Stuff follows Whaleoil’s lead but then takes it one step too far

Whaleoil five years or so ago broke new ground when we committed to a comprehensive moderation system to make our commenting section a respectful and pleasant place in which to debate ideas. We had been accused of being a “cesspool” way back then, so we took action and, in doing so, we became the most polite and respectful forum for political debate in New Zealand.

One of our many changes was to abolish the ability for readers to upvote or downvote comments. That feature was too often misused by trolls who would use it to promote unpleasant comments or to downvote en masse perfectly acceptable comments.

Stuff,many years after Whaleoil made that change, has now decided to follow our lead in their attempt to clean up their “cesspool” of a comment section. Quote.

We have abolished the ability for readers to upvote or downvote comments. That feature too often led to the most divisive comments being promoted. You can say goodbye to the thumbs icons ? now, comments will simply be displayed chronologically. end quote.

Another step that Whaleoil took that Stuff is now following is making it easier for readers to draw the moderators’ attention to comments that break their rules. We have explained to our regular readers the correct way to flag a comment so that it immediately comes to our moderators’ attention. With our readers’ help, our moderation team has become more effective than ever. quote.

We’ve made it easier to report bad comments. On each comment, next to ‘reply’ and ‘share’, you’ll now see a ‘report’ button. end quote.

Another technique we have used to reward commenters for commenting within the rules is to regularly highlight great comments and display them at the top. Stuff has decided to copy this as well but with a “virtuous” twist. Quote.

And we’ve introduced an ‘Editor’s Pick’ function to set a positive example by recognising the best comments. We hope that highlighting the most intelligent, wittiest and most constructive comments will start a virtuous circle. end quote.

Stuff however have taken their desire to better moderate their comment section one step too far.

In a new development, our comment rules now include a list of topics on which we will no longer open comments. It’s not an exhaustive list but it points to the single largest change we’re making: we’ll be much more selective about when we allow comments

In other words, Stuff will be deciding which topics are open for public debate on their forum and which aren’t. That would make more sense to me if they were also deciding to self-censor and not write about the forbidden topics but they will not be self-censoring. They will still write about all these “controversial” topics BUT they will decide which ones the public will be permitted to discuss.

They have stated that they “genuinely want average readers to feel welcome participating in Stuff comments” which raises the obvious question. Who is the average reader? Are conservatives “average” readers? Are right-wingers “average” readers? Are classic liberals “average” readers? Are people who believe in Free Speech “average” readers?

I ask because people who defend free speech in New Zealand are currently being criticised in the MSM as “Free speech absolutists” as if defending Free speech is a bad thing.

What about people who want to discuss immigration and borders and religion? Are these people “average” or are these topics now Verboten by Stuff?

More questions are raised by Stuff’s article as they introduce new terms such as “casual prejudice”, and “comment pollution”. What are these words Newsspeak for?

Finally, Stuff is also going to start banning people from their site after following Whaleoil’s lead once again. Whaleoil updated its existing rules around two years ago. We made them comprehensive in the interests of fairness. Commenters who break our rules risk a temporary or permanent ban. quote.

We’ve introduced stricter terms and conditions for comments. They are now even more explicit about not tolerating personal attacks or prejudice. Commenters who repeatedly or flagrantly breach our rules will be banned. end quote.

Stuff

I must admit that I am curious as to what Stuff’s definition of prejudice will be. Will disagreeing with or criticising a particular ideology or religion be labelled prejudice? Will mentioning facts and statistics about a particular group of people be considered prejudice?

Stuff now faces a battle and it is one that Whaleoil faced 5 years ago. We were told that moderating our forum would cost us our audience. We were accused of curtailing free speech because we wouldn’t tolerate personal attacks or foul language. Stuff will have to deal with that and a lot more besides as they are choosing to actively censor which topics can and cannot be discussed. quote.

These changes will not be universally popular. We’ll be accused of censorship, and curtailing free speech. Others will say we should shutter the comments section entirely.
[…] We hope the changes we’re introducing will make our whole audience feel more welcome to connect with Stuff. But this isn’t the final word on comments ? we’ll continue to check the health of our community, and further changes may come. end quote.

Stuff?


Stuff does deserve credit for taking personal responsibility for their comment section and not palming it off to the wilds of Facebook like other New Zealand media. Their changes, however, have gone one step too far. By controlling and restricting which topics can be discussed by the public they have taken on the role of the thought police.

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