In Keeping And Improving News Comments, The Intercept Shows Websites What Giving A Damn Looks Like

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

For the last few years, the trend du jour in online media has been to demonize, vilify, then shutter the traditional news comment section. Usually these closures come with all manner of disingenuous nonsense about how websites are banning comments for the sake of “building relationships” or because the website in question just “really loves conversation.” Usually, on-site users are then shoved toward social media silos at Twitter and Facebook we’re told are “just as good” as an active, on-site community (read: doing this is cheaper and makes it somebody else’s problem).

Traditionally, readers of these websites are told that news comments simply had to die because it’s impossible to cultivate healthy discourse in the post-truth, mega-troll era. But as Techdirt and countless other websites have made clear for more than a decade, that’s simply not true. And while being lazy, cheap and actively hostile to on-site community is any website’s prerogative, this ignores the fact that online news comments are an excellent avenue for transparency and a tool to hold websites, and authors, accountable.

With so many websites muzzling community speech because they just so adore conversation, it’s good to point out when websites swim upstream against this trend. For example the Intercept last month announced that the news outlet would be partnering with the The Coral Project at Mozilla to make their news comments system better via a myriad of changes to their commenting platform. The Coral Project interviewed some 300 individuals from 150 newsrooms in 30 countries as part of an effort to improve online discourse.

Informed by this research, The Intercept’s changes include the ability to mute annoying users, the ability to track comment edits, a new offensive comment reporting feature, the “featuring” of exceptional comments by website staff, and the expanded ability of staff to interact with users that pose particularly important questions. Again, none of this is particularly revolutionary. Most of it involves treating readers like human beings. But in this day and age — doing so is apparently now a revolutionary act.

As the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Rubina Madan Fillion note, lost in the vilification of comments sections as little more than troll gardens is the fact that on-site comments are a great way to hold journalists accountable:

“Journalists often tout their responsibility to hold the powerful accountable. Comments are a way to hold journalists themselves accountable. Unlike posts on social media, comments occupy the same space as the stories and travel with them as they?re shared across platforms. Comments also make it possible for people to share their reactions without having to connect them to a social media account. That?s why we continue to be strong proponents of comments and encourage our colleagues at The Intercept to read (and respond to) them.”

Again, for better or worse news in the modern era is a conversation. Muting your on-site audience may feel good to editors on tight budgets, tired of trolls, and wistful for the bygone days of carefully-chosen letters to the editor, but it’s doing your community (and the news industry at large) a disservice. As such, the Intercept’s moves are a welcome change of pace for an industry that has spent the last few years insisting that muzzling your readership somehow represents a breathless dedication to quality online discourse.

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Comments on “In Keeping And Improving News Comments, The Intercept Shows Websites What Giving A Damn Looks Like”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah, you can have those luxuries with wide appeal to get REGISTERED USERS.

But I’ve quit reading better sites than this when comments closed!

I advise and urge Techdirt convert to solely registered users, because:

A) that’d break my habit. I’d never register at any site that would have ME for a user.

B) that’d break the site for many others, the public comment box is the only real draw.

Oh, hey, you might try a trick a few sites use: INTERESTING CONTENT AND LOTS OF IT.

Since you’re now just slowly circling the drain, why not try bold stroke lik

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yeah, you can have those luxuries with wide appeal to get REGISTERED USERS.

^– oh, wait. It’s been made clear, from hundreds of my comments hidden, that Techdirt and fanboys don’t want my help. So you can forever wonder whether I might have a useful idea. — Techdirt burned good will of reasonable persons LONG ago, and now the lacks are obvious.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Yeah, you can have those luxuries with wide appeal to get REGISTERED USERS.

So your habit is to keep using a website you absolutely loathe the guts of… and that’s supposed to convince people you have good ideas? Ha, no dice.

How’s that John Steele and Harvey Weinstein defense fund coming along, blue boy?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Yeah, you can have those luxuries with wide appeal to get REGISTERED USERS.

So you can forever wonder whether I might have a useful idea.

Yes. Just like waiting for all the molecules in a stone to move in one direction. It might happen – just a matter of probability.

But at least you are trying.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yeah, you can have those luxuries with wide appeal to get REGISTERED USERS.

“that Techdirt and fanboys don’t want my help”

You’re correct, we don’t want the “help” of an obsessive loon who lies about and attacks everybody here. Who whines constantly about not being accepted by a community who have straight up told him they don’t want him, yet keeps coming back every time he’s shown the door.

“So you can forever wonder whether I might have a useful idea.”

Well, you already confirmed that the likely answer is “never”, so none of us will waste a moment wondering anyway.

Wait… Ooh, does that mean you’re finally leaving? That would be a nice gift for the new year, no more having trawl through some random lying dickhead’s ranting to get to the intelligent discussion. Promise?

Christenson says:

Re: Yeah, you can have those luxuries with wide appeal to get REGISTERED USERS.

Or, you can stop whoring for REGISTERED users and pissing them off as you go.

Yes, I’d like to see more techdirt…but it’s good for my on-the-job productivity that they SELECT THE CRITICAL FEW for me instead!

And no, I’m not registered…I have way too many random registrations and passwords in my life, and the Techdirt system seems to work pretty well. Time to order some Techdirt swag!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Yeah, you can have those luxuries with wide appeal to get REGISTERED USERS.

It’s also worth noting that out_of_the_blue has adopted a new hobby over the last months: picking on registered accounts, noting how few comments were made by said account, and dragging it up like some international government conspiracy.

Registered users, anonymous users – neither distinction really matters. He’s really just in it to be a complete asshole.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re: OOTB *is* the government conspiracy!

What the internet has effectively destroyed is selectivity in communications; what a well-curated comment area does is restore it. And the value of a comment is largely uncorrelated to the volume from the commenter. Some of the best commenters have other lives to live, and the outside perspective is valuable.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

I’ve got a Facebook page with about half a million followers, and the comments aren’t as bad as you would think. It’s not a political page, but even factoring that in, the community is still well behaved. We dole out probably one ban a week, if even that, and usually for spam. Fans tell us our comment section gives them faith in humanity.

What’s funny is some of those same news sites that don’t allow comments then post their stories on Facebook and freak out when the people they didn’t let speak on their site have something choice to say on social media. You can’t have it both ways.

Drew_Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think a lot of the direction for where comments go has to do with on-site moderation at times. Enforce things like no flaming rules and ban some of the nuisance individuals and you’ll have the better commenters float to the surface. Leave it as an almost “anything goes” and you have a pretty solid chance that you’ll pick up a growing pool of trolls.

The content can also play a role in it as well. If there are constantly posts needlessly attacking decent people, then that can attract like-minded trolls and a site runs the risk of being a cesspool.

Not saying these are hard and fast rules, but there are small things that can influence the kind of comments you see in a given website.

Richard (profile) says:

Comment sections vs social media

A few advantages of comments sections vs social media.

1) Social media have a tendency to become monopolies – so it is easy for governments to censor them by pressuring a few executives. Websites with comments sections are ineviatbly more diverse and so those problems don’t arise.

2) Social mediaare more blatant about exploiting their users to earn revenue.

3) YOu can be anonymous – it you want – or need to.

Iggy says:

Some sites are interesting ONLY because of user comments

Some news sources simply feel like propoganda without user comments, like Al Jazeera before they turned comments off, or AM radio shows which let listeners call in. There are certainly trolls, but listening to people call out the host is often more interesting than the editorial content itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

"impossible to cultivate healthy discourse"

When it comes to mainstream news, I wouldn’t regard their core reporting as “healthy discourse”. If they can’t cultivate it in their main message, it isn’t too surprising that their readership reflects that. It would be a conceit not to concede that they do in fact, suck at their jobs to the extent they suggest.

ECA (profile) says:

The internet is special..

In that it lets Everyone be Anyone and OPEN UP THEIR OWN PERSONALITY..

Be it good, bad, weird, stupid, What ever..
Its OPEN expression..and instant feedback..

Then there is the idea of SELF POLICING..
If enough people bitch about 1 person, the Sysop will look and see if ANYTHING the person is doing/saying is valid, or worth comment..Then take the action needed..

EVERYONE communicates differently..NOT everyone can TYPE/SPELL/SAY/EXPRESS themselves properly..and learning is on BOTH SIDES..and CAN HELP those that need abit of a push to get THEMSELVES a better use/understanding/expression of HOW to talk/type/say/express themselves..

I would LOVe to setup a Forum for Congress and reps, and WATCh all the BS being passed around..BUT that would have to be restricted and Forbidden to Everyone NOT part of the group.

Myself, I have explained/taught/expressed to friends of many types, How some of this works, and by PLAYING with words, and taking things out of context…and they have learned and (I THINK) become better at expressing themselves.. and 1-2 have even gone to READING MORE, and understanding WHAT is being said..

YES, I WRITE FUNNY..but the AMERICAN language is a befuddled conglomerate of rules and regulations from to many other languages that Mean little or nothing to other parts of our language,, and 90% of you dont even know where the LETTERS in our language come from. ANd just because SOME languages use the SAME STYLE of letters, does NOT MEAN ITS ENGLISH..

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: The internet is special..

Conformity is a bad word to use..

If someone is just entering random text and comments that have NOTHING to deal with the subject, Yes, cut them off from THAT 1, debate/comment section..NOT the whole site.

What really, Kinda makes this country Great is ALL opinions..As long as a person is willing to Say them, we need to listen and understand their point.

Anonymous Coward says:

What!? F'ing Bullshit.

The intercept site degrades when the user refuses to run scripts- you can’t even read their comments unless you let them (or whoever has MITM’d your connection) run scripts.

I find it really strange that this is something TD gets 100% right on their own site- and yet seamingly can’t see when others have it wrong.

Fuck scripts- they’re unnecessary, and the ruin any chance of security. The intercept should damn well know better.

If they want to show they care, maybe they should stop putting people’s security in jeopardy and make their site work with sensible browser configurations.

DOlz (profile) says:

The actual reason

“And while being lazy, cheap and actively hostile to on-site community is any website’s prerogative, this ignores the fact that online news comments are an excellent avenue for transparency and a tool to hold websites, and authors, accountable.”

Rude vulgar comments aren’t the main reason for getting rid of comment sections. They’re the fig leave they use so their readers can’t hold them accountable.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: The actual reason

I agree, abit..

You can tell the idiots from the rest..And avoid them, if possible.

I like the SELF moderation method..Where the GROUP decides to send a notice to the Sysop about comments..NOT the CORP, NOT the ISp, no one else..JUST the group..

But it also lets everyone have a say, and also LEARN from others words..

dobbie606 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The actual reason

Just sayin’,are we all missing the BigPicture,perhaps?
These two gentlemen may be seeing the forest, while we only see the trees.

[Philip Giraldi is a former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a columnist and television commentator who is the Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest.

Paul Craig Roberts is an American economist and journalist.
He was the United States Assistant Secretary
of the Treasury for Economic Policy under President Reagan in 1981.]

Israel’s Takeover of the Internet
It has been learned that major social media and internet service providers have, throughout the past year, been meeting secretly with the United States and Israeli governments to remove content as well as ban account holders from their sites. — Philip Giraldi

The ACLU is working to reverse the FCC’s decision on behalf of the CIA and the Israel lobby to destroy Internet neutrality.

What is extraordinary is that the rest of the world has not created its own Internet that cannot be censured by Washington and Israel.

PHILIP M. GIRALDI | 04.01.2018
Expect Even Less Freedom of Internet in 2018

‘…Israel is not surprisingly most active in patrolling the Internet as it is keen to keep out any material sympathetic to the Palestinian cause or critical of Israeli treatment of Arabs. Its security services scan the stories being surfaced and go to the service providers to ask that material be deleted or blocked based on the questionable proposition that it constitutes “incitement” to violence. Facebook reportedly cooperates 95% of the time to delete material or shut down accounts. Palestinian groups, which use social networking on the internet to communicate, have been especially hard hit, with ten leading administrators’ accounts being removed in 2017. Israeli accounts including material threatening to kill Arabs are not censored.

Microsoft, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are all also under pressure to cooperate with pro-Israel private groups in the United States, to include the powerful Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL seeks “to engineer new solutions to stop cyberhate” by blocking “hate language,” which includes any criticism of Israel that might even implausibly be construed as anti-Semitism.’

ECA (profile) says:

interesting points..

I wonder how I can connect to India and Russia witht eh internet when they have not Created their own internet..

I love the idea that the Religious fanatics are trying to take over the net..
Jewish/Israel and Christian doom sayers. And the “Im right, they are WRONG” attitude they bring with them.,.

NOw you stand on the other side and SAY the same thing.. Make a site, post what you will, and let them buy you out.

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