Posted on January 12, 2016

We Tried. We Really, Really Did.

Editorial Team, Daily Maverick, January 11, 2016

Back when the Daily Maverick was a sketch on the back of a cocktail napkin, we hoped to build an e-polis of ideas. We wanted to create a website where a bunch of talented journalists, high-profile columnists and regular folk thwacked around the issues of the day. We hoped that our comments section would play a central role in fostering healthy, robust, sharp-edged debate–a town hall in which all were welcome, regardless of the usual caveats. We felt that South Africa could be a lodestar for this sort of thing: our differences would melt away in the fire of intellectual engagement, and we’d forge a new, coherent identity because we were all so damned smart. It hasn’t quite turned out that way.

Like most news and opinion websites the world over, we’ve had to contend with the fact that a small but significant percentage of our commentators troll our site in order to fling filth at our writers, our opinionistas, and at other contributors and commentators who happen to disagree with their finely tuned Weltschmertz. We’ve been slow to act because we truly believed that we’d arrive at a solution that would somehow cut down on or eliminate entirely the flood of hateful words that had become a mainstay on a venue that hundreds of thousands of readers rely on for their daily information.

Over the past six years, we have worked painstakingly hard to build a legacy brand of which we could be proud. Unfortunately, our comments section is tarnishing that brand. As of today, we are suspending our comment section until such time as we can either moderate away those who feel entitled to spew hate speech on our property, or come up with some other solution that fosters genuine engagement rather than reductive trolling.

Some of our readers will be confused into thinking that this serves as a curtailment of their right to free speech. But there is nothing in the unwritten, unsigned contract between a website and its readership that remotely implies a “right” to comment. One of the joys of the internet is that it provides near endless venues for the posting of marginalized opinions, and we urge those who feel slighted by our new policy to investigate options such as Twitter, Facebook, 4Chan and other sites which have so successfully offered voices to the voiceless.

But in the meantime, remember this: no one is entitled to post whatever comes into their head underneath a story on a website they do not own and do not pay for. No one is entitled to insult writers or fellow readers under the rubric of some misaligned understanding of freedom of speech. And no one is entitled to be a bastard just because they feel like it. Not in Daily Maverick, at least.

And sure, under the current legal framework, it may be your “right” to say what you want. But it’s our right not to want to host it.

We discussed at length how best to address this massively increasing problem. Proper comment management requires full-time staff. As we’re not financed by governments and multinational corporations, we’d rather spend our precious resources for journalism than for policing the hatred.

Finally, we should note that we’re not suspending the comments section because of some strain of political correctness, or because we’re afraid of the “Truth.” Mostly, we’re suspending this service because we no longer want to read racist invective on a site that is the result of a six-year labour of love. We’re pulling our comments section not because we don’t respect our readers–au contraire!–but because a narrow band of our readers refuse to respect us. It’s horribly disappointing.

We will be setting up an old school Letters to the Editor column shortly, in which we will curate and publish the most coherent and cogently argued thoughts emailed to the editors by our readers. It will be published on our home page daily. We will continue to rigorously offer the right of reply to those who feel slighted by a particular story, and we also remind our readers that we read every single submission that is mailed to our editorial desk, regardless of the sender.

To the people who offered constructive comments and contributed great ideas, thank you very much for your contribution to making Daily Maverick South Africa’s premier daily news and opinion brand. Please keep talking to us.

To the trolls: Goodbye.