Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Will Ta-Nehisi Coates shut down comments at The Atlantic?

I've been commenting at The Atlantic on posts by Ta-Nehisi Coates for the past year or so. His comments threads have always been heavily moderated, and justly so. I remember what happened to the unmoderated African-American usenet groups back in the 90s, 'nuff said. He has to have two maybe three editors to keep the vileness out. In addition to that though, he seems to dislike much in the way of disagreement. After having received a rap on the knuckles from him a time or two, I've tried to tone up my remarks, with some success. I will confess that I was surprised when I first discovered him, that it was harder than I expected to hold up my end of a conversation with him and his fans. I now take it as a challenge to frame my opinions in a way that is acceptable to that online community, while still making my points. Only n00bs whine about the moderators, is my online motto.

But I've been struck how many comments will be deleted and commenters banned, for stating obvious facts. I myself was threatened with banning, for mentioning the fact that Africa's post-colonial human rights record is an appalling horror show, and its leaders have until recently been mostly larcenous and murderous despots. His truth narrative doesn't seem to like having its toes stepped on by other truth narratives, apparently. I mean, what would the reaction be if the Nigerian academic George Ayittey logged in and said the same things? Things are a bit more relaxed when he deals with topics in which race is not always front and center, such as his experiences in Paris or his readings in Eastern European history. (Speaking of which, I wonder if he's going to take up Iron Curtain anytime soon, as promised some time back? Maybe he's lost interest.) Then the crowdsourced knowledge of the commenters is giving freer rein, and the threads make for quite educational and enjoyable reading, for those interested in those subjects.

Lately he's been posting articles and leaving the comments off for days, if not permanently. I hope he doesn't leave the magazine because of commenters, the way Steven den Beste gave up political blogging because he was tired of getting crapped at by his commenters. If the comments are too wearisome to police anymore, my suggestion would be for him to do away with them, a la James Fallows, and just post open threads once a week. That ought to simplify things from The Atlantic's end.