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The Daily Maverick, a South Africa-based news and opinion site, has joined a growing list of publishers who’ve shut down or suspended their comments sections.
In a piece published by the site’s editorial team, it confirmed that its comments facility has been “until such time as we can either moderate away those who feel entitled to spew hate speech on our property, or come up with some other solution that fosters genuine engagement rather than reductive trolling”.
The teams says it was forced to make the decision because, “a small but significant percentage of our commentators troll our site in order to fling filth at our writers, our opinionistas, and at other contributors and commentators who happen to disagree with their finely tuned Weltschmertz”.
These commentators, it argues, are tarnishing a brand which it has “worked painstakingly hard to build” over the past six years.
Addressing any possible allegation that closing the comments section is a curtailment of free speech, the Daily Maverick team points out that “there is nothing in the unwritten, unsigned contract between a website and its readership that remotely implies a ‘right’ to comment”.
For those interested in sending relevant critiques of the articles published on the site, it’s set up an old-school “Letters to the Editor” column, which it says will allow it to “curate and publish the most coherent and cogently argued thoughts emailed to the editors by our readers”. This column, it says, will be published on the home page daily.
For everyone else, the Daily Maverick team suggests investigating “options such as Twitter, Facebook, 4Chan and other sites which have so successfully offered voices to the voiceless”.
In closing its comments section, the publisher joins the likes of New Scientist, Recode, Popular Science, Reuters, and — locally — News24, and IOL in taking a step which a few years ago would’ve been seen as drastic and potentially disastrous.
A number of sites have however found that killing the comments section has boosted readership and engagement rates on other platforms.
That speaks to the Daily Maverick’s assertion that a comments section filled with hatred can tarnish a brand. Perhaps more importantly, as the publication’s editorial team notes, it allows publishers to user their “precious resources for journalism [rather] than for policing the hatred”.