On 11 September News24, South Africa’s largest news website, switched off comments on its articles – a decision which elicited strong emotions from the website’s readers.
News24 was known for its active comment sections, but not all the comments were constructive. Racism, sexism, and bigotry became common.
News24 Editor-in-Chief Andrew Trench said they wanted to be known for the quality of their content rather than for their comments.
He said interesting and considered contributions were often drowned out by a cacophony of insults from a minority of users.
Many people criticised the decision, saying it was silencing South Africans and will lead to the decline of the website.
Trench told MyBroadband that they are not concerned that the decision will lead to a loss of traffic, though.
“We calculated the potential impact of this prior to making the decision, and the impact a month in has been negligible and in line with our expectations,” said Trench.
He said they still open some of their articles for comments, and since they have lowered the volume of comments they are able to carefully moderate those which are submitted.
Facebook and Twitter
Many people have taken to Facebook and Twitter to voice their opinions, and this was not a surprise.
Trench said this was a trend they observed before closing comments, and is in line with the experience of publishers globally.
“Users are increasingly using social media to respond to our content, particularly on Facebook where we have nearly two million followers.”
He said the popularity of social media will continue to grow regardless of whether publishers keep comments open on their platforms or not.
“For many users, Facebook is effectively their Internet experience and this will most likely to continue to be the case for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Trench said it is too early to tell whether they will look back in a year from now and say that closing comments was the right decision.
“I think it is important to reflect the voices of our community of users, which we continue to do through channels like MyNews24.”
“I also think there is a space in-between article-level comments and a separate user opinion platform which is the sweet spot for interesting engagement and we are doing a lot of thinking about that still.”
Trench said he would like to see how things unfold over the course of the year before passing judgment on their decision.
For now, though, he is satisfied that it was the right decision for News24 to close its comments.