Comments Sections Should Either Be Mercy-Killed or Left Alone



For newspapers (like the Seattle Times and The Stranger) I always figured that comment sections were simply unedited letters to the editor. My guess is, that is why they added the "Respect" button. I may disagree with the position (and be prepared to offer counter-arguments) but at least it is a well reasoned argument (more or less). For a blog like this, I'm not sure it matters or is needed. Rarely are the comments so long, or so filled with spam or trolling that it matters. The only thing I miss is the inability to post links anymore, or format the text in any way. At least we can still curse here.


Kill them. The internet would be infinitely better without them.


I've noticed that for the non-political posts of art, theater, food, and sports reviews that a comment will bring more readers to the article. It's like a curiosity to see how the comments are reacting to the review.


I think that comment sections like this one exacerbate the same issue that social media does.

It used to be in the days of yore(aka, before 1980 something, give or take) that people only interacted with people within a relatively small geographic area as a rule. Those that didn't had to put in a lot of work and therefore were pretty well disposed to deal with what they found(and if not, could go back to not dealing with it).

Nowadays, even taking the whole "echo chamber" thing into account, we bump up against people radically different than we are on a regular basis, something that most humans are really bad at dealing with(the main exception would be cities like New York or London where everyone has been raised with different cultures and even then they still faceplant sometimes).

Including into that the fact that the left basically won the culture war and the right basically won the economic war(thereby making precisely no one really happy) and that a very significant minority of people truly and utterly enjoy making their fellow human absolutely miserable means you have what we have today.

Which is why I think we should shut down comment sections(and all social media but that's a discussion for another time).

Thank you for attending my TED talk.


Great article. I fell into the category of middle aged men with too much time on our hands and too many thoughts in our heads but I've graduated to senior citizen who's stopped fighting (aka debating) other people every day. Why? Because all of those arguments accomplished next to nothing.

Even when it was clear I'd "won" a debate on some comments forum, I didn't change anyone's mind. I used to do the friends thing on some forums and in hindsight I should have stuck with that, it was way more fun and accomplished a lot more more than any political debate I ever had.


I could totally relate to Nathalie's experience. In the 1990s I joined a website devoted to solving puzzles and met a bunch of people from various countries who remained friends for years afterwards. As for my online boyfriend from that community? Reader, I married him.


Putting on my mitre of sanctimonious ranting. I am pro comment and participation. True there are trolls and sock puppets and there are people who will talk shit about you when your back is turned. Our society produces these types and they are the hurdles we always have and always will have to deal with as we go through life. There also many who catch the error in the work or logic or have a witty reply. Oftentimes commenters demonstrate more insight than the article itself. Censorship is not a solution it is a problem. The problem of a few deciding when, where and how the rest should express themselves.


Just get rid of the sock puppets. Have to check people figure out a way to make a comment disappear if the commenter deletes their account.


The internet itself should get bumped off. It’s a surveillance tool more than anything else.


Interesting. I only sometimes read what others have said in the comments. I'm more concerned about my own thoughts than anyone else's.


Most comments sections often contain a fair percentage of comments that are nothing more than personal attacks on, bullying of, and trashing authors or other posters. The Stranger's comments sections can be particularly egregious in that respect, which I suspect reflects the immaturity of a large portion of its readership.

I have no problem with a moderator blocking or removing comments that are meant solely to insult or denigrate others. Sometimes these comments can read like hate speech. Respectful disagreement is one thing. Calling someone a "fucking asshole" of "shithead Nazi" just because their opinions differ shouldn't be tolerated in any forum. No wonder the US has become a venom-filled society where polite discourse and compromise have become impossible.

I've often felt The Stranger needed to institute some minimal standards when it came to posters who cross the line and engage in offensive personal attacks. Sadly, when people can't police themselves, someone else has to step in and police them.


Without the comments, why would you click on a Mudede article?


You are so welcome Nathalie! I'm glad you like my cards :)
The Stranger used to take an interest in The Slog comment community. They would host get togethers, called Slog Happys, at different bars, and even made a calendar of some of the most dedicated members the commentariat. The idea was that it's harder to be an asshole to someone on line once you've spent time with them face to face, and shared a drink or a cupcake with a tiiiiiiiny little pie baked inside (shout out to Bethany Jean!)
I've met some wonderful people in the 10 years I've been on Slog. Some later in real life, like Fnarf, Catalina, Comte, Mr. Harriman, and Scary Tyler Moore and some I never will, like Eva Hopkins, Kim in Portland, and Venomlash, who was just a teenager when we first met here.
I think there is value in an online community, but it has to be nurtured and tended to, and I wish the Stranger would make the effort again.
I also reeeeeeeeeally wish they'd bring back HTML tags......


Improve the comments section. How about like, an edit function, or nested threads, or something please Stranger staff. The current system is cheeks.


"Really, I don't think a comments section adds or detracts anything from a site." --Nathalie

Without its comments section, I'd never subscribe to the NYT. The comments're often the first place I go (the NYT even has a Reply button). Like what Zander says @7:

"Oftentimes commenters demonstrate more insight than the article itself."

Typically, many excellent, and diverse, points of view.

And an Edit button (with requisite History) sure'd be Nice....


Cyber-rot doesn't need edit buttons.


You don't think community can add anything? Not for the writer of the article the comments hang off, okay, but for the people in them.

Not Slog comments, not really, too much of a yelling match. But Savage Love comments are of value, and you'll notice they're also less of a trolly yellfest.

"At the end of the day, all of this feels futile"

Eh. Haven't you ever seen effective moderation? It's a whole different ballgame than half-assed weeding out spellcaster spam after the fact.

Moderation works to allow real conversation. It just reduces "engagement" metrics i.e. first-time posts plus sockpuppet troll spam, is the problem.

I've even seen moderation that set ground rules that ruled me out, and yet created a place I learned from, because people could talk in depth.




@11: Ha. I'm reading only these comments, not the article, because when an article starts with "The internet is older than I am", I'm just not interested in what the author says. But the comments on an article with this subject will probably be interesting (and they were).


The preening moralism of Comte leads me to believe it's Fnarf in drag.


@22: Heyyyyy battah battah, heyyyyy battah battah, SA-Wing BATTAH!
Aaaaand yurr OUT.


The Seattle Times comment section has been a cesspool for years. I stopped reading it ages ago, I can't imagine how much worse it got for them to actually do something about it. Around 8 or so years ago I was at a forum on the future of the "internet and journalism" and asked the Seattle Times digital director why the comments were so terrible, and why don't they do anything about it. He gave some complete non-answer involving something about "engagement." Translation: people stick around comments sections to yell at each other and then see more ads. Perhaps Seattle Times having to shut down comments permanently on many of their columnists' articles was starting to look bad.

NYTimes spends a lot of time and money making sure their comments section is not a cesspool. I imagine they lose money, rather than make money even having it. I doubt it will be worthwhile for Seattle Times to spend the money/effort.


@13 - Even with comments, I don't click on Medede's articles.


all comment sections should get killed off. moderated forums and message boards should make a comeback - there were great communities in specific places like that (before fb came and at ate everyone's lunch)


Simple. Charge a small fee with PayPal for account registration - like $10.00. That would clear out the chaff and sock puppets right quick. And light touch moderation based on user flags for the rest.

People who want to really have a conversation and form community will pay a fee and stick around. Trolls and dipshits will fuck off.


@27: That would be the #1 to make sure Slog stops existing in about a month.

No one comes here for the blog posts, they come to get angry about comments or to laugh about comments. All you would have left is the four or five sad weirdos who need this place to substitute for an actual social life.


I'm inclined to say that opinions can be swayed in (some) comments sections. Like here, where usually the comments are fairly limited. Hey my opinion has been swayed on occasion.

I don't frequent the Seattle Times site but something like Yahoo News? Comments there are an unbelievable cesspool. They killed the comments at The Atlantic, I think mostly because there seemed to be a poopshoot leading directly from Breitbart or some place to them, indefatigable mouthbreathers frequently crowding out everyone else with their sophomoric one liners. Probably get more meaningful debate when you have many people who have fairly subtle disagreements rather than a bunch of rabid partisans from either end of the spectrum.


@27: That's not a bad idea. There are people who used to post a lot in the early days when it was more of a community and we would all chat about all sorts of things. In those days we had registered posters and the howling wilderness of the unregistered where the trolls rant rampant and you couldn't read their comments unless you clicked on them. Now Period Troll just makes and deletes endless sock puppet accounts when in the past you’d never even see him. If he had to spend $10 per account it might make him think twice, not to to mention spammers like @29. It would be more like having a subscription to be allowed to comment, but the articles could still be viewed for free.
@28: Now, now. No need to be so hard on yourself.


“four or five sad weirdos who need this place to substitute for an actual social life”

Hahaha. Dude. You post here over a dozen times a day almost every day. You just described you.


hey Nathalie remember when i trolled you by spelling your name Nahatalie? yeah:-) good times


I am flabbergasted that anyone can think comments do not add anything of value. We are in the midst of a revolution and don't even know it. the ability for people to have at least a small voice, and interact and bypass the gatekeepers, at least till they get wise to it and try to stop it, is beyond anything in history. A person anywhere in the world can go on youtube and say something, and if it has currency, it can go around the world. Facebook ofr course, but also comment sections big and small. I often read the comments to know what others think of what one person or editorial board decided. I can see what people anywhere in the world think. Contrary reasoning, agreement, Further explanation, or debate about the meaning and philosophical meaning of the given article or opinion piece. Just think about what a revolution that is.

Sure, sometimes too much info. too many comments. obviously, can be a cesspool sometimes. Democracy is not pretty. lots of pitfalls. the biggest problem is that people hold the site accountable when they should not be anymore than they might be responsible for a group of people talking on the street corner holding their newspapers.

Maybe we need a site just for comment sections free of the source. well known. reddit does a lot of that, and seems to be trying to resist calls to censor. not up on all that. but if you read an article and they don't have a comment section, maybe the ny times, you can go to reddit and see if some people are discussing it.

Don't think much of a community. i have zero interest in getting to know people in a comment section. but I do friend people on fb sometimes due to their thoughtful comments.


of course, you would have to be naive to think you can "win' an argument or change anyone's minds. but if you are an open minded person and want to know what other people think, and perhaps use that to form your opinions (What we should all be doing, Btw) you can find comments sections quite useful. also useful to know what kind of faulty reasoning and inflammatory ideas some people are thinking.


Somebody said something mean to me after I commented on an article. waaaa, shut it all down waaaaa


37: Hey PT, thanks for letting me know. :)


wow, that was fast...


@39: Dang! No kidding!


“Hahaha. Dude. You post here over a dozen times a day almost every day. You just described you. “

Professor History.


@39: I mean there wasn't any reason; that was a perfectly civil exchange!


@34, 35. Well put. Thanks!


This behaviour online came about 10 years before AOL or even most public dial up internet access. You called another computer and connected to that. Those BBSes, Fidonet or Usenet in the mid-late 80s ir early 90s were far worse than what is here. AI doesn't work because it can't reason. It can replicate a sequence of predetermined complex issues and give the operators insight to what is happening but it can't judge intent. You need real people that can think and respond rationally. That puts a good number of internet commenters out of the running.


There's a difference between "regular" journalism (the Seattle Times) and advocacy journalism (lThe Stranger). Comments have no place on a traditional paper - if people have thoughts, they should have to compose a letter to the editor, and be judged on their merits before being allowed on the site.

For publications like The Stranger - where journalists are espousing positions - there should be a back-and-forth (with limits, of course). That's one of the things that used to annoy me about Our Dear Jen Graves: If she was afraid of her stalker, that's perfectly legitimate. But she shouldn't have been allowed to post on Slog, for there was no way for normal people to comment on her advocacy.