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Why I’m Closing Down the Comments Section of Living Single

July 04, 2019DMT.NEWS

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I’ve been writing this Living Single blog here at Psychology Today since 2008. That’s more than a decade, and in all that time, one of the true joys has been the lively and insightful discussions in the comments sections. Some of the people who comment have contributed so consistently and with such intelligence that I feel like I know them. A few, I actually do know, because I have gotten to meet them in person. There have also been some commenters whose perspectives were so important, I invited them to write guest posts so their wisdom would reach more people. I’ve learned a lot from the comments section, and I know others have, too.

Lately, though, the conversations have been soiled by people posting hateful, ignorant, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant screeds. I delete them as soon as I see them, of course, but I don’t learn about all of them instantly; by the time I get to them, some people have already read them and been hurt by them.

The trolls are persistent. One person came up with a snide comment about single women that he has posted over and over and over and over again. I mark it as spam every time, then delete it, but he just doesn’t stop. Another found a misleading factoid that he picked out of a large literature that I reviewed in detail. He, too, continued to post it again and again, no matter how many times I pointed him to the extensive review that included his one preferred statistic.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned my favorite article from The Friendship Files, the wonderful new series over at The Atlantic. The article was about several dozen women who have a decades-long friendship that all started from their exchanges in the comments section of the Jezebel blog. But even some of them have become disillusioned with comments sections. As one of them noted, “it’s just horrible people being horrible.” At this Living Single blog, the comments are not uniformly horrible, even now. Some continue to be enlightening and civil, which makes the need to close down the comments all the more disappointing.

To figure out whether I really wanted to get rid of comments, I looked into other sites that have done so, or considered it. When The Atlantic closed down its comments section in 2018, the editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, said:

“Over the years, robust conversation in The Atlantic comments section has too often been hijacked by people who traffic in snark and ad hominem attacks and even racism, misogyny, homophobia, and anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish invective.”

NPR got rid of comments years ago, in 2016. A blog post discussing the decision offered several reasons, besides the viciousness of many of the comments:

“In July, NPR.org recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, Montgomery said. That's 0.06 percent of users who are commenting…

“…a Google estimate suggested that the commenters were 83 percent male, while overall NPR.org users were just 52 percent male.”

Women and people of color are favorite targets of abusive commenters, as Michelle Goldberg noted in “Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire”:

“Women, urged to tell their stories, are being ferociously punished when they do. Some — particularly women who have the audacity to criticize sexism in the video-game world — have been driven from their homes or forced to cancel public appearances. Fake ads soliciting rough sex have been placed in their names.” 

That’s all the convincing I needed. So, goodbye and thank-you to everyone who has contributed constructively to the Living Single comments section. I hope to see you in another online space, where discourse about single life is more civil.

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Comments sections on other sites have been closing down. Now this one is, too.
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Living Single
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Comments posted to this blog have become too cruel. Before I have a chance to delete them, people read them and are hurt by them. I will miss the commenters who were constructive.
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