2016 will be remembered for many things. But one thing it will not be remembered for is civility on the internet.
The tensions of the political season, and the growing number of web forums where people can lash out at each other, have made a lot of people wonder if online commenting has any value at all.
So why do people comment online?
Talia Stroud is a communications professor at UT looking into that very question. She surveys people who comment on news sites.
She says slightly more men comment than women. Most people surveyed say they comment to express an emotion, opinion, to add information or correct inaccuracies. Probably no surprise there, but what does that mean?
“When people say they go to express and emotion or opinion, that could be in a very uncivil way or it could be in a very civil way,” said Stroud.
The anonymity that online commenting provides could be to blame for that lack of civility. But survey respondents were split on whether commenters’ identities should be public.
”You know anonymity protects some people who may need that protection to express their views but it also protects some people who might not say really terrible things online, if they were using their real name,” she said.
Stroud says news organizations are now at a crossroads. Some like NPR and KUT have discontinued commenting on their web sites. Instead, they encourage their audience to engage on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Others are devoting more and more money and staff to moderating and curating comments and interacting with commenters.
“I think that there is a kind of balancing now of what we think of comments sections,” said Stroud. “There was both this kind of optimistic take that this will be this virtual public square and everyone will come together and have this a deliberative session. And that didn’t really happen.”
On the other hand she thinks comments can still serve to engage an audience and provide leads to reporters. If you have an opinion, feel free to reach out on Facebook or Twitter, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you've got a question about Austin you've always wanted answered, submit a question to our ATXplained project.