Al Jazeera announced it will be the latest news site to end online commenting, encouraging instead that readers interact and engage with its work over social media. “The comments section was hijacked by users hiding behind pseudonyms spewing vitriol, bigotry, racism and sectarianism,” Al Jazeera’s post explained. “The possibility of having any form of debate was virtually non-existent.”
In an Aug. 30 post on blog site Medium, Al Jazeera–a state-funded news and commentary site based in Qatar–announced aljazeera.com’s stories would no longer have comments, despite the network’s stated mission “to give a voice to the voiceless.” Interestingly, because the announcement was posted on Medium, readers could comment on the post about getting rid of comments. In response to the decision, some commenters agreed the comments section was out of control.
One reader, going by the name “Headlamp,” wrote in part that social media isn’t a good replacement and suggested Al Jazeera allow comments on opinion and guest posts. “As a regular commentator on Al-Jazeera’s articles I was saddened to see this announcement but ultimately understand the reasoning behind it,” Headlamp wrote. “There were too many comments which were racist, anti-Semitic, puerile and full of erroneous facts. There were a ‘hard-core’ of individuals who, rather than engage in debate, used the comments sections to put across extreme views and insult others, their race, religion, colour or creed.”
Another reader, Fred Mace, wrote, “I agree with your findings and support your decision. As a regular reader and I felt angry and ashamed with some of those comments. Thank you.”
A third reader, Rene Baron, commented in part critically of Al Jazeera for silencing unpaid commenters: “They have not even tried to moderate their channel. They never told people to behave. They have never insisted people to follow their rules. They have never been transparent on this. ”
Al Jazeera added that it made more sense to nix the comments section than to find another option so that it didn’t waste resources. “This decision also comes at a time when we as a publisher need to evaluate what our priorities are,” Al Jazeera explained. “We feel that rather than approaching the problem with a collection of algorithms and an army of moderators, our engineering and editorial resources are better utilised building new storytelling formats that resonate with our audience.” iMediaEthics has written to Al Jazeera to ask what response it has seen to the move.
National Public Radio ended online comments last year, and in a post this summer, public editor Elizabeth Jensen said the site wasn’t planning to bring comments back because most readers weren’t using the comments section and it was too pricey to have staff work on it.
MSN ended its online commenting section in July because of “abusive and offensive posts.”