Frank Waddell Comments on Online Newspaper Comments Sections
Frank Waddell, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Journalism assistant professor, was quoted in “Killing Comments Won’t Cure Our Toxic Internet Culture” published on Engadget.com on May 3.
The article focuses on the conundrum of whether online newspapers should remove their comments sections altogether. The comments sections are driven by readers who use it to express their opinions and reactions to news articles.
“On one hand, it provides a forum for people who might feel uncomfortable sharing their opinions offline either due to social or legal repercussions,” said Waddell. “On the other hand, the online comments section sort of turned into the Wild West of people sharing their opinions, and when these conversations turn negative, there can be detrimental consequences for the way that the news is being perceived, even though the comments section is totally separated from it.”
According to Waddell, humans have a cognitive bias toward negative information and this is the central tendency for negative information to be more memorable and more relevant to decision-making and information. He suggests journalists take a more hands-on role in the discussion following a story’s publication rather than shutting down the comments wholesale.
“Research shows that when journalists are involved in the comment-production process, the negative comments that might have been shared tend to be a little bit less influential than when it’s unmoderated and the audience is allowed to fully shape the conversation,” he said.