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Are Comments Still A Good Thing?

Blogs may vary wildly, but one thing they all have in common is the comment box. Comments take a blogger’s solo writing efforts and turn it into a community. I can remember the first time I realized that the bloggers I knew and loved wanted to hear from me, and how thrilling it was when they read and responded to my comments.

Being able to comment online isn’t just for blogs, of course most websites that feature written content allow comments, up to and including national news websites.

Or do they? Rumors abound that Fox News has removed comment boxes from most posts on their website (Fox News has not issued a statement about this, but the web is full of reports about this). And New Statesman columnist Helen Lewis asks a good question: “What’s the Point of Turning the Web Into a Giant Lavatory Wall?”

Here’s what Ms. Lewis has to say.

When I give someone a book as a present, I don’t hand them a marker pen so they can scrawl “DID YOU GET PAID FOR THIS?” on the final page. So when did we get the idea that allowing comments on articles was a Good Thing?

She goes on to say more.

What does abound in comment sections, of course, is abuse: racism, sexism, homophobia. In the wake of stories about “internet trolls” targeting Louise Mensch, Noel Edmonds and Fabrice Muamba, there has been a great deal of agonising over why the people involved don’t know what they’re doing is wrong. There’s a glaringly simple answer: they look around, see an internet reduced to a Giant Lavatory Wall, and decide to get in on the act themselves. Their misfortune is to target celebrities, and to get caught. There are thousands of others out there who abuse the powerless, and stay anonymous for ever. Anonymity encourages irresponsibility, and “one-up-manship” sees threads degenerate into name-calling quicker than you can say Godwin’s Law.

I get my fair share of negative comments; in fact, it’s highly likely that there will be plenty right on this here article. On my personal blog I have a comment policy and I don’t allow nasty comments to stand (I support your right to talk about and publish whatever you like, but that doesn’t mean I’m required to give you the platform to do so). But even so, I can’t imagine my blog without my readers and their comments; some of them I’ve known for nearly a decade and they are an important part of my life. But I do understand the urge to move away from comments particularly on national news sites where the comments are often horrific.

Perhaps it’s time to return to the having a “Letters to the Editor” section instead of comments; while there might be plenty of people that disagree with a site or article, an editor can sort out the vitriol and let the  thoughtful disagreements stand out instead of being buried under hateful comment threads.

What do you think?

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