What Keeps Us Coming Back to the Internet Comment Section?

It’s not all trolls, spam and profanity.

By Alexandra HartDecember 15, 2016 1:38 pm

Among news junkies, one mantra has become something of a rule for maintaining one’s sanity: Don’t read the comments. Comments on social media and on news sites can be at times more frustrating than insightful – filled with profanity, trolls, and spam. Some news outlets like Reuters and NPR have done away with them altogether.

But this sentiment is far from universal. People continue to add their civil voices to the comment section below articles and Facebook posts. But what drives them to do so?

Talia Stroud, professor of communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin, has some answers. Her latest findings were picked up by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website, where it became the subject of much commentary.

Stroud and her team asked 8,500 internet commentators why they put in their two cents.

“Some of the most common were to express an opinion or emotion,” she says. “They also said that a big reason that they comment was to add additional information or to correct inaccuracies in the reporting.”

Stroud says some people also choose to leave a comment on Facebook or through Twitter without reading the news article posted to a social media site. The inconvenience of having to leave the site to go read the article might have something to do with it, she says.

“I think it’s bad news for journalism,” Stroud says. “Of course, that would be great if they were actually reading the article, but it can be informative for journalists too to see ‘Hey, they’re expressing views here to indicate they haven’t even read the article, maybe it’s time to rethink how we’re posting this on Facebook. Maybe we need to add a little more information.’”

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– Are comment sections harmful or helpful?

– What commenters want from news organizations