Keep your comments to yourself


By Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media

Cliff 2It was a good point well made… that people who comment on stories on newspaper websites do not represent the views of the majority.

Step forward and take a bow Kevin Ward, editor of regional daily the South Wales Argus, who has hit out at the intolerance and bigotry often contained within such comments.

Even citing his own newspaper as an example, Kevin rails in his Editor’s Chair column against the dismal diatribes posted by the generally anonymous contributors who hide behind pseudonyms to peddle their vicious views.

He is exactly right in his suggestion that we should not use the internet ‘as a barometer of public opinion’.

It is probably precisely the opposite.

The internet is inhabited by all sorts of nasties, trolls, nutcases with personal agendas, nutcases with impersonal agendas, crazies, weirdos, idiots, fools, misfits, the simple minded, halfwits, blockheads, clods, the depraved, bigots, racists, perverts (I could go on)….

And that leaves, cowering somewhere in the corner hoping not to be spotted, the right-minded members of society, the man on the Clapham omnibus, the reasonable, the humane, the helpful…

These are the people in the vast majority. The others, the minority, simple shout the loudest in airing their often obnoxious opinions

There is little chance, therefore, that any internet forum – be it on a newspaper website or elsewhere – will remain sensible.

In an ideal world, comments would be supportive and helpful, perhaps bulking out the initial story with extra information, observations and constructive criticism.

And, occasionally, they can inject a welcome dose of humour.

However, while comments on articles may routinely begin in a sane manner it is highly likely they soon will be hijacked and taken over by the splenetic keyboard warriors.

And these trolls don’t care about the sensitivity of the stories upon which they leave their vile views – deaths and tragedies are just as prone to infiltration as any other subject.

It brings back memories of a previous incarnation of mine at a daily newspaper office where one of my tasks was to redact comments from the website to publish in the paper.

What a struggle it was. The vile, the idiotic, the libellous and the racist comments had to be rejected. Then those who had plainly misunderstood the story and whose comments were therefore plain wrong would have to go.

Then comments completely unconnected with the original article would go down the pan, followed by contributors using comedy names such as Hugh Jarse (but much worse, believe me) biting the dust.

Finally those whose previous online behaviour had led them to be banned by the paper would try and worm their way back in with a new ID and email address and would have to be filtered out.

Some days that didn’t leave a lot.

And it does make me wonder, even in this social media age of fast-moving and increasing immediacy, whether it is worth bothering with comments from readers on any stories at all.

Newspapers tolerate them because they offer some sort of connection with readers.

They also can be a handy tool (along with Facebook and Twitter) for beleaguered newsdesks to garner information on fast-developing stories (such as identity of crash victims).

However, for my part, I would rather just read and digest the article and move on to the next one. I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about it.