Monday, November 30, 2015

What to do with comments?

Erik Threet


Commenting on an article, video, a topic or whatever it may be is a common practice that is seen regularly. Readers and/or viewers can chime in on the subject and are allowed (most of the time) to say whatever they want. The comments arise new perspectives, new concepts and new conversations, but a lot of people comment offensive, disrespectful and off-topic comments that leave ruin it for those who are there for its purpose. The purpose of commenting was to give the audience an opportunity to talk with a community of people who was interested in the same topic. However, trolling, racism, sexism, anonymity and off-topic discussion have made people question whether or not commenting should continue. Not because of these publications do not want a response from the audience, but because it is damaging the credibility of the author through comments that may or may not be based on fact.

Just like the commenters and their opinions, organizations and publications have opinions that have a vast range. Some allow commenting, some have recently gotten rid of their comments option like the USA Today and others are trying to make commenting better. There are strong cases for all three views about commenting.

In an article published by the Washington Post in December of 2014, columnist Anne Applebaum was quoted expressing her dissent of commenting.

"Multiple experiments have shown that perceptions of an article, its writer or its subject can be profoundly shaped by anonymous online commentary, especially if it is harsh," Applebaum said. "One group of researchers found that rude comments 'not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.'”

Not only are the comments foul and demeaning, but based on Applebaum's opinion, they skew the readers' outlook on the story. These comments hurt the author or blogger and could potentially hurt the publication that the author posts on.

A possible solution for this came about in an interview with Helen Havlek, who is an engagement editor at The Verge.

"We chose to have the writer go in and say, OK, this is the question I want to pose to the readers to start a valuable discussion," Havlek explains. "And that’s [also] what a forum post does: it keeps things on topic, it keeps things positive, and it’s less [just] reaction to a story."

Commenting gets complicated. Heinous comments can be poisonous for an author, but the feedback that they receive can give these authors new perspectives, new ideas and even help them grow as a writer. Being able to connect with an audience is an important part of being a writer. By getting rid of the comments section, the author would have more difficulties with regards to receiving feedback.
This topic is not something that will have a clear cut solution. Different subjects will provoke different comments.
"What was happening was that the posts with the most negative comments on them were the most popular posts because they were the culture posts," Havlek said.
In their case, The Verge deleted the comments section for more "cultured" posts to eliminate the vulgar and off-topic comments.

This was only one solution and only one perspective of a complex problem.

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