Sunday, November 29, 2015

Comment Control

Malindi Robinson

With shows like E! News The Comment Section on television, it is an undeniable fact that the comment sections for gossip blogs and online news outlets alike are all the rage for trolling. Whether it is political banter or fashion advise and critique, everyone has an opinion - and everyone is posting theirs, respectively, into the comment section.

While everyone has the right to free speech and to express their thoughts and view, to debate with others and exchange ideas - the question now is whether or not the comment section of a news story is the place for such dialogue. Infringing upon the right to free speech is wrong, but the malicious and totally offensive comments that have become all too popular these days have to be monitored, as these words are directed toward and about real people with real feelings, families and images/reputations to uphold and important issues.

From American Journalism Review writer Tim Ebner's conversations with USA Today, worries with how to deal with this expanding territory are growing. Especially for respected news media outlets. Sometimes the issue isn't even offensive comments, but conversations that are completely unrelated to the post. I mean seriously, we have all seen users obnoxiously post spam links to a mixtape or shamelessly promote their business/product. To combat the issue, USA Today decided to direct their online comment sections to a third party social media platform, Facebook.

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One of the main issues that appears to be connected with the plethora of racist, sexist and all-around offensive commentary is the fact that users can post anonymously on news site comments sections. Redirecting content feedback to a social media site doesn't quite eliminate anonymous posting, but it does discourage it. The drawback with this, however, is that not only do the number of negative/offensive comments drop, the number of comments drop altogether as some people are completely turned off by risking their privacy via posting from their personal Facebook pages.

According to Dave Colarusso of Reuters Digital, "much of the well-informed and articulate discussion around news, as well as criticism or praise for stories, has moved to social media and online forums." He made this statement as he announced Reuters own closure of their respective comments section. So, it begs the question - are comment sections in the age of social media obsolete? Should we just do away with them? One of the main benefits of directing commentary to social media is that "people are already on those networks, already holding conversations and sharing stories," according to Re/Code founder Kara Swisher as she was quoted by NeimanLab.

Kalev Leetaru, writer for, highlights that while the relevance and necessity of comment section is indeed fading - "not every website has given up on user comments yet." Outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times are collaborating with software projects to develop more efficient ways to manage and facilitate online discussion via their comment sections. While this is admirable, even with the latest tech developments - it will still be difficult to filter trash commentary, especially for smaller outlets.  

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