I miss the old days of Vice. I first discovered Vice back in 2013, back when I was an avid fan of Stoya and found out she was a regular contributor to their content. Their investigative journalism, exposés of subculture and alternative news sources was riveting. Once Stoya stopped contributing though, I knew things were taking a turn for the worse.
Everything changes. To fight change and not adapt to new circumstances, technology, audiences, environments, is to become irrelevant. And for websites and businesses, that translates to failure and dying off. So Vice’s content shifted to reflect what they perceived their audience wanted, what would generate the most exposure, traffic, and revenue for them. There were other factors at play of course, but those efforts are a different discussion. Can’t fault them for changing.
What you can fault them for is their blatant censorship.
Vice has announced they will be shutting down the comments section on their website. Their statement, in part, reads as follows:
“Unfortunately, website comments sections are rarely at their best. Without moderators or fancy algorithms, they are prone to anarchy. Too often they devolve into racist, misogynistic maelstroms where the loudest, most offensive, and stupidest opinions get pushed to the top and the more reasoned responses drowned out in the noise. While we always welcomed your thoughts on how we are actually a right-wing mouthpiece for the CIA, or how much better we were before we sold our dickless souls to Rupert Murdoch, or just how shitty we are in general, we had to ban countless commenters over the years for threatening our writers and subjects, doxxing private citizens, and engaging in hate speech against pretty much every group imaginable.
We don't have the time or desire to continue monitoring that crap moving forward. Besides, there are plenty of other ways for you to publicly discuss our work and the personal worth of our staff. We'll still be reading your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and we legitimately do enjoy getting IRL mail (no bombs) sent to our offices in Brooklyn.”
Comment sections are essentially a continuation of the age-old tradition of letters to the editor. It’s wonderful to know that our content is sparking conversation and critical thought. And let’s face it, oftentimes we writers are a needy lot who seek validation and confirmation of our opinions, or to prove to Mom and Dad that there are writers not starving on the streets- oh wait, that last one is just me. Regardless, there is something incredibly satisfying knowing that people are actually reading your words and become motivated to respond, whether it’s to agree or prove what an idiot you are. But I think it’s safe to say that sometimes comment sections can be like going down the rabbit hole with Alice, just without the fun acid trip and way more hate.
Vice has joined the ranks of The Telegraph, Popular Science, Recode, Mic, The Week, Reuters, The Verge, and USA Today in eliminating their comments sections.
Vice makes some good points. We have all witnessed a diatribe of hateful, nonsense driven comments attacking writers, other commenters, subjects, etc. Even though Trigtent prides itself as a resource for thoughtful discussion, it doesn’t always end up that way. And anyone who has taken the time to peruse comment sections on any site can quickly lose any faith in humanity they may have possessed. However, I think it’s important to keep communication channels open. Writer and media need to be held accountable to their audiences, and I think the immediacy of comments is incredibly helpful. Yes, inevitably everything is shared on various social media platforms, but I’ve found direct conversations within the article itself tends to be one of the few times I’ve witnessed the magic of open and informed dialogue happen.
But is this really just about a comments section?
Despite that flippant comment in their statement, Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox only owns 5% of Vice. After a tweet from Murdoch himself back in 2012 proclaiming Vice as a “wild, interesting effort to interest millennials who don’t watch or read established media,” Vice ended up exploding. Hell, even the Walt Disney Company bought 10% of Vice, bringing Vice’s estimated value up to a cool $400 million. Disney has a pretty good history of investing in money-makers. So why then, did Vice CEO Shane Smith go on record to Forbes with his plan of becoming irrelevant?
“I want to be the next CNN and the next ESPN and the next MTV, digitally,” Smith said, “I know that sounds grandiose, but when we do our Google channels and our Chinese channels, we’re going to be one of the largest networks in the world.”
Networks. Not websites, networks. Why on earth someone would want to be associated with one of those networks is beyond me. We’ve even written three separate articles on the disassociation and irrelevance of mainstream media. But perhaps that’s the key.
Vice Media quietly announced a rather interesting deal with the Guardian to create content together. This will allow for both companies to share investigative news and video production skills- and of course, personnel. As part of the deal, Vice will have access to the Guardian’s journalists, while the Guardian will gain Vice’s video production skills, distribution platforms, and their audience.
According to the deal, the two brands will collaborate on the development of new video formats across genres and platforms including informationals, investigative mini-series, mobile-first media products, feature documentaries and virtual reality storytelling.
That’s the real bread and butter.
Even briefly discussing this with a friend, he brought up how disappointing Vice had become. He mentioned how he had watched a documentary from Vice about a tribe in Asia that harvested hallucinogenic honey. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, this tribe did so with nothing but baskets and rope ladders, scaling sheer cliff walls and braving swarms of angry bees to reach this rare substance found only in Nepal. Now that’s interesting. That’s the kind of shit Vice should be sticking too- and maybe that’s what this is about.
Vice’s interesting pieces are becoming few and far between. There are only so many sex taboos the website can post. It’s becoming tired and contrived. And maybe Smith is catching on. He even said:
“When I was a young man studying political science, my international politics professor told me to get a Guardian subscription because it was ‘the best news in the world.' I have had one ever since. This partnership provides a test case for the way forward in multi-platform exploitation of content. And when that content is the foremost investigative news in the business it becomes even more imperative. Real, fact-based, trusted news has never been more important.”
Maybe this isn’t about a comments section or conversation between writers and readers at all. When I first heard of this decision, I’ll admit to being up-in-arms, ready to start accusing Vice of taking the first steps in censorship of their audience. But if they’re moving resources away from their site to focus on providing a reliable, accurate news platform that utilizes their skills? This is worthy of applause, and maybe some hallucinogenic honey. Perhaps we can start renewing a bit of faith in big media again.