Why we’re removing comments on most of Inquirer.com
The comments on far too many Inquirer.com stories are toxic, and have gotten worse as mounting extremism and election denialism pollute our national discourse. Our staff and readers deserve better.
As of Feb. 1, we are removing comments from most of Inquirer.com. Comments will still be available on Sports stories and our Inquirer Live events, and there will be other ways for people to engage with our journalism and our journalists, including our letters section, social media channels and other features that our readers have become accustomed to, as well as new capabilities that we’re developing.
Here’s more about this change and what you can expect to see.
Why are we doing this?
Commenting on Inquirer.com was long ago hijacked by a small group of trolls who traffic in racism, misogyny, and homophobia. This group comprises a tiny fraction of the Inquirer.com audience. But its impact is disproportionate and enduring.
It’s not just Inquirer staff who are disaffected by the comments on many stories. We routinely hear from members of our community that the comments are alienating and detract from the journalism we publish.
Only about 2 percent of Inquirer.com visitors read comments, and an even smaller percentage post them. Most of our readers will not miss the comments.
Why make this change now?
For more than a decade, we’ve tried to improve the commenting climate on our sites. The goal has been to create a forum for a civil, open exchange of ideas where readers could offer relevant feedback and criticism of our work.
Over the years, we’ve invested in several methods to try and accomplish this. None of it has worked. The comments at the bottom of far too many Inquirer.com stories are toxic, and this has accelerated due to the mounting extremism and election denialism polluting the national discourse. You deserve better than that.
Racism has been a persistent presence in Inquirer comments. The Inquirer is committed to making the changes required to be an actively anti-racist news organization. Removing comments is a step in the right direction, with many more to come.
Why will comments remain available on Sports and Inquirer Live content?
Our review found that the commenting climate in Sports is better than elsewhere on the site. The conversations are more relevant to the stories, and there are fewer personal attacks. We’ll now be focusing all of our moderating resources on Sports, and our Community Guidelines will be strictly enforced.
We’ve also found that Inquirer Live events benefit from having a comment section that allows viewers to post questions in real time. And we may from time to time make comments available on stories when we want to solicit reader feedback. We expect those instances to be rare, and those discussions will be closely monitored.
How will we stay in touch with readers?
Though there are some exceptions, comments have generally not been an effective way for our journalists to get tips, receive relevant feedback, or gauge reader sentiment.
We are also working on building new two-way connections with our existing audience and with new audiences we hope to reach. Online, you’ll soon find new features and capabilities on Inquirer.com. In our journalism, we will be emphasizing community connection and dedicating significant new resources to help that dialogue take form, both online and in person (when it is safe to do so, of course).
Why not just invest in more moderation?
Experience has shown that anything short of 24-hour vigilance on all stories is insufficient. The dedicated bad actors in our commenting community are adept at changing their identities. Many have been banned over and over again, only to reappear with a new username later the same day. Many news organizations have made the decision to eliminate or restrict comments in recent years, from National Public Radio, to The Atlantic, to NJ.com, which did a nice job of explaining the decision when comments were removed from its site.
We’d rather invest in vital local journalism than an endless and expensive game of comment whack-a-mole.
Are we turning off comments to silence criticism? Is this a violation of the First Amendment?
No. The Inquirer embraces diverse points of view, relevant criticism of our work, and robust debate. Some comment threads include those elements. Most do not.
The First Amendment limits the government’s ability to regulate speech. It does not require news organizations to treat all speech as equal, or to provide an open forum for comments. Rather, the First Amendment ensures The Inquirer’s right to publish what The Inquirer chooses to publish.
What happens to old comments?
Comments on articles prior to Feb. 1 have been closed.
If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.