I’ve oft cited Barry Ritholtz’s comments policy as web standard, and sometimes have to remind readers that I’m more lenient in my comments policy than a lot of other blogs.
Having said that, I’ve tried to have robust, intelligent discussion in the NC comments section, and the overwhelming majority of the time, that happens. How I’m not quite sure (the participation of some regulars who help elevate the tone and substance is one part) but I know one factor is riding herd on people who break the rules of discourse here (which are complex and nuanced, but basically boil down to 1. Don’t be an asshole, 2. Don’t thread-jack and 3. Don’t hog air time).
Tending to the comments section has become more and more time consuming. It isn’t just that there are more comments, there is also less civility. Some of it is likely that a prolonged crappy economy and creeping authoritarianism are putting people on edge. But it’s also the rising tide of trolls. Some of this is clearly paid for or otherwise orchestrated, and keyword driven. For instance, if I write a positive post about unions, particularly with the word “union” in the headline, it’s certain that they’ll be an early, negative comment. If I write a pro union post but refer to it only as “organized labor,” the thought police don’t ride in.
Barry’s post, Why I Am Considering Getting Rid of Comments . . , might give you some insight into what Lambert and I are up against. Key extracts:
Some of you occasionally send me a pleasant email or say nice things to me privately. Quite a few of you impress the hell out of me. Most of you are kind, decent folk. This missive is NOT directed at you.
Managing blog comments has become an increasingly time consuming job. Policing the spammers, trolls, haters, and other purveyors of falsehoods has become a larger time suck than I am willing to accept. Dealing with such cretins hardens your outlook and shortens your temper more than I care for. Perhaps this is the reason so many high profile blogs have closed down their comments altogether.
Were I to shut down my comments, it would be for a reason I have not seen enumerated elsewhere: The intellectually disingenuous rhetorical sleight of hand that has become a substitute for legitimate debate. (See this and this). I simply do not have the time nor the interest in correcting every half-truth and lie. But I have even less interest in polluting the blog with this sort of nonsense…
To put this into some context: The blog has garnered ~half a million comments over nearly 11 years. That is also the number of monthly unique visitors. Do the math, and you realize the individual visitor-to-comment ratio is > than 132 to 1.
This ratio is similar to that of large media sites. For example, The Guardian has found that less than 1% of all readers actually leave a comment. And of those comments, more than 20% come from a tiny percentage — the 0.0037% who try dominate the discussion and shout down every one else…
hus, I have reached the conclusion that I will no longer tolerate this. To this small group of trolls and asshats, the the 0.0037%: EFFECTIVELY IMMEDIATELY, YOUR COMMENTS WILL NO LONGER BE PUBLISHED HERE.
Phrased differently, if I take the time and the energy to construct a coherent, sourced, logical argument that follows the rules of the art of discourse, I no longer feel obligated to post the comments of those who refuse to follow the same said rules.
But the assclowns will. I am aware some of them will scream censorship, and to you folks, I state: GYOFB. Nothing is preventing you from blogging on your own. I mean nothing other than your own laziness, lack of original thought and poor work ethic. Start your own blog, tediously build it into something filled with whatever sort of BenSteinery you care to vomit onto the page . . . Just do not expect to see it published here.
The rest of the readership will not notice any changes. Indeed, the vast majority of the people who do comment should not notice a change either. (Their comments will still be approved)….
To those of you I have emailed with and met and conversed and broke bread with, please do not stop. I am continually impressed with the quality and depth of what you have taught me. Most of you are intelligent, well educated, thoughtful people. You understand ideas, the value of data; you appreciate empirical evidence; you understand the rules of Oxford debate; you are open minded and thoughtful, positive souls. I revel in speaking with and meeting you. I appreciate your opinions. I love your attitudes. You make the world a better place.
Note that Ritholtz takes a much more stringent approach to comments than I do, in that he moderates them all. Even so, he seems to be close to a Howard Beale moment.
I assume anyone who has read this far is not part of the problem. But there are some ways the civilized members of the commentariat can become part of the problem.
First is by getting upset about a comment being lost or hung up in moderation. NC gets more spam comments than legitimate comments. Our tech maven threw out all our spam comments a couple of weeks ago and we now have over 21,000. So it’s fair to ask nicely for us to have a look but please do not sound aggrieved, impatient or whiny. It puts us in a bad mood and inclines us to deal with you later rater than sooner. Comments would be utterly unreadable without the spam filter.
Second is by questioning our decisions in dealing with trolls. Once in a while (thank God not often), they decide to prove their manhood by getting around our filters and making a point of their success. That simply leads to my deleting their new comments and in some cases, expunging their older comments for good measure. Occasionally I’ll have a reader question my decision. Don’t.
Having said all of that, one of the good things about NC is the commentariat is very good about riding herd on questionable comments. But if someone is really out of line, it’s better if you flag their comment as deserving of being expunged than shredding its content. It makes it easier for Lambert and me to deal with them if you flag the worst offenders that way. Remember: don’t feed the trolls.