Certain subjects – race, immigration and Islam in particular – attract an unacceptable level of toxic commentary, believes Mary Hamilton, our executive editor, audience. “The overwhelming majority of these comments tend towards racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse and trolling, and the resulting conversations below the line bring very little value but cause consternation and concern among both our readers and our journalists,” she said last week.
As a result, it had been decided that comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible.
The policy would be worldwide, applying to our UK, US and Australia offices, as the issues were global. And, where they were open, it was likely that threads would close sooner than the typical three-day window. “We want to host conversations where there is a constructive debate, where our audience can help us broaden our journalism with their expertise, their knowledge, their considered thoughts and opinions, and where they can use our site as a platform to make connections with the world and with those around them,” added Hamilton.
This was not a retreat from commenting as a whole, she said; it was an acknowledgement, however, that some conversations had become toxic at an international level – “a change in mainstream public opinion and language that we do not wish to see reflected or supported on the site”.
The joy is that of course they’ve entirely missed the very point of having such comments.
Which is to burst the bubble in which the original writers are living. The true glory of CiF in the first place was the mystification which writers greeted commenters. What? The peasantry do not agree with me? Are not being guided by what I was told over the polenta yesterday? Have ideas and desires that do not accord with bien pensant thinking? It was exactly this which led to the famed Polly’s shout of pendant at me.
Prior to this direct readership feedback they might get the occasional letter to the editor in green ink. But those were carefully not passed on to actual writers: rather, kept as pleasures of the editorial desk if they were particularly juicy. No, really, the pronunciamentos, people really did believe they were speaking for the nation. This is true of right and left: simply because all were so insulated. The demotic papers, The Sun, Mirror, they did better. But The Guardian, as an example, really just didn’t know what people out there were thinking. They were reflecting the world they knew, that upper middle class lefty view, and really, really, did not know what the majority thought.
That’s what those comments woke them up to. It was glorious.
For the decade it lasted.