This afternoon, several of our readers questioned our decision to close the comment thread on Jaron Lanier's post about WikiLeaks, "The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy." The discussion transformed into an extended Twitter conversation with some of my favorite writers, professors, and readers about the ethics and strategy of that decision. I'd like to walk through my thinking with you all here.
Before we dive into the details, I want to tell you where I'm coming from, philosophically and strategically.
First, I love Atlantic readers. This isn't pandering; I go home every night thankful for the audience that we have because I know that I've got it good. But we're a totally open website and we can draw trolls just like anywhere else. I kinda love our homegrown trolls, but I have no patience for people who visit once just to say something mean. They demean the community.
Second, I am not religious about the necessity of comments. Comments have a history just like every other literary genre and that entails conventions. Many of the general conventions around Internet discourse developed in ugly ways. (That's why oddball commenters are so delightful, like this limerick-writing guy.) Commenting standards differ across the Internet -- our unwritten code tends to require basic civility -- but when you have an article get widely distributed, the standards of the local site tend to collapse from the onslaught of outsiders. I also firmly believe that comments are not always the best conduit for critique, feedback, and reflection. Theoretically, at least, one could design a better general system, or one that could be used in some special cases.