In the past few weeks both The Verge and The Daily Dot have closed the comments section on their websites, following a trend set by many other online publications. In both cases the reasons have been similar: Comment sections have recently just become too hard to moderate. It looks like the comments may very well be on its way out.
Why are publications closing their comments sections?
As is usually the case with most decisions, the predominant reason for the change comes down to time and money. Moderating comment sections is a time consuming processing - it can be a full time job, and sometimes needs a whole team to manage.
But there's another angle. Both publications say that the state of commenting has been in decline recently - and that this isn't what they want associated with their content. They aren't able to manage all the negative commentary, and they also don't want to be the ones providing the breeding ground for some dark conversations. As The Verge puts it:
"...sometimes it gets too intense. What we've found lately is that the tone of our comments (and some of our commenters) is getting a little too aggressive and negative — a change that feels like it started with GamerGate and has steadily gotten worse ever since...That's a bad feedback loop, and we want to stop it."
Along a similar line, Daily Dot stated:
"We’re at an interesting point in the history of the Web. In the wake of Gamergate, Celebgate, and the Reddit Meltdown of 2015, both publishers and social networks are grappling with the same fundamental issue: how to foster engagement and dialogue without inadvertently feeding the trolls in the process. The general consensus is that we need to detoxify the Web—to make it a cleaner, nicer, safer, and more inclusive place to live and work."
Both publications mentioned Gamergate as a catalyst for the decline in comment quality over the past few years. If you're interested in finding out more about this fascinating event check out this great article by Jay Hathaway at Gawker.
The fact is, though, that publications are being hammered with sexist, racist, and abusive comments on an incredibly regular basis - and some have had enough.
So, what next?
Comment sections do still have importance. Many publications use comments sections to create and nurture audiences. They create connections that extend a story and keep readers coming back to the website.
There are two other views. Firstly - The Daily Dot believes that their community is evolving in the comments sections but instead on social media. It's here that there have been more constructive conversations - and given the personal nature of social networking, trolling and abuse is generally rarer. That said, from a moderator's point of view, it's also a whole lot simpler as well.
There's also a view that commentary and conversation is naturally moving away from publications. The strength of discovery platforms like Reddit and 9GAG means that much conversation happens on these platform, within very large communities. As such it instead allows publications to focus on being discovered, but not necessarily having to monitor and moderate the comments themselves.
But comments as a concept are still appearing in new technology as well. With the rise of Periscope, Meerkat and other live streaming apps there are now an influx of social networks that live and breathe off a live comments section. This means that users can post whatever they want, unfiltered. As the BBC rightly points out - this has lead to a large amount of sexist abuse on these apps.
Despite this, many continue to tackle these comments strictly and quickly. Many hope that, in time and by calling out "trolls", the online society will begin to self regulate and start trending towards civility. In the meantime though, the block button will have to do.
So, in a fitting way to end this post: What do you think? Let me know in the comments below...
Note: This article was inspired by a previous feature on the BBC