Ban all the comments?

In my latest for Big Think, I engage with whether we should remove ALL THE COMMENT SECTIONS (obviously not). I wrote this in light of recent discussions with meatspace conversations and Popular Science’s recent decision.


  1. sarah00 says

    My immediate reaction to hearing that Popular Science were turning off their comments was disappointment as I felt it set a bad precedent. However, the SGU had a discussion on this in their latest podcast and made a point I thought was really valid and could relate to. These extremely popular sites often have comment threads running to 100s, if not 1000s, of posts and there is no way the majority of commenters are actually reading everything that’s come before. So you end up with no dialogue, no discussion, just people rehashing the same arguments and not listening to anyone. I know that since Phil Plait moved his Bad Astronomy blog to Slate I’ve stopped reading the comments because they add nothing to the conversation any more.

    For places like FtB where there’s a community and the ability to discuss and debate I think comments are vital and a great way to explore the different facets of a post. But there’s other places, and it sounds like PopSci was one of these, where comments do nothing to improve a debate and everything to harm it. If that’s the case I see no reason, if a compromise can’t be found, not to turn off the comments.

    • colnago80 says

      I know that since Phil Plait moved his Bad Astronomy blog to Slate I’ve stopped reading the comments because they add nothing to the conversation any more.

      This is particularly true when he posts on climate change. The shills for the Koch brothers come out in droves.

      • sarah00 says

        And the anti-vaccine nuts when he posts about vaccinations. Even when it’s just a nice post about astronomy it seems to devolve into pointless bickering.

        Often when Phil puts pictures up he’ll make up some word related to the post to indicate that if you click there you’ll get a bigger version. The other day someone asked what the word was and why they’d never seen it before. It was the final straw. I know it’s silly final straw but it made me realise that the community such as it was had gone, or at least been so swamped by outsiders (to use a really divisive term) that there was little chance of getting meaningful conversation in the comments. If every little bit of history has to be explained to all the new people then what chance is there of moving the conversation on?

        That must sound like I’m against expanding communities which is really not the case, I’ve been lurking in several places for years (including FtB!) and have only recently started to actively engage. I really appreciate being able to take part in discussions and love reading the diversity of opinions. But that idea of lurking to get a sense of the place, the other people and the views already expressed seems to be lacking in a lot of these mass-comment places. People don’t bother to see if what they’re saying has already been said, or if their questions have already been answered, they just dive in and the result is topics that go round in circles and never make any progress.

      • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

        Yup. Do they ever.

        Also the way Slate formats the comments really stinks. Just not the same as the old “proper” BA blog 🙁

    • Tauriq Moosa says

      Well, that was my point. You have good reason to be initially sceptical, but as I outlined in the post we need to engage with thinking beyond generalised precedents: Does this comment policy – free for all, complete banning, carefully moderated, etc. – work for this site? Each one has different qualities and each applies to different communities. I think automatically assuming no comments = bad is too knee-jerk.

      • sarah00 says

        Oops. Sorry! I swear I did read your article!

        I guess it highlights one thing about comments, they’re only as intelligent as the people making them and if they (I’m) not capable of recognising the point of an article then their (my) comments are going to be similarly pointless.

        I promise I’ll improve my reading comprehension skills for next time 🙂

  2. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Comments sections generally can be really interesting, amusing and add a lot .. Or sometimes if done and handled badly really not. One of those cases where the answer is just “depends.”

  3. Pen says

    It probably is possible to analyse this in terms of types of problems and best practices for solving them. I do think the contrast between the Guardian’s intensive management approach and Popular Science’s retreat is interesting. At the Guardian, you get intense moderation, a clear comment policy, comments closing after a fixed period (I didn’t know it was due to moderators moving on, but that makes sense), threaded comments with most of the replies collapsed into invisibility – you can lockdown whole troll rampages by that expedient. Now they have these Guardian Picks for anyone who just wants a quick glimpse of some responses which were at least coherent and relevant.

    And on the other hand, Popular Science. My fear is that people’s expectation of participation has grown so strong, they will just move on.

  4. says

    There are certainly problematic comments around but I don’t think stopping comments is a good solution. Of course, I don’t have experience with the thousands of comments that large news sites or Youtube would get and I don’t know how that number can be properly monitored. For smaller sites I think just having moderators to enforce standards for the comments is probably the best solution. I usually don’t read comments on other people’s work though so perhaps I’m actually overestimating how important they are.

    The main benefits I see to comments is that it allows mistakes in the original post to be pointed out and fixed, it allows misconceptions to be corrected and allows certain aspects of a topic to be looked at in more detail. That can be done by making a new article somewhere or by emailing the author (and I think both have a place) but that prevents other readers from benefiting.

    As for some specific management systems, I am not a big fan of comment votes. I’ve seldom seen voting systems used in a useful manner and it just becomes a measure of how popular a view is, regardless of how right or wrong it is. Forcing real names may help improve comments but there are plenty of people that say appalling things without anonymity. In addition I’d be concerned that people would be shut out of discussions due to social pressures. (I also suspect Youtube requiring Google+ had less to do with comments and more to do with forcing people to use their services.)

    • Tauriq Moosa says

      Very good… er, comment. *mind blown* Thanks.

      I did deal with a lot of these points in the article itself, but I particularly like your emphasis that the problem with emails or blog responses is that readers don’t see it immediately. Of course, that assumes they should, or that it’s the blog author’s job to make reader’s lives so much easier (for example, a Google search for a response or critique is their responsibility and smacks of laziness to be uninformed).

      Anyway, this is an ongoing discussion and you won’t find disagreement, entirely. My major point is to not assume a catch-call approach toward comment systems; and, related, that removing comments always is the best solution or that it is the worst.