5 Reasons Major Sites Should Bring Back Comment Sections
What happened to commenting features on news sites?
How often have you read a really fascinating article (be it breaking news, small-town news, entertainment gossip, the latest health research or an opinion piece) – and you were eager to post your response…only to see that there’s nowhere to comment?
Nowadays, this is expected, but every so often, we come upon a popular site that DOES have a commenting section. But they are the exception.
The reason most major websites have gotten rid of the comments feature can be summed up in a single sentence: They pandered to people who whine about the heat in the kitchen but don’t have the sense to get out.
Full-Grown Adults Easily Offended by Strangers’ Comments
There’s a man who exhibits a tough-as-wet-tissue-paper spine when it comes to online comments: Keith A. Spencer, cover editor for Salon.com.
In his post, “Why Comments Sections Must Die,” Spencer writes:
“Many people, myself included, are horrified at online comments on news articles…”
“Horrified”? Wait a minute here. As a professional writer, I have to ask what adjective does this man use to describe the emotions of a person whose house just burned down or whose kid was just diagnosed with cancer? If he’s “horrified” by online comments, heaven forbid if you’re ever with this guy in a stuck elevator.
Though Spencer really needs to grow a pair, he’s still capable of shelling out an insulting statement:
“As a result, those who are most frequently victimized – even scared off of these spaces entirely – tend to be women, people of color, and gender minorities.” He just called these demographics spineless.
Though his statement is nothing to lose sleep over, let’s admit it: It’s insulting to women, non-Caucasian races and whatever “gender minorities” are. Guess what, Mr. Spencer: If anyone’s been “scared” off, it’s YOU. Needless to say, he doesn’t have the balls to allow comments to his article.
5 Reasons to Bring Back the Online Comments Section
#1. Encourages Engagement
Many people just love to read comments and get involved. It’s fun! Most people are not trolls. In fact, very few commenters are true trolls. Keep in mind that to some people, the definition of “troll” is anyone who merely disagrees with them, no matter how graciously. This inflates the perceived number of trolls.
While there’ll always be that frail demographic whose feelings get easily shredded by an anonymous, faceless stranger, there are also many people who’ve been recharged and uplifted by reading comments.
#2. Gives More Credibility to the Site
On some level, a site lacks credibility when there’s no opportunity to share your views on a story or commentary. It’s as though the editors are afraid to face “backlash,” even for more lighthearted articles.
Gee, can’t the decision makers at least turn on the comments function for more lighthearted posts? Or are they so easily-frayed that they can’t handle “trolls” for even an article on how to get one’s preschooler to eat his vegetables?
#3. Gives Readers an Opportunity to Challenge the Writer
As a writer, I welcome challenge. Have at me! When I was a writer for a now-defunct content site years ago, some of my articles drew comments that would have “horrified” Keith A. Spencer and his ilk.
Unlike him, I know how to turn lemons into lemonade. I actually created articles that were inspired by negative comments – and some of those articles became quite popular, earning me more money. So thanks, trolls!
#4. Gives Readers a Way to Point out an Error in the Story or Ask the Writer for More Information
Writers aren’t perfect; they make mistakes. I’ve caught mistakes myself but had no way of getting this information to the writer other than to hunt down his or her email address or hope that my message to the site’s general email box would make its way to the writer.
Usually it’s not a mistake in information I want to point out. It’s a request for more information. As a writer, I’d certainly want to know if I had mistakes in an article, whether it’s a recurring misspelling, incorrect data or the omission of pertinent information (e.g., writing about a woman with Down syndrome who just got her black belt in karate, but not covering how she got into karate in the first place).
#5. May Increase Traffic When People Know They Can Comment
I can’t be the only person who has skipped reading an article because I knew I couldn’t comment on it. Though I don’t click ads, many readers do. And when they leave a site after it loads because they realize, “Hey, this is one of those sites that doesn’t allow comments,” this means fewer ad clicks – less money to the site.
Reasons Most Major Sites No Longer Have Comments
Okay, so it’s hijacked. People hijack conversations at the water cooler or dinner table, too. Shall we also ban in-person conversations?
Too Many Anonymous Contributors
If this is a bad thing, why would the site allow a poster's name to say "Anonymous" in the first place? Furthermore, if you were in a charged-up room discussing something in person with a bunch of people, would you crack if they didn't have name tags? I sure hope not. So why is a name by an online poster so crucial?
It shouldn't be, because we really don't know that “Stuart Owens” isn’t a fake name for Jennifer Coobadaddle! Thus, the name is essentially meaningless.
- How does anyone know that a “real” name under an avatar is that person’s actual name?
- How do we even know the avatar IS that poster?
- How naïve can people be?
- And what if someone’s real name is that of a famous person? Certainly there’s more than one Stephen Curry and Jennifer Lopez out there. Will their avatar name be believed?
- What if their real name is “Mary Smith” or “Robert Jones,” but readers think these are fake because they’re so common?
- Bottom line: Never mind the name, or lack thereof, of the commenter.
Comment Flame Wars Make the Content Less Trustful
Allegedly, some analyses found this to be true. However, the truth is in the traffic and ad clicks. If a return of comments drives down traffic and/or ad clicks, and eliminating them restores previous metrics, then at least you know for sure how a comments section affects your site.
The Most Offensive Comments Rise to the Top and the Most Reasonable Get Smothered
This is a cited reason, but I’ve never seen proof. Comments are shown in date order (either newest or oldest; sometimes the reader can choose). Some sites also have a choice of “best” or “worst” rated. Thus, this reason is invalid.
Don’t give in to the crybabies. Bring back comments sections. See if this negatively impacts traffic. If people can’t handle the heat, they SHOULD get out of the kitchen. Simple. Don’t indulge in the insecurities of these alleged adults.
Sites can use machine-learning technology to help filter out offensive comments. We already know that the “bad word” filter doesn’t work, as people will deliberately misspell a foul word. But technology exists that will rate and prioritize comments, based on analysis of millions of previously approved postings.