Village Free Press Is Suspending Our Website’s Comments Section

Thursday, November 29, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Since our creation in 2013, Village Free Press has been devoted to creating a platform for the free and robust exchange of ideas critical to the public sphere. For most of our existence, we considered the comments section on our website essential to facilitating that exchange.

Not anymore.

We’re a small operation without the necessary resources to ensure that our comments section does not become weaponized by some people in order to harm others.

Lately, however, we fear that this is what has happened. The potential harms and hazards of our comments section are beginning to outweigh the benefits; therefore, we’re discontinuing comments on our website altogether until further notice.

We don’t make this move lightheartedly. We make it knowing that some valuable insight and feedback from many of our dedicated readers will be lost. Let’s be clear, the vast majority of comments were not harmful. Many were constructive and positively enlightening.

But the energy and time put into handling the few troublesome ones was more than we have the money and organizational capacity to deal with at this time.

We’re not the only news organization that has taken this route. Many others, including  CNN and the Chicago Sun-Times, have abandoned their websites’ comments section because of similar concerns.

Other major news organizations, such as the New York Times, have leveraged the power of cutting-edge technology to construct sophisticated comments spaces that are tightly regulated.

Why? Because, as the country’s newspaper of record explained last year, “our research has consistently shown that Times readers prefer our moderated comments spaces. (Yes, most of our comments are still moderated by hand.)

“By weeding out trolling, abuse and off-topic content, we hope to create a space where everyone, no matter what their background or political beliefs, can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.”

Absent the capacity of a media organization like the Times, we’re left to do what we can to avoid harm in what ways we know how.

Going forward, those readers seeking to respond publicly to content on our site will still be able to freely post comments on our Facebook and Twitter platforms.

Most importantly, we invite readers to submit letters to the editor for publication online and/or in our print edition (we prefer you email them to thevillagefreepress@gmail.com).

Letters, after all, require much more deliberation and thoughtfulness. They require more disciplined action and deliberateness than do online comments.

And they fit an idea of progress that we espouse, one that was best articulated by the great humanist thinker Lewis Mumford.

“For most Americans, progress means accepting what is new because it is new, and discarding what is old because it is old. This may be good for a rapid turnover in business, but it is bad for community and stability in life.

“Progress, in an organic sense, should be cumulative, and though a certain amount of rubbish-clearing is always necessary, we lose part of the gain offered by a new invention if we automatically discard all the still valuable inventions that preceded it.”

We may decide in the future to bring comments back. That is, if we can grow to scale and eventually get the resources to properly moderate them in such a way that minimizes harm and allows critical, robust, constructive debate to flourish.

In the meantime, consider this a healthy hiatus. Sometimes, to mitigate the harms of the internet, you have to simply make do with less of it, which is what we’re doing in this instance. VFP 

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