I began drafting this series a few weeks ago, before the current controversy over blog comments brewed. I agree with much of what both Jack Balkin and Dan Solove have said on the matter, and it may be an exhausted topic at this point. But I thought I’d just add a few additional thoughts.
Sometimes a blog audience wants to keep a blog clear of comments. For instance, Andrew Sullivan has surveyed his readers on whether they want comments on his very popular blog, and all the votes I’ve seen have been negative. One of his readers writes:
Readers of your blog could opt to not read the comments section, but in truth we would rarely opt not to read them — on your blog or any other blog. Blog comments have the power to hammerlock one’s attention. I think, humans being highway rubberneckers, we’d be impotent to resist looking over the rantings and counter-rantings that would make their way into your Comments Section. Not only would comments be an incredible drain on one’s time . . . but it also exposes readers to the nasty underbelly of blogging.
While most of the current discussion focuses on what can go wrong with comments, there is much that can go right. The comment section allows readers to “glom on” and add a lot to the conversation. I am indebted to many terrific commenters who consistently alert me to interesting sources of information, flaws in my arguments, or material that supports the original post. Even just hearing someone say “great post!” can be really encouraging. Hence my Blackstone ratio of blog commenting: one positive or helpful comment is worth ten negative ones.
But what to do about negative, irrelevant, kvetching, or cavilling comments? I have a few approaches, depending on the identity of the commenter and the nature of the comments.