I Just Came Here to Read the Comments

The internet has opened up an incredible number of connections among people. Prior to the growth of the internet, people’s interactions were generally limited to those in their own personal or professional communities. Now, through online comments sections, we can be connected to anyone across the world.

Some websites, like Bustle, completely eschew comment sections. Bustle, a popular site designed for millennial women, doesn’t have the ubiquitous comment section below their posts, instead choosing to advertise other posts there. Popular Science and Recode removed their comments sections. An executive from Recode said, “social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years.” The New York Times offers a comments section on select articles, and Vox doesn’t have one at all.

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Over 1 billion people are somewhat connected to each other through Facebook, in particular. I can read the opinions of people I’ll never meet in the comments on a public post or page. All sites that use Facebook as a sharing or promotional tool opt themselves into commenting, for better or worse. One advantage is that commenters can no longer be anonymous. Commenters have their name (and usually face) displayed alongside their words. Another advantage is moderation. The New York Times, for example, moderates every comment posted to its site. On Facebook, it doesn’t have that obligation. Lastly, sites that rely on social media commenting don’t need to manage usernames or APIs that allow users to log-in with other social accounts.

Lately I’ve been increasingly unhappy with the vitriol present in comments and replies. I can’t help but break the “rule” that says, “don’t read the comments,” even when I try to stop. On one hand, internet comments can be a treasure trove of entertainment, like when people don’t even read the article but consider themselves informed enough to respond to the headline. On the other hand, internet comments can be a sobering reminder of the hate and willful ignorance present in our society. I often ask myself, is it a good thing to be reminded of that? I’m not always sure.

A glance at the comments following any news story on the presidential race exposes our willingness to say hateful things to and about each other. People are willing, without anonymity, to write things to others that I can’t imagine they’d ever be willing to say to someone in person.

It’s not only the presidential race that brings out despicable behavior, but even seemingly innocuous articles about health or personal achievement. I’ve actually noticed myself feeling increasingly down about the state of our country as a result of reading the comments on news articles, and I’m actively trying to find a solution to this problem I’m having.  
Do you read the comments? Do you engage with those with whom you agree or disagree? How does reading the comments make you feel?

13 comments

  1. Great post! I think the comment section is a very polarizing topic for a lot of people. Those that see it as a positive appreciate the organic content and legitimate opinion that is often voiced in the comments. However, as you say, clearly this is the place terrible things are said. I think using SM as the new comment section is an interesting idea that I haven’t heard before. I definitely think it is becoming the modern way to post opinions about a particular article. Interesting topic!

  2. I don’t normally read comments on articles because I agree with you that the majority of the time you just get people who view themselves as experts spreading hate. However, the first amendment protects our right to say whatever we want, even if that opinion is uninformed. I think that whether or not people should be able to comment really depends on the platform. I think that the the New York Times limiting comments makes sense because they are trying to stay professional and just published informed articles. However, an Instagram or a Facebook benefit from all the people who are commenting and tagging their friends in posts.

  3. I’m particularly choosy when it comes to reading the comments on post. I definitely read them when they’re connected to a how-to type of article, because those comments are usually mini-reviews and improvements on the article. Especially helpful with recipe posts. But with opinion-type pieces (or any news that can be construed as controversial), I tend not to read. Sometimes I’m curious if there’s someone out there that had the same reaction as I did, but as you said, the pure vitriol anonymous commenting can create is a turn off.

  4. Good post, I think you’re right, the format that we can share thoughts, opinions and ideas can ultimately be beneficial or destructive. I personally hate when people leave comments based solely on the headlines and not the actual articles as you mention. The scary part of the whole thing though is that people form their opinions based on what they consistently read (right or wrong). Back in the date, you formed opinions based on people you respected or based on your own research. Now, unfortunately a large number of people form their opinions based on social media and the articles/opinions and misinformation.

  5. willybbolton · ·

    I enjoyed this post! I think the biggest problem with internet comments is that you don’t have to say them to anyone’s face. People just type words from behind a computer screen, and do not have to face any real life reaction. I feel like the majority of hateful and controversial comments come from people who feel safe talking online, but would not speak up like that in real life. The comments on facebook tend to get pretty pointed and nasty. That’s why I mostly stay away from them, unless I’m looking to be entertained.

  6. Really interesting insights, Caitlin! You bring up a lot of valuable points that I certainly hadn’t given much thought to. For the most part, I tend to avoid the comments section precisely for the reasons you described. It seems that most of the time, what dominates is ignorance and the kind of comments that only draw a lot of negative attention. I completely agree that the presidential race has heightened or emphasized the amount of unsolicited, hateful commenting, and your analysis reminded me of a video I recently saw where men read real comments made about female sports reporters to their face. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tU-D-m2JY8) It’s hard to watch at times, but I think it really humanizes the problem and shows frankly that no, we wouldn’t say the things we write online.

  7. This post was great and very thought provoking. I usually will read comments, but you are right, they often make me mad and disappointed in the human race lol. I read the comments because even though there are those who will say ridiculous and absurd things, there are also those who actually say intelligent and thoughtful things, which can sometimes help to explain parts of the article or deepen the content of the article, and so I leave that article with a deeper and clearer understanding of the article. I actually have never posted a comment on any articles, though I will sometimes “like” comments to help move them up in the section. It’s definitely a shift in the way we read and absorb news, and a lot more interactive, but I agree with you when you say it also just gives people an anonymous platform to say hateful and dumb things.

  8. Today, there are ALOT of individuals with keyboard courage. It’s a shame today everyone really thinks their strong opinion is one that 1. they believe needs to be heard or 2. simply aggravates other users/commenters. Unfortunately leading to many passionate fights over a post with people they will never EVER see. Really can ruin the entire post for people who just throwing their two cents in there.

  9. Commenting on a post about comments, interesting. I would agree, comment sections have the potential to go south and bring on a slew of negativity. I agree with @ntantang — this is just keyboard courage. I think it is smart for websites to delete the comment feature when the hatred becomes too much.

  10. yifanhong04233 · ·

    I agree with the keyboard courage idea. There is a research in my home country, which shows that most of the people with keyboard courage are those earn less than $1500 per month with a high school diploma. They are hiding themselves behind the screen to say something that could not be put on the table. But some comments are really fun, especially under sports sections–there are different kinds of jokes and tease.

  11. Depends on the content. I’m ashamed to say I love the comments section of the Boston Globes “Love Letters” Column. It’s awesome. The political stuff, not so much.

  12. I personally love the anonymous comment sections featured on sites. I think it gives a look into the depths of the human race when we are entirely removed from the situation but can still put our input. I have never commented on an article or blog before this class but I too enjoy reading other people’s off-the-cuff response with no worry of repercussions.

  13. This is an awesome post that is just so relevant! I admit, I’m a lurker and read comments, mainly to memes and funny videos for entertainment purposes. Some people are so hilarious. It’s literally pure comedy that helps to brighten my day.

    However, in the instances where I read more serious stories and articles, I realize some people are truly so hurtful and ignorant, and say awful things because they simply find joy in stirring the pot, rather than giving constructive feedback. I don’t ever really comment or engage in the comment sections of social media, I observe most often. At times, it can be an uplifting experience that renews my faith in humanity or a sad one that reveals a lot of unsettling truths about humanity.

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