Friday, May 29, 2009

Degraded comments?

Am I the only one who thinks that, as of late, the comments have become increasingly shrill and/or juvenile?

I've stopped reading the comments on every blog I read except for this one. (Of course, my favorite blog -- SCOTUSblog -- no longer even permits comments.) There are certainly still worthwhile comments on CAAFlog, including (but not limited to) those by JO'C and Sir Cloudesley. But I'm very near the point of thinking that picking out those nuggets is no longer worth the time investment to wade through all the invective.

I believe in the free marketplace of ideas and very rarely delete comments. But I deleted one tonight that treated a fine public servant with incredible (and vulgar) disrespect. I sincerely hope that the anonymous poster who wrote that comment was neither a military officer nor an attorney, because each of our dual professions demands better of us than that.

Can we all please try to elevate the level of discourse to reinstate a useful dialogue in the comment section? And I strongly encourage individuals to post using their own names.

I'll stand by now for the barrage of rhetorical spitballs that normally follows a call for civility on the web.


bschrier said...


You're not the only one who thinks that, except that I don't think it's such a late-breaking development. I see it on TV, in public debate, and in the academic setting. I am constantly having to ask my students to respect each other's views, even if they don't find them agreeable.

Question: why permit anonymous commentary in the first place? No newspaper permits it. I'm not sure the free marketplace of ideas is enriched by anonymous sniping. Indeed, I often find myself deleting potential posts simply because I fear being pilloried for taking an unpopular position.

Bill Schrier

p.s. Thank you for putting in so much time and effort on CAAFlog. I read it several times daily even though I no longer practice in the military justice system. The analysis you provide is second to none, and I appreciate it. It's also a daily reminder to me of the acumen and integrity your bring to your practice of law. You, sir, are a model for the rest of us.

John O'Connor said...

Sorry, Dad.

Anonymous said...

The comments on this blog are indeed, at times, pointless and annoying, usually involving some variety of "if you don't agree with me you shouldn't be a lawyer." The balance between allowing those who practice in the appellate divisions (and at least 3 court members) who post anonymously , to continue to contribute and allowing the rest of the folks who snipe is tilted too far. Free speech has limits.

Dwight Sullivan said...

Biff, your comments are overly generous. It's nice to have such a kind friend.

There are at least two answers to your question about allowing anonymous posting. The first is that it would be extremely difficult to allow posting without allowing anonymous posts. Even if we required that everyone who posts have a blogger account (and I don't even know if that's technologically possible), nothing would stop John Smith from setting up an account as Jane Doe and posting in that name. I'd have no idea whether the poster was really who he or see said she was. I guess we could insist people prove they are who they say they are as a precondition to posting, but I'm sure that neither the No Man nor I want to invest the time that would be necessary to do so.

Second, we would probably lose part of the subset of comments that are valuable were we to insist that everyone post in his or her own name. For example, there seems to be widespread agreement that Clousesley Shovell's comments on the blog are among the best. For Pete's sake, an Army Lawyer article CITED Sir Cloudesley. But I'm pretty sure that that poster's name isn't actually Cloudesley Shovell. What I don't know is whether Sir Cloudesley would continue to post -- or would post the same comments -- if he or she were required to do so under his or her own name.

All of which leads me to think there are three viable options: (1) continuing to let everyone post using whatever names they please while occasionally calling for self-restraint and occasionally deleting inappropriate personal attacks; (2) disallowing all comments; or (3) continuing to allow anyone to post anything, but simply ignoring the comments, as I ignore the comment section on every other blog I read.

Are there other options?

(Personally, I'm still at No. 1, but lately I've come awfully close to No. 3. But then along comes a wonderful comment like So-Crate's interesting analysis of the Rodriguez cert jurisdictional issue, and I inch away from No. 3 and closer to No. 1. I also suspect that Socrates isn't So-crates real name.)

LeEllen said...

Personally, I think you should continue to allow comments. The "dialog" is what makes blogs different from newspapers, TV news, or even internet news sites. I find the conversations on blogs interesting, even if some who comment try too hard to be funny and end up making fools of themselves...and then there are those who just cannot refrain from proving just how obnoxious they can be when hiding behind a screen and keyboard. So, if my "vote" counts, I'd go for option #1, and continue to allow the conversation, while periodically calling for restraint and deleting those comments that need to be sent to the "nethersphere." This is a great blog, with wonderful insights; many of which are found in the comments. Keep the conversation going!

Anonymous said...

Well, for what it's worth I practice at an appellate government division and am relatively senior. It would be inappropriate to make comments on a blog in many instances under my true name as it may be taken as an endorsement. However, I do try to keep comments on topic and civil. Precluding anonymous postings would preclude some valuable insight.

Anonymous said...

Like most specialty websites/blogs, this site is a wonderful source of information for a narrow subject matter. The problems usually arise when they get out of their lane. A discussion of the constitutionality of the new Article 120 is unlikely to draw too many trolls. They don't know enough about it to care, or be annoying.

Start discussing Supreme Court nominees or the news of the day, and everyone (or every nut) has an opinion or ax to grind.

Some sites have a self policing system where you can essentially vote trolls of the board (DailyKos does something like this), others set limits on the number of posts in a day, or the number posts in a thread, or who may post new subjects. Finally, some sites require you to register and provide a working email address, before you are able to post. Hobson's choice.

Anonymous said...

Dwight, please continue what you do. I am a senior defense counsel, and your blog is must-read material every night. I no longer have to cruise CAAF, AFCCA, ACCA or NMCCA sites to keep up to date on what's breaking.

I also agree - anonymous posting allows the flotsam and jetsam of the web to post inappropriate and unhelpful garbage, but it also allows me, my colleagues in the JAG Corps and other MJ practitioners to comment without fear of retribution from judges or the JAG chain of command.

Dew_Process said...

I think that there is a viable, middle ground. I'm active on another blog that works this way.

John Doe wants to post as Lawman. There are 3 "administrators" to the blog who know who Lawman is and how to contact him/her, but do not ever reveal the true ID. They give permission [don't know the technical aspects of how] to post as Lawman. If Lawman gets out of control, s/he's first warned and then if 2/3 of the Admins agree, suspended or banned.

It's one thing to stray O/T - it's quite another to defame or take cheap shots behind the wall of anonymity.

For the Record, Dwight knows my ID.

Anonymous said...

well, then again, you could go piss up a rope.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for emphatically proving COL Sullivan's point!

Cloudesley Shovell said...

What's this "I'm pretty sure that that poster's name isn't actually Cloudesley Shovell" stuff?

Blasphemy! Rubbish! Etc. I am kept going by my eternal quest to find my emerald ring. Someday I may retire to obscurity like my neighbor Henry III, but for now, anyone here seen my ring?

Back to the topic at hand, the Santomayor nomination resulted in a complaint about degraded comments over at Volokh as well. See here:

So long as you have open comments, you are going to get the shrill and juvenile comments. CAAFlog has been discovered by the public beyond those with a professional interest in military justice, and you are not ever going to unring that bell. You can restrict comments, or moderate them, but I say trust in the community of regular commenters (incl. the many anons) to self-police the comment threads by ignoring or not feeding the trolls.

I would say you might consider restricting comments to those who create a blogger ID (free, anonymous, easy), because doing so would require the poster to protect the reputation of his or her chosen online persona. Except experience suggests that there are those who, unfortunately, don't care about their reputation, and delight in getting under other commenters' skins. I humbly suggest, then, that it's best to (1) develop a thick skin, and (2) ignore the trolls.

John O'Connor said...

"So long as you have open comments, you are going to get the shrill and juvenile comments."

I think it's fair to distinguish bwetween the juveline comments and the shrill comments. A juveline comment here and there is good entertainment. The shrill and mean ones, not so much.

Anonymous said...

I know for my part that I have reached the stage where I no longer think the poor decisions in the military justice system are errors or mistakes, they are the system.

That leads me to vent here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with JOC, some humor make the comments interesting/fun to read. I appreciate whitty and dry humor and subtle sarcasm. But, the shrill ones where school yard insults are thrown around create a bad atmosphere. I strongly suspect that most of those posts are from one person. Why not just start removing posts from that individual?

Anonymous said...


I think you would lose some valuable comments if anyone knew who some of the posters were.

I say develop a thick skin, laugh at the preposterous, ignore the useless, bait the foolish, read the beneficial, debate the worthy, and let God sort em out.