Cape Town - Comment sections on news websites showcase an often-shocking cross-section of readers’ opinions, as anonymity allows users to post deplorable attacks on the writer or other commentators.
IOL is no different – but Independent News and Media chairman Dr Iqbal Survé on Thursday announced a plan to change the way news sites handle the comment sections.
Recently, an article written by 16-year-old contributor Kine Dineo Mokwena-Kessi titled “Black in Cape Town? Brace Yourself” attracted so many racist and aggressive comments that the writer and her mother were left fearing for their safety.
The vitriolic comments sparked an opinion article by political analyst and social commentator Eusebius McKaiser. It also prompted Survé to write his opinion on the matter and to meet Mokwena-Kessi in person to encourage her despite the online slander.
“We have too few voices of the youth in the media,” he said. “She was brave enough to write a column about her experience of Cape Town. When she was attacked, I was very concerned. This young woman came in for the most violent attack and hate speech.”
Survé has assembled an advisory panel to investigate the state of comment sections, and the best way forward. Media attorney and former Independent legal adviser Jacques Louw will chair the panel, consisting of public advocate at the Press Council Latiefa Mobara; Eusebius McKaiser; Independent’s chief content officer Karima Brown and chief technology officer Anthony Robinson.
Survé said he hoped the findings of the panel – which will be published in 30 days – would benefit not only Independent, but all online news companies struggling to tread the fine line between respecting freedom of expression while leaving no space for hate speech.
“We must not underestimate the impact aggressive comments have on people who want to do good.”