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The death of online comments

One of the most important things that the internet brought to the table was a venue through which people could express their opinions about news and topics. The use of online comments that followed news stories and blog posts has empowered the people. Unfortunately, many have abused it.

This has created an atmosphere where many online publications have chosen to turn off comments altogether. The Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Beast, and The Verge are some of the most popular news sites on the internet that no longer allow comments from users.

The reason is simple: there are enough anonymous trolls to take away from the discussion by turning it into insults and hatred. The standard processes of language moderation don’t always work; just because someone uses the word “slug” doesn’t mean that the comment is bad, but when it’s directed towards a particular racial group, it’s no longer referring to a small slimy animal.

It’s easy to view all of this as a form of censorship and in many ways it definitely is. However, it’s not censorship in the way that many understand it. These sites have a right to allow or not allow comments just as commenters have the right to read or not read the publications.

The nuances of a controlled conversation versus spiteful vitriol are often subtle, but it’s enough to make some hate the idea of discussions. Is there a way to have an intelligent conversation through these sites without allowing it to turn into insults?

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