from the a-muzzled-readership-is-the-new-black dept
Add the Toronto Star to the growing list of websites which claim to love conversation with their readers so much, they will no longer be letting readers comment. As we’ve seen with countless news outlets over the last year, it’s not just good enough to close your comment section, for some reason you must insult your readers’ collective intelligence. This can easily be accomplished by pretending you’re not closing down comments because you’re too lazy and cheap to maintain a local community and moderators, but because you’re looking out for the best interests of all mankind.
For example, Motherboard closed its comments section because it just really, really “valued discussion.” The Verge informed its readers this year it was muzzling an entire readership because it was interested in “building relationships.” Reuters, Recode, Popular Science all similarly insisted they were pressing the site visitor mute button because they simply adore the readership relationship and all it entails.
Not to be outdone by this parade of platitudes, Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke this week also informed his site’s readers the Star was eliminating the ability to comment on stories starting on Wednesday, December 16. Why? Because the news outlet simply adores its readership’s passion and insight:
“We’ll also be working to foster more insightful commentary from our readers and engage with you in a more meaningful way. We have passionate, opinionated readers who are eager to get involved in conversations about politics, education, municipal issues, sports and more. You’re talking about the news on thestar.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, LinkedIn and more — and we want to be able to capture all of these conversations.”
How exactly will this be accomplished moving forward? Like all the other comment-killing websites, the Star will lazily shove its readers toward social media, while highlighting only Star approved user thoughts and feedback received privately via e-mail:
“Our objective is to highlight the most thoughtful, insightful and provocative comments from readers and to inspire discussion across other platforms and on thestar.com. We’re looking forward to hearing from you — weigh in today at email@example.com.”
Like most news outlets, The Star dreams of returning to the bygone days of letters to the editor, when you could just pretend idiots and trolls didn’t exist, highlighting only staff-approved thought and opinions. Who needs the bi-directional nature of the Internet? Who wants readers pointing out how your authors have screwed up a story? And frankly, who wants to get your loafers dirty interacting with the unwashed masses?
When you close your comment section you’re telling your users you don’t think their voices matter. When you then insist you closed comments for the sake of “improved conversation,” you’re telling those same muted customers you think they’re all idiots.
As we note every time another site takes the ax to their on-site community, the idea of comment section as some kind of mythical, untameable monster is a myth. Data shows all it takes to dramatically raise the discourse bar in the comments section is actually showing up and giving half a damn. It’s neither expensive nor time-consuming to do, but it’s a whole lot easier to shut down all public, transparent user feedback, and then pretend it’s for the good of the known universe.