There’s been an interesting development in the world of online newspapers this week with the news that the Mail Online will stop moderating user comments. While some might argue the internet is a world of unmoderated material and this move is simply embracing one of the key benefits of the medium (i.e. free speech) and the whole point of users comment in the first place. The more sceptical among us might be questioning the Daily Mail’s logic.
One of the reasons given for this move is that a large number of comments were not being posted, therefore it “give people their chance to respond and for it to appear immediately.” From a purely logistical perspective, it’s understandable that they’ve gone down this road given the sheer number of man-hours it takes to vet every single comment. But if unmoderated comments is the way forward, we need to ask why comments are moderated in the first place? Is it to whittle out the offensive and libellous, the uninteresting, the ones that don’t tow the editorial line?
In weighing up the pros and cons of this move, your opinion will probably be shaped by what you consider the underlying purpose of user comments to be. If you see it as an open forum to question, debate and respond to the issues raised in the article, then you’ll no doubt welcome the move (well the initiative at least, if the Daily Mail’s not your cup of tea). If on the other hand, you see it as a platform for people to express their deep-rooted views and to bate and provoke fellow postees, rather than provide any informative and insightful opinion, then you’ll probably favour the odd spot of moderation.
One of the biggest concerns raised was the possible impact on advertising revenue, in that having your brand next to potentially racist/libellous/homophobic/sexist (delete as appropriate) comments, may not exactly be the ideal way to promote your products/services. The new format will rely on self-regulation and the diligence of Daily Mail readers to flag inappropriate posts.
While there will be those that adamantly defend the need for moderators, I suspect that the decision on whether other websites and newspaper will follow suit very much depends on whether advertisers are adversely affected, we shall wait and see.