Al Jazeera English disables comments on stories after section 'hijacked' by trolls 'spewing vitriol'

Al Jazeera English has disabled reader comments below stories on its website, claiming the section has been “hijacked” by anonymous users “spewing vitriol, bigotry, racism and sectarianism”.

In a blog post yesterday, the broadcaster said the prevalence of trolls at aljazeera.com meant the “possibility of having any form of debate was virtually non-existent”.

It said it had “given much thought” to the decision to disabled reader comments and felt it was one that “ultimately best serves” its audience.

“When we first opened up comments on our website, we hoped that it would serve as a forum for thoughtful and intelligent debate that would allow our global audience to engage with each other,” it said.

“However, the comments section was hijacked by users hiding behind pseudonyms spewing vitriol, bigotry, racism and sectarianism. The possibility of having any form of debate was virtually non-existent.”

Al Jazeera, which is based in Doha, Qatar, is facing the threat of closure after a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf states called for it to be shut down over allegations Qatar had been supporting terrorism.

The BBC’s John Simpson has described the move against Al Jazeera as “shocking” and “disturbing”, saying the news network offered “one of the most energetic and intelligent voices in world broadcasting”.

Al Jazeera said in its blog post: “This decision also comes at a time when we as a publisher need to evaluate what our priorities are.

“We feel that rather than approaching the problem with a collection of algorithms and an army of moderators, our engineering and editorial resources are better utilised building new storytelling formats that resonate with our audience.

“We realise that this move will come as a disappointment to the members of our audience who did try and engage in thoughtful debate on our site. However, we will be working hard over the coming months to figure out how best to bring back debate to aljazeera.com.”

It said it found social media to be the “preferred platform” for its audience to “debate the issues that matter the most to them” and that it encouraged them to continue doing so.

Picture: Reuters/Naseem Zeitoon

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