The community — readers who share opinions, ideas and information by commenting on stories published online — was disarmed and disbanded early last year when the Nation disabled Disqus, the online discussion service.
This disappointed many readers. Writing soon after Disqus was unplugged without a warning, MGH Behrens spoke for many readers when he said: “I very much enjoy the Nation news and often would like to make a comment on articles but Disqus seems to have gone astray and I wonder how else I might sign in.”
As the Nation disabled its own Disqus, there was a corresponding spike in online comments in other newspapers that do not subscribe to the same strict standards and allowed all kinds of crackpots to say whatever they wanted to say about anybody and anything.
The migration to those newspapers suggested the Nation had removed something readers hold dear — the ability to comment on stories.
Now I have some good news. Online Editor Churchill Otieno has informed me that the Disqus comment service will be restored soon.
However, it will be limited to the op-ed and blogs sections.
He was responding to the latest comment, in a long line of complaints by readers, that I had just received from Nicodemus Kibagendi.
“I am an avid Daily Nation reader and like following what is going on in my country. I am wondering what happened to the Disqus commentary section.
"Sometimes I would like to give comments when I see a good story and this was my favourite media. Hopeful the Nation brings it back,” he pleaded.
The Nation discontinued Disqus for pretty much the same reasons that many leading media have discontinued or limited their comment hosting service since Disqus was founded in 2007, and used by online communities.
Many have been withdrawing from the comment platform because some members of the community engage in toxic comments, insults, off-topic personal attacks, name-calling, defamation or hate speech.
In my article on April 9, 2015, “Online comment section is democratic space, so no insults and yelling allowed”, I warned those who spewed personal insults and off-topic absurdities that they risked being barred from discussions.
I quoted Mr Otieno saying, “We blacklist repeat offenders who fail to adhere to the blog rules, especially those who use the platform to fan hatred, constantly use bad language, or try to defame other people or institutions.”
And it came to pass, the entire community was excommunicated, as the Nation followed the worldwide trend in which news organisations disable or limit their comment sections because, unless properly moderated, they quickly become nothing better than a breeding ground for misinformation, insults, abuse, and propaganda.
A year before the Nation unplugged Disqus, Reuters, for example, announced that it would no longer allow comments on news stories for similar reasons.
The Chicago Sun-Times eliminated its Disqus because of what it said was a “morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviours that detract from the content”.
Other news organisations have either ended anonymous comments or limited comments only to certain types of stories.
The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, US, does not allow comments on stories involving Muslims, gays, crime, racially sensitive issues or stories that attract too much trolling and hateful and racist statements.
In all cases, the mischief that news organisations are trying to address is the defamatory, offensive, banal, obscene, hateful, inappropriate or irrelevant off-topic comments.
However, despite the trend of disabling Disqus, good comments can add value to an article by providing a new perspective or background and in some cases even new information.
Thoughtful comments may also add to our understanding of a story, its accuracy, balance and fairness.
The downside is that it requires a news organisation to put aside manpower and resources to moderate the comments to ensure they are civil, in good taste and do not degenerate into ad hominem attacks.
Send your complaints to the [email protected] Text or call 0721989264