In a post by the Guardian‘s “readers’ editor” Stephen Pritchard, it’s been announced that the website will no longer open articles to readers’ comments when they are about certain issues:
But more concerning is the ever-rising level of abuse, trolling and “astroturfing” (propaganda posting – an artificial version of a grassroots campaign) currently polluting what are often illuminating and stimulating discussions.
In response to this menace, some news sites, including Reuters, CNN and theChicago Sun-Times, have abandoned comments altogether or heavily restricted them; others, such as the New York Times, pre-moderate every post. That’s not going to happen here, but things are about to change.
The three topics are then named (I’m not naming them quite yet), and the new policy announced:
As a result, it had been decided that comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible.
Can you guess what the topics are? I bet you can get at least two out of the three. Think before scrolling down.
Here they are (my emphasis):
Certain subjects – race, immigration and Islam in particular – attract an unacceptable level of toxic commentary, believes Mary Hamilton, our executive editor, audience. “The overwhelming majority of these comments tend towards racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse and trolling, and the resulting conversations below the line bring very little value but cause consternation and concern among both our readers and our journalists,” she said last week.
Now I myself don’t like invective and name-calling on my site: in fact, people are banned for it after a warning. It doesn’t advance discussion to call other commenters names. But I wonder exactly what the Guardian means by “toxic commentary.” Hamilton’s explanation isn’t sufficient, since “racism” can mean “criticism of Islam” and “abuse of vulnerable subjects” could mean “criticism of authors’ views.” Given that the site has editorial positions to the left, it looks as if they’re trying to ban strong opinions that run counter to the site’s own narrative.
Given the Guardian‘s history, I don’t trust their explanation that they don’t have enough people to monitor the comments. That’s ridiculous. They can hold all comments for an hour or so; getting someone to then go through them to eliminate the TRULY toxic ones is a relatively quick process. Or, like some bloggers do, they can do a quick run through the published comments and delete the nasty ones. It dosn’t take long.
In fact, I suspect that the Guardian is trying to quash opinions counter to their own. Why does Islam get a benefit and Catholicism (or any other faith) not? Whether the answer to that is acceptable depends on what the Guardian means by “toxic commentary.”
At any rate, the latest three commenters had takes on the issue that I consider more sensible than the paper’s: