Civility in online news comments sections
I chose to write my final paper about an issue that’s frustrated me for years, the basic lack of quality and accountability in online news site comment boards. It always felt like such a disconnect to me. Here we have reputable news sources, the format of which (a newspaper, let’s say) has evolved over about 600 years to really reach a pinnacle of social necessity in the mid- and late-20th Century. Journalism has evolved into a profession rooted in ethics and the pursuit of meaning and truth for the purpose of educating and informing the public. Pretty lofty and important concepts, for sure. And then the internet comes along and there’s an incredible opportunity for news outlets to distribute information to audiences never possible before and to actually engage with readers in real time. Twenty or so years after people really started turning to the internet for news, these interactions with the public have devolved into virtual places belonging to trolls and spammers, extremists of all kinds, bullies and liars, totally inconsistent with journalistic values of truth, fairness, accuracy and integrity.
Referencing the expansion of digital literacy described by Rheingold, I took a look at a variety of third-party comment systems designed specifically to improve the level of discourse in comment sections, finding many features and concepts in use that align much more closely to the goals of reputable news sources than the lawless site-run comment system can be. Facebook Comments is widely used, as well as Disqus as embeddable comment systems. IntenseDebate and Livefyre offer communities centered on sharing and commenting on news links, and some new platforms like Kinja and a yet-unnamed partnership between the Washington Post, New York Times and Mozilla offer promising ideas in encouraging true connectedness and interactivity between journalists, editors and commenters, what I believe will be the next step in online journalism.
Thanks everyone for your entertaining and informative posts and thought provoking comments during this semester! Have a wonderfully relaxing break and a successful Spring semester.