I can only think of one real human that’ll be really ticked off about this, but Creative Loafing Tampa Bay just pulled the plug on the website’s comments section.
This decision came after much discussion in the CL office and between editors at the seven papers owned by our parent company Euclid Media Group. There's been a backlash against comments sections going on for a few years now, with outlets like Popular Science, NPR, VICE, Reuters, Mic.com, and locally, the Tampa Bay Times, all ditching them.
On paper, they were a great idea, a utopian notion of the World Wide Web providing an instantaneous "platform" for "dialogue" between reader and creator (with perhaps a dash of cynically pumping up pageviews for ad revenue thanks to repeat visitors).
And sure, we’ll miss the insights of some of you who added thoughtful perspectives that our articles missed, especially when you chimed in with the occasional correction to a factual error. That’s why we’ve created a space for that thoughtful feedback (see below).
But in reality, comments sections everywhere routinely devolve into racism, misogyny, Hitler (via Godwin's Law), spam, and personal attacks. It's even worse for women journalists, who are called names far more vicious than their male counterparts. We refuse to believe some of you aren't 13-year-olds, but we know some of you are grown men. The good news for you trolls, bots and keyboard terrorists is that CL’s Facebook and Twitter pages still have room for your pithy, oh-so-important thoughts.
Ideally, there would be a web editor who could moderate the comments, but with staff cuts in recent years—we literally have two full-time staffers for the time being—that isn't really possible. Do understand, however, that hateful, violent and generally dangerous comments on CL’s social media pages will still result in a ban.
But give yourselves credit, readers, because CL hasn’t had to spend too much time playing whack-a-mole trying to ban trolls who kept creating new accounts (and even new IP addresses) so they can impersonate other commenters and just generally cause chaos.
In short, the comments section has devolved from its original purpose. So bye-bye.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: "How DARE Creative Loafing stifle free speech!" Well, is it really free speech if the trolls are granted anonymity and are held to a different standard than our own writers? As editor-in-chief, I actually care about what's published on CL, and that should be extended to the comments section. Plus, with comments sections being at the bottom of the article, it was as if the trolls were literally getting the last word. And some of you seemed to be skipping reading the article and going straight to the comments section anyway.
Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have famously distanced themselves from the responsibilities of moderating what their users post because they claim they aren't "publishing companies." Well, we are a publishing company. So why should we act like a social media platform?
People act like comments sections are some inalienable human right, but there's really no historical analog for them—except for maybe the old-fashioned letters to the editor. Remember those? We’re bringing that back to the print edition of CL… if people write letters or emails anymore (just kidding, we know you do).
If you really want your voice to be heard, guess what? You can still do that! You can email comments or corrections to [email protected]. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes
I promise you I'll read them. And if it's good enough, maybe we'll print it in our letters to the editor page. You know, like the good old days—before comments sections.
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