The Role of Comments in Online Media Sites

This week, Popular Science.com decided to eliminate the comment portion of its online articles.  In a society dominated by the Internet and social media, I find this move surprising and potentially damaging.  What makes the Internet appealing to so many people is its ability to have users interact with one another and to share their opinions on information.  Taking that opportunity away may negatively affect their readership on the site.

In an article on their own site, PopSci claims the reason for this decision is due to negative comments having the power to change the reader’s mind.

“Commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded–you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the “off” switch.”

Online media is taking over and print news is slowly dying.  But, if PopSci suddenly blocks the ability of readers to forge their own opinions on the articles, they may just look elsewhere.  It is also a bit of a slap in the face to readers.  By PopSci implying that the readers will be easily influenced by negative commenters, they are basically stating that the viewers have no backbone.  Perhaps not the smartest move for such an intellectually-founded organization.

YouTube was also in the news this week in regards to its comment section as well.  According to a CNN article, YouTube commenters must be linked to a Google+ account (which makes sense, considering YouTube is owned by Google).  This will customize what each user sees based on their friends, and also allows for conversations to be private.  The changes are supposed to have good quality comments slide up to the top.   The most essential addition – a controller to block negative/vulgar language.

“Content creators can make a blacklist of any offending words or phrases they don’t want appearing in comments under their videos, and all comments that dare use said words will be held for review.”

This is revolutionary in terms of online interaction.  Cleaning up the comment section will give the story/video more credibility and will reflect well on the site also.  In a world filled with disreputable Internet sites, this is a key addition to YouTube and I think other sites would benefit from this tool as well.  Creating a site that users can trust will only make it more popular, and that means more revenue for the organization.

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