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December 16, 2016 3:22 AM   Subscribe

How news sites’ online comments helped build our hateful electorate.
On the heels of a presidential election that has been called unprecedented in terms of its incivility, the nonpartisan National Institute for Civil Discourse has an important message for the president-elect and Congress.
2014 PEW Research & Statistics
posted by adamvasco (59 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I want to ONCE AGAIN thank the MeFi Mods for everything they did curating our online discussion of this past election cycle, and the fallout.

Bravo!
posted by mikelieman at 3:56 AM on December 16, 2016 [91 favorites]


Marc Maron had avoided political stuff since his Air America days, but he got a bit political about Trump before the election, and he's been a bit political after the election. His plea for people not to get heated with relatives during Thanksgiving was heartfelt and meaningful. After Thanksgiving, he went into a bit of a rant about how the election results do not grant anyone the right to be a douchebag toward others about the election or for any other reason. Was also heartfelt and meaningful, I think.

Civility in the course of resistance was Martin Luther King's strategy. I think it still applies today.
posted by hippybear at 4:16 AM on December 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


I'm continually amazed at the horrible comments that my local paper allows to stand in the comments to their articles. You can't say "fuck" in the comment section because that gets automatically flagged but you can say the most horrific racist, sexist, homophobic stuff and the paper just lets it sit there on their site.
posted by octothorpe at 4:31 AM on December 16, 2016 [17 favorites]


When papers see the comments on their articles online, there is a short in their reasoning. Instead of these bastions of truth and information removing or rebutting hate or lies, they just go "Look! We are internetting! Clicks! Views! 2.0! Relevancy! Can we keep our jobs?"

They should charge for commenting. 10-50 cents a pop.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:55 AM on December 16, 2016 [22 favorites]


In 2006, by the old calendar, a technology was created that allowed people to instantaneously broadcast their innermost thoughts in concise form, without the need for revision or self-reflection.

It was called Twitter, and it is now considered to be one of the worst inventions of mankind since atomic weapons and Axe body spray.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:18 AM on December 16, 2016 [27 favorites]


When papers see the comments on their articles online, there is a short in their reasoning. Instead of these bastions of truth and information removing or rebutting hate or lies, they just go "Look! We are internetting! Clicks! Views! 2.0! Relevancy! Can we keep our jobs?"

I think, in some ways, you can thank Google and their ranking algorithms (which affects ad revenue) for that state of affairs.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:41 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


They should charge for commenting. 10-50 cents a pop.

Viral Vladimir's comments corps has plenty of dimes.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:54 AM on December 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


Well, 20 years ago you needed to pony up for a stamp if you wanted to comment in the local paper...
posted by COD at 6:01 AM on December 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


Things have gone completely south online since people started throttling and selling "organic reach"--it unbalanced things and made it easier to make things go viral not because of organic interest, but because someone pumped money into getting more exposure. It's made the internet less open and more subject to influence manipulation. But the Trump campaign reportedly used micro-targeting to influence individual voters they thought could be influenced, so they were deliberately creating media reality bubbles around certain targeted potential voters. Really nasty operators could exploit similar techniques to prey on psychologically and emotionally vulnerable voters, triggering them into enough a state of agitation with misinformation that they literally feel panicked into voting for a particular candidate. We've entered an age of mind-fuckery and media manipulation that's terrifying in its scope and complexity. And it seems to me throttling organic reach on social media and elsewhere online has played a key role in allowing that to happen. The internet worked better when it was dumber.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:04 AM on December 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


My local fishwrap's comments make YouTube look like a thesis defense.
posted by tommasz at 6:13 AM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, basically that article sums up why I deleted my Facebook account two years ago.

My hometown newspaper had a taste of this years before everything went online. They experimented with a feature called "The Comment Line" where people could call in and leave short recorded comments, which were then transcribed, collected and printed in a block on the editorial page. It was... interesting.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:16 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


They should charge for commenting. 10-50 cents a pop.

http://citizens.united.com/checkout.php
posted by pompomtom at 6:16 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Comment sections should be eliminated from all online articles in my opinion. Seriously. What good do they do? It degrades the news source itself and sometimes the sources are actually credible outlets. We survived a long time before this without assholes being able to argue with each other after reading a newspaper article.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:16 AM on December 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


I once asked an acquaintance who seemed to be a nice person who lived a pleasant life, why nobody would ever think so if they believed the stuff he posted online. His answer: "Because the Internet is for being angry!"
posted by lagomorphius at 6:22 AM on December 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Comment sections should be eliminated from all online articles in my opinion. Seriously. What good do they do?

Clearly no good at all, if left unmoderated. The letters to the editor of yore were the old-timey equivalent, but the effort it took to compose them and the fact that they were vetted by the editorial staff meant that there was concerted effort put in to craft the conversation in a way that would be interesting to (or provoke a reaction in) readers. The main point being that you would get one version of a viewpoint as elucidated by the most articulate writer.

Allowing the id of the common person to run rampant and unfettered in the comments section of news articles serves no valuable purpose other that to expose what vile creatures we are, which, you know, we already knew.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:29 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Civility in the course of resistance was Martin Luther King's strategy. I think it still applies today.

I don't think it's the people on the side of MLK who are the main problem, though.
posted by schroedinger at 6:31 AM on December 16, 2016 [18 favorites]


I've said for years that the future is in filters; there's just too much to process otherwise. News media has traditionally served this function, restricting the flow of news and information through editorial oversight to what could fit into a single printed paper or news broadcast. Now there is such proliferation of news content through so many different sources that the traditional filtering function really doesn't work anymore.

There has to be some alternative, there's just too much to process.

It seems like many folks have created an ad hoc filter by limiting their consumption to media that provide a consistent coherent narrative (e.g. Fox or Breitbart). That helps create a comforting sense of order to the sometimes confusing and scary ever-changing world. Older folks seem particularly inclined to this.

What I'm increasingly concerned about is who controls and decides the filter methodologies going forward.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:36 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Comment sections should be eliminated from all online articles in my opinion.

hit the contact form and tell cortex to initiate the self-destruct sequence
posted by indubitable at 6:38 AM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


MeFi pretty much a community exclusively for commenting on shared material, which makes it something else than a comments section.

Not that it always works out - Reddit, Chahs etc...
posted by Artw at 6:54 AM on December 16, 2016


There's plenty of exciting stuff happening that could dramatically improve comment sections and, more broadly, audience interaction on news sites. These things aren't being implemented because of inertia, bad CMSs, and a general "fuck em" attitude toward the audience. Although for the most cynical of sites, I'm sure there's an element of "all fake news is bad except for the fake news below all of our articles that helps us sell ads."
posted by MetalFingerz at 6:59 AM on December 16, 2016


Is there a Black Mirror episode about a comment section going very... very wrong? (I guess most comment sections are about as dystopian as an average BM episode anyway).
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:03 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ignoring newspaper comments sections has made me a lot happier. I was astonished when I realized how much of the anxiety and irritation I felt over the course of a day (particularly in very politically charged times, like this one) came from things I'd seen online. The New York Times and Slate have changed their digital layouts (over the course of the past year or two, I think), so that the most recent comment are visible while you're scrolling through a story, whether you click on the comments section or not. I am completely at a loss as to why they did this. I thought there was a consensus that everyone hates Internet comments. Was there actual user demand for more focus on them? Sometimes I avoid clicking on stories about feminism and race on both sites because of this change.

I really pity the people, especially at the New York Times, who are responsible for going through all the submitted comments and deciding which ones make the cut.
posted by armadillo1224 at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I unfollowed my local newspaper on Facebook because you really can't read an article on FB without seeing the comments, and the comments are a cesspool of racism and bigotry. Being reminded that these people are my neighbors was not healthy.

In other news, I really need to move.
posted by COD at 7:25 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


If these media sites are going to run comments sections, they should invest in hiring lots of skilled, professional moderators. That sort of economic growth would be beneficial, too, assuming you could afford to compensate moderators professional wages: professional moderation as a new industry could create a lot of (relatively) dignified and socially valuable new jobs. Those kinds of jobs and growth also wouldn't significantly contribute to ongoing environmental devastation and resource depletion. But the problem is there's no funding structure for growing new kinds of jobs like that without state intervention due to market failure. Ad revenue alone probably can't support that level of non-content producing administrative staffing. We need to find new ways to make cultural content creation economically valuable to the creators again, too, because then we could create more online work to go around that doesn't involve producing and distributing physical merchandise but that can sustain people's ability to provide for themselves.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:27 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you have a more-or-less traditional article and no comment section, people visit a given article once. If you have a polite comment section, a few people might visit a couple times. If you have a comment section with effective trolls or fights between MRAs and feminists or whatever, people visit, read the train wreck, comment, come back, comment again and on and on.

You might think that good comments or no comments would be better in the long term than bad ones. Maybe--there are certainly sites I don't go to because of the commenters. But it takes a long time to build up a reputation for "good content" and in the short term at least attracting comments of any types will always make your stats look better.

Also, sites that have no comments, like Vox, do get criticized for arrogance elsewhere.

Regarding the main article, I love it when people combine statistics from different sources. The article has more people admitting to saying malicious thing (28%) than have commented in total (25%). Seems impossible but it does account for a lot.
posted by mark k at 7:28 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you have a more-or-less traditional article and no comment section, people visit a given article once. If you have a polite comment section, a few people might visit a couple times. If you have a comment section with effective trolls or fights between MRAs and feminists or whatever, people visit, read the train wreck, comment, come back, comment again and on and on.

In other words, social media monetizes your tears.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:31 AM on December 16, 2016 [16 favorites]


I've said for years that the future is in filters; there's just too much to process otherwise. News media has traditionally served this function, restricting the flow of news and information through editorial oversight to what could fit into a single printed paper or news broadcast.
[...]
It seems like many folks have created an ad hoc filter by limiting their consumption to media that provide a consistent coherent narrative (e.g. Fox or Breitbart).


So before it was news media and now it's Fox and Breitbart. I'm not really seeing how that's so different.
posted by Dysk at 7:42 AM on December 16, 2016


Removing media comment sections is a TERRIBLE idea in democracy terms. Media sources that are of public record (NYT, WSJ, etc.) or have a non-partisan stance (every local television station, most local newspapers), are places where a cross-section of people actually congregate and the comment section (in theory) accommodates discussion and can help editors and reporters understand gaps or biases in their coverage. Remove those comment sections and then discussion devolves to the monoculture of your social media feed or your favorite message board or blog.

Eliminating anonymous comments in media is, however, a fine thing, in part because it is a strong anchor for civility without the need for aggressive moderation. (BTW -- if you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, the problem is your unwillingness to tolerate their expression of dissent from your orthodoxy, not their willingness to express it.)
posted by MattD at 7:50 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


How much of these comments sections are the result of coordinated online efforts (either volunteers or paid commenters)? It seems like a relatively low cost way to influence public opinion.
posted by miyabo at 7:53 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


(BTW -- if you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, the problem is your unwillingness to tolerate their expression of dissent from your orthodoxy, not their willingness to express it.)

Maybe you're not familiar with the sheer amount of straight out death threats, rape threats, sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic abuse is out there, proudly signed off with someone's real name and Facebook account. But sure, the problem is me not tolerating the way that they're expressing things that would be legally actionable in almost any other context (and theoretically are as Internet comments).
posted by Dysk at 7:57 AM on December 16, 2016 [27 favorites]


BTW -- if you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, the problem is your unwillingness to tolerate their expression of dissent from your orthodoxy, not their willingness to express it.

Nah, people saying e.g. straight up racist shit isn't a dissent-from-orthodoxy issue, it's a saying-racist-shit issue. Their willingness to express it is, in fact, a problem, one of openly perpetuating and modeling toxic racist ideas. Cf. homophobic shit, misogynistic shit, etc. It's not remotely civil, under any uncontorted usage of the word.

If you want to argue non-foolishly for the idea of broad tolerance of civil disagreement, you need to not cast a net that includes the kind of festering toxicity that exists in practice on the parts of Facebook that you don't or won't see.
posted by cortex at 7:58 AM on December 16, 2016 [21 favorites]


Media sources that are of public record (NYT, WSJ, etc.) or have a non-partisan stance (every local television station, most local newspapers), are places where a cross-section of people actually congregate

Citation needed.

The comment section (in theory) accommodates discussion and can help editors and reporters understand gaps or biases in their coverage.

Because no organization has ever dispatched paid shills to a comment section to move the needle on a topic.

Remove those comment sections and then discussion devolves to the monoculture of your social media feed or your favorite message board or blog.

Too late. But in the other direction. It's like comment sections are the Mirror Universe from Star Trek where everything and everyone is evil. So yes, monoculture, but diametrically opposed to what I'm seeking.

[I]f you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, the problem is your unwillingness to tolerate their expression of dissent from your orthodoxy, not their willingness to express it.

I do have a problem with Uncle Ralph wanting to kill all the muslims because it dissents from my orthodox view that people should not be killed for their religious views. And I'm positively prejudiced against Cousin Jim, who has expressed not only that "the homos" shouldn't marry but that they should be sent to camps until they learn to love the "correct" gender.

But sure, I'm the one who can't tolerate dissent.
posted by aureliobuendia at 8:01 AM on December 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


Somehow we managed to have a democracy prior to the advent of Web 2.0.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:06 AM on December 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah, "we need this for democracy" absolutely does not hold water.
posted by Dysk at 8:10 AM on December 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


BTW -- if you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, the problem is your unwillingness to tolerate their expression of dissent from your orthodoxy, not their willingness to express it.

Ah, the good old difference of opinion fallacy, where the problem is meaninglessly abstracted to "you just have a different point of view" because the arguer knows that actually discussing what that difference really is would be fatal to the argument.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:23 AM on December 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


Removing media comment sections is a TERRIBLE idea in democracy terms. Media sources that are of public record (NYT, WSJ, etc.) or have a non-partisan stance (every local television station, most local newspapers), are places where a cross-section of people actually congregate and the comment section (in theory) accommodates discussion and can help editors and reporters understand gaps or biases in their coverage. Remove those comment sections and then discussion devolves to the monoculture of your social media feed or your favorite message board or blog.

The theory has been thoroughly debunked in practice. It has about as much credibility as the idea that waving magnets over the body will balance the humors and cure disease.

The reality is that computer-media communication favors a handful of highly motivated cranks who drive out other participants through the use of argumentative speech acts and high volume. Outside of a few enclaves, the result is that communication skews white and male because many women and other minorities don't put up with that.

Journalism has always had mechanisms for getting feedback from readers. You hire an ombudsman and accept letters/notes/comments, and you curate and publish the best. But open comment sections, unless rigorously moderated, primarily serve to create a venue for your readers to argue with each other. Which in turn, feeds high volume/frequency since you can "win" through excessive post frequency.

My view is that a "review" structure similar to newegg is likely better than a threaded or semi-threaded structure. You only get one response to an item, and you don't get to debate other people's responses. That's vulnerable to brigading, but it reduces the power of high-volume "someone is wrong on the internet" crankery.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:31 AM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


[I]f you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, the problem is your unwillingness to tolerate their expression of dissent from your orthodoxy, not their willingness to express it.

So I shouldn't have unfriended that ex-coworker who wanted to turn Iran into a glass parking lot? Or the neighbor who thinks that black people should just do what police tell them to do and then they wouldn't get shot in the back?
posted by octothorpe at 8:32 AM on December 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


The nonpartisan National Institute for Civil Discourse has an awfully pale, powerful and wealthy advisory board.

There is a long history of tone policing as a method of stifling social change. Just look at the opposition to the disruptive tactics of Black Lives Matter. The tone police said "protest peacefully and unobtrusively and we are more likely to listen." Then Colin Kapernick did. And they rained a barrage of further tone policing on him.

Convincing your political opponent to show up for a gun fight armed only with "excuse me sirs may I have some rights please" has been an effective strategy for a long time.

Also remember the editorial section is the comment section for really rich and powerful people. You'll notice that pundits don't call for silencing themselves.
posted by srboisvert at 8:45 AM on December 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Here's another objection: Many discussion designs originally developed in a pedagogical and academic context to support asynchronous discussion among comparatively small working groups. So the two obvious questions are:

1) Does that design scale to the million-person readership of the New York Times?

2) If journalists and bloggers don't take on the pedagogical/managerial role of discussion leadership, why host a computer-mediated communication format that depends on discussion leadership to work?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2016


I like this idea for a startup:

Provide a pluggable JavaScript commenting system, similar to Discus, require accounts for commenting and charge £1 / site / month for the privilege. Use the funds to hire professional moderators to manage the comments section on behalf of the media outlets, helping them write, establish and maintain community guidelines. If enough money is left over after costs, either profit or profit and share with media outlets as an additional revenue stream to bolster quality journalism.

Memail me if you have a few hundred thousand going spare or contacts in the media industry 😉
posted by jonrob at 9:03 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Removing media comment sections is a TERRIBLE idea in democracy terms. Media sources that are of public record (NYT, WSJ, etc.) or have a non-partisan stance (every local television station, most local newspapers), are places where a cross-section of people actually congregate and the comment section (in theory) accommodates discussion and can help editors and reporters understand gaps or biases in their coverage. Remove those comment sections and then discussion devolves to the monoculture of your social media feed or your favorite message board or blog.

Yeah, people have debunked this already but I just wanted to reiterate the point that yeah, maybe some techno-utopian rhapsodizing about the potential of the Internet in 1990 might have bought this but the actual reality we see today points somewhere very different. The demographics of people who post comments on newspaper articles are very different from the demographics of society generally and certainly don't represent a cross-section. I don't know the exact reason for this but as a queer, non-white woman, I can say that I've never posted in these wonderful bastions of democracy that are newspaper comment sections because I find that I'm happier when I'm not constantly exposing myself to comments from strangers on my basic lack of worth as a person.
posted by armadillo1224 at 9:23 AM on December 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


Related: a day in the life of a Times troll (UK Times, that is, not NYT).
posted by Pallas Athena at 9:26 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't really care about newspaper comment sections but - I gotta say what srboisvert said. "Now is the time for civility and bipar" - uh, fuck off?
posted by atoxyl at 9:37 AM on December 16, 2016


So I shouldn't have unfriended that ex-coworker who wanted to turn Iran into a glass parking lot? Or the neighbor who thinks that black people should just do what police tell them to do and then they wouldn't get shot in the back?

In all honesty there probably is a tradeoff between "it can't hurt for them to know someone who provides some connection to a different way of thinking" and "sorry but I just can't deal with it." It's not your job to talk to them, I mean, of course not, but if you can deal with it - while I don't think people are generally influenced much by opposing viewpoints in online comments they sometimes are by people they know IRL.
posted by atoxyl at 9:43 AM on December 16, 2016


BTW -- if you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, the problem is your unwillingness to tolerate their expression of dissent from your orthodoxy, not their willingness to express it.

You clearly haven't read the racist bile on the FB page of my local paper. These people have no issue with making a monkey joke in relation to Obama under their own name.
posted by COD at 9:57 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Unmoderated online comment forums are magnets for noxious speech. For years they have carried people’s discontent out into the world, while the writers sit safely behind screens.

Writers work on both sides of the screen, and one side puts together the material that comes before the comments section. Perhaps the comments would read a bit differently if the journalist side of the equation (including headline writers) would stop pre-framing articles in fighting terms like "slams," "rips," "trashes," and so on.

My commitment to civility is promising to never click on / read an article with a headline like that. I've been tweeting my local paper this past year telling them as much every time an article like that goes to press. It's been a lot of tweeting.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:02 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


"BTW -- if you think comments that people make with their public Facebook handle are uncivil, "

MY problem was the legally actionable libel and the criminal threats against and doxxing of my four-year-old to pressure me to change my vote on an issue of local substance, but, you know, you do you. Maybe I'm just insufficiently tolerant of incivility when someone threatens to kill my four year old. I mean, the cops certainly thought I had a point that my internet trolls had moved beyond the bounds of civil discourse and well into the bounds of criminal threats, but you're right, the problem is probably that I dislike divergence from my orthodoxy.

(And yes, they made these comments with their real names. It was a blessedly short investigation at least.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:05 AM on December 16, 2016 [20 favorites]


I don't know how many times I've said it, but...
Putting a paywall will only play into PR firms specialized in astroturfing. A newspaper here at a point only allowed comments from subscribers. While €10 for some people might be another expense they can live without (because austerity), it's not hard to imagine a PR firm with an standing ops in the high five/low six digits per year or more to buy two or three or five dozen accounts to repeat the same talking points over and over again.
The end result was the pattern emerging of comments started to echo very eerily the same slants news outlets that worked mostly on planted news - or occasionally against it, which is likely the depressingly closest thing I'll ever see to cyberpunk corporate wars.

These days, they just planted a new director who's a good boy and buried the comments section out of sight.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:38 AM on December 16, 2016


Civility in the course of resistance was Martin Luther King's strategy. I think it still applies today.
- hippybear
With respect, I suggest that you read Letter from Birmingham Jail. King is addressing the people who were criticizing his direct action movement in the name of civility. Here's a pertinent excerpt:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
But really, read the whole thing, it's quite good.
posted by indubitable at 11:32 AM on December 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


In a political context where liberals and conservatives almost never interact to share ideas or build mutual understanding, there absolutely is democratic value in creating spaces where people with different viewpoints discuss them. Local news outlets are reasonably well-positioned to foster those spaces and conversations, since most people care at least a little bit about what's going on in their community. That they've refused to do so is perhaps indicative that they won't care to do so moving forward.

Comments sections are pretty low-level in terms of audience/community engagement for news orgs - there's better options from folks like Hearken, Groundsource, the Coral Project, and others - but they could be part of a menu of options for audience engagement. To say we should shut them all down without trying to fix them means we should restrict public opinion to the dominant media narratives (and news folks tend to be older, whiter, and more (neo)liberal than the populace) and the cesspool of social media. Not good democratic outcomes, in my estimation.

I also would argue that we didn't do "fine" before comment sections - lots of people were excluded from that fine - but we're operating in a vastly different environment (fake news, hyperpolarization, "bowling alone") than we were 20-30 years ago when your dad was writing letters to the editor so before's "fine" couldn't exist today even if you shut down all comment sections today.
posted by MetalFingerz at 11:35 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Eliminating online comments is in no way a detriment to democracy. Elimination of a free press certainly is, but people can gather and "talk" in a lot of other places. We had democracy before online comments, when people had to write letters to the editor, show up at town council/school board meetings, stand up on a soap box in the town square. People WILL find a place to air their views, no matter the circumstances or consequences.

The Seattle Times has comments on most of its online articles (but not all... some that are almost guaranteed to result in nasty exchanges simply don't have comment options), but it also still accepts old fashioned letters to the editor, some of which are published in the online edition.

At least one of the local TV stations turned off website comments several years ago (leaving people to comment on their Facebook interface). It has made the website generally more enjoyable.
posted by lhauser at 11:44 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


People WILL find a place to air their views, no matter the circumstances or consequences.

They've found it. It's called Facebook, and it's destroying our country.
posted by MetalFingerz at 11:51 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have to say, given that I'm apparently expected to accept that people are allowed to hold and voice sexist, racist, homophobic etc view, then being segregated off on their own little corner of Facebook where I don't have to see them is an acceptable compromise. There's a lot of presumption that having these opinions where the rest of us can challenge them will do something to change them, but there is little evidence of that that I've seen, and it makes public life so much more exclusionary of women, ethnic minorities, queer people, etc.
posted by Dysk at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


(In)civility strikes me as a bit of a distraction that muddies the waters. In the interest of calling a duck a duck let's say exactly what the problem is: Strategic speech acts including personal insult, high-volume posting, doxing, gotchas, and dogpiling that create a hostile environment and push other users out of the space. In the educational/workspace sphere, we'd call that discriminatory harassment.

MetalFingerz: Comments sections are pretty low-level in terms of audience/community engagement for news orgs - there's better options from folks like Hearken, Groundsource, the Coral Project, and others - but they could be part of a menu of options for audience engagement. To say we should shut them all down without trying to fix them means we should restrict public opinion to the dominant media narratives (and news folks tend to be older, whiter, and more (neo)liberal than the populace) and the cesspool of social media. Not good democratic outcomes, in my estimation.

Sure, there are potential alternatives (although the existing research should inspire a high degree of skepticism about their ability to curb harassment). All of the solutions require an investment in discussion leadership. Journalistic organizations in an environment of declining budgets are not equipped to make that investment without a paradigm shift in what they are.

Without that investment, existing CMC technology is anti-democratic and becomes a space where white men take most of the air. We've known this about CMC for over 20 years now. It's magical thinking to expect a different outcome. And yes, without that investment in discussion leadership, "shut it down" is likely the only ethical practice.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


And let's be real, Milo attacked a trans UMW student using her name and photo from the university stage earlier this week (Warn: transphobia). That's the kind of discourse that's being carried right to online discussions.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:12 PM on December 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have to say, given that I'm apparently expected to accept that people are allowed to hold and voice sexist, racist, homophobic etc view, then being segregated off on their own little corner of Facebook where I don't have to see them is an acceptable compromise. There's a lot of presumption that having these opinions where the rest of us can challenge them will do something to change them, but there is little evidence of that that I've seen, and it makes public life so much more exclusionary of women, ethnic minorities, queer people, etc.

They're only segregated on Facebook until they radicalize enough people to elect white supremacist fascists. I don't think it's the responsibility of marginalized people to challenge bigoted statements from a fringe minority. But that minority holds a lot of sway by being the most vocal, in comment sections and on social media. We have to create structures and public spaces that include more voices that makes directly challenging every shitty statement unnecessary. We're not doing that right now, and the results are pretty bleak.
posted by MetalFingerz at 12:22 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do enjoy going to the Daily Mail, a Brit tabloid. They do not censor any comments. The result is a reminder of awful and stupid so many people are that are voting in our elections. The comments are nasty, mean spirited, stupid, hate filled. And it is a reminder that this and other elections are seldom if eve a battle over ideas or political beliefs.
posted by Postroad at 2:00 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Civility in the course of resistance was Martin Luther King's strategy. I think it still applies today.

To quote a tumblr meme, "They shot him in the face."
posted by stet at 3:30 PM on December 16, 2016


We have to create structures and public spaces that include more voices that makes directly challenging every shitty statement unnecessary.

Yes! And the way we do this is we build up spaces inhabited by a broad coalition of the very people excluded by the loud minority who get their fascists elects, by excluding that very minority. And then building the base to just flat outnumber them come election time. Evangelising, trying to include the bigots as well? It drives the people you need engaged away, and it doesn't change the minds of the bigoted minority anyway.
posted by Dysk at 7:03 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


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