Comments suck right? So why do you have them?

A study is going to be published that supposedly shows stories with uncivil comments below them results in people being less informed. That’s the gist. The sad part are news and blog sites posting about this study, including noting people shouldn’t read comments, on sites that have comments on every story! As an example, Mother Jones published a piece on it that concluded:

To be sure, we all retain the option of not reading the comments. Which, in light of the latest research, is looking smarter than ever.

Mother Jones makes little effort to moderate their comments (beyond automated spam flagging that disqus supports). They also do not encourage their authors to engage with the comments. Their comment threads are full of people making uncivil claims, full of falsehoods and otherwise not very useful (though I’ve had some good discussions there). The sad part is their own piece on this research had no self-reflection about what Mother Jones could do to make their comment threads better.

Of course, poor comment threads are not limited to Mother Jones, nor were they alone in publishing a story about this study while having comments on their site. Most versions of the story I saw go by were for sites I know have comment sections. I know comments can be civil and actually add to discussions and my understanding of the topic (see Scalzi’s blog, Metafilter and Biofortified for a few examples). But having a good comment section is work. Authors and site owners have to actively read comments and either remove off-topic (or uncivil) comments or respond to them regularly to create the kind of atmosphere that encourages everyone to make useful (or at least not harmful) comments.

The response to this study shouldn’t have been: now we all have proof no one should read comments! It should have been: why do so many sites allow comments when they clearly aren’t willing to invest in making them worthwhile?