The Guardian has announced it will close comments underneath articles on race, immigration, and Islam. The reason, according to the ultra-progressive newspaper, is that such topics attract an “unacceptable level of toxic commentary.”
“The overwhelming majority of these comments tend towards racism, abuse of vulnerable subjects, author abuse and trolling” said Guardian executive editor Mary Hamilton. “The resulting conversations below the line bring very little value but cause consternation and concern among both our readers and our journalists.”
The Guardian’s new policy stipulates that comments will only be opened under articles covering those topics if moderators “have the capacity to support the conversation” and “believe a positive debate [is] possible.” They did not explain what a “positive debate” on immigration would look like. Readers are welcome to take guesses in our comments section, which will of course be open as usual.
This is another chapter in the left’s long-running war on comments sections, which we have previously covered at Breitbart Tech. Once upon a time, comments sections were welcomed by the left as the a huge leap forward for democracy and free speech. “For the first time ever, we are thinking aloud, unfiltered by mass media gatekeepers,” wrote a former Hillary Clinton advisor in 2008. “Never before has the global discourse been so accessible, recursive, and durable.”
The Guardian, too, was part of this left-wing adulation of open commentary on the internet. They continue to call their commentary pages “comment is free,” after the late C.P Scott’s dictum, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” It’s become a point of mockery for the paper’s critics in recent years, as the removal of readers’ comments (no matter how many facts they contain) grows ever more severe.
The left’s embrace of comments sections lasted only as long as commenters agreed with them. Once the masses started challenging the elites above the comment line, it was only a matter of time before the innate authoritarianism of the regressive left showed itself.
It started with feminism, which enjoyed a heyday online between 2010 and 2014. Progressive publications embraced a string of feminist myths: the idea of a campus rape epidemic (it’s not really an epidemic); the idea that women are particularly likely to be trolled or harassed online (actually, men suffer slightly more online harassment); the idea that video games, songs, movies, and politically incorrect jokes can lead to sexism (unscientific hoodoo).
The “fourth wave” of feminism, as it was then called, has suffered a rapid change of fortunes. The Rolling Stone UVA rape scandal marked a turning point in the panic over campus sexual assault. GamerGate, meanwhile, took away the dominance of progressive feminists on social media. It’s now common to see high-profile columnists and commentators challenging modern feminism, where once only the anonymous dared stand up to their online mobs.
Yet for a great deal of time, one of the only places to safely challenge the myths of modern feminism was in the relative safety of the anonymous comments box. Between 2010 and 2014, articles about gender and feminism at The Guardian and other left-wing publications often resembled a war between authors and commenters.
Feminists like Jessica Valenti spearheaded the first stage of the left’s war on comments sections, and left-wing tech publications like The Verge used the rise of anti-feminism to justify shutting down their own comments sections. Feminists even started selling T-shirts bearing the slogan, “Never read the comments.” I’m not making that up — it’s a real thing.
With the online battles over feminism drawing to a close, the front lines of free speech on the internet have now shifted to the topic of immigration. There, once again, progressive elites are at odds with the masses. The former want open borders, with as little discussion of the disastrous problems caused by immigration as possible.
The latter, astonished at the perceived blindness of their governments, fear that the truth is being covered up. They want to know about the migrant-driven crime wave that is sweeping the European continent. They want to know about the rise of Islamic extremism in ghettoised immigrant communities. They want to know the truth, and discuss it in the comments section.
That’s not what the regressive left wants. The same Guardian editors who wrung their hands when their readers challenged feminists on the non-existent campus rape culture are now horrified by discussion of the very real rape culture that has suddenly appeared on the streets of European cities. As flyers are handed out to immigrants instructing them not to attack gay people or beat their wives, the regressive left’s chief worry is that their readers might be the intolerant, bigoted ones.
It’s not just editors that are clamping down on online discussion of the refugee crisis, though. As Breitbart recently covered, police in the Netherlands are reportedly visiting the homes of people who are too critical of Europe’s migration policies. The German government, meanwhile, is working with Facebook to censor discussion of the refugee crisis on the world’s biggest social network. Unlike the feminist war on comments sections, this new one has the cooperation of powerful European elites.
Never before have so many ordinary people been able to express themselves to such a large audience, with so few filters. It terrifies authoritarians, which is why they’re so obsessed with controlling discussion online. Old elites in the establishment media are no longer the masters of information, so regressives are scrambling to build new systems of control on the web. The war on comments sections is just one part of that. With elites determined to intimidate and censor the online critics of immigration, free speech on the web is about to face its toughest challenge yet.