On 11 September 2015 we’ll all be witness to a seismic change in online discourse here in South Africa. The largest online news hub, News24, will be disabling their comments section.
Personally I think it’s a fantastic move. Comments, especially on controversial articles (of which there seem to be many) can easily get out of hand. The readership on News24 seems mainly to consist of paranoid, angry people who have little else to do than bemoan the state of affairs in South Africa, often tending towards racist slurs and religious intolerance.
Or just plain-old brickheadedness. Take a look at the highest-voted comments on the above opinion piece explaining why comments will be disabled:
There’s a couple of huge ironies in those comments, for one: That disabling comments curbs free speech, despite the fact that Facebook, Twitter, and every social network we know of is not banned (or even monitored) by our government.
The other irony – News24 offers regular users the ability to upload articles and publish them on News24.com, subject to a limited editorial process. And they put this right on the home page, making no attempt to hide it:
And when I say “limited editorial process”, here’s a quick sample of the sort of stuff they allow people to publish:
Some well-written, some poorly-written. Some critical of our president, some not. A good couple of completely incoherent rants. All of them expressions of free speech hosted at News24’s cost.
The biggest irony, though, are all the people vowing to never come back to News24. I’d hazard a guess that they’re the sort of people that didn’t bother actually reading the articles. They came to the site to spar, to fight, to punch eachother up in the comments section, not to actually read any of the content – and then, straightfacedly, accuse the site of having poorly-written news.
It takes fractionally more effort to submit an article. Instead of being able to click right into a comment box and
crap all over the page provide feedback, you need to click this little button first:
That’s literally all there is to it. The next step is to dump your insecurity, racism and paranoia into a slightly bigger textbox, and once it’s submitted, it’ll vent all over News24’s readership within a few hours.
But that little Upload button seems to make all the difference, representing an insurmountable obstacle to the fine champions of online discourse that currently inhabit the News24 comment section. To them, putting the comment box in a modal popup is tantamount to censorship, a fundamental assault on our right to
say whatever the fuck we want, to whoever we want, taking no responsibility for the consequences free speech.
And that’s probably the biggest gap in their reasoning. Anyone, with a few minutes of effort, can get themselves set up on wordpress.com, or blogger.com, or iblog.co.za, or a hundred other platforms. Hell, they can use the Facebook and Twitter accounts they already have, to distribute their vital and necessary opinions to the rest of us.
If you really believe your opinion has merit, that the conversation needs your voice, and that being able to speak out on issues online is fundamental to our health as a democracy, there’s nothing stopping you from setting up your own media outlet online, and finding others who feel as you do – the internet is particularly good at bringing likeminded people together.
But that’s not how these commentators think. They feel it’s their right to be able to
crap over provide their opinions on any piece of content they see online, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with them. They feel the internet owes them that right, when it’s actually a privilege, and one that can be revoked – as it is being revoked from more and more news websites as of late. They see the web as a form of entertainment, and comments sections as the ability to prove to the world that they have something of value to offer, seeking affirmation and validation from a likeminded community.
The comments on News24, by and large, are self-congratulatory masturbation. People with no ambition saying ugly things about their fellow human beings and getting away with it – all the while, fully believing their actions are completely justified, oblivious to the acrid stench their comments leave on the page, drowning out the voices of compassion and reason.
News24, specifically in the Politics sections, has become our very own /b/. No rules, no regard for decency, a free-for-all where nobody has to take responsibility for what they say. I, for one, am glad it’s on the way out, and I look forward to a better future for news.
Maybe something like this: https://medium.com/matter-driven-narrative/questions-are-the-new-comments-5169d0b2c66f