Shutting Down a Comment Section is a Bad Idea
Over the past year a number of high profile news sites ranging from Popular Science to The Chicago Sun-Times have closed their comment section (or, in the case of Vox, launched without one), and now Re/code is joining that club.
The news site announced yesterday that they are disabling their comment section:
The biggest change for some of you, however, will be that we have decided to remove the commenting function from the site. We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion. But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful.
Our writers are all active on services like Twitter and Facebook, and our official Re/code accounts on social media post our stories all day long. Readers aren’t shy about offering their opinions to us on these and other social media services, and you are likelier to be able to interact with us there.
In effect, we believe that social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years.
I think that is, at best, a misguided move.
Yes, a lot of sites feel that social media can and have replaced the debate aspects of the comment section, and you’ll find any number of supporting arguments from bloggers, but from where I sit I see too many downsides without gain.
The topic of social media as a replacement for a comment section came up a couple weeks ago when Reuters shut down the comments on their news articles. Pando Daily reported on the story and suggested that Twitter was already a replacement:
I’ve found that the most insightful questions raised about my own stories usually happen on larger forums like Twitter — after all, if readers have something smart to say, they want as many people to see it as possible. And because so many journalists live on Twitter these days anyway – or if nothing else, they spend more time on Twitter than they do mired in comment sections — it makes sense to leave the discussion there.
Yes, a lot of people are on social networks, but each network has its own flaws. Twitter is ephemeral, and its 140 character limit removes the option for nuance and intricate debate. And Facebook has in the past mucked around with comments just as much as they have with the News Feed algorithm, making it hard to carry on a conversation.
All those insightful questions raised on Twitter weeks ago, or even yesterday, are now vanished into the ether. Sure, you could find them again if you wanted to, but as far as new readers are concerned those tweets might as well not exist. (And have you ever tried to dig up a multi-threaded Twitter debate after the fact? Bleh.)
As David Gaughran, JA Konrath, and Barry Eisler showed us earlier this week, a comment section is much more permanent and public than a social network. Those three took to The Bookseller’s comment section a few days ago to rebuke The Bookseller for its selective coverage of Amazon.
That comment section is far too long to quote here, but it is well worth the time to read. The comments add a lot of context to the original story (or rather they show the lack of context), and what’s more, many of the comments are more worth your time than the original article.
But just as importantly, they would not exist if not for the comment section.
image by geishaboy500