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deadly sin silence reader comments

In 2011, TechCrunch switched to Facebook comments disabling commenting option on their website. After two years, TechCrunch dumped Facebook comments and was pleading for commenters to come back to their website. In 2016, WAN IFRA surveyed 78 organisations across 46 countries about the importance of commenting on their website. Eighty-two percent of the sites surveyed still allow commenting. 53 percent of these organizations believe that comments sections contribute to a constructive debate that leads to new ideas for their future stories.

Bassey Etim, New York Times Community Editor said that comment section was actually adding revenue to their bottom line. They picked up 130,000 new subscribers in November 2016 — 10 times their average monthly growth rate.

LA Times subscription has grown by 61% in 2016 – You will note that they have comments open for the opinion section on their website.

Washington DC is growing steadily and has hired 60 new writers. – They have commenting option available for their readers too!

Jahanzaib Haque, Chief Digital Strategist and Editor at Pakistan Dawn’s also believes in the power of commenting space. He went on to add that by retaining comments on their website, the time spent by reader went from 6.5 minutes to 9 minutes.  

Anyone who is bitching about comments is making a big mistake, - Editor@Dawn Click To Tweet

I spoke about the importance of having a commenting system for your website in my recent blog. Comment sections are part and parcel of any online experience. With the increase in hate speech and bitter criticism by spammers and trollers online, there are publishers who have opted to shut off commenting option on their website. Although many publications are aware of the importance of commenting only a handful have figured out how to handle spams/trolls and yet maintain a good commenting space.

Guardian stories are open to comments for three days.

New York Times stories are open for comments for 24 hours.

Google developed an Artificial Intelligence system to identify and clamp down hate speeches and abusive comments. Despite that, a lot of publishers have still gone ahead with removing comment section from their website.

Question

Are trolls and hate speeches more than the number of civil, though-provoking, thoughtful ones that readers share on a website?

OR

Are publishers worried that the influence readers have in the form of an opinion is greater than the story itself?

OR

Are Publishers no longer getting their favorable answers in the comments section and are pretending under the blanket of trolls to shut comments altogether?

Shutting off comments in your website is like chemotherapy. It kills the good cells along with the bad -… Click To Tweet

Why do we really need a comment section? We want to provide a positive and useful experience for the readers and also help publishers nurture their community. The focus has and will always be the readers.

Diverting comments from your own website to social media platforms with a hope to manage trolls and spams effectively does more harm than good. Techcrunch took two years to realise this.

Let us get to the bottom line. You want comments in news websites because

  • You value your readers
  • Your readers can share their opinion and express it.
  • Some of their comments add more value than the story itself.

News stories can be biased. By reading the comment section, it helps people get a complete picture. When Jamilah Lemieux, a senior editor wrote about shutting comment system down in her website, the readers thought it was a bad idea. With over hundreds of response in comments, it would be interesting to note that a majority of the response has been civil, backed with statistics and genuine concern.  Readers have expressed vividly that they want to have the comment section open and by taking it away, it is snatching their freedom of speech and clearly media hypocrisy. She also added that trollers are hounding her on Twitter after she turned off commenting on her website.

Turning to social media to engage with readers in an attempt to prevent troll? You are merely shifting base for your trollers to troll you.

Check out some of the comments here. This is one of the many reasons why NY Times is popular and also has a high readership – thanks to its comments section.

On another note, I am wondering how Laird Wilcox (one of the readers in the screenshot above) could have possibly posted this comment on Twitter, while the permitted no of characters is only 140! 

When NPR decided to shut off comments in the month of August last year, here’s what readers had to say. Not everyone is comfortable using Facebook and Twitter to share their opinion on a story and many readers believe that comments on a story should be made available on the website itself.

Source: NPR

Some readers expressed their unhappiness about removing comment section with a sense of humor too!

Source: NPR

Craig Newman, Former Managing Editor of Chicago Sun-Times said he wanted the comment section to be brought back to the website and here’s why.

“I love the idea of people being able to interact. At the end of the day, we are a local news site. And for people to be able to have a community to talk to each other without having to get on Facebook or Twitter is a benefit and adds value to our content. We don’t know everything.”

If the real issue is about trolls and managing spam, there are better ways to handle it. Use a good commenting system that helps in auto-moderation of your comments. Vuukle’s commenting platform uses Google’s AI technology to provide toxicity level on each comment. Moderators/ Publishers have the freedom to set the toxicity level and the comments that cross the set value can get trashed automatically or sent for manual review.

Bottom Line

If publishers want to build and nurture their community, get genuine feedback from their readers, want valuable insights that could have possibly been missed out, understand them and build content that they want to read, they have to make their website social. Removing comment section from their website is not the way to go. It is a deadly sin to silence reader comments and will kill their freedom of speech. If readers do not have the freedom to express their point of view on a story, they will move to where they will be heard.

The Deadly Sin of Silencing Reader Comments on Media Websites
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Bavani Srinu

Co-Founder at Ichiqoo
Bavani Srinu is the founder of two start-ups, Ichiqoo and Swapp. She is also a free-spirited writer, a marketing professional, a mother and an avid travel enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter @bavanisrinu
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