Wick Communications

Know your commenters

In journalism on 1 Dec 2016 at 2:54 pm


This week, I was fascinated by Christie Ashwanden’s survey of commenters published on fivethirtyeight.com. I imagine we have all wondered what motivates our commenters, both the well-mannered cogent ones and everyone else.

Among Aschwanden’s takeaways from her unscientific survey of 8,500 online commenters:

They are overwhelmingly male (76 percent), and mostly between the ages of 20 and 39. In her survey, people appear much less likely to comment on a story if they are over the age of 40, and only 5 percent of commenters are children or teenagers.

Four in 10 comment at least once a week.

The No. 1 reason given for commenting is to correct an error. Or should I say, perceived error? Aschwanden takes us down an interesting rabbit hole and uses a term I hadn’t heard before: The “backfire effect.” That is when a reader sees something, perhaps just a headline, and it reminds him of an opinion already held. In other words, your article might have no uplifting effect and only serve to reinforce false notions.

Our industry has been round and round with the comment question. We’ve discussed whether to allow them, monitor them, require registration, ban them, or only allow subscribers to comment. I’ve changed my opinion a time or two as well. Today, right now, I think comments are worth the trouble, if for no other reason than this: If we don’t allow readers their say, they are very likely to go somewhere else.

But I’m certainly willing to change my mind…



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