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.
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?