Friday, December 12, 2008

Regulating Blog Comments

Since my esteemed colleague Eric Posner began posting at the "Volokh Conspiracy" blog, I've started looking at that site again, and so noticed that Orin Kerr (George Washington)--an expert in criminal law and procedure and one of the most worthwhile contributors there--has posted an updated version of their "comments policy," I assume in response to increasingly worthless comments threads.  (I've got my own policy, of course, but since blog comments sections are generally worthless, I open them less often.)  My own (admittedly dated) recollection of the comments section at the Volokh blog was of a cesspool of juvenile stupidity as well as every right-wing delusion about how the world works imaginable:  sort of like right-wing talk radio, but typed.  Anyway, I was amused that Professor Kerr's attempt to reassert some dignity to the comments threads immediately provoked--what else?--an explosion of juvenile stupidity and crackpot ranting, including this gem:

I was banned after attacking Eugene personally. The policy below ensued soon thereafter. It is mostly about his feelings. Here, I have seen curse words, personalized death threats, unacceptable language. I have seen links to sites with animal sex, illegal pharmacies. No problem.  Question the professor on substance, and that is unpardonable. He does not know the legal word, reasonable, really means, in accordance with the New Testament. He failed to grasp that the supernatural central doctrines of the law, mind reading, future forecasting, truth detection by gut feelings, standards of conduct set by fictional characters to make them objective, all violate the Establishment Clause. He is an expert on crosses in city flags, but refuses to see the glaring lawlessness of the central doctrines of the law that he indoctrinates into his students daily. Although we share some beliefs, I believe he is mired in Medieval superstition, unforgivable given his scientific knowledge and his intelligence. I coined the legal term of art, in his honor, "dumbass." That is someone with an IQ of 300 who has been made a mental cripple by a legal education.

Banning this fellow does, indeed, seem like a contribution to communal well-being.  Professor Volokh, himself, reports later in the same thread that he has banned more commenters (140) than any of his co-bloggers, and by a wide margin.  Needless to say, this (conjoined with his reasonable intolerance of folks attacking him, like the whack job quoted above) struck me as more than a little ironic given his past misconduct.   But perhaps these developments--including the adoption of an adult comments policy at the University of Chicago Faculty blog--signals maturation of the blogosphere?  What most anonymous individuals have to say most of the time has no value when said in public, and, more often than not, it positively detracts from everyone else's opportunities for potentially valuable speech.  The Internet is currently the world's "bathroom wall"--as Dean Levmore has memorably observed--but why professors should contribute to and dignify that is hard to fathom.

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