Comments and commenters


A few weeks ago on the podcast I mentioned how much I enjoy reading comments at the bottom of online news stories and other websites. I guess I’m a student of human nature and this sometimes angry, sometimes comical discourse is a fun peek inside the minds of the online readers, pranksters, radicals and a variety of mixed nuts.

It’s all good. On the internet, you can be anyone you want to be, even if you want to be your most raw and impolite self.

Well not anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, the CBC banned the use of pseudonyms for its readers commenting on stories on the website. The Toronto Star turned off its comments altogether late last year. In one way, that’s too bad. We’ve all lost access into the mind of our neighbours and friends. But in the case of the CBC, making commenters uses their real names was in response to complaints after an attack that violated guidelines around hate speech.

So who are these online commenters?

According to a recent study out of the University of Texas, the majority of readers neither read nor post comments. In fact, only about 14% of people have left any sort of comments on any news stories ever. Of those leaving comments, the majority posted via social media, 78%. And 53% posted on a monthly basis or even less frequently.

Here are some other findings:

— Compared to those who read news comments but did not themselves comment, those commenting on the news “tend[ed] to be more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes.”

— Compared to those who posted comments on the news infrequently, those who posted comments on the news on a weekly basis (or even more frequently) were similarly “more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes.”

So, this study pretty much confirms what any reader of the comments section at the bottom of the Record’s website already suspected.

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