Vice Joins Trend Of Killing News Comments Because Giving A Damn About Your Site's Community Is Just Too Hard

from the i-love-you.-here's-your-new-muzzle. dept

We’ve talked a lot about how the trend du jour in online media is to ditch the news comment section, then condescendingly pretend this is because the website just really values user relationships. ReCode, NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg, Popular Science and more have all proclaimed that they just love their on-site communities so much, they’ll no longer allow them to speak. Of course what these sites often can’t admit is that they were too lazy or cheap to cultivate their communities, can’t seem to monetize quality discourse, and don’t really like people pointing out their story errors in quite such a conspicuous location.

Vice recently decided to join this trend and announce it too would be killing comments. And, like most of its counterparts, Vice tries to push the narrative that this is being done because comment sections are just wild, untameable beasts, outside of the laws of physics and man, and irredeemable at best:

Unfortunately, website comments sections are rarely at their best. Without moderators or fancy algorithms, they are prone to anarchy. Too often they devolve into racist, misogynistic maelstroms where the loudest, most offensive, and stupidest opinions get pushed to the top and the more reasoned responses drowned out in the noise.

Yes, go figure. When you ignore your barn and garden you get weeds, parasites and dry rot. This idea that there’s just nothing that can be done about unruly commenters ignores studies like this one that suggest that often all that’s needed to dramatically improve discourse is to have somebody from the website just show up and give half-a-fleeting damn. It’s just easier to justify your apathy as an editor or business by trying to pretend that news comments are on par with solving the god-damned crisis in the Middle East.

On the plus side, Vice at least admits, albeit somewhat jokingly, that its editors “don’t have the time or desire” to care about its readerships’ thoughts. But Vice also, like so many sites before it, tries to insist that outsourcing all user interaction to the homogenized, noisy blandness of Facebook is “good enough”:

We don’t have the time or desire to continue monitoring that crap moving forward. Besides, there are plenty of other ways for you to publicly discuss our work and the personal worth of our staff. We’ll still be reading your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and we legitimately do enjoy getting IRL mail (no bombs) sent to our offices in Brooklyn.

Part of this push is because editors want to return to the Walter Cronkite era practice of letters to the editors, where the outlet can more heavily filter what kind of user feedback is publicized. In this way killing off comments is an attack on transparency, since — buried amidst the trolls and jackasses — quite often sits very legitimate criticism, conversations with authors, corrections and valuable insight. Offload that to Facebook, and what ultimately happens is these user voices are simply drowned out by sheer volume. All while reducing the time the readers you claim to value spend on site (ingenious!).

Vice tops its missive off by trying to convince the babies being thrown out with the bathwater that censoring their ability to speak isn’t a “slight against them”:

We truly value thoughtful comments and critiques from readers, and our biggest worry in killing this section was that the people who have constructive and intelligent things to say would consider this a slight against them. Please don’t think that. We know that the vast majority of you are hot, brilliant non-bigots who challenge us to be better every day. That doesn’t change just because we’re losing the ugly stuff at the bottom of our articles.

Except napalming your on-site community because you’re too lazy to weed the garden certainly is a slight against those users. And as we saw with NPR, these users are well aware of this fact, and are more than happy to spend their time on websites that actually value conversation and user interaction, instead of just paying empty lip service to the concept.

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Comments on “Vice Joins Trend Of Killing News Comments Because Giving A Damn About Your Site's Community Is Just Too Hard”

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nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s quite amusing to note the sites that are dropping comments. NPR, while one of my favorite outlets, isn’t exactly fair and balanced in its reporting and was called out quite often by conservatives for both implicit and explicit bias.

Similarly, BusinessInsider dropped comments this year the day after Trump’s election. Their editorial staff was, again, very biased towards one ideology in their writings and many of their readers put some unwelcome corrections and different viewpoints to their stories, so their dropping comments the day after the election wasn’t terribly surprising.

I’ve basically stopped visiting both sites after their change.

I believe that in general, the sites that are dropping comments tend to be those with a more partisan take on events, and they also tend to be the ones least willing to actually discuss the evidence and more insistent on lecturing their audience. The art of disagreeing and discussing without denigration is dying and more’s the shame.

michael (profile) says:

it's better this way

I can honestly say that I haven’t seen a worthwhile comment to an article in 15 years.

Yes, some are funny. But outside of that, they are pointless. The “community” aspect that Techdirt seems to think they add is an illusion; it’s really just a bunch of people talking into space. They add nothing.

(And yes, this comment is just as useless as any other.)

There was a time when you could go to a site devoted to article discussions and engage with like-minded, intelligent people (I’m thinking Slashdot, pre-2006), but the inmates have taken over all asylums.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: it's better this way

I frequently see useful comments that add context, clarification, or correction. They may be the exception rather than the rule on many (even most) sites, but they exist.

Guys who show up to every article about comments sections to comment in the comment section about how superfluous and pointless comment sections are, on the other hand? Yeah, them I could do without.

n2wishnn (profile) says:

Re: it's better this way

I disagree completely with u! Some of the most useful information I’ve ever read has been in article’s comment section! There have been plenty of reviews on items that I thought were unbiased and had seemed helpful, only to read the comment section and find out different problems people had with said item. Not only reviews, but news articles comment sections have shown where a certain “fact” is not factual at all, or why a view might be seen differently. So, yes..the Only reason I see for ANY site to drop their comment sections, would be for sketchy reasons. I only got here after visiting a very unfair and biased VICE article because I wanted to comment WHY they were completely wrong about what they’d written…to find out, whoops!…sorry! can no longer point out bad journalism, we’ve gotten rid of comments!

Bob Buttons (profile) says:

Link to the damn post then.

The thing that bugs me the most of the whole “we’re moving to Facebook” thing is I’ve yet to see a single site link to the actual post in the article. You read an article, hit he bottom and it says join us on Facebook and just links to their page. How do you find that post? Hunt it down! Unless you’re reading the article shortly after posting it, good luck! If they’re too lazy to manage comments, at least link directly to the damn social post where people can comment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not sure I agree with you.....

Karl, Here is my 2 cents. Take it or leave it.

Due to the very nature of their content I seriously doubt that TechDirt gets much troll traffic compared to Vice, NPR etc. Although once in a while I have seen some trolls commenting on posts related to politics but not to the extent I see on news websites like wapo, npr etc. To TechDirt’s credit, they do a decent job at managing whatever trollish comments they get. That said, criticizing larger news sites that get a lot more troll traffic from the relative comfort of your small blog is kind of obnoxious.

The issue I have with this blog post is that it narrowly argues that the main reason to discontinue comments sections is that the editors are just too lazy to moderate them, without even considering the economic and legal ramifications of moderating loads of such content. It is probably easier to kill the comments section altogether rather than have your employees wade through mountains of BS to find that one gem of a comment from a legit commenter.

I agree that most sites provide some BS argument for killing comments but the real reason for doing so could be mostly economical and this post conveniently ignores that fact. Karl refers to one obscure paper from 2014 and some anecdotal evidence to make his point and never delves into the deeper issues of moderating the troll-posted content. It has been more than two years since that paper got published, so my question to Karl is: Has anyone else reproduced those results in the paper you are referring to? If you want to cite scientific literature to make your point, at least make an effort to cite most recent stuff and/or stuff that has been reproduced and validated by other researchers.

For a very long time I used to enjoy reading posts here. But heavily opinionated pieces grounded in outdated facts like this one makes me wonder whether I am wasting my time coming here.

Skeptical Commentor (profile) says:

Sorry but no dice.

I know folks genuinely think that being hyperconnected with your audience gives some value to your sites but out of all honesty what does a comment section give in terms of value to a site like Vice? Or really any site for that matter? I rarely read comments because the majority of time it’s regarding spats between commentors and rarely about the article or site in question. Essentially, it’s like those emergent architectural features in buildings; they’re there but they don’t actually carry the weight of the building. Comments don’t add value, don’t guarantee fact checking, and definitely don’t make a site more friendly by themselves as you’ve noted. So why get upset when Vice’s editors basically said they’re not interested in talking to us? It’s their site so it’s their rules. None of which affects free speech because said commentors can and still will voice their opinions on social media, their own sites, and YouTube channels. There’s no legal nor material impediment created by the removal or absence of comment sections. I’m just wondering if all these complaints against sites closing their comment sections is more about a sense of entitlement to have a public space on a private website.

Margaret Bartley says:

Control of news

I suspect that in addition to not wanting to pay a staffer to moderate the comments section, I suspect another reason for getting rid of comments is to further the on-line censorship of news.

I remember the early days of the internet, and I read the comments sections because often the posters would provide additional information.

that has been missing for quite a while, and I suspect it is because comments that link to other sites and contrary or supporting information are being removed.

Disqus, and common third-party plugin for comments, blacklists people who post too much contrarian information. Facebook is controlled by trolls.

This is part of the take-over of the internet, with centralized control.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Control of news

I suspect that in addition to not wanting to pay a staffer to moderate the comments section, I suspect another reason for getting rid of comments is to further the on-line censorship of news.

Can’t say as I’m a fan of equating the removal of comments sections with censorship. Private entities aren’t obligated to provide a forum for other people’s views.

Removing a comment section may not be a good idea, and it may suppress discussion and feedback. But it’s not censorship.

Disqus, and common third-party plugin for comments, blacklists people who post too much contrarian information.

In other words, you got banned for being repeatedly disruptive.

This is part of the take-over of the internet, with centralized control.

I doubt that the people taking down their comments sections and directing people to Facebook are thinking about it in those terms, but yeah, that’s the result. Facebook is to 2016 as AOL was to 1996, and I never understood the appeal of either.

BJC (profile) says:

Stop using that study without caveat.

The author keeps saying in these articles, "Facebook isn’t as good as a comments section," but for the study that’s evidence that comment sections work, it’s a cite to a news organization that already shunted its comment section to Facebook. Here’s the study method (

"We partnered with a local television news station with a vibrant Facebook community to conduct a field study. The station was an affiliate of a major television network in a top-50 Designated Market Area. Over 40,000 people had liked the station’s Facebook page. The study took place between December 2012 and April 2013. As part of the study, members of the newsroom would post a political story on Facebook each day and then vary their engagement with commenters according to a randomized schedule."

I have other concerns about the study (there’s no evidence that the lessons are scalable to sites with millions of daily pageviews, I don’t think it’s been replicated, etc.), but let’s start with the fact that it’s already about killing your comments section and putting it on

Chuck says:

Yeah, except this is VICE, so...

I get where you’re going with this Karl, I really do, and normally I’d agree with you. At least for every site you named except two.

One is NPR because, frankly, in case you didn’t know they’re non-profit. Yes, they COULD hire someone to moderate comments. Let’s pretend that’s a job for one person (given the volume of content, it’s probably at least a 3-person job). How does a non-profit organization justify to their backers – including congress, and by extension, the american public – paying someone a full-time salary to moderate user comments? The only other option is to have a volunteer/intern do it, and then what happens when they remove a crazy comment posted by a tea party nutjob and some tea party congressman hauls their butts into to congress for a hearing?

So yeah, NPR gets a pass in my book because they, quite literally, can’t afford it.

That said, VICE is a different animal for different reasons. I’m going to head out on a limb and say you’ve never watched their TV show and don’t read their site regularly. VICE goes to great lengths to find stories that nobody else is covering – and frankly, stories that nobody else gives a care about. Some are important, some are strange hipster WTF stories (more on their site, less on the TV show) but they’re always unique.

They’re also both very liberal and very global-centric. Now, I’m a liberal myself, and proud of it, and I’m not one of those “murica!” types either, even though I am from Alabama. That said, VICE cranks both knobs up to about 12.5 or so. They’ve done pieces – the far right would call them “hit pieces” – on everything a liberal would care about (global warming) and dozens of things a liberal would’ve cared about if they knew about it (like a girls school in Afghanistan.) The problem is, VICE is, frankly, less about reporting the news, and more about changing minds. They have their bias and they don’t just wear it like a badge of honor, they will hunt you down and pin the same badge on you too, if you let them – and happily demonize anyone who won’t.

So if any less than 97% of the comments on VICE prior to this were anything better than absolute trolls, I’ll be shocked.

Given that, I don’t blame them.

Or to put that in terms you can understand: what would you do if every article here had 100 comments, and 97 of them were ALWAYS either RIAA lobbyists or NSA shills? What would you do if 97% of your “discourse” was absolute garbage?

I certainly wouldn’t take a job moderating THAT no matter how much you paid me. Good luck finding someone who would.

Joe says:

Re: Yeah, except this is VICE, so...

Maybe, 5-6 years ago vice was really interesting and their comment section had a lot of congenial people and civil discourse despite different opinions and whatnot (and a good handful of trolls.) But some time a few years ago their content on the site went to shit. It became the hipster clickbait tripe and genuinely shoddy journalism. I remember specifically commenting on an article for the first time because it was sooo bad, and others agreed. They went from legitimate gonzo journalism to reposting year-old stories about their vaguely qualified friends’ opinions or random youtuber who made a new waterless diet. So I think around the same time the classy (yeah I’ll say it.) readers left and the internet “SJW-ALTRIGHT” civil war began to brew, and their comments REALLY did become 99% trolls. But they definitely deserve blame and totally don’t want their stories questioned.

(Full-Disclosure: I refer to myself as a fruity tree-hugging liberal. If that puts my disdain for them in context.)

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a lot of constructive criticism by several Techdirt readers in the comments section about this article. As of today, not a single person from Techdirt bothered to respond. So much for Techdirt’s incessant whining about how other media sites are not listening to their online communities. You guys are nothing but a bunch of hypocritical cry babies….

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