A number of people have asked me about my blog's comment policy. As some readers may have noticed, in recent posts I have had many comments by anonymous commenters with minimal or negative value. I rarely delete comments, and I sometimes reply to them even when it is obvious that my interlocutors aren't engaging in good faith. Many people have asked me why I do this. As they point out, one result is that the comments sections of my posts end up being very unwelcoming to many of the people I might wish to be engaging with. This is absolutely true, and a serious cost to the current procedure.
One reason I haven't disabled anonymous comments, or engaged in more significant comment moderation, is that I don't only want to be discussing these issues with people who already agree with them. I'm spending quite a bit of time engaging with the Kipnis book in part because I am amazed that so many people find it compelling. But I don't just want to gawk at them with members of my own tribe. That doesn't get us anywhere. I want to assume that many of them are thoughtful humans it's possible to have a real conversation with—to have a chance of changing their minds, or to have a chance to correct any of my own errors.
Many people who are skeptical about the things I've been writing about sexual assault are unwilling to say so under their own names.
Not all of the comments I'm talking about are productive conversation of the form I'm talking about. Indeed, the majority are not. For example, there's no value related to the intellectual common ground in comments that do nothing but comment on my personal appearance, or comments that do nothing but lie about what someone has said. There's absolutely a case to be made for screening or deleting such comments. I guess there are two reasons I don't do that.
First, the line between comments that are and are not potentially productive is not always an obvious one; putting the bar for speech super low means I won't mistakenly exclude things that could have been useful. I'm letting in more garbage, but there's at least that advantage.
Second, I think it's important, for those of us who spend most of our time talking to people who agree that, e.g., a workplace where employers habitually let their hands linger on their female employees contributes to rape culture, to be aware of the cultural backlash to the advances of recent decades. We shouldn't forget that we live in a world where, if you say that a good exercise in female agency can be to report your boss's sexual assault, or that student activists aren't the force behind unjust Title IX investigation procedures, you're likely have commenters crawl up and tell you that you're a snowflake narcissist who doesn't deserve his job, maybe with some speculation about your sex life thrown in for good measure. I think this is a gross fact, but it is a fact that I think it'd be a mistake to ignore or forget.
Gratuitous insults from anonymous commenters don't really bother me personally—so I'm not suffering myself from the abuse (aside from the not-trivial time it takes to respond, on those occasions when I decide to respond). Obviously many people in different professional and social positions are different from me in this respect—I'm not saying how anybody should feel about this kind of thing, just how I do. The main cost, from my point of view, is the one mentioned at the top: letting the toxic voices in disincentivizes some people I'd like to be talking to from participating in the conversation. My compromise solution so far has been to open public facebook threads for posts, so that anyone with a facebook account can discuss it there. That's imperfect for a lot of reasons, but it's the compromise I've landed on so far. I may well change my mind at some future date.
(In case it wasn't obvious: this is not intended remotely as a criticism of blogs that use heavier moderation. I think they do so for very good reasons. Different spaces are, and should be, different.)