Bye-bye, trolls: Why we banned comments on Metro Times

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It's with a sigh of relief that I can announce we've decided to pull the plug on the comments section below Metro Times's articles.

This decision came after much discussion at the MT office. There's been a backlash against comments sections going on for a few years now, with outlets like Popular Science, NPR, VICE, Reuters, Mic.com, and locally, MLive, all ditching them. On paper, they were a great idea, a utopian notion of the World Wide Web providing an instantaneous "platform" for "dialogue" between reader and creator (with perhaps a dash of cynically pumping up page views for ad revenue thanks to repeat visitors). And sure, I'll miss the insights of some of you who added thoughtful perspectives that our articles missed, especially when you chimed in with the occasional correction to a factual error.

In reality, comments sections everywhere routinely devolve into racism, misogyny, Hitler (via Godwin's Law), spam, and personal attacks. It's even worse for women journalists, who are called names far more vicious than their male counterparts. I refuse to believe some of you aren't 13-year-olds, but I know some of you are grown men.

Ideally, there would be a web editor who could moderate the comments, but with staff cuts in recent years that isn't really possible. At one point, I tried to add a catch-all warning above our comments section saying, "Don't be a jerk or else we will ban you." That didn't really help. And in recent weeks, I spent too much time I don't have playing whack-a-mole, trying to ban a troll who kept creating new accounts (and even new IP addresses) so he could impersonate other commenters and just generally cause chaos.

I don't think this is what whoever came up with the comments section in the first place originally had in mind. Do you?

So bye-bye, comments section. Honestly, I won't miss it one bit.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: "How DARE Metro Times stifle free speech!" Well, is it really free speech if the trolls are granted anonymity and are held to a different standard than our own writers? As editor in chief, I actually care about what's published on Metro Times, and that should be extended to the comments section. Plus, with comments sections being at the bottom of the article, it was as if the trolls were literally getting the last word. And some of you seemed to be skipping reading the article and going straight to the comments section anyway.

Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have famously distanced themselves from the responsibilities of moderating what their users post because they claim they aren't "publishing companies." Well, we are a publishing company. So why should we act like a social media platform? And speaking of social media platforms, you can still comment on our Twitter or Facebook posts.

(Side note: Someone once said Donald Trump was like someone walked out of a comments section and was elected president, and to a large degree I believe that's true. For nearly a decade, Trump posted his grammatically challenged conspiracy theories and childish attacks on the internet with no consequence other than it forced the mainstream media to talk about Barack Obama's birth certificate or Rosie O'Donnell or whatever. I think about this often.)

People act like comments sections are some unalienable human right, but there's really no historical analog for them — except for maybe the old-fashioned letters to the editor. Remember those? We have a small one in the print edition of Metro Times, but people don't really seem to write letters or emails anymore. In recent months, I've been scraping together the best comments from the web to use in print, but pretty much only "Harry Palmer" and "Myth Buster," among our most thoughtful and reasonable commenters, had anything actually smart to say week after week.

If you really want your voice to be heard, guess what? You can still do that! You can email comments or corrections to letters@metrotimes.com. I promise you I'll read them. And if it's good enough, maybe we'll print it in our letters to the editor page.

You know, like the good old days — before comments sections.

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