ESPN Latest To Nix User Comments, Abdicate Its Responsibility For Fostering A Good Community

Readers of this site will be aware of the trend over the past several years for news and media sites across the internet deciding to nix their respective comments sections. This wave of muzzles on the communities that previously participated in these sites has come with a variety of reasons or excuses, depending on your perspective. Some sites have noted that comments sections devolve into the worst humanity has to offer, with vile speech and spam-bots sucking up all of the digital oxygen. Other sites have suggested that some sort of liability comes along with any proper moderation of their comments sections. Still others have pointed towards social media platforms that can better take over the duties as some sort of 3rd party community gathering place, be it on Facebook or Twitter. All of these reasons are silly and false, or they simply abdicate the site’s responsibility for fostering a well-functioning community of commenters. Here at Techdirt, we love our own community and value the ever-living hell out of our comments, be they supporters of our positions or well-meaning dissenters. Trolls come along for the ride, of course, but we trust our own community to act as a moderating force against them.

And, yet, the trend continues. The latest site to shutter its comment section is ESPN, to much unfortunate fanfare at Deadspin.

No longer will you be able to read an article and then underneath receive the dumbest possible reactions to it. The Worldwide Leader has phased out its Facebook-hybrid comment sections, as confirmed by a company spokesperson this week. None of the keyboard mashing will be archived—they will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Here’s the official statement:

“Fans currently have more touchpoints than ever to voice their comments. We value their opinions, and feel that we are better able to serve them through our customer care team and our social platforms. In fact, we have and are continuing to create content for social that embraces these conversations and interacts with fans.”

This is an abomination. Chintzy Instagram memes are no substitute for jokes that were plagiarized from somewhere else, or completely indecipherable opinions on Colin Kaepernick.

Readers at Deadspin will recognize this as classic Deadspin snark. The site’s writers, despite having its own vibrant commenting community, have always taken a dim view of user contributions to the discussion. Somewhat amazingly, Deadspin in particular has a fairly good commenting community of its own, only deepening the mystery for the stance it takes here.

Well, perhaps not so mysterious. Simplistic might be the better word. Deadspin’s objections, and likely ESPN’s reasoning as well, is that ESPN comment sections tend to be the very kind of vile, idiotic contributions that we discussed in the intro. Deadspin, and likely ESPN, seem to stop the thought process right after making that determination and use it as its reason to muzzle the ESPN community entirely. What’s lost in that kind of thinking is that the onus for fostering a good commenting community at ESPN is on… ESPN.

It’s always been this way. There is so much benefit to be derived from a vibrant comments section, from increased reader engagement, to diverse thoughts that can shape discussion and the future work of the writers of posts, to a treasure trove of useful information and tips that journalists and commentators ought to be salivating over. The real story here is that ESPN has decided to toss all of those benefits out the window because it doesn’t want to do any heavy-lifting to create a comments section that produces that kind of benefit.

It’s the easy way out and no amount of snark or accurate portrayal of the current comments section as a cesspool will change that. Sites, if your comment section sucks, it’s your fault. Taking your ball and going home, even if you’re ESPN, is not the best option. It’s not even a good option.

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