Add Motherboard to the quickly growing list
of news websites killing their comment section because they're so breathlessly in love with reader interaction
and visitor conversation
. Like The Verge, Recode, Popular Science, The Daily Beast and numerous other websites before it, Motherboard has decided that there's simply no value whatsoever to having a healthy, on-site local community
. As such the website is shoving any and all reader interaction over to less transparent and noisier discourse avenues like Facebook, Twitter and e-mail because comments as a "medium" are inherently somehow unhealthy:
"We at Motherboard have decided to turn off our comments section, a decision we've debated for a year or more. What finally turned the tide was our belief that killing comments and focusing on other avenues of communication will foster smarter, more valuable discussion and criticism of our work. What percentage of comments on any site are valuable enough to be published on their own? One percent? Less? Based on the disparity in quality between emails we get and the average state of comments here and all over the web, I think the problem is a matter of the medium."
One, just because only some readers can be bothered to comment doesn't magically devalue the entire comment section, as many reader simply lurk. I'm a lurking reader quick to head to the comment section to see if there's anything a reporter may have overlooked, misunderstood, or missed entirely. Did that tech blogger screw up the Wi-Fi specs on device Y or battery size of gadget Z? Does anybody else think this story makes light of X or misinterprets Y? Does anybody else in here feel the way I do
? As a writer I find comments similarly valuable, even if you sometimes have to dig through detritus.
And that's just it: news comments foster community, but they also provide transparency, accountability, and crowdsourced fact checking right below the article, and that's
what many sites like least of all. They just won't admit it.
In contrast, Motherboard pretends that their reporting will become just that much better
if it doesn't have to worry about pesky public reader interaction:
"Good comment sections exist, and social media can be just as abrasive an alternative. But for a growing site like ours, I think that our readers are best served by dedicating our resources to doing more reporting than attempting to police a comments section in the hopes of marginally increasing the number of useful comments. That doesn't offer any real value to other readers of the site, and we'd all wager that the scorched Earth nature of comments section just stifles real conversation."
Unlike other news websites, Motherboard at least admits that it doesn't want to spend the time and money to cultivate a thriving local community. Still, it's a bit disingenuous to suggest that weeding the troll comment garden comes at the cost of better reporting. In fact, some studies
have shown that simply having a writer show up in the comment section and briefly treat site visitors like human beings raises the discourse bar dramatically. And as several websites have noted
, having a healthy comment section pays dividends in the form of loyal visitors. By blocking comments, you're sending that community elsewhere (not that Techdirt minds -- Motherboard readers are welcome to comment here).
Motherboard seems to miss absolutely all of the benefits of on-site community, consistently coming back to this strange idea that as a "medium" comments are inherently flawed:
"Comment sections inspire quick, potent remarks, which too easily veer into being useless or worse. Sending an email knowing that a human will actually see it tends to foster thought, which is what we want.
Because nitwits never send barely coherent single-sentence idiot bile via e-mail, right? Comments are simply a blank slate input field. How is that a flawed "medium"? The flaw is it forces outlets to work just a little bit harder, and doesn't allow them to filter what gets said and heard. As such, Motherboard yearns to head back to the era of "letters to the editor," which it may or may not respond to or publish:
"So in addition to encouraging that you reach out to our reporters via email or social media, you can now also share your thoughts with editors via firstname.lastname@example.org. Once a week or thereabouts we'll publish a digest of the most insightful letters we get."
Or hey, we might not. And that's the problem: when only outlet-approved voices are made public you've muted an entire avenue of news dialogue correction and thrown the baby out with the bathwater, all in a misguided belief that we should try and force the open Internet back into the Walter Cronkite era of audience interaction. Of course all of these news editors and authors are just so dumbstruck and dizzy with the idea of not having to interact with snotty critics anymore, they can't see the forest (news as a healthy, fluid public conversation) for the trees (bile-lobbing blowhards).