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Here's why online comment sections must die

November 18, 2018 in Blogs

By Keith A. Spencer, Salon

Far from being open forums, comments sections filter out thoughtful conversation in favor of hate. Time to end them

Besides inventing clickbait and downgrading many journalists into curators, Silicon Valley has changed our collective relationship to the news itself. This is because online journalism has presided over a peculiar breakdown in the relationship between writer and reader, and especially between editor and reader – exemplified by the concept of the public “comments section,” common to online news sites and social media pages.

Excerpted with permission from “A People’s History of Silicon Valley: How the Tech Industry Exploits Workers, Erodes Privacy and Undermines Democracy,” by Keith A. Spencer, available now from major booksellers. © 2018 Eyewear Publishing.

In the old days of print media, the only way for readers to talk back was to mail (and later email) comments to editors who would then pick and choose the most relevant or interesting ones (and weed out the racist, sexist, or just plain mean ones). Online comment sections usually remove editors entirely. Now, anyone is free to go on any news site that allows comments and post whatever inflammatory thing they wish – or reply angrily to other comments pseudonymously. One can engage in the same exercise on most social media sites, such as microblogging platforms like Twitter, video-sharing site YouTube, or link aggregator Reddit. British think-tank Demos conducted a study of Twitter in 2014 in which they found “approximately 10,000 uses per day of racist and ethnic slur terms in English.” These online spaces are frequently used to cyber-bully, shame and humiliate others – in netspeak, what we call “trolling.”

Though the concept of comments sections likely began as a naïve experiment in online media, such sections quickly became omnipresent. Many people, myself included, are horrified at online comments on news articles, and particularly at how out-of-tune they can seem with regional cultural values and ideology.

Why do media empires tolerate, even promotesuch comments sections? The unsurprising answer is money. “For nearly its entire existence, Twitter has not just tolerated abuse and hate speech, it’s virtually been optimized to accommodate it,” wrote Buzzfeed reporter …read more


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