Category: cognitive infiltration

On Commenting

Commenting not good.
As I have made clear over the years, I am opposed to blog comments.  I find it ironic that a “movement” that is typically (and justifiably) skeptical of democracy and of mass/quantity, and which believes in hierarchy and the importance of elite quality, is so tolerant of the idea that the imbecilic ramblings of any idiot with an Internet connection is the equal of the carefully considered writing of a main blog post.

Of course, there are some positives about allowing commenting.  Every once in a while, a comment is interesting and useful.  Commenting can create a sense of community (although community is more properly built in real-life, rather than online), and can project a sense of “power,” in that it shows that the blog has built up a cohort of followers.  Further, sometimes the rare thoughtful commentator can be recruited to be a blogger themselves.

But the negatives outweigh these putative positives.  The majority of comments tend to be of poor quality, and drag down the tone of the blog and taint the original post with the whiff of typical “movement” stupidity and freakishness.  At best, the comments will be mediocre rambling; at worst, they will be factually incorrect, illogical, destructive to the memes promoted by the post and by the blog, incitement to “flame wars,” or, at an extreme, ripe for trolling or even the more serious problem of Sunstein-style “cognitive infiltration.”  It is a rare event that a comments thread elevates the discussion of the original post; it is a very common event that the comments thread degrades the post, and may “turn off” potential readers and recruits.

Moderation is an option, but that has costs: quality moderation is time-consuming, it opens the moderator up to accusations of bias (e.g., only allowing comments supportive of one point of view), and a skilled and determined troll/infiltrator can do a lot of damage to the blog and its objectives before the moderator “wises up” to what is going on. I’ve seen all of this play out before: unmoderated commenting is a disaster that ruins the blog through a form of “Gresham’s Law” – the bad commentators drive out the good; moderated commenting is a bit better, but it’s very difficult to maintain the proper control, particularly when confronted with those skilled at disruption.

One particularly asinine argument I have heard is: “Well, if people don’t like the comments, they don’t have to read them, they can just ignore them and stop complaining.”  Certainly, any individual can ignore the comments.  But they will still be there – and our target audience will be reading them; after all, the purpose for having the comments is for them to be read, isn’t it?  When destructive comments go unanswered they attain a degree of legitimacy.  It is obvious that they cannot be left ignored (and certainly not by the person who wrote the original post!) because uncorrected error may eventually be accepted as truth.  Therefore, ignoring comments is obviously not a stable option, and one can question the intellectual seriousness of anyone who asserts otherwise.

On balance, therefore, I see commenting as a net negative.  Possibly, with very strict moderation this could be overcome, if the moderator is able to effectively deal with the potential problems of moderation listed above.  But, even so, if time is limited, and moderation is not feasible, better to have no comments than the type of sewer flow that characterizes unmoderated commenting on some blogs.

One other possible solution is to have multiple blogs – a “sandbox blog” for the nitwits, nutcases, and trolls to comment on, unmoderated, to their heart’s content, and a serious blog with no comments (or very strictly moderated) at which the important matters are discussed. Trying to mix important discussion with unmoderated commenting will lead to the “behavioral sink” taking the blog down the drain.  It’s a terrible mistake.