and vitriol. Many regular readers have written to say that they find the comments section a distraction and think the blog would be far better without it . . .
I may experiment with moderated posts in the future, but moderating takes considerable time and effort, more time than I have at the present.
The comment threads are often the most important parts of blog posts. The comment threads serve the important functions of presenting different views, finding flaws in the reasoning in the original articles, and correcting factual errors in the original articles. These functions are especially important on law blogs because law blogs are frequently authoritatively cited by law journals and are sometimes even authoritatively cited by court opinions.
The Internet has the potential to produce a quantum leap in our ability to exchange ideas. This potential of the Internet is sabotaged by suppression of visitors' comments on websites.
IMO law journals and courts should have rules against authoritative citation of blogs that don't allow comments or that arbitrarily censor comments. The lack of peer review of law journal articles was bad enough, but now law bloggers are suppressing visitors' comments. Law journals are typically not peer-reviewed or even faculty-reviewed but are typically just student-reviewed! Furthermore, law journals are not just educational exercises for law students -- the Harvard Law Review alone was cited 4410 times in federal court opinions alone in the decade 1970-79 alone!
There is too much emphasis on civility. I allow name-calling on this blog if the name-calling is accompanied by serious arguments. I do not allow name-calling that disparages on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, those kinds of things.
I participated in some of the discussions on Balkinization and IMO they were good. Balkinization is a popular law blog and has no trouble in attracting good commenters. In some cases, the original article would have been very misleading without the comment thread.
As for Jack Balkin's statement about not having the time to moderate comments, Balkinization usually does not get a lot of comments and the bloggers there should take the time to read them or at least skim them.
The bloggers on Balkinization have the option of allowing comments and hopefully some of them will choose to do so because they want feedback, even if some garbage is mixed in.
Labels: Internet censorship (new #4)