Another comments section bites the dust

The Internet’s power was supposed to be giving a voice to the voiceless. They had their chance and, as a casual stroll through the comments section of most websites reveals, they botched it.

The list of news and information sites giving up on the notion of “engaging” the audience is growing. The latest is Vice, which announced today it doesn’t have time to deal with the anarchy.

As our colleagues at Motherboard pointed out last year, comments sections are really just a continuation of that age-old tradition of letters to the editor, a cherished part of many publications and a valuable way of creating an open dialogue between magazines and the people to whom they are ultimately accountable.

Unfortunately, website comments sections are rarely at their best. Without moderators or fancy algorithms, they are prone to anarchy. Too often they devolve into racist, misogynistic maelstroms where the loudest, most offensive, and stupidest opinions get pushed to the top and the more reasoned responses drowned out in the noise. While we always welcomed your thoughts on how we are actually a right-wing mouthpiece for the CIA, or how much better we were before we sold our dickless souls to the gods of capitalism, or just how sh**** we are in general, we had to ban countless commenters over the years for threatening our writers and subjects, doxxing private citizens, and engaging in hate speech against pretty much every group imaginable.

We don’t have the time or desire to continue monitoring that crap moving forward. Besides, there are plenty of other ways for you to publicly discuss our work and the personal worth of our staff. We’ll still be reading your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and we legitimately do enjoy getting IRL mail (no bombs) sent to our offices in Brooklyn.

Like NPR a few months ago, Vice encouraged people to take their comments over to Facebook and Twitter, where they can be better ignored.

In making its announcement today, Vice said it worried “the people who have constructive and intelligent things to say would consider this a slight against them. Please don’t think that. We know that the vast majority of you are hot, brilliant non-bigots who challenge us to be better every day.”

  • Gary F

    “Vice” never heard of it? A woodworking or Popular Mechanics type magazine?

    • >>”Vice” never heard of it? A woodworking or Popular Mechanics type magazine?<<

      That would be "vise" and is unpresidented.

    • My favorite thing in all of journalism is when David Carr confronted the big shots from Vice, who, like so many upstarts, tried to give the New York Times a lesson on journalism.


      Man, I miss David Carr.

      • Gary F

        Pairing with CNN. After this election is CNN still considered news?

        Vice sure does give you your dose of daily snark.

      • BJ

        That was funny…….

  • bjnord

    Bob, how much moderating do you have to do for the comments here? I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, and it seems like a relatively pleasant corner of the Internet.

    • It’s getting to be a full-time job and one I also have to do during non-working hours.

      • Sam M

        Bob I’ll try to behave myself from now on:(

  • Robert Moffitt

    Extremism in the defense of being overwhelmed by vile comments is no vice, Vice.

  • Robert Moffitt

    People who post comments are all id…oh, wait.

  • Zachary

    Dear NPR Forum.
    I swear this really happened to me…

  • patrick9975

    “Too often they devolve into racist, misogynistic maelstroms where the loudest, most offensive, and stupidest opinions get pushed to the top ‘

    And that is just the left when they talk about KellyAnne Conway and (still) Sarah Palin!

    • I’m not going to delete this but I’m going to explain for everyone why I would normally delete this, since we’re on the subject.

      It’s stupid, it’s pointless, and it does nothing other than to inflame people to have stupid, pointless conversations that create enough noise to drown out any sense of intelligence in order to satisfy some weird craving by someone on the Internet who has nothing valuable to say. It does not inform and convince — as most intelligent debate should, rather to insult and enrage.

      So be better, Patrick, or move along.

  • ec99

    The only Vice I’m acquainted with replaced the History Channel 2.

    As for the elimination of comment sections, Forum Comm got rid of theirs some time ago. The Chronicle of Higher Ed achieved the same thing by placing most of its stories behind a pay wall.

    • KariBemidji

      The worst comments I have ever read on the internet was on the Forum owned Echo Press in Alexandria. A little girl drowned in a hotel pool and the comments directed at her parents were the meanest and most unsympathetic words I’ve seen written.

      • Robert Moffitt

        Media outlets may think they can draw a line between themselves and the comments on their sites, but they really can’t. That’s why when I started the 1st American Lung Association blog years ago, I did not allow comments. You wouldn’t think that lung health would be a target of controversy, but the haters got to hate.

      • ec99

        It’s more likely Forum Comm got rid of their comments section because they were tired of readers pointing out the errors of their stories and logical fallacies of their op/eds.

        • They didn’t like having to interact with the unwashed masses. Zaleski complains when anyone acknowledges his presence in public

    • Bob Sinclair

      And the only Vice(s) I’m acquainted with are the ones of swearing, drinking and smoking.

  • MikeB

    On most sites the comments section holds a mirror to who we are. It ain’t pretty. We, the Royal We, think we are sharp, witty, informed, and a pleasant lot. Most of us are Reavers.

    It’s too much for one person. Bob, thank you for keeping this going. Crowd sourcing the moderating function can create it’s own problems, but a way to keep the conversations going on valued sites.

  • Tim

    Pretty much the only comment sections worth reading are ones with strong, engaged moderation (such as this one), or ones that fly far enough under the radar to avoid much attention, provided they don’t get hit by bots or spammers. Everything else is best avoided.

  • Mike Worcester

    I know this won’t be a very popular opinion around here but has the time arrived for sites like this (or magazines or newspapers) to begin reserving comments for paid members/subscribers?

  • FYI,I’m pretty much eliminating all the “the left stinks! no, the right stinks!” comments. I’m bored by them and they’re not at all insightful.