Blogging Ethics: Althouse Snaps!

I’d say, all things considered, Ann Althouse runs my favorite blog. The former University of Wisconsin law prof who insists that she is “fiercely” non-partisan has a much broader range of topics on her eponymous site, many of them quirky, but she shadows ethics and legal ethics related stories that are Ethics Alarms fodder, and her commenters have become very similar in perspective to the commenters here. Her reactions to the Trump years and the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck were usually very similar to mine, so obviously she is fair, objective, and perceptive. I keep sending links her way even though she resolutely refused to give Ethics Alarms a link before she eliminated links entirely, and it appears her weird obsession with drawing cartoon rats has finally abated.

But this morning, the blogger announced that she was unhappy with her readers’ comments, which she lightly moderates, and ran a poll to get feedback as she apparently considers eliminating them altogether. I don’t know what Ann dings, but the comments I see only includes a few that Ethics Alarms wouldn’t post. The vast majority of readers polled voted for either her current moderation standards to remains as they are, or for her to moderate everything but block very little. (I voted with 14% for “Comments must go through moderation, and Althouse selects the most readable for publication.” None of the choices mirrored my approach, which is to moderate initial comments strictly and give leeway to veteran commenters while suspending or banning those who violate the Comment Policies.

Althouse is apparently upset with commenter criticism. In response to the comments on her poll, she responded in a series of comments (Althouse, unlike me, seldom enters the commenting ranks on her own posts):

What is it that you are getting from the comments? I have a vision for this blog, and if the commenters are doing something inconsistent with what I mean it to be, then what is my motivation to provide this place for you? I am forced to moderate because of spam and very destructive trolls. But aside from that, I am unhappy with commenters who jump right in and shit on the post and let it be known that they think I ought to have opened a discussion on the latest killing in the news. I do want to focus on what I do, but some things about comments and moderation break up the rhythm and the mood of my time, and I only have so much time. Everything I have to do takes away from something else I could do. I read and write and then I have to go in and moderate comments. Or I write and then I look to see what’s happening in the comments and people are just shitting on the post. Why should that be my life? It is all on me. If there’s something I would like but I can’t handle it, then it’s something I can’t have. No one else can bring me what I want. I have to admit it is unachievable…. I think comments are best when they flow in real time, which is why I have them the way they are now, but I cannot keep up with the after-the-fact moderation. People are just not respectful enough of my time, and it’s just plain depressing.

I am providing conversation starters, but I am dismayed by commenters who don’t pick up the cues and just burden the thread with off-point material, hack political remarks, statements about their own lack of interest, and so forth.

If you don’t know what my vision for the blog is after all these years, well, why not try to understand? And if you just don’t feel like understanding, because the comments section is your playground or your favorite place to shit, then why should my place remain open? I do this for the intrinsic value to me, and I only want comments if I enjoy having comments. Right now there is good and bad, but it is tipping toward bad, and I have to make some decisions. I have limited time. I am unhappy with the way right-wing commenters have squatted here and made it unpleasant for other people. I don’t want to spend my time maintaining a safe space for right-wingers. I’m not even a conservative. I’m just someone who wanted the full range of discussion, but this is not happening. This is a relatively small group of right-wingers bent on owning the space and excluding others. I am not here for that….I have liked being a place, but I am also a human being. Read this thread. Do you see love? I have loved blogging, and I need to love what I am doing or it makes no sense for me to spend my time this way. Everything that detracts from MY loving it is a negative that I want to eliminate. What is it to me that YOU love it if what you love is access to a space where you do things alongside me, taking advantage of me, but not increasing MY enjoyment of the place? I am facilitating conversation, but that’s not all I’m doing, and I may need to cut the comments section lose, for the sake of my own liberation. This conversation here this morning is helping me decide. I am very close to cutting myself free from this heavy load and walking on alone….

I’ll do whatever I feel like. Sometimes when you read, you then think your own thoughts. Reading gets you started. You don’t need the writer to sledgehammer every last thought that will arise. You don’t need commenters to spell out the points the blogger has already given you the power to think on your own.

Responding to a commenter who wrote, “Some of the commenters really are rude and condescending, like telling Althouse what she shouldn’t read, or that the SNL clip wasn’t funny and SNL hasn’t been funny since the Coneheads, or the music video sucked, or “I nevah read Twitter blah blah” etc. It’s like criticizing the meal when someone else is paying,” the bloggress responded, “Exactly.” 

Observations:

  • Wow. And I thought I was arrogant!
  • “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”—Harry Truman
  • Althouse seems to be annoyed that most of her commenters are conservatives, and that this is somehow a negative reflection on her. This has happened, I believe, is because she has been objective, and the left end of the political spectrum has thoroughly disgraced itself and abandoned both reason and ethics in an ideological fever. Atlthouse found herself defending President Trump much the way I did, and neither of us liked him or could be considered “supporters.” as we saw on Ethics Alarms, progressives increasinlt wanted to argue from emotion, bias or media talking points, and became increasingly obstructive to rational and objective analysis. Finally, they ran away. One should not have had to be a conservative to see that how the AUC was treating the Trump Presidency was destructive and wrong–indeed, Althouse herself demonstrated that, which is one reason I admire her. But she seems to think having conservatives agree with her falsely impugns her character, or something. I suspect this comes of living in Madison, Wisconsin.
  • She needs to change blogging platforms. WordPress, for all its faults, allows me to OK a commenter and then all future comments by that reader automatically gets through moderation. In ten years, very few commenters have forced me to withdraw the privilege.
  • Now she’s worried about time? She was blogging multiple posts daily while she was a full-time law professor. I see most blogs peter out when the blogger gets tired, even terrific blogs, like Popehat. It’s a grind.
  • [Added] Althouse’s greatest weakness as a cultural observer is her relative ignorance of popular culture, which she seems to be proud of. Other than pop music, I would rank her as unacceptably culturally ignorant of TV, movies, and sports. If she is going to be sensitive to criticism of her random comments on popular culture, she needs to either educate herself—and she has a lot of catching up to do—or stop writing about what she doesn’t understand.
  • If killing comments allow Althouse to enjoy blogging more and save time she would rather devote elsewhere, then she should kill comments. Here, on Ethics Alarms, the post-post discussion of the ethics issues is indispensable: this project was envisioned as a colloquy.

Besides, the comments here are much better than what Ann gets.

28 thoughts on “Blogging Ethics: Althouse Snaps!

  1. I watch a lot of television shows that were made in the late 90’s and early 00’s. It is sort of amazing to see how views on the internet have changed since then. Back then, people thought that the internet was supposed to open up people’s world to new ideas and the exchange of viewpoints, that free speech was paramount, and that protecting user identities from the government was of utmost importance.

    Fast forward to today, where the internet is a cudgel of leftwing propaganda, dissenting thought is being persecuted, and companies are giving federal law enforcement direct line access to the entirety of their databases.

    Many people do not want speech they do not agree with to be free, they do not want to be exposed to opposing viewpoints, and they do not want to have to have to discuss dissenting ideas. Many people simply want affirmation of their own ideas, to believe that their beliefs are the correct beliefs, and to force everyone else to accept their ideas as some sort of religious gospel. Those people also do not want to acknowledge that these traits make them closed minded, dogmatic ideologues. They want to split people up into categories of good people and bad people, then have the good category agree with them, and the bad category disagree with them, further affirming that their beliefs are the good and correct beliefs.

    Comment sections are frequently cesspools of toxic behavior, but simply shutting them down eliminates the exchange of ideas. Moderating them takes effort, especially if you are trying to moderate them fairly and ethically.

    This blog has clear rules for commenting, that spell out what type of conversation the blog is attempting to facilitate. Most blogs do not have that, they just have rules that state not to say “toxic” things, with some loosely defined definitions of what qualifies as toxic. Instead of stating what they want, they spell out what they do not want. Telling people what you do NOT want is much less effective than telling people what you DO want. If you do not state what kind of discussion you want, then commenters talk about what THEY want to talk about. Moderators go around eliminating the conversations they dislike by claiming they violate the rules, and commenters try to shimmy around the definitions of the rules while continuing the unwanted behavior. The rules on what you cannot say get bigger and bigger over time, and people get more and more creative at continuing the same behavior without breaking the rules.

    I do not know what the rules are on Althouse’s blog are, but she might try being clearer about what type of conversation she WANTS to see, instead of describing the conversation she doesn’t want to see.

    If what she doesn’t want to see is people with right-wing viewpoints, she should be honest and state that she engages in viewpoint discrimination, and only wants left wing conversation. Honesty is important, especially with oneself.

  2. Oddly, my impression was that this center-left writer teeing stuff up for a substantial center-right readership was the point of the blog. I sometimes wondered if the whole thing wasn’t a big con to divert the attention of some conservatives with two or three leftist squirrels per day.

    About nine months ago, Althouse quoted President Trump: “Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes but that they were villains.” Althouse’s response to that was, “This is a painful accusation, but I’m afraid it is true.” For me, that seemed to be a self-damning statement from a former law professor, a challenge that required a response. But the blog just continued prattling along, and sliding toward irrelevance.

    • The question is what is she referring to as being painful and true – Trump’s statement that schools are teaching kids to hate their country or that the men and women who built it were not heroes but villains.

  3. EA is like a keto diet… thick, rich and keeps you going. The althouse blog is more like a shallow puddle that a child walks by and kicks and keeps on walking.

  4. In an authoritarian culture there is a social cost, often simple social pressure, to defying that authority. Althouse is growing increasingly tired of bearing that social cost, brought about by her association with those out of fashion in an increasingly authoritarian culture.
    Many mushy moderates are particularly prone to being pulled back and forth on the clothesline of cultural fashion. Althouse seemed stronger than many but the weak will always be worn down eventually.
    Honor in a dishonorable age is never free.

    • I have seen this with some other sites. The site host is a left leaning, supposedly classical liberal. They welcome a wide range of voices in the comments. However, they REALLY want to convert the conservatives to their point of view. What happens, however, is that the far left commenters can’t take criticism and can’t back up their ideology, so they leave (it is really hard to defend promoting racial bigotry to end racial bigotry). The opposite of the desired effect occurs. The conservative commenters either start to convert the leftists to their point of view or they drive the leftists away. Althouse’s friends have probably commented about how she is being ‘corrupted’ by them into even defending Donald Trump. She has to get rid of the comments, not just because of the association with such people, but because they are starting to change her own point of view and she is at risk of leaving the cult.

      Q: How can you distinguish a religion from a cult?
      A: Try to leave.

      • I often wish I could “convert” someone. I feel like I’m fairly useless, because my voice here is weak and isolated—I’ve screwed up, as with other aspects of my career. I should be able to help the US in this crisis, but bigoted, ideological idiots like Charles Blow and frauds like David Brooks have so much louder trumpets that I know most of the time I’m just shouting into the wind. It’s my own fault. Ive been linked twice by Instapundit, which usually guarantees a bump in readers, but I found the Instapundit readership that showed up here so repulsive, ethically-challenged and knee-jerk that I found myself banning them or telling them they were too dumb to contribute. (And, for the most part, they were.) I had a nice slot on NPR for a couple of years, but dared to step on the third rail by pointing out a fact that could be interpreted as a mitigation of a narrative being used against President Trump, so I was exiled.

        But that’s me. My father said I could blame him after one of my several firings for refusing to follow an unethical path: he was always quitting, getting fired or being marginalized by opposing what he believed was unethical or stupid authority.

        • One of the hopes I have with the Catholic representation of the afterlife is that, in the final judgment, the consequences of all our actions will be revealed. For good or for evil, we’ll see how all our actions rippled out across the world, influencing events for likely generations before the direct impact finally dwindles into background noise, never quite extinguished, but not perceptibly influential.

          Conversion is also typically a very gradual affair. We may never now the extent to which our willingness to speak to our core convictions will play in someone’s conversion. Yet, even if it is a small link, it may be a crucial link. And it may be that the self-imposed exile of many commenters here will eventually contribute to the critical cognitive dissonance where one finally admits that he had been wrong all this time. (I know my personal conversion took quite some time, some rock-bottom-hitting, and quite a few seemingly insignificant events that, when looking back, I found were very influential in altering my worldview.)

          One thing I do know, Jack, is that my coworkers hear quite a bit about the topics you write about, and a certain amount of your analysis. They may not come and read your blog (despite my promptings), but they are being influenced by it.

        • Well, I think the results speak well of you. I am sure very few here are here to be converted, but all have learned and gotten to see different points of view.The reason you don’t have the huge audience is that you DON’T give up your integrity for audience size. Look at the comparisons you just made and realize why you aren’t them. I haven’t seen many big churches that stay true to the path. I know some ministers who claim you can’t keep a church on the path when it gets much bigger than 50 people.

          Who do you convert to a different way of thinking?
          (1) The weak of mind.
          (2) Those who were already on that path.
          (3) Those who are looking for a different way.
          (4) Those who have been deceived.

          This blog is probably a nightmare for #1. People in #4 usually don’t get converted. They just get mad if you reveal the truth of the deception. You probably wouldn’t notice if you converted people in groups #2 and 3. Your big problem is that there aren’t many people in categories 2 and 3, the big market is 1 and 4 and those are the Instapundit people you couldn’t stand.

    • Brian wrote, “In an authoritarian culture there is a social cost, often simple social pressure, to defying that authority. Althouse is growing increasingly tired of bearing that social cost, brought about by her association with those out of fashion in an increasingly authoritarian culture.”

      Please expand this thought for readers so we can full understand where you are coming from.

  5. Jack,
    How arrogant of Althouse!
    I follow several blogs but only comment in a few. If I were to start a blog of my own, I would mimic your moderation practices and rules for commenting. Of course, no blogger has any control over commenters, even valued ones, leaving the blog, but the blogger shouldn’t hold that against those commenters who remain and follow the rules, even if they are not your “preferred clientele.”
    Again, this prompts me to thank you for Ethics Alarms, and the clarity it consistently provides in an increasingly unethical world.

  6. The morning-after explanation:

    https://althouse.blogspot.com/?m=1

    “In that long thread yesterday, a lot of people told me that they come to my blog not for me but for the comments. They seemed to think that argued in favor of my continuing to carry the burden of moderating the comments. It cut the other way. I didn’t plan for yesterday to be so momentous, but it was that argument — augmented with the threat that I would lose traffic, the all-important, precious traffic — that pushed me toward decisive action.”

    • I’m a longtime reader and occasional commenter at Althouse. I avidly read the whole end-of-blog debacle. As a conservative, I was really irritated to read that she felt the blog and/or the comments section had been taken over by right wing squatters. A couple of commenters set up commenting forums elsewhere and I’ve joined them but now I think I’ll stay away. The contempt Althouse showed her community yesterday was gross. She said she doesn’t write the blog for others but for herself. Why write it at all then? Save your musings to your hard drive and leave the rest of us alone.

      • In Ann’s defense, her view of what a blog is jibes with the original concept: an online journal that presupposes that anyone gives a damn about what the blogger is thinking, doing or cares about. Social media largley made this kind of blog obsolete and redundant. Professors had built in audiences for their blogs, because students checked them to see if there was any information they could use to suck up. I admired AA’s ability to be objective—her reaction to how Trump was treated by the news media and others was similar to mine, and we bother were right—but she also showed regular disregard for her readers’ time by sticking in eccentric nonsense, her amateur photos, plugs for her husband’s dog blog, and her language pedantry. For a professor, now retired professor, to object to generating discussion and feedback shows an amazing degree of arrogance. She objects to commenters arguing with each other. As an ethics trainer who runs interactive sessions, I regard an informed argument between participants as a great success—I love it.

        The predecessor to EA was The Ethics Scoreboard, which had a similar mission. I made it a website, rather than a blog, because the topic was specific, and it was not about me. But I found the format too slow_–I had to submit posts to a webmaster, and it took a day or more for them to be posted. Blog software advanced to where I could design and run my own blog, allowing multiple posts a day and other features. Commenting was easier: on the website, commenters had to go to a single comment page. And I also wanted to use a more personal voice, in part because I decided my positions and perspectives on various ethics issues would be clarified and better understood the more readers got to know me. It also allows me to justify a less formal tone.

        But the biggest improvement has been the comments, and while I am constantly accused of not tolerating dissent, I regard the retirement/exits/ banishment, self or otherwise, for varying reasons, of such frequent and passionate critics or iconoclasts as TGT, Charles Green, Still Spartan, Ampersand, Chris, Windypundit, Stephen Pilling, Ethics Bob and others as real losses to the quality of discourse here.

        Hell, I read the blog because of the comments! I already know what I think…

  7. If you post a comment on the Althouse blog now there is a message above the comment box that says, “The era of commenting on Althouse is about to end. Thanks to all the good commenters! For now, you can leave a comment for moderation, and, in a short while, that too will be gone.”

    I posted the following comment…

    Personally I don’t care what you do with comments, it’s your blog, do what works for you but apply your standards equally across the board. Personally I think leaving it the way it is is fine but moderating out some of the obvious trolls is a good thing. I read but rarely comment anymore because the comment format here completely lacks nesting and does not work well for any kind of real conversation to take place.

    What I’ve found on the web is that left leaning liberal* bloggers eventually shut off their comments or hypocritically moderate out opposing points of view from their blogs because they don’t appear to be able to take criticism of what they write and/or they don’t want their ideological blog bubble to be pierced by opposing points of view. Left leaning bloggers have shown me that they are quite intolerant of opposing points of view, it’s as if left leaning bloggers are out to get “likes” from like-minded people and not engage in actual dialogue. Madison Wisconsin’s Liberal** Democrat ex-mayor Dave Cieslewicz blog Yellow Stripes & Dead Armadillos is a good example of what I’m talking about; I talk about it in my blog post Where Did All The Classic Liberals* Go? A couple more intolerant Liberal** bloggers is Madison’s Gregory Humphrey of Caffeinated Politics and Chicago’s Mark Draughn of Windy Pundit.

    There is a hypocritical pattern of intolerance emanating from the liberal* left, don’t be like the hypocritical liberal* left.

    *liberal: adjective 1. willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas. 2. relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

    **Liberal: noun supporter of political policies that are socially progressive and promote social welfare e.g. Democrat.

  8. Ken White on his final post on the original Pophat had very similar opinions of comments. He announced the new incarnation of <a href=https://popehat.substack.com/?Pophat (which already appears defunct), would not allow comments. This final post was met with comments that lightly criticized his decision to end comments, to which he replied that the comment section seemed to prove his point. If Ken’s reaction to polite comments suggesting eliminating comments detracts from the value of the blog is stress, then he really should eliminate them. However, not being open to feedback and engagement will detract. Every major journalistic outlet allows letters to the editor purportedly for this reason.

    Maybe Ken moderated out truly toxic stuff, but we have no idea. It’s like listening to a phone call, getting only half the message. Perhaps Althouse does the same (I don’t follow her blog, so I cannot really comment on her situation). One thing you do, Jack, that helps is occasionally share the toxic or ignorant stuff you filter out. Transparency of what’s going on behind the scenes ads quite a bit of value. This lack of transparency in moderating public discourse is a curse that threatens the very foundation of democracy.

  9. Frequent reader (and rare commenter) of both this blog and Althouse’s. Both are daily stops while enjoying morning coffee.

    Prof Althouse’s decision to cancel commenting was indeed disappointing and a bit confusing: Many of her blog posts were in fact “conversation starters” where the only thing she wrote was “…. … you can talk about whatever you want.”. If that is not an invitation to commenting, than what is? My impression that igniting conversations in the comments section was indeed a prime focus of the blog. I understand that she met her current husband in the comments section! Oh, well.

    I agree with the commenter above that she likely caved to peer pressure. Her comments section did provide a platform for right leaning individuals to share their views and I’m confident this was frowned upon in her various social circles.

  10. Althouse’s writing style, which is unavoidably to say her mental processes, changed abruptly around the time she retired. I will leave it to those who know more to determine which might be cause and which effect. Since that time she has been operating as if she is on borrowed time, filling her life with multiple long road trip vacations.

    She has also become more and more impatient with what she perceives as limitations on her entitlement to write publicly, from the limitations of Google’s Blogger platform, to the unacceptable impositions which would fall upon her from any potential attempt on her part to solve that problem, to the spectrum of annoyances imposed by commenters, that is, verifiable human readers of her writing rather than bots.

    Her husband Lawrence Meade has on more than one occasion commented on the patience of Job required of his role, which might be entirely innocent humor consistent with his greater friendly gregariousness with respect to the commenter community there than his wife.

    Remember also that Althouse trained herself over her entire professional career to be a singular object of attention, reverential, fearful, or otherwise, from a captive audience of subservient law students.

    There is no question that Althouse is and has always been a narcissist, which in and of itself is not necessarily a flaw, particularly for a celebrity blogger. The question is whether that narcissism, in the course of whatever process since retirement has also resulted in her larding her writing with random and often seemingly mindless word associations, is now degrading into a sclerotic solipsism.

    It may very well be that the time remaining wherein Althouse can write at all now is limited and that it has now become a no longer avoidable requirement that any controllable distractions be permanently removed from the path of that effort.

    • Interesting theory.
      But isn’t it weird that Althouse, who seems to resent an assocation with her conservative followers, has been a guest host at Instapundit, a straight Right mega-blog?

      • I never noticed any such resentment, or at least none on any ideological axis. The only resentments I’ve noticed have been against limitations on her desires – her ambivalent feelings toward Google’s ad policies, on the one hand putting bread in her mouth while on the other requiring she perform as its handmaiden with respect to commentary it disapproves of also comes to mind.

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