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Study shows comments fail to raise level of debate

One of the final presentations at ISOJ looked at the content of comments.

The study, Comments in News, Democracy Booster or Journalistic Nightmare (PDF), analysed comments on newspaper websites in Catalunya in Spain

David Domingo, Universitat Rovira i Virgilli (Tarragona, explained that the analysis was based on Habermas: were comments an expression of a democratic debate, expressing logical and coherent arguments.

Most users only left one comment in a debate. Domingo said this showed us that people were not following the conversation.

“They drop in, leave a comment and never come back,” he said.

Domingo said participants never articulate an argument. Rather they expressed feelings about an issue.

There were, he noted, a diversity of viewpoints. But many users expressed disdain about other comments.

There were very few instances of users saying they valued the contribution of other commenters.

The evidence suggests that comments are not adding to a democratic debate.

Domingo said that the rules for participation set by newspapers set the groundwork for a democratic debate. But the news sites did not set the necessary measures to ensure these principles were followed by users.

Rather comments were motivated by economics – to increase traffic and reader loyalty.

The study found two approaches. Hands-off moderation that allowed users to rant. But there was not a higher level of debate on the sites with strict moderation.

Domingo concluded that newspapers incorporated comments as a business decision, rather than as a way of fostering democratic debate online.

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