We need a productive approach to online discourse – and that means recognising when things aren’t working
WHEN CommonSpace launched nearly three and half years ago, there were some basic things news websites tend to have that we built into it, like the comments section below articles.
We agree that it is a great thing in the digital age that readers can have a much closer relationship to the journalism that serves them. That’s why we also built a social network, CommonSocial. We wanted to create a more radical space for people to network, discuss and organise. If the CommonSpace news team existed to provide news and information, we were keen for readers to then take ownership of that and to find ways to utilise it that could benefit them and their communities.
Now, as a new media outlet funded entirely by our supporters, creating a digital product that can compete with networks like Facebook and Twitter is not easy, and unfortunately it’s not possible for us to have a big, bustling tech team constantly tweaking software and keeping up with the latest digital changes. This has been a challenge for CommonSocial, but the main thing for us was, in the first instance, to build the foundations of something different, and we hope to bring CommonSocial up to its full potential in the future.
Our plan had always been to remove our comments section after CommonSocial was up and running and to encourage readers to use it as a more positive forum for discussion. However, since a number of people had already begun using our regular below-the-line comments section, we decided it wouldn’t do any harm to leave it as it was.
But as time has progressed, we’ve realised how negative and unproductive it can be as a forum. There is often bickering between users, or nasty, hurtful language directed at our writers, and that’s before we even get to the incessant spam comments. It is extremely time consuming to get rid of them.
CommonSpace has a small, dedicated team of people trying to make Scottish journalism better, and trying to serve our readers as best we can. Our readers fund us directly, and we don’t think it’s fair any more to spend a minute more of that time moderating a forum that often brings such negativity to a site which prides itself on showcasing ideas and encouraging broad thinking.
So we’ve decided to close the comments section, and we have a range options for our dedicated readers and supporters in order to make sure they stay as closely involved with us as they want to be.
1.) We’re going to launch a letters page. We appreciate the thoughtful contributions many of our readers make and we want to give them the prominence they deserve.
2.) Our opinion and magazine sections are open platform. If you want to try your hand at producing articles, we’re here to assist that. We have platforms and an editor who works with all of our contributors to help them get their voices out there.
3.) You can create groups on CommonSocial for discussion on any topic you want. If you want real debate with others, CommonSocial is for you.
We’re confident that making this small change to CommonSpace will dramatically improve how our readers interact with the site, and we’re excited to see where it takes us.
There will be more information in the coming weeks and months about the letters page and how you can contribute to it, so keep an eye out for that.
In the meantime, if you would like to speak to one of the team about contributing to our opinion or magazine section, drop us an email at email@example.com and we’ll get right back to you.
And, of course, if you’d like to help us keep building CommonSocial as a fresh alternative, becoming a CommonSpace investor will make a dramatic difference to the project.
Picture courtesy of Sarah Joy
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