The Comments Experiment

I just wanted to announce that I am joining Gerard on this policy. I think it will be an improvement over the status quo (for me at least) because:

1) It works for Sullivan. He gives many great comments or responses a high level of prominence. He doesn’t just highlight people who agree with him. He publishes “dissents of the day” that contradict his position in a constructive, interesting, or provocative way.

2) I’ve heard from several people that they would comment, but don’t want to get “drowned out” in the noise of irrelevant comments. So this is a way for them to get some attention for their views.

3) I sometimes get menacing, unfair, or just mean-spirited comments, of questionable relevance to the post in question. A study has shown that the nastiness of a comment—totally apart from its content or accuracy—can polarize readers and change reception of the material it is commenting on.

4) I note that comments on Gerard’s post (including one from one of our most prolific and insightful commenters, Patrick S. O’Donnell) argue that we could solve problem 3 by just moderating away the bad comments. But that creates a tiresomely conflictual and legalistic dynamic. People may feel that they can rely on what they perceive to be a relatively open comment moderation practice, then complain that a given comment removal violated the accepted practice, however much latitude the policy gives to bloggers to delete comments.

The problem is especially keen among attorneys committed to legal regularity and due process. To paraphrase the holdings from a recent series of admin law cases, these commenters would require me to provide, before deleting a comment: (1) an adequate explanation of why I changed (what they perceived to be) the practice, (2) a justification for contradicting or disregarding facts or factors considered in the previous comment moderations, and (3) an indication that I considered whatever reliance interests they had developed. I just don’t have time for that, nor do I want to take the Webster v. Doe route of suggesting that there is no “law” or policy to apply (and thus vest myself with absolute discretion), because I think the past practice always in some ways congeals into a kind of policy or rule set, however hard we may try to dispel that notion.

In any event, I’m easy to reach at my Happy to continue the conversation there, and, of course, to post (either with or without attribution) a curated sample of what I hear there.

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