Letters: The Comments Apocalypse

Readers disagree about the merits of The Atlantic’s new online Letters section, and the decision to end comments.

We Want to Hear From You

Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, announced the creation of a new online Letters section, and the related decision to shut down comments on TheAtlantic.com. “We are choosing now to elevate respectful, intelligent discourse and argument,” he wrote. “We want smart and critical readers to have a more visible role on our site, and we’re looking forward to hearing from you, and publishing you.”

I had two conflicting thoughts about the news regarding The Atlantic’s decision to shutter their comments section. My first thought was, “Good, comments sections in general have proven to be a bad idea.” My second thought: “God, why even have internet at work anymore?”

Michael Davisson
Temperance, Mich.

I applaud your decision, and only wish that more online publications would follow your lead. The comments sections have evidently been hijacked not only by mindless trolls but by automated and semi-automated propaganda bots as well.  They detract from your fine publication. James Fallows was right!

Luddy Harrison
San Diego, Calif.

I have enjoyed The Atlantic as a print subscriber for many years. I have read the online version for a much shorter time.

Thank you for eliminating the comments section. It got to the point that there were more cutthroat comments about other postings than there were comments about the articles themselves.

I will continue to read TheAtlantic.com and not miss all that crud that was out there.

Jim Hronek
Spring Hill, Fla.

Your choice to close the Disqus comments section of The Atlantic in favor of a letter exchange is baffling and disappointing. One cannot have the same sort of think-on-your feet, conversational interactions via a curated letters section that one can have in a comments section exchange. The lack of spontaneity and opportunity for genuine exchange of ideas constitutes a serious step back.

I have gathered over the years that purportedly right-thinking people hold comments sections in low regard, as sewers of trolling and a refuge for “-ists” of varying description. Yet for a person like me, who visits your site every day, and has made more than 15,000 comments over the years—often lengthy, sometimes even researched, rarely rude or disrespectful, and with very little concern for the prospect of trolling responses (which have little power to trouble someone who isn’t looking to be upset)—I find such characterizations frustratingly ignorant. I would add that a person looking for trolling, or looking to be depressed by the lack of civility in Atlantic comments sections, will certainly find what they are looking for, but will likely ignore a wide range of thoughtful, interesting, and spontaneous exchanges going on among intelligent people (who are not infrequently relevant subject-matter experts) in the process.

As I said, I visit your website every day, read numerous articles, and comment in what I consider to be a thoughtful fashion. I have changed a few minds on a few matters here. I have had my mind changed as well. I know of others who do the same, and whose comments have the genuine power to change minds in a way that posting a smattering of hand-picked letters cannot possibly simulate or replace. I found Mr. Goldberg’s reversion to lazy tropes about bigots posting here particularly dispiriting, as I consider such people to be those most in need of having their minds changed. I find that liberal orthodoxy on such matters has veered away from the desire to persuade such people that their ideas are wrong, while retaining a conviction that such people may very well be redeemed through more and better information, and I consider The Atlantic’s choice in this instance a manifestation of that concerning trend. Make no mistake: Your actions will quash the opportunity for genuine debate and education for numerous people.

Tom Carroll
Chicago, Ill.         

I make it a habit to not patronize any site that doesn’t have a comments section.  Your moderated letters section is no good to me. I don’t want to see what you’ve deemed appropriate. I want unfiltered, raw, comments; in all their hateful, gory truth. How people respond to an article is just as interesting as the article itself.

Michael McElveen
Houston, Tex.

I find it very sad that you guys are removing your comments section. The section has become a great place to share ideas, discuss opinions, and meet like-minded and not-like-minded people. I truly adore the conversations and humor many users impart on the conversation. For such serious issues it is nice to see how others feel and get other perspectives for a well-rounded opinion on the issues at hand. I would consider some of the people who make comments to be friends and it will be sad to lose these connections.

Taylor Cappadona
Nashville, Tenn.

I should begin by commending you on your move to strike down the comments section and replace it with an online space for letters from readers. To many this may seem an arbitrary or even censorious change of format, but in this digital age there is much to be said for promoting simple letter-writing: with this maneuver you simultaneously deny those who would foment toxicity an easy forum for their fulminations and encourage those who have something to say to explore a medium that requires careful self-reflection.

Billy Flynn
Los Angeles, Calif.

Just read your new policy of ending comments forever.

Obviously the reason is that you are a coward terrified of the fact that people do not agree with your religion.

Fuck you.

David Nystrom
Antigo, Wis.