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November 12, 2010

major media comment threads

Few forms of writing are as depressing as the comments posted on major newspaper and news channel websites. People are entitled to their opinions, but the degree of repetition, cliché, incivility, irrelevance, and incoherent rage in comment threads is discouraging. Notice, for example, how almost any article about a survey will attract vituperative comments accusing the pollster of fabricating data to help one political party.

I do see exceptions. For instance, somehow the Atlantic's Ta-Nahesi Coates maintains an active comment space in which people actually write interesting remarks that build on one another. But I have met reporters who won't look at the comments on their own articles, despite mandates from management to do so, because they are so tired of being called names regardless of what they write.

I don't know how many people even glance at such comment threads, nor what happens (if anything) when they do. But I worry that after reading comments, we start to think we live among people who aren't capable of reasonable conversation, and that depresses our interest in deliberation and democracy.

Some sites seem to restrict participation. For example, I think you need a New Republic subscription to comment on TNR (a barrier that prevented me from posting a civil but highly critical response to Sean Wilentz). Apparently, some sites use a combination of software and human labor to delete the really offensive stuff. But that leaves a lot of comments that, while they break no rules, add no value.

Is there a better way?

November 12, 2010 12:52 PM | category: none



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