News websites are squelching readers’ voices by eliminating comments section

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Photo by Lauren Kassien

By: Lauren Kassien

Reuters announced Friday that will no longer allow readers to comment on news stories. In an editor’s note, Executive Editor Dan Colarusso says the agency’s decision stems from the fact that social media has changed the climate of news discussion and debate. Due to the massive influx in reader response within the last few years, Reuters can no longer police all the comments its stories receive. Colarusso says this kind of colorful discussion stems from social media—and that’s where those comments should stay.

Reuters isn’t the only news agency to recently nix its website’s comments section. The Huffington Post prohibits anonymous posts, and the Chicago Sun-Times forbids them entirely. Both websites site uninformed, hateful, and even trollish language as their rationales.

Any reader is hard-pressed to find a story online that isn’t followed by a string of rude, mean, and uninformed comments. Whether the news outlet is covering President Obama’s recent decision to send troops to Iraq or the red-carpet debut of Renee Zellweger’s new face, readers always have something to say.

Social media has played an important role in shaping today’s online etiquette. The anonymity of the Internet, combined with our new ability to instantly post a comment as soon as it pops into our heads, has turned online news sources into battlegrounds in which people from differing races, religions, and areas of the world use hate-fueled words to assert their opinions.

But is cutting out readers’ ability to express themselves really a solution to stopping the fights? Yes, comment sections are vulnerable to harsh and underdeveloped opinions, but they also provide a discussion forum unlike any other. Where else are we able to discuss our response to a news story with someone halfway around the world? Instead of responding with criticism, many readers choose to take advantage of others’ comments to learn about cultural beliefs and viewpoints.

What do you think? Is banning comments breaching a reader’s right to talk, learn, and express themselves? Or is it a justified way to end emotionally-charged, mean-spirited speech on the Internet?

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17 responses to “News websites are squelching readers’ voices by eliminating comments section

  1. This is a really interesting topic–I’m glad you brought it up. I’m torn both ways on this issue. On one hand, I think it’s important to have a way for readers to interact with each other and relay different viewpoints and opinions, but on the other, I agree that the comments more often than not are ill-informed, biased and can be written in poor taste. As an editor for a site like HuffPost or Reuters, I can see how taking this forum away would ensure that the news story is given and received in the clearest way possible, and from that aspect, I think taking away the comments sections are validated, so long as readers are still able to express their opinions either to the editors or staff directly.

    • I’m glad you brought up that you’re looking at this from an editor’s standpoint. As a writer, I think I see the issue differently. If were reporting on a hot-button issue, I would sincerely hope that my story sparks a discussion. As an editor, though, I could see why negative and hateful comments should be eliminated–they just might, as you said, take away from how the story is projected.

  2. As you mentioned, when people comment their viewpoints and ideas on a topic, it has the ability to help readers learn more than they would and gain a different view point. Being able to read a comment from somebody miles and miles away is so cool and interesting, but it is when their comments are harsh and negative that they can become a problem. The purpose of a news article is to give the public the information as fast and accurate as possible. They aren’t there for the public to inject their opinions in. I think that sites eliminating comment boxes is definitely limiting our voice, but I also think it is a good thing. If people want to talk poorly and discuss the news, they can do so on elsewhere or on their Facebook feed and annoy people there. I believe Reuters and The Huffington Post’s actions are justified. They took action to get rid of the hatred, and they’re going to be successful in doing so.

    • You bring up a good point with social media. That was the main argument the Reuters editor used to justify the website’s actions. If people want to discuss the news, they can do so on their own pages. But what about people who don’t have social media? I know that’s rare today, but my parents, for example, don’t use Twitter. They do read online news sources, though. Do you think limiting news discussion to social media outlets leaves some people in the dark, or are people like my parents just behind the times?

  3. I definitely agree with the first response. This is hard topic because I’m torn both ways. One one hand, banning comments doesn’t allow a lot of dialogue on a topic. On the other hand, a lot of people think it’s acceptable to say whatever they want online. They don’t seem to realize that the writer of the article has feelings as well.
    I thought back to what Leonard Pitts said during our discussion regarding the comment section of his articles and how people started to pick fights and talk bad about his mother. This makes me feel as though banning comment sections is a valid solution.
    You also mentioned social media websites. It seems as though Facebook is starting to become really big on sharing other articles. I don’t see any reason why a reader can’t share an article on a social media site and then start their own comment thread from there.

    • This is a good point. But what stops people from posting negative things on Facebook? I’ve seen plenty of harsh and hate-fueled comments about news stories on my feed. Do you think posting comments on Facebook lessens their impact?

      • I do think posting to Facebook lessens the impact, which in my opinion has its pros and cons. The people share an article with their opinion and it shows up to their friends, at which time they can start a discussion. In this form the comments don’t have to be seen by everyone who reads the article and they aren’t associated with the news website as much. That both helps, and hurts, because as I said, other readers can’t see their opinion and that hinders discussion. It’s a very tough topic and one that I’m glad is being discussed on here. I don’t have all the answers, but I do agree that comments sections tend to always be filled with useless hate speech with a couple voices of reason that don’t make any impact. I’m fine with them being removed because usually the people posting hateful comments can’t, or just don’t want to, be reasoned with.

  4. As someone’s whose job it is to monitor websites/social media, I think anononmity is the biggest issue. I’d encourage website to require legitmete email addresses and names with commenting sections but I 100% agree that they are necessary. Isn’t journalism supposed to inform the citizens so they can be active participants? For a safety purposes, comments should be monitored but not ignored.

    • It’s interesting that you’re pro-comments, even though your job is to deal with them. I like your argument that journalism is supposed to inform to spark thinking, questioning, and participation. I agree.

  5. I have absolutely no problem with eliminating comment sections. Please, get rid of them. Nothing good comes out of comment sections that can’t come from any other section of the Internet. If you want to have a meaningful discussion about a news article, post it on Facebook to your friends, find a serious message board, or just talk about it with someone. In most cases, comment sections turn into trolling and flamewarring and overpoliticizing and I think I just made up that last word. But the point still stands- we’ve seen firsthand in the past couple weeks that presumed anonymity makes people do dumb things. Practical anonymity- having to post your name but no one actually cares about it- doesn’t help. Let’s get rid of comments.

    • I agree with your point that comment sections turn into political and trolling war zones, but wouldn’t an article posted to Facebook or on a message board have the same impact? If people have a strong enough opinion, they’ll post it anywhere. What’s the difference between reading it in a comments section below a link to the article or below the article itself?

  6. This is a really interesting topic, and honestly, I guess I don’t really have a strong opinion on it either way. If I had to say, I would keep the comments section. Getting rid of it only angers people if anything, and it makes people believe their rights to free speech are being intruded on. If you don’t want to read the comments, don’t. Is something someone posted anonymously or from halfway around the world really going to change how you read something? I hope not, but if it does then the comments section can be easily avoided by the user rather than trashed all together. Comments do have a tendency to be hateful, and I do agree with what people have been saying about going to Facebook to get worthy opinions, but I would still keep the comments section, if only for the sake of appeasing the public.

    • That’s a really good answer–one that I didn’t think of. Obviously, offending people or making hateful remarks in a comment is bad. But for people who don’t want to be involved at all, they can easily choose to not read it. You bring up a valid point.

  7. This is honestly a hard one to answer. It’s hard to say because it is so easy for the comments section to get out of control and the once un-controversial topic becomes a breeding ground for dramatic everything. However, I do think it is important to keep a comments section, solely because there is still some positivity among all that negativity. It is a great way to create discussions between the writer and readers, so I wouldn’t want to delete it completely. I agree with Morgan. We should find a way to verify people and not let anonymous drama-starters put their random opinions on just any post. I think this would keep drama down, at least a little bit, and that is better than nothing.

  8. This is a very interesting topic and I agree with various things said above. I am torn because I say ban comments because there are uneducated people on the internet who feel they can say whatever they want and that the author should read it. On the other hand, their are educated people out there who want to have an honest debate on topics and would like to do that in the comment section.

    Trying to police all comments is a very large task and I don’t think anyone can watch them all. If comment sections are left, I feel that the publication needs to be hyperaware of what is being said and needs to decide what they will do about a negative comment before it happens. If the company has a plan or procedure for when it happens, it will make the policing task a little easier.

  9. News websites are squelching readers’ voices by eliminating comments section – that’s it, plain and simple. I don’t frequent news sites that don’t take comments as I’m not interested in propaganda. These outlets are simply looking to push their viewpoint unopposed.

    It’s scary really.

  10. This is a great article and I’m completely torn over it. On the one hand I feel like there’s absolutely no need for comments sections anymore. There are all kinds of forums and social media platforms that can be used to discuss articles. On the other hand, I would never want to discourage conversations. As many have already mentioned, the problem is that there’s no telling what kind of comments you are going to get. Well some will be well-formulated opinions, others use comment sections as a way to upset people. I think ultimately it’s up to each publication to decide what will work best for them.

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