February 6, 2016
The Victoria Times Colonist is the latest in a long line of news sites that has closed down its comments sections.
Editor-in-chief Dave Obee says trolls have ruined hope for anything resembling civilized debate.
Stories about the homeless bring vitriolic comments. Anything about First Nations will bring comments that reveal a staggering, sickening level of racism.
Articles about people who have bared their soul to tell their stories, in the hope of helping others, have brought calls for the person to commit suicide. Home addresses have been posted by people trying to harass others.
There may have been a time when readers would have been disappointed, but not so much any more. There seems to be more a sense of relief.
Reaction published in letters to the editor includes “bravo” and “thank you.” And I can see why. The bad commenters have shouted down reasonable people to such an extent that real discussion has died.
In fact there are now paid trolls whose job it is lurk in comments sections and hurl invective at opposing opinions. It’s their job to kill debate, so the people who employ them can carry on with as little scrutiny as possible.
On a small site, the few comments that come in can be moderated without a lot of effort. In those cases, they work. But on larger sites, it’s too much — especially when trolls deliberately target them.
One letter writer pointed out that turning off comments hides the hate but doesn’t make it go away.
And Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole says we still need to confront discrimination and oppression in real life.
The instinct behind the closing of comments sections is perfectly understandable, but looking away from the worst in our culture is generally not a path to progress, and can leave vulnerable people at the mercy of the haters.
He’s right, of course, but I don’t agree that by turning off comments we “dismiss oppression.” Haters feed off each other and reach consensus that what they say is acceptable. It’s not, and they need to know this.