In an effort to tame the trolls, SFGate's site (as well as a few others like ThinkProgress) use software from an outside company that implements a unique "block user" function. This feature blocks all comments made by a user from view by anyone but themselves (upon login). That is to say, whenever the quasi-banned user logs in to the site, they see their comments intact; but to everyone else, the offending comment is simply invisible. When we heard about this "deception" recently, we thought what most blog editors thought: genius. And heads up.
Investigate the Media broke the story -- its only story, in fact. (Hmm. Just who is this JimJams? Curious.) ITM broke it down like this:
Why would SFGate do such a thing? Because ever since public input was first allowed at SFGate, many commenters who had their comments deleted would come back onto the comment thread and point out that they had been silenced for ideological reasons -- i.e. they weren't sufficiently "progressive" -- or because they had pointed out ethical lapses at SFGate and the Chronicle.
"Silenced for ideological reasons?" Banned for not being "sufficiently 'progressive?'" (Do you hear that? That's the din of collective chortling by SF progressives.) And here we thought that this was simply a more gentle yet passive way of dealing with the gaggle of trolls that park under the bridges of any site with user comments. Admittedly, we do understand ITM's point of view here. But the issue here seems to stem from hurt feelings, not noble anguish over dastardly censorship as we're being led to believe. The blocked commenter is upset that their comments and thoughts simply haven't been read. We don't think censorship is the real issue here. He or she simply didn't know that they were banned.
Anyway, we asked former SFist Editor and current Deputy Managing Editor for Online, Eve Batey, just what in God's name is going on. (Full disclosure: Batey is a friend of the site and personal friend.) When asked whether or not commenters are banned for varying viewpoints, she told SFist that "neither The Chronicle nor SFGate would delete a comment based on an idealogical stance. ... Why would we bother to have comments on the site if we didn't want varying viewpoints to be expressed?" She goes on to tell us that "[w]e've stopped using the 'block user' function as of today, even at the risk of having comments 'disappear' and at having some article comment section conversations suffer as a result."
Batey's entire statement after the jump.