The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recently made the decision to remove comments from most of ArkansasOnline.com. Commenting will still be available on opinion pieces.
Why did we do this? Our comment section, like many comment sections, had become a place where a small number of people spent a large amount of time leaving negative messages. Many of these comments were intolerant, homophobic, transphobic, racist and misogynistic. Instead of engaging in respectful debate, commenters attempted to shut down conversation with personal insults. We believe that these types of comments distract from our award-winning journalism and do not add value to readers’ website experience. Also, moderating comments by our staff takes time and manpower that could be devoted to other projects that will better serve our readers.
This is not a decision we made hastily. Over the years, we’ve tried several different approaches to improving the commenting system but none have been successful. The situation only worsened when commenters started spreading misinformation about the most recent election and the coronavirus. Our subscribers deserve better than that.
This is not a violation of anyone’s First Amendment right. The First Amendment does not require this newspaper to provide an open forum for comments. However, we do believe that debate is crucial to democracy and that is one reason why we are leaving comments on opinion pieces. Readers are also encouraged to submit letters to the editor.
Eliza Gaines is the managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.