Finding Value In Online Comments

What is the value of online reader comments? A report by WAN-IFRA’s World Editors Forum suggests the value is much more than simply a platform for reader views. According to the writers, comments can help build a media audience and generate revenue if properly managed. In an era of fake news, unbridled tolling and hostile reader comments, many organisations are opting to close own comments.

For many its more than simply trying to stop the trolls; often it’s not just worth the effort as proper management includes needing at least one staffer to moderate reader views. Instead, media appear to be sending readers away from their stories to engage on social media.

The report, Do Comments Matter? Global Online Commenting Study 2016” follows on WEF’s 2013 publication

“Online comment moderation: emerging best practices”. In the three years since that document was published, media have faced greater resource challenges and the public debate has arguable become more polarised and hostile.

This perfect storm poses real challenges for newsrooms trying to manage potentially damaging - and legally-fraught - conversations

The reality though, is that the media cannot afford to send its audiences to other platforms. We must find ways to promote constructive conversations with our audiences on the platforms where they access our stories.

WEF’s research looked at whether there are other ways to build a civil and constructive commenting space. The researchers spoke with 78 media organisations in 46 countries. Over 80% still invited comments from their readers with about half leaving the comments section open on all articles.

This did not mean complete satisfaction about the quality of comments. Decisions to close comments were often prompted by the “abusive tone and poor quality of comments” but also due to the rising costs of moderation, legal liability and lack of use.

Despite this, most news organisations believed comments were important by “adding to the debate” (53%), “providing ideas and input for future stories” (53%) and “encouraging diversity of opinions” (47%).

The content itself also drives the quality and quantity of the comments said the researchers. Opinion pieces generally received the most comments (23%) while analytical articles received the highest quality responses (26%).

Topics that attract inflammatory comments differed from region to region but it should come as no surprise that in Africa it was politics and race.

Not surprisingly,the research notes that specific laws concerning the liability of reader comments and hate speech are emerging and media must ensure they contribute to these discussions to ensure we do limit of freedom of expression.

Noting a trend to move comments to social media, the researchers warn that there is a real loss of readership relationship and data. Maintaining healthy relationships with readers by investing in comment moderation offers real business and reader loyalty rewards.

Download the full report here

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