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 argument for 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.