David Saks
David Saks

News24 right to axe online comments

Earlier this month News24, the country’s largest online news publisher, took a decision not to allow readers to post comments on all but a few select articles. According to its editor-in-chief Andrew Trench, too many commentators insisted on “pushing the boundaries of free speech”, with the result that comments “tediously drift towards hate speech at worst and, at best, are often laced with prejudice. Interesting and considered contributions are drowned out by a cacophony of insults from a minority of users”.

Last month, the Independent Online carried an article reporting on a controversy involving a Johannesburg gym that had refused entry to someone wearing a T-shirt calling for Israel to be boycotted. The piece attracted over 1500 comments, the great majority of which dealt with wholly unrelated issues. Primarily, readers traded blows about the justifiability or otherwise of BEE, and predictably, things rapidly got ugly. Likewise, what began as a discussion on Islam also degenerated almost immediately into a vicious and puerile slanging match.

clement127/flickr

clement127/flickr

We are by now all familiar with the brutally insulting manner in which many people choose to engage with one another online, but I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise in this case to single out some of the exchanges as a way of illustrating the phenomenon.

Starting with the Islam question, this began with a (presumably quite innocent) question addressed by “TurningDog” to “Abdul” as to what the word “Islam” actually meant. Abdul responded, “Hi, tell me what you are interested in. Islam means peace. I am glad to discuss Islam with you if you are sincerely interested. I have had many conversations with people who just wanted to poke fun.” Abdul’s caution was borne out by the comment then posted by “Bob Koekemoer” reading, “Poking fun is better than poking under-aged girls!” Stung, Abdul responded, “Hello Bob, you still poking altar boys then are you?”, thereby sadly descending to his opponent’s level.

Abdul had earlier become involved in another online altercation, after posting this response to a question by “Gringod Rules”: “My opinion on the matter is based on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He was the most compassionate and just man. I am grateful to him and for being a Muslim.” To this, “Lion King” responded, “Fvck off, go preach on the street corner!!” According to Lion King, Islam meant “terror, rape, bombing and everything that is going wrong in the world”. With reference to the one who originally asked what the word Islam meant, he wrote, “If you are looking for a relationship with the Turning Dog, meet somewhere in a filthy hotel and do your thing there”. Abdul’s response should simply have been to label Lion King a vile bigot and leave it at that, but regrettably he again allowed himself to be drawn into the gutter. The following exchange ensued:

“You obviously didn’t get any last night. Shame”
“You good. How did you know?”
“Because she was with me. Lol”
“She – it is a he. Hahaha, so you had it in the ass.”
“[Your wife] is the best deep throat i have ever had. Thanks. Will do her again anytime.”

The exchanges on the BEE question were even worse. Some examples:

“Hey knobreath rugu, you wear your racial inferiority complex on your sleeve. Not placing a time limit on BEE/AA/EE is an admission of inferiority”

“coward racist. you ran again. Coward”

“.. perhaps you should work on your comprehension skills before attempting debate with someone way above your intellect.

“ooh what a come-back, your village must be so proud of you”

“The very fact that a majority requires such laws to protect themselves from a minority reinforces the inferiority of the former. In countries where they are in the minority, surprise surprise, they need the same laws. Could this be due to the fact that they cant compete on equal terms without handicapping others? I think it is”

“I don’t give a fuk about you knuckledraggers wallowing in the shittt that you create for yourselves – now farkoff and burn down another school, or commit a few more xenophobic killings”.

“Go and swim in your dear leaders fire pool, …… it might cure your AIDS”.

In between all of this, there were occasional malicious digs at Jews. Responding to a pro-Israel comment by a Jewish writer, “Tor Sjöberg” wrote, “One day in Europe we will have again have Weimar conditions, I cannot wait for that glorious day.” Prior to that, there had been comments along the lines of “The Holocaust never happened, and anyway, the Jews deserved it.” In the main, though, the discourse was charged with racial hatred. Amazingly enough, throughout this long thread the words “This comment was deleted” regularly appear, suggesting that even worse things were posted. The mind boggles as to what they could have been.

So this is why News24 have decided to do away with online comments, and who can blame them? The advent of electronic mass communications at last provided those who were once unable to get their opinions into print with a voice, but all too often that voice is no more than a shrill scream of hate. I hope that other online outlets will consider taking similar measures, whether by blocking comments altogether or at the very least adopting a zero tolerance attitude to remarks that fail to meet a basic standard of civility.

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