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Posted at 11:57 AM ET, 12/22/2010

Comments and e-mails

By Ezra Klein

James Fallows had a thoughtful post explaining why he doesn't have a comment section, which he then followed with an offer -- quickly retracted -- to try out a moderated comments section. Across my, err, RSS feed, Brad DeLong said that it is time for him to begin moderating his comment section. "I regret this," he wrote. "It is a defeat."

I receive a lot of requests to moderate my comment section, and I see the argument for it: Moderated comment sections are tend to be of higher quality over time, particularly when the moderator puts time and energy into fostering the discussion. The problem is that it's about all I can do to produce content for this blog. My understanding from the Washington Post overlords is that 2011 should bring some long-overdue upgrades to our commenting software, so hopefully that'll help a bit. And if there are things I can do that would have a high pay-off but a low time-cost, I'm willing to do them.

I also want to emphasize that comments aren't the only, or even the best, way to communicate with me directly: I do try to read the comments, but I don't get to all of them. If you've written something you really want me to see -- either because you believe I got something wrong, or you have something to add, or it's just a comment you spent a lot of time on -- please e-mail it to me. The best e-mail to use is I don't reply to everything I get, but I do read it all. And in the new year, I'd like to post more of your e-mailed thoughts on the blog, along the lines of what Andrew Sullivan and James Fallows do.

But for those of who do comment, what would you like to see in the comment section? And for those of who'd like to comment but don't, same question. I'd like to try and foster the commenting community in 2011, but I'm not exactly sure how to do it.

By Ezra Klein  | December 22, 2010; 11:57 AM ET
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You have a variety of regular commenters who disagree with most of what you write.

There are several who are thoughtful and interesting to read; those commenters should be encouraged.

There are a couple who repeatedly post irrelevant drivel or hate. Commenters with a repeated record of that sort of conduct should be banned. To my mind, that is the only moderation you need -- the rest of the comments on your blog tend to be pretty good, unlike some others.

Posted by: dal20402 | December 22, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Brad DeLong said that ? He's rather
notorious for deleting comments on his blog,
google "Brad Delong deletes comments" and you'll find a voluminous history of cases where he deleted comments for his own reasons (not for bad language or incivility), going back several years.

I didn't realize it until he did it to me during the whole "rich law professor whines about taxes" flap a few months back.

My interest in reading his blog is greatly lessened by knowing that the comments are
treated that way.

Posted by: richardcownie | December 22, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't usually answer in the comments section, but sometimes I recommend articles via Facebook.
One curious thing about the recommend feature on this site is that recommending does not include the ability to post a comment with the recommendation.
This makes me less likely to recommend articles via the site because I can't explain why I found them interesting (which for some articles is pretty necessary). It also doesn't seem to allow others to comment on the Facebook post with the recommendation.

I think the site could do well to encourage the use of Facebook recommends, as this is free advertising. Perhaps that's something to look into. Allow users to attach comments to recommends.

Posted by: RCBII | December 22, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Re: Dal's point, I'll never moderate disagreement out of the comment threads. That's what makes them interesting. The question is how to separate disagreement from mere trolling. It leaves you in judgment call territory, and that's an unpleasant place to be when you're effectively censoring.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | December 22, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

(1) Having a 'reply' button would be nice; probably a majority of comments, especially when there are a lot, are responding to previous comments.

(2) Moderation needs to be very careful; there's nothing worse than spending a ton of time on a post and then having the faceless moderation monster eat it. It's easy to skip over hate screeds from bad posters; the user community will naturally learn who those people are and ignore. It's very hard to read content from good commenters that has been deleted or never posted up.

(3) Participation from the featured blogger would stimulate debate.

Posted by: eggnogfool | December 22, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

--*Brad DeLong said that it is time for him to begin moderating his comment section.*--

DeLong, as another commenter notes, has always moderated (some would say manipulated) his comment section, and often dishonestly, or, at best, disingenuously. If he communicated to you what you say he did, he's being dishonest, again.

Posted by: msoja | December 22, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Agree on the DeLong deleting. The only time I commented there I was deleted. He referred to Larry Summers as abrasive and I wrote something like " Pot. Kettle. Black / DeLong. Summers.Abrasive"

Posted by: cdosquared5 | December 22, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I prefer you moderate or eliminate comments.

Organizations of your stature should have no problem finding a trustful and competent volunteer.

Dr Robert Reich had to eliminate his comments due to a flood of right-wing saboteurs interrupting sane discussion.

Frankly, the quality of comments you get here Ezra are less than stellar.

Posted by: lauren2010 | December 22, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I'd really like to see threaded comments. The back and forth on specific sub-topics is much easier to develop and follow that way. It would be nice if that feature could include email notification when someone has replied to a post, too.

In my experience, regular posters can do a fairly good job of calling out the trolls. It helps when there are clear rules for posting, and when posters use a consistent identifier.

For what it's worth, one columnist at the Des Moines Register decided that commenters must now use real names, citing research that anonymity promotes incivility. I know from experience with her Facebook postings, however, that using real names does not prevent some people from out-of-bounds comments. But it may be part of the solution, short of full moderation.

Perhaps you might even find some reliable volunteers to moderate, if necessary.

Posted by: reach4astar2 | December 22, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

More trolls!! That's all I want.

Posted by: StPaulite | December 22, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Ezra I like to comment because I have a full time job - not enough free time to write my own blog and comment there. It doesn't bother me if no one reads them, but it would be nice if:

1) I can search through previous comments I or another user made (sometimes I post links and I want to use them again on Rortybomb, DeLong, et. al. to make another point). Right now I need to attached “@Chris_Gaun” or “ at the bottom so I can perform a search on Google - not ideal.

2) I don't know if you have ever seen the comment system on, but it is fantastic and the pinnacle of community moderation. Randomly selected moderators assign points of either −1 or +1 to each comment, based on whether the comment is perceived as either normal, offtopic, etc. The site's comment and moderation system is available under the GNU General Public License (you can use it - good news)! It is a bit complicated but very effective. Here is further description:


Posted by: chrisgaun | December 22, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, much of what all of us write is commentary, however sometimes you get facts blatantly and incontrovertibly wrong. (not everyday, but it happens)

I don't recall ever seeing you post a correction to anything you have written, though perhaps I have missed it?

Truthfully, your Reconciliation section is usually a throw away. Perhaps you could use that as a place to make any necessary corrections at the end of the day, since if you did it in the comments sections, it would consume too much of your time.

Don't worry about the posters too much, since by the standards of Greg Sargent's column, we're doing brain surgery here!

One last unwanted suggestion, on Friday why don't you post Wonkbook at the end of the day instead of the beginning. There's usually a lot of interesting things that people might comment on over the weekend if done that way.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 22, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Threading is certainly important, so people can engage one another. I'm convinced this is why DailyKos is as popular as it is. Initially attractive in 2003 because of Markos' polling wonkery and coverage of Dean, the site blew up after the Scooop-based system was introduced, which incorporated user accounts and threading.

Once a site gets big enough (e.g., Reddit), there definitely needs to be some kind of community moderation. The comments on DailyKos are basically useless, due to the signal-to-noise ratio.

The New Republic allows comments only from subscribers, which has a cost. That ensures comments are much more qualified. Unfortunately, no one subscribes to TNR, so this ensures there are no comments.

Definitely on-board with @eggnogfool's third point. Megan McArdle has a vibrant (and fairly useful) comments section, and I think a lot of that has to do with her active engagement in it.

Posted by: jmorton2 | December 22, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

It is your and WaPo's blog, so it is perfectly fine you moderate it as you think appropriate. Being a blogger myself (but no burden of comment moderation since there are '0' comments in all cases!), it is fully acceptable that you as the blog owner calls the shot within your institutional framework.

As you mentioned, moderation cost is the issue and that is a valid one. Assuming some of that you and WaPo are ready for so that blogs and comments do better; one solution can be what Matt and Megan do - put 'likes' count of comments so naturally people tend to be focused in comments. You can have some blog posts closed for comments at the start or after some number of comments too whereas some posts could be open for much longer assuming that discussion going on is fruitful.

But let me say this, your blog is one of the rare ones which has been so 'open' to comments in 'good sense' and there are so many intelligent, insightful comments that it makes worth reading both posts and comments.

Posted by: umesh409 | December 22, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

The "reply" function should be coming, and same with the ability to "flag" comments. An early version of the new system is up at 'The Fix', and my understanding is it should get to this blog in a more full-featured form fairly soon.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | December 22, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I don't think the judgment calls are as hard as you are thinking. If there is doubt, leave the comments.

I'm referring to three or four posters who have a record of repeated, consistent trolling. I think you should feel no guilt whatsoever about banning such posters. This is not a First Amendment issue; they can always go write their trollery on their own blogs. It's purely an issue of keeping the comment thread focused on discussion (pro and con).

Posted by: dal20402 | December 22, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, I don't see a problem in the comment section here, outside the occasional spammer. There are certain people who would like to "purify" things in line with their own biases, and I imagine they are the ones calling for moderation, but I doubt they can point to any insidious abuse here. It's mostly a case of their not being able to muster coherent arguments, and they'd rather blather away unchallenged. If that's what this place turns into, so be it. It's not as though Klein himself learns anything from the multiple corrections he receives on a daily basis, you know? I'll keep pointing out Klein's perfidies as long as I'm allowed, and if I'm not allowed, then I'll just take more of it to my own blog, which I tend not to do now, out of laziness.

Posted by: msoja | December 22, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Often trolling and disagreement are hard to tell apart, because Poe's Law applies. No matter how outrageous the troll, there are people out there that really feel that way. (Up to and including posting requests for recipes on cat lovers' forums).

Posted by: mutterc | December 22, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

As chrisgaun said, Slashdot has a good system. But it has lots of commenters. The downside of community based moderation (without active moderation from the editors/blogger) can be seen at Which used to be a very good site, until Rusty let the trolls win.

Posted by: wiredog | December 22, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

honestly not a big fan of the reply as i've seen it to this point on other comment sections. To me its too cumbersome to follow the trail. maybe this will be better than those I've seen. Personally I've been around here for about a year or two (since HCR really took off and wanted to offset my views with a differing viewpoint as Ezra's is). Its easy to go to someone who shares your view but much more intellectually stimulating to go at it (in a civil way) with someone who believes differently than you do.

You're also the first liberal blogger that I've noted that doesn't blame close to 100% of healthcare's costs on insurers so good on you for being independent like that and having coherent thoughts on the subject.

Posted by: visionbrkr | December 22, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Get rid of commenters like rickshawjim from the thread on the lame duck session today. Seriously, I'd like to see a zero tolerance policy towards calling other commenters or the writer names and worse, while providing nothing substantive. I personally prefer the current layout to threaded comments, meaning I can always just go to the bottom to quickly see what might be new. I personally find most "conversations" in threads useless.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | December 22, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Eh, your comment section isn't so bad. But your WaPo companion Greg Sargent's comment section most often looks like The Hill's. Overrun with Fox newsies propaganda and repeated obvious falsehoods.

Posted by: kindness1 | December 22, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

"If he communicated to you what you say he did, he's being dishonest, again."

To be scrupulously fair to DeLong, it seems
that the post Ezra links to says that he's
considering starting to moderate comments
*in advance*. That would presumably be a change from his previous policy of letting all comments appear, and then deleting the ones he dislikes (sometimes within minutes;
and sometimes leaving other comments in place which respond to the deleted comments - a DeLong comment thread can be like those retouched photos of the
Politburo with the purged leaders airbrushed out of existence).

Of course he can do what he likes with his
own blog. But people reading it should be
aware of how heavily the threads are edited.

Posted by: richardcownie | December 22, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse


I agree totally. But would that also apply to Lauren2010 calling me a "condascending ass" in the Wonkbook thread that's still going on? You know conservatives don't have the market cornered on being trolls.

Posted by: visionbrkr | December 22, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the commenters who have described Ezra's comment sections as generally pretty civilized, especially compared to the constant trolling in Greg Sargent's. However, the trolls in Sargent's blog demonstrate the difficulty of the blog's owner banning specific commenters -- it just turns into "whack-a-mole," as they immediately turn up again under a new name. What I would really like to see is a "mute" feature, which allows readers to prevent comments from specific individuals from being displayed on their computers. Although this runs the risk of having two separate, unrelated comment threads on the same blog, I think most commenters are engaged enough with alternative viewpoints that they would only turn off the most egregious violators.

Posted by: rashomon | December 22, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse


The columnist themself has a lot to do with it too. While Ezra and I disagree daily, he's usually reasonable is his arguments if sometimes uninformed.

However in Sargent's column, he really lost it after the election and just became totally unhinged. I occasionally look in, and he was making about 4-6 posts every single day about DADT. Ezra at his deficit reduction commission worst was never that bad. LOL

Posted by: 54465446 | December 22, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I used to post a lot more on your old site. It just seems like the WP forums are filled with rabid, ungrammatical trolls (of all political stripes). I don't think that you should have to monitor your own comments, but it seems to me that a large media organization like WP could hire a couple entry-level people to monitor all of their forums.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | December 22, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Note on corrections: As I mentioned in the post, I don't read every comment. On days when I'm doing a lot of reporting, I don't even read many of them. It's no insult to any of you, it's just a time tradeoff.

If you feel I've gotten something wrong, e-mail me. My e-mail is at the top of the blog, and published in this post. If you're right, I'll correct it. A lot of the corrections, however, often seem to be disagreements, which are fair enough, but don't merit a correction. At any rate, I don't want incorrect info on the site, so if you feel you've found some, let me know directly.

Posted by: Ezra Klein | December 22, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

In general, your laissez faire approach to comments has been fine - moderation doesn't seem necessary most of the time.

The updates you refer to sound good. If you get time to moderate and decide to do so, keep a light touch. If you only have enough time to post new content, well, that's great too.

Posted by: justin84 | December 22, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I'll be honest. I don't learn much from this comment section anymore. And the trolls are just too eye-rollingly monotonous to be entertaining. Maybe the problem has to do with the content of the posts. Maybe Tucker Carlson screwed up your blog. Maybe it's a little of both. I don't know.

Sorry, Ezra. Good luck, though!

Posted by: slag | December 22, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

--*I don't learn much from this comment section anymore. And the trolls are just too eye-rollingly monotonous to be entertaining.*--

I can imagine. Being told over and over that it's not right to steal from your neighbors and that central planning never works must make you feel terrible.

Posted by: msoja | December 22, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't comment much, but I really don't like what has been done to the comment section of The Fix. It's distracting to see facebook/twitter headlines over and over again and no comments. Your comment section is much more valuable that what has happened to Greg's site. Although, if Kevin would sell his troll blocker to WP, it might help. The "mute" or "ignore" feature would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: mjohnson1116 | December 22, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Presumably WaPo is already aware, but in case they aren't, the "SEARCH THIS BLOG" function, apparently powered by Movable Type, almost always doesn't work. Consistently, one has to try four or more times to get past the "The search you conducted has timed out. Please simplify your query and try again" message, even on the simplest one word searches.

Posted by: msoja | December 22, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Greg Mankiw does not allow any comments at all and I lean towards preferring that to Brad DeLong's moderation because essentially DeLong invites critics to waste their time.

Ideally comments should be subject to thumbs up or thumbs down, and then rankable by the reader by thumbs up or by "activity" (total thumbs). Being able to search for one's own comments is also valuable to those who make substantive comments. Re problem comments, allowing readers to "block commentator" would go a long ways to minimizing the problem. Certain commentators could be designated "catalysts" such that their comments appear first. Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper uses catalysts.

re corrections, there isn't a bright line that defines a correction. How about an incomplete perspective? That typically warrants a comment but not necessarily a correction.

Posted by: bdell555 | December 23, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

1. A policy of banning some people would be good but is typically thought to be useless because they'll just use another name. If it's tied to their paid account then they have to change their account to use another name.
2. I'm not sure what the WSJ policies are but somehow they end up with people actually using their names. And they have a view option to view only subscriber comments which whittles it down a lot.

Posted by: TomCantlon | December 23, 2010 1:44 AM | Report abuse

--*Re problem comments, allowing readers to "block commentator" would go a long ways to minimizing the problem.*--

The way I see that play out at Yglesias' place (last time I looked, maybe two weeks ago) is that some person or persons makes it his or her business to flag and block every single comment that doesn't meet whatever small test the person employs. Ergo, there are virtually no conflicting or challenging views up for consideration.

I would hope that the WaPo is somewhat more committed to open discussions than those administering the overt cess pool of propaganda at ThinkProgress, but there is a lot of bias at the WaPo, too.

As I said in a comment above, re commenting at Klein's, it is really fairly civilized. There is a regular crew of Klein groupies who credulously believe everything he writes, some of whom don't like to be criticized in any way. There are the lefty fanatics, who especially don't like direct questions, and sometimes say exceedingly stupid things (hi mousi). There are several knowledgeable and persistent critics, many of whom grant Klein little bits and pieces of premises as they argue the finer points, and do so pretty civilly. And then there are a few like me, more abrupt and pointed, but trying to be honest and real.

For those who don't like reading whomever it is they don't like reading, don't read 'em.

Posted by: msoja | December 23, 2010 1:46 AM | Report abuse

--*[E]ssentially DeLong invites critics to waste their time.*--

DeLong is essentially dishonest. Perhaps it manifests itself most outrageously in his comments, but that's just a symptom of his "work".

There was a thread or two at this last year where at first they tried to engage DeLong honestly, but then were flabbergasted with what he did to their comments.

When DeLong deleted a couple of comments of mine (mild by my standards, if I do say so myself), I managed to snag him for a couple of emails, and he was dishonest with me there, too.

I've noticed Klein doesn't link DeLong much lately.

Now if only he could ween himself off Krugman and Gruber.

Posted by: msoja | December 23, 2010 1:59 AM | Report abuse

--*re corrections*--

Klein is a hard core lefty, and not likely to be easily moved off his pronouncements.

That said, if he didn't somehow manage to maintain a certain detachment with respect to all the various critiques his postings engender, he'd be overwhelmed.

Still, some of Klein's regular antagonists consistently show more knowledge than Klein shows, and have to show it over and over again because Klein never seems to become aware of the supplemental knowledge that they point out. Klein really does not appear to read his own comment section.

Posted by: msoja | December 23, 2010 2:10 AM | Report abuse

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