St. Louis Post Dispatch Declares That Banning Editorial Comments Will 'Elevate The Ferguson Conversation'
from the addition-through-subtraction dept
As we’ve been noting, there’s a growing trend afoot whereby some news websites have started unilaterally declaring the lowly news comment section dead, and therefore have started eliminating the ability for visitors to comment entirely. While it’s one thing to just close site comments and be done with it, sites like ReCode, Reuters and Popular Science have been quick to insist that they’re killing comments for the good of the “conversation,” which sounds so much better than “we closed news comments because we’re too cheap and lazy to police bile and spam.”
At a time when racial conversation couldn’t be more important, the St. Louis Post Dispatch has decided to join the war on comments, this week declaring that the paper would be eliminating comments from paper editorials completely. This is, the paper declares, because it’s very much concerned about having a “meaningful discussion”:
“We intend to use our opinion pages to help the St. Louis region have a meaningful discussion about race. So we are going to turn off the comments in the editorial section for a while, and see what we learn from it. (Comment will continue on news articles). Comments might return to the opinion pages. Or we might find that without them, the discussion ? through letters, social media conversations and online chats, rises to a higher level.”
Again, does anything say “we love conversation” quite like restricting conversation? Like ReCode and Reuters, the paper appears to believe that e-mail and social media are good enough substitutes for an open conversation on site — not understanding that part of building a community involves a cultivating a regular, engaged local readership, and protecting that readership from the angsty dregs of the Internet.
The paper justifies its move by leaning heavily on a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison study (also see this NY Times report) that found news story readers could have their opinions manipulated through completely unmoderated comments (something astroturfing and marketing firms have relied on for ages):
“In their study, published last year, researchers concluded that ?Much in the same way that watching uncivil politicians argue on television causes polarization among individuals, impolite and incensed blog comments can polarize online users.? In some cases, negative blog comments actually changed readers? perception of what they read, not just their opinions about it.”
But isn’t shifting opinions part of having any conversation, online or off? And is killing the comment section entirely really the way to handle aggressive, trolling, or misleading comments? It still feels like many outlets have just grown tired of managing their own communities, but instead of admitting that they’re not invested enough to spend time weeding the troll garden, they’ve taken to disingenuously claiming they’re somehow revolutionizing online conversation — by making sure there’s less of it.