A comment is defined in this research as a user-generated, asynchronous, reactive text, image or video following an online publication that is presented in the same setting or document as the content being commented upon.
Comment sections are defined as forums attached to the conclusion of online news stories or blog posts and are designed to increase audience interactivity with the content contained in said stories (Artime 2017, 1)
Unmarried, unemployed men are most likely to comment on news articles (Artime 2016)
|Employed, married men||10%||24%|
|Unemployed, unmarried men||33%||37%|
Table: Demographics of U.S. Commenters. Source: Pew Research Center data, reported by Artime(2016)
The history of comments
It’s difficult to find a clear beginning for comments and comment sections. But the act of commenting goes back to ancient times, according to Reagle. The ancients, with their complicated writing systems, needed help deciphering their texts, and so they developed conventions for annotating their works. These annotations were known as scholia (Reagle 2015, 23). The ability to comment has always been preceded by a technological development that facilitates public engagement. After the invention of the printing press, the availability of books led to more people reading and discussing the content of books. During the enlightenment, the new reading public, according to Habermas, constituted a public sphere in which topics were discussed in a rational-critical way, leading to the liberal civil society (1991, 106-107). The idea of public discussion, not monitored or controlled by the rulers of the day, led to Charles II of England banning coffee houses, where much of the public debate was taking place, in 1675 (Reagle 2015, 24-25)
With the development of new electronic communication technologies, public discussions would find a new home and develop into the comments we know today. Communities formed in forum-like environments online as early as the ARPAnet, the precursor to the internet from 1969 (Hubler and Bell 2003, 281). In 1973, The Community Memory public bulletin board system was set up in Berkeley. At the time, some authors saw the possibilities of generating a public discursive and deliberative structure offered by the Internet, which was seen as a way to revitalize democracy and stimulate public debate and social change (Gonçalves 2015, 1).
With the implementation of the World Wide Web in 1991, newspapers began to publish their stories online. Text-based publications of news articles began in 1992, and after 5Netscape released its graphical web browser, Navigator, in 1994, a few newspapers created online editions. By the end of 1994 there were less than 10 of them, but by the year 2001 there were over 3.400 online newspapers in the U.S. alone (Li 2010, 1-2). In Norway, all the three major newspapers, including VG, published their online editions in 1995.
In the mid 1990’s, newspapers started adding comment sections. The response from journalists at the time was to cautiously welcome input from their readers. But they were also skeptical about the quality and trustworthiness of user-generated content on newspapers, and wanted to keep their journalistic jurisdiction over news content and publishing (Teopfl and Piwoni 2015, 467). In recent years, however, journalists have reported that comments have positively impacted their work in several ways, including providing enhanced critical reflection and new story leads (Graham and Wrigth 2015). Since its first implementation in the 90’s, comment sections on news sites has become almost an industry standard. By 2013, 90% of news sites had a comment section (Stroud, Muddiman and Scacco 2016, 2).