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Journalist slams ‘racists’ as newspapers forced to restrict story comments

GeaterA regional journalist has shared his despair at having to consistently turn off comments for stories he has published online due to “racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic rants” by readers.

Paul Geater, political writer for the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star, has hit out at “keyboard warriors” whose actions have increasingly seen the Archant-owned titles disable the comments feature on stories.

Last year the Bradford Telegraph & Argus announced it was permanently disabling the comments feature on its website after claiming extremists were using it to “sow the seeds of division”.

Paul, pictured, who has worked as a journalist for 37 years, attacked the commenters in an editorial piece for the Star.

He wrote: “One of the benefits of the rise of online news pages was supposed to be that it “democratised” the news. It gave everyone the chance to have their say underneath a news or comment piece. That’s a great aim – and it’s something that would be really valuable in provoking debates on public matters.

“Unfortunately, however, it’s an aim that is necessarily becoming impossible to achieve – and if you scroll down to the bottom of this article you’ll see that comments are disabled. Sadly the fact is that these comment boxes have become a repository for racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic rants – not to mention material that is personally insulting to individuals.

“I know these come from a tiny minority of readers and I personally have lost count of the number of times people have commented to me on the street about their disgust at some of the posts that have appeared on our stories. As a result more and more of our articles are having to be published with comments disabled. I know there are a tiny minority of people who will read them and feel they want to write unpleasant comments underneath.

“Well they can go off and do that elsewhere. I don’t want those kind of comments associated with a news organisation I’ve been proud to work for over the past four decades. And by the way, if you are prepared to condemn an entire nationality/ethnicity/or community because of the actions of some of their members, then you are – by definition – a racist.”

Paul went on to cite a “rant” about the creation of a prayer room in a Kurdish community centre as an example.

In his piece, for which comments have also been disabled, Paul added: “As an aside, I do wonder how many people worried about a Kurdish community centre in Ipswich are aware that in Syria and Iraq it is the Kurdish people who are the allies of western troops in the battle against President Assad and IS.

“What is a real shame is, that like it used to be at school, it is the actions of a small number of people who spoil things for everyone else.

“I’d like to think that the keyboard warriors will one day just log off and go back to grumbling into their pint or cup of tea – but I fear we’re a long way from that point at the moment.”

11 comments

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  • February 5, 2019 at 8:39 am
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    I have to say I don’t understand why Archant bothers with BTL comments any more – increasingly they either seem to be of the “Call this a story?” variety, or they lead to a “Leaving’s a disaster”… “Brexit’s great”… “No it isn’t” exchange on a completely unrelated subject. And few subjects seem to be safe – just watch what happens when any story about the Queen at Sandringham has comments enabled…

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  • February 5, 2019 at 9:04 am
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    Many online stories attract the “call this a story?” variety of comments, and far too many time the commenters are absolutely right. Comments generally detract from any story because the vast majority of commenters just want to throw abuse at someone, anyone.

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  • February 5, 2019 at 9:09 am
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    “….the vast majority of commenters just want to throw abuse at someone, anyone.”

    Why, I’ll have you know that’s not true at all, you half-witted nincompoop!

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  • February 5, 2019 at 9:09 am
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    some of the nationals create this bile with their unpleasantly slanted reporting of immigration issues, though that is no excuse for the trolls.

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  • February 5, 2019 at 11:23 am
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    It’s not restricted just to newspapers though is it? Look on Youtube, Facebook etc there is always bile when you give an open platform.

    Because of the way the law has been set up there is a massive disadvantage to people who want to pro-actively pre-moderate comments, you can’t because of the risk that you might then publish something offensive and be made responsible for it.

    Instead you have to post-moderate along with the risk that someone will say something offensive and you then have to resource the time in to moderate the reports that come in from that.

    Either way moderating of comments is a massive time-sink and the papers suffer reputational damage for allowing those comments on that could be spent on more useful stuff – is is ultimately really worth it for the small amount of useful comments/hits ? best just to turn them off I think!

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  • February 5, 2019 at 12:44 pm
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    Typical online comments, in no particular order:

    – This is not news / fake news / must have been a slow news day / I could do this job

    – There’s one tiny spelling or grammar mistake and therefore this entire article has no validity. I live alone in my mother’s basement and have never been kissed

    – Blah blah blah blah Brexit blah blah blah our Brussels overlords blah blah blah shackles of EU oppression. Never mind that this is an article about a charity fun run

    – Person with petty axe to grind against a specific MP or councillor and who just can’t let go

    – I’m not racist but [unrepeatably racist statement follows, often with weird spellings like “M.u.s.l.i.m.s” in order to get past the imaginary Liberal Bias Censor]

    – Lock them up and throw away the key. Prison’s too good for them. I’d pull the lever myself. Send the unemployed to labour camps. Bring back National Service. And cholera.

    – General mad ramblings (shape-shifting lizards, Illuminati, New World Order, chemtrails, vaguely sinister accusations about the BBC)

    – Libellous comment about someone in the story, typically deleted many hours later

    – Hi, want to make $$$$$ from home? This area mom found the secret! Find out more at etc etc

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  • February 5, 2019 at 1:20 pm
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    What’s that paperboy? What about when you troll stories? Pot, kettle.

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  • February 5, 2019 at 1:44 pm
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    Chrid. And you?
    I regard trolls as people who put up abusive comments. I would hope I avoid that. The rest are commentators.

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  • February 5, 2019 at 2:21 pm
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    The danger of not allowing comments is it allows a one sided piece to be published without a readers right to reply or to express a view, that just leaves the publisher open to a view that the piece could be biased,surely it’s the role of the publisher to manage the responses to any story they publish however they feel best to do so?
    If you want reader interaction, clicks and ‘likes’ it’s up to you to handle the response mechanism but without branding those who post views at odds to your own with the old cliche of them being ‘keyboard warriors ’

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  • February 5, 2019 at 5:53 pm
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    Comments should be restricted on news stories, because readers don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between factual reporting and comment pieces. But real opinion pieces? Open house, please!

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  • February 5, 2019 at 6:58 pm
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    Why, oh why, do we have to endure this tedious crap in which all the arguments which have been debated over and over again are re-hashed one more time to give the bores another opportunity of a platform? None of you are ever going to convince your opposition that they’re talking out of their backsides, yet that’s just what you’re all doing. Why can’t you move on to something interesting like Brexit?

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