Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

COMMENTS....A few days ago Billmon decided to turn off comments at Whiskey Bar ("I'm seeing more and more stuff on the threads that strikes me as marginal at best people who seem to get their main kick out of insulting or picking fights with the other patrons..."). Today, the proprietors of The Command Post have done the same ("Frankly, I've had it with the disrespectful and un-civil commentary ... from the left and the right.")

We can add these to the many blogs that don't have comments in the first place, such as Instapundit ("the worst part isn't the flaming by people who don't agree with you, it's the nasty comments by people who generally agree with you") and the Volokh Conspiracy ("Rightly or wrongly, consciously or not, some people's perception of the blog and its bloggers will be molded by what the commenters post as well as by what the bloggers post.")

I get questions about the vitriolic tone of the comment section here with some regularity, and my answer is usually the same: there's just not much that I can do about it. True, I can ban people, but that works only if they have a fixed IP address, which these days most people don't. What's more, if the ban fails, the recipient is often pissed off enough to try even harder to make a pain in the ass out of himself.

It's also true that the problem is exponential. A year ago I got 10-20 comments on each post and had no trolls. As a result, the conversation was relatively civil. Today I get 100+ comments per post and the site has at least half a dozen trolls whose only love in life (as near as I can tell) is to start flame wars. The result is a melee.

What to do? Some bloggers spend a lot of time moderating comments, but that's a task I've never been willing to take on. Not only is it tedious and time consuming, but it also makes me responsible in some sense for what's left over. If a comment isn't deleted, that means I've made a tacit decision that it's a reasonable viewpoint which would probably just lead to more posts like this, except without the disclaimer about whether or not I'm responsible.

Long story short, I don't have any plans to either get rid of comments or to moderate them, at least for now. But as more and more blogs cross the 10-20,000 reader mark, which is where comment sections seem to break down, I wonder if comments will increasingly become a thing of the past in the upper reaches of the blogosphere. Ask me again a year from now, OK?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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