October 31, 2003
LUSKIN / ATRIOS UPDATE: Well, I was hors de combat as the story reverberated around the blogosphere yesterday, but it’s bad for Luskin. Even folks like Misha and Bill Quick are all over Luskin, with Quick even promising to donate to an Atrios Defense Fund if it’s required. (I would, too, though I doubt it’ll come to that.)
I agree with Tom Maguire that a “delink Luskin” campaign in response is over-reach (and I find de-linking campaigns rather silly in general) but Luskin has blown it here, and badly. I don’t believe that free speech always trumps libel claims, even in the blogosphere, but I think the threshold is awfully high, and I don’t think that Luskin has met it with regard to Atrios, much less Atrios’s commenters, for whose comments I don’t think it’s really fair to hold Atrios responsible.
But there are some lessons here. One is that threats of lawsuits almost always backfire in the blogosphere, even more than they do in general. There’s no way to keep them quiet, and once disclosed they make the threatener look thuggish unless the case is quite strong. Another is that anonymity in the blogosphere is thinner than many people think: Atrios’s email is known, and it’s a major-ISP address, meaning that he’s a subpoena away from losing anonymity. And that’s true for a lot of other people who think they’re anonymous. Anonymity is convenient, and it may prevent untoward consequences, but it’s not really secure if anyone really wants to pierce it.
Another is that bloggers tend to stick together, and to value free speech very highly, despite rather intense disagreements. That’s probably a good thing.
And, finally, while comments are nice, they do pose a problem. When you have a lot of comments, it’s very difficult to police them. I loved The Fray at Slate, — but it had Moira Redmond riding herd on it full time. What blogger can do that? And the real enemy of a blogger isn’t trolls who disagree, but the commenters on “your side” who go over-the-top. And comments sections tend to breed that sort of extreme commentary, it seems. That’s not a reason why people shouldn’t have comments, necessarily, but it’s a downside.
UPDATE: Roger Simon thanks his readers.