The promise of the Internet, we are often told, is the opportunity to have a two-way dialogue. Anyone visiting a publisher’s comment section, however, might wonder whether that’s a promise or a threat.
Internet comments have long been a conundrum. Like communism, they’re great on paper but not so much in practice. Done right, publishing comments can drive discussion and increase reader engagement. But more often than not, publishers have seen their comment sections devolve into a free-for-all in which decorum and even social norms are tossed aside in the name of some grievance, real or perceived.
That’s why a small but growing number of publishers are turning their backs on the entire notion of Internet comments. Quartz, the Atlantic Media-owned business site, hasn’t had comments since its launch in 2012, opting instead for edited annotations alongside stories. Vox, another tech-savvy news site, launched last week without a comment section (though it says comments are on the way), as did Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish last year.
Other sites have simply thrown in the towel on comments. Popular Science killed its own comment section in September premised on the argument that comments are bad for science. Then, this weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times announced that it was temporarily killing its comment system until it figures out a way to make them less embarrassing and unpleasant.