Why we turned off our comment boards today

Nowhere does the First Amendment require the media to provide a platform for your speech.

We’re turning off our comment boards.

Not permanently, probably. But Internet comment boards are often nasty, vitriolic places, and ours are no exception.

The same platform that provides an opportunity for civil dialogue and an exchange of ideas also provides a platform for racism, bigotry and hatred. Those aren’t the types of conversations we want to host on our website. Consider this a cooling off period for those who wish only to inspire fear in others.

We don’t pretend to know the solution to the problem. How do we foster a sense of community and encourage people to express themselves without simply providing a way to amplify hateful and often threatening remarks?

We’ve taken steps in recent months to clean up our comment boards, including shortening the amount of time they remain open and requiring a verified email address before users can post.

It hasn’t helped. Of our tens of thousands of comments a month, many are insightful and respectful. But those that are not threaten to pull us down to their level, since they refuse to be brought up to ours. We have zero tolerance for threats of violence or death. Libel, too, is out of bounds, and yet we regularly find ourselves deleting such comments from stories about government officials.

The reality is that there are simply not enough resources to effectively moderate every story on our site, especially when high-profile stories can rack up hundreds of comments over the course of a few minutes, many that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. We are not unique in this. In an age of ever-leaner newsrooms, not many are in a situation to pull from elsewhere to keep hate-mongers at bay.

We aren’t asking our commenters to agree with every story we post or with every commenter who came before them. But we cannot ignore that certain comments and behaviors on our site make people feel unwelcome, not because they offer a differing viewpoint but because they’re violent, threatening or sexually explicit.

So, we’re turning our comment boards off, at least for a while.

We have made no promises in the past to guarantee the ability to comment on our site. In fact, our decision to turn them off falls in line with the reasons we chose to provide them in the first place. Commenting is a privilege that is too often abused, and turning off comment boards in no way violates readers’ First Amendment protection.

The First Amendment protects us from, among other things, laws that abridge our freedom of speech. Nowhere does it require the media to provide you a platform for that speech, whether hateful or not.

Through the duration of this experiment, we will continue to encourage our community to engage in a civil dialogue on social media. For our part, we’ll use this time to evaluate the effectiveness of our comment boards and other options available to us as we continue to adapt to an ever-changing media landscape.

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