Written by Internet, News

A Comment-Free 2016

There’s no two ways about it. Comments are broken.

By that I mean, commenting systems on nearly any site that drives a large amount of traffic. There are too many trolls and people with little or nothing to add.

There is way too much noise, and little to no signal.

I used to enjoy comments. You’d read a piece and there might be some well thought out discussion beneath it on a website. But over time that has been simply washed away – smothered by inanity and ignorance.

There are seemingly vast hordes of people with nothing better to do than navigate around the internet shouting their particular point of view very loudly regardless of relevance.

And I’m not just talking about the wasteland that is YouTube commenting. It’s everywhere.

Various sites have tried things like up-voting good comments and down-voting bad ones. But even that isn’t good enough. There’s too much volume. When you see that there are upwards of 1000 comments already on an article, you might as well pack up and go home. Nobody but the most obsessive is going to read that much. No – commenting becomes circular and a race to the bottom.

Once you might at least have thought that comments would reflect the print readership of newspapers in the past. But no – because sites’ web traffic dwarfs their printed readership, the comments are often not reflective of the editorial values of the publication.

If nothing else, then comments have made me see the work of newspaper letters’ editors in a new light. They must have to get through a lot of chaff before they find the wheat.

Yes, some sites employ people to shut down libellous, racist, or other abuse. But it’s a thankless job, and there’s enough that steps just the right side of being considered “fair comment” yet that is less intelligent than you might find in the average pub close to closing time.

It actually becomes a question of why sites actually bother with comments. They have to employ moderators after all. But comments drive traffic and page views. That means more ad opportunities. They’re addicted to those comments whether they’re the Daily Mail or The Guardian.

Yet it must be said that even with this, more and more sites are dropping comments. They’re just not worth the effort.

There are sites with decent comments, but they tend to be smaller and more specialist. There’s more of a community. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the big boys.

And yes, I do realise that buried away in comment sections, there are actually thoughtful and well-founded points. But it’s just such hard work uncovering them, that I can’t be bothered. It’s not that I want to only read things I agree with either. Debate is healthy. But just because someone has access to a computer does not make their thoughts intrinsically interesting or worthwhile. Enough is enough.

So here’s what I plan to do:

  • I’m going to stop reading comments on all major news sites
  • If I want to comment on something myself then it’ll be in social media (Twitter largely) where others can choose to follow me or not
  • I don’t include this blog – but I get so few comments here as to make no difference (those comments I do get tend to be in the social media space)
  • I’m not talking about forums either as they tend to be better self-policed
  • To make sure I’m not tempted, I’ll try a browser extension like Shut-Up

That should save me lots of wasted hours online. The temptation is always there, but even wondering “how the population is reacting” to something will have to take a back seat. In any case, like pointless Twitter polls, comment sections have absolutely no relevance to actual opinion and just represent a keyboard-bashing minority.

So there we go. A comment-free 2016!