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Restoring Comments

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Restoring Comments

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Dear patient readers,

We will be reopening comments tomorrow. As much as we miss hearing from all of you, the additional day of delay is to make clear that we are, reluctantly, implementing a more bloody-minded moderation policy.

Readers have overwhelmingly been supportive of our decision to impose a time-out and confirmed our observation that both the fractiousness and the noise level in the comments section has increased greatly in the past year. We don’t see the underlying causes, political fracture and economic distress, abating any time soon.

Our Site Policies on moderation state that all moderation decisions are final. Similarly, the policy changes we set forth here are not negotiable. Please don’t write us privately to petition for changes. We will not answer those messages. Lambert and I have already spent a great deal of time discussing what the best approaches are given what we have seen over the last year (which includes comments the rest of you never saw because they were nuked), the kinds of input that are of value to members of the community and site writers, and our resource constraints.

While feedback and informed input are essential to this site, comments policy has always been an exception to our egalitarian orientation. Lambert and I have moderated over 1.5 million comments at Naked Capitalism. Both Lambert and Jules have substantial comments moderation experience independent of Naked Capitalism. Despite the increased contentiousness of discussion on the Internet, this site until recently has gotten kudos from readers and experts in journalism as a standout in terms of the consistent high quality of debates here. In other words, it is pretty much impossible for any of you to have the moderation experience to second-guess us.

The purpose of this site is to promote critical thinking. If you read our Policies, you will see that the basis for moderation decisions is conduct. Typical violations include bad faith argumentation, like ad hominem or the Gish gallop, failing to substantiate factual claims when warranted, and sock puppeting. It too often occurs that those who are unable to defend their views fall back on these tactics, which leads them to rationalize having been moderated or banned as being due to their opinions, as opposed to bad behavior.

This is a finance and economics site because that is area where we have expertise. Therefore, we are able to work together to come up with a better collective understanding of important developments. Readers who found us during the financial crisis of 2007-2008 or the foreclosure wave may recall how experts provided invaluable insight. We’ve seen that again with Brexit and Covid.

However, the failure of our political system to address the underlying causes of the financial crisis has meant that the aftershocks have moved more and more into the political arena. While in finance and economics, laypeople are generally aware of the limits of their knowledge and usually flag speculation as such, in politics, too many think mere personal opinions and feelings have merit, so far as the comments section is concerned.

An example of the sort of discussion that has degraded the comments section: the bizarre talking point that Sanders was a “sheepdog,” which was repeatedly injected into the comments section despite the lack of news hooks in Links or current articles. Technically, this was a classic example of yet another Policies violation called “thread jacking.” We should have expunged those comments and moderated or blacklisted offenders.

You can legitimately criticize Sanders for how he conducted his campaign, and in particular, his decision to suspend it after the weekend of the long knives. But the notion that Sanders was campaigning to do Team Dem a big favor never had any factual foundation, consistent with the inability of proponents to provide one.

These discussion were not only a rancorous waste of space, they sucked attention and energy away from productive post mortem analysis. Understanding why Sanders failed and assessing what if anything he could have been done to change the outcome would be helpful to future campaigns. But instead we witnessed repetitive, seemingly unending, unsubstantiated accusations. And this argument could never go anywhere because the charge presumed that Sanders had been consciously operating in bad faith from the very outset. Strong claims require strong evidence, yet there was none.

In the past, despite having had to impose more moderation tripwires, the site admins have generally been able to operate in a minimal-intervention mode, with moderators approving most comments and deleting posted comments rarely and with great reluctance.

However, due to an rise in sheepdog-style, talking point-driven commentary and other forms of thread-jacking, we are going to be in zero tolerance mode until readers understand that this site is not the place for mere personal opinion. That includes cheerleading (“+1000”). If you have nothing of substance to add to a comment you like, please don’t. Readers are already saying they can seldom digest our daily Links. In light of general information overload, we’d rather have 100 thoughtful comments (such as links to articles or topics that weren’t included in Links or Water Cooler) than 250 that consist largely of noise.

There are plenty of outlets for that sort of thing, such as Kos and reddit. We suggest you go there if you want to hold forth. Otherwise, as Barry Ritholtz would often say, GYOFB.

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