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This Is Why You Couldn't Comment on Jay Carney's New York Times Medium Letter

"When users request it, we will shut off responses to a post."

Asa Mathat / Re/code

If you scroll to the end of Amazon spokesman Jay Carney’s Medium post on the New York Times’ reporting, you’ll see that “The author has chosen not to show responses on this post.”

That’s not something that normal users, or “authors,” can do on Medium.

In an email to Re/code, Medium’s operations chief Andy Doyle confirmed that the service had killed the comments on Carney’s post, saying, “When users request it, we will shut off responses to a post.” Sources close to Medium say that the company is likely to ship a feature in its next update that will let writers make responses “not visible” at the bottom of a post.

It’s pretty clear why Jay Carney would want to publish his response to the Times on Medium: The service has a clean, easy-to-read publishing interface, there’s a built-in audience of users and the content looks great on mobile. Also, there aren’t clunky ads, and the post is easy to share on social media.

Turning off the comments, however, might seem to some as though Medium is granting Amazon a more privileged voice over the community of its readers. Carney, for example, was criticized (via social outlets like Twitter) for posting confidential employee information in his strike against the Times, which readers couldn’t post within comments. Doyle told Re/code that Amazon asked to turn off responses, and that Medium did not offer it proactively.

There’s also a strong case to be made that Medium should just allow all users to kill the comments altogether, which is something Doyle suggested Medium will “decide on shortly.” It would be an easy and effective way to offer some protection to Medium authors who receive lots of hateful communication and who, let’s be clear, are predominantly women. Earlier this year, Medium changed its content guidelines, clarifying that people couldn’t publish stuff like revenge porn or other harassing and abusive material.

Less than a month ago, Medium announced it had raised $57 million as part of a round that set the company’s value at $400 million. Some have argued that Medium is quickly becoming the PR Newswire of the social media age. Judging by the back and forth Medium posts between Amazon and the New York Times, that seems fair.

It should be noted that press releases haven’t traditionally come with a comments section. That said, neither does Re/code.

You can read Medium’s email to Re/code below:

When users request it, we will shut off responses to a post. It’s an extremely rare request, made primarily when the writer is dealing with a sensitive personal topic. But as a platform we want to be consistent so to date we have honored all such requests. Shutting off responses is also a manual process, handled by our user happiness team. We have not decided whether to offer this feature in a more automated way. As you point out, it is a complex issue. But yesterday’s experience has elevated the conversation internally and we will decide shortly on the right path to balance user trust & safety with the spirit of open discussion.

While we do encourage healthy debate, we have always taken the stance of giving authors a safe place to express themselves. For example, the default setting for responses is that we show them to you only if the writer of the original post has recommended the response or if you follow the person who wrote the response.

As it relates specifically to turning off responses, ultimately it’s up to the community to decide whether the writer used it properly.

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