The Internet allows just about anyone with access to have an opinion on something. Nowhere can you find a better example of this than by looking through the comment sections on news and media websites. There you'll find everything from intelligent, analytical thoughts about articles to vitriolic, hateful things written about its author or the sources quoted.
While comment sections on news websites were originally designed to be a forum for readers to share comments, opinions, and counterarguments about stories, many websites have started taking them down because of the type and frequency of violent or bigoted language. In response to some of this language, major news organizations including Reuters, Bloomberg, and The Week have nixed their comment sections altogether. The New York Times, which has several hired staff members whose sole job it is to moderate and curate comments on web stories, recently took on the issue of comment sections in its 'Room for Debate' opinion piece.
Because not everyone can afford to hire a staff like the New York Times, some companies are turning to new alternatives. Tribune Publishing, which owns The Chicago Tribune, The L.A. Times, and other major newspapers, recently started using a service called SolidOpinion.com to help curate content on the San Diego Union-Tribune's website by charging readers to comment. Essentially, it's a service that offers readers points for posting comments, and the points can be used to put one's comment in a more prominent position on the website. Alternatively, points can be purchased at a premium.
With social media allowing readers and media organizations to interact like never before, what is the place of comment sections on news sites? Do they do more harm than good? Should people be allowed to comment anonymously? What other ways are there, besides hiring staff to moderate online comments, that organizations could curate and moderate these forums?
Karen North, clinical professor of communications and director of Digital Social Media program at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Chris Wolf, partner in the law firm Hogan Lovells’ Privacy and Cybersecurity practice and chair of the Anti-Cyberhate Committee of the Anti-Defamation League; he’s also co-author of the book “Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet”