Kenyan media must restore order on online platforms


The political excitement ahead of the August General Elections has made matters worse as some individuals take advantage of the online news comment platforms to spew vitriol. file photo | nmg

Online platforms undoubtedly stand to shape the future of journalism globally. They are cheaper to run in the long-term and their interactive nature sits well with an expanding type of audience that wants to be part of the journalism network and collaborate with news crew.

Conventional news organisations are cognizant of this fact and now have catchy websites and other interactive platforms.

However, the interactive sites are proving problematic in terms of ethics and media organisations are particularly left in an awkward position because they face the dilemma of staying relevant while compromising on ethics.

In Kenya, comments made below published articles contain shocking levels of hate, warmongering and insults.

The political excitement ahead of the August General Elections has particularly made matters worse as some individuals took advantage of the news comment platforms to spew vitriol.

While I support freedom of expression, the abuse of the online reader comments sections is worrying and should be tackled urgently.

Many media firms across the world have, in fact, disabled the reader comment sections so that parties who feel they have something concrete to say would do so in a dignified manner through other feedback avenues such as the letters to the editor or opinion blogs.

Readers have also been granted social media platforms to air their thoughts.

This is on the basis that the media houses consider the anonymous comments a major legal risk. Providing a free platform for faceless individuals to make reckless comments exposes media houses to legal challenges because aggrieved parties would not go after anonymous persons but the organisation that hosts the website.

Media houses in Kenya should take up debate on this global matter and find ways of restoring order.

Reuters News Agency, for instance, in 2014 announced that it was ending user comments on news stories on its website and redirected readers to use social media and online platforms.

Reuters argued that “those communities offer vibrant conversation and, importantly, are self-policed by participants to keep on the fringes those who would abuse the privilege of commenting”.

It, however, said would still host comments on the opinion and blogs sections so that columnists and readers can exchange ideas on interesting and controversial topics.

Some news sites are even experimenting the idea of charging for readers’ comments to deal with trolls and generate some revenue from sensible discourse on their platforms.

Many media houses, including those in Kenya, attempt to moderate the kind of comments that make it to their websites but it is a fact that some of the abusive annotations still pass because the task is simply overwhelming.

It is not easy to vet each of the hundreds or thousands of comments that are made on news articles.

Some readers may argue that disabling the online comments sections would hurt their interaction with others.

Although such concerns may be logical, we must also not lose focus of the dire consequences that come with abuse of the reader comments platforms.