Why I’m removing onsite comments from the Cobb County Courier

Larry Johnson, the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier seated in an office chair in front of a small table with a laptop in article about Cobb County Courier Meet the EditorLarry Johnson, the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier

Those of you who have been around the internet for awhile have probably noticed that onsite comment sections have been removed from many news sites that once had thriving discussions under the articles.

The discussions were not always civil, and many comments were from people who obviously didn’t read the articles, just the headlines.

But nonetheless most articles were teeming with comments.

Social media changed all that. For the past six years the bulk of comments on our articles have arrived to either our Facebook Page or our Twitter stream.

The exception is high-profile and controversial articles, where some of the comments were getting so creepy and vaguely threatening that I started moderating comments.

That created its own problem. People whose comments didn’t get released from the moderation queue as quickly as they’d like began screaming that they were being “censored.”

So I made a decision to remove comments by phases. First I’d wait for a slow-traffic period so that individuals didn’t decide I was cutting comments off because of them personally.

Then I’d remove the option to comment on new articles, and finally remove all comments.

When I began using the internet as my primary source for news, I was active on the comment section at Politico.com, which would often attract hundreds, maybe thousands of comments to an article.

Comments on Politico are no more. I have no idea when they removed them, but they are gone.

The latest of the high-comment-traffic sites to remove comments was TheHill.com.

The Hill initially put a box at the bottom of every article explaining why they removed the comments, but it’s since been removed as readers got accustomed to the new situation.

So let me give my reasons for turning off comments:

  1. Moderating comments was taking more time than it was worth
  2. Keeping racist and misogynistic comments off the site was a depressing chore, and was rapidly eroding my faith in human nature
  3. Most articles got no comments, but I still had to monitor every day, taking up valuable time
  4. Most people commented on our articles on social media, so the onsite comment section was redundant and useless.

I don’t mind hearing from readers, even if they don’t agree with me, but editing is hard enough without taking on the job of referee.

And as I wrote at the beginning, some of the comments I sent to the trash heap were creepy and a few were vaguely threatening. None of them made explicit threats (I know how to escalate reports on those to the Internet Service Provider the comment came through, or to the police if it gets that far), but some came a bit too close to the edge.

Social media isn’t immune from malicious trolling, but at least there I don’t have to do as much hands-on as I do on the Courier.

So by all means, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and comment away (and please follow us on both). But the onsite comments are going into retirement.