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Comments and Civility:
I've noticed in the last week that the VC's normally courteous and civil comment section has become a bit nasty and occasionally profane. I suspect that the turning point may have been the comment section for this post on the murder of Steven Vincent, but I'm not sure.

  Whatever the cause, please remember that civil and respectful comments are the rule here at the VC. It may be more fun to be nasty, but as Eugene once noted, it's a really big blogosphere and you can find some place else for that. In any event, I reserve the right to be arbitrary and capricious in choosing which comments to delete because they cross the line. If you want to make sure that your comments stick around, keep them clean and civil.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Comments and Civility:
  2. Comments Threads as Parties:
Bleepless (mail):
Insults can be great fun. What a shame that they do little more than irritate others. I suppose it all depends upon what, if anything, the commentator wishes to accomplish.
8.19.2005 11:35pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
Orin, I have a feeling this is in response to my post where I said j**king off twice (it was not meant to be an insult, crude, or offensive and was plainly in context with the subject of my post and the thread). If you're going to be "arbitrary and capricious" in choosing which comments to delete, at least give some guidance to what words may spur you to act in such a way, resulting in the complete removal of our comment. I can't imagine that the phrase "j**king off" would offend anyone, let alone be considered not "civil and respectful," especially when not used in reference to anyone in particular. As other commenters noted after my post had been deleted, nothing I said was offensive to anyone, let alone "nasty."

So I'm at a loss as to what guidelines I should use when posting. To the extent there can ever be guidelines to avoid "arbitrary and capricious" consequences, please enlighten us (or at least me) with respect to what words and phrases are safe to say, or not safe to say.

I was under the impression this libertarian-leaning blog vigorously believed in principles of free speech. I've seen bad words posted here before by bloggers with regards to First Amendment cases, rap lyrics, and news stories. See, for example, the March 3, 2004, post by Eugene Volokh entitled "Shouldn't public radio stations be a bit less timid?" wherein the f-word is used several times by Professor Volokh. Not only that, but Volokh has posted, at least once, the phrase "jerking off" (I'm quoting his post here) - see this post.

So, considering I most certainly was calm, civil, reasoned, and substantive, and avoided ranting, invective, any exaggeration, any personal attacks, and to the extent you consider "j**king off" to be profanity, I'd argue that the longstanding "law of the blog" rule (similar to the law of the case rule) estops you from claiming any word is censorable profanity when a blogger has previously posted the word on the blog in question.

So, please, some guidance here. The bottom line is if people get offended by some bad words, they should not be, and most certainly are not, reading this website anyway. Why insist on catering to the lowest common denominator of the easily offended? And certainly "j**king off" is no more offensive when I say it than when a tenured professor says it. If discussions of law and especially constitutional jurisprudence have to be tempered to comport with immature and irrational notions of offensivness, we're all doomed.

Of course, if you're going to insist on being arbitrary and capricious with what posts you delete, I'll just skip to the logical conclusion of such random discretion and call you a racist now. You're censoring me because I'm something you're not (take your pick).
8.20.2005 12:03am
Carol Anne:
As one who has been an innovator in building on-line community (I'll give a couple of cites later), I think there are a few things that I would suggest you consider to make your fora more collaborative, and free of the ad hominem attacks and name-calling I see in many posts.

First, every experiment with anonymity has shown that when people can't be "tracked down," they feel thay can escape the just consequences of their actions. People feel free to be hostile...even masquerade as someone else altogether. Handles are certainly okay, but automatically confirming eMail addresses as part of the registration process prevents people from "hiding" behind an anonymous ID. In fact, many successful communities reject eMail addresses for @hotmail.com, @yahoo.com, etc., because these are "throwaway" accounts that can be created without proffering a "real" identity. (There's more to it, but I'm just offering a 30,000-ft view here.)

Second, as I point out in "What We Know", it is important to have a clear standard for who gets admitted, and who gets ejected. The first is taken care of in fora like VC with the First item, above. The second requires a development of "rules of conduct" with clear, sharp lines that define offensive behavior, and a clear and unambiguous set of rules about what it takes to be shut out. And a process for revising those rules over time.

Third, there will always be people among the public who behave inappropriately; look at any Usenet (newsgroups) for examples. Therefore, most of my clients have set up two-tier systems. The first is open to the public; the second is by invitation only. The people who demonstrate they can "play well with others" in public get invited to participate in the "inner circle," which is where really productive results are usually achieved.

Fourth, think about the kinds of people who post in most of the VC threads: The threads only go on for a day or two in most cases. That encourages "quick hit" contributions, often with little or no thought to consequences. In the private space, I recommend fewer, but broader topics (e.g., "What should be criteria for good SCOTUS appointees"), and encourage the threads to go on for weeks...or more. In one private community I've written about *Building Intentional On-line Community) shows what can be done. As of today, that community still thrives as it has for 13 years...and we still average about 100 messages a day.

Finally, I think there are some technology improvements you might explore. For instance, when I see a "(www)" at the top of a post, I don't bother clicking it because I've never seen anything in there but "http:///". There are better tools than the one you're using for on-line dialog, and many of them are free.

Food for thought? Is further dialog of any interest?
8.20.2005 12:14am
OrinKerr:
BruceM,

I think this post by Eugene answers your questions.

Orin
8.20.2005 12:49am
Gump:
It seems like 1% of the people are the reason for about 90% of the rules we have to make. A simple "don't be a dick" policy is good enough for everyone but that 1 percent, who needs all their rules clearly defined.
8.20.2005 1:30am
BruceM (mail):
Orin,

Not really. It just explains that it's your party and you can kick out those people who misbehave. Certainly fair enough. But if you're going to insist on house rules, I think we should have fair notice as to what those rules are. In addition, I think to the extent rules are vague and ambiguous (as all rules tend to be), we guests should be able to base our behavior of the behavior of the hosts. If the bloggers can say the f-word, is it not safe to presume that we can too? Certainly picking fights, calling people names, being antagonistic, and just plain antisocial behavior should not be tolerated, and that's nothing I would ever partake in. But you said the phrase "jerking off" was below the standards of the Volokh Conspiracy, and it's obviously not because that exact phrase has been posted by Eugene Volokh here in a blogpost. Worse worse (suck as the f-word, sh*t, etc) have also been posted. So clearly, judging by the standard set by this party's hosts, mere profanity alone is not enough to be deemed below this website's standards. Profanity plus, such as profanity in the context of rants, invective, name-calling, racist comments, and the like cannot be tolerated. But I cannot figure out how what I said earlier today, which you deleted, could possibly be considered below the standards of this website other than for reasons of arbitrary and capricious ipse dixit.

If your policy is to just randomly delete comments that have a bad word or two in them to keep posters on their toes, well that's fine. Just let us know if that's the case, or whatever the standards are if there are any with respect to what words we can't type here.

I don't want to be a bad party guest, but obviously I can't follow the example of my hosts. So what am I to do?
8.20.2005 1:30am
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
A big part of the problem is what I like to call "Gresham's Law of the Internet": Bad postings drive out the good. Usually, when someone posts a thoughtful, reasonable opinion, those who bother to read it will nod sagely (or shake their heads sadly) and move on. However, if someone posts something really stupid and offensive, dozens of inflamed readers will respond in an equally stupid, offensive manner, prompting a flood of even stupider and more offensive counter-responses, and so on. Your only hope is to be absolutely ruthless in deleting not just offensive postings, but anything that's likely to provoke a degenerating explosion of acrimonious discussion.
8.20.2005 2:56am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
" But if you're going to insist on house rules, I think we should have fair notice as to what those rules are."

No reason to think so. They pay for the bandwidth. I've always figured they opened up comments to drive up their page views, and the recent announcment about their new ad agreements seems to confirm that notion. (If so, that's just fine, I hasten to add.)

So they want the best of all worlds: civilized comments, more page views, and minimal administrative costs. That's iron triangle; I can't think of a major blog that has a "civilized" comments section. I doubt they'll bend on civility, so if the comments section gets out of hand, they'll just end comments.

Bruce, they don't owe you a thing. They don't owe any of us a thing. They publish a website. We're squatters on their property, here on their tolerance, and it's simply foolish to argue with them. They don't require any consistent standard, and they're not required to live by any policy they define.

Now, you could argue that any failure on their part to provide what their users agree is a consistent, fair, policy would annoy and drive off their weblog audience. But if you did, you'd be wrong twice, instead of just the once.

BTW, Carol Anne is reciting the standard online community pablum, but her dictums are for online forums, which have peer to peer, many to many communication. Weblogs are broadcast and certainly aren't peer to peer; comments are a little more than letters to the editor, but only a little.

But she's wrong no matter what, sez I as the owner/operator of a forum that a) makes a nice little income, b) allows all webmail domains, c) has only banned 2 people in 3 years, and d) is in the top 100 of TLB traffic blogosphere, with closer to 1000 posts a day and 500-750 users/day (okay, and e) made Webby Worthy status, but that's just braggin.) Do what she's advising, and you'll have monstrous bandwidth bills, a group of people who think you owe them something, and a monstrous administrative headache.
8.20.2005 3:36am
Shane (mail) (www):
Orin (and Eugene, too):

Would it be difficult to adopt a "letters to the editor" type of policy where you review and post only a small percentage of the quotes that you deem thought-provoking or engaging?
8.20.2005 4:01am
Noah Snyder (mail):
It also might be worth waiting a week or two before coming to any firm opinions on the matter to see if things return to normal. I think that thread of posts after the Steven Vincent post was more incendiary in content than the typical VC posting. I know that I for one (as a long time emailer and commenter) was more upset and commented more strongly and more often on that thread than I have in the past (including one excessively sarcastic (but not obscene) post that Eugene deleted, reasonably enough). It may be that after a week of more reasonable fare comments will return to normal.
8.20.2005 5:45am
Noah Snyder (mail):
While we're on the subject of comments. I was wondering what your (or Prof. Volokh's) opinion was on when it is more appropriate to send an email to the poster and when it is more appropriate to post a comment.
8.20.2005 6:08am
magoo (mail):
Respectfully, I suggest perhaps the conspirators should pause before they click as well. The line between thoughtful provocation and uncivility is sometimes thin. To cite a very tiny but recent example, denouncing Brandeis as a "reactionary" and "sexist" due to his brief supporting hour restrictions for women is so unthoughtful as to approach blowhardiness. It's not something I would expect to hear at a dinner party with judges and academics at the table. Sometimes, posing the issue as a question, as opposed to asserting as indisputable fact, takes the edge off. If we were all as civil and thoughtful as Orin, there would never be a problem.
8.20.2005 9:12am
magoo (mail):
PS -- I can't recall ever hearing the phrase "j**king off" at a dinner party, but perhaps those with whom I sup all have "immature and irrational notions of offensiveness."
8.20.2005 9:26am
Public_Defender:
I don't think more "fair notice" is needed. The VC is not the government. No one will be sent to prison just because Professor Volokh or Kerr deletes a post. We all know when a comment is at least close to the line.

The Vincent post provoked more hostile comments because it was a more hostile post. It was Professor Volokh's decision to add the post to the site, so he should take much of the credit or blame for the ensuing argument.

Taranto's post adopted the current practice of many prominent conservatives by lumping together critics of the war, Westerners who sympathize with Iraq's, and people who want the terrorists to win in Iraq. (Crooked Timber did an excellent job documenting the practice.)

When people saw what Taranto was doing, they got mad. Go figure.

I think part of the problem was that Professor Volokh read Taranto's post as if it were a student comment or a legal argument, instead of as political rhetoric. Others (such as Crooked Timber) saw what was going on, and responded.

Taranto cast the first stone. Volokh the second.
8.20.2005 9:52am
Public_Defender:
Perhaps the greatest incivility of the post (and comments) was Taranto's use of unproven allegations's of infidelity against a dead man to score political points. The VC reprinted Tarano's smear against Vincent. that helped set the tone for the comments.

Just like a judge sets the tone for his or her courtroom, Professor Volokh set the tone for the comment section. The post was out of character for this blog, which explains why the comments were also out of character.
8.20.2005 10:00am
roy solomon (mail):
I would second the motion to apply some technology to the problem. Dailykos.com uses Scoop as it's forum software and it has many advantages for correcting inappropriate behavior. Although there are still issues at that site, it has 60,000 registered users posting several hundred individual stories, commented on by several thousand users, and over 10,000 page views per day.

That being said, the problems here seem relatively minor to me compared to some other sites.
8.20.2005 10:39am
Craig Oren (mail):
The heat on the Vincent thread was understandable. Gene's post was provocative -- to say the least -- and so it provoked. Despite Gene's attempt at clarification, I thought it unfairly characterized opponents of the war as believing in bigotry and lynch law. Apparently some others thought the same.

At the same time, I think, in my innocent way, that it ought to be possible for a grown-up to express his or her views vigorously without using language that is offensive to many, and that adds nothing to the argument. I don't think it's necessary for the site to have a code prescribing which words are verboten. Anyone should realize that such language falls short of the conventions of professional discourse.
8.20.2005 10:56am
Public_Defender:
For all my criticism, I do have one big compliment--Volokh and Kerr left dozens of highly critical comments untouched, so they clearly have a high tolerance for criticism. Apparently, a comment has to be way, way, way out of line before being deleted.
8.20.2005 11:26am
Carol Anne:
One of the patterns I notice in all the threads I've read in the past couple of weeks I've been here, is that comments from females (as identified by name) are largely disregarded, save for the occasional put-down.

That seems to be a characteristic of many forums I've studied, and (in my opinion) represents an "elevated testosterone level" in responses. Where all posters, irrespective of gender or other idenifiable characteristics, are accorded the same level of response, the community tends to thrive. When, for example, other women see that women's comments are simply ignored, they don't bother to post (or, so they report to me). Women represent a significant fraction of Internet users, but a disproportionately small fraction of the participants in public fora as a consequence. (Women often report something like, "My ideas are largely ignored, until restated and re-presented by a male poster."

Just an observation from fifteen years of observing. Does it strike a chord?
8.20.2005 11:50am
Larry (mail) (www):
Professor Kerr,

You reap what you sew. When you (as in the other conspirators) post political rants or stuff which you know darn well comes from WND or something like that you know what is going to happen. When you post stuff that you would write in a law review, you know what kind of comments it will generate.
8.20.2005 11:52am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I distinguish profane and insulting words that the writer is quoting because they're the subject of the post from ones that he is using as part of his own argument. The latter, I think, are particularly likely to make the discussion angrier, less substantive, and unpleasant; the former are not. "The case that upheld a man's right to wear a jacket that says 'fuck the draft' was rightly decided" is different from "Fuck the draft" itself.
8.20.2005 11:53am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I have no problem with people criticizing posts that they somehow see as excessively partisan. But I try to be civil in the tone of even my politically charged posts, and I insist that people be the same in their comments. People who think they're entitled to descend to personal insults when they think the post they're critiquing is too partisan or even unfair should do so elsewhere.
8.20.2005 11:59am
Justice Fuller:
Carol Anne,

Are you sure about that? As a general rule, about half of people who comment at the VC do not reveal a gender in their screenname. Aren't you just assuming that they are all men? If so, why? Also, what do you mean by "ignoring" a comment or "according it the same level of response"? Most comments here are "ignored," in the sense that a typical comment does not receive a response in another comment.
8.20.2005 12:00pm
WB:
Comments on blogs are usually irrelevant, self-serving, state the obvious in convoluted terms, or just off-topic rants. There will be a few insights, but they will inevitably be buried in the garbage. If you like the empty praise or if it raises the number of hits to the website, or if the periodic anonymous "assessment" of Brian Leiter's blogging etiquette is important to you, keep it up, but otherwise, I recommend either disallowing comments or just picking a policy on comments and enforcing it, rather than discussing it every few months when your attempts to herd cats fail.

I think it's noble, optimistic, and a bit naive to have a forum in which *anyone* can post, and then hope to be able to regulate the behavior of the posters with gentle admonitions and the seldom-used threat of deleting comments. If you have a registration system, you can ban abusive posters.

But with what you have here, every time you convince someone to change their posting habits with a "be civil" admonition, someone else will jump in to take the place of the former troll. Also, for every person you are able to change for the better, there will probably be another who is simply egged on by the attention that comes from abusive posters.

I liked the former policy of presumptively not allowing comments, except for the few items that might benefit from it. If someone has something truly thoughtful to contribute, they can look up your e-mail address. If that extra 20 seconds is too much effort, it probably wasn't much of a thought anyway.
8.20.2005 12:09pm
Public_Defender:
I agree that personal insults are inappropriate (and unpersuasive). I'm glad that you deleted profane and obscene posts. I agree that this is your party, and you have the absolute right to delete posts for whatever reason you want to. As I said above, I appreciate that you leave so many critical posts untouched.

But the first Taranto post set the tone by equating some people's view on Bush's Iraq policy with supporting a lynch mob. Read in the context of other conservative comments about the war, that's a fair (although not undisputed) reading of Taranto's article.

The first post moved the limits on appropriate discourse pretty far out. Any comment that did not call someone a racist, murderous, thug was more civil than what Taranto wrote.
8.20.2005 12:19pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
I am happy to repeat this again, for the benefit of all who listen: Some people's view on Bush's Iraq policy is tantamount to supporting a lynch mob, and worse. (One of the posts on the thread, as you may recall, listed some such people.)

They are very bad people, precisely because they do support racist, murderous thugs. They deserve to be criticized. I have criticized them in the past. I will do so again. If you don't enjoy reading that, well, it's a big Internet.

I stress again the "some," as I've done repeatedly: Some people's. Not all opponents of the war. Not most opponents of the war. But some prominent people.

It is perfectly appropriate to say so, and, let me repeat once more, I will keep on saying so. If you don't like blogs on which supporters of the Iraqi insurgents are criticized, please keep in mind that you're not going to like this blog.
8.20.2005 12:55pm
frankcross (mail):
Eugene:

Nothing wrong with that, but I just want you to understand why it was objectionable to some. People objected because you clipped an NRO that said the number of Westerners supporting the insurgency was "substantial." Had it said "small," I doubt the backlash would have been big. From what I have read, the only defense for this is that "substantial could mean small." Which seems weak. Because this blog takes Slate to task periodically for casual use of language, it seemed unfair to embrace NRO for doing so.

Second, in my perusing of the blogosphere, I have found many more conservatives who actually support the brutal treatment of prisoners in Iraq than I have found liberals who actually support the insurgency. This site, I'm sure, opposes needlessly brutal treatment of prisoners. But I don't recall any criticism of a "substantial" number of conservatives supporting torture. You can't address every issue, of course, but when you seem to take on only one side of these issues, the other side's going to be angry.

I think of this as a somewhat conservative blog, but not a partisan one or a blinded one. Most of the conspirators seem open minded. But the NRO post seemed pretty partisan and one-sided.
8.20.2005 1:20pm
Public_Defender:
Since this is his site, Professor Volokh gets the last word on my argument with him about the limits of civility when discussing Iraq.

I do have one last quibble: It may be a "big internet," but there are few other sites on which people from different political perspectives can have thoughtful arguments. Many of us disagree with Professors Volokh or Kerr, but they do engage their critics thoughtfully.
8.20.2005 1:36pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
WB nails it. So to the VC folks: disallow comments entirely or enforce whatever standard you like. But don't kid yourself that the admonitions and/or explanations will slowly bring people in line as they understand your objectives. All it will do is create more and more meta-conversations about your administrative policy, give regular posters a standard to hold you to and consequently complain when they think you've violated it.

Be as rude as you like, delete people for whatever reason you like. If you delete a comment and anyone complains or observes the deletion, delete that too.

Think of yourself as an editor, choosing which letters will be published or not. You owe people nothing. You're doing them a favor in even considering allowing their words on your site.

And never, ever forget that the commenters drive up traffic but are a miniscule percentage of your readership. Any time you make a post about comments and civility policy, you're boring the brains out of most of your readers. The commenters are loud, but they aren't important.
8.20.2005 1:39pm
Public_Defender:
Any time you make a post about comments and civility policy, you're boring the brains out of most of your readers.
Apparently, you're so bored that you wrote a four-paragraph response. Many lawyers read this site, and if there's one thing we lawyers like to do, it's to argue about "the rules."
8.20.2005 2:56pm
jayann (mail) (www):
Justice Fuller,

I am sure Carol Ann's right about blog comments by posters who use an obviously female name being far more often ignored than other comments (and I rue the day I adopted my girly screen names!). But this site isn't out of line with most other male-run ones so far as that goes (the "male-run" point holds independently, largely, of the views and behaviour of the men who run the community or blog).

Carol Ann,

The commenters are loud, but they aren't important.

I visit this blog considerably more often now comments are allowed (because I dislike blogs where they aren't). I may not be the only such visitor.
8.20.2005 3:11pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
Public_Defender: Good lord, they're not boring me. I'm an online policy wonk who could discuss this endlessly (and I have). But I know very well the percentage of people who comment on anything, particularly policy, vs. those who could care less. It's very easy to get distracted by the few people who do care and forget that most people don't. Go count up how many people have posted comments in the past two days. Ask yourself if they are 10% of the whole VC readership.

Jayann, you mean me, not Carol Ann. You're certainly not the only one who frequents bloggers who allow comments. But as a blog reader, you're a minority of a minority, not worth thinking about when making a decision of this kind. Far worse (from a bloggers perspective) are the people right behind you, who aren't at all interested in reading the blog and just want a place to argue.

If VC continues to allow comments, over time they'll get more people here, many of whom aren't here to read, but to post and argue. Some of the existing readers will also comment. All of this will drive up page views. If that's what they want, they'll get it.

If they want increased page views and polite, informed discussion that addresses their own posts, then the cost will be increased administration of reviewing and deleting posts, banning troublesome commenters, and dealing with administrative complaints (although if they take my advice they won't do the last).

I have no idea what VC folks are actually looking for, and of course they might not have opened comments for more page views. But regardless of their motives, the outcome really isn't in dispute.

And since, as I said, I can discuss this endlessly, I'll try and refrain from further comment on this meta-post, anyway.
8.20.2005 3:47pm
johnw:
Why no permit only a single comment per commenter per post (maybe even restrict it as to size, say 50 words)? This might force one to choose his words carefully and focus on the post rather than fellow bloviators/commenters. This rule would have cut the number of commenters to this post from 30+ to less than 10.
8.20.2005 3:58pm
Public_Defender:
Cal,

The comments do help make the blog more thoughtful. For example, with the Taranto post, the comments (along with other blogs) pushed Volokh to defend and clarify his argument. As a result, even readers who did not open the comment section got a more informed discussion.

The professors may want to consider closing comment sections after they decide that the comments are just repeating themselves. Perhaps the professors should automatically close a comment section when it has been open for, say, a week. After that, the burden of monitoring the old posts is probably not worth the value of the additional comments.
8.20.2005 4:04pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
PD--stop dragging me back in! I'm trying to free myself from the addictive tyranny of policy debates.

Your example is precisely the sort of problem I'm talking about. For all you (or anyone) knows, most readers understood exactly what Volokh meant and had no problem with the post. If so, the comments provided an artificial sense of outrage that he could have ignored without any problem at all. But you assume that the outrage was representative and proportionate with no data to support it. Bloggers themselves often make the same mistake.

Your suggestion of closing comments after a week is yet another sign of the distortion that occurs when bloggers offer free real estate. Bloggers have usually moved on to new ideas a day after a post. But you suggest that bloggers allow their commenters to hash out differences on the bloggers' dime for a week longer? Again, unless the blogger's primary interest is page views, there's nothing in it for him.
8.20.2005 5:17pm
=0=:
Eugene, one comment, and I'm done.

"John Roberts issued at least 3 formal statements that many feel are attacks on women's rights.

Some attorneys - prominent ones - are explicitly sexist, Let me hasten to add, not all attorneys, or even a majority, are. But no matter the size of the group, I feel it is proper to criticize them, and will do so in the future."

Aside from inverting the group size, I believe the inferential logic of my innuendo above (which I'm using only as an example: this is not my viewpoint) is roughly identical to the posting that kicked off a lot of the flaming.

You may believe that people who are being tarred by that sort of innuendo are being overly sensitive (and it is in no way an excuse to be rude in public, and I apologize for when I was), but it clearly is a popular smear, and I think you can see why your providing a certain amount of velocity to that sort of thing could cause those of us who have opposed the war to wonder where the usual even-handedness went. You are of course completely free to make any sort of political statement you like; I am merely pointing out why some people (OK, at a minimum me and my lap kitten) who are quite fond of your analysis - even if we may disagree with your conclusions on occasion - found it a little disappointing.

That said, I'm a big fan of a civil environment, and laud the general quality of discourse here.
8.20.2005 5:38pm
rls (mail):
I am not as erudite or thoughtful as most of the commentators here, but I have learned a tremendous amount by being able to read the critiques of the posts as well as the posts themselves. I enjoy the lively debates and arguments, the give and take. It is rare in the blogosphere to find reasonable people with whom one can attempt to reason.

It would be a personal loss for me and a loss for civil discourse in general for the comments to be disabled.
8.20.2005 7:02pm
Carol Anne:
Justice Fuller writes, in part: Are you sure about that? As a general rule, about half of people who comment at the VC do not reveal a gender in their screenname. Aren't you just assuming that they are all men? If so, why?

While the method is not infallible, I do believe that one can often deduce gender from content, a laDeborah Tannen's work.

For instance, Tannen writes: "For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships." I'd add that, for most men, the language of conversation is primarily a language of differences. (As one wag once said, the first thought a man has upon meeting another man is, "Could I kill this guy?")

As a woman who's been in engineering for longer than I care to admit, I've had to often adopt the masculine style to get results, so I've become sensitized to the subtle differences. Just one example (although I'm not necessarily a good example): Men tend to use modal operators of necessity (e.g., must, have to, will, always), while women tend to use model operators of possibility (e.g., "might, may, could, sometimes"). Read some of the posts in VC to see what I meen, especially when passions are elevated.
8.20.2005 8:30pm
Public_Defender:
Cal,

OK, so close the comments after a day instead of a week. The point was that closing them after a period of time might be a good idea. The people who have to monitor the comments can decide what that time should be.

I also agree that many conservatives did not see any problem with the Taranto post. But many on the left did. The final Volokh posts were far more thoughtful and documented than the original Taranto post. The Volokh posts also prompted the liberals to work to support their claims.

To avoid revamping the debate, I'll let the posts and comments stand for themselves for anyone who wants to decide which side "won."

Finally, I agree that the debate reached a point where new ideas were few and far between. That's the point where it might be a good idea to close comments (at least on this subject).
8.20.2005 8:34pm
Crane:
Regarding Carol Anne's suggestions above:

While insisting that all would-be commenters first register and provide an email address from a non-free provider would certainly keep out the rude ones, it's worth asking whether all the results of setting up such barriers to entry would be as desirable. It was suggested earlier, for instance, that one of the VC's reasons for allowing comments at all might be to draw more traffic. I personally (a) tend not to have much interest in reading a comment thread if I can't contribute to it myself, and (b) resent being required to register at every single site I visit, even if registration is free. If a significant number of people share these opinions, requiring registration is likely to significantly reduce the number of new readers attracted by the promise of a comments section. (Assuming, of course, that drawing more readers was one of the motives.)

This is especially true if email addresses from major free providers like Yahoo and Hotmail are banned outright; one of my standard assumptions when I encounter a site that asks me to register is that registering will result in me getting more junk email. There certainly are sites out there that don't sell email addresses or send out annoying newsletters and commercial offers of thir own, but I haven't found many.
8.20.2005 8:44pm
Sandy007:
Orin:


The big problem is that anonymity and remoteness tend to bring out the worst in people. That fact plus the number of leftists on board are a recipe for disaster. A libertarian/conservative blog with so many comments from socialists/liberals will undoubtedly be ruined by ranting and raving, rudeness, trolls, and personal insults to and about the Conspirators. It's only just started but will undoubtedly get much worse as time goes by. You're going to end up spending little time actually blogging and major time moderating the comments.


IMHO, the comments are a distraction from the main blog anyway. I think you should start enabling comments only in a few situations, such as when a Conspirator is looking for an answer to a quesion, or when there's a good legal opinion or case that would likely draw informative comments.


Eugene, Orin, DavidB, and the rest of you Conspirators all have highly respected reputations which need to be protected. The garbage comments from outsiders, their rudeness, their personal attacks on the hosts--that stuff helps neither the Conspiracy nor the Conspirators.


It's hard to maintain professionalism when someone's attacking you in an outrageous manner. Yet, something imprudent that you say in the heat of the moment could come back to haunt you someday, particulary in any confirmation hearings that some of you may face in the future.


I advise extreme caution in deciding to allow comments to continue.

8.20.2005 9:34pm
David Berke:
Why is the first real problem with free speech being treated as an excuse to censor by certain people? The mere act of deciding who deserves to speak and who doesn't involves a judgment on the merits of that speech which will inevitably be biased in favor of one's viewpoint. I think the decision to open up the blog to public debate was an excellent one.

In any debate which attracts a widespread audience, there will always be those who have nothing to contribute, but feel the need to expound upon this great nothingness. Some will miss the point. Some won't care about the point. Some will rant and rave. It's the nature of the beast. Why get upset about it? As long as reasonable people keep their heads on straight, act appropriately, and ignore the others, the damage done is minimal.
8.20.2005 10:56pm
Carol Anne:
To Crane:

There's a price for civility, and it's called identity. As Sandy007 points out, people who hide behind anonymity are generally the offenders, and they can do lots of damage.

The requirement for registration doesn't seem to impede contribution to lively blogs (e.g., dKos). The people who know how registration helps maintain a healthy respect through just consequences are attracted, and those who just want to promulgate views or provoke arguments aren't, because they can be ejected.

To Sandy007:

The issue is, "What is a Blog?" If it's merely a one-way broadcast of information, it may be useful (cartainly, I subscribed to many periodicals' RSS feeds). But, the founders of this particular blog have a choice: They can engage people in a dialog, or promote a particular set of views. Personally, having used both for more than 15 years, I'm convinced the richness of a collaborative group of people who are mutually respectful of each others views is what the Internet best contributes to society.

I'm also curious about your assertion that
"...the number of leftists on board are a recipe for disaster." What's so scary about "leftists?" I find as many self-declared libertarians (or was it libertines? :-) ) and conservatives capable of asocial behavior. A rich medium like this should, in my opinion, leverage the diversity toward better outcomes. Having a broad spectrum of viewpoints and world views keeps the dialog from falling into the abyss of mutually-reinforced extreme opinions. Personally, I'm probably (in some ways) one of those "leftists" in some matters, but I trust I've not become an ingredient in that "recipe for disaster."
8.20.2005 10:57pm
Carol Anne:
To David Berke:

It's Eugene Volokh's party, and he's got the right to decide who gets invited. "Censorship" and "Free speech" are not the issue here (the First Amendment applies to government, not this particular privately-owned syberspace). What the issue is: What constitutes civil behavior that leads to better ideas, better knowledge sharing, better outcomes?

When boors dominate the dialog, I move on. Let the boors bore each other.
8.20.2005 11:00pm
Larry (mail) (www):
I agree with Sandy, but I hate leftists even more because they say things that I am required to condemn in order to get the job I want. You should end comments right now. Leftists might say mean things about you Orin, and make me cry. Otherwise, everyone should be civil.
8.20.2005 11:19pm
Bleepless (mail):
BruceM: The rule is instantly obvious: common courtesy.
8.21.2005 12:30am
Rick Ballard (mail):
Just a vote for real names with real email addresses. 90% of the incivility comes from those without the courage to use their own names. Which makes sense if given half a seconds thought.
8.21.2005 2:12am
Shelby (mail):
Carol Anne: So, what's my gender? Or sex, depending on your use of terminology. I haven't looked back at my recent posts, and am curious about your view.

Regarding comments on this site, I enjoy them and would miss them if they're gone. I think there's something rather ironic about using comments to condemn the practice of allowing comments. And I've been saddened by the breakout of personal hostility and trollitude in the past week or two.

Finally, I use a hotmail account, but it's my standard email address. I'd probably stop posting if required to use a different one. (Maybe that's an incentive to ban free accounts; up to the Conspiracy.)
8.21.2005 3:27am
Public_Defender:
A registration system could be useful, but I would prefer one that allows us to identify ourselves only to the blog hosts. (I've done this by e-mail.) I don't to post my e-mail address because I don't want the spam.
8.21.2005 10:16am
Carol Anne:
Public_Defender wrote, in part: I would prefer [registration] that allows us to identify ourselves only to the blog hosts

We're in "violent agreement." I use my "throwaway eMail account" here, for that very reason. It is possible for spammers to harvest eMail addresses from this site.
8.21.2005 2:10pm
Carol Anne:
Shelby offered the challenge, Carol Anne: So, what's my gender? Or sex, depending on your use of terminology.

For clarification: Sex is about the genetic basis which governs anatomy (mail/female/intersex). Gender is about behavior, which may or may not be congruent with sex (masculine/feminine/andorgynous). In other words, a female might generally behave in masculine ways, etc. They're "orthogonal" (i.e., independent variables).

As for you posts and my assessment/assumptions: I looked at a half-dozen threads in which you posted, and found you remarkably collaborative(*). You seem to place more emphasis on sustaining/nurturing the relationship than on "winning the argument" when people disagree with you. At the same time, I find that because your language is never (in the sample I viewed) offensive or attacking of other posters, few people respond to you in offensive or attacking ways.

It's a small sample, of course, but I'll go out on a limb with my guess: I don't know :-). Forced to make a decision, I'd say 52/48 feminine, but that's still within the "margin of error" in such an assessment.

Maybe I need to make you angry to provoke the "real you" to emerge? :-)

(*) In my paper "Cowboys, Communicators, Collaborators and Communities," I identify Collaborators as people to actively seek out divergent opinions. Collaborators accept that they don't know everything, and they don't know what they don't know, so the seek to gather more information from others to increase their knowledge set. They implicitly recognize that "creativity" is found in the differences between two people's views, not in trying to convince another to agree with them.
8.21.2005 2:32pm
David Berke:
Carol Anne,

You make three points, one of which is obviously valid.
Volokh can institute any rules he wants to. It is indeed his party.

When you say that: "Censorship" and "Free speech" are not the issue here (the First Amendment applies to government, not this particular privately-owned cyberspace), however, you are half right. The First Amendment is indeed not at issue. But the remainder of your comment is a red herring. Any attempt to limit who speaks is censorship. It doesn't have to be done by the government to count as censorship, and I cannot imagine why you would think to the contrary. Therefore, Censorship and Free Speech are indeed at issue here. Will speech continue relatively uncensored? Or will we move to a system where the administrators decide what "deserves" to be posted?

You have provided your own solution to an appropriate course of behavior in a situation where things get out of hand: "When boors dominate the dialog, I move on. Let the boors bore each other." So ignore it. What's the problem?
8.21.2005 4:11pm
OrinKerr:
Carol Anne,

If I may ask, what's the degree of correlation between being male/female as a matter of sex, masculine/feminine as a matter of gender, and a Cowboy/Collaborator as a matter of personality? And can you name some people who are Cowboys?

I'm interested in these questions in part because I have generally found such dichotomies to be less than completely helpful (other than male/female, that is). In particular, most people I know are collaborative and nurturing in some contexts, and abrasive and selfish in others. In my experience, Tannen-esque dichotomies don't reflect real people as accurately as they should. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Orin
8.21.2005 5:55pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I like comments being enabled, and have especially enjoyed the quality of comments on the more legal oriented threads. There are a lot of very accomplished attorneys and legal academics reading VC and participating. And in those, the quality of the comments stays pretty high - indeed, in some threads, I think one would be embarassed to drop into the gutter.

My suggestion is to enable comments on legal topics, but leave them off of more political comments, those that are more likely to invoke more heated responses. There are plenty of other places that we can go and vent. This, I think, would help maintain the high level of comments that I have seen in many of the threads here since comments were enabled.

Because of the first point above, I find VC with comments significantly more valuable than before, and hope that some way can be found to keep them available for those cases where they add, and don't subtract, in the discussion.
8.22.2005 1:09am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
For the women here.

As noted, this is a blog run by men, and, thus, has a somewhat male outlook. If you haven't tried it yet, let me suggest althouse.com. Ann is a law professor, so you get some interesting legal discussions there. But, as she is a woman, you can be assured that a female perspective is not ignored. Plus, she is usually pretty draconian in maintaining decorum, ruthlessly deleting comments that degenerate into, say, name calling and the like.
8.22.2005 1:14am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Orin,

I love the term "Tannen-esque dichotomies". Very appropriate.
8.22.2005 1:16am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"this is a blog run by men, and, thus, has a somewhat male outlook. "

What, exactly, is a "male outlook"? Rational thought? Failure to consider "gendered" communication?

And Althouse's communication style isn't in any way typically female, and while she herself is female her "perspective" is not.

Carol Ann's paper on Cowboys, etc says that we "evolve" from Cowboys (the "virulent" loners) until we are all "Collaborators".

Cowboys = men. Collaborators = women.

Notice that she guesses that Shelby is a female because Shelby is more interested in nurturing relationships--which (surprise!) is the Collaborative style: "The Collaborator pays more attention to the people than the results, having faith that if the relationships are nurtured and sustained, any outcome is possible".
8.22.2005 2:48am
Carol Anne:
OrinKerr asked (in part): I'm interested in these questions in part because I have generally found such dichotomies to be less than completely helpful (other than male/female, that is).

There are two kinds of people: Those who classify people into categories, and those who don't. :)

That having been said, I find that distinctions are useful. And, as you point out, contextual. I may be collaborative here, but don't get between me 'n' my ice cream!

This medium is a poor one for a lengthy exegesis, so let me just pick one example: The difference between sex and gender. Sex is defined on the male/female scale, gender on the masculine/feminine. They are not isomorphic. With a two-by-two distinction (consider the two scales X and Y axes), I would posit there are feminine-behaving genetic-males (cross-dressers), and there are masculine-behaving genetic females (see the movie, "Boys Don't Cry").

However, I agree with you. In fact, I believe the only generalization I can make about anyone I meet is that they're virtually guaranteed to be a unique collection of beliefs and behaviors. My challenge, as the observer, is to deduce how those behaviors (I can't observe beliefs, only their consequences in behavior) communicate to me, and how I can facilitate the communication by interacting with them. The more I know about someone, the more the dichotomies breakdown; they're just a useful gambit before I've gathered observations.

For instance, that burly woman, wearing boots, jeans, and a bulky denim shirt over a tank top, walking up my walk like John Wayne to deliver a package is more likely to positively respond to a simple "Thanks" than a "Thank you, m'am!". On the other hand, the uniformed delivery person with the coif and makeup is more likely to appreciate the latter. (Upon further interaction I might, in fact, discover that my preconceptions are wrong...but that's what makes people interesting.

As for "Cowboys,..." I invite you to see http://www.deepwoods.com/transform/pubs/Cowboys.htm. I'm sure that after you read the description, you'll recognize them around you. They're the ones that operate from the premise, "Leave me alone to get my work done!" They hate those meetings where everybody's sharing what they're doing with everyonelse, 'cause they see it as so much time-wasting. (I know; I used to be one as a young computer programmer, more comfortable with the cut-and-dried, black-and-white binary world than the complex, ambiguous world of people. Hopefully, I grew beyond it.)
8.23.2005 1:19am
Carol Anne:
To Cal:

Thanks for the remarks about "Cowboys..."

However, in the sense of my response to OrinKerr, I'm not sure I agree that "Cowboys = men. Collaborators = women". In fact, and lots of Cowgirls, and lots of men who are wonderful and energizing Collaborators. There is some popular management claptrap about "Men being top-down leaders, women being collaborators," but I don't believe it for a minute. I'd say, for example, that Jack Welch (former CEO of GE) has demonstrated prodigious and productive Collaborator skills; I'd submit that Michelle Malkin is clearly a Cowgirl.
8.23.2005 1:25am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
Carol Ann, it's difficult for me to be consistently polite to people who so blatantly moralize about communication methods, and I hear there's some sort of rule about civility here. So I'm not going to respond.

BTW, I've noticed a bit of traffic from this comments section. It could be that people are just interested in checking out the FFFT blog, which is always nice, of course. However, since I've made reference once or twice to my forum, I'll just say that my forum is different from my blog, is called The Perfect World (no link, don't wish to shill) and leave it at that.
8.23.2005 2:43am