When our Founding Fathers drafted the First Amendment, they couldn’t fathom a world interconnected via boxes, satellites, wires and screens. The goal was to ensure everyone had the right to speak their mind.
However, in today’s digital age, censorship by internet gatekeepers are infringing on that right.
While digital privacy and breaking up Big Tech are sexy issues, I believe there’s a major internet-related problem infecting the online world: comment censorship.
Many people read the comment section for funny takes on stories or to get a pulse on how other readers, fans, adversaries, Americans, etc. are feeling about a particular issue. Some comments are hilarious. There’s some witty people out on the internet.
But are we getting an accurate picture of what others are really thinking in the comment sections on website, particular those that report news?
Or are there practices going on at websites across the country silencing commenters?
I’m not talking about some evil plot or conspiracy against the common man, but people in powerful positions with tech we still haven’t grasped as a society.
Are moderators, reporters and editors censoring comments by silencing those who disagree with those in charge of these websites?
And if so, is this a violation of The First Amendment?
I don’t know about you, but I have my vices for wanting to escape the craziness of our hypersensitive, always connected world. Pro football is one of those. It allows me to escape, relax and get away from constant “breaking news” and the stressful commentary engulfing the 24/7 news cycle.
However, my go-to pro football news site has transformed into political commentary and is littered with reporter opinions, you know instead of facts and information about pro football.
(For the record, Democratic or Republican, a reporter’s political views shouldn’t be reflected in stories about pro football. If you want to write about politics, become a correspondent or whatever those smug journalists call themselves these days.)
However, what bothers me most about this pro football website, is that the publication’s moderators and/or reporters censor those who comment on articles for no other reason than the fact those in charge don’t like the comment.
That’s right, in the United States of America people’s words and thoughts are censored in the comment section of a football news site.
Now, you might be thinking, “Is that what we’re pissed off at today?” You might even consider it overdramatic, and if so, stop reading. Like I give a shit. The rest of you, throw on your tinfoil hat, and let’s go on an adventure.
I’ve attempted to comment on multiple stories on this particular website, and each time my comments haven’t been published. My comments haven’t used profanity or been threatening. They were thought provoking and challenged what the reporter had written about. Each time I expressed my displeasure with the interjection of political opinion and unverified facts from reporters, my comments weren’t published.
I reached out to the reporters and editors through emails and social media to clarify why my comments were not posted. I never received an answer, despite my multiple attempts to discover why.
My most recent unpublished comment was on an article about a pro football player no longer being political on social media because he may end up in certain liberal city. (But aren’t all cities naturally liberal? Kidding.) The piece featured snarky commentary, and an opinion on the political leanings of a pro football prospect.
Believing there were people like me who were over the countless articles featuring reporter’s political ideology infused in pro football news stories, I decided to comment the following:
“I miss the days when (site name) was about football and not a bunch of reporters getting on a soapbox.
Stop with the drama and faux outrage. The draft is two weeks away. I came here to read about football and escape all the b.s. going on in the world.
The issue with journalism is that rather than reporting ‘news’, reporters feel they need to express their opinions in every story. Leave opinions for the opinion section of publications.”
Sure, that’s an angry comment, and worded terribly there at the end, but it isn’t threatening or hostile.
The comment went unpublished.
Here’s a comment that was published:
“Coward. When you start being afraid of who you are, and what you believe in, because you are worried about what idiots might say to you…….then you may as well just sign over everything else you have…and cower away”
White Proud Privileged Guy wrote that comment on the article.
Another commenter, tylawspick6 said the following about the player in question:
“iq below 100, do not draft”
8oneanddones said about the story:
“Does he really think people in the (city area) are that dumb?”
davew128 replied to this comment with:
“Based on the people they elect? That would be a 100% YES!”
Now, I could see how my comment would upset the reporter, but does upsetting someone mean it shouldn’t be posted? Clearly not.
Was it not published because I challenged the thoughts and ideas of the reporter, editor and website manager? Hmm.
By not showcasing my thoughts, with no other reason than disliking them, isn’t that censorship? Textbook.
If the writers on the website can express their opinions freely and openly on their platform (the website) can’t I express mine in a civil and diplomatic way on my platform (the comment section)? I can’t, but White Proud Privileged Guy can.
Shouldn’t readers be able to have a conversation with other readers and the reporter on what they are writing about in the comment section? Not a free conversation. A controlled one.
Is this a violation of my First Amendment rights? You’re god-damn right.
I understand the internet can be tricky. Rules and regulations involving free speech on the internet are in flux. I also understand a need to ban hateful and threatening comments. But why censor my comment? It isn’t hateful, threatening or in any way something that should be censored from a public commenting section. The site posted way worse comments, as highlighted above.
Now, it’s just an pro football news site. Is it really that big of a deal? I mean I can just read another football news site, right?
Not when its one of the biggest, if not the biggest, American football site on the internet.
I’ve seen the publication shift from news, rumors and football to a pro football gossip site that highlights reporter’s opinions while silencing those who oppose their viewpoints. I wanted to see if other readers felt the same as me. Betrayed. I also hoped to engage the reporter in a dialogue about this particular story and the website content in general.
As I suspected, my outreach efforts were ignored. I emailed multiple people at the website and its parent company. I emailed the website owner directly and reached out on social media.
If that comment got banned, and I got ignored, what other comments is this site not publishing?
I searched this particular website and its parent company’s website to find information on comment moderation rules and guidelines. I found nothing. I emailed the website’s editor and reached out to the parent company to learn more about the comment moderation guidelines. No response.
Many websites in the United States have removed the comment sections on their stories. I imagine moderating the comments and reading the hatred and venom trolls and keyboard warriors spew can be tiresome and not worth the effort. I hate when no comments can be posted, but not allowing anyone to comment seems better than picking and choosing with no rules or regulations on why.
I have a fear those words will come back to bite me in the future.
What do I have an issue with is a website offering a public comment section and censoring comments?
How can a moderator deem what is appropriate for an article?
What are the moderator’s guidelines?
Are they universal across every website?
If reporters can freely express their opinions in “news” stories on their platform, why can’t I express mine on the “open” platform the website provides?
What scares me the most though is the thought that this football website may not be the only website censoring their readers’ comments.
If a football news site is censoring comments, what are moderators doing on major news sites around the country?
Are they censoring comments?
Are they ‘controlling the narrative’ in their stories’ comment sections?
What are an internet commenters’ rights?
Is freedom of speech not protected in an online comment section?
If reporters can be controversial and express their opinions in stories, why block and censor avid readers from expressing their opinions in a mature and thoughtful way in the comment section?
Because you don’t like them?
Perhaps, we should consider developing regulations around internet commenters to protect them from censorship.
My thinking is if a website is going to allow a comment section, every website has to have the same universal guidelines… none.
It’s called Freedom of Speech.
And censoring any of it, ruins all of it.