My good friend, FritzMuffknuckle, who has been missing in action for a few months now, once asked me whether I thought Reddit’s Bad Cop No Donut, where he was a mod, was a good or bad thing. I told him I thought it was a good thing, as it not only provided a place to post about police abuse and misconduct, but a place for non-lawyers to vent their anger and frustration.
Fritz was worried that so many redditors posted reactions about harming police that it had become a cesspool of hatred. It spread misinformation, whether about the law or blame, and fed the fire of anger. My thought was that while it was true that BCND seemed to work the choir into a frenzy, it also provided people with a venue to release it. Better it be vented through a keyboard than through more violent means. Everyone needs an outlet.
The comments here, however, are not the place for catharsis.
One of the common things I hear from lawyers is that they appreciate how I keep a firm handle on comments, whether by deleting comments that reflect anger and hatred, or correcting comments that spread misinformation. I’ve tried to make the comments at SJ inhospitable to those who see them as their own soap box for insanity or stupidity. I can’t stop anyone from reading, but I surely can stop them from commenting.
The nature of comments seems to be circular, where they tend to get better and worse according to who is reading. Some other websites and blogs send readers here, and their readers may not be lawyers, but people filled with anger or wild ideas. They arrive with their tin foil hats and pound away at their keyboards.
They expect to be welcomed and appreciated, since they saw a post that fit their mindset. They think we’re on the same team, and so they rant about their conspiracies, the corrupt system, the “pigs,” the coming revolution, and whatever else they dream up in the solitude of their virtual world.
They raise what I call the “John Bad Elk” view of the law, where they cling to bizarre, irrational or merely grossly wrong understanding of law and want to fight to the death that they aren’t utterly clueless. For these commenters, they believe with all their heart that they are spreading the truth, and it is their duty to do so. So they spread the word, and they try to spread it here.
It puts me in an awkward situation. First, there is a numerosity problem, as there are probably five horrible comments for every thoughtful one. I’m discinlined to toss comments, as I would prefer not to stifle discussion and allow people to express themselves if at all possible. But most of these comments are so extreme, so prolix, so wrong, as to compel me to go to great lengths to explain why.
Often, they involve multiple assertions, each of which would require a separate, lengthy explanation as to what’s wrong about it. Often, they cite to a case, an article, a book, a lawprof, without coming anywhere near understanding the subject matter. The burden of trying to correct the errors is necessary if I let the comment post, as others will read it and think it’s either accurate (and potentially act upon it) or reflects my thoughts. Neither is acceptable to me.
But as I recently explained (to no avail, mind you) to a recent commenter, engaging in debate with non-lawyers over things about which they are utterly clueless isn’t nearly as much fun for me as they think. There are times when I may have some fun playing with it, and there are times when there is enough of an inkling of worthwhile thought that I feel constrained to let a crazy comment post with some explanation. And there are times I just note that they are flaming nutjobs.
But I don’t feel like insulting people. My option is to do what my friend Ken does, and let the commenters essentially run wild, stepping in only rarely to correct the most horrendous of misinformation, but otherwise giving commenters free rein. Ken writes great stuff, and I often would enjoy discussing some of the points he raises, but I rarely comment.
The problem is that while a hands-off policy fosters free-wheeling discussion, the nature of the discussion is frequently off the charts wrong, and feeds upon itself to reinforce misinformation. That’s a problem for me. Much as I would appreciate discussions with Ken, I have no interest in becoming embroiled in whacko discussions with some of the others. So I don’t comment.
The secondary problem is that it inhibits lawyers with thoughtful comments. They don’t want to get involved in crazy discussions with non-lawyers who raise absurd and hate-filled arguments. The people I want to comment are chased away by the non-lawyers who feel compelled to comment. A corollary is that it reflects poorly on me that I appear to foster a blog that serves as a home to the crazies.
While I may write SJ for my own amusement, its primary focus is intended on the law, and meant to be read by other lawyers. Non-lawyers are obviously free to read it, as I can’t stop them, but understand that your views on all the horribles of the country, the police, the legal system and the law may not be welcome.
Before you comment, remember that this is a law blog, meaning that you may well be the least knowledgeable person around who nonetheless feels the need to tell others what the law is, or to correct what you perceive to be a grievous error. Chances are extremely high that you are very wrong. Ask yourself, if a whole bunch of lawyers have no issue with this explanation of the law, why is it that I am the only one who know that it is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG AND I MUST CORRECT IT IMMEDIATELY!!!
It’s not that you shouldn’t be interested, read and have your own thoughts about all these issues. It’s that you shouldn’t comment here. Have you considered Bad Cop No Donut? Even if I don’t show you the respect you think your ideas deserve, maybe you will get a better reception there.
When I suggest this isn’t the right place for you, what I’m trying to say is that it would be best if you go elsewhere. If you thought I was unmerciful at tossing comments before, it’s going to get worse. I just don’t have the time or interest to deal with everyone who wears a tin foil hat, and it’s sucking all the fun out of this for me. Sorry, but that’s the deal.