Tag Archives: Social Media

Comment sections vs. Facebook

Today was a very special day. Today I handed in my master thesis in Digital Culture. I’ve been researching comments on news articles, trying to determine what is the difference between commenting on news articles on a newspapers comment section and its Facebook page. And by the end of it, I ended up creating a website where i present the research, as well as a creative work illustrating the difference between comments on the two platforms, called Comments and Platforms.

Now, after reading and researching comments for what seems like forever, I am left with a new outlook on commenting. I used to think, as many others, that comment sections were vile and horrible places, filled with racism and sexism. But this has not been my experience while researching them. I have read many comments over the past year, and read a lot about them, and I have rarely seen what I would call uncivil behavior. Now, it may be that I’ve been lucky: that the newspaper I have been studying has very civil readers (doubtful), or that its moderators are quick and effective at deleting what may be a swarm of derogatory comments. The latter is more likely, though if that was commonplace I would expect to see signs of it: weird “gaps” in a communication, like replies to comments that aren’t there.

What I have found among the thousands of comments I have read is mostly positive or neutral. There are certainly quite a few idiots writing comments on news stories, but there are also some genuinely informative comments that have shed new light on a story. And of course, there are those comments that are just entertaining to read. And even if 80-90% of the comments are pretty much useless, isn’t that also true for media in general? I’m sure that most of us scroll by most of the content presented to us on Facebook, news sites, YouTube, Spotify or wherever, only being interested in a fraction of it.

I have come to believe that comments, and the comment sections they are written in, can be quite valuable. The world wide web gives everyone a voice. But comment sections gives everyone a voice – and an audience of as much as millions of potential readers. And journalists have reported that comments have positively impacted their work in several ways, including providing enhanced critical reflection and new story leads (Graham and Wrigth 2015).

But there is a problem. Even if I haven’t seen much of it myself, uncivil behavior in comment sections do exist. And anonymity is often blamed for this – wrongly, according to my own research. So many news sites began to use a Facebook plugin to power their comment sections – requiring commenters to user their Facebook profile. And worse: it means that it’s becoming more and more common for a Facebook account to be reqired for participation in public debates.

Some news sites have decided to close their comment sections in favor of using their Facebook pages to engage with readers. This was the reason for my own research. I think it’s important to know what such a move to Facebook is doing to the democratic quality of commenting. What I found was that there is more conversations, debates, questions, arguments and informative comments on a newspaper’s comment section that its Facebook page. Comments on Facebook are shorter, more reactive, and rarely fuel discussions.

So the quality of commenting is much lower on Facebook than a newspapers comment section. But what does improve on Facebook is the spreadability of an article because of the higher number of interactions through commenting, likes and reactions – all of which are automatically shared and spread to other people. The cynical side of me is tempted to think that this is the real reason for some news sites to shift their focus to Facebook.

In the end, the question is what do we wan’t with comment sections. Do we want them to be a place for public debate? Do we want them to be a safe space? Or do we want them to be removed because they’re not really good for anything? Personally, I’m in favor of keeping and trying to improve those platforms that facilitate public debate. And what I have found is that comment sections, even with their shortcomings, are better at facilitating public debate than commenting on articles on Facebook.

 

Sources

Graham, Todd, and Scott Wright. 2015. ‘A Tale of Two Stories from “Below the Line”: Comment Fields at the Guardian’. The International Journal of Press/Politics 20, no. 3: 317-338. DOI: 10.1177/1940161215581926

 

Feb 10

I’m having a hard time writing, I think because I don’t know that I have that much to say, and I don’t want to be negative. I feel like a lot of the material in these chapters has been a mix of “I knew that already” and “so what.” The irony of reading a print book about how to be current with digital media is starting to grate on me. Beyond that, I think it’s just like I said last week: What we’re reading and talking about are just suggestions for how to be an adult, slightly adapted to the world of digital media and communication. It has me feeling like, if you can’t figure out how to behave with other people, online or in real life, then go sit in the corner and let the grownups handle things. I get that some people have varying degrees of familiarity and comfort with digital tools, and that it’s a book meant to help people “thrive online.” I guess I was just expecting something different. I read some other students’ blogs that had nice things to say. I don’t know, I just don’t feel that. I feel like all of this writing about how great Twitter is for getting people together, and I know it can be and has been, largely ignores any possible negative of the whole internet. I know in earlier chapters Rheingold talks about the dangers of being taken advantage of by a corporation online. I just feel like maybe its a little unbalanced. It’s very inspiring that the inventor of the internet didn’t want to own it, and that we evolved from apes through our ability to help each other and form relationships, and that there are online communities out there that support each other and do good in the world, though all but the third are perhaps irrelevant. But at the same time, Kim Kardashian has 40 MILLION followers on twitter. That’s over 40,200,000 individual accounts that are exposed to whatever she or her PR people decide to share at any given time. Even if a full million of them or more are bots and other junk or spam accounts, that’s still 39 million accounts. Which is 38,999,925 more than I have. 33 million more than Neil deGrasse Tyson. 31 million more than the pope. The reason that I’m yelling about that is, that I guess I’m frustrated. But also important is that the internet is not a rosy place. The internet is just the world transposed into digital space, and in the world people with money and fame influence others to their ends, whatever they are. Some are beneficial to the world, others are nefarious, others still and probably most are dumb. I don’t want to just complain. I guess I feel like coverage here is a little one-sided. I know it is mentioned at some point that there are trolls on the internet, and that some of the stuff on twitter is inane and mind-numbing. But that sidelong acknowledgement I don’t really feel is a sufficient representation, especially in the context of a guide for supposed neophytes to the internet and social media. I’m going to stop, because I don’t feel I’m doing a good job, and it’s possible that my attitude is contaminating this whole project and I don’t want to write a 2000 word screed sounding like a jerk.

 

-Matt