Inside Higher Ed provides pretty thorough and good coverage of, ahem, higher ed. I don’t visit it daily, generally when there’s some issue that pops up. I have found their comment section to be relatively sane, *relatively* being the key word.

So I was surprised when I just noticed that Inside Higher Ed shut down its comment sections as of July 1, 2020:

Inside Higher Ed has published reader comments about our articles since we launched the site in January 2005. We did so as part of our core belief that good journalism depends on building a sense of community in which readers are able to share their voices. We wanted to ensure that everyone in higher education, regardless of their position or institution, had an opportunity to contribute their perspectives.

At times, the comments have added significantly to our understanding of our readers and their views on higher education and on the various pieces we publish — positive and negative. And many readers welcome the perspectives of their peers.

In recent years, however, we have had the same challenges many other online publishers face with regard to comments. The comments sections have come to be dominated by a small number of readers. As is true of so many elements of the digital landscape, our comments reflect the coarsening of interpersonal discourse, especially when people communicate anonymously, as the majority of our commenters do. (We allowed anonymous comments to protect vulnerable adjunct professors and staff members who might legitimately fear for their jobs if they were identified.) The comments have become a deterrent for a significant number of our readers and have lost much of their value.

We have previously done our best to tame the worst elements of our comments while sustaining their original promise. Several years ago, we asked readers for feedback and imposed new rules that we hoped would deter those who mistreat others while continuing to provide an open forum for the exchange of perspectives. Unfortunately, those changes were not effective at improving the relevance and civility of comments.

We remain committed to sharing reader perspectives and are excited to announce that we are replacing comments with letters to the editor effective next week, July 1, 2020.

Ironically, the post announcing the end of comments generated over 300 comments. The comments are more interesting than the article, with some articulate explanations why comments add value. Here are some of the comments:

I stopped reading Chronicle of Higher Education after they stopped allowing comments on many articles. Often, the articles attempted to address important issues, but in an incomplete or slanted way; the comments filled in the blanks in addition to taking different perspectives. Truly, the comments were the main reason to read many articles.

It’s true that many commenters on IHE articles are on a soapbox to push a particular idea or ideology, but it’s possible to skip over them. A higher number had worthwhile things to say.

* * *

the articles are written by people who reflect the ideology of higher education in this country – overwhelmingly leftist. The comment allowed for balance. I came here because I am concerned about the demise of American higher education. The leftists who run It don’t want to hear anything that doesn’t fit the narrative. I have had comments where I have had comments deleted where I simply quote a Harvard African American Economist who states that there is no bias in deadly force by police. Pessimists and contrarians are vital to the success of any team. I have little hope.

Maybe readership will plummet and the website will reconsider their decision?

* * *

The Chronicle definitely had some annoying anonymous commenters who would make virtually the same (negative) post on multiple articles and verbally attack other posters. However, when the Chronicle banned comments, I also curtailed my reading of CHE in favor of IHE, as there was no forum to call out inaccurracies in the articles or to engage in dialogue. If it does not hurt readership, perhaps the most positive outcome is that some will continue to choose to share IHE articles and blogs to other social media (e.g. Linkedin) where comments, dialogue and exchange about the articles can occur, rather than on IHE.

* * *

This is so very disappointing. You are further propagating an echo chamber and turning your articles into propaganda.

I love Inside Higher Ed. There are still so many articles that are flawed in a fundamental way that make it past your editors….

I read the comments to most of the articles for which I find controversial, and I’m amazed at the level of intelligence and civility that is found in your comments section. Your readers are, obviously, knowledgeable. This is not twitter.

More and more of your articles have been about diversity recently. This restriction seems to be a step back to allow a diversity of opinions to be shared. In ”Experts Consider How a New Admissions Test Could Change Higher Ed, ” there was not ONE single voice included in the article from someone talking about the benefits of the current model. The article made it seem like the judge and jury and 100% of the field had already agreed that the ACT has no benefits to students or admissions. That was mind-blowing to me that an article that had so many different people share from different perspectives without a single one giving a counter view. That is called propaganda, not journalism. It wasn’t until the comments section that counter beliefs we’re shared.

I sincerely hope you will change your decision.

Yahoo also recently announced that it was temporarily closing comments on news articles.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting. In the meantime, we welcome your feedback to help us enhance the experience.

We are not considering closing the comment section. It’s a vital part of our community. Two of our authors (Fuzzy and Branca) originally were commenters.

What we have considered, as we have in the past, is moving to a third-party comment platform. Most websites seem to use Disqus (that’s what Inside Higher Ed used). Our team recently went through that re-evaluation process when the website had some problems, part of which revealed a security issue with how our WordPress install handled comments. (That has been fixed.)

The vote among Legal Insurrection editors and authors was unanimous in rejecting a move to Disqus. There are pluses and minuses to our WordPress comment system. The minus is that it increases the load on our server and platform, and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of third party platforms.

We have almost 800,000 comments; that may not be a lot compared to other websites, which often have more comments in a day than we have in a month. But that lower volume of comments actually is a plus.  By forcing people to register with us specifically, it helps keep down the number of drive-by grenade throwers seeking nothing other than blowing up the comment section.

There also is an impressive longevity of commenters, some of whom have been with us almost since the start, and camaraderie. One of the most interesting things at Reader Receptions is people introducing themselves using their commenter usernames.

So, after a long process of deliberation, nothing is changing. Thank you for your time reading this. It’s several minutes you’ll never get back. You cannot reclaim your time.

[Featured Image: Cave Troll, Photo by Kevin Dooley]

 

 
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