media & PR

Another news site closes its comments

This time it is one from South Africa:

We have decided to switch off comments on articles as a default from Friday and to implement a different approach to how we handle user contributions and engagement with our content on our platform.

Our decision to change our comments policy follows months of internal debate and discussion which has seen us consider all options practically available to us on how to wrangle the thousands of comments which are made on each day.

The end result of these debates is that we have decided that we wish to be known for the quality of our content rather than for our comments…

Editors across our network have been working hard at honing their editorial strategies to ensure that we provide the best experience possible for our substantial daily audience.

As we have worked on this, the comments issue has loomed large. Each day the tone and substance of many of our comments appear increasingly at odds with the mission of editorial excellence which we have set for ourselves.

Many commentators insist on pushing the boundaries of free speech available to us in South Africa.

Comments tediously drift towards hate speech at worst and, at best, are often laced with prejudice.

Interesting and considered contributions are drowned out by a cacophony of insults from a minority of users.

This is not the experience we wish users to have in our home.

This is the latest in a trend which has included Reuters and Bloomberg, and long before that Sky, propelled in large part by the unwillingness of a small minority of people to follow an obvious rule.

Hence as I wrote recently:

My parallel [when moderating comments  has been] to think of behaving as a moderator similar to how you would behave as the chair of a public (or private, for that matter) meeting.

In particular, there is value in trying to encourage widespread participation from people in the meeting, from trying to keep discussions vaguely structured and from trying to avoid people dominating the conversation, crowding out others.

I’ve taken that approach usually when chairing Lib Dem events too. In the offline world, I struggle to think of any occasion when, for example, I’ve asked questioners to keep to the topic at hand and had a reaction of BUT THAT’S ILLIBERAL AND CENSORSHIP AND IF YOU DON’T LET ME SAY WHAT I WANT YOU’RE HEADING DOWN THE ROAD TO BEING A NAZI. Online, of course, those sort of reactions are rather more common.

One reason for that difference is that in the offline world everyone can see everyone else in the room, and so it’s instinctively more understandable and more accepted for the chair to do things that are there to serve the interests of everyone in the room even if they run slightly into conflict with the person who is talking at that immediate point in time.

In the online world, that wider audience is much easier to forget, neglect or simply not care about – especially as in most online situations it’s dominated by people who are silently reading rather than activity participating.

But just because you’re reading rather than typing and easy to ignore doesn’t mean you don’t matter or shouldn’t be considered. Especially if it’s a site or forum that aims for a wider audience rather than just a private discussion between people who already know each other well.