Why sites should not kill user comments

Comments Interactivity, which is one of the greatest strengths of the Internet, has also become one of its severest liabilities. And it is not hard to see why.

The comment sections blister today with abuse, hate and defamatory text. Elections 2014 have literally polarized India into three camps on the net — Congress baiters, BJP haters and AAP quitters.

You visit the news website of any major Indian newspaper or television channel. There is only vicious comment at the end of each article. The same is true of Twitter postings where slander has reached a new pitch.

So, what should the websites, bloggers or social platforms do? Should they shut down the comments section? Or moderate it heavily? Or vet all comments to remove the vicious missives?

In each case, the Internet is the loser. It is slamming the door on the users’ right to share views, to stir debates, to create opinion.

There is a raging debate going on in one of the Linkedin forums on the topic “Do comment sections help or hinder journalism? There is virtual unanimity among the members on the importance of comments. Everyone considers them essential. But they are also horror-struck at the viciousness, and would prefer that such comments be removed.

Copyblogger put the issue in perspective when it removed the comments section from its site. In an article titled “Why We’re Removing Comments on Copyblogger”, the site wrote:

“In a little over eight years, Copyblogger has published more than 130,000 approved comments. Which is pretty amazing, right?

But over that period, that’s only about 4% of the comments that were left on the site. The remaining 96% were pointless, time-wasting spam.”

So, not even 5% of the comments are worthy of publication. If that is so, then why should the audience suffer? It makes sense to make course correction.

However, the question is should everyone remove the comments section? Or should only news sites do so where the quality of the comments are the worst?

What about blogs? Should the bloggers also get rid of them.

NO. There are five reasons you should keep them if you are a blogger:

1. You feel gratified that your writing has motivated another writer to respond. It means you have struck a chord. There can be no better feeling for a writer.

2. The comment threads are a great way of gauging the popularity of your blogs. They indicate that people value reading what you have written.

3. You get a new insight, another view on the subject — something that you have missed out. It adds to your knowledge and understanding.

4. They can lead to a thoughtful debate where different people can publish their views or opinion.

5. They can lead to the creation of a powerful, thoughtful community around a web post or blog.

An article in Digitaljournalists headlined “Are Comment Sections worth it” recommends that sites should not kill comments; they should only kill the hateful ones.

“It seems clear that comment sections are hard work, but worth it. Constant moderation and a mechanism to reduce anonymity are musts. As much as trolls can overwhelm and poison the online experience, thoughtful commenters can enhance the experience. There is no reason with the technology available to throw out the good with the bad.”

This is precisely what Searchengineland.com advises its readers:

“We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts.”

Any comments on the subject are welcome. Please use the Comments section below to add your valuable thoughts.

About Sunil Saxena 281 Articles

Sunil Saxena is an award winning media professional with over three decades of experience in New Media, Social Media, Mobile Journalism, Print Journalism, Media Education and Research.

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