For the last few days I have been reading articles on both cnn.com and bbc.com to select one for this week’s assignment. I finally found one to use, but I also made an interesting discovery. Many of the articles now do not allow comments. The “comments” section is “turned off” by the news outlet, on the article, but if the reader finds the article on the News channel’s social media outlet, they are free to comment and often there are hundreds of comments found on the article there.
So, in true scholarly fashion I set out to find out when this change had occurred. Ironically, I found an old cnn.com article that explained why comments sections were being phased out (Gross, 2014).
“At CNN, comments on most stories were disabled in August. They are selectively activated on stories that editors feel have the potential for high-quality debate—and when writers and editors can actively participate in and moderate those conversations…Editors and moderators now regularly host discussions on CNN’s Facebook and Twitter accounts” (Gross, 2014).
Another reason for the change was the popularity of the comment forums among internet trolls (people who comment with low-quality conversation, inappropriate language and images) (Gross, 2014).
As a trained journalist, I have mixed feeling about censoring of any kind. However, I do have an issue with the public forum being desecrated (figuratively speaking). Which is honestly what happens when trolls are allowed free reign in the public arena.
We learned this week that the “public area is a ‘sacred space’—a space to be protected, a space to be honored and valued” (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009, p.109). It seems that the executives that are responsible for distributing news feel as though this is the best way to protect the public discourse.
After this discovery, I was back on track to find an article that actually had the comments visible and I found one. As a mother and step-mother of five young African-American women, the recent story of the young Black and Latino children missing from the DC area has really disturbed me. This article listed some alarming stats about Minority children missing in the U.S. “According to the National Crime Information Center, there were 170, 899 missing black children under 18 in the United States in 2016, more than any other category except for the white/Hispanic—a combined number of 264,443” (Jones, 2017).
As troubling as the article was, what was more disheartening was the comments that followed. One commenter posted: “I wouldn’t worry. Trump’s final solution is on the way” and another posted “It’s ok to kill them in utero but we’re supposed to believe Liberals care about them now?” Others cited other political rhetoric and the last one pointed out that law enforcement should investigate specific gangs and referenced several other gangs. These comments all represent undue confidence and unsubstantiated opinion. To believe that one political party is to blame for the missing children and another has a solution that will magically fix it is both undue confidence and unsubstantiated opinion. Then for another reader to believe it is all gang-related is truly unsubstantiated opinion. The likelihood that over 170,000 minority children are missing and each of those incidents can be linked to a gang is just not highly likely at all, even though this reader did link an article to substantiate his opinion.
The danger in censorship is losing the important voices that would evoke emotion and sound individual alarm that would make this tragedy that would cause for personal involvement. For this article, the silent voices are those of the victim’s relatives who have lost children, siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins; teachers who have lost brilliant students; employers who have lost young workers, church leaders who have lost congregants and young volunteer workers. The voices that are largely absent from this comment thread are those who have the ability to humanize this tragedy. Which is my primary concern with the censoring and changing of the comment process moving primarily to social media. I do believe that moving the dialogue to social media channels with moderation instead of removing the process altogether is a decent compromise.
I believe that moderators could definitely enhance the dialogue that is occurring in these sacred spaces. I was a moderator of a public figure social media account some years ago. One of my main jobs was blocking all of the “trolls.” It became such a task that we had to develop a team to maintain it. For the most part, the comments are just varying forms of people who disagree politely or agree emphatically. However, every once in a while, there would be a series of comments that completely destroyed the public arena because one idea attempted to dominate over the others (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009, p.112). After my own experience as a moderator and reading the comments left on this article I understand why comments are being removed, even though, I am not in 100 percent agreement with it. This statement from our week 4 reading sums up my thoughts the best: “Public discourse ethics protects and promotes a space bigger than me, bigger than the horizon of my vision, a place that makes me a bit uncomfortable, that requires me to learn, join, and try to make a difference without ever dominating this sacred space with my ideas alone” (Arnett, Fritz, & Bell, 2009, p.113).
With that being said, I believe that moderators will be mandatory in the future to protect the public discourse as sacred and reclaim the public arena.
Arnett, R.C., Bell, L. M., & Fritz, J.M. (2009). Communication Ethics Literacy: Dialogue and Difference. Sage Publications.
Gross, D. (2014, November). Online comments are being phased out. Cnn.com. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/21/tech/web/online-comment-sections/
Jones, R. (2017, April). Missing black and Latina children are a crisis for all of us. Cnn.com. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/02/opinions/missing-girls-in-dc-jones-opinion/index.html