August 19, 2016

Are We Living In A Post-Comment World?


An article caught my eye today. The NPR website is going to get rid of its comments section. This piece confirms that “online comments, a feature of the site since 2008, will be disabled.”. But comments are just part and parcel of the Internet, right? RIGHT? That was my immediate reaction, but I continued to read on.

The managing editor said “the audience itself has decided for NPR, choosing to engage much more via social media, primarily on Twitter and Facebook, rather than in the comments section.”

I think lots of us who create online content can see this too, and there’s been so much written about it on other blogs, with bloggers noticing that readers don’t really leave many comments underneath posts anymore. I don’t see many comments left on big blogs or magazine websites. Well, at least, not as many as they used to. No one can be arsed. We’re used to the quick ease of replying to a tweet, or writing on Facebook. Is logging in and leaving a comment just simply a bit dated and longwinded?

There’s loads of blogs who have never had a comments section activated, because they don’t want to moderate it, they just want to self-publish and leave it there.

But is it a bit self-indulgent to remove comments from your work?


“This is interesting,” I thought to myself, as I stroked my chin and read about heaps more organisations deleting their comments section. Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg wrote on Recode’s decision to end comments: “We believe that social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years.”

I totally agree that most of the interactions in response to blog posts happens in the realms of social media. So why am I so attached to the idea of old-school comments?

I think comments sections get a bad rap because not many people play nicely in the comments. We only need to take one look at the Daily Mail’s thriving comment section, which is very much alive, to see how gross people can be. It’s never constructive, it’s just plain spiteful. So maybe the decision to remove comments is also a sign that we’ve reached peak troll. Maybe, no one wants to take anyone’s shit anymore.

I noticed a few YouTube videos, including adverts for the Paralympics had the comments section deactivated. Not that long ago, Taylor Swift was allowed access to Instagram’s new feature enabling her to block all of the green “snake” emojis in her comments (post Kim K argument). We’re becoming more in control of what we do and don’t want to see. And we should be allowed to be in control. If I was to announce some sort of “news” that I was feeling extremely vulnerable about on YouTube, then I too would probably mute my comments section for the sake of my own whirring brain.

But, on the whole, I think a comment section is one of the most natural parts of the Internet.

There’s been loads of times when I’ve written something on here and someone in the comments section has made me think differently and opened my mind to something that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. Okay, I guess this blog doesn’t really attract trolls, mainly just nice intelligent women situated mostly in the US and UK, but, I like comments, I like replies and I like being able to be in control of whether I want to delete (or just roll my eyes) at comments from muttering old men who clearly hate opinionated women.

I don’t know if banning ALL comments is the answer. It could kill debate.

I know we laugh about the fictitious idea of The Internet Police, but really: I think it’s not a bad idea. The idea that a team of people could be employed, just as they are offline, and trained to sort shit out according to the Law. It would mean we don’t have to moderate our own abuse so much. We would have a team of people on the look-out for bad behaviour. Because nasty, illegal rhetoric that we’re often forced to “put up with” on a daily basis is not OK, and it’s rather exhausting. These people should not just banned or blocked but they should actually have REPERCUSSIONS for their actions.

A blogger I really admire recently threatened that she would tell the trolls mums about their abusive comments (they were teen trolls) because most of the trolls could be tracked down on Facebook, meaning it was easy to find their family members on Facebook too, meaning she could actually call them out if she wanted to.

I heard rumours that the Guardian comments section was going to change, or be erased due to the onslaught of daily abuse to its writers. I interviewed Jessica Valenti for my podcast recently, who was the number one “most harassed writer” for the Guardian in the comments section. It’s unbelievable the stuff she has to put up with, simply for being a writer in a public space.

That aside, there’s something icky to me about using platforms to simply broadcast. I don’t think that’s what “social” media is there for. I’ve never wanted to just throw out my writing and then that be it with the conversation closed. I still like reading comments on other people’s work. I like scrolling down and then it opening up to others. I’ve never liked one side of the story.

So, with all this in mind, are we becoming more fearful of public debate? Do you think we know how to debate properly and safely online? Do you think comment sections are dead for a good reason?

Anyway, just my thoughts. And, feel free to comment.


5 Responses

  1. I guess it comes down to which kind of online platform you have. A news site or anywhere posting anything subject to *anything* that could prove to be problematic if not monitored 24/7 (I’m thinking legal issues rather than trolls here) sadly does makes sense, as well as the way we share stories and links these days opens up discussion on other little pockets of the internet rather than the original source. In some ways that is sad, but if you work for a news org, that added stress of monitoring I guess just doesn’t seem worth it.

    I think for blogs though its incredibly sad to see such a decline in interaction, I remember people reading my posts when I first started blogging with a quick note that they liked a recipe or that a photo looked nice. Now, perhaps not so much when as you say, they can do so easier and faster on social media. Of course that’s the nice side of blogging, and anyone who attracts trolls in the comment box must find it easier to disable the function than have to sit and block comment after comment filled with negativity. But that is such a great point about opening the debate just a few scrolls down from a post or an article or a photograph!

  2. Julie says:

    After bemoaning how few comments I was receiving on my blog last year I realised (well, I *knew* deep down) that there was a form of quid pro quo between comments left and comments received. How could I wish people left me comments if I didn’t leave so many myself? And so I embarked on a quest to leave 300 comments in 30 days – which I very nearly achieved (it took far far longer than I’d imagined it would, for a start … I had to find 300 posts I *wanted* to comment on. I’d ruled out simply leaving a drive-by comment like ‘Great post’. And for a short while I received more comments in return. But neither the leaving nor receiving has maintained those levels since.

    I don’t think I’d ever close my comments, I too enjoy seeing other people’s interpretations of the issues I’ve written about … it’s just a shame there isn’t more of it! (But who has time/inclination?)

    If you’re interested this is the post I wrote to sum up everything I learned from my commenting challenge:

  3. This post really got me thinking about the whole comments debate, and made me realize that sometimes I simply hold back on posting a comment on a post I’ve enjoyed not because I’m too lazy to, or don’t have the time to, but simply because I’m not sure how to phrase my thoughts and not sure how much use my comment would be…. but enough of that! Thank you for opening up the debate. It’s so sad how much hate some online “creators” receive, but I hope the comment sections will never disppear completely, because somewhere out there some amazing people have fascinating thoughts to share, but most of the time they’re the ones holding back…
    Love your blog and your writing, Emma! xxx

  4. Kate Moxon says:

    I definitely think there’s still a space in our online lives for comment sections – I often use Twitter if I have a short remark to make or just want to compliment the person on a good piece of work, but obviously there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters. Comment sections are much better for when I want to leave longer thoughts or add my own take on the topic, and I love seeing what other people comment too!
    Really interesting article Emma 🙂 ~ Kate

  5. Personally I really like having a comment section on a blog because I like to leave my comments straight away once I’ve read a post I love. I also love reading my readers comments on my posts too. I still get excited to read a new comment after all these years, so I would nevee disable them on my blog 🙂

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