Andrew Sullivan has some thoughts on how to best elicit feedback on the Intertrons (via). Sully has long resisted having a full-fledged comments section, if y’all don’t know, and he links to Julian Sanchez:
If the type and volume of criticism we find online were experienced in person, we’d probably think we were witnessing some kind of EST/Maoist reeducation session designed to break down the psyche so it could be rebuilt from scratch. The only way not to find this overwhelming and demoralized over any protracted period of time is to adopt a reflexive attitude that these are not real people whose opinions matter in any way. Which, indeed, seems to be a pretty widespread attitude. Scan the comments at one of the more partisan political blogs and you get a clear sense that the “other side” consists not so much of people with different ideas, but an inscrutable alien species. I think it’s self-evident that this is an unhealthy development in a democracy, but it may be a coping strategy that our media ecosystem is forcing on us—at least until we find a better one.
I have a better one. Scrap comments sections, and add serious editors to filter the smartest emails both in favor of the blogger’s view and against. Yes, you need to develop the thickest of skins. But a thick skin isn’t the same as epistemic closure. Or it doesn’t need to be.
DeLong says something about humanizing yourself as a means of deflection. I’ve never had a high-traffic blog that attracts trolls, so I can’t really speak as to how psychologically damaging it is to often deal with idiots on the Internet. That said, I still think they’re wrong.
I get that there’s a ton of crap on the Web. But good comment sections, which (yes, I know) are few and far between, are still worth it, in my view. I’m aware that having a lightly moderated comment section is a recipe for attracting trolls. But how about Sully’s idea? That the writer gets to pick and choose to which arguments he or she will respond? Makes sense… as long as you entirely trust the writer. And how many people do you read that you trust entirely? I actually trust a fair amount of the people I read at this point but Andrew Sullivan sure as hell isn’t one of them (for good reason, I might add).
So, no, count me out. The Internet has tons of filth and idiocy and ignorance. But I’ll take that and sift through it rather than depend on the host of a site to pick and choose the arguments that they deem worthy of response. I’d like to be able to make that decision, thanks.