Comment dimensions and categories
The observed comments have three dimensions. The category dimension simply refers to which category a comment is tagged as. The conversation level refers to whether or not a comment is a first-level parent comment, or a second-level reply. In some cases it might make sense to work with more levels of conversations, but for the current research, two was enough. The third dimension is the modality dimension. Most of the comments in this research contain text, some in combination with emoticons. Some comments contain only emoticons, but these are categorized as reactive, with the added description of non-verbal. This is because reactive comments are defined as short expressions of emotions. Emotional expressions can be non-verbal, and all non-verbal expressions of emotions analyzed have been reactive. The final modality observed in this research is the use of an image to express an opinion. An image can contain relevant information, and can even be considered argumentative - a view dating back to classical rhetoric (LaGrandeur 2003, 119). This has only been observed once in the data used for this research.
1. Argumentative comments.
An argument supplies the audience with reasons for accepting a point of view. Arguments contain a proposition that can either be true or false (Blair 2009, 44). These propositions should be testable. They are also formulated for the purposes of persuasion. This means that there needs to be a point of view, that is backed up by a proposition, that the commenter wants someone to adopt.
The purpose of these comments seems to be to persuade others to adopt the views of the commenter. This is done by using arguments that can be both logical and emotional in nature. In classical rhetoric, Aristotle classified three proofs (pisteis) that were essential for a good, persuasive speech (Keith and Lundberg 2008, 7, 36). Due to the short length of a comment it is unlikely that commenters would take full advantage of all these proofs in a single comment. But as a part of the process of determining if a comment is argumentative, in addition to looking for true- or false propositions, the comments were analyzed for the presence of one or more of the three proofs defined by Aristotle (Keith and Lundberg 2008, 36-40):
- Logos: The use of argumentative, reasonable steps to move an audience from one belief to another.
- Pathos: The use of emotion, and how the emotional state of the audience is affected by the speaker or the speech.
- Ethos: The credibility and trustworthiness of the speaker.
2. Informative comments
These comments do not directly argue for or against something, although they can be used in discussions to build a case for a point of view. They are meant to provide relevant information – whether or not that information is factual. Informative comments, with the exception of those classified as personal experience, contain testable factual information that can be either true or false. These comments were often observed in replies to other comments, written as clarification or explanation. Examples of informative comments are:
During the coding of the comments, several sub-categories of informative comments were identified. These include:
- Interpretations: A commenter’s interpretation of the content of the article.
- Explanations: When a commenter explains the content of the article, usually to correct someone else.
- Self-corrections: When a commenter writes a comment that conflicts with his or her previous comment, for the purposes of correction one’s previous mistakes.
- Personal experience: These comments provide information about the commenter’s personal experience about something.
Opinions are comments that are not necessarily meant to persuade, but function as a direct or indirect statement of what the commenter thinks and believes about an issue. The difference between opinions and arguments can be unclear at times. An opinion doesn’t have to begin with the words “I think that...” or “It is my opinion that...”, but can be a statement with a true or false proposition, just like an argument. But opinions are not considered to be persuasive and do not use the proofs of Aristotle. Opinions often contain non-factual statements stated as facts, and are often speculative.
In situations where opinions and argumentative comments are difficult to differentiate, the broader context can provide important clues about which is which. Opinions are more often unprovoked statements, seemingly coming out of nowhere, whereas argumentative comments are usually made in response to something – often an opinion.
4. Reactive comments
. Reactive comments are short expressions of emotions with little or no informative value. They can also be unspecific statements – that is statements that are not specific enough for the reader to accurately interpret what the commenter is writing about. The intended audience is the general public, and the commenters are expressing basic emotions as a reaction to an article. Some examples of reactive comments are: "Lovely!!" and "Fabulous!!"
Reactive comments often contain a set of punctuation marks, especially the exclamation mark, or sets of emoticons. Reactive comments can also be non-verbal. In these cases, the comments contain either only emoticons or written non-verbal expressions, such as “Haha!!”, indicating laughing or joy. Emoticons are considered to be reactive comments because they represent non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions. Aldunate and González-Ibáñez (2017, 1) wrote that:
...computer-mediated communication (CMC), particularly text-based communication, is limited to the use of symbols to convey a message, where facial expressions cannot be transmitted naturally. In this scenario, people use emoticons as paralinguistic cues to convey emotional meaning.
If emoticons are symbolic representation of non-verbal communication, then a comment containing only emoticons can easily be classified as a reactive comment. Such comments do not contain any information that could be seen as informative, argumentative or an expressed opinion. The same can be said for written non-verbal expressions. The word “Haha” can be argued to have the same semantic meaning as a laughing emoticon.
5. Derogatory Comments
These are comments that uses some form of critique or potentially hurtful discourse, usually directed at another commenter. Davis works with the definition “bad behavior online”, which he explains to be a result of context and the interpretation by the target person (2002, 2). But because it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine how the target person interprets a comment, another definition will have to be found. One solution is to use community guidelines, such as the website’s rules of conduct. In the case of vg.no, however, the rules of conduct are not very comprehensive, and only specifically mention the use of obscene words as a breach of the rules.
Looking at the language and target of derogatory comments allows for a more precise. Comments that have been labeled as derogatory for this project are always directed at a person or group of people, and contain language that reflects negatively on the target person. These are comments that usually do not contain much argumentative or factual information, but instead express a negative opinion about a person or group, often being directed at the targeted person. The intended audience is usually the commenter being targeted, unless the derogatory comment is about a public person not involved in the discussion. The derogatory comments in this research are comments that, while being interpreted as a form of personal attack, have not been severe enough to be deleted by moderators.
During the coding of the comments, several sub-categories of derogatory comments were identified, based on the target of the critique:
- Critique of commenter
- Critique of public figure
- Critique of article subject
- Critique of newspaper / journalist
6. Humerous comments
Some commenters have the intention of being funny. Hubler argues that there is a connection between humor and establishing ethos, and that humor is a tool used by individuals to position themselves within a group (2003, 282). This group, for the purposes of this study, consists of either the comment section on vg.no, the comment section on VG’s Facebook page, or the commenter’s group of contacts on Facebook. Humor is, of course, subjective and contextual. But some definitions can be used. Lefcourt and Martin defines humor as discourse that “brings together two disparate ideas, concepts or situations in a surprising or unexpected manner” (Hubler 2003, 278). Play on words is also a form of humor observed in this study. Self-deprecating humor, which Hubler sees as a strategy for ensuring continued goodwill (2003, 281) has also been observed.
Based on this, the definition of humorous comments are comments that, with the intention to be funny, brings together two disparate ideas, concepts or situations in a surprising or unexpected manner, or that contains a play of words or self-deprecating, humorous statements. A humorous comment is also often marked as humorous by the commenter by adding non-verbal ques, such as laughing or blinking emoticons.
7. Tagging comments
Tagging comments are found only on Facebook. These are comments that almost exclusively contain tagged names. If they contain any other information, this is usually just a few words. The intent of the people doing the tagging of Facebook seems to be to direct the attention of the people being tagged to the article.
ome comments simply contain questions. These can be questions about the article, the points of view of other commenters, or a request for more information from other commenters
Suggestions are comments where the commenter proposes that an alternative action should be done, either by the article subjects or by other commenters. Some commenters look for solutions to the issues described in an article and provide suggestions for how to improve on these situations. Others make suggestions to other commenters on how they should act, write or what they should do about something.
10. Supportive comments
Supportive comments are comments made in defense of someone, including the commenter himself. They are either defensive towards a specific person, or a statement of general support for someone. Three sub-categories of supportive comments have been identified:
- Supportive of commenter: These comments are made in support of another commenter.
- Supportive of public figure: These comments are made in support of a public figure, usually the subject in the article.
- Self-defensive comments: These are comments where the commenter supports him or herself. These comments are very similar to comments that are supportive of another commenter.
11. Speculative comments
Speculations are defined by the dictionary as the contemplation or consideration of some subject, and the conclusion reached by such contemplation. Speculative comments are comments where the commenter is making speculative assumptions, for which there is no real evidence, and making conclusions that cannot reasonably be verified.
During the process of preparing for this research and preparing data collection, comments containing only links to other websites were observed. And although there have been links observed in the analyzed data, these have been shared in a context where these comments have been categorized as something else. Therefore, even though links should be considered its own category, they are not a part of this research.
13. Arbitrary comments
This is not a real category, but counts as an "other" category. Arbitrary comments are comments that are either grammatically or contextually difficult to understand, or that does not fit into any category.