A few days ago, one of the smartest, most interesting political websites, Naked Capitalism, made this announcement:
”We regret to inform readers that we will be shutting down comment on most posts...” wrote Yves Smith.
“The purpose of Naked Capitalism above all is to foster critical thinking. For the overwhelming majority of this site’s history, we have been fortunate to have an articulate and engaged readership...
“That is no longer the case. The comments section has now become negative value added, to the point that Lambert and I are devoting disproportionate time to the moderation queue.”
I'll miss those comments, some of the smartest there are online. As Yves noted in her post, they are far from the only website to shut down comments. The Week in late 2014:
”Too often, the comments sections of news sites are hijacked by a small group of pseudonymous commenters who replace smart, thoughtful dialogue with vitriolic personal insults and rote exchanges of partisan acrimony,” wrote Ben Frumin when he announced the closing of comments at the website.
In November 2014, CNN reported on the closing of comments of many sites including these:
”Reuters, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times have recently nixed comments.
“Fairly or not, comment forums have gained a reputation as a haven for Internet trolls. Several of the sites that have banned comments noted the lack of civility in their decisions.”
Some websites that shuttered their comment sections moved them to Twitter and Facebook explaining that trolls and vitriol notwithstanding, the modern internet requires that conversation now take place on social media.
But not all go along with that. Last Sunday, Mediaite announced their new(ish) comment guidelines:
”Feel like being taken seriously? Don’t make up words that end in '-tards' or come up with creative ways to type out your favorite racial or homophobic slur.
“The use of sexually explicit or harmful language (threats) including the use of misspelled or punctuated words to insinuate, represent any of the above (also known as 'masked swearing') will get you banned with or without warning.
“Not only do these sorts of things lower the level of quality discussion in the comment section, they also turn off would-be commenters and readers from adding their own thoughts and insights.”
All too true. I bring all this up today because like Yves Smith and others, I have been scrambling most days in recent weeks to delete an increased number of comments that are gratuitously mean, make personal attacks on me or commenters, or have nothing useful to say - they just link to a commercial website thinking, I suppose, that gets them free advertising.
That's the bad news. The good news is that 95 percent of these comments are not from regular readers whose names I recognize. They are, apparently, fly-bys who get their personal kicks being ad hominem nasty on websites they do not otherwise participate in.
What I have always done with those commenters is ban them forever without notice, explanation or a second chance which is what I will continue to do and hope for now, as has happened in the past, that the recent uptick in rude comments will die down.
This blog has one of the best comment sections you will read anywhere. As readers regularly note, the comments are at least as good as my posts and provide a great deal of accumulated wisdom. This happens because readers bring experience, interest, humor, concern and thoughtfulness to the issues we talk about.
The people who regularly comment here make this blog what I want it to be: consequential. Individual posts are not always important although they are sometimes utilitarian. And readers won't be interested in every essay I write.
What I hope is that it is cumulative, that there is a benefit over the long term and to the degree that is so right now, it is greatly due to the attention commenters give to adding value. And as Mediaite noted in their guidelines, the only thing you really need to remember about commenting rules is “Don't be a jerk.”
So give yourselves a hand and thank you all. When so many good websites of different sorts are shuttering their comments, this one gets better and for now, I'll go with the hope that most trolls aren't interested in ageing and old people.
[As to the idea mentioned above that comments are moving to social media: not this blog. I distribute Time Goes By there for the convenience of social media mavens, but I never read Facebook and Twitter. I spend more time than I should staring at screens without them.]