Behind IOL’s decision to close its article comments

Independent Online (IOL) recently announced it was closing comments on its online articles – a decision which the publisher said was necessary to fight abuse on its comment section.

The decision followed recommendations by an advisory panel set up in 2014 to investigate online abuse on IOL’s platforms.

The panel found it is desirable to have online comments in the interests of freedom of expression. However, the constitutional rights of people should not be infringed by such comments.

IOL Managing Editor Adrian Ephraim explained that the “freedom of expression guaranteed by our Constitution was never meant to override the personal freedoms and human rights of our fellow citizens”.

IOL’s decision to close comments was criticised by people who felt the platform will be poorer because of the lack of comments.

MyBroadband spoke to Ephraim to gain insight into the decision, and to get feedback on some of the issues raised by critics.

Many Internet users said they will stop visiting IOL, and that the site will see a decline in traffic. Are you concerned about a loss in traffic?

We do expect a drop in traffic because some of our readers come to our site to actually read just the comments. However, we have come up with ways to mitigate that slight dip in traffic and so we haven’t experienced a worrying loss at all.

In any event, “clean” traffic will always be better for our brands in the long run. That said, we must point out that the number of “bad apples” were in the minority, but the volume of bigoted comments they generated was quite substantial.

Many South Africans are already using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to voice their opinions. Will IOL comments move to these platforms?

IOL is certainly directing people to social media in order to engage with other readers and ourselves. We feel these platforms are suitable to forming engaged communities with specific interests.

News is one of those interests, as is Motoring and Entertainment, etc. Many South Africans already use social media to discuss current affairs so it’s not a huge leap.

Many people said the decision to close comments was a mistake. Are you confident IOL will look back at the decision a year from now and say it was the right decision?

Yes. This was not a decision we rushed into. It took us more than a year to close down comments precisely because we didn’t want to regret it later without having considered all the factors.

In the end we think our readers deserve better, and the majority of them have expressed their support for our decision to close comments.

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Behind IOL’s decision to close its article comments