Changes in the Community
on Nov 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm
Roughly two months ago, we introduced our new Community feature to provide readers with a forum to discuss issues relating to the Court. After six weeks, we decided to step back and evaluate how it was working and could be improved.
The original design involved a new topic each day. Except on a few topics of broad interest (for example, the health care litigation) the great majority of comments were those that we solicited. We generally received between 800 and 1500 “hits” on these discussions each day.
In general, the quality of the comments was very good. It was also respectful. Our principal concern that the discussion would degenerate into classic, nasty Internet fights did not come to pass at all. The number of hits was reasonable for a new feature.
On the other hand, the breadth of participation was very narrow. Few readers posted their own comments.
Also, this structure was very resource intensive. A different member of the blog team would have a topic each week, and generating “seed” comments could be time consuming.
In discussing why the level of participation was low, we got an interesting reaction that on reflection should not have been surprising: that by banning anonymity, we were discouraging readers (particularly law students) who do not want their names associated with comments. I think that’s unfortunate, and I had hoped it would not be true.
We don’t, however, want to permit anonymity. I remain fixed in my view that it leads to bad discourse.
So we have adopted a very good suggestion as a test. We are creating quasi-anonymous accounts. We have contacted the ACS and Federalist Society chapters at five law schools and created accounts for each. Those chapters will encourage their members to participate, and screen the comments. But they will be posted in the name of a generic member of the chapter (e.g., Penn ACS Member). If this approach works, we will add additional schools (or other meta-accounts that can be screened by some third party).
We recognize that there is an alternative – we could just permit anonymity and screen offensive comments. But that is more effort than we want to devote to this project. Even more important, it’s important for readers to have some sense of the commenter’s qualifications in judging the credibility of their contributions.
We’re making one other change as well. Topics will span a week rather than a day. We’ll use major issues that can generate new sub-topics that we can introduce daily. For example, our first will be the Arizona immigration case, which raises an array of interesting issues.
We hope that you will decide to participate.