Internet Comments vs. Knowledge

Apparently, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like Internet comment sections. Neither does science. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

In an experiment . . . about 2,000 people were asked to read a balanced news report about nanotechnology followed by a group of invented comments. All saw the same report but some read a group of comments that were uncivil, including name-calling. Others saw more civil comments.

“Disturbingly, readers’ interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story,” wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.

And as though to echo the previous post’s title, “Comments. Boy, I Don’t Know”:

“I hope you’re not going to ask me, ‘What should we do?'” she said, laughing. “Because I don’t know.”

I think I do. Don’t have comments sections.

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11 thoughts on “Internet Comments vs. Knowledge

  1. Don’t have comments sections.
    That cuts a couple ways. If there are no comments sections then it’s also impossible to have people who actually know what they’re talking about engaging with pseudoscientists, charlatans, or the religious. Indeed, many people (this would make for an interesting study as well!) may assume that an article with comments disabled is less credible, depending on the venue. For example, one of the criteria I use to judge a journalist is how effectively (and honestly, if that appears to be an issue) a journalist engages with their detractors. I take them more seriously if they don’t act as if nobody could possibly disagree with them and if they fairly explain and engage opposing views. Conversely, the instant I catch someone “spinning” or minimizing opposing views, I stop treating them as a credible source and begin searching for new baseline sources.

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    • Yeah, that’s my issue with there being no comments sections at all. IDers are notorious for not allowing comments sections. Any position which depends on not hearing the other side in order to be maintained, they don’t tend to allow comments, and it’s frustrating.,
      I fall firmly in the “I don’t know” camp.

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  2. The problem I have with comments sections is admittedly somewhat selfish. I don’t mind giving people a chance to display their ignorance as, like Marcus mentioned, it gives the educated a chance to refute them and potentially build on the subject. Some people might learn something. The problem comes in when the educated people stop commenting because they’ve made their point and are uninterested in arguing with trolls… then the trolls and misinformed think they’ve won the argument. On the other hand, by that point people have probably stopped following the comments anyway… or not. I don’t know what proportion of people get bored as quickly as I do.
    I know that’s not a terribly important thing, just something that irritates me whenever I walk away from “discussions” with people that still need a solid whack with a rolled up newspaper but I don’t have any more time to waste on them.

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  3. To me I think its mostly a problem of signal to noise. I’ve read some really interesting thought provoking comments over the years I probably wouldn’t have seen without a comments section. At the same time there can be a lot of noise that just buries these comments or devolves into frustrations and side issues. I don’t know what the best approach to take is so I’m fine with authors making their own decisions on the subject.

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  4. Comment sections need to be moderated – the unmoderated ones just fill up with flame wars and talking points from paid shills, bots or people who think they are original but are just repeating talking points.

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  5. I agree with Marcus. Comment sections are useful. The best way is to moderate comments. Throw away uncivil comments or people just trolling, leave the rest. Also, zap the whiners who complain that their comments are perfectly civil and they are getting zapped for just “disagreeing”

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  6. 1. As noted, comments and knowledge are not adversaries. Frequently, knowledge which is conspicuously lacking in the article/post can be found in its comments.
    2. The article doesn’t say how the civil comments affected readers– did it make them better disposed toward the article/post itself? Or only to the commenters? Or something else?
    3. A blog post is itself a comment. In that regard, disabling comments is not actually saying “There will be no discussion,” but rather “There will be no discussion but mine.”
    4. Not really related to the article, but….regular commenters can become a community, can become friends with each other, and help each other, as well as the blogger him/herself. That’s not something to turn away lightly.

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    • I don’t think I do it lightly. And I have not even turned it away, as you can see. I would be very happy to see the comments on this blog become such a high-quality community. Hopefully with my moderation and folks’ willingness to play nice, it will. But if it doesn’t, it’s hardly an offense against nature.

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