NPR Gives Up On News Comments; After All, Who Cares What Your Customers Have To Say?

from the this-muzzle-represents-my-love-for-you dept

We’ve noted time after time how the trend du jour in online media is to kill your news comment section, muzzle your valuable on-site community, then couch the decision under all manner of disingenuous prattle. Reuters and Recode, for example, killed visitor news comments several years ago because, they claimed, the companies really value conversation. The Verge also tinkered with killing comments, purportedly because it just really valued relationships. As we all know, nothing quite “builds relationships” and gets the conversation going like a muzzle, a wave, and a swift digital kick in the ass.

Other websites couch their decision to mute their users under the pretense that it’s just an “experiment,” and the website will return with something more interactive and wonderful down the line. More often than not, this never happens. Case in point is NPR, which announced last summer that it too would be banning all public community feedback out of a deep rooted love for building community and audience engagement:

“After much experimentation and discussion, we’ve concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users. In order to prioritize and strengthen other ways of building community and engagement with our audience, we will discontinue story-page comments on NPR.org on August 23.”

Ironically, public comments on NPR’s post at the time were hugely negative, with numerous loyal readers saying the act of pushing them over to Facebook was, in effect, a giant middle finger to the readership. But because interesting discourse and community can’t always be directly monetized by bean counters, this blowback was largely ignored. While NPR hinted that it might bring back comments eventually after some experimentation, a new blog post points out that won’t be happening. Why? NPR traffic went up anyway despite the decision:

“At the time commenting was ended, there was speculation that the number of users coming to NPR.org would drop. In fact, the number of users for the May-to-July period grew 18 percent in 2017 compared with the year-earlier period, according to Google Analytics numbers Goo provided. (Year-over-year monthly growth has been as high as 37 percent.)”

Except the spike in NPR traffic many have had nothing to do with comments one way or the other, and could be easily attributable to the fact that the current U.S. political environment has obtained historical levels of batshit. It’s also myopic to weigh the benefits of news comments by just traffic. Comments, when managed to minimize idiocy, provide an easy, public way to hold writers and publishers accountable for misleading claims or story errors in a highly visible location. Though few publishers can admit it, eliminating this public forum and returning to era of non-transparent letters to the editor is a major incentive for this shift.

At the end of the day, this fashionable assault on ye olde comment section has little to do with valuing community and conversation, and everything to do with illusory control and trying to save money. NPR admitted as much to the latter last year when asked about the decision on Twitter:

Except this narrative that giving a damn about your online community has to be time consuming and expensive is also not really supported by the facts. Studies have shown it’s not really that hard to cultivate a healthier on-site comment section by simply having site employees and writers show up and treat the readership like human beings. Again, though, because the act of actually caring about quality discourse can’t be directly monitored and displayed on a pie chart, it’s being ignored. And that’s a mistake in an era where news as a community conversation is more important than ever.

Will the world end with the loss of online news comments? No. But they do provide users with an easy and transparent way to debate, discuss and treat news as exactly what it is in the modern era: a conversation. Removing this public forum is a disservice to the news industry at large, and pretending it’s being done out of some noble regard for higher human interaction only adds insult to injury.

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Comments on “NPR Gives Up On News Comments; After All, Who Cares What Your Customers Have To Say?”

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99 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“Techdirt Gives Up On News Comments; After All, Who Cares What Your Customers Have To Say?”

This is a rather ironic article, since Techdirt has blocked my comments (and others, from what I have read) altogether. Nothing I say from this IP address is posted at all, everything is “held for moderation”. Some of it appears after a few days, I’ve noticed, but most of it is just silenced.

Kind of the pot calling the kettle black, no?

GristleMissile (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nah, I get comments held for moderation too. They always show up eventually, but holding comments for moderation has a similar effect to newspapers deliberately printing false news then burying the retraction on page 27.

In the newspapers’ case (or other media) the inmitial lie is what sticks in people’s minds, but if called on having their pants on fire they can just claim it was an honest mistake and they printed a retraction on page 39a in the middle of the obituaries.

Likewise when TD holds comments for moderation, it means the initial comments by vetted users shape the discussion and potentially dissenting opinions are buried until after they matter less.

The easy solution to this soft censorship would be to immediately post all comments no matter the source, and rely on the already present and easy to use “flag this post as abusive/trolling/spam” button that’s next to literally every single post in the comments.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Eh, it’s an automated spam catcher that holds the posts for moderation, GristleMissile. Can you imagine the volume of work a human being would have to handle if you were right?

I dissent all the time but I do it without demanding to be heard, making wild accusations, or attempting to derail the comments to stoke drama.

RE: your suggestion to allow all posts no matter what, the comments would be flooded with spam for cheap sunglasses, etc., so I don’t recommend it.

For the record, I’d censor the hell out of On t’Internet if I got the kind of comments I often see here. I don’t mind dissent (I love a good debate!) but I see no reason as to why I should put up with whiny trolls. That TD does is a testament to the lack of censorship here.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“RE: your suggestion to allow all posts no matter what, the comments would be flooded with spam for cheap sunglasses, etc., so I don’t recommend it.”

Something I notice is that people who have never operated a forum don’t seem to realise how much spam is being sent in general. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this thread, I was getting more spam comments than confirmed hits on some days. Not sure why, that’s how my metrics were being recorded. That was on a site that rarely broke 3 figures in terms of actual hits.

The fact is, a popular site like this that allows anonymous comments without any challenge (captcha, etc) will be getting, at minimum, thousands of spam posts every day, perhaps tens of thousands. Manually filtering those would be a nightmare, yet the solution presented here – forcing the work on to the community rather than a TD moderator – would kill the comment section dead.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yes indeed. When people read the comments, they’re looking for analysis or further information. That’s why I read them. I’ve learned as much from insightful comments on TD as I have from the articles. Dissenters help because if they express opinions that I’ve heard elsewhere but aren’t factually correct, the community steps in to explain where the problem is. I’ve learned a heck of a lot from those interactions.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Likewise when TD holds comments for moderation, it means the initial comments by vetted users shape the discussion and potentially dissenting opinions are buried until after they matter less.”

Which is a valid concern, but most honest commenters don’t have that problem most of the time. The only people with a regular problem are those who are constantly trolling and then whining that their comments are moderated as a result. The easy fix is for them to stop trolling, not for the site to go through a redesign because the spam filter is correctly holding comments from IPs associated with users known to spam/troll.

“The easy solution to this soft censorship would be to immediately post all comments no matter the source, and rely on the already present and easy to use “flag this post as abusive/trolling/spam” button that’s next to literally every single post in the comments.”

So, you’re saying that the “easy” solution to the occasional comment being caught by the spam filter is to allow the thread to be flooded by spam comments and have the community do the work of filtering out the comments that are interrupting their conversation?

Not only do you seem to severely underestimate the amount of spam posts that popular sites get hit with, that solution is completely unworkable. The volume of spam would destroy legitimate conversation stone dead before it’s even begun, while the drooling idiots who usually whine about being moderated (usually as a result of their posts being constantly reported for trolling) will have their posts reported and hidden anyway.

As the saying goes, for every problem there’s a solution that’s quick, easy and wrong. Your solution would have a negative impact on the site. The current system may be imperfect, but it’s as good as you can get without either requiring logins or allowing the site to be flooded with spam.

Anonymous Coward says:

From behind the Iron Curtain of Techdirt Censorship

From: Mike
To: Censorship committee
Re: Techdirt Editorial Policy

Dear Censors,

While Techdirt would usually support everyone’s right to free speech, because the moral imperative, we consider certain types of speech exceptions to our moral responsibility, and forego our commitment to a free society in those cases. We are not a free society. We are a closed society in the following areas (see list below), because there is a preemptive moral imperative that supersedes the rights to free speech by others.

We believe this passionately, and are ready to defend our position to anyone who cares to challenge our fairness or morality, except (of course) those who don’t agree with us and are (rightly) silenced. We just ignore them, forever, they are not worthy. Here are the types of speech we cannot, have not, and will never accept in our closed society. We are proud of being a closed society, and believe we are the better for it. Here are Techdirt Moral Guidelines for when Free Speech should be abandoned:

1. No questions about this policy, silence questions immediately and never respond
2. No questions about Mike or his beliefs, not allowed ever
3. No arguments about the moral value of free speech and free societies, only technical arguments about government’s role and our freedoms to hate everyone
4. No posts defending Shiva
5. No arguments using Ghandi, Churchill or King as moral heroes
6. Never silence our supporters, no matter what they say

Anonymous Coward says:

I am Gandhi, under Techdirt Arrest

On March 10, 1922, I was arrested for writing three articles in Young India, and sentenced to six years imprisonment.

Yesterday, my IP address was captured by Techdirt, and I am again in prison. I am unable to even communicate with the world of Techdirt, they hold my every message for inspection, with no guidelines for me to even hope they will be released, ever.

It’s lonely here, I miss my friend Stephen T. Stone. I never agreed with him, but he did point out a few things that were interesting, and I tried to do the same.

So I pace, alone, disconnected, far from my friends and with only my silent captors to speak to. Hello? Can you hear me? Nothing, at all from then, only crickets (remember crickets? I hear a lot of them now).

No matter, I am Gandhi, and I an inspiration to good people all over the world, and will always be, despite what Stephen said about my relationship with women. What I achieved in my life was a miracle. I moved the whole world with my sincerity and sacrifice. Now, I will move the whole Techdirt world. At least I hope to. Even I wonder if anyone could accomplish that.

So goodbye for now, future readers, perhaps in future generations. I am persisting, silently, silenced by my critics, just as before. My voice may be quiet but my spirit is blossoming, even in loneliness. Miss you, Stephen, I hope you have a nice day.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They will never answer you, and it is possible I will never answer you, either. They have silenced a whole range of IP addresses to make sure my voice cannot be heard. They went to a lot of effort, I guess I should take that as a compliment to the “danger” associated with my voice. DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER IN IDEAS WE DON’T LIKE DANGER DANGER.

coward (anon) says:

News media comments

I’ve given up reading the comments section on the few news sites that still have them. The conversation always quickly devolves to Trump/Obama/Clinton/GOP/Dems/Libs is/are good/bad/Socialist/Communist/Satan/Hitler. It doesn’t seem to matter if the story being commented on is political in nature or not. These comments add nothing to the original story so I can understand why news sites get fed up and just shut down their comment systems. It’s a shame, but that’s the mood of the country right now.

Bruce C. says:

Re: News media comments

Exactly. Specialized niche audiences can work well in comments because it quickly becomes clear who the trolls and idiots are, and because there aren’t that many comments to verify. Would Techdirt have the resources to read hundreds or thousands of comments per article?

Yahoo! still has comments, and as coward notes, every comment session degenerates into a political flame war. It could be an article about a natural disaster in India and there will be people howling about whether it’s Obama’s or Trump’s fault.

So it isn’t just to manage the existing costs of comment moderation, it’s also to prevent the costs from going out of control. News organizations don’t have as much money as they used to (advertiser dollars are drying up for some reason, and NPR has always been poor), so they need something/someone to curate the comments before their community engagement and editorial teams have to deal with them. For now, that curation may have to revert to the cost of postage and the effort of writing an actual letter, the way it did in the old days.

There may be a market for an AI/software service to automate comment cleanup. By now, so many sites have closed comments that the need is fading.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: News media comments

You don’t have to manually monitor or moderate comments. Most larger sites will have some kind of hybrid model, where the software takes care of the typical comment flow, with users up/down voting or otherwise making comments on there. Comments will either be hidden or otherwise marked as controversial without human interaction.

Humans will then step in to monitor more heavily commented posts or those with a lot of complaints. Other sites will only allow comments on a certain proportion of articles, allowing discussion on subjects without the danger of every single thread becoming a flamewar.

“For now, that curation may have to revert to the cost of postage and the effort of writing an actual letter, the way it did in the old days.”

Why not carrier pigeon? That’s as likely to happen nowadays. In reality, the discussion will go elsewhere.

SirWired (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Auto-mod doesn't help

Moderation with no moderator can help with Spam and the very worst dross, but that’s about it. Upvoting/downvoting that actually affects comment visibility usually devolves into either groupthink or groups of users making a concerted effort to get rid of comments they merely disagree with. (At one time Slate automatically pulled comments that received more than X number of Abuse Flags… yeah, that quickly got abused itself, some idiots even wrote bots to target users/things they disliked.)

Slashdot’s moderation/meta-moderation system works about as well as any, but it takes a dedicated user-base and is pretty darn complicated. It works for a site that is actually ABOUT the comments, not so well for a site that is about the articles.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Reusable components and stuff.

Slashdot uses software. That software can be copied and used by anyone that cares to bother. Software is great that way.

You don’t have to be an academically trained computer scientist to grok the idea of using someone else’s well tested solution.

Self-moderation leads to group think but that’s already a problem. Moderation systems are just a reflection of that.

You have quite a bit of “troll equals someone that says something I don’t like” mentality these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I love that, really I do. Very good video. Sorry if I posted twice, all my posts are hidden by a silent group of Techdirt censors, busy shooting themselves in the foot, just like the video at the end. They are going to a lot of trouble for nothing, really, because they would be shooting themselves in the head if they actually deleted my posts, being in court and all. So forgive me if I posted more than once, there is really no way to remember what I did, everything is silent around me. Kind of like a dark room with no walls, and no echo, even if I SCREAM. See? Silent. Dark. No explanation. No length of sentence. Just mandatory Techdirt isolation because of the danger of my words. Funny, right? They don’t get how they are going to look in court. Much like the video, I’ll bet. Yuck yuck. Hello? Anyone there?

Anonymous Coward says:

NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

I was under the impression NPR started closing their comment sections as far back as 2015. Last year, I never saw a comment section on any article of interest to me. I stopped reading NPR because I thought they had closed all their comment sections. Oh! Well….

It is not like many writers know anything about what they are writing about. Most stories are so slanted today, you have to tilt your monitor to read them. The CDC was running demonizing campaign against e-cigarettes starting in 2009. By 2014, enough evidence showed e-liquid and e-cigarettes were as safe as breathing most outdoor air. Yet, NPR still wrote paraphrased stories from stock propaganda demonizing e-cigarettes.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

“By 2014, enough evidence showed e-liquid and e-cigarettes were as safe as breathing most outdoor air”

Enough for whom? People who vape and needed confirmation that the stuff they were pumping into their lungs wasn’t really damaging for them, or enough for the CDC and other health bodies who are authoritatively in charge of public health to go back on previous statements? One group naturally has a higher required level of proof than the other.

If only the former, you can hardly blame NPR for taking the official statements of the official health bodies over that of groups with their own agenda, even if you feel that the CDC’s reports were skewed. In fact, you can argue that responsible reporters will only use verified studies that have been approved by official bodies, rather than studies from whatever group the reporter personally favours. If the reporter isn’t a scientist, why should he/she been cherry picking the studies to use rather than the official stance of people categorically in charge of such things? I’d say that NPR would only be in the wrong there if they were ignoring later publications from the CDC going back on their original statements to make a point. If no such backtracking exists, then the CDC’s stance is still what it was.

Of course, had you been interested, you could have used the comment sections to correct the stories and point out to both NPR and other readers where they were misleading. I’ve generally learned far more about the reality of certain subject from people rebutting the article and other commenters with reasoned, cited arguments than I have from the articles themselves.

But, you apparently just assumed they didn’t let you do that for some reason. A shame you didn’t take the opportunity when it did present itself, really.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

If NPR had been reporting on studies showing that vaping was dangerous, that would be one thing. What NPR, and others, were doing was playing up the angle that vaping hadn’t been proven safe. Now there are many things that haven’t been proven safe and that are much more common in daily life. However, NPR chooses not to report on those. So it starts to look like some kind of agenda against vaping. It think that was the point.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

Not knowing the stories, I don’t know what you’re referring to (not smoking or vaping myself, I really don’t care either way so long as the person doing it isn’t blowing smoke in my direction, whatever flavour it is. It’s when they’re selfish dicks about it that it’s a problem).

But, the first AC was specifically complaining that they were using CDC reports after some reports with the outcome he personally preferred were released. He seems to believe that means some bias on NPR’s side, but it could just as easily be them choosing to use officially released data, rather than X random study. Without knowing which stories he’s talking about, I can’t say for sure.

“Now there are many things that haven’t been proven safe and that are much more common in daily life”

Many of them yo-yoing between studies suggesting that they’re akin to the next wonder drug and will absolutely give you cancer tomorrow if you’re not lucky enough to have it already. Also, likely, many that don’t have the visibly obvious potential downsides of vaping.

My take is this – NPR, among other people, are likely taking the tack that vaping is probably somewhat risky until studies accepted by the relevant authorities show otherwise. Common sense would state that sucking large quantities of something that’s not air into your lungs on a daily basis has some kind of risk associated with it that’s greater than merely breathing air. It’s not wrong to wait for something that seems obviously damaging to be proven as such before saying that, especially if the ultimate authority on such things still claims there are harmful effects.

“However, NPR chooses not to report on those.”

First, I’d question if this is true. A quick search on the site doesn’t show much on studies either way, but I’m not going to read every article to try and work out what people are referring to. I’d wager that they probably reference those studies somewhere, they just didn’t create full articles on it. Not a problem, unless they have a habit of producing stories on every study related to other subjects.

Secondly, this does seem to be a weirdly divisive topic, and a strange way to pick a news source. Doubly so when your main complaint is something that could have been easily discussed but the person complaining chose not to because he assumed he couldn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

Also, likely, many that don’t have the visibly obvious potential downsides of vaping.

Kind of like the visibly obvious potential downsides of chewing gum. It hasn’t been absolutely proven safe.

Common sense would state that sucking large quantities of something that’s not air into your lungs on a daily basis has some kind of risk associated with it that’s greater than merely breathing air.

Common sense would also state that chewing non-food things like chewing gum on a daily basis has some kind of risk associated with it that’s greater than merely chewing good food.

Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to chew gum if they choose to do so. Just that we shouldn’t allow children under the age of 21 to do so or for anyone to do so around non-chewers. And I’d appreciate it if NPR would report on this not-proven-safe menace to society.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

“Kind of like the visibly obvious potential downsides of chewing gum. It hasn’t been absolutely proven safe.”

But, by definition, chewing gum affects only the chewer (other than the litter issue of course). Smoking anything affects everybody around you as well. You may believe this is only as harmful as water vapour to others, but the people responsible for public health will need to verify this before saying that it’s true. Until that point, the onus is one the person introducing things into the environment to stop it. Bottom line – smokers of any product pollute the air around them, and some people want to wait until after it’s proven safe, not before so some hipster can pretend he’s not really smoking because it’s flavoured like a candy.

The rest of your comment seems to be nonsense. Is there evidence that under 21s are negatively affected by gum ingredients as much as they are by nicotine (which is in some vaping products) and other things that are in there? If not, you comment is whataboutism nonsense, else you might have a point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

But, by definition, chewing gum affects only the chewer

What "definition" is that? Yours? Oh, I see. Well, gum smackers certainly affect me.

Until that point, the onus is one the person introducing things into the environment to stop it.

When those same ingredients are in food products they also wind up "in the environment". I suppose you want them banned entirely, just to be "on the safe side", huh?

Bottom line – smokers of any product pollute the air around them,

Vaping isn’t smoking.

Bottom line – smokers of any product pollute the air around them

So who’s talking about smoking?

not before so some hipster can pretend he’s not really smoking because it’s flavoured like a candy.

Because he’s not. You’ve really got a thing against vaping, don’t you? Enough to even keep making stuff up.

Is there evidence that under 21s are negatively affected by gum ingredients as much as they are by nicotine (which is in some vaping products) and other things that are in there?

Has it been proven that they aren’t? That’s the kind proof of a negative that you keep asking of vaping.

And nicotine is only in some vaping products, as even you admit. It is also included in some gum products. What makes you think nicotine in gum is so much safer than nicotine in vaporizers? Where’s your proof?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

“What “definition” is that? Yours? Oh, I see. Well, gum smackers certainly affect me.”

Well, clearly I meant on a physical level. If someone’s going to be that annoying, they generally only need the gum to enhance it, not to be an annoyance in the first place 😉

“When those same ingredients are in food products they also wind up “in the environment”. I suppose you want them banned entirely, just to be “on the safe side”, huh?”

Your habit seems to be frying your brain cells. See if you can work out the difference between something being directly expelled into the atmosphere around you and it being in a piece of food that may or may not affect the person who chooses to eat it. It’s not particular difficult for those who haven’t dulled their minds with chemicals.

“Vaping isn’t smoking.”

Oh dear, you’re one of those. Sorry, when someone’s polluting the air around me, I don’t care which verb I use to describe it or whether you find that verb offensive.

“You’ve really got a thing against vaping, don’t you?”

Only the inconsiderate assholes who blow clouds of noxious smoke into the air around them with no consideration to anybody else. Vapers seem to be worse than smokers at the moment because not only do they believe they’re so much better than them, they deliberately create far larger clouds of their crap to pollute the space of those around them.

“What makes you think nicotine in gum is so much safer than nicotine in vaporizers?”

I don’t have to breath in some asshole’s gum because he doesn’t have any basic consideration for other people.

Sorry, you seem like the typical vaping asshole – totally up your own arse, inferiority complex, total lack of consideration for anybody else in your society and fixated on the words used to describe your idiotic habit rather than the simple fact that you’re an annoying prick.

Do the crap you want to do all you want, but when you’re invading my space and acting like I’m the one at fault for not wanting to put up with it then we have a problem. Sorry you and your kind are too thin-skinned to take criticism when you’re making life worse for those around you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

Your habit seems to be frying your brain cells.

Just what "habit" is your personal attack referring to? I don’t vape, never have. Of course, I doubt that will keep you from spewing accusations and name calling to the contrary.

Oh dear, you’re one of those. Sorry, when someone’s polluting the air around me, I don’t care which verb I use to describe it or whether you find that verb offensive.

So, you don’t care if you’re being truthful or not. Furthermore, you don’t care if others don’t like you being untruthful. Got it. Discussion over. I’m not even going to bother with the rest of your tirade.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 NPR Still Had Comments in 2017?

“Just what “habit” is your personal attack referring to? I don’t vape, never have. “

In that case, you’re extremely sensitive about a subject you have no involvement in. You should chill out a bit.

“So, you don’t care if you’re being truthful or not”

No, I’m being truthful, I just don’t care which verb you personally prefer to describe sucking shit into your lungs then expelling it to harm and/or annoy everybody standing near you.

“I’m not even going to bother with the rest of your tirade.”

I apologise that I didn’t realise what a thin-skinned child you are.

kallethen says:

It’s not killing the comments that bothers me. It’s the double-speak on why they are killing them. I can respect it if they simply said, “We (can’t afford / don’t want) to spend the resources on moderating comments for spam or abusive behavior, therefore we are shutting down the comment system.”

Sadly, I think I can count the number of sites I’ve seen say this on one finger…

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Only if you agree with us.

Oddly enough Slashdot has some very dedicated spammers that try to make some of the comment threads effectively useless.

Mostly it’s just people not wanting to be called out on their nonsense. It’s far too easy to dig up what some journalist or blogger has missed and point it out to them. They tend to get really cranky when you do that to them.

They don’t really want anything but sycophants in their forums.

Better forums with informed readers can be better than most articles. They can support or contradict the article. It can go either way. Regardless, users can fill in the gaps that most journalists leave behind these days.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Pretty much. If they were honest enough to admit that they didn’t want to spend the time/money/resources on the comment section, and were dropping it as a result people might be disappointed but that would likely be the end of it.

By not only lying but blatantly lying however we get articles like this calling them out on said lies, which changes it from disappointing to worthy of scorn and derision.

Anonymous Coward says:

Techdirt gives up on comments

Wow, I’ve had so many comments either hidden or “moderated” I’m guessing that the Techdirt Counter Intelligence team must be taking a lot of time to consider my points. Probably they are talking to each other, somewhere where no one can hear them, and trying to figure out how to respond to my simple points about morality and censoring. I’ve seen a few now, after being held for hours, appear, but appear in censored format (hidden). Wow, it takes them that long just to decide they have nothing to say? Well, OK, I guess these Internet thing stay around pretty much forever, so if they want to embarrass themselves with censorship over and over again, who am I to say anything? Up to them, censor away, it creates a really interesting historical record of what Techdirt is afraid of. For what could be motivating them other than fear of ideas? I can see them in their secret little group, whispering to each other, “What do we do about this one, any ideas?” “Nope, just censor it, and hope no one notices”.

Funny picture, don’t you think? The Techdirt Counter Intelligence team that figured out my IP address and now has bought themselves time to think about my posts in private. Come on, TCI, do some research, and come up with something, you have a whole team to consider each and everyone of these posts.

Or not, who cares? God, I love this place, it’s like a birthday party for free speech every day. I mean that it serves as a clear example of who does not promote free speech, and that would be Techdirt and the Techdirt Counter Intelligence (TCI) team. Thank you guys for being such shining examples of censorship and suppression of ideas. Wishing you all the best. See you later.

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Waste of resources

Yea, maybe they could have handled it better but paying someone to moderate comments is a waste of resources. Moderate in that the SPAM has to be removed if nothing else. It is NPR, one of the last places one can listen to real journalism. They shouldn’t have to deal with it.

Reading comments on most news sites are really a guilty pleasure (not so pleasant) of mine. It never ceases to amaze me what people claim to believe. Are they just Internet trolls or do they really believe the batshit crazy they post? Hard to say, but we now have a real Internet troll in the White House… so it must accomplishing it’s goals. Amazing.

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Waste of resources -- THIRD zombie! 50 comments in 6 years!

Long idle? So you know how often a user account logs on to Techdirt? Lurkers are not what you call Zombies. Techdirt is part of my start page & I read articles here almost daily. But rarely do I post.

But go ahead & believe what you like. You will no matter how much data you are shown.

SirWired (profile) says:

Makes sense

I was once looking at a routine weather report at my local TV station; it was a perfectly normal day… I think you could sum up the report as “Partly Sunny, high in the low 80’s, no rain expected for a couple days.” In the comments section, there was a SIXTY-TWO post $hit-show of people trading insults about Bush and Clinton. I don’t even remember how they managed to connect presidential politics to a Daily. Weather. Report.

General-interest sites have found that only a tiny percentage of their users even look at, much less participate in, the comment sections. Even maintaining the most vague semblance of quality by warding off spam and killing the most egregious trolls takes moderation effort which does not scale.

There are sites for which comment sections work well, (for instance, niche sites like this one), but general-interest news isn’t it. On those sites, any interesting story at all quickly devolves into either a huge pile of worthless polarized nonsense. (Or sometimes “regulars” tossing inside jokes at each other.) Maybe there’s some insight buried in there somewhere, but not enough to attract many readers to even look for it.

Sites aren’t eliminating comments because they hate their users and loathe feedback, they are eliminating them because trolls and morons have ensured they are an expensive waste of time with little use (either attracting users or collecting useful feedback.)

MyNameHere (profile) says:

I think that many sites are left with no choice.

Get a story from your site listed on Drudge (it happens to news sites all the time) and you get bombarded with people in a fighting mood. Get your story mentioned in a tweet by Alex Jones or Sarah Palin, and you get tons and tons of visitors who are going to trash every non-bagger commenting on the story.

These sites can see literally thousand of comments (unlike the general 20 to 30 around here) on each and every story they post. The amount of effort required to police it, keep it civil, and NOT offend people by removing rude comments is huge. I can imagine it’s pretty hard to justify the issues.

From the stand point of getting people to your site and getting social media plugs, it’s much better to move these discussions to platforms like Facebook, where they can go viral in their own ways, outside of the site.

It’s a win win, unless you are adamant that a site not having comments is somehow broken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The amount of effort required to police it, keep it civil, and NOT offend people by removing rude comments is huge. I can imagine it’s pretty hard to justify the issues.

This is hilarious, coming from you, one of Techdirt’s biggest trolls, who has spent years attacking the writers and commenters here. Are you advocating that Techdirt ban you?

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The volume of comments on this blog doesn’t merit banning anyone, except the obvious “I have a great site for you to see” spammers.

Being a bastion of free speech and opinion exchange, Techdirt shouldn’t get into editing, moderating, or holding comments at any time. I do think, however, that the flag button should only flag a post for moderators to consider, and not automatically remove posts. It creates a form of vigilante justice that is just not in keeping with the ideas of free speech and open comments.

Oh, and nice troll.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Being a bastion of free speech and opinion exchange, Techdirt shouldn’t get into editing, moderating, or holding comments at any time.

In which case I’ve got good news, as far as I can tell other than a spam filter that occasionally catches ‘legitimate’ comments they do none of that. Given what can happen when that spam filter slips up even temporarily, I’d say it’s worth the cost to ‘legitimate’ comments, as without it the comment section would be filled with spam such that any meaningful discussion would be impossible.

I do think, however, that the flag button should only flag a post for moderators to consider, and not automatically remove posts.

1) Nothing is removed, it’s merely hidden behind a single click of the mouse.

2) Doing so would shift the decision as to whether or not a particular comment was ‘acceptable'(wasn’t considered ‘abusive/trolling/spam’) from the community to an individual, which would place significant burden on TD and be trivial to game(someone could easily go through the comment section and flag everything).

3) Didn’t you just say that TD shouldn’t engage in moderation of comments? You seem to have made two contradictory statements back-to-back.

It creates a form of vigilante justice that is just not in keeping with the ideas of free speech and open comments.

As has been explained numerous times there is a significant difference between being able to speak and making others listen, such that there is no conflict between supporting free speech and allowing a community to decide who they do and do not care to associate with.

The government and those operating under it’s authority are constrained from restricting use/access to public platforms and/or imposing penalties with regards to speech. Private platforms, groups and individuals are not.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Techdirt shouldn’t get into editing, moderating, or holding comments at any time”

Well, they don’t edit them as it is. For the rest, you’re literally saying that they should allow every piece of spam they receive to by posted on the thread and never vetted before this happens? Because from what I understand of this site’s traffic that would make every thread unreadable (for context, I used to write a blog that had less than 100 hits on most days and my spam filter regularly caught 10-15 comments per day, sometime more spam comments were recorded than registered hits, somehow. The amount of work to manually go through the volume this site must get would be unworkable).

As ever, if you’re getting annoyed because you’re repeatedly flagged for trolling, the easy fix for that is to stop trolling.

“I do think, however, that the flag button should only flag a post for moderators to consider, and not automatically remove posts”

Good news! No posts are removed by flagging them as it works right now!

“It creates a form of vigilante justice that is just not in keeping with the ideas of free speech and open comments.”

Alternatively, the people you’re annoying by acting like an asshole are just telling you that you’re an asshole, and you’re too much of one to get it through you’re skull that it’s exactly what you are.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: NPR closes comments

I do. Dissent is essential to a healthy community. Without it you end up in an echo chamber. And as much as our resident trolls whine about “censorship,” if that were true they’d never get a response to the posts that get hidden. As it is, readers can choose whether or not to read them in case they were hidden by people who just don’t like the poster, etc. I’ve rarely seen such a post; most of the hidden ones are either gaslighting, outright lies, or attention-seeking.

wshuff (profile) says:

I was reading an online car magazine and they had an article titled something like, “Refreshing or Revolting.” So I scrolled down to comment and . . . comments removed. All to make the site better, faster, and easier for me.

I’m just waiting for a network to improve the experience for viewers by broadcasting everything in glorious black and white.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Is that similar to this comment thread, which seems to be turning into right-wingers whining about what they assume the comment section would be? Rather than adding anything to the conversation or – god forbid – addressing the real version that existed rather than the assumed construct in their minds?

But, hey, you have one less place to hear how bad your choice of leader is (despite you never having been opposed to Obama-bashing echo chambers), so there’s that. Well, apart for the verifiable evidence in the stories themselves, I suppose.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Don't kid yourself.

ALL journalism suffers from selective presentation of the facts these days. NPR tends to be more thorough in general but still suffers from this problem.

They have a set narrative and things that contradict that narrative are hidden. You are lucky if a news story is simply a half truth and not just a total fiction.

You really need at least two opposing sources just to get started seeing the real story these days.

Some times you have to go to foreign media to see a story acknowledged or treated with any depth.

I started seeing grave misrepresentations of technical issues 30 years ago in my own field.

nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't kid yourself.

I personally find it funny how many people acknowledge that coverage of the fields they know intimately by journalists in most major media tends to be rubbish and yet they still trust journalists in fields they don’t know well. (Shorter version: journalists these days are the kids who couldn’t cut the requirements for an English degree.)

And as for politics, I’ve personally given up on any hope of objective, honest coverage of either side. Jon Snow, the English broadcaster, gave the best statement I’ve seen: “Good evening. I know nothing. We the media, the pundits, know nothing. We simply didn’t spot it.” The media exist in their own bubble, with a political orientation that is nearly 3-sigma away from the country overall. Expecting them to pick up the patterns of the bulk of the country when they’re so far apart from it is just expecting too much of them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't kid yourself.

“ALL journalism suffers from selective presentation of the facts these days. NPR tends to be more thorough in general but still suffers from this problem.”

Well, you have part of the issue, although I’d argue with the “these days” part. I’m more sensitive to it because I grew up with British tabloids, but everything has a bias. I’d rather an NPR “bias” than a Breitbart or Fox bias any day, and it’s not just the “side” they favour.

“You really need at least two opposing sources just to get started seeing the real story these days.”

As they always have. This is not something new, nor is it a reflection on a specific source. As you say, they all do it to some degree.

“I started seeing grave misrepresentations of technical issues 30 years ago in my own field.”

Mainstream sources will always skew things. That’s why we’re having the ridiculous arguments about climate change now. For every actual scientific journal, there’s a populist magazine that reported a wingnut’s ice age theory as if it were fact.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Don't kid yourself.

This also bears repeating. Everybody has a bias, even if you not to have one. Even if an individual journalist does everything t avoid it, you still have the editor, etc. to go through.

The best approach is to use multiple sources, be aware of their biases and recognise where they come through. If you depend on a single source, you’re a fool, no matter where on the political spectrum the source resides.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Don't kid yourself.

Exactly, which is why it’s so vital to vet your sources. A source like the BBC, The Guardian or NPR will generally have a visible bias but they tend to try and keep things in check to be as outwardly neutral as possible (sometimes to their detriment as they kowtow to fringe elements to avoid accusations of bias). Whereas, a Fox, Daily Mail or Breitbart will deliberately skew things, sometimes outright lying to their audience in order to fit an agenda.

An honest organisation will try to keep individual and institutional bias in check in order to address the facts. A dishonest one will do whatever’s needed to increase revenue, even if that is at the expense of factual information.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Don't kid yourself.

Agreed. I’ve noticed that the British media generally skews towards the Establishment. Even the left-wing publications seem to do so from time to time, e.g. the Mirror, which is ostensibly a left wing paper has absolutely ragged on Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. The Guardian, which is a liberal paper (these are very different things in the UK, where many left-wingers are actually socially conservative), has a range of opinion writers, some of whom will challenge the status quo while others will bash the usual boogeymen (on either side of the aisle. Liberals can be either left or right wing; ask where they stand on the welfare state).

This is why it’s good to get your information from a range of sources. That said, look out for emotive language; I had to tell the Metro off for calling Ed Snowden a traitor. They’ve stopped. If you see emotive language in an article, be suspicious.

As American conservatives used to say, “Trust, but verify.” That is still good advice.

rebrad (profile) says:

National Progressive Radio

Fair, unbiased news is a thing of that past and National Progressive Radio, formally labeled national public radio, only wants comments that concur with their tenets and will not accept any questioning by the great-unwashed masses. That’s the major reason their cause lost in the last major election and their cause stands to lose more if they continue this obvious disdain for the people they claim to serve. Nevertheless, that’s the way Goebbels and his fellow national socialist thought it should be.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: National Progressive Radio

Fair, unbiased news is a thing of that past and National Progressive Radio, formally labeled national public radio, only wants comments that concur with their tenets and will not accept any questioning by the great-unwashed masses.

I used to support NPR and PBS, with both my time and my money. Then one day I viewed an interview on PBS News Hour. The interrogator asked a question and the interviewee lied and dissembled and did not answer the question. The reporter did not follow up and did not query about the lies. I was familiar with the subject after having read about it here, and done some other investigation into the truth of the subject (I don’t even remember what the subject was). I sent an email to the PBS ombudsman (a particularly difficult process as you had to use their inadequate online email program) but never heard back and they never corrected the clearly impotent questioning by the reporter.

I have stopped supporting NPR and PBS, and have cut the cable chord so I don’t hear/see the broadcasts anymore. I rarely use their website, and never to comment. If they actually did some investigative reporting and stop ‘tenderizing’ their reporting, I might start again, but my expectations are low.

They must look in the mirror for my reasons.

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

Re: National Progressive Radio

Just this morning NPR had a rep from the Heritage Foundation on to talk about tax reform & tax cuts in general. Does that sound like Progressive radio to you? You really should give them a listen. They moved to the middle many years ago, before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. Maybe long before that, I never thought of NPR as progressive radio.

That being said, the middle seems to be a drifting target to right. What I see as moderate you rebrad might see as far left.

As the the last election, people did not vote. As a result, the people lost.

roebling (profile) says:

NPR's a mooch

NPR is crap. Worse, it’s crap supported with my grandchildren’s taxes (all of mine and my children’s having already been spent.) The clueless commentators of NPR giggle incessantly at whatever misunderstanding they have that day of the news and economic reality, generally. And, in between laughs, they nod & tell each other they’re brilliant.
It really is funny, I suppose, from an outsider’s point of view–the image of the clueless, glib radio hosts laughing at the people they’ve helped to rob…

BJC (profile) says:

That Study Still Doesn't Say What You Think It Does...

Every time Techdirt complains about shutting down comments, it refers to its article on “Changing Deliberative Norms on News Organizations’ Facebook Sites,” (the study can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcc4.12104/full ), without mentioning that the study isn’t about comment sections on news sites, but Facebook comments.

The study basically says that “outsourcing the conversation to Facebook,” as the author of this story decries, works. It’s a study only of one news organization’s Facebook page, and it says that interaction with Facebook commenters makes for a better community.

As such, the study really can’t speak to news organization’s non-Facebook comment pages, especially when the argument is that moving the comments to Facebook isn’t helpful.

I’m not particularly invested in whether a website has comments, but it bugs me every time that this study keeps getting trotted out to say something different than what it does.

Winston84 says:

Re: That Study Still Doesn't Say What You Think It Does...

Agreed, if only Karl had bothered to read the title of the damn study. Here is another example where the same study was used to bitch about websites shutting down public discourse.

There is no shortage of studies out there that would support your point of view. Even if you find a relevant study, it is worthless unless it had been replicated by someone else. This something Karl doesn’t seem to be capable of comprehending despite being repeatedly pointed to by readers in the comments section of his articles. SAD!

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: That Study Still Doesn't Say What You Think It Does...

Well shit, you’re right. I’ve misinterpreted that study as being directly applicable to news comments specifically and will stop over-stating its import since it was talking about Facebook comments specifically. Thank you, news story commenter helpfully pointing out my error in a news story comment section. 🙂

The relevant part, I thought, was the part where they studied seventy different political posts and found a 17% decrease in “incivility” and a 15% spike in people using evidence in their posts — simply by having somebody from the outlet show up.

But I appreciate the correction, thanks.

McGyver (profile) says:

Comments are good

Granted that often commentary goes off the deep end in many places, especially news, but it does afford people a chance to hear other opinions… Even if they can be quite batshit insane at times.
Few news outlets of any sort have comment sections anymore and while one can often to some degree blame trolls, abusers, spammers and other antagonistic clowns, it’s ultimately the site owner’s call, and in my opinion it probably comes down to some degree of feeling they are avoiding controversy and liability by eliminating comments.
Sad, because sometimes it’s nice to see someone call out a crappy article or to point out something the article missed… Or even to see people’s comments that reflect something you feel too… Or to have a chance to speak your opinion too.
I don’t always agree with some Techdirt articles, but that Techdirt still has a comments space is very cool and adds some balance… Even if at times the commentary is kinda wacky or reality deprived, it’s a very honest view into what others feel about these topics… For better or worse, that is important.
Kinda makes you feel free speech isn’t entirely dead and laying rotting in a ditch somewhere.
Thanks Techdirt.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Indeed, but I suppose it depends on what you call “thriving”. While it was an invaluable source of information for trivia and obscure questions, it was also full of “best movie ever” and “worst movie ever” comments for every movie ever made, and plenty of flame wars. Quantity does not equal quality, as they say.

I would definitely have preferred if they had improved their dated system rather than removed it, and I do have less reason to check them out now. But, that at least was one community where arguments can be made either side. There was value, but you did lose some faith in humanity while scrolling through.

It’s more for the movie obsessive and doesn’t have a forum system per se, but I’d recommend Letterboxd if you want some good movie discussion. I think other communities sprung up as a response to the IMDB shutdown, but I don’t know if any of them managed the trick of keeping up a decent conversation while also removing the worst excesses.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed, but I suppose it depends on what you call "thriving". While it was an invaluable source of information for trivia and obscure questions, it was also full of "best movie ever" and "worst movie ever" comments for every movie ever made, and plenty of flame wars. Quantity does not equal quality, as they say.

I’ll admit it wasn’t perfect, but then you’ll find jerks and trolls basically anywhere you go on the net. Also, the forums weren’t just for trivia and obscure questions. They were the only place on the site that you could go for information about whether a particular show had been canceled or renewed. Yes, you can usually find that information on other sites, but it seems like the number one site on the net for movies and TV shows should have that kind of information. Also, more than once, when I couldn’t find a copy of a movie anywhere (for sale or pirated), someone was able to point out a source for it. I also helped a couple people looking for obscure stuff. The forums were also the best place to stay apprised of DVD/BD releases for shows and movie.

I would definitely have preferred if they had improved their dated system rather than removed it, and I do have less reason to check them out now.

The IMDb always seemed to have a level of disdain for both the forums and the users. Many years ago, there was apparently a search function in the forums, but it was removed. People repeatedly asked for some type of search to be implemented and the response was always that there were too many forums on the site to make searching practical. They completely ignored that people just wanted a way to search the current forum only, which should have been perfectly do-able.

When they revamped the site’s main search engine several years ago, people complained about the fact that the results were displayed in order of popularity rather than alphabetical or chronological order. Not to mention the fact that it will prioritize popular, partial matches over less popular exact matches. The staff response was that they were still working out the bugs, but that the new routines would make it much easier to add a bunch of user preferences once everything was working properly. Said preferences never materialized.

After the last site redesign, there was a thread in the help forum asking for feedback. It grew to over 400 messages, the bulk of them hating the new design and pointing out everything wrong with it. A month later, they deleted the thread and declared that the majority of users loved the new design. Personally, I still use the old design with all the links down the left side of the page. I dread the day that they finally kill it.

When they got rid of the forums, not only did they say that they added nothing of value to the site and that they were too hard to maintain, they claimed that "many" users had been driven from the site by mean comments in the forums. Because I guess just ignoring the forums is too hard..?

It’s more for the movie obsessive and doesn’t have a forum system per se, but I’d recommend Letterboxd if you want some good movie discussion. I think other communities sprung up as a response to the IMDB shutdown, but I don’t know if any of them managed the trick of keeping up a decent conversation while also removing the worst excesses.

The best part about the IMDb was that they had a forum for every show and movie. If you wanted to connect with other fans about that particular show/movie you knew right where to find them. You didn’t have to post a message on a general site and then hope that other fans saw it.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Or not, who cares? God, I love this place, it’s like a birthday party for free speech every day. I mean that it serves as a clear example of who does not promote free speech, and that would be Techdirt and the Techdirt Counter Intelligence (TCI) team. Thank you guys for being such shining examples of censorship and suppression of ideas. Wishing you all the best. See you later.”

…and yet here are your words for all to see and laught at…

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