Comments on news articles
Comment boxes is a staple of the online experience
Klint Finley, Wired
Comments on news articles have been a common sigth on many websites since the first newspapers went online in the early 90's. Over half of news site readers read comments, and 1 out of 4 Americans have reported writing a comment on a website.1
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Comments often make an impression on us when they are an irritating element to be disables or an offensive element to be ignored
Joseph Michael Reagle Jr
It is difficult to find an exact number of uncivil or anti-social comments, as reported numbers range from 4 to 22% of comments.2 Bad behavior online has been researched since the 90's, and anonymity is often considered to be the cause.
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Moving the comments to Facebook
There’s got to be a better place we can offer people to interact without comments taking away from the article or denigrating the people who are reported on.
Craig Newman, Chicago Sun-Times
To stop uncivil behavior, many news sites are using a Facebook comment section plugin for their comment sections. And some news sites have decided to close their comment sections in favor of using their Facebook pages to engage with their readers and facilitating public debate.
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452 comments were selected from the comment sections of the Norwegian national newspaper VG, and VG's Facebook page. 12 categories were created to categorize the comments to look for differences.
- Public engagement: There were more commments on Facebook.
- Meta data: Comments on Facebook were shorter and had more emoticons.
- Level of discussion: There were more replies on vg.no, and longer conversations.
- Categorical differences: There were more questions, suggestions, informative, argumentative and derogatory comments on vg.no. On Facebook, there were more reactive and tagging comments.
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Rowe and Anonymity
It is hypothesized that users leaving comments via their Facebook profile will be less likely to engage in uncivil and impolite discussion.
Ian Rowe found that there were more uncivil comments on the Washington Post website than its Facebook page. Because users on the website comment section are anonymous, Rowe explains the increased incivility with anonymity.3
Rowe's coding scheme was replicated in the Rowe Replication Study, this time using comments from VG. Rowe's results were replicated. But because commentators on vg.no are not anonymous, Rowe's (and other researchers) explanation that anonymity causes incivility could not be varified. Anonymity alone cannot be used as an explanation for online incivility, or the differences found between comments on VG and its Facebook page.
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Explaining the differences between comments on Facebook and VG
- Previoius comments on Facebook are hidden
- Competition with likes and reactions on Facebook
- Facebook users don't have to read the article to comment
- The designs encourages longer comments on vg.no and shorter comments on Facebook
- Commenting on Facebook is done in a socio-emotional context
- Commenting on comment section is done in a task-oriented context
- Commentators on comment sections are more motivated to read and reply
- We construct our digital selves differently on the two platforms
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Comments in the Public Sphere
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.
To find out which platform for commenting best facillitates democratic, public debate, the two platforms were compared to the ideal requirements of the Habermasion Public Sphere. 4
- Informed rational-critical debates: Comment sections are found to have more argumentative content, and Facebook can be seen as a powerful company with too much influence.
- Open participation for everyone: There are more derogatory comments in the comment sections that may scare people away. And with a Facebook account it is easier to comment on Facebook. But can we require people to have a Facebook account to join the public debate?
- A disregard for people's status: People can't escape their real life status on Facebook. But on comment sections, dependent upon their design, status becomes less important.
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1: Teopfl, Florian, and Eunike Piwoni. 2015. “Public Spheres in Interaction: Comment Sections of News Websites as Counterpublic Spaces”. Journal of Communication 65: 465-488
2: Vergeer, M. 2015. “Twitter and Political Campaigning”. Sociology Compass 9, no. 9: 745- 760.
3: Rowe, Ian. 2015. “Civility 2.0: a comparative analysis of incivility in online political discussion”. Information, Communication & Society 18, no. 2: 121-138. DOI:10.1080/1369118X.2014.940365
4:Habermas, Jürgen. 1991. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. United States of America: MIT Press.