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    Wiida Fourie-Basson

    This is really interesting and I would like to know more. I work in the field of science journalism, and was interested to read the other day that decided to switch off readers’ comments in September this year because it was actually becoming “bad for science” when “trolls and spambots” take over the debate. Here’s the link //

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    It’s not different from any other journalism. The publisher is an actor. Laissez-faure is an abdication of responsibility. Equally so is an attempt to operate as a hidden hand that talks about “great journalism” but denies or disguises political intent or any other kind of agency.

    Just as a passive-voice sentence is a fraud, so also is it a fraud to obscure the presence of yourself as a Subject in any other way.

    The naked presence of multiple Subjects in Comments strings is what shocks journalists. Their work, as post-modern journalists, is constantly to eliminate from their text, any construction of a Subject (actor, agent), whether themselves or anyone else.

    So it becomes “violence broke out”, and not so-and-so hit so-and-so.

    The commenters don’t abide by these rules, and if confronted with them, will certainly denounce such rules for the fraud that they are.

    The comments bring a good and necessary critique which the journalists should attend to. If the journalists cannot live in a world where such comments are possible, then it is the journalists that are deficient.

    Spambots and trolls are easily managed. But on the other hand, if you want the comments to work well, there needs to be a moderator, and one who is more than an excluder. The moderator must have agency, and use it. The moderator must in other words be the kind of non-evasive editor that the commenters expect and require.

    For the editor to require the commenters to be of a certain kind (i.e not blunt) will not work.

    The apparent dilemma is similar to that faced by the English government in the early 18th century when they put a tax on newspapers in order to stamp out comments that they did not like. It was called the Stamp Act.

    What would you call Jonathan Swift? A troll? What would you call Lenny Bruce? Look up “International Times” and see what happened to it.

    This is not about technology, more than the extent that print is technology. It’s basic.

    The way to do debate is to get in there and take part, and not exclude other actors. Of course you must exclude spambots and trolls, precisely because their effect is to exclude. It’s not a hard distinction to make.

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