The problem of comments

Comment is King in the New York Times uses the case study of an American political journalist living in Poland writing to the Washington Post and Slate to highlight the problems associated with comment moderation on websites, as well as the poor quality of comments found in online news sites.

I can fully identity with the following.

This echo-chamber effect is unpleasant, and it makes it hard to keep listening for the clearer, brighter, rarer voices nearly drowned out in the online din. Which is too bad: newspaper journalism benefits from reader comments. Creating registration standards, inventive means of moderating and displaying comments, membership benefits for regular posters and ratings systems for useful comments are just some of the ways that other news outlets like Slate have improved the quality of reader responses.

On the other hand, the Slate comments on a recent Applebaum column are hardly models of astuteness. What’s more, making commenters more accountable for their posts doesn’t exactly transform them into the reverential chorus that every writer probably thinks he deserves. See Slate’s Joshua911, on Applebaum’s column about a renovation at Monticello: “Awful place. Awful change. Awful analysis. Awful writer. Awful country. Awful.” The audience for incantations like this one has got to be mostly Joshua911 himself. And maybe nothing can — or even should — be done to curb entirely the brute urge of readers to defy what they’ve read.

With over 3,700 comments to date, two and a half years of single-handed comment moderation after Groundviews started, the pattern is strikingly similar even in Sri Lanka.

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