Comments on the FM website – and elsewhere

Websites deal with comments in many ways.   Some blogs do not have comments (eg, Instapundit until 2009, James Fallows at the Atlantic, and Lawfare).  Some are heavily moderated (eg, Brad DeLong’s, Skeptical Science, RealClimate — either not allowing or editing dissent). Websites at many professional websites no longer allow comments (e.g., Popular Science, Vox, Quartz, National Journal).

About Comments


  1. Mechanics of comments
  2. The Policy
  3. What others say about comments

(1)  Mechanics of comments

To limit spam, comments must have an email address. This is not posted with your comment; we will keep it private except under government coercion.

The FM website team lacks the resources to moderate comments — and I have little interest in doing it. Responding to comments takes too much time and doesn’t generate traffic. So here’s how we do it here, and why.

The Wordpress spam filter eats posts based on words, phrases, links — and sometimes for mysterious reasons. If you believe your comment has been accidentally blocked, post a one or two sentence comment about it.

(2)  The Policy

Comments are welcomed, within the following guidelines.  Comments must be …

  1. Civil, as in “a civil voice”.
  2. Legal — Please avoid libel, copyright, and classification issues.  No advocacy of illegal acts.
  3. Topical — Related to the post under discussion.  Please stay within this blog’s subject:  geopolitics.
  4. Brief — The shorter it is, the more likely people are to read your comment.

This is not a public space.  We reserve the right to delete comments that do not meet these guidelines. By submitting a comment, you grant the editors a nonexclusive right to post it and at our sole discretion to edit it for spelling, grammar, and brevity. Our posting of a comment in no way implies agreement or disagreement with its content.

You can help us by composing any complex comments in a word processor. We recommend that you save a copy of your comment until it is posted. If you feel that our editing changes the meaning of your comment, please send an email (address below) and we will remove it.

Unfortunately, as with a letter to the editor at most newspapers, it may not be possible to notify you if your comment is edited or not published. If this happens, please accept our apologies in advance.

We attempt to warn those who violate this policy by notes in the comments and emails, but we might be too busy or unable  to do so.  Those who violate this policy several times will have future comments moderated:  not appearing until reviewed and approved.  Repeat offenders will have future comments automatically filtered out by the Wordpress machinery.

(3)  What website operators say about comments

From a WaPo article when the website Above the Law closing comments.

“In 2013, Popular Science shut off its comments. In 2014, Recode, Mic, the Week and Reuters closed down their comments sections. Other sites that have removed comments include Bloomberg and the Daily Beast. According to a 2014 study by journalism professor Arthur Santana, of the 137 largest U.S. newspapers, 49% did not allow anonymous comments and 9% had no comments at all. After the National Journal eliminated comments on most stories, its website traffic and levels of user engagement increased.”

Here are examples of website operators discussing how to deal with comments — or why they turned them off.

(a)  Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism turns off comments. Here’s why.  They reopened them a month later with a moderator (statement here).

The caliber of discourse has degenerated utterly at NC in the wake of Charlotteville. I am disabling comments on all live posts. I am sick, now up until 9 AM ruining my health. I do not need this bullshit. It is not worth the effort to clean up the disinformation and the upset and dishonest argumentation. I have really had it. I’m not getting any posts done and that is far more important than riding herd on out of control comments.

I am also truly appalled by what some of you have said. This has brought out the worst in a lot of people. I have never had to blacklist and moderate so many people in such a short period of time. You guys managed to ruin a great comments section. Well done.

(b) Why I don’t have comments“, Seth Godin, June 2006:

I think comments are terrific, and they are the key attraction for some blogs and some bloggers. Not for me, though. First, I feel compelled to clarify or to answer every objection or to point out every flaw in reasoning. Second, it takes way too much of my time to even think about them, never mind curate them. …I’m already itching to rewrite my traffic post below. So, given a choice between a blog with comments or no blog at all, I think I’d have to choose the latter.  So, bloggers who like comments, blog on. Commenters, feel free. But not here. Sorry.

(b)  Everett Bogue writes at Far Beyond the Stars, speaking at “Should You Allow Comments on Your Blog? Find Out What Two Remarkably Popular Bloggers Think“, ThinkTraffic, 11 January 2011:

As commenting grew on my blog, I found that I was spending increasingly large amounts of time moderating comments. … Where we put our intention with our attention. Our attention is our most valuable commodity, and with unlimited channels competing for it, we’re in a dire situation if we don’t put some emphasis into where our attention falls.

(c) Why Right Wing Blogs Don’t Allow Comments“, My Direct Democracy, 8 July 2005:

Little Green Footballs, which is the only of the five most trafficked right-wing blogs that allows comments (Instapundit, Powerline, Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt do not allow comments) showed why yesterday. Via Tbogg and lowkell, here are just a smattering of what has been written at Little Green Footballs since yesterday: …

{quite a list; must be read to be believed}

The calls for genocide and apartheid are flowing freely. There is a reason why blogs like Instapundit and Powerline do not allow comments, and why Time magazine would give its “Blog of the Year” award to Powerline even though Free Republic actually “broke” the CBS story. There is a concerted effort on the part of the right to prevent this sort of overt racism and fascism on the right from being given any sunshine. These, however, are not isolated comments. They are numerous and they are appearing on the second most trafficked right-wing blog in the country, and by far the largest right-wing blog that allows comments.

It’s time for the sun to shine in.


(d) Why I shut down comments“, Dan Conover, Xark, January 2013:

Long-time readers of Xark will have noticed a number of changes over the years, but I’d say none have been more profound than my relatively recent decision to remove the option to comment on posts here. It’s an indication of how the world has changed … here’s why I did it.

I was an early pro-comment partisan in the news business … I believed then, as I believe now, that the ability to comment and share across horizontal, informal networks is the killer app for the 21st century. Which sounds nice.

Unfortunately, newspaper and other traditional-media websites, for all their hand-wringing concerns about libel and civility circa 2005, are typically the worst offenders when it comes to building quality comment cultures. We’ve taught users bad habits and turned comment sections into troll ghettos.

The thing we’re slow to understand is just how rapidly the culture surrounding the Web is adapting to the tools we use for creating and connecting to content. Because in the end, the quality of your comments is really a reflection of your online community, not the snazziness of your comment control dashboard. I think Xark’s experiment in creating a community that wasn’t focused on one topic was great while it lasted, but the new model of that kind of general engagement is a well-cultivated list of friends and follows on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

What really changed between 2005 and 2009 was that regular people left blogging for social media platforms that far better suited their purposes. Blogs, once known for short blurbs and links that fit the emerging TLDNR attention span of modern readers, became the place where actual writers went to compose longer thoughts.

… as my kids say, you have to get with the now. And now this is the place where I come to write. You’re free to talk about it someplace else.So if you like that, great. If you don’t, so what? It’s a big internet.

(e) Why we turned off our comment boards today“, Medium, 22 January 2015 — Excerpt:

The same platform that provides an opportunity for civil dialogue and an exchange of ideas also provides a platform for racism, bigotry and hatred. Those aren’t the types of conversations we want to host on our website. Consider this a cooling off period for those who wish only to inspire fear in others.

We don’t pretend to know the solution to the problem. How do we foster a sense of community and encourage people to express themselves without simply providing a way to amplify hateful and often threatening remarks?

We’ve taken steps in recent months to clean up our comment boards, including shortening the amount of time they remain open and requiring a verified email address before users can post.

It hasn’t helped. Of our tens of thousands of comments a month, many are insightful and respectful. But those that are not threaten to pull us down to their level, since they refuse to be brought up to ours.

(f)  Washington Post’s Panel on Ethics & Interactivity, 25 January 2006 — Excerpts:

Glenn Reynolds (Prof of Law, U TN; writes at Instapundit, no comments allowed):

Some examples of good user communities are Slate’s “The Fray” (where I started) and Slashdot. Both, however, are moderated.

My own sense is that it’s very hard to preserve civility — or even a good ratio of interestingness to flaming — on sites that have high traffic without a fair degree moderation. There’s some sort of a threshold after which things tend to break down into USENET-style flamewars, which some people like, but which I’m tired of. I find the comments on Atrios, Kos, or for that matter Little Green Footballs, to be tiresome.

… More speech is good. But, of course, there’s no obligation for anyone to provide you with more speech on their site.

I love open comments, just as I love free beer, free pizza, and other giveaway goods. But I’m not entitled to them. And those who partake, I think, owe a certain degree of civility to their hosts.

… To take an economic perspective, one problem with comments is that — like email lists and chatboards — they allow one person to draw on the time of others. This can quickly devolve into a tragedy of the commons.

Jeff Jarvis (writes at BuzzMachine):

But, Glenn, isn’t it also true that your audience misses out on the wisdom your audience brings to you?  … But I would love to see you find some way to be more interactive. Nick Denton and Gawker Media made that — appropriate for them — into a velvet-rope club where you have to be invited in. … I wonder whether isn’t some way to increase your interactivity. But then the question is: Do you want to?

Glenn Reynolds:

I don’t know. My blog is a spare-time activity for me, and the sort of thing you describe would be another commitment of time. The Washington Post can have editors for their comments; I’d have to do it myself, or hire someone.

I am annoyed, though, by the sense of entitlement that some people bring to this discussion. The barriers to entry in blogging are very low. You want to get your ideas out? You can start a blog in 15 minutes. So why do you feel entitled — and that’s not too strong a word for what I hear sometimes — to put your comments on someone else’s site?

To add to this, I think that although people often act as if bloggers avoid comments with which they disagree, I think that the real danger to bloggers comes from the commenters with whom they agree. I’ve seen a number of bloggers pushed toward more extreme views by their comment section. It’s seductive, I imagine — all these people talking about *your* ideas — and it seems to exert a pull.

Atrios at Eschaton comments on the panel:

Nothing like convening a panel to discuss how to deal with internet comments which consists of someone who doesn’t allow them, someone who doesn’t get any because nobody gives a shit what he writes, and someone who deletes them and clearly exaggerates the reasons why.

(g)  More bloggers who turned off comments explain why.

9 thoughts on “Comments on the FM website – and elsewhere

    1. A lot of websites are that way. New rules make it so websites have to be fit for phones and if you are on a note book or computer it will not appear right.

      Our website about if science and God can mix had to be readjusted as a result of Google’s rules or they would not allow it to be shown on search engines which most are now powered by Google meaning the site had to be very much dumbed down HOWEVER Dad found 3rd party software that allows different font sizes including phone OS so the site will auto detect your OS regardless if it’s phones or computer.

      Google would have it only for smart phones so you have to do lots of hunting around.

      Our local newspaper site has revamped and is ugly with the tiles made for touch screens and it’s click scroll click scroll if you don’t have a touch pad.

  1. The problem is that these blogs are in on the know that our political party is ran by oversea corporations who have no loyalty to America and we are basically arguing weather right wing Nazis or Left Wing communists are better and both want a top down government.

    These blogs know the jig is up as a small percent of the population is figuring out the smokes and mirrors so they can’t afford a mass awakening. Therefore using *legal* concerns as reasons to turn off their blog they can further get rid of dissent on both political parties.

    Trolls have been around since the early 2000s and if they were concerned these actions would’ve been done way back then on turning off websites. Instead they wait till our half black President wages war on small nations and on Americans at home allowing unlimited spying and the fast n furious program to go unpunished.etc

    So of course they are going tohave to turn off *comments* in order to stop people from voicing out their concerns by looking at a few name calling comments and label all extremists retarded.

  2. “Little Green Footballs, which is the only of the five most trafficked right-wing blogs that allows comments”

    If they were then they are now a fully complement Socshevik website. Furthermore, their name is moronic and their traffic ranking is over 1oo,ooo, according to Amazon.

    Dear Maximus, this needs to be edited and the scribe arrested for sedation.

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