It’s Coming From Inside the House.

Why removing comments can bring us back to civility.

removing comments and online civility

Charlie Brooker

“In the age of social media, everyone’s a newspaper columnist, exaggerating what they think and feel.”

Let’s get this out of the way.

Is this to say we need to remove ALL comments from social media platforms?

No. They’re our voice. Of course, they have value… But, we’ve also abused the privilege, especially when it comes to sharing news and information.

Comments add engagement.

They certainly do. They certainly do.

It’s that when it comes to our commentary around a news article, the value received is questionable.

Together, those two bolded words can send a shiver up most people’s spines, and that’s unfortunately excluding us from helping to address the situation. It’s like we’re all suffering from some form of social media PTSD if we so much as contemplate posting a news article on any informative topic that might be viewed as a hot-button issue..

Ask nearly anyone where they post news articles and the answer is almost always… “I don’t post news articles.”

And that’s a real shame.

But then again, when we then look at the current social media landscape it’s also incredibly understandable.

Commenting on a post was around long before the “like” button came along, and in those early days it was amazing to post pics of your pet and to then see someone respond with something so innocent as “Cute pics!”

We rarely posted news articles, and nobody dared cross the line on those two cultural taboos known as; politics and religion.

it was simply, cat videos, vacation pics, and a way for old friends to reconnect.

“Like it”

The “like” button was introduced as an easy way to drive more engagement. It provided a mechanism for those people who didn’t want to take the time to write some banal reply to the person who created the post, but still provide them with some form of validation with a quick click of a button.

Additionally, “Like” was also for people who really didn’t want you to respond at all, but wanted you to know they appreciated the post, and it’s why the ratio between “likes” versus “comments” is so wide. Even way back in the good old days a lot of people simply didn’t want to engage with one another beyond a thumbs up.

“Like” was so much easier on everyone involved.

One person got to provide content, and the consumer was able to provide validation for their effort.

Easy peasy.

Crossing the Rubicon.

Then one day someone’s crazy uncle decided to say something about a politician, a hot-button issue, or some religious group, and BOOM!… we were never the same again.

As soon as we realized our screens made us virtually untouchable we went from “Cute pics!” to “You’re a $&@*& idiot!!!!” in an instant.

It was as if we took the concept of road rage and shot it up with steroids.

Not that long ago I read an article on a hot-button issue. It was hosted on a considerably-biased news site, and wasn’t from one of those talking heads on television, but a journalist who presented a very well-written argument. It forced me outside my filter bubble, and it actually gave me a moment of self-reflection.

Then, I opened the comments…

They fell into the following categories;

Worthless. Whether the comment was “agree!”, or “stupid!” all they added to the post was more noise. Zero added value.

Wrong. Baseless claims without any attribution that simply provided confirmation bias for one side, and possibly spreading misinformation as well.

Wtf. Basically, hijacking the topic to their own hot-button issue. The equivalent of grabbing the wheel and steering everyone off a cliff.

Then, there was one other category – The rarest of them all.

The comment that presented a well-reasoned argument, or produced verifiable, substantiated facts. These comments were like spotting a famous celebrity in your local coffee shop. You knew they existed, you just never thought you’d come across one.

And again, it’s a real shame.

In my case, I had just read a well-written article from a biased news organization that actually made me consider their argument. It really helped me understand a point of view that I had never considered… But, once I opened the comments I went from considering a new perspective to worrying about my rising blood pressure.

My initial reaction was to weigh in on the situation and try to correct these outrageous statements.

I had gone from consuming a nutritional meal to gorging on some greasy fast food, and it left me a little sick to my stomach.

I had also learned an important lesson.

Opening the comments section on any news article is like stepping into a pig pen, and you had better own a durable pair of boots.

removing comments and online civility

Germany Kent

Freelance Journalist.

“Sheep only need a single flock, but people need two: one to belong to and make them feel comfortable, and another to blame all of society’s problems on.”

Powering the Filter Bubble.

We know that engagement powers the algorithms, but how they measure engagement rarely considers whether or not that engagement is having a positive or negative impact on their audience.

“For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Plus a social media overreaction.” – anonymous

And all of these reactions, even the well-intentioned, course-correcting, fact-based reactions are simply promoting the content they’re trying to actually demote.

The algorithms don’t see a well-written argument as a counter to misinformation.

Quite the opposite.

They’re seen as engagement. And the more engagement… the more the algorithms perceive as “time on site” and therefore “good for business.”

We solidify the filter bubble even when our arguments are correct, and let’s face it… How many comments have ever changed a person’s perspective? How many arguments on the internet have ever ended with, “You’re right. I now see the light. What was I ever thinking?”

It’s all just noise.

And now with the ever-evolving technology of artificial intelligence, NLPs, and machine learning, we’ve nearly achieved human-like interactions with chatbots.

We’re finding ourselves arguing with ones and zeroes.

We’re not bursting these filter bubbles… we’re their source of energy.

We’re often part of the problem. (Me, included.)

removing comments and online civility

Matt Haig

The Midnight Library

“That’s why everyone hates each other nowadays,’ he reckoned. ‘Because they are overloaded with non-friends friends.”

Oh, It’s Not All That Bad.

True. The vast majority of comments are not terrible, or controversial.

But, they’re also not filled with much value that can’t already be conveyed with a “like”, or “recommended” button.


Cool, bro!

No waaaaaaay!

None of these are in any way harmful, and while they may not have added value they do have their own set of issues.

But, let’s begin with… Who are these people?

Dunbar’s Number.

Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.

That number is considered to be 150, and new studies are showing that number may be way too high.

If we scan our social media connections, or even our phone contacts we’ll often see the same thing… Way too many people we’ll never speak to in any meaningful way again. We’ve accumulated a bunch of “friends” over the years that to be blunt, are no longer of no interest to us.

Old chapters in a long book.

I have no doubt someone sees my name in their contacts, and wonders… “Who is this again?”

The Social Minefield.

And to compound the situation we now have an etiquette problem.

When we post anything into our social media feeds we are often confronted with a batch of comments that we can either ignore or respond to, and we have to then take into consideration the politics of the relationships.

Do I play it safe and “like” every post, or do I dare “skip” people I don’t remember, or worse… even care about anymore. (Yeah, let’s face it. It happens.)

And if I “reply”, I now have to juggle the whole “proportional response” issue. Responding to one person with “I knew you’d like that, Joe!”, and another with a simple “Thanks” has now relayed to both people about how much I really care about their opinion. I’ve somehow offended someone for taking the time to type “Thanks.” instead of providing an equally thoughtful reply like I had given the previous comment. (Ugh, thanks, social media.)

We now stare at a handful of relatively friendly comments like a minefield through which we must carefully tread in order to socially survive our relationships.

I now find that I’ll try not to comment because I know the person on the other end is often thinking “Ugh, now what?”, or worse… I get placed into the “Thanks” category.

And all this overthinking can be over nothing more than vacation pics!

Is it any wonder at all that we’ve completely bailed on the ability of sharing news articles?

removing comments and online civility

Steven Bartlett

Entreprenuer / Podcaster

“ Social media is full of people who can spot toxic behavior in everyone but themselves. The world doesn’t need more critics, but more self-awareness.”

So what’s the solution?

Let’s first address where comments have the least amount of value, or are even detrimental to the experience… News articles.

The concern I am most often told is that if we remove comments we are taking away our voice, our ability to form an opinion, and even our first amendment rights.

But, here’s my take, which can be taken as that. (Just my opinion.)

I personally believe that if I’m posting an article I am already making a statement. I’m saying “I agree, or find this article to be interesting, and maybe you will as well.”

What about if we have something to add? My suggestion. Let the articles you want to post speak for themselves, or go write your own piece on Substack or Medium, but if we want to start adding our own spin, then it’s disingenuous to not allow others to equally respond.

So let the article speak for you, and let others respond without conflict.

They can “recommend”, or “not recommend” it. The social equivalent of “Thanks for posting. I agree, or disagree.”

Retain the ability to share information (posting articles), while allowing others to respond (recommending, or not recommending.)

It’s that simple.

Here’s an article I found interesting. You can agree, or disagree.

No mess. No fuss. No friction.

It’s so very important that we don’t give up or walk away from our ability, no (scratch that), our responsibility to share viewpoints and perspectives, and to not just hand this power over to the algorithms so that we can instead remain active participants in distributing knowledge.

And maybe, just maybe… we can get back to sharing news and information on even the most divisive of issues.

Maybe we can find common ground.

Maybe we can learn and grow.

Maybe we can return to civility.

I’ll leave you (if you’ve had the patience to read this far) with this last thought.

We have an amazing ability to change our behavior.

We can do it in an instant.

We aren’t powerless.

Quite the opposite.

Curate the news with Topico

Curating the news with Topico.

Topico is a mobile app for the user curation of news articles.

Our goal has always been to create an environment where we can comfortably share the news.

There are plenty of places to share the news, but those places also allow you to share photos, memes, and personal rants.

It’s our belief that to comfortably share the news we needed to build a platform that’s dedicated to only sharing news links, essentially Topico providing a way for people to create their own news aggregators for others to follow articles on the issues events, and topics that interest them.

User-curated news provides various perspectives and unique sources to showcase an infinite amount of personal curations.

Are humans far from perfect? – Of course, but they’re still the most capable of applying critical thinking and understanding context and nuance.

While A.I. has a place in finding relevant news and information, it’s our belief that human intelligence through personal curation is still needed to provide the general public the ability to actively participate in the sharing of knowledge and information.

Additionally, there’s an aspect of human curation that is often overlooked when discussing A.I. and algorithmic curation, and that’s the inclusion of creativity, aesthetics, and the most human of qualities, empathy.