I’ve been meaning to write on the issue myself for the last few weeks – it’s been the subject of several abortive drafts.
Beachlime did, however, touch on this issue not too long ago too.
I think it has become increasingly apparent to those who frequent the online RG and dare to peek at the comments section – perhaps more out of perverse curiousity than active interest in engaging – that the RG has steadily, and until recently, quietly been reducing the scope of articles allowing comments.
I’ve got a mixed feeling about comments…
On the one hand, yeah, they really do drive up the viewing stats. Quite frankly, while only a fraction of viewers actually comment, the sometimes wild west to and fro of the comments greatly increases the numbers of people viewing this or that post.
On the other hand, moderating comments is one major pain in the butt, and the ‘bottom half of the internet’ is very Lord of the Flie-esque.
It takes a lot of time, and a lot of patience, to deal with comments. And comments all too often reduce themselves to the extremely negative, with insults and personal attacks being particularly common features.
That saps a lot of positive energy.
I originally had very lax moderating on this blog. People could post, and only comments containing certain key words I set the filter for, they’d go up immediately.
I had this rather naive belief that people are fundamentally good and would self-police their conversations. I hadn’t factored in the power of anonymity or the impersonal distance to corrupt conversations in the virtual world.
I gradually increased my moderating, being more active in weeding out certain comments, and then eventually I burned out, spurred on by a commentator who was hell bent on issuing death threats (complete with addresses) towards various public persons.
I shut it down (the comments), at least temporarily, more to give my mind some peace, but also to try and cool people off, even at the expense of my stats.
Today I allow comments, but approve all of them. It stifles conversation, but I think it leads to a better overall quality.
I welcome comments, partly from a stats point of view, but also because it allows people to challenge me and get me thinking. And often it leads new ideas, and the conversation often eclipses the original post itself.
In the media
For the media, I think the comments can similarly enhance our media too.
I believe they can complement articles, and even help generate novel stories.
All too often however they end up as mudslinging and personal attacks, along with borderline libel/defamation.
They may drive up readership, but they actually detract from the story and generally lower the overall quality of discourse in our society.
They’ve actually turned me off from reading the comments, and I’ve generally stopped commenting on the RG and Bernews as a result.
And since the revelations of the underhanded and despicable actions of the BPAC group, with their hiring of bloggers to manipulate discourse in the run-up to the election – and for all we know still are – the credibility of these online comments is now questionable at best.
And it’s not just anonymity that I think contributes to this. It’s the distance that the virtual world allows, as we’ve seen in the quality of discourse on our political FB pages, which are only marginally better than the media comment threads.
The Fumbling RG
Even though I’ve generally been turned off by the comments, I’ve also been equally disappointed by the actions of the RG.
Having allowed comments, and to now increasingly restrict them – and initially without explanation – along with this rather defensive editorial, it’s hard not to question the RG’s motives here.
My own reading is, having moderated comments on this blog, and knowing the amount of time it involves, and in light of the general crisis of the media today, the RG’s just too unstable (editorially, financially and in terms of labour power) to give moderation the time and resources it requires.
The handling of moderation by the RG is, to me, a symptom of crisis the RG’s in.
Despite being freed from the competition of the Sun, I think it would not be a surprise to anyone if the RG is struggling itself, and this change in handling of comments reflects this.
However, the RG actively encouraged it and the entitlement of being able to do so. To restrict that now, and in such a poorly handed manner, namely failing to explain their reasons – or allow even their editorial rant on the subject to be challenged – just looks poor and reflects the institutional crisis I think they’re having.
Just a quick note on Bernews…
Bernews has a fundamentally different model than the RG. It appears to be based on presenting the raw story – the full press release, etc – and allowing the resulting comments to add to or otherwise become the story itself.
I use Bernews mostly to get most up to date news in its rawest form.
For most, however, it’s not simply the best site for up to date news, but the draw is the comments itself. On Bernews one could almost say the comments are the story.
And Bernews has a fraction of the resources that the RG has – and yet, for the most part (being on the receiving end of personal attacks perhaps biases my view there, lol), does a decent job of moderating comments.
Which begs the question, if Bernews can do it, however imperfectly, why can’t the RG?