Dear IOL reader, we need to talk …
I thought you should be the first to know that Independent Online (IOL) will be closing comments on its online articles with immediate effect.
It is a difficult but necessary decision to make and we arrived at it after careful consideration of all the factors at play.
The freedom of expression guaranteed by our Constitution was never meant to override the personal freedoms and human rights of our fellow citizens.
Let me be clear that commenting on an article is not a right, but a courtesy afforded to you by IOL as a reader.
If you are prone to being racist or sexist in your thinking, by all means express yourself on other platforms that may find such behaviour acceptable, but not on IOL.
We are of the view that instances of abuse in our comments section have become untenable.
Independent Media has been the forerunner in addressing the issue.
In 2014 we set up an Advisory Panel to investigate online abuse on our platforms after a 16-year-old intern was subjected to horrendous written abuse related to an article she had written last year.
The Advisory Panel included media attorneys Jacques Louw and Dario Milo, Public Advocate at the Press Council, Latiefa Mobara, political analyst Eusebius McKaiser, Independent Group Content Officer, Karima Brown and its Chief Digital and Technology Officer, Anthony Robinson.
The panel’s report stated in short, that it is desirable to have online comments in the interests of freedom of expression. However, the constitutional rights of readers and members of the public should not be infringed by such comments. And there’s the rub.
As in life it only takes a few selfish individuals to ruin things for everyone else. The protection and essence of our hard won democracy requires constant vigilance and debate - not mudslinging and certainly not more hate speech.
The right to dignity cannot willy-nilly be traded for unmonitored online dialogue. Free speech rights are not inviolable.
IOL’s approach to this conundrum has always been measured, even after the panel released its report. We took time to debate the pros and cons. We announced then that we would take our time to review and then announce our final decision.
After very careful consideration, we have now done so.
Closing online comments is a crucial decision that could not be taken lightly, but today we take the leap and put the interests of our loyal readers first.
Just because we are shutting down comments doesn’t mean we are shutting you out.
Far from it.
We shall publish your opinion where we believe it is conducive to healthy debate.
As a media organisation we acknowledge the critical role that public debate plays in bolstering the legitimacy of our social and political discourse. More than that, we need to promote the deliberation of these ideas between individuals and communities.
From now on we will only tolerate meaningful contributions that take place with dignity, respect and clarity of thought.
This way we can deliver more of the type of journalism you want.
When we do publish your opinion, it will be at the discretion of the IOL editorial team.
You may e-mail your opinion to [email protected] and we will consider it for publication.
We will also pre-moderate and publish opinion on selected stories, provided they relate to the subject at hand.
In arriving at our decision, we concluded that we’d rather devote resources to doing better journalism than recruiting more people to fend off the trolls who lurk in the alleys of the comment section, offering zero value to the conversation.
No doubt they will reveal themselves even in response to this article.
Millions of loyal IOL readers deserve an environment that is safer to comment, where contributors are more invested in the dialogue and where robust debate can flourish.
We need to talk more, and today we’re moving closer to you.
Managing Editor, IOL
* Do you agree/disagree? Tell us why using the hashtag: #IOLComments