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Not ready to say bye-bye to the comment section

Not ready to say bye-bye to the comment section

300,000 comments, and climbing.

Ah, the comment section.

Sometime later today into tomorrow, we will hit our 300,000th comment. In 6 years.

That’s not a lot compared to some websites, but it’s a lot here. And the pace has picked up dramatically in the past couple of years. We seem to be running close to 10,000 comments a month (that’s just a guesstimate).

We “try” to keep things under control by not using third-party comment software such as Disqus — which means you have to register here specifically. That cuts down on drive-by commenters and flame throwers, which helps keep the comment section relatively (by comparison to other websites) civil.

But it also cuts down on the number of people who comment, and likely cuts down on our traffic. Having massive fights in the comment section is what drives some websites to have several hundred to several thousand comments for a single post.

That’s not to say sometimes things don’t get rough, but we appreciate that our commenters generally don’t go there. Policing the comment section is a drag, and with our volume and staff, difficult.

In the end, though, I think it’s worth keeping comments open. It creates a sense of community and shared purpose. We have shared election victories and losses, graduations, promotions, deaths and births.

Some commenters have crossed the cyber/real world barrier, and communicated off site with each other, and with me. I count some of our commenters as real world friends now, and the comment secton was how I located one of our authors (Andrew Branca).

Amazing as it is, in 6 years we’ve only had to ban 222 usernames, and many of those usernames were multiple entries from a single person. It takes a lot to get banned here. Mere disagreement is not enough. Trolling will get you banned, as will threats of violence and other language that crosses some line that is hard to define but you know it when you see it.

From time to time I read about one website or another closing the comment section. Usually it’s because it’s too wild in them thar hills, or too much work.

Today, it’s The Week, for a combination of reasons, Why is closing the comments section:

Here at The Week, we have a deep respect for the intelligence and opinions of our readers, and take very seriously our mission of concisely giving smart, busy people all they need to know about everything that matters, on all topics, from all perspectives. And as our site continues to grow and change — we’re now averaging 10 million unique visitors a month, and have a beautiful new redesign launching in early 2015 — we want the work we do to drive more and more smart and vibrant conversations among thoughtful people from all ideological backgrounds.

But as our industry has changed in recent years, so too has the optimal forum for these conversations. There was a time — not so long ago! — when the comments sections of news and opinion sites were not only the best place to host these conversations, they were the only place. That is no longer the case. 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. This small but outspoken group does a disservice to the many intelligent, open-minded people who seek a fair and respectful exchange of ideas in the comments sections of news sites.

And so today, the smartest, most thoughtful, and most spirited conversations are being driven not by pseudonymous avatars in the comments sections of news sites, but by real people using their real names on the social web. It is no longer a core service of news sites to provide forums for these conversations. Instead, we provide the ideas, the fodder, the jumping off point, and readers take it to Facebook or Twitter or Reddit or any number of other places to continue the conversation.

That’s why we will be closing the comments section on at the end of the year.

While I agree that there are other places that conversations take place, I don’t agree that such other places are complete substitutes for the comment section to a specific website or post. We get our ideas challenged, and we’re better for it.

In a world of where everybody knows your name, there’s also a benefit to being able to post your thoughts pseudononymously, although that certainly can be abused.

It’s in our blood as a nation, and important to our freedom.

So for now, the comment section is still open for business.

(Featured Image: Cave Troll, Photo by Kevin Dooley)


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Many of the sites I visit only to read the comments on particular subjects, often ignoring the original post (present company excepted, of course).

I use to read the Volokh Conspiracy until the joined the WP. The comments (Disqus?)could no longer be displayed with my browser, so they got the old heave ho.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to MSO. | December 22, 2014 at 2:39 am

    I do have problems with Volokh at WaPo. On this PC, I have to run WaPo commenting in IE, instead of my usual Firefox or Nightly (64 bit FF). And, on my iPad, I have to use Dolphin instead of Chrome (though I think that Safari might work). It isn’t a Volokh problem, but a WaPo problem.

    As with most of the blogs I follow, it is more the comments than the blogging that I like. And, that includes Volokh – I remember debating a liberal about FISA after a couple of months of arguing there, and realized that thanks to the commenting, and having to get my head into the statute and case law, I knew more about it than probably 98% of the attys out there (as well as 99+% of everyone else). Same way today with self defense and LI.

Donald Douglas | December 20, 2014 at 8:36 pm

I hope you never, ever seriously consider closing comments at LI. I don’t comment often, but I prize the opportunity to do so.

“…the comment secton was how I located one of our authors (Andrew Branca).”

a.k.a. “Stalker”.

(He’s going to shoot me for that.)

Doug Wright Old Grouchy | December 20, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Like your approach and how this blog has progressed, nicely too, over the years. Good blog, Professor, a great contribution to the blogisphere. Excellent corps of authors too.


a lot of good info comes from comments, followup to actual story or supporting info, etc.
I tend to stay away from sites that close off comments.

legacyrepublican | December 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm

No comment! 😎

I comment every so often and I appreciate the opportunity to do so. Hopefully I’ll never screw up and be ban worthy. Thanks Professor and to all y’all an excellent site.

I’ve seen some online news outlets close comments recently. I always suspect that;

a. they don’t see any benefit and they don’t care to have any feedback if their story is bad or poorly written so tossing comments insulates them from reader critique.

b. it costs them money as someone has to moderate them and some subjects can be very volatile.

c. liabilities as lately some have taken the least critical comment as tort worthy and have sued the commenter and sometimes the site.

I believe that, like closed access, this actually works against adding readership.

In general the internet is so new that at any time a different approach is being experimented with somewhere.

My thoughts on where it eventually comes down?

Smaller fees (right now they use a monthly fee which is too much in my view as reportage is so uneven and also the availability of interesting subjects will vary) that reflect the old newspaper model of paying a modest price for the days news or stories. A quick and reliable (and cheap) way of paying at the point of service will have to be created or accepted by users for that to work. (I would be willing to pay a modest fee per view If it was easy to pay for and that I could preview what’s “inside” before paying to see if it’s worth it to me.)

Comments will drive most individual blogs but less and less for strictly news outlets.

As we’re seeing now.

ijustwanttovote | December 20, 2014 at 9:39 pm

This is my first comment at Legal Insurrection and I would like to say that I also hope the comments here never go away. While I am not a commenter, I enjoy reading the discussion threads. Please keep the comment section open, and thank you very much for an excellent website.

The Week is not a reasonable indicator of which way the wind’s blowing. Despite its claims otherwise, it is a leftoid organization.

The Left doesn’t discuss; the Left denounces. Balanced consideration of facts or ideas is simply irrelevant. So comment sections on leftoid sites are little more than cheerleading squads. Close ’em or keep ’em open, it makes little difference so far as the dissemination or understanding of information is concerned.

More conservative sites have some of the same problem, and this site is not immune. But there’s usually room for something more substantial as well. So, keep up the good work.

riverlife_callie | December 20, 2014 at 10:22 pm

I tend not to visit blogs that do not allow comments. I also stay away from those that let the comments devolve into complete anarchy. LI has managed to walk the fine line and I appreciate it. I feel like I know some of the frequent commenters and appreciate their insights. I had no idea you were considering closing the comments section. That would be a great loss.

Hands up! Don’t comment!

I started my blog commenting about ten years ago, on Tim Blair’s old blog. That was a hoot and a half! Not the same since he went legit, but LI’s comment section has some of the same spirit. A good mixture of irreverence and consideration. I hope it doesn’t change.

I must say that I pretty much only go to sites that allow comments.

Somewhere, along the line, I did manage to get banned by “The Atlantic” (but I have no idea why except perhaps upsetting too many folks there with thoughtful comments) so when I get directed there, I leave immediately.

I enjoy the posts here and comment when I think it will add something thoughtful (or deliciously snarky).

Don’t comment much anymore on web sites, especially when the first reply to a comment is disparaging.

Sometimes I think only one observation should be allowed concerning a post.

That said, will continue to come here, comments or not, because this is one of the best sites on the web in terms of content.

Maybe this is #300,000.

Keep up the good work.

If you like your comments section, you can keep your comments section, Professor.

I visit about half a dozen sites regularly, but LI is number one. I may not comment every day but I am here every day. I love the posts and comments and hope Disgust and Facebook are never options. LI has also changed my opinion of lawyers. . . somewhat.

I still disagree with your decision to remove our decision to put a thumbs down on authors blogs. It didn’t happen often but once in a while it was deserved. Seems a bit cowardly.

    Karen Sacandy in reply to Vince. | December 21, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I regret the decision to remove thumbs down, but don’t consider it “cowardly.” Maybe more a statement of, people are working around here for free, if you don’t like it, go elsewhere!

    I think if you search the archives you’ll find article about it describing how it was causing load issues or something.

I have already broken the Internet several times. I promise to comment sparingly, and wisely.

My, it seems like it was just yesterday that I was commenter no. 100,000. It’s fabulous that this blog has so much traffic. It’s one of my “go to” blogs, including Insty, Powerline, Hot Air, Ace, and Watts Up With That?.

Congratulations, Professor!

I appreciate that different blog operators and different groups prefer different comment policies. Some are Wild West open, others ban anyone for dissent, or suspicion they may dissent in the future (DU, LGF). Most are somewhere in between.

But for publications to claim comment sections are ‘deteriorating’ and ‘losing civility’ is poppycock. Where were they in the early days of the Web, or before that BBS?

Civility has never been a trait of anonymous discussion.

I like the comments section on LI. It’s filled with riff-raff and scoundrels.

You know, family.

I am, happy the comments section will remain active. That is what brings me to sites like this. Without the comments, I might browse the headlines and drift through, or just not bother. It is the interactive nature of the site that gives it life.

If I want just a news aggregator, I’ll go to Drudge or Instapundit.

Keep up the good work!

One thing about Ace of Spades … they have so many commenters, it is hard to keep up. And so often it is a lot of “inside joking”, which can be fun, but difficult to follow. With such fast commenting, it’s hard to find responses to a particular thought.

Here there seems to be a pretty good mix of smart people, from diverse backgrounds. Most are quite respectful and try to present diverse views, if only as opposition research.

The clean legal perspective of Professor Jacobson gives the strong foundation, but the limited commentary efficiently rounds out the subject matters at hand, often expounding on practical applications of the content.

It seems about perfect as is. And thanks for that.

    That’s true. I like a site with plenty of commenters who keep the debates fresh. But some sites have a ridiculous number of comments and most get lost.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to Midwest Rhino. | December 22, 2014 at 2:45 am

    I see the same sort of thing with Just One Minute (JOM). A lot of smart people commenting there, but it is such an inbred commentary that you spend 3/4 of the time reading about everyone’s lives that the on-topic content is much more sparse than it used to be. So, I have drifted away. Followed a link yesterday from Instapundit over there, and found the same culprits, and very little additional information about the topic I was interested in (the NYPD assassinations).

In some cases, anonymity is essential. There are many things I can’t write about on the net if I use my real name.

Frankly, the islamists are violent, the abused are sensitive, the non-abused are clueless, and the lefties will use any snippet to utter “Haters gonna hate” pablum.

9thDistrictNeighbor | December 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I also think that we do a pretty good job of instructing and correcting the trolls who wander through. Because I generally live on this site, I appreciate what everyone does to keep it neat and tidy.

But where will all the keyboards go? Have keyboard. Must type.

The blogging and the comment section during the Zimmerman trial was some of the best, if not the best on the web. You lawyers had much to add. You all are turning me on lawyers.

    rokiloki in reply to rayc. | December 21, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    The Zimmerman trial coverage was awesome here at LI. It was the only place I went to get the daily news on the trial.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to rayc. | December 22, 2014 at 2:58 am

    I concur in regards to the coverage of the Zimmerman trial. Best coverage on the web, and the discussions are what fleshed it out. And, thanks to that start, I have learned quite a bit about self-defense – more than most of the people I run into on the web, and even, surprisingly, people who have taught gun law for decades. (And, yes, by now, I have bought AB’s book).

    You still run into people on the left spouting the narrative about that case, and how poor Trayvon and his skittles and Arizona Watermelon Juice (2/3 of the components of a variant of the “lean” street drug) was gunned down by the racist Zimmerman. Of course, it is all BS. But, knowing the facts that came out at trial, it is easy to paint them as what they are – propagandists of the left.

    I esp. appreciate how AB jumps into the comments (as do a lot of the Volokh Conspirators at that blog), to defend their points, or to clarify stuff. He jumped on me a couple of times, and that ended up helping me understand the subject better.

I am only an occasional commenter here, but enjoy and learn from other commenters. Keep it as-is, please!

Speaking for myself, I have a list of numerous bookmarked websites that I visit pretty much every day. The vast majority are Disqus commenting enabled. Which is, naturally, very convenient and I do appreciate that. I do not and will not routinely visit websites that engage in disseminating any news and any politics without a public comments section. Websites that do not allow and accept discourse and dialog from their guests, and the occasional subsequent correction(s) when veracity is clearly being assailed, obviously cannot and should not be trusted in this day and age. They publish what they want, truth be damned for a great many websites and/or specific topics, and they disallow response(s) to their agenda driven partisan lies and disingenuous ‘talking points’ that amount to little more than Government foisted agitprop.

Truth does not have an agenda! It never has; It never will.

Additionally, I flat refuse to create and maintain a Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or any other “social media” account in the first place. I certainly do not trust my Government, and my Privacy is very important to me. I can go without commenting just fine… because, as a matter of routine, I won’t visit the websites that disallow commenting without a social media account while they publish whatever best serves their sensibilities, their agendas… and their Masters. It is totally and completely 100% the website’s loss, not mine. However, I will definitely create a unique commenting account, such as here on Legal Insurrection, if and when I deem that particular website worthy. Thank you for your plain and simple truths and the intelligent discourse, Professor Jacobson and Legal Insurrection!

    Bruce Hayden in reply to FlatFoot. | December 22, 2014 at 3:10 am

    I somewhat concur. The only place where I, on rare occasion, comment through FaceBook is (I believe) PowerLine, and the commentary there is usually pretty weak. That is really the only reason that I maintain the account (I had opened it much of a decade ago, and didn’t use it until maybe a year ago for this purpose).

    I don’t trust Google, but run my own blog for a couple of years with Blogger, and have been commenting fairly heavily on Alhouse over the last decade (again Blogger), so figure that they know too much about me already, and so don’t hesitate when using my private Google account to comment.

“Trolling will get you banned, as will threats of violence and other language that crosses some line that is hard to define but you know it when you see it.”

I burst out laughing when I read that. A professor of law providing a standard that’s so mushy even a progressive would hesitate to use it.

I can only assume total snark was the intent.

    platypus in reply to platypus. | December 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Drive-by down thumbs always amuse me because it’s like some other driver flipping you off. It doesn’t educate nor does it add much to the mix.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas you two grumps whoever you are. 🙂

I don’t care to visit sites that don’t allow comments. It tells me they don’t want criticism or correction, they just want to push their agenda.

Sites that do allow comments are open to opposing views and debate. They are willing to allow visitors to express themselves (within reason). I much prefer this, even if I don’t always agree.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to rokiloki. | December 22, 2014 at 3:24 am

    I am not quite so adamant there. For me, there are sites that I go for the content, or the links (Instapundit, Drudge, RCP), and those where I go partially for the commentary. This is one of the latter. I like the articles, but they are much more fulfilling when I can see what others are saying about the subject, and, on occasion, use them to engage in lively conversations.

If comment abuse is an issue, maybe LI can allow a few regular, fair-minded commenters to moderate the comments?

ESPN message boards are a circus, but they are about 1000% more readable (i.e., civil) now than the pre-Facebook days. Tying one’s comments to a somewhat public profile helps keep people in check. Keep it in mind if the only alternative one day will be comment closure.

A couple of things that you might consider if you ever consider improving the commenting here (Eugene Volokh had WaPo make a number of user-requested changes when he moved the VC over there at the beginning of the year).

1. Editing posts is very handy. I have, on numerous occasions, wanted to modify posts that I have made here. I type very fast, even on an iPad, and sometimes errors sneak in (esp. with Apple’s autocorrect).

2. It is nice to be able to flag commenters, or to make them just disappear from what you see. Esp. on some blogs, you get the get-rich-quick internet scams, and those people should be bounced.

3. The LI commenting doesn’t play well with my iPad, at least using Chrome. Somehow the virtual keyboard times out too quickly when I first start to type, and disappears almost immediately after it appears, until I can get some garbage characters into the comment (which I usually get rid of before posting). It also, on occasion, auto-posts, where I end up with a small part of what I was trying to say being posted, often in the middle of a sentence. Not sure of the cause, but it is frustrating.

Still, all in all, it is a fairly decent commenting platform, better than many I have to deal with on the Internet.

Best comments section of any blog I follow.

2nd Ammendment Mother | December 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

IMHO, commenting is a therapeutic feature which allows most of us to stay married, gainfully employed and somewhat sober. Letting us beat up on trolls is just a generous bonus.

I occasionally comment here on the liberal side of the aisle and I appreciate leaving the comment section open and also not limiting it, as many other sites have (e.g. Huffington Post), to people who are willing to log in through Facebook. Like a previous poster, I prefer not to maintain any social media accounts. The world does not need to know what I ate for breakfast or the color of my socks today.

I tried to comment on a previous article that quoted me specifically, but it wouldn’t let me do so. Especially when someone has been quoted in an article, allowing comments is one of the best ways for someone to clarify or amplify quotes that were taken from them directly.