No Man Is a (Comments-Free) Island ...

... but I represent a little no-comment atoll on our site.

Yesterday Derek Thompson put up a very good item on the pluses and minuses of enabling reader-comments on web sites. This was of course occasioned by Popular Science's decision to stop allowing comments on its posts. Derek explained why the Atlantic's various sites and writers felt that comment sections, some moderated and others left to ferment or combust on their own, added more -- through engagement, variety, insight, accountability, community-formation -- than they took away through rancor or polarization. Our digital editor, Bob Cohn, made a similar case last month for the open-comment policy throughout the Atlantic's domains.

With one exception: me. I didn't allow comments back when I had my own small site long ago, and I've stuck that policy since lashing this little skiff onto the mother ship in 2006. There were two exceptions in the years when Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish was part of our operation, since he too takes the no-comments line.

Nearly three years ago, I explained why it makes sense -- to me -- to do business this way. Prompted by Derek's item, I looked at that old post again, and I still believe what I wrote then. Please feel free to read the whole thing, but here was the gist:

1) Unless a comment stream is actively moderated, it inevitably is ruined by bullies, hotheads, and trolls. If you feel otherwise, fine. This is what I think.
    Corollary: The comment-communities that flourish, notably the Golden Horde of TN Coates, require real-time, frequent intervention by a moderator not afraid to put his stamp on the discussion. 

2) I am unwilling, or afraid, to commit the ongoing attention necessary to be a real-time moderator of comments on this site. I am often away from the web world for a couple of days running, for instance the past 36 hours. [Update 9/25/2013: Or most of the past 72 hours, for a combination of family obligations, travel, and other-writing duties.] That is a long enough time for things to go wrong and people's feelings to get bruised. Also, although I tremendously value the connections I've made and stimulation I've received via, I think of magazine and book writing as my "real" work and need to give them attention-precedence.

3) So instead I try as much as I can to republish comments I get from readers, and do so almost every day. Generally this does more to advance the discussion than what I originally said.

I don't have any second thoughts about this policy. Many people will disagree -- it's a free country. I do regret, even more acutely than when I made the point back in 2010, not being able to keep up with, curate, respond to, and republish a larger share of the fascinating mail that comes in. I'll keeping trying my best. [Picture from here; he didn't allow reader comments either.]

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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