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“BECAUSE I SAID SO!” Popular Science Magazine to shut down online reader comments.

Oscar Wilde once said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” A more modern interpretation of this truism might be, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

Today, we can easily measure how much someone or something is being talked about. Simply scroll to the bottom of a page online and behold the comments section. A fast-exploding interactions pane, full of “faves” and “likes” and breathless commentary, can be a goldmine in marketing, public relations and news.

A local TV station can’t post current temperatures online without a steady stream of comments from web readers. Typically, it looks something like this:

TV News Station: “Currently 72° in The Valley.”

Comments:

Debbie: “LOVE THIS!”

Travis: “Nuh-uh! 71° on my back porch.”

Francine: “It’s going to be a great weekend!”

Dale: “Where was this weather during last month’s Bacon Fest????”

Cheryl: “I love this!! Also, I earn $2,000 a day while staying at home! You can, too! People in your neighborhood have already discovered this amazing secret of success! www.dubiousbusiness.com/welcome-sucker.”

Brad: “Weather sucks! Temperatures suck! Your station sucks!”

George: “Look at my funny cat video on YouTube!”

Brenda: “If you believe a television station actually knows what the temperature is, you are a complete MORON!”

See what happens? The conversation begins cordial and informative and is quickly overtaken by spam and trolls. Conventional wisdom says that trolls and spam are but flotsam and jetsam, easily ignored by the rest of us. The angrier or more absurd the comment, the less important it is to the story or conversation.

But the reality is something wholly other. According to recent studies, comments that cajole and belittle can actually change a reader’s perception of an article he or she has just read. A story may offer scientific proof of something that is easily understood, but a few vitriolic comments can skew or undermine the story’s meaning for the reader.

Popular Science Magazine cites this fact in a piece announcing their decision to discontinue reader comments on their website. You can read it here:  http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/why-were-shutting-our-comments

I found the explanation fascinating, especially when considering the ramifications these insights may have for marketing and public relations. More importantly, I found myself scrolling to the bottom of the piece to find out what other readers thought of it.  

Chris Henson, Creative Director

Topics: Agency Life