NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik claims that he was “told by a Gawker site editor that their sites are blocking all images in comments after a barrage of violent & graphic image uploads.” The move was confirmed by Buzzfeed, quoting an internal email sent to Gawker staff:
As you may have noticed our main sites are being flooded with streams of graphic images. We’re taking proper action to deal with this.
In the short term, image uploads will be disabled in replies. This should be live within the hour. Expect updates throughout the day.”
The move comes after editorial director Joel Johnson promised to come up with a solution to Gawker’s comment abuse problem:
Re: Jezebel. 1. They rule. 2. I’ve dropped the ball and they’re right to call me out. 3. I don’t have a solution yet but that’s my problem.
— Joel Johnson (@joeljohnson) August 11, 2014
Of course, as several people have pointed out on Twitter, there’s a far better solution to the problem than simply blocking all images — and that’s to allow moderators to block the IP address of anyone who posts offensive material in comments.
Taking that step, though, would mean retreating from Nick Denton’s plan to make Kinja a place where anyone can anonymously post rumour, scandal, abuse and whatever else the gatekeepers in the mainstream media Don’t Want You To See™…
Whenever you work at a newspaper, particularly a newspaper with high standards, you’re struck by the gap between the story that appears in the paper the next day and what the journalist who wrote that story will tell you about it after deadline. The version they tell over a drink is much more interesting—legally riskier, sometimes more trivial, and sometimes it fits less neatly into the institution’s narrative. Usually it’s a lot truer. The very fact that a journalist will ask another journalist who has a story in the paper, “So what really happened?”—now, just think about that question. It’s a powerful question. It’s the essence of all meaningful gossip. That’s why this discussion system, Kinja, is so important.
In Denton’s world, where attracting as many readers as possible to Kinja is the ultimate goal, regardless of what they’re saying or posting, it’s far less of an issue to block all images than it is to block a single pair of eyeballs.
It’s likely, of course, that today’s image blocking is just an interim step while Kinja developers build proper moderation tools (although the fact that these don’t currently exist and are only now being built in response to graphic rape imagery speaks volumes about Gawker’s though process in building Kinja.)
In that case, Gawker is going to confront, or embrace, another hypocrisy at the heart of its publishing empire. If Gawker makes the decision that staff should be allowed to block abusive comments from Kinja, then what about the rest of us?
Let’s not forget that while Gawker editors (rightly) call foul over rape gifs being posted in Jezebel comments, the company previously refused for days to take down a video of a girl possibly being raped in a bathroom at a sports bar. When the girl begged Gawker to take the video down, a Gawker editor emailed her:
Best advice I can give you right now: do not make a big deal out of this because, as you can tell, the footage is blurry and you are not identified by name,
Protecting Gawker staff from abuse is an important first step. But what the company does after that will send one of two very clear messages:
Either Gawker realizes that its (highly profitable) brand of online bullying has come back to bite it and it’s time to stop being a platform for abuse, regardless who that abuse is aimed at.
Or — as I fear is more likely, given past behavior and the pageviews at stake — Gawker once again shows its hypocrisy by implementing one rule to protect Gawker staff and another rule for everyone else in the world.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]