A news website has threatened police action and vowed to publicly shame racist readers amid a crackdown by regional press editors on online comments.
Plymouth Live editor Edd Moore has warned he will act against people making “racist remarks” online after taking the unprecedented step of removing the comments function from several stories related to the Black Lives Matters protests.
Edd, pictured, says Plymouth Live has deleted hundreds of comments and banned dozens of people from its website and Facebook pages in recent days.
In an editorial, Edd said the Reach plc-owned site would be “unafraid” to report offending comments to the police.
Edd wrote: “While the vast majority of our readers, like all decent human beings, find racism abhorrent, we have been utterly appalled by some of the comments made by a vocal minority using our platforms to spread their hate.
“We have deleted hundreds of comments in the last few days and banned dozens of people from our websites and Facebook pages. But it is not enough. We recognise that we must do more.
“Black lives matter. That is not an opinion. It is a fact. As an independent publisher, we represent people of diverse backgrounds and diverse opinions. We are proud to be advocates of free speech and we want our readers to continue to comment on our articles.
“But hate speech is not free speech. We will not allow ourselves to be used for the sort of racism and intolerance that brings shame on our otherwise wonderful region.
“This morning we took the unprecedented step of removing the comments function from several articles on our website. We are a small team and we simply could not keep up with the volume of disgusting comments that were being posted.”
Edd went on to say he had rejected calls by some readers to stop posting links to stories about the protests on Facebook.
He added: “Doing so would be allowing racism to win and we cannot and will not accept that.
“Our journalists are working around the clock to moderate comments on all our platforms, but in the absence of more action from Facebook, we need your help. Please, if you see something offensive, screenshot it, report it to us immediately via Facebook messenger and we will take action as quickly as possible.
“We will be unafraid to publicly shame those people leaving racist remarks. We will be unafraid, if we have to, to share comments left by those making threats or inciting violence with the police.”
Basingstoke Gazette editor Katie French has also taken similar action in recent days, and confirmed to HTFP she is prepared to report comments to the police if necessary too.
The Gazette turned its masthead black today in solidarity with the protesters.
In an editorial, she wrote: “One of the reoccurring themes seems to be that racism is political. Racism is not a political matter. Equality is a basic, fundamental human right.
To be clear, racism and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated on any of the Gazette’s platforms. Users posting offensive comments will be blocked and removed from our sites.
“As editor, I am not prepared to stand by and watch people with outdated views try and maintain the status quo by silencing black voices and derailing the conversation.”
Katie added: “Changes needs to happen and change requires leadership. I am prepared to provide that leadership from the standpoint of being the local newspaper editor.
“I realise I am one part of a massive puzzle but if I can even create the smallest positive change towards a more equal society then I will consider this to be a success.”
Comments posted on the Swindon Advertiser’s social media channels following a Black Lives Matter protest prompted reporter Tom Seaward to write a comment piece calling out online trolling.
Advertiser editor Pete Gavan told HTFP: “It was both shocking and disappointing to see so many offensive comments made on our coverage of the BLM protest in Swindon.
“I understand the issue can provoke strong views about social distancing and lockdown, but many of the comments left on the Facebook post were appalling.
“Of the back of that, my reporter Tom Seaward wrote this excellent piece and we included some of the worst.
“I decided not to name the posters so as not to further inflame the situation or cause a ‘pile-on’, but may well choose to do differently if it happens again.”
Stoke-on-Trent Live, sister site of daily paper The Sentinel, revealed it has banned people in the last few days for describing members of an ethnic minority community as “vermin”, making lewd sexual comments about a woman pictured in a story, stating that a victim of a sexual assault might have “deserved it” and calling a person featured in a story a “typical disabled Sentinel scumbag”.
In a joint editorial condeming the remarks, editor-in-chief Martin Tideswell and executive editor (digital) Mary-ann Astle added the titles’ journalists had also referred to as “scum”, “Nazis”, “paedophiles” and “leftie parasites”.