Vice Joins Trend Of Killing News Comments Because Giving A Damn About Your Site's Community Is Just Too Hard
We’ve talked a lot about how the trend du jour in online media is to ditch the news comment section, then condescendingly pretend this is because the website just really values user relationships. ReCode, NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg, Popular Science and more have all proclaimed that they just love their on-site communities so much, they’ll no longer allow them to speak. Of course what these sites often can’t admit is that they were too lazy or cheap to cultivate their communities, can’t seem to monetize quality discourse, and don’t really like people pointing out their story errors in quite such a conspicuous location.
Vice recently decided to join this trend and announce it too would be killing comments. And, like most of its counterparts, Vice tries to push the narrative that this is being done because comment sections are just wild, untameable beasts, outside of the laws of physics and man, and irredeemable at best:
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.
Yes, go figure. When you ignore your barn and garden you get weeds, parasites and dry rot. This idea that there’s just nothing that can be done about unruly commenters ignores studies like this one that suggest that often all that’s needed to dramatically improve discourse is to have somebody from the website just show up and give half-a-fleeting damn. It’s just easier to justify your apathy as an editor or business by trying to pretend that news comments are on par with solving the god-damned crisis in the Middle East.
On the plus side, Vice at least admits, albeit somewhat jokingly, that its editors “don’t have the time or desire” to care about its readerships’ thoughts. But Vice also, like so many sites before it, tries to insist that outsourcing all user interaction to the homogenized, noisy blandness of Facebook is “good enough”:
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.
Part of this push is because editors want to return to the Walter Cronkite era practice of letters to the editors, where the outlet can more heavily filter what kind of user feedback is publicized. In this way killing off comments is an attack on transparency, since — buried amidst the trolls and jackasses — quite often sits very legitimate criticism, conversations with authors, corrections and valuable insight. Offload that to Facebook, and what ultimately happens is these user voices are simply drowned out by sheer volume. All while reducing the time the readers you claim to value spend on site (ingenious!).
Vice tops its missive off by trying to convince the babies being thrown out with the bathwater that censoring their ability to speak isn’t a “slight against them”:
We truly value thoughtful comments and critiques from readers, and our biggest worry in killing this section was that 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. That doesn’t change just because we’re losing the ugly stuff at the bottom of our articles.
Except napalming your on-site community because you’re too lazy to weed the garden certainly is a slight against those users. And as we saw with NPR, these users are well aware of this fact, and are more than happy to spend their time on websites that actually value conversation and user interaction, instead of just paying empty lip service to the concept.
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