The Guardian will be shutting down comments on hot button topics involving race, immigration and Islam. On specific articles some authors may choose to have the comment section open, but it will be tightly monitored and heavily moderated.
“[…] some news sites, including Reuters, CNN and the Chicago Sun-Times, have abandoned comments altogether or heavily restricted them; others, such as the New York Times, pre-moderate every post. That’s not going to happen here, but things are about to change.”
This was a common topic that arose in the Game Journo Pros group as well, with some firmly advocating against comment sections while some thought it was beneficial.
In the case of The Guardian, the post from the weekend Observer notes that future articles about controversial topic matter such as the Syrian refugees, general immigration, race relations and anything dealing with Islam will automatically have the comments turned off, with only some special cases affording for heavily moderated comments. Pritchard explains in the post…
“Certain subjects – race, immigration and Islam in particular – attract an unacceptable level of toxic commentary, believes Mary Hamilton, our executive editor, audience.
“[…] it had been decided that comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible.”
Below the article, the comment section responding to the act of closing down comments on hot button issues spawned the most interesting and thought provoking discussions.
Sambeckett2 made a very observant point about the timing of this policy from The Guardian, writing…
“Odd that the choose to adopt this policy after several articles on events in Cologne which have been comprehensively torn to pieces below the line – not by ‘trolls’ or ‘bigots’ but by perfecly reasonable people making perfectly valid points. […]
“They can’t take people questioning the party line on these issues, as even left wing readers are now doing. Their response? Instead of reflecting on that party line in light of valid criticism, they shut down free debate (comment is free? Really?) and block out those who raise awkward questions.”
Nicholas Hallward felt as if the end result of this maneuver would result in more trolls being birthed through the enactment of censorship, writing…
”I can see what you’re trying to do, but I think this will backfire on you. There are already a number of people posting about the Guardian’s unwillingness to have a discussion in those areas and this will just look like you want to stifle any discussion, no matter your intent, unless you have regular opportunities to discuss those areas (heavily moderated or otherwise) I don’t see this pleasing anyone. […]
“Your actions may well end up creating more angry trolls rather than stifling them.”
The comment section exploded with a lot of savvy, intellectual questions being asked about The Guardian’s intention of closing down the comments on this issues, especially in the face of so many other outlets either outright lying or failing to report on some of these topics in order to maintain a very specific kind of media narrative depicted to the public at large.
The Cologne cover-up is a prime example of the media failing in their duties to report truthfully or even pursue all the facts.
The Guardian’s executive editor Mary Hamilton felt compelled to step foot into the comment section fray, responding directly to Hallward’s post by stating the following…
“I should point out, I think, that we’re not closing comments on these areas entirely. Instead we’re hoping to have a single space for discussion, where we can be more attentive, rather than the multitude of threads that can often spring up at the same time – bringing the conversation into one place, rather than shutting it down completely.”
According to Stephen Pritchard, the comment section policy will be instituted across each of The Guardian’s regional outlets, affecting their coverage in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia.
According to Pritchard and Hamilton, the staff at the site were not fond of the way the public’s opinion on the way the media has been reporting on these topics have changed, stating…
“This was not a retreat from commenting as a whole, she said; it was an acknowledgement, however, that some conversations had become toxic at an international level – “a change in mainstream public opinion and language that we do not wish to see reflected or supported on the site”.”
An identical measure was instituted across video game and mainstream websites during the coverage of #GamerGate in 2014 as well, resulting in sweeping, widespread censorship across the entire web when falsified information was being peddled by media outlets about the gaming industry.
Regardless of what The Guardian’s writers are saying about a “toxic” community, the readers themselves are stating that they see exactly what’s going on. Mboy writes…
“The Guardian is already infamous for its comment censorship, this is just cranking it up more. Trying to dress that censorship as dealing with offensive posts is just a smokescreen and won’t work.
“Pointing out wild double standards applied to Christianity vs Islam in this newspaper is not “offensive”, yet is highly likely to be deleted. Pointing out glaring and obvious factual errors that A-level students would fail an essay for, in posts by writers such as Jessica Valenti, is not “offensive” either but will also be deleted.
“Nobody seriously objects to the deletion of swearing and personal insults. But the Guardian has a well deserved and bad reputation for deleting posts that expose the poor logic of the author’s own agenda.”
Much like with Gamespot cracking down on comments criticizing feminists and SJWs and then later retracting that stance to say that they only want to foster healthy discussion, we’ll see if The Guardian will live up to allowing dissenting opinions and alternative views that don’t breach their community guidelines the next time they cover a topic that’s bound to spur outrage.
(Main image courtesy of Lawyers, Guns and Money)