The other day, someone asked me if I was bothered by some of the negative reader comments on my recent review of the new BlackBerry LTE PlayBook. My answer was no; that such comments are sadly just part of the job these days. Regardless of what you write, there are going to be negative comments, many of which anonymously question your worthiness as a writer/journalist.
I also explained that writers just can’t take such comments seriously. Most writers/journalists I know either don’t read the comments on their stories, or sometimes scan them but otherwise ignore them. Very few actually wade in and respond. Some news organizations actually forbid doing so. Yes, there are the occasional useful or informative comments, but by and large it’s not worth digging through all the nastiness to find them.
There are some numbers to back up this sort of laissez faire approach. There’s the long-standing 1% rule, sometimes known as the 90-9-1 rule of participation inequality, which states that 1% of an online community creates content, 9% comments on or otherwise modifies it and 90% simply quietly consumes it. These numbers vary across communities – Wikipedia, for example, probably sees closer to 99% of users simply consuming or “lurking,” as per the lingo – but they’re probably safe general assumptions.
This can be extrapolated to mean that story comments are coming from fewer than 10% of readers. If even most of those comments are negative, that’s hardly indicative that the writer is indeed an untalented hack who should never be allowed near a keyboard again.
Of course, that also doesn’t mean that the 90% who read the story without commenting didn’t have an opinion. Such readers may have been similarly unimpressed, but they simply didn’t care enough to jump in with their two cents’ worth.
So what motivates people to log in and spew vitriol at someone they’ve never met? Scholars believe it’s a combination of the protection of anonymity and distance, the bad examples set by the combative likes of media types such as Jerry Springer and Bill O’Reilly and the one-way nature of comments that allows for monologues to be written rather than conversations to be had. The same scholars believe the phenomena of negative reader comments is actually hurting society.
A 2010 study of BBC stories delved further and found – surprise, surprise – that negative emotion was the key driver of such comments.
All of this is just another way of saying that the internet seems to invite negativity, which is news to no one, but it’s probably best to keep that in mind when considering reader comments. There’s something about the internet that just doesn’t inspire people to post positive thoughts.
In that vein, here are 10 comments you’ll probably never see on stories:
- This is a well-researched, well-written story. Congratulations to the writer and editors for a job well done.
- The companies and/or products mentioned in this story are getting exactly the amount of attention they deserve, no more, no less.
- This story is a good use of taxpayers’ money (CBC only).
- I’d like to comment on just the headline, because I didn’t bother to read the story. I hope that’s acceptable.
- There is no doubt in my mind that I could not have written this story, especially given my rudimentary spelling and grammar skills. Journalism seems like a hard job.
- Wow, what an interesting angle. I’m amazed anyone thought of this.
- Creationists and evolutionists are both entitled to their opinions.
- The writer is clearly not biased.
- Given that this is the most widely read story on your site, I can understand why you published it in the first place. Your site is driven by advertising dollars, which is in turn driven by page views, so that was some good news judgement.
- Hitler was a truly evil person who killed millions of people and therefore has no place in a discussion about cellphones or video games.