Clarifications on a comment culture

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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101 Responses

  1. BSK says:

    Love that comic. And I appreciate this post.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to BSK says:

      It’s a timeless classic. Glad you appreciate the post.Report

      • BSK in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I was actually thinking about last night amidst the dialogue going on here.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

          The cartoon explains why I wanted to get some sleep and not have 50+ angry comments waiting for me in the morning that I could not and would not want to sort through.  [Such a thing had happened just a day before on a different thread.]

          BSK’s solution was perhaps more elegant:

          I think Tom might have been better 
          served to simply say he was signing off for the night, would return when he 
          could, and would engage as much as possible with the caveat that it would be 
          hard if the comments section was overrun. That would have allowed others to 
          continue dialoguing and allowed Tom to deal with RL without it beingheld against 
          him. But that’s me.
          Let’s see how this plays out before we crucify Tom again who very well may have 
          been, and who I will assume was, acting in good faith."


          In any case, the post was not overrun—perhaps due to BSK’s good graces [or perhaps from being closed for the night], and so I’ll return to it and hope to answer all good faith inquiries.


          • BSK in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            As I’ve always maintained, my issues with you are not of a personal or ideological nature, but largely are stylistic. When you are right, I will say so. When you are wrong, I will say so. When someone wrongs you, I will defend you, as I have done. My goal is too always pursue truth, learning, and personal growth.Report

  2. Ian M. says:

    But the really important thing is Rick Santorum’s disgraceful lie about the ACA!


  3. Ian M. says:

    Well played.Report

  4. Will H. says:

    I like your style, Kain.

    As a general rule, I would say that the fewer rules there are to anything, the more stringently they need enforced.
    To paraphrase Nietzsche:
    One rule is more of a rule than many rules, for it is more of a knot for a man’s blog to cling to.Report

  5. Snarky McSnarksnark says:

    The commenting culture is what really makes LoOG so valuable and unique.   I do not know of another website / blog that has such thoughtful and articulate writers, combined with a genuine diversity of views.   And the conversation is, in the main, civil.   I had followed the occasional link here over the years, but just started engaging in a meaningful way here over the last month or so.

    When I graduated college I wanted to go into policy law, and somehow or another ended up in the technology business.    I don’t really have any regrets, but I do miss the kinds of conversations that are more common among liberal arts majors.    Somehow, the circles that I run in in the meatworld have different kinds of conversations, and the meandering “big question” explorations found here are not generally part of them.    So finding LoOG has made my life feel richer, and I appreciate everyone in the community for having made that so.

    That having been said, there is one major style of commenting that degrades the conversations (other than obvious trolling):   dismissing the good faith of the people that you’re engaged with.   People get different things from their internet communities, and it appears that provocation as sport is something that many seem to enjoy.  It is to the credit of LoOG that there don’t seem to be too many of those here.

    But, like anything precious, civilized conversation really has to be cultivated.    In a thread from yesterday, someone enumerated the users that have actually been banned, and about half of them were already familiar with me–these are folks who have kind of made a hobby of despoiling political conversations all over the wonkisphere.     LoOG seems to be doing a pretty good job;  and callouts plus 99ing seems to be a pretty effective way of keeping things reasonably honest and reasonably respectful.Report

    • Kenneth in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

      “That having been said, there is one major style of commenting that degrades the conversations (other than obvious trolling):   dismissing the good faith of the people that you’re engaged with.

      Sadly I must say that, after watching repeat after repeat after repeat of the same behavior of the same bad-faith actors, one or two of which have managed to get FP posting status, one reaches a point where assuming good faith is (outside of the Wikipedia definition, which is its own ridiculousness, since you are supposed to “assume good faith” but also remember that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck“…

      And of course, I am pretty sure ED Kain above is making an oblique mention of myself when he says “fly-by commenters. By doing so, he’s engaging in the fishing bull manure that Wikipedia refers to as a “single purpose account” tagging; what he’s really doing is dog-whistling “don’t worry guys, feel free to ignore the person I’m talking about because they are Obviously Up To No Good.”Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to Kenneth says:

        People who can do nothing more than complain are boring. You are welcome to comment elsewhere or start your own blog where you write the rules.Report

        • Kenneth in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          In other words, you want me to leave.

          Just say so then. I’ll be happy to let you create your own little circle-jerk of dishonesty here if that’s your goal.Report

          • BSK in reply to Kenneth says:

            No, Kenneth.  He is saying that if you don’t like the rules here, the door is to the left.Report

          • E.D. Kain in reply to Kenneth says:

            I’d prefer you to just stop bitching and moaning and take a deep breath. Then you could assess what I’m doing with this post honestly. Otherwise your option is fine.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Kenneth says:

            I think he’s trying to tell you that it’s time to put your happy pants on.
            If you need to pay a visit to the changing room for a while, that’s fine.
            But, for the most part, turdishness is often taken to be turd-like.
            Nothing wrong with changing your pants from time to time.
            The Founding Fathers did it!
            Must be good.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Kenneth says:

            “In other words, you want me to leave.”

            Would you be happier if he said that?

            Because I’ve seen people who would, in fact, be happier if they were asked to leave (or told to leave, or banned.)  Because then they could go out into the world thinking that they were Just Too Cool For Those Guys who just couldn’t handle the realtalk.Report

    • That having been said, there is one major style of commenting that degrades the conversations (other than obvious trolling):   dismissing the good faith of the people that you’re engaged with. 

      I think I agree.  And the corollary–and where I sometimes fall short–is “one should not (usually) take the bait and let oneself get drawn down into a drawn out argument about good faith.”  There is at least one author on this blog, and not the one a lot of people complain about, whose comments and sometimes posts I often interpret as personal attacks on others’ good faith.  I should be satisfied with just calling that out once in a while, but sometimes I let myself get dragged in to a larger “meta-discussion.”  Such discussion has its place, of course, but in moderation.

      Might I also say that I love this blog, and even have a lot of admiration and respect for the one author who I sometimes have trouble with.Report

  6. Kenneth says:

    Is there some magical limit on the number of links that can be put into a comment? While you’re fixing your site, PLEASE for the love of god come up with a login system or some better way to manage spam. I’m going to assume my prior comment is now caught in spam filter hell.Report

  7. Katherine says:

    I understand what some people are frustrated about.  I think there’s a very broad range in quality of writers here: there are truly thoughtful, interesting ones, and there are ones who a decidedly otherwise.  Quite frankly, I don’t think left-wing commenters who used this blog for partisan claims, intellectually dishonest arguments, and distorted facts to the degree that Tom or Mike do would get much credence, and certainly wouldn’t get taken on as front-page writers.  Nor should they.  I’d prefer that the blog maintain a certain standard of quality and, though I recognize its libertarian-leaning tendencies, I’d prefer that that standard was consistent between the sides of the political spectrum.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Katherine says:

      +1, Katherine.Report

    • MFarmer in reply to Katherine says:


      Are you saying that the Leftist worldview is under-represented? And, to which “Mike” are you referring?Report

      • Katherine in reply to MFarmer says:

        Mike Dwyer.

        And not precisely.  The leftist worldview certainly is underrepresented at League, but that in itself is okay – I don’t ask for it to be perfectly ideologically balanced.  This place has been my go-to site for intelligent conservatism, just at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog is my  go-to site for intelligent liberalism (and incidentally, I think TNC’s commenting community is the best one I’ve seen).  I wouldn’t mind seeing a couple more left-wing writers here, though.

        The more important problem is simply quality of content.  If the League is going to choose right-wing partisans with little intellectual honesty as some of its primary writers, then at minimum it should select some liberals as front-pagers as well – if nothing else, to refute them, and avoid dropping all of the burden on us commentators to do a bunch of research every time the right-wingers make false or misleading claims.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Katherine says:

          Katherine – I’d love you to put your money where your mouth is and submit a guest piece…. (I mean that sincerely by the way.)Report

          • Katherine in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            I’m feeling constantly swamped with grad school work these days, but I’d be interested in doing that some time.  It would probably relate to foreign policy, and likely concern Obama, Israel-Palestine, or both.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Katherine says:

          Katherine, I’m curious why you think the League is a place to go for intelligent conservative conversation. The reason I wonder is cuz this place strikes me as operating on a different plane than either conservatives or liberals, and if I’m wrong about that – and it really is a conservative site – I need to change my bumper stickers.Report

          • E.D. Kain in reply to Stillwater says:

            Ditto Still’s curiosity. This may have once been the case, but it’s pretty much a wild-stretch at this point, given the presence of Ethan, Shawn, Ryan, Elias, myself, and various others writing on the FP.Report

            • Katherine in reply to E.D. Kain says:

              There’s a fair variety, but the majority of the political material is very skeptical on the role and powers of government, and most often focuses on domestic policy.  To me, that generally fits with conservative and libertarian inclinations.  Liberal positions tend to be a lot more skeptical on government powers when it comes to the military, security, and police, and more willing to accept a larger government role in economics, social welfare, and similar domestic policy matters.  And then there’s just League idiosyncrasies, like most of the writers except Elias regarding Citizens United as a good or neutral decision.

              I agree that this blog is also unique, and less exclusively political than your typical politics blog.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Katherine says:

                I think the lack of focus on international issues has less to do with political ideology than it does with the expertise of the writers.  (Nob being the obvious exception, of course.)

                FWIW, past that I’m not sure that I see the same thing regarding trust of government from the writers.  I would agree that there are a fair amount of writers here who write about limiting government, but I’m not sure it isn’t a minority at this point.  Aside from myself, I think of Ryan, Elias, Ethan, Kyle, Alex, Shawn and Burt as people who write all the time about the positive or necessary role of government on domestic issues – even on a federal level.  And is there anyone here that writes posts arguing for greater government security, police powers and military actions?  I rather think that’s one area  where there is very little variety here.  Not everyone here would call these stances “liberal” as you do, but I think it’s one area where we are all by and large on the same square, policy wise.Report

              • greginak in reply to Katherine says:

                While I’m one of the liberals here   i  don’t feel the LOOG is suffering from a lack of liberal views. It would be more interesting if there were more, but nothing is perfect and that kind of thing is a moving target. I think the front pagers are in general the best group this blog has had. A couple years or so, this was turning into a libertarian only place but that has shifted much for the better. I get Katherine’s issue about so many front pagers being of the skeptical of gov school ( domestic policy). I think there a lot of meta reasons for that  but they don’t reflect on the quality of the FP.

                People can take this as a knock on conservative blogs, but most of them are mediocre at best and have nothing near the variety of voices or quality of dialogue we get here.Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to greginak says:

                I actually think that liberalism is adequately well represented in the choir here:  however, because this is a fairly wonky site, I think it attracts wonky liberals, who tend to be more skeptical about traditional, command regulation.    So in that sense, it’s true:  there are not many Roosevelt liberals in this community.   But I do think that (neo-)liberals, sympathetic to traditional liberal objectives, are a significant part of LoOG.

                Just think of them as liberals with a twist of libertarian.Report

              • +1

                I’ll add that if there is a thoughtful conservative blog, I’d like someone to tell me because I’d like to read it.Report

              • Scott Fields in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                +1 on Pierre’s +1

                I was about to comment that, like Katherine, I come here as well to get a conservative perspective. Not so much because I consider LoOG a conservative blog, but because thoughtful conservative commenting is so hard to find.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater says:

            “I’m curious why you think the League is a place to go for intelligent conservative conversation.”

            Well, they refuse to outright ban the hateful spewers of hate speech.  Obviously, therefore, it’s a conservative site.Report

  8. Burt Likko says:

    Although I set up my clippings dump over a month ago, it’s poignant that this particular one from Ben Franklin should come up today. Similar sorts of issues came up with similar aggregations of intellects a quarter of a millenium ago. Ben F. and friends had to experiment with different sorts of ways to handle them just as we do until they found the right mechanism for them to get the kind of intellectual culture they sought, an intellectual culture which is very similar to that to which we aspire here, today. Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, &tc.Report

  9. MFarmer says:

    Is it all right to call someone a self-bloated, pompous, deceptive, footler, if that’s what they are? This is not aimed at anyone in particular, I’m just wondering, in case someone like that comes along.Report

  10. BSK says:

    Off topic, but how do you changemthe gravatar thingy?Report

  11. David Ryan says:

    I delete comments all the time. That’s why there are so few of them on my posts!Report

  12. Snarky McSnarksnark says:

    I actually think that liberalism is adequately well represented in the choir here:  however, because this is a fairly wonky site, I think it attracts wonky liberals, who tend to be more skeptical about traditional, command regulation.    So in that sense, it’s true:  there are not many Roosevelt liberals in this community.   But I do think that (neo-)liberals, sympathetic to traditional liberal objectives, are a significant part of LoOG.x

    Just think of them as liberals with a twist of libertarian.Report

  13. ppnl says:

    Pardon a question that may seem off topic but…

    Why are you using blogging software when forum software would serve your purposes far better? Most blogs are about the blogger. If comments are allowed at all they are for just that. Comments. It is ill suited for following the thread of an argument.

    This is more like a debating society. It is all about the comments which are far more than stand alone comments. The clumsy threading and lack of control make it difficult to even keep up with one branch of the discussion. This clumsiness may be part of the problem you are having.

    A vbulletin forum would give you far more options for dealing with problems. You could still set it up so that only certain people could open a thread. If you wanted to keep the blog front end you could still do that. Just close comments on the blog and post a link to the forum thread.Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to ppnl says:

      Hmm, just my two cents, but this doesn’t sound good at all. Forum tends to be messier in my experience, and there will definitely be less linking and responses from other bloggers. Besides, much as I enjoy reading (some) of the commenters here, the reason you read a blog is to read the opinion of a certain blogger or bloggers, the comment section is more a “take it or leave it” proposition. Some people don’t read comments at all.Report

      • ppnl in reply to sonmi451 says:


        I agree that turning this place into an open forum would be a really bad idea. Most internet forums are troll infested wastes of time. I’m simply suggesting that they use forum software to handle comments. It would still be locked down so that I could not start a new topic. It would still be up to the people on the masthead to set and control the topics and discussion. You could even keep the blog as a front end. Nothing would change except the commenting software.Report

    • E.D.Kain in reply to ppnl says:

      This is a blog first and foremost. That we work to build a healthy comment culture is one thing. A forum would change the nature and purpose of this site so drastically…honestly I find it a bizarre suggestion.Report

      • ppnl in reply to E.D.Kain says:


        Yes I understand what you are saying but I think you misunderstand what I am saying. I agree that converting this place to an open forum would drastically change the nature of the place for the worse. It would destroy the power and focus of this place.

        But I’m not suggesting that you become just another internet forum with all their problems. I’m only suggesting you use forum software to handle comments. Nothing else needs to change at all. You still control the topics. You are still the only one who can open a topic or say who can open a topic. As I said you could still even use the blog post as a front end to start a thread.

        Blog software simply was not designed for extensive discussions. I find it almost impossible to keep up with who said what or even find my own posts. Forum software is much better at that and properly set up would change nothing else at all.


        • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to ppnl says:

          MetaFilter Talk has a feature in which new comments (comments added since your last visit to the site, but less than a day ago, or something similar) are highlighted in a different color.     I’m not sure if there is a WordPress plug-in that can accomplish the same thing, but it would be an awesome way of keeping tabs on evolving conversations.


          • ppnl in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:


            Thats great but how about the ability for me as a user to turn the threaded display on and off? How about the ability to quickly go to the first unread comment? How about being able to see the last dozen OP’s all on the same screen instead of scrolling down one long page for a post title only half remembered.

            How about giving the blog owner the power to say who can and cannot delete a post. How about the power to split off and move an off topic but interesting subthread?

            A blog was intended as a daily log of thoughts and activities. Comments are something of an afterthought. It really isn’t suited for extensive discussions.Report

            • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to ppnl says:

              If you are serious about this, I would think it would be more effecatious to request a front page post, and to elaborate your idea (with specific software, links to other sites that have implemented it) and see if you can persuade the “community” — and more importantly, the admins–of the relative virtues of the approach.   Somone would have to put in many, many hours of work to make it happen.

              But as a tangent on an unrelated post, you’ll never generate the consensus (and heat) that could potentially lead to a change.   I don’t consider the current software “broken,” but some of the capabilities you speak of sound very useful.    Other than the difficulty tracking threads over time, I have no issues with the current setup.   But I’m persuadable, and I suspect many others would be, as well, if you made a solid case for it.Report

            • BSK in reply to ppnl says:

              football-outsiders has a good comment sections.  Comments are nested, but numbering is static.  So if there are two comments, numbered one and two, and someone resopnds to number one, their response is number three, even though it appears above number 2 on the page.  It also highlights all unread comments since your last refresh.  You have to be a registered user (registration is free) so you won’t see all of this unless you are, but it works very well.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to BSK says:

                The Oil Drum has a good commenting system, with minus signs you can click on to skip entire sub threads that have gone off into the tumbleweeds (or that simply don’t interest). Of course once you click on the minus sign it turns into a plus sign to expand the nested comments back out. I will admit it gets tough on this site to keep track of comments, not to mention that I don’t use the email tracking and mostly play hopscotch with the rolling Gifts of Gab thing-y on the left.

                I have to admit when I drop out of conversations it is mostly because I’m distracted by the bright shiny objects showing up on the left and completely lose track of where I was in the previous thread. I know this is probably rude, but I’d like to get an ADA pass because of my ADHD. 😉Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to BSK says:

                The renumbering of the comments drives.  Me.  INSANE.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                I see what you did there.  Well played.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                It actually *destroys* information.  It is antithetical to all that is good about the Universe.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                My experience with bogs is really, really limited.  But I would want to ask that we not have a system like they have at Balloon Juice.  I like the way that I can read a certain flow of conversations here.  I am not so enamored with their system, where replies to other comments can be separated by 20 or thirty other comments.  I find it a pain to always go, “Hmmm…. I wonder what comment this comment is a reply to” and linking back and forth, over and over.Report

              • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                First time I encountered a “99” here, I thought that was a reference to a specific comment.   And, as it happened, comment #99 was germane and relevant.

                At least until I refreshed by browser…Report

              • I’ll see what I can do.Report

  14. Scott says:

    Maybe Elias will now stop deleting my posts but I doubt it.Report

  15. My goodness. I walked away from this place for a weekend and the powder keg erupted. Guess it’s time to write another post about how Obama is a sociopath. Does that count as intelligent conservatism?Report