The Trend Of Killing News Comment Sections Because You 'Just Really Value Conversation' Stupidly Continues

from the mute-button dept

Over the last year, there has been a tidal wave of websites that have decided to close their news comment sections because the companies are no longer willing to invest time and effort into cultivating healthy on-site discussion. While that's any site's prerogative, these announcements have all too often been accompanied by amusing, disingenuous claims that the reason these sites are muting their on-site audience is because they're simply looking to build relationships or just really value conversation. Nothing says "we care about your opinions" like a shiny new muzzle, right?

And judging from this NiemanLab conversation with a lot of the sites that have chosen to shutter comments, most of the websites have no intention of looking back. After all, what's the use of a local, loyal, on-site community when you can just offload all conversation (and that traffic) to Facebook and Twitter, right? Dan Colarusso, executive editor of Reuters, for example, doesn't think comments are important because damnit people -- Reuters isn't looking to argue!
"We’re not the kind of news organization that’s about giving our ‘take’ on something. We’re not looking to start an argument; we’re looking to report the news. We felt that, since so much of the conversation around stories had gravitated toward social, that was the better place for that discourse to happen. We did keep comments on our opinion pieces, because we felt that that is where you are trying to start an argument in the best possible way."
Except comments aren't just about having arguments, they're a legitimate and transparent avenue for readers to publicly correct your errors right below the original article, which is something many of these sites likely grew tired of. Sure, poorly managed comments can devolve into a cesspool of banality, but good commenters almost always offer insights the writer or website may have missed, could have been wrong on, or never even thought of. In short, we want you to comment -- we just want you to comment privately so our errors aren't quite so painfully highlighted. For the sake of conversation, of course.

Last week On The Media was the latest to quietly kill comments on the bottom of its newsletter, informing readers that comments just don't provide the "kind of dialogue" they wanted:
"We value our listeners above all and are always keen to know what you're thinking, to hear your questions and concerns, to get feedback on what you like and dislike. So why shut down the comment section? As we hear more from listeners through Facebook and Twitter and directly through our website, we've concluded that the comment section just isn't the best way to have the kind of dialogue we want with our listeners."
By "kind of dialogue" you mean transparent and public? Over at the last bastion of website interaction known as Twitter, Mike amusingly highlighted the disjointed logic of claiming to value dialogue while dramatically reducing the number of avenues for it, and the website's response doesn't really make sense:
Of course "nobody in our writing or editorial staff wants to take the time to cultivate local on-site community" or "we don't like having our mistakes highlighted publicly right below our articles" don't make for very good explanations when it's time to save a little money and axe ye olde comment section. So what we get instead are these vague bloviations about how this is really about an evolution in conversation, and punting the problem to Facebook is really the best thing for everyone. It's really time for some new, flimsy excuses for why websites can't be bothered to value local, on-site dialogue, because "we killed a major, on-site avenue of conversation for the sake of conversation" still doesn't really sound all that convincing.

Filed Under: comments, news, on the media, value conversation


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 10:31pm

    Re: Re:

    The problem isn't what they do with their own sites.

    But then, if people go away from those sites that don't let them comment to sites where they can comment, they are the first ones to complain and start talking about real journalism and about other excuses.

    That's when they don't request a Google Tax (that doesn't even tax Google) because, you know, linking to their sites and then commenting the news on another site is copyright infringement (you know, you are linking to their sites, visits go to them and that).

    The purpose of those taxes isn't copyright or whatever, but to take away competition from them by generating legal insecurity over the sites.


    And also, using Twitter is neat, yeah. Or Disqus. Mainly because it doesn't require you to use your real name (in case you didn't notice). Facebook is a bit different and even then are having issues with their real name policy and some people (like LGBT).


    Btw, regarding self policing, you are missing a point.

    People always think about "self policing" and they think of people being less rude, no trolls, no harassment, and taking responsibility for their own comments or actions.

    That, of course, won't protect you from snarky comments, sarcasm and other ways of making your life a pain in the rear without actually breaking any laws. There are plenty of ways of being a polite jerk. And you don't have to seem a jerk to make someone's life miserable.


    Now you see, you're missing a small detail: nowadays you face consequences from comments that shouldn't have consequences.

    It's widely known that when you go to a job interview, the prospective employer does a pair of searches related to your name to see what they can scoop. That's when they don't ask for your FB password (is illegal, or it should be).

    Now, you see, let's say that you have religious, political or sexual views that don't go along with the views of your prospective employer. Let's say you're gay, or that you belong to a different religion (or to none at all), or that maybe you're left wing oriented and your company is a conservative one. Or that you are an advocate for workers' rights, something that companies tend to dislike a lot.

    I'm not sure if you remember the part about discrimination in Human Rights, but google it. And yeah, it's illegal to discriminate based on what I've posted above.

    Yeah, if you have to post using your name it means that you can be discriminated either by:

    - Not being able to exercise your freedom of speech by having to self censor your political, religious, sexual or other views to adjust them to a majority.
    - Facing consequences for having expressed yourself freely, even if it shouldn't have any.

    So yeah, your "self policing" in many cases means "censorship", because you aren't free to express your views without facing consequences that you shouldn't face and that are no-one's business.

    And what I say about a job it could apply to a lot of things in your life, not only to a prospective job search. Views that are contrary to the government's can get you flagged or profiled at least, and maybe even investigated, depending on the country.

    So yeah, while you take away trolls, rudeness and other stuff, by requiring the use of real names, you also take away speech from the people.

    One of the greatest things of the internet, and specially, of anonymity is that it gave us more freedom without, as you say, having to take responsibility.


    Apart from what I mentioned above, not facing the consequences of your actions means that you won't threatened for them either.

    You see, you make a comment that someone doesn't like: it was a polite one, properly reasoned and that, but some guy didn't like what you said. Now he goes, he gets your name and starts sending you threatening calls or emails (anonymizing himself). Or he starts threatening your family.

    Political dissidents often face such things (they express their opinions using their name), usually from government sponsored sources, and that happens even in "democratic" countries. That, of course, when a death squad doesn't go to their homes and kills them or threatens their family. Or just beats them up.


    You know, I prefer the (not so) anonymous internet. At least I know what people really think, without them having to hide behind a facade of falsehood. And I (when I say "I" I mean my persona, me, not a nick) won't get insulted or threatened for expressing my opinions.

    Trolls, racism, insults... I don't like them, but I've learned to ignore them. They are bad, but not bad enough so that I would sacrifice my freedom of speech because someone is insulting my nick.


    It's like with encryption. Criminals will take measures not to get caught whether you put backdoors or make them illegal or not.

    Widely spread encryption makes you safer from their efforts to mess with you, because they don't know who you are and who to target.

    It's the same with anonymity.

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