Media nixing comments sections: When "civility" really means "political correctness"
By Selwyn Duke
When leftists start talking about "civility," watch out for your freedom of speech. This again comes to mind with reports that some media outlets are eliminating online comments sections in civility's name. And while it's not a First Amendment violation (these are private-sector actions), it is largely motivated by the same mentality spawning speech codes on college campuses and "hate speech" laws overseas.
And as with those phenomena, the nixing of online comments is justified with noble-sounding sentiments. As the AFP recently reported, "Last month, Vice Media's Motherboard news site turned off reader comments, saying ‘the scorched earth nature of comments sections just stifles real conversation.' It instead began taking ‘letters to the editor' to be screened by staff."
That's rich. What stifles conversation more than eliminating a comments section completely? As for "real conversation," the content leftist media disgorge proves they haven't the foggiest idea what that might be.
It's also clear that some types of incivility are more unequal than others. Consider that the AFP also cites University of Houston communications professor Arthur Santana and writes, "‘Often the targets of the incivility are marginalized groups, including racial minorities,' Santana said in the Newspaper Research Journal. Santana found readers referred to immigrants as ‘cockroaches, locusts, scumbags, rats, bums, buzzards, blood-sucking leeches, vermin, slime, dogs, brown invaders, wetbacks,' among others." Oh, the humanity!
Now, I'm not sure Prof. Santana knows what a "marginalized" group is, but I invite him to visit some left-wing sites and peruse what's posted about Christians, and traditionalists in general. And consider these comments from under a viral 2012 YouTube video featuring a cute 6-year-old boy providing 10 reasons not to vote for Barack Obama:
And here's one I've had to clean up (as much as leftists' messes can be):
Funny thing, though, we didn't hear about the pressing need to eliminate comments sections after displays such as the above, which aren't unusual in the vile netherworld of leftist websites (the Left is governed by irrational emotion). It's only now — in the midst of an anti-establishment revolution, as represented by support for Donald Trump and the anti-migration demonstrations in Europe — that we hear, "Oh my, Scarlet, the Internet is so full of meanies! Cover your virginal eyes!"
Let's be clear: This has little more to do with "civility" than Marxism has to do with improving the lot of "workers." And while some sites claim that nasty comments sections alienate readers, the feature likely yields a net gain in traffic; after all, it does inspire return visits by those who do participate. So what does largely drive this "civility" concern?
It's all about the media's effort to control the narrative. Think about it: a reporter crafts his propaganda.
Then this is undermined by commenters saying that the emperor-media have no clothes.
For example, a news piece may quote a few citizens talking about how Muslim migrants in Europe have fled danger and have to be accepted in compassion's name. But then commenters not only point out that most are military-age males, weren't actually imperiled, are Sharia-minded and have no intention of assimilating, but also exhibit great zeal while doing so, illustrating that the anti-media side has the facts and great passion. And the combination of ethos, logos and pathos is very powerful.
And here's another example (these are random; countless others could be cited): an article will reflexively refer to, let's say, French National Front leader Marine Le Pen as "far right." This can be effective because what's assumed is learned best.
That is, it can be effective unless commenters point out that she takes mostly statist positions and only distinguishes herself by opposing Muslim immigration. Then pop goes the agenda.
So the media shape a message and then commenters point out that it's misshapen and shape another. The media report in one way and commenters provide a kind of counter-reportage. And this can be intense. Consequently, when I see an article in certain news organs about, for example, immigration or a black-on-white bias crime, I generally know to expect something such as the following message below it: "Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article."
But as they might write in comments sections:
Because that's what it really means. Under such pieces — especially when Drudge links to them — you can expect comments to run 15 or 20 to 1 against the article's narrative. So the site won't accept comments "currently" — or later or ever. For such complete commenter repudiation of the content turns a would-be brainwasher into an "is" laughingstock. It's not virginal eyes that might be offended by commenter incivility that the media worry about, you see, but naïve eyes that could be opened by commenter insightfulness.
Then there's the threat to political correctness itself. It is the leftist media's preferred social code, and they want us to assume it's everyone's preference. But comments sections replete with politically incorrect postings (the good, the bad and the ugly) prove that pcness is much like the old Soviet Union's state ideology: most everyone fears the ideological machinery of the powers-that-be — but relatively few truly subscribe to the ideology itself.
In a way, the shutting down of comments sections is akin to quelling street demonstrations. There's strength in numbers, and these sections are virtual demonstrations where citizens can come together and speak truth to power; they enable people to join a phalanx of philosophical soul mates. Instead of asking, "Am I alone in thinking this article is bunk?" you can know that millions stand with you. But it serves the mainstream media's agenda if you think you're alone.
The AFP article also mentions how forcing people to post comments under their real names, as Facebook does, encourages "civility." Many leftists love this idea, but it's more rank hypocrisy. It's easy to feign principle and bloviate about how people should be man enough to take ownership of their opinions when yours are politically correct. But we live in a time when ex-CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign from Mozilla Corporation for supporting marriage, a real-estate agent was fired for complaining about the flying of a foreign flag on U.S. soil, and pizza-shop owners were forced into hiding by death threats merely for saying they wouldn't cater a faux wedding. We live in a time in which treason is the elitist norm. So why do some liberals favor the elimination of Internet anonymity? Well, how else can you know whom to persecute?
Having said this, true Internet incivility is a problem. I've often lamented the profanity rife on the Web (kids sometimes see these things, you know), a phenomenon that just further coarsens society. But that's not mainly what Leftists complain about when sanctimoniously speaking of "incivility"; in fact, they're the very ones who mainstreamed profanity (unfortunately, too many conservatives follow their lead), as Hollywood movies attest. Yet their lying tongues are far worse than their dirty mouths. For the worst kind of incivility is insincerity in discourse.
William F. Buckley once observed, "Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views." This is the main reason Internet comments sections may shock and offend liberals. They like their echo chambers and don't want to hear other views. It's "out of sight, out of mind." And because they want to control minds, they don't want you to hear other views, either.