The death of comments

Written By: - Date published: 9:35 am, July 15th, 2016 - 47 comments
Categories: blogs, internet, Media - Tags: ,

Earlier this week RNZ announced that they were turning off comments:

Why we’re turning off comments

From later this week, we’re removing comments from RNZ.co.nz.

Comments on news websites are a fraught topic. For a long time they seemed like the way forward, a way to bring the audience into the stories, and let’s face it, comments are still what media analysts like to call “content”. In the social media, mobile-driven world comments are the ultimate in “engagement”.

But for as long as there has been comments, “don’t read the comments” has been a common refrain. If you’ve spent any time in discussion forums, you’ll be familiar with the pedantry and bad behaviour often found there.

And so, news websites began turning off comments sections. Popular Science, CNN, Mic.com, Reuters, Bloomberg and The Daily Beast have all turned off comments in the past couple of years. …

Yesterday The Spinoff announced the same:

The end of comments on The Spinoff

As of today, as of exactly right now, The Spinoff is turning off Disqus, the comments engine we’ve used since we started in September of 2014. The motivations are simple and twofold. First, comments make us no money but have a cost. Second, they have been getting vile at times, a trend I see as likely to worsen as we evolve. I’ve been mulling it ever since I read this excellent summary of The Problem with Comments on, of all ye olde places, Popbitch. And I was spurred into action after reading Megan Whelan’s announcement that RNZ is doing it over on their platform earlier this week.

I wonder if Stuff will go the same way. Back in April:

Comments can be a stain on the web

Comments on stories have irked and entertained readers since they were first introduced. … I both love and loathe them. As a journalist you see both sides. Some readers offer ideas and insight to your stories while others take the chance to abuse you.

Unfortunately, the bad guys appear to be winning as it feels like there are more and more horrible people hovering over their devices waiting to hurt others with their words.

A recent investigation into comments by The Guardian found female writers got the most abuse.

I know that many of our women authors here at The Standard have felt the same about that, and it is one of my big regrets about the blog that we haven’t created a place where women authors feel welcome. Moderating comments takes time and energy – a lot more time and energy than I am able to put in to it for sure. (We’re open to suggestions as to how to improve things!)

I expect that more big sites will shut down comments, one day they’ll be seen as a failed experiment from the quaint days of the early web. Blogs will still exist of course – comments are our raison d’être. Some will deliberately wallow in the mud (certain dirty politics blogs spring to mind). Some will try to maintain standards, with varying degrees of success. It’s not really a very cheerful landscape. All we can do is try and do the best we can with our wee corner of the web.

47 comments on “The death of comments”

  1. Greg 1

    Is this the death of the Fourth Estate,
    its last gasp of breath as it hurtles towards oblivion.
    http://www.drewnickell.com/?p=767

    The reality of news and propaganda of politics, is one of servant and master.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obsequious

    • TC 1.1

      It died decades ago in terms of its original intended objective being independant objective fact based reporting without fear. You want that you need independant blogs and outlets like crikey etc.

      Comments went off many nat spin pieces in granny ages ago so here is further evidence that your opinion is of no value as its all about the message without questioning it.

      The establishment dont like open forums but they love to be able to saturate you with their unchallenged memes.

  2. Anne 2

    There is an orchestrated attempt to belittle and destroy certain online sites including blog sites (mostly centre to left in character) by delivering blistering attacks and abuse on individuals and groups alike. There was a major attack on RNZ when they first opened their site up to comments. The attackers are reasonably well organised and seem to be coming from the “hard right” of the political spectrum. We know Slater and co. has been involved in the past.

    If it wasn’t for lprent’s particularly effective challenges to them over the years they may well have destroyed TS by now. I guess that’s why Slater hates Lynn so much. 🙂

    • Michelle 2.1

      I wouldn’t give up despite the nasty and vile comments. That is exactly what these nasty people like Slater want.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1.1

        people like Slater

        Let’s be absolutely clear about this: the National Party and its owner/donors employ Slater and Lusk and Farrar and Hooton and all the other ratfuckers, so when we talk about “people like Slater” we’re talking about Bill English and John Key and Chester Borrows and Chris Findlayson and Wayne Mapp.

        They cannot separate themselves from the tactics they must employ to get elected.

    • lprent 2.2

      I found that most of the commenters who were a particular problem are curiously susceptible to enhanced and extreme versions of their own tactics being used on themselves. So I usually use that trait offensively with a patronising manner and in conjunction with the usual warning and banning. Seems to work pretty well.

      It helped that I discovered a sadistic strain in my personality that delighted in puzzling out methods of really getting under someone skin with words and behaviour.

      But the place really has been a lot better over the last couple of years.

  3. Ad 3

    Flay my skin off now, but Whaleoil is much better moderated than last year.

    Can’t we have some click bait pleeeeeease? That Japanese cat who climbs into boxes would be good. And 6 puppies in a sink getting washed.

    Like a mental sorbet.

    • infused 3.1

      Comments on whaleoil are the best moderated of all NZ blogs imo.

      I dont comment there, but you wont see any of the crap that goes on here or kiwiblog on whaleoil. It’s shut down right away.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1

        🙄

        That’s because all the vile hate-speech is contained in the posts.

        • Roflcopter 3.1.1.1

          Says the worst offender on this site.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.1.1.1

            That’s true. The day someone pays me to do it, I’ll have lowered myself to Princess Party Pinko/Matthew Hooton/Slater scum level.

        • Michelle 3.1.1.2

          Vile hate speech and gutless to boot people are much braver when they don’t have to look a person in the eye. The whaleoil site is nasty and so are the people who write all that nasty vile garbage on this site. Slater and his ilk have already been exposed the problem is he has wealthy backers. Funny how some wealthy people are so nasty despite having lots of money they are still never happy with there lot. Thankfully we still have many genuinely lovely, hardworking, kind and fair minded NZers here in our lovely country.

  4. Bill 4

    From one of them thar links.

    An interested, invested group of readers who engage with one another, with writers and contributors, offering up new and thought-provoking perspectives.

    Sometimes, but my impression is that it’s far less frequent then it used to be, comment threads around here did that. Personally I blame the “mememe did a poo” culture of facebook et al for ‘normalising’ a fair bit of the dross…and more general issues around peoples egos.

  5. mary_a 5

    I didn’t realize turning off comments was becoming an international trend. More the pity.

    NZH has had no comment option on some specific (now most) topics, particularly those involving the PM or National, for a while now. However on the odd occasion it does, when we are insulted to have available comments open on fluff subjects!

    My comments on both NZH and Stuff haven’t been published for ages, so I eventually gave up commenting, although it’s interesting to read and hear the opinions of others from all sides of the political spectrum.

    I don’t do social media, same with many others as well, so do rely on comments to keep up with what people are thinking and saying.

    RNZ seems to be the last bastion of a democratic media. But for how long now?

    • Booker 5.1

      I found the same on NZH and gave up commenting some time ago. I can’t think of anything abusive or out of order I’d written either, just seems that if you have a different, ie more left wing, view or point out obvious limitations in their write-up, hands down the comment won’t get approved. So you can only comment if you agree with them, which is just absurd

  6. vto 6

    don’t worry

    its all part of the shaking down of the completely upended world of human communication ….

    it will take time yet

    human communication has never been so upended, ever, so it is hardly surprising

  7. gsays 7

    As an avid reader (both posts and comments) and occasional commenter here, I find the conversations invaluable.

    “moderating comments takes time and energy…” I think this is the crux of the situation.
    A month or two ago Lynn got staunch with a couple of commenters and they copped a lengthy or permanent ban.
    This was a welcome action.

    Sometimes the pedantry in debates gets tiresome: picking a slither from a comment, negating it, and ignoring ‘the vibe’.

    The few petty personality clashes that occur are the inevitable consequence of a bunch of lefties in one environment.

    • shorts 7.1

      big fan of comments myself – like with the old form of letters to the editors, in the media its the only time you get to read what normal people think…

      I appreciate that it takes time and thus money for commercial entities to moderate comments and thus open to closure cause who wants to invest in something that doesn’t contribute directly to the bottom line – stuff building communities and loyalty – that stuff can’t be measured in the quarterly returns and thus add value to someones KPI’s and bonus structure

      Yet blogs like this manage and do a admirable job (hats off to the moderators)

      Given the openness of the web it seems odd to see doors closing – saying that I am also regularly appalled at how some people use the freedom to comment to attack and demean others

  8. weka 8

    I think a big part of this is that the MSM came to social media late after quite a long period of time of dissing it. When they did, they didn’t always understand how it works. To create an thoughtful commenting community, you have to do specific things. I don’t think RNZ, Stuff or Spinoff did those things. They had the bare minimum of moderation and that was it.

    To get useful commenting you have to create something more than just providing a platform, you have to work with the actual people who are doing the commenting. Some of that is around controlling abuse, but that’s not the main part of it. You also have to have an interface that works well (looking at you RNZ), and you have to support and encourage the commenting culture you want.

    When I read the RNZ and Spinoff announcements I thought immediately of Public Address, which is a long standing place for commenters that maintains a distinct culture of respect of the kind that I would guess RNZ and the Spinoff would want. Yes it takes time to moderate that, but the regulars there also take some responsibility for making sure that the place remains true to its kaupapa around communication and the reason they do is because a certain culture was created initially.

    That’s the main difference as far as I can tell. MSM still want to be putting up their content and not really engaging with the people that are reading it.

    • shorts 8.1

      Public Address is I believe the shining light (locally) of how to create and maintain over a long period a online community

      The feeling I get from the MSM is a general attitude of disdain towards their readers/viewers… the lack of anything even closely resembling an attempt to do anything but farm comments in the hope the engagement can be translated into profit – clickbait articles and headlines has rendered the need to actually engage redundant, now they simply seek the click

      • weka 8.1.1

        This ^

        When the MSM understand about citizen engagement, public service, and journalism’s responsibilities, we might get something better being developped.

    • Lanthanide 8.2

      To be fair, stuff has far too many separate news stories that allow commenting for them to do much more than basic moderation. Trying to foster any sort of community when most news stories drop off the front page within 48 hours, some don’t even last 8 hours, seems impossible.

      • shorts 8.2.1

        Stuff do have the Stuff Nation… as ill conceived and enacted as it is it was at least an attempt to do something

        For a big site community might just boil down to regular contributors – which over time will build themselves into some sort of a community, like those regular writers of letters to the editor the readership get to “know”

        As esoteric pineapples says – the extra links, perspectives and opinions are often really useful, especially for more technical stories where a reporter has neither the time, resources nor inclination to fully cover a topic

        • Draco T Bastard 8.2.1.1

          …especially for more technical stories where a reporter has neither the time, resources nor inclination to fully cover a topic

          Which tells us that the reporter is under-funded and that the story shouldn’t have gone to print.

          • shorts 8.2.1.1.1

            as if thats going to stop them… its going to get worse – hence additional content via comments can be very rewarding

      • weka 8.2.2

        You can foster culture though. Via moderation, clear guidelines, and feedback.

        The platform also makes a difference. Where you have a login system where people can easily go back and check their comments and see how has replied, you get people more likely to keep coming back and who have an investment in the thing they are taking part in. This is the bit that the MSM don’t get. They still treat commenters as external pieces, somewhat annoying ones, that have to be controlled and ignored. God forbid they become part of the place.

        • shorts 8.2.2.1

          good points 🙂

        • Lanthanide 8.2.2.2

          That’s true, there is no ‘feedback’ element to stuff comments. Comments are either posted, or not. Very occasionally things seem to get deleted after they were accepted for posting.

          Also a lot of comments don’t seem to get reviewed at all and are never posted.

  9. esoteric pineapples 9

    I’ve found a lot of useful links and perspectives through the comments sections of The Standard. I would miss them. I just gloss over the crappy ones. Newspapers had no problem moderating Letters To The Editor for over a century.

  10. Puckish Rogue 10

    I suspect that a lot of the sites that’re closing down comments are because they’re getting a lot of comments that they weren’t expecting, specifically opposite to the ideas the articles are promoting

    • instrider 10.1

      I think that might be true for blogs – No Right Turn an example.

      For the professional media it’s a cost and exposure issue. I think they are realising they are liable for comments and the risk reward is too high.

  11. Craig H 11

    Not surprising really – they can just share the articles on Social Media and get comments there anyway.

  12. D'Esterre 12

    shorts: “big fan of comments myself – like with the old form of letters to the editors, in the media its the only time you get to read what normal people think…”

    My sentiments exactly. I’m very sad to see the gradual shutting-down of comments. I really enjoy reading others’ opinions. Many people are so well-informed: I almost always come away better-informed myself. Happy to challenge differing views; I don’t troll or name-call, not being a fan of that sort of treatment from others.

    • shorts 12.1

      I consider myself better informed and a better person from my years on the net learning how to engage and benefit from the world of online commenting

      I miss forums… and soon will miss comments in the MSM…

  13. D'Esterre 13

    shorts: “I consider myself better informed and a better person from my years on the net learning how to engage and benefit from the world of online commenting”

    Yup. Me too. It’s been an absorbing pastime. It’s amazing over the years what I’ve found out – fairly often, it’s been insider political gossip that one (or I, at any rate!) doesn’t encounter any other way. And which illuminates otherwise obscure beltway issues. I stop reading comment threads that get abusive: I can’t be bothered with that sort of thing.

    I sometimes have opinions that differ markedly from those of an author. I put those opinions out there, and have been called names for my pains: racist! being the most common, though anti-American! is another. People who do this might as well save themselves the trouble and concede that they’ve run out of countervailing arguments.

    I do hope we’re not going to lose the ability to comment here any time soon; I promise to continue my usual pattern of being well-behaved.

  14. whateva next? 14

    Since realising National throw money at everything including trolling articles not supporting their National machine, I tend to skirt the comments these days

  15. Jack Ramaka 15

    Sad we don’t have a balanced educated MSM these days just nasty little journalists and editors preaching and singing from their masters hymn sheet.

  16. weston 16

    I cant imagine a world without comments imagine u tube without comments !! the comments are where you find out things the extra content you find on this site too is invaluable .Theres not much under the heading of abusive comments that bother me and im more likely to be bored than offended .I think its gutless of rnz to can comments after all they are a public radio station funded by us and they might have asked our opinion first .regardless of all the good things about rnz theres still things they could do better and remaining ignorant to differing opinion seems like a pretty crappy option to me .

  17. Rae 17

    Then there is this http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11674502 it appears this a.m. with comments (seemingly) enabled, so I took my opportunity.
    Here we are, Friday night, not one comment yet published, Saturday tomorrow, I expect if any get published at all it won’t be before Monday morning when the article will be several pages down, for all intents and purposes, no longer there.
    Does it not seem a little strange, just as people are waking up and getting pretty damned angry, their voices are muffled? No? Me too.

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