Is the Internet Comment Culture Doomed?

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I have to admit, I have a comment addiction.

Writing comments, and even more so, reading them. I read them on posts, on news stories, editorial pieces, and when it comes to “reviews” which are basically comments about products, where ever I can find comments, I devour them. It was like the last vestige of unfiltered opinion.

Then I started to notice a shift in the comments. Maybe, I thought, I was getting jaded, comments seemed to take a turn for the crazy. It became like watching Jerry Springer. Having dinner with Wendy Brandes,  she said “I'm a small blog, and therefore I interact a lot with my commenters who are also my customers, but I feel like that's the exception rather than the rule now. I certainly avoid reading comments on news sites such as the New York Times because you really see the worst of humanity there. Racism, sexism, ageism, you name it. It detracts from the article.” In a separate conversation with another blogger, weeks later, she noted the trend in a similar way.

“I certainly avoid reading comments on news sites such as the New York Times because you really see the worst of humanity there. Racism, sexism, ageism, you name it. It detracts from the article.”

It became obvious it wasn't in my imagination. This week, Fast Company (and the New York Times) wrote about a scientific study on how negative comments do more harm than just airing their opinion, they polarize readers and they cast a shadow of doubt on the writer. The study asked 1,183 participants to read a fictitious blog post about a thing called “nanosilver” outlining pros and cons… half read the post with constructive comments, and the other half read the same post with nasty comments. To me, it was not surprising what they found:

“Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself. … Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.”

From my personal experience, reading comments can sway my opinion on a post I really have no other information or knowledge about. Whether that's good or bad, remains yet to be seen. But as negative comments can detract from the articles, even well-researched ones. Could it be possible that more and more websites are considering shutting comments off completely?

 

Do Comments Bring the Community Together or Tear it Apart?

For years comments were what brought the internet community together. Comments at their best can make a post into a conversation sometimes outshining the original text, at their worst they can polarize a community, or worse push a blogger to the point of quitting. Yet this trend towards negative and hostile comments has forced larger publications, like the New York Times, and also the Gawker network to invest in developing custom commenting systems to filter out the crazy and try to highlight the constructive comments. It's become an issue where companies are having to invest dollars that could go into paying their writers into developing software to curate better commenting culture.

What of bloggers and publications who do not have the budgets to create custom comment systems? Do they moderate? That just seems to fuel the fire. I've personally received “Shame on you for deleting my comment.” comments from people who somehow do not realize that some blogs have to hold new commenters for approval because of spam issues. Do they shut off the comments? A few years ago, that was like cutting off the voice of community, defeating the purpose of being a blog.

What of bloggers and publications who do not have the budgets to create custom comment systems? Do they moderate? That just seems to fuel the fire.

As the negativity spreads, from large sites to smaller ones will the value of a comment be worth the trouble? With social media sharing  and conversions being tracked through affiliate programs, and click throughs becoming more important indicators of “engagement” for brands, perhaps the value of a comment will decline as the culture of commenting loses their credibility.

I personally like to believe that comment culture can enhance in the future of publishing.  Commenting really has shifted our thinking that media is a one way street, and made the it personal for many of us.  So personal that we tend to forget that leaving comments on someone's work (literally, on the same page) is a privilege, not a right.

However the trend towards negativity and how it affects so many websites may inevitably lead to a trend towards shutting off commenting features. It might mean demise of comments for everyone unless the internet community does something to change.

I only wish I knew what that something was.

 

[Image: Shutterstock.com]

 

 

 

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10 Responses

  1. Oksana Radionova

    I don’t anticipate the comment feature disappearing altogether, considering that our culture is moving in the you’re-entitled-to-voice-your-opinion direction at an increasing rate. I think the commenting problem is especially evident in the blogging world, where 95% of post comments are “Love it!” I feel like I would almost rather receive genuine negative comments than shallow positive ones.

    Reply
  2. Shug Avery

    I am exactly like you Jenine about comments. I like writing them as much as I appreciate reading them. I like seeing the conversation between the blogger and the readers and also between the readers.
    Lately I have noticed that more and more bloggers are moderating comments which led me to think that they must have done it because of negative comments left by people. I believe there is definitely a shift in commenting but also in fashion blogging itself. In these few months I have discovered more blogs where people are not only reviewing collections or sharing their looks etc..I feel there are more and more bloggers who are writing in a more critical way. By that I don’t mean being nasty but are more keen on telling their real opinion, they are not being afraid of telling why they appreciate or not a behavior, a brand, a product etc..
    So I believe that this evolution in fashion blogging is also accompanied with a shift in commenting. The more you give your opinion in a critical way, the more you expose yourself to constructive critics like harmful ones.
    I don’t know if there is more negativity but I do feel that the commenters’ behavior is changing according to the evolution of blogging. And I think this negativity, like you call it, is touching all fashion bloggers, even the ones that focus on personal style or visual etc..now I think we have to adapt and learn how to react to this change.

    Shug Avery of Incognito

    http://www.thinkincognito-eng.blogspot.com

    Reply
  3. Kathleen Lisson

    There is a pop culture blog in one of my local papers that has a large following. When the blogger writes about hot button issues, comments have come pouring in from across the country. The blogger keeps the comment forum civil by engaging the top commenters and even mentioning them in her blog posts. I think the ‘comment and run’ atmosphere of the internet and news sites does not create a community, and that is why people think that they can put up their graffiti and move along.
    How to we deal with real graffiti? Quick removal, and application of a barrier coating. A blog’s barrier coating can be as simple as a note in the comments section stating that comments are read and approved and profanity or personal attacks are not allowed.
    How can a blogger keep comments coming? Create a community with her readers. I read every comment and have featured photos of commenters in past blog posts.
    My blog is not the public square and I have never thought it should be. Why shouldn’t I provide a safe space for my readers to share their feelings about wearing hats?

    http://thatsaprettyhat.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Hey Mishka

      Love this idea of engaging top commenters and including their feedback in future posts. It reminds readers that they are not simply rattling off their thoughts to a void — real people are read, feeling something, and responding.

      Reply
  4. I AM TURQUOISE

    So true. I get very annoyed when I see negative comments and I dont get why people are misusing their voice this way. And these negative comments dont benefit the commenter anyway, they harm the writer though. I think it’s very disrespectful.

    http://iamturquoise.com

    Reply
  5. Kajsa J. Andersen

    Yes comments are tools to create communication. Long or short comments, they give me clues to what the readers like. I try to incorporate this information, when it seems appropriate into my posts.

    I have yet to come across negative comments on my blog. Hence it´s hard to give a constructive answer to this question. However I do approve comments before they are public. More to be on the safe side.
    xoxo KJ
    http://kjandersen.wordpress.com/

    Reply
  6. Jenny

    Hmmm, interesting article. Negative commenters can have a mob mentality…once one person leaves one (whether justified or not), it opens it up and makes it easier for others to leave negative feedback as well. Then, as you wrote, it can sway other reader’s opinions.

    As a personal style blogger, I don’t think I would ever remove commenting from my blog. I have developed some fabulous relationships with other bloggers through the comments they have left on my blog, and through the comments I’ve left on theirs. Also, I moderate my comments but only because I receive an incredible amount of spam, but also because I respond to every comment on my blog. By moderating them, it is much easier for me to read and respond to each comment. I have received a few negative comments, but have approved every single one as well.

    I personally think that society in general has become very critical, quick-to-judge, negative and angry. With the anonymity of the internet, it is all too easy to take out these emotions/behaviors on others without any repercussions for the commenter. It’s really sad when this online bullying occurs, and in a way, I feel sorry for the person leaving the comment. They must live a really sad, lonely life for them to bully someone else (and just to clarify, I’m not talking about respectful negative comments or constructive criticism. I’m talking about the mean, hurtful, personal comments that people would never say to someone face-to-face but somehow feel it’s appropriate to do it anonymously on someone else’s blog space). And yes, you are so right when you say that commenting is a privilege, not a right.

    xo Jenny

    Reply
    • Sabina

      I’m with you Jenny. Removing the option to comment would remove the pointless and ridiculous gaslighting comments of course, but it also is a useful tool for bloggers and others looking to network. And besides, unless you have a huge following, comments (when they’re genuine and not just “follow me–kisses” ones) are a reminder that people are in fact paying attention. For me, that’s a huge motivator.

      As for some bloggers getting into a mob mentality with negative things to say–this is true too of course. It never happened on my blog, but I know if that if it did, I would simply close comments at that point, and include an update on the post explaining why. That it is my blog, and I don’t owe anyone the ability to use and abuse it as a means to attack others. Use your own blog, or better yet, just get a life.

      Reply
  7. Hey Mishka

    With the increasing lack of online privacy and the harder it is o truly remain anonymous, I foresee people checking themselves before writing some insanely offensive or misinformed because their names/icons will appear next to whatever they type. A lot of blogs employ facebook or twitter plug-ins so users can comment/share/like/retweet the content, which means the people who are interacting have their info displayed — and are one click away from being tracked back to their profile. Even if every blog begins using these plug-ins, it won’t maintain a totally rational level of conversation all the time, but it should reduce the amount of blatantly hurtful, mindless commentary people feel comfortable posting when they’re hiding behind their anonymity.

    Reply
  8. Kenneth Jacobs

    Yeah, I’ve noticed how many negative comments are showing everywhere, especially when I’m reading a news article and the commentary has nothing to do with the article itself.

    Even though we are entitled to our opinions, we should be able to leave educated comments about how we agree or disagree with an article and not bash anyone who isn’t agreeing with our POV.

    I try to stray away from reading peoples comments on certain websites (especially if it’s controversial), BUT sometimes it’s a guilty pleasure to see what nonsense people are writing >.<

    Reply