The ABA Shuts Down Comments On The Articles In The ABA Journal

Now that’s ironic. Like so many other publications and websites that prefer one-way communications of ideas, the official publication of the American Bar Association has announced that it will no longer allow readers to comment on its content. Yes, a profession that is all about rights and advocacy finds advocacy in response to legal opinion and analysis too inconvenient to deal with, and its readers free expression of ideas too burdensome to countenance.

The ABA Journal’s announcement was filled with disingenuous statements and half truths as bullet-pointed reasons for the move:

  • The tone of the comments has become rancorous and uncivil, with substantive commentary being drowned out by partisanship and namecalling that violate the ABA Code of Conduct.”

Wait: how does “partisanship and namecalling” in the comment section of a website “violate the ABA Code of Conduct?”

What an embarrassing claim: the ABA doesn’t understand its own Model Rules! The word “partisanship” doesn’t appear anywhere in the rules, and the argument is hilarious anyway, since the ABA itself, an allegedly non-partisan non-profit, is extremely partisan, as a brief perusal of the various public positions it has taken on matters that really should be none of their business would make obvious. (Guess which party! Come on, guess!) Extreme namecalling under certain  circumstances during the practice of law may occasionally involve a sanctionable ethics breach for lawyers, but not for non-lawyers, retired lawyers and many other readers. The larger problem is this: the ABA Rules are just guidelines. They don’t officially apply to anybody, not even to ABA members. You can’t literally “violate” them, like they are rules or laws.

  • “Our existing commenting system is vulnerable to trolls.”

Then fix your system, but only after defining “trolls.” It is often a lawyer’s job to make trouble, stir the pot, and create productive friction.

  • “Moderating the comments has become an unsustainable burden on our staff.”

I guess the ABA Journal is incapable of running a website, then. Moderating comments, which as far as I can determine involves fewer comments per article than the typical Ethics Alarms post, cannot possibly be that difficult or time-consuming. It’s a staff-member, and not a highly paid one. This sounds like cover for a financial decision.

  • “We have fielded a number of complaints from members about individual comments and the tone of the comments as a whole.””

Oh! Complaints! Well, we all know how much lawyers hate complaints! (Who wrote this?)

  • “With our large social media presence, there are a number of platforms for readers to engage with and discuss our journalism.”

“Now, you  folks can’t eat here, but there are some real nice places down the road a piece…”

I would write a searing comment about this, but the ABA Journal won’t allow it…

41 thoughts on “The ABA Shuts Down Comments On The Articles In The ABA Journal

  1. And the ratchet turns one more click…

    “With our large social media presence, there are a number of platforms for readers to engage with and discuss our journalism”
    Gab Dissenter, anyone? How long before the ABA files a lawsuit to shut dissenter down? They tried to get rid of it by bullying the browsers into banning it. That has spiked the popularity in other browsers. How long before they get the courts to block it, or have them shut down by their banks?

  2. Double-edged sword.

    Their print media is a one-way communication (presumably with screened letters printed).

    Comment sections are notoriously problematic. Close moderation might be needed to screen for substance.

    (Which might lead to defamation claims, or so I have heard.)

    That is a commitment.

    If you allow comments, you risk turning off your audience if you have no quality control.

    If you don’t allow comments, you risk irrelevancy by not allowing interaction by your audience (something that is kind of expected for online fora).

    I am fine that they shut off comments. Their forum; their choice; their risk.

    Good for you for making the difficult choice. I don’t remember my Ancient Greek too well, but “fine things are difficult.”


      • I happened to persuade someone yesterday that he had no claim for defamation. He ultimately just needed someone to listen to him and take him seriously.

        I doubt I would have been as successful in dealing with your antagonist.


  3. Limiting user engagement is a death-knell for websites.

    If you go into any marketing classroom today, they will talk about user engagement. The theory is similar to how good salesmen will try to put the item they’re selling into your hands, because by the mere act of touching the thing, you become X% more likely to buy it; current internet usage hinges on user engagement, and this isn’t your daddy’s internet.

    Web 1.0 was a data dump, all the collected information of humanity was digitized and people were scrambling trying to figure out how to organize it. People didn’t really know what they were doing, everything seemed new and exciting, search engines hadn’t quite figured out their algorithms, and the mere act of existing was enough to develop positive growth.

    That changed, we’re in Web 2.0. And that’s not a term I’ve made up, feel free to Google it, because it’s interesting. but on top of a whole lot of other metrics, algorithms started to favor traffic, and one of the best ways to draw traffic was user engagement. Take this site, for instance. Yes, I’ll read all of the articles that get posted here (except some of the Sports only ones, sorry Jack), but I’ll come by a couple of times a day to interact with the comment section. Each time I do, each time I post, that click gets fed through the metrics. More than that, as a feature of Web 2.0, people EXPECT to be able to interact with the website. Even if the article author never deigns to interact with the commenting proletariat, users will tend to forsake websites that don’t offer some amount of interactivity.

    Which is a long way of saying the ABA website is run by idiots, or they’re trying to throttle traffic.

    • I have been watching a lot of YouTube lately. Even in the short time that I have been an increasingly frequent YouTube visitor, I have seen an increased number of videos posted that do not allow comments, with this message posted: “Comments are disabled for this video.”

      But I am probably not a typical YouTube visitor. I don’t comment on YouTube videos. I don’t even log in to view them. I view what I can, without logging in. If a video requires me to log in to view it, oh well, I just don’t watch it. Where YouTube videos (and comments) have “thumb-up” and “thumb-down” buttons, I don’t click.

      I cannot say with any confidence yet, whether that comments-disabled status at YouTube has driven me to ignore the attendant videos. But discussion here does make me curious about whether comments-disabling on YouTube videos has (or will have) the same effect on “traffic” as sites like the ABA’s, and whether the ABA’s throttling of traffic will, over time, result in a less frequently visited, and thus less relevant, less “competitive” (for people’s attention), website.

      So, is there some kind of secret, mass click-bait study going on? I mean, is someone scientifically analyzing comments-disabled video viewership, and comparing that viewership with that of comments-enabled videos?

      And, I wonder: does YouTube count my non-login (and non-viewing), when it tells me I have to log in, in order to view a certain video and I refuse to log in?

      As a veteran visitor to this blog, you can bet your bottom bippy I would not visit as often, and would not enjoy Jack’s posts as much, if he discontinued comments. The commenters here are brilliant! With my trademark Eeyore self-esteem, I humbly add my typically worthless prose to the fray, feeling like an Ewok among Jedi, or a quadriplegic among prima ballerinas. I guess, sometimes, in rare moments, I catch up with the rest of the brains here, and say something that evokes further quality output from the better brains. I learn a lot from people here. Especially when I just shut up and read.

      I have to believe what Humble Talent is saying, about how “users will tend to forsake websites that don’t offer some amount of interactivity.” I hope someone whose job is on the line to bring more viewers to YouTube gets that.

      Because frankly, it just pisses me off when a YouTube video is deemed (by some unknown, unaccountable, self-god-ed someone) to be so graphic or so “disturbing,” that I am forbidden to see it unless I log in. That’s what we boys in the ‘hood used to call “Indian giving” – perhaps more elegantly put in more modern times as “bait and switch” or even “false advertising.” I mean, even the sex-porn sites (well, last time I poked around in them – it was some months ago, so maybe I’m remembering what is already “ancient history”) allow the visitor to lie and say he’s 18 or older, even if he isn’t, and then allows viewing of the video that is sought. Are we so buried under “sensitivity” in snowflake-land now, that we have to be not just warned about, but blocked from, viewing some homeless person pooping on some San Francisco sidewalk (just in case, because the sight of such might “disturb”)?

  4. I went to the ABA’s Legal Malpractice Conference in 2018 in DC. The keynote speaker was Walter Shaub, who talked for at least an hour and a half and said nothing about legal malpractice. He had lots of bad things to say about Trump, though.

  5. The ABA Journal is not like your local gazette that you can just write some sloppy, free-wheeling “letter to the editor” in order to express your feelings about the new mall opening up on the edge of town– it’s the ABA JOURNAL. It is to journalism what the Louvre is to art. You would not go into the Louvre and expect to hand scrawl your opinion of the Mone Lisa somewhere beneath Da Vinci’s name. It is not a forum for the town drunk to ramble on. It is specifically for officers of the court to get up on their soap box and speak down to you. I speak for all attorneys when I say that we don’t care what you think about your “rights” under the law (and let’s be honest, you don’t have any– at least not in the eyes of the ABA Journal). Yes, all of your lives matter, bla-bla-bla– your opinons though? Those DON’T matter. At least not to the ABA Journal.

    And then separately from that, I also want to push back on the idea that trolls should be banished from public discourse. I mean why does the current paradigm have it that trolling is bad and should be eliminated? Troll-ish behavior should be nurtured in our children from a young age and honed to a fine pointed edge. Is it not the HIGHEST form of communication we can aspire to? Trolling did not begin with the advent of technology. It’s an ancient art going all the way back to biblical times when a man trolled Jews so hard they crucified him for it. Where would humanity be without trolls? Hmm? Condemned to an eternity in hell…maybe? Jesus was the biggest troll in history. You have to agree with that no matter what you believe about him. He either fooled half the world into believing he was partially divine when he wasn’t… or half the world is going to die and discover that their “scientific method” is wholly unscientific and should have been discarded in favor of a story about a man who rose from the dead. No matter how that coin lands, he has the highest score on the Troll Score Board. To be anti-Troll is to be anti-Jesus.

  6. Leslie wrote: “Is it not the HIGHEST form of communication we can aspire to? Trolling did not begin with the advent of technology. It’s an ancient art going all the way back to biblical times when a man trolled Jews so hard they crucified him for it. Where would humanity be without trolls?”

    Well, there is Socrates of course. The ‘Gadfly’. And yet Socrates had a real sense of (malicious) humor.

    I am not sure there is evidence in the NT that Jesus had a sense of humor. It has been said that Jesus wept but that he never laughed . . . at least as far as the portrayals in the NT reveal.

    • That is true. After he was convicted, Socrates proposed that his punishment be perpetual maintenance at the public expense.

      Hard to beat that from a trolling perspective.

      And… then they executed him.


    • Why do you speak of Jesus in the past tense? That He is alive is a basic tenet of Christian faith, indeed, the base from which all else derives.

      As to His sense of humor, many of His stories in the Bible show humor (can you imagine a master storyteller who never used humor?) Jesus is God and human. Humans laugh.

      We can look at the world itself and know God has sense of humor, and the Bible says in many verses that God laughs. He created some absurd animals, and took pleasure in His creation. (I used to intend to ask Him ‘Why mosquitoes?’ until recently, but figured that one out: the answer is ‘hummingbirds need to eat.’ Now I will ask Him ‘Why the platypus?’)

      Of course, the best reason I know Jesus has a sense of humor is He talks to me… and He is funny.

      • My favorite Bible story about The Sense Of Humor Of Jesus is the one about the crazy man, “Legion,” and the herd of pigs that drowned itself after Jesus Drove the demons out of the man. If I had been there to witness that, I am sure I would have laughed until my gut hurt too much to stand up. I suppose if I had witnessed it these days, I still would have laughed (but not as much, because I love bacon), and just shouted, “WELL PLAYED, JESUS!”

      • And, come on! No sense of humor?

        Best pun in the Bible: “you are Peter, and on this rock [petros] I will build my church.”


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