Another online comments section has bitten the dust, collapsing under the ponderous weight of nastiness.
This time, it’s Vice that’s thrown in the towel.
Buh-bye, troll nation, the publication said on Tuesday:
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 Rupert Murdoch, or just how shitty 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.
It doesn’t mean that Vice no longer loves its readers, contributor Jonathan Smith emphasized. It’s just that the nuanced, insightful, well-reasoned contributions from readers – you know, the kind of thing that newspapers’ letters to the editor sections have featured and which have provided a welcome, open dialogue about stories and topics – are getting shouted down online.
…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.
Don’t have the time to monitor that garbage, Smith said. Don’t have the desire. Will do just fine reading input on Twitter, on Facebook, or even in snailmail sent to the Brooklyn office, thank you very much – though please, no bombs.
Did the publication really have to say that? Yes, of course the publication had to say that.
Maybe it was tongue-in-cheek, maybe not so much. We’ve all seen what trolls can do: they can unleash gun-brandishing SWAT teams on people who pass laws against doing exactly that.
They can force people to flee their homes or scare them out of appearing publicly, under threat of rape/murder/mutilation/pipe bombs.
It’s not a question of censorship when it comes to that type of commentary, mind you. Threats are not protected speech under the First Amendment. Neither is libel, slander or hate speech.
But yes, online dialogue is going to be that much more silenced with Vice comments being shut down.
Is the baby being thrown out with the bath water? Oh, yes. There have been a whole lot of babies thrown out by an increasing number of sites draining filthy bathtubs.
Vice has joined the ranks of The Telegraph, Popular Science, Recode, Mic, The Week, Reuters, The Verge, and USA Today, to name just some of the bathtub drainers.
Why should we expect any of those sites to spend time and effort policing uncivil commentary?
Researchers have found that rudeness, obscenities and attacks on other commenters create what they’ve dubbed the “nasty effect”. It’s an effect that results in a drop-off of reader trust in content: one that causes readers to hold the content in lower esteem.
In other words, sites’ reputations are tinted, or tainted, by whatever’s bubbling up from the comment sections at the bottom of their articles.
Writers themselves suffer on an individual basis as well.
Jessica Valenti, writing for the Guardian:
For writers, wading into comments doesn’t make a lot of sense – it’s like working a second shift where you willingly subject yourself to attacks from people you have never met and hopefully never will. Especially if you are a woman.
Speaking of gender, the Guardian itself recently lifted the lid on what was, as of April 2016, 1.4 million demeaning and insulting comments that it had blocked since it first invited readers to opine in 2006.
The newspaper researched the specific subject matter that attracts the most abuse, looking at it through the lens of the widely held theory that women attract more splatter than men.
The Guardian’s results didn’t hold any surprises:
Articles written by women got more blocked (ie abusive or disruptive) comments across almost all sections. But the more male-dominated the section, the more blocked comments the women who wrote there got (look at Sport and Technology). Fashion, where most articles were written by women, was one of the few sections where male authors consistently received more blocked comments.
When we’ve written about the subject of hate-filled comment sections in the past, readers have sometimes pondered this question: how many comments are blocked as being abusive or disruptive on Naked Security? The answer is that, like the Guardian, subject matter influences the tone of comments left for us when we write about various security subjects.
The site automatically filters out “an awful lot” of comment spam, and what’s left over is moderated by humans, according to Mark Stockley, one of the Naked Security admins who sift through comments. Mark says that very few are removed on the grounds of being abusive or disruptive.
A minority of comments get binned for being “nonsense or wildly off-topic,” Mark says, but few stray into toxicity.
The infosec equivalent of subject matter determining the tone of comments, if you’re curious: Naked Security’s history reflects that of tech journalism at large. In the not too distant past, when we’ve written about Macs, Apple fans who’d already arrived at a cherished point of view used to chime in to state, in no uncertain terms, that Macs don’t get viruses. “At all. Ever,” Mark recalls.
Ditto Linux fans. These days it’s Tor fans who’ll tell you that all the bad stuff people find on the dark web isn’t there and any reporting of it is just shilling for The Man. Or something.
If that’s as bad as it gets, well, phew. Naked Security is better off than many of the publications online, from what we can tell.
And that’s a blessing. As it is, publishers not only have to deal with spam comments and the poisonous effects of vitriol in their comment sections – some of them also face the potential for legal liability.
We saw that this past May, when Facebook, YouTube and Twitter faced legal action over hate speech. Three French anti-racism groups declared that they’d be filing legal complaints against the three platforms for failing to remove “hateful” posts aimed at the black, Jewish and gay communities.
We also saw that legal liability in a 2015 court case in Estonia, when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that an online news site could be fined for defamatory comments left by anonymous readers… comments that were left up by the newspaper for six weeks after the injured party asked for them to come down.
Trolls and venomous people are only the tip of the iceberg: the most visible part of the problem.
The problem extends far below the surface, beyond the viscerally repellent environment of poisoned comment sections.
That’s where an ongoing effort is needed to stop comment spam, fake news and malicious links.
Don’t blame Vice and the like for censorship when it decides it’s had it with comment sections.
Beyond the value of discourse between publishers, writers and readers, there are real costs to keeping those sections scrubbed and safe.
16 comments on “Vice is the latest site to call it a day on comments”
Yet vice is still allowing comments on its YouTube videos, and, as we all know, YouTube comments are about the most toxic place on the Internet.
At this rate there won’t be free speech any more, only speech that is moderated, politically correct and do not offend anyone. Silenced are those who do not have anything nice to speak…
These are private sites, if you want a place for comments that you like, please provide a space for others. Your argument is like demanding people let others into their home to come in and insult and threaten them and they can’t make them leave.
I happily unfollowed Vice as of yesterday because of this. Their writing was sometimes okay, but negligible at best and I don’t miss it one bit- if you can’t handle the comments, get off the web Vice. Or grow a thicker skin. Seriously.
I think some people ma be missing the point here. Free speech whether verbally or on line where it is legally permitted is not the real issue as this is one of the cornerstones of a supposedly democratic society. The real issue comes when individuals move from having diametrically opposed views to one another which should be allowed to be voiced resort to bullying and threatening comments in order to silence the other, or when as mentioned here commenters automated or other wise post gibberish or wildly off topic text, this is neither helpful or relevant. Should there not be a line drawn that prevents the absolutely vile threatening or vulgar comments that result in some of these comment sections. Unfortunately man seems to still be languishing in Neanderthal times when it comes to many topics that sites invite commenters to make posts and it is because of this that the arguments for censorship are backed up. Others whether individuals, organisations or entire nation governments may use censorship for control of their people which is morally wrong if not illegal but then so is the vile trolling, bullying and threatening comments that some people post. Again I say where do you draw the line and who decides what the rules for censorship are, something else everyone will say it should be them. My personal opinion is that there is no fair way of censoring any type of comment, whatever the topic or level of positiveity or negativity as there will always e someone who disagrees. However on the whole that many members of the human race seem incapable of self governing or restraining themselves when it comes to voicing their opinions without resorting to the use of bullying, name calling or threats of violence therefore humanity is not ready to allow this so maybe they should be removed in their entirety across all media and sites that use such functionality.
There are very few sites that offer comments that are worth reading. No big loss in many cases.
Writing threats, hate speech, doxxing and spam constitutes abuse, and the TOSes usually spell out the consequences. The websites could block the abuse. But now, with millions of people on the Internet, the sheer volume of crazy outweighs the benefit of free speech. I wonder if there could be a filter (kind of like the ones that block cursing) developed that could pre-search any comments for patterns of abusive content in the comments?
Regardless, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. The dogs are winning.
My POV is that a site (referred to here as “you”) chooses to provide the output of its selected writers as a service to its readership. There is a cost of providing this service, and you clearly find doing so worthwhile. I see providing a comment facility as another service you may or may not wish to provide, that will also incur a cost. This cost will be higher if you moderate comments either before or after the fact (hold for approval or remove if inappropriate). Moderation before the fact is probably more costly. You can decide whether the cost / benefit ratio of providing comments is worth it, just as you can decide whether the cost / benefit ratio of providing the original articles is worth it.
Prohibiting or curating comments is not censorship because the decision is being made by the owner of the “press” and not by government. FWIW, I find comments sometimes useful, and don’t get offended by the idiots, although I appreciate comment curation to keep the discussion on topic.
Honestly shocked people even read vice since it has lost so much credibility after Simon Ostrovsky left.
“Trolling” to Vice is more than likely just people pointing out the utter and complete BS they write.
“Threats are not protected speech under the First Amendment. Neither is libel, slander or hate speech.”
While vile hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.
Lisa Vaas was probably confusing hate speech with fighting words or incitement to imminent lawless action, or maybe remembered the bans on hate speech in other countries that generally protect free expression (like Australia and the UK, where Sophos has a substantial presence) and concluded that it’s something that would reasonably be bannable in the US too (She is from the US, but even though the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that hate speech is protected, it’s common for Americans to believe that it isn’t).
Which leads me to wonder, at what point does a baying mob of coordinated hate speech become a threat? If a gang of people surrounded someone in the street and screamed vile abuse it would certainly feel like a threat. Driving people off the internet is definitely a goal for some of these people, if their targets were not feeling threatened then the tactic wouldn’t work. And using the excuse that some people need a thicker skin really doesn’t cut it for me, politeness should be the default, not bellowing. (I’m not saying there are not occasions where a bit of yelling is necessary but some people seem to have no filters at all.)
Just wanted to compliment the well laid-out and presented nature of the article. Found it interesting. Thanks.
(P.S. I know I usually only pop in for typos and to ask questions to sate my curiosity, but I do come here for the articles.)
I do find it strange that there are groups of people that are exclaiming “hey free speech should be 100% free!” and then you ask them what they want to talk about. And their response is “I just want to troll people when im sitting at home”. smh
I understand their plight. Back in gaming pages forums we would first ban the user then the IP, then the range. Trolls/negative post made the boards a lot of work. At one time we created a filter that changed all the potty words to things like Pumpkin, Love, Hugs. It was quite funny to reread the board.
The only place I loved comments that took them away, was CNN. So many people called them out on the inaccurate reporting/lies that they reported as news. It was the one redeeming quality of the site.
I value and enjoy a fair portion of the comments here.