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January 25, 2006

Comments?

Gerald Dworkin: January 25, 2006

Update:  Sorry, I did not mean to post anonymously

When I first began blogging on L2R I had comments enabled. This seemed to me the appropriate action to take in a blog which aimed at stimulating discussion among various viewpoints. I was then quite shocked (perhaps somewhat naively) to discover the nature of many of the comments to my blogs. They were rude, abusive, off the point, and not helpful in advancing the discussion. It was also the case that a small number of commentators contributed many more posts than the average. And these were not the most useful.

I decided to disable comments. This caused a number of potential commentators to e-mail me and accuse me of hypocrisy—particularly in light of the fact that many of my comments were about free speech, Ward Churchill, etc. It even turned out that one kind soul opened a website of his own designed to allow those who wished to comment on my remarks. To the best of my knowledge nobody ever availed themselves of this opportunity—perhaps because few were aware of it.

A number of fellow L2R authors (particularly Don and Liz) continued to enable comment and to engage in discussion. I do not think that their choice is mistaken and mine correct. I do not think that there is a single answer to this problem. Much depends on one’s threshold for tolerance of stupid and abusive views, on what thinks is the point of the blog one is on, of how much time one wants to allocate to answering critics, on the range of people and views that one thinks it is realistic to expect some change in, on how willing one is to censor comments before they appear, and so forth.

But the recent closing of the Washington Post blog of ombudsoman Deborah Howell is a good illustration of the hazards of public discussion on the Web. After Howell reported that Jack Abramoff “had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties” the blog was deluged with hundreds of profane, sexist and hateful comments. One of the interesting things about this is that most of the comments came from various leftist blogs and groups. This made sense since her comment was (in my view) quite misleading. Jack Abramoff never gave money himself to any Democratic official. It is true that organizations for which he worked did so, and that is a relevant thing to note, but at the least one needs some evidence (and some exists) that they were asked to do so by Abramoff. But the relevant criticisms could have been made in a completely civilized manner.

My view of the role of L2R is not just to foster discussion but to foster discussion that has some chance of leading to some change of minds (whether on the right or the left). My brief exposure to comments did not make me optimistic that allowing them would facilitate that goal.

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