After writing about YouTube on Friday and their censorship practices, a regular commenter, Battlesheep, made the following point: "Ok I'll comment on the article. It should have covered comment censoring by both MSM and some alternative sites." My response was "I debated on adding that to this or to approach it as a separate issue in a subsequent article, didn't want this to be too winding and rambling, so will work on something that can include the comment censorship in another article."
While the discussion on the other thread spoke a bit about this issue, we do like to keep our promises... hence this article.
In this article we are going to cover four different points, although there is no doubt that readers will have plenty other points they feel are necessary to see the whole picture, which in my mind, is the best argumentfor having an open forum with limited guidelines (civility!) anywhere there is a news or opinion article online.
The four points I will discuss here are; websites, news and blogs, that previously had comments and decided to disable them; websites where comments are moderated before even allowing them to show up; Moderating or banning any opinion that disagrees with the article, and; what I call websites that allow free-for-alls, where anything goes, including threats, troll attacks and spammers.
NO COMMENTS ALLOWED
A few years ago there was a controversial decision by many sites, news and blogs, to simply disable their commenting system, justifying to their readers in a variety of ways, which included, "we have better discussions if you all go to social media," with sites never bothering to ask their readers if they even used social media, or wanted to, which basically stifled any opinions from anyone that didn't feel they should be forced to register for a social media account. Other basis of justification was that "online comments are often ignorant, racist, sexist, threatening, or otherwise worthless (direct quote from the liberal website Atlantic), or that sites were disabling commenting to "stem the flood of abuse that appeared on the site."
Funny, I always thought that was what moderators were for, to stem the abuse and allow for civil discussions, sharing ideas, disagreeing with certain points in the article, or simply communicating with each other for sites that wanted to foster an online community.
For all the babble the Atlantic offered in their article about this issue, with claims that traffic increased on sites where no comments were allowed, one sentence in that article, in my opinion, says it all: "By cutting out comments, the site is better able to draw attention to its most deserving content—the articles themselves."
That theory really needs to be re-thought, and I say that as someone that writes articles. What they just admitted is that according to that theory, readers should read the artcile, take the writers opinions as gospel and shut the hell up, because their readers opinions were not deserving.
Readers aren't entitled to highlight a point or more than one that the writer didn't deem worthy or didn't consider? Readers aren't entitled to see a civil debate on the articles assertions, which might encourage them to research more and perhaps even come to a different conclusion than what the author of the article concluded?
It comes down to control. Control what readers get to see, not by determining what to write about, all websites have to pick and choose and all writers do best when they choose topics they are passionate about or take interest in, but that doesn't mean those are the only topics that should be discussed, nor does it mean the points made within the article are the only valid points.
They control the content, and by disabling the comments, they control the readers by being the only "influencing" opinion allowed on that page.
In 2013, The New Yorker quoted the online content director for Popular Science, who went on to ban commenting on their site, Suzanne LaBarre cited a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison which concluded "Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story."
That folks is what it is all about.... controlling the narrative by only allowing the writers perception of reality to be seen.
Recently I covered the Reddit AMA interview with CNN's Chris Cillizza, which went disastrously wrong, where one of Cillizza's previous assertions was that "perception often (if not always) trumps reality," and Redditors called him out on that.
That is what the "no comments allowed" policies are about, censoring any opinion but their own, refusing to allow readers to debate a topic and perhaps allow others watching that debate to use their own judgement after reading different opinions, to make their own determination, whether it fits with the writer's conclusions or not.
They want to prevent that at all costs.
MODERATING COMMENTS BEFORE ALLOWING THEM TO SHOW
While many would say this practice could actually stem from the same mindset by websites and writers of "only allow comments that agree" with the perception of the writer, to be fair there are a number of reasons some website owners choose to do automatically put comments into moderation before allowing them to show.
For some, it is a safety issue, where stalking has occurred and endangered the family of the writer. For example, in 2006 when I started writing about politics, I had seen how one conservative writer had been forced to take out a protection order after a University of Arizona adjunct professor Deborah Frisch, wrote a comment on his Protein Wisdom blog saying "You live in Colorado, I see. Hope no one JonBenets your baby." She followed that up with "I reiterate: If some nutcase kidnapped your child tomorrow and did to him what was done to your fellow Coloradan, JonBenet Ramsey, I wouldn't give a damn."
While Frisch eventually resigned and apologized, by 2015 she was arrested four times on charges including stalking, menacing, criminal trespass, and initiating a false police report against another, in Oregon.
In other cases it is a matter of simply being tired of trolls, those that attack almost anything and everything without ever offering a counter argument or opinion on the topic, although then it becomes too easy to start seeing all disagreement, even reasoned and civil, as "trolling," when in actuality trolling and disagreement are two very different things.
Website owners have the right to handle their site any way they choose and if readers do not like the way they handle comments, they have the choice of not reading that website's articles.
MODERATING OR BANNING ANY DISAGREEING OPINIONS
This is a complaint we have been seeing our regulars talk about lately, not just on MSM sites, where most of the comment sections have been disabled, but as more and more alternative news websites have start banning people or deleting their comments, even when they are perfectly civil simply because the commenter disagreed with the article or even just certain points of the article.
I refer you to the first category above, that is all about a refusal to allow other readers to see a dissenting opinion, while pretending to have an open commenting forum, for no other reason that they want the control to influence perception.
With that said, we have seen people that have come here and attack, the readers, writers, anyone that dares comment on an article, yet even after warning them to be civil, and their refusal to do so, they get banned, then go elsewhere to whine that we ban "disagreement" rather than acknowledging it was their own nastiness and outright attacks that got them banned.
For those people, I will refer them back up to the original commenter that mentioned we should do an article on "comment censoring," because Battlesheep has been known to disagree, vehemently with some points we make...yet he is still here because he always counters, debates and is civil in doing so. Commenters Delhoge, idontknow, PROUD, and others, all have disagreed with something here at ANP and civilly disagreed while discussing articles, topics, offering their insights and opinions, which in turn allows others to see different angles, different points of views. The goal of writing should always be wanting readers to make an informed opinion, not just to agree with ours.
That is something the MSM refuses to consider and is disturbing to see that some alternative and independent news sites are following in that pattern of behavior.
Once again, they own their websites, they can do whatever they want, but it will cost them readers.
Free-for-all commenting is where spammers, trolls, arguments, nastiness, attacks, are allowed in all their glory, where navigating through all the aforementioned, generally drives away any readers that do not want to drown in hate.
Websites should want to retain their readers, so letting a comment section become a free-for-all, will in the long run, cost them some very good readers.
If it is a matter of not being able to navigate the sheer amount of comments that is driving that decision, well, if you have that many comments, one should be doing well enough to pay someone to help clean it up and make it a more enjoyable experience.
With all that said, as regular readers of ANP know, our decision for our site, is to allow open commenting and to moderate after the fact, warning trolls about the civility guideline and if they are unable, or unwilling to be civil, argue their points without attacks against the site or the other readers and commenters, either because they do not know what civility is or they forgot what they were taught about civility, then they are banned.
Now folks, let us practice what we preach- Head down to the comment section, tell me what I missed, what you disagree with, what you agree with, offer off-topic subjects you found of interest today, because just because I wrote about this, doesn't mean it is all that is important.