Time for a clean slate? FP’s new ‘comments’ feature
FP is about to inaugurate a new "comments" system, and it will be interesting to see how this change affects discourse on this site and on others. I don’t yet know exactly how the new system is supposed to operate, but I want to use this moment to offer a few comments of my own ...
FP is about to inaugurate a new "comments" system, and it will be interesting to see how this change affects discourse on this site and on others. I don't yet know exactly how the new system is supposed to operate, but I want to use this moment to offer a few comments of my own on the reactions that readers have contributed since I started writing this blog back in 2009.
FP is about to inaugurate a new "comments" system, and it will be interesting to see how this change affects discourse on this site and on others. I don’t yet know exactly how the new system is supposed to operate, but I want to use this moment to offer a few comments of my own on the reactions that readers have contributed since I started writing this blog back in 2009.
On the whole, it has been gratifying that some of my posts have elicited a lot of lively discussion. I don’t read the comments religiously — who has the time? — but when I do, I often find a lot of smart observations and occasionally some useful corrections to things I’ve written. It’s also instructive just to read people scrutinize my ideas from different perspectives, some of them sharply at odds with my own.
What’s more disappointing, however, is the level of name-calling and gratuitous spleen that some commenters display. This problem is hardly unique to this site, of course, and plenty of other bloggers and online publications have dealt with this problem too. Unfortunately, anonymity gives people the freedom to write a lot of venomous bilge, and some participants here have leapt to exploit that opportunity.
I welcome pointed arguments, sarcasm, wit, and even the occasional modest dose of snark, but some issues seem to bring out some people’s worst instincts on a consistent basis, and reason and civility just run right out the door. The problem is not confined to people who disagree with me, by the way, as I find some readers’ attacks on my critics to be equally offensive and/or juvenile. It may be cathartic for the person who’s typing, but flame wars do not advance our understanding of difficult issues.
So by all means take issue with me, or with each other, but why not see if you can do it on the basis of logic and evidence, instead of relying on character assassination and name-calling? Or if you do want to call someone out in a direct and personal fashion, drop the cloak of anonymity, sign your real name, and include your email address.
A related gripe is the tendency of some participants to paste lengthy articles from other publications into the "comments" thread. Not only does this clog up FP’s servers, it’s a disservice to other readers, as it forces them to scroll through a long entry just to get to the next comment. (Hint: because it’s so annoying, I suspect this practice doesn’t win many converts either.) My view is that readers should feel free to paste in links to articles that support the point they are making, or offer a brief quotation from another source to back up their claims. But as a courtesy to others, commenters would refrain from inserting whole articles from other publications.
Last point: because I don’t read every comment, I’ve refrained from trying to monitor or censor the comments thread. I have deleted a few comments on occasion, either because I judged them to be bigoted, because they were completely off-topic, or because they consisted solely of an excessively long entry "borrowed" from another publication. But I don’t have time to do that consistently, and while I take full responsibility for what I write, I bear no responsibility for what all of you write. But I will offer the following unsolicited advice: regardless of what views you espouse, you will win more converts with logic and evidence than you will with invective.
At least I hope so.
Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt
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