Earlier this month I noted that the volume of comments on our website had become enormous, frequently exceeding 4 million words per month, a figure probably considerably larger than that of websites whose traffic completely dwarfs our own. What began as a simple webzine has now evolved into something closer to a wide-ranging discussion forum.
To some extent this was probably due to the controversial subjects that are our frequent focus, important and interesting topics usually excluded from the mainstream media and the overwhelming majority of websites, coupled with our very light standards of moderation. Individuals with strong views about issues can gather here and hotly debate issues that would quickly get them banned in so many other venues.
I also think that the uniquely powerful features of our commenting software allow lengthy discussions to continue in meaningful fashion, long after they would have grown totally unwieldy on alternate systems such as Facebook, Disqus, or WordPress. On this website, threads may regularly contain many hundreds of substantive comments, occasionally even exceeding 1,500 or even 2,000, and totaling as much as 300,000 words of detailed discussion. Such a situation is only very rarely found anywhere else on the Internet.
An enormous profusion of comments and commenters operating under very light moderation has both positive and negative aspects, obviously attracting monomaniacs, trolls, and probably some paid shills, whose profusion of words may tend to obfuscate worthwhile discussion. These problems were the primary focus of my previous analysis, as I proposed various measures to sharply reduce the clutter by implementing restrictions or user fees, and naturally enough, some of these problematical individuals did not take kindly to any proposals to restrict their verbiage.
But our tendency to attract low-quality commenters has fortunately been matched by our ability to draw commenters of exceptionally high quality, who regularly provide information and analysis whose value may easily exceed that of the articles to which they are responding. Furthermore, the total output of some of these erudite individuals is often enormous, amounting to many hundreds of thousands of words or more, actually greater than that of many of our regular columnists and writers. The accumulated remarks of each commenter are available on his Archive page, effectively making them columnists in their own right, and representing a full dualization of the writer/commenter relationship.
Although regular readers are probably already aware of these individuals, I think their superior status should be emphasized to newcomers and casual readers. Therefore, I’ve now implemented a new feature highlighting their comments with a thin golden box around their names, and with this change affecting all past and future threads. This should help separate them from the casual remarks that clutter up so many threads, often by low-quality chatterboxes.
Although the selection process obviously contains a substantial subjective element, I’ve tried to mitigate it with relatively objective criteria. Commenters receiving that award should generally display the following characteristics: (1) Contributing a large number of high-quality comments, often drawing upon detailed knowledge, research, or personal expertise; (2) Rarely if ever engaging in crude insults, slurs, or invective; (3) Maintaining generally good standards of grammar, punctuation, and spelling; and (4) Usually trying to avoid a heavy flow of short, trivial, or vacuous remarks.
The first small group of commenters to receive this special distinction are as follows:
Together, these half-dozen individuals have provided over 30,000 comments totaling more than 4 million words, the equivalent of 40 good-size hard-cover books. They are disproportionately foreign-born, though mostly living in the U.S., which perhaps reflects the lower standards of American education and the negative impact of our overwhelming popular culture of sports and entertainment. For similar reasons, I’d guess that foreign immigrants are generally underrepresented on websites focused on football or Hollywood celebrities.
I also think it is more than coincidental that two of the six members of the list are pious Muslims, whose belief-based personal standards would lead them to avoid crude, trivial, or poorly punctuated comments. Meanwhile, the widespread hostility towards Muslims and Islam in our political culture over the last couple of decades would motivate their efforts to effectively present their side of the story to a wider audience.
These commenters are a somewhat heterogeneous group, having substantial disagreements with each other on some important issues, and this underscores the fact that there is a sharp distinction between endorsing the quality of their content and endorsing their conclusions.
Naturally, the process of selecting this first group of candidates was a highly imperfect one, and I’m sure many worthy individuals were unfairly excluded. Moreover, I can think of other longtime commenters who met some of the necessary criteria, and might join that list in the future if they avoid some of the temptations to adulterate their high-quality and substantive comments with many less worthy ones.
I’d hope that the tone of our website discussions will gradually be improved by the combination of the “pull” factor of earning this distinction along with possible new “push” factors intended to restrict the production of lower-quality comments.
On a somewhat different matter, I finally had a chance to listen to my hour-long podcast interview with Kevin Barrett a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it constituted an excellent summary of my views. Those interested in the reasoning behind my American Pravda series as well as the underlying motivation of this website might find it quite illuminating: