As most readers of Lawfare are aware, we have a strict no comments policy on this blog. I have publicly defended this policy against criticism, promised it would never change, and have even made a video about how much I hate blog comments:
So it is with some trepidation that I admit that in recent weeks, I have been studying this Facebook comments plugin, and I have begun to think that it offers a sufficient technological advance that we might—if readers want—try a commenting experiment on Lawfare.
My objection to comments—which Jack and Bobby both share—is that unmoderated, they allow our site to be hijacked by whatever hateful streams of bile self-appointed groups of watchdogs, often anonymously, decide to post. Moderating comments, by contrast, requires great time and effort on our parts–effort that is better spent on developing Lawfare‘s content. More fundamentally, we publish Lawfare to reflect our views and reporting, not as a kind of discussion board. While we all receive and welcome reader feedback by any number of means, we consider it a basic feature of editorial control over the site that we decide whether and how to post and respond to such feedback.
On the other hand, we have long taken comments on our Facebook site, which we regard as a reader forum connected to the blog. And we try to encourage discussions between readers and their Facebook friends using the page.
The Facebook comments function allows a kind of hybridization of these two policies, in a fashion that may make it possible for readers to comment on our Facebook page without ever leaving Lawfare, to have discussions with their Facebook friends about Lawfare content and to do it on the Lawfare site itself—all while allowing other users not to be bombarded with comments from people unconnected to themselves and from whom they do not wish to hear.
The plugin can be configured so that people only see comments from their own Facebook friends—unless someone from Lawfare makes an affirmative decision to make a comment publicly accessible. It can also be configured to display only a single comment unless the user specifically asks to see more than that. It gives us easy control over inappropriate content—including the ability to ban users who post inappropriate material from commenting further. And importantly, Facebook is relatively resistant to anonymous posting, so there would be—broadly speaking—accountability for what people say.
The idea would be to put at the bottom of every post a box similar to the one at the bottom of this post. This would allow Lawfare readers who are active on Facebook to discuss the post with their Facebook friends, and we could make particularly-interesting comments available to the public at large. But anyone who doesn’t want to see the commenting thread would see almost nothing (only the box and a single comment)—and nobody would be forced to see comments from people he or she had not chosen to engage on Facebook.
I am, to be frank, agnostic about whether or not this is a good idea, and the Ruling Triumverate is not yet ready to change Lawfare‘s policy, even on a trial basis. We would, however, like some feedback on the possibility. So I’m putting a Facebook comment box at the bottom of this post, configured more or less the way I would configure one if we decided to use it more generally. We welcome your comments: