Fayetteville Flyer removes comments section

Hello Flyer readers,

This week we made the difficult decision to disable comments on the Flyer. We aren’t sure if it’s a permanent move, but it is something we feel is necessary at this time.

We’re no longer proud of the conversations that take place in our comments section, which is an odd thing to type because the discussions that have followed so many of our stories have in the past been really beneficial to both the Flyer and the local community. For many years it was common for people to use the comments section to add information to a story, ask and answer questions about a topic, help correct mistakes we’d made, or just celebrate news they were excited about. That’s just not the case anymore.

In the past few years, the discussion has been reduced to a small amount of people who are leaving large numbers of negative comments.

The decline started with an increase in general intolerance and personal insults that led to our spending more time reminding people about our comment policy, and banning users who simply refused to be respectful.

But lately, things have gotten much worse. Our commenting software can block certain words from appearing, but it’s not capable of detecting when someone is being racist, homophobic, transphobic or misogynistic.

Moderating comments has become incredibly time consuming and stressful. We delete so many comments that are just outright awful. And honestly, what’s left is not constructive. We have been losing sleep over it for a couple of years now, and that has taken its toll.

We’ve had quite a few people reach out to us to ask if we’d consider disabling the comments. At first, our answer was no. But lately, more of those requests have come from people who say they are longtime readers that feel like the comments now give the site a negative vibe, or are a distraction from our reporting. I hate hearing that.

We’ve tried several things to improve the comments section. We’ve spent more money on commenting software, penned messages to unruly commenters, and we even tried to fact check claims and links, but the onslaught of misinformation related to the pandemic and the most recent election have made the situation nearly impossible to handle.

In the past year we’ve restricted guest commenting, lowered the threshold for flagged comments, and have even made a few code changes to de-emphasize comments in an effort to improve the experience for readers who don’t comment, while still leaving the discussion option open. We removed comment counts from the homepage, and later from under headlines. Eventually we removed the “Recent Comments” tracker from the sidebar. In hindsight, those last few efforts were probably never going to be of much help, but I mention them in hopes of showing that our decision to disable comments altogether was not made in haste.

While we obviously aren’t violating anyone’s First Amendment right by removing comments, I will admit that the decision is a bit disappointing. This week marks the first time the Flyer has not had an open forum for comments in our 14 years of publishing.

But, we are looking forward to spending less time on moderating comments and more time doing what we do best – covering our community.

For those who want to engage, there’s still Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And, of course, we’re always open to feedback here.

Thanks for reading this.

Todd Gill