Anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours online knows that dipping into the comment sections at some news site – okay, at most news sites – is like diving head-first into a septic tank.
A number of newspapers seem to prevent comments on contentious articles, and at least one has killed it Facebook page because of vitriol.
The value of comments is the conversation and, at some sites (which I suspect are heavily moderated), great discussions unfold that really do deepen the reporting and storytelling.
I have an idea for saving that but it’ll take a little work and some hard-headed decision-making.
Create two comments sections for each story. Call one something like “The Conversation.” That’s where the good stuff goes: thoughtful analyses, reasoned arguments, mannerly disagreements, dearly-held and well-expressed thoughts and ideas and the like.
Call the other one something like “The Slop Bucket.” (“The Septic Tank” would work, too.) Everything else – the rants, the baseless attacks, the racism, the conspiracy theories – whatever – goes there.
The benefit for the reader is obvious: a nicely curated section for when we want to be engaged and a seething mess of madness when we need to be reminded how ugly the internet can become.
And maybe, just maybe, some of the fire-first, think-later commenters may try to work their way out of The Slop Bucket (or Septic Tank) and return to the land of reasonable, passionate conversation. You know, the land where the grown-ups live.