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Many websites have a problem with the humble comments section. In the past, you could barely go on a website or two without seeing a scrawling comments section filled with everything from Viagra/Cialis and sexy Russian babes, to those who’d only read the headline and were reacting with tremendous vitriol, to well considered walls of text, and gifs and memes galore.
Today, most websites have removed comments sections in lieu of social media discussions. When you visit news sites like The Guardian, for example, it might be an in between, where contentious topics will have no comments section while others will have heavily moderated responses. Many of these sites claim they have removed comments sections, for the most part, because they are the vile cesspits of the internet. Anyone who’s ever spent more than a couple of seconds on YouTube can understand this. Before IMDb removed their discussion board earlier this year, it was almost on par with YouTube, though never as vicious, vile, and full of conspiracy and nostalgia nuts.
Many claim to remove their comments sections because of the perceived anonymity of commenters, who feel they can harass and intimidate fans of the website they’re visiting. To be honest, most popular sites shouldn’t be using this as an excuse, when they generally have teams of moderators who are paid well enough to be able to deal with this. Sure, there may be many cutbacks in the online and news media, which may not afford companies the ability to pay these moderators, but sites should not be removing their comments sections unless the commenters have proven track records of not adding anything to the discussion.
Particularly on smaller blogs and websites, comments sections are vital. WordPress automatically sets comments to “awaiting moderation” unless one specifically changes these settings, which may stop young sites from getting the engagement they need to thrive and survive. Popular blogger Vincent Mars says:
I have to wait at your door in uncertain weather while you make up your mind whether to let me in or not. By the time you decide, I may be gone from your blog, gone from your life for good.
Are you going to run a relevancy check on my comment?
Those who force heavy moderation on their readers or potential readers—or, alternatively, those who don’t allow comments at all—are stating quite loudly that they don’t want specific people to visit their website. Whether it’s a site with heavy moderation like The Guardian or The Mary Sue who claim it’s to stop harassment and abuse in their comments section, or a site with no comments section at all—like many major news sites, as well as IMDb and more—these are forcing readers to have discussions in secret. This is good in many ways: people who can’t talk about video game politics on game websites instead turn to Kotaku in Action or neoGAF, for example, or movie enthusiasts turn to a Facebook page or forum for their favorite movies.
While you’re getting people to read your stuff, the conversation is not unfolding where the news first came out—your news site or whatever it is—and eventually your website is forgotten, a lone tumbleweed in the desert.
Most of the websites that have removed their comments sections have instead moved their conversations to social media—usually Facebook and Twitter. They believe it makes for higher quality conversations, and that’s great. So many wonderful discussions can be had on social media on a range of different topics, but the problem is that it’s limited. It’s limited by whether Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey consider your content “problematic”, and the conversation is held on Mark and Jack’s terms, not your own.
However, if you’re going to do a Cracked.com and make readers pay to like comments, then you’re probably better off not having a comments section at all. While it should be up to the discretion of sites, big or small, if they wish to have a comments section, there’s something charming about the comments section. On smaller sites, it creates a community, and on bigger sites, it brings people from all over the world together to argue over generally unimportant things.
Regardless of whether you have comments on your site or not, conversations will spring up somewhere. The problem with the popular websites that have removed their discussion threads: people will talk elsewhere, and you might not like what they have to say. Or, as Vincent Mars believes, they may just walk away from your site and never return.
What do you think about the comments section? Is it a cesspit of hate, conspiracy theories and lonely Eastern European spammers, or is it a charming place where people can agree to disagree in a centralized location? Tell us down below…in our comments section!