Bringing Respect to a Like Fight

Talia StroudWhat makes great online discourse? That’s what the Engaging News Project routinely tries to determine. Though their work focuses on news media, the resulting research is often just as helpful to the average community professional.

Director Talia Stroud, associate professor of communication studies at The University of Texas at Austin, joins me on this episode to discuss the obstacles that can prevent comment sections from being great, and offer straightforward recommendations for how you can make them better. Our topics include:

  • Inspiring thoughtful discourse when polarizing conversation leads to more buzz
  • Talia’s thoughts on traditional media sites removing their comment sections
  • Why you should add a respect button to your community content right now

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Big Quotes

“The Engaging News Project holds a series of workshops where we invite digital news leaders to come together to brainstorm solutions to some of the problems plaguing the news media industry. An idea that emerged: Wouldn’t it be interesting if, after you left a comment, before the comment was finalized or maybe even near the comment section, there was a picture of the person or a video of the person that was in charge of the moderation, saying, ‘Hi, I’m such and such, and my job is to moderate these comments.’ Because I think it would put a human face behind what this job really is.” -@TaliaStroud

“What a lot of news media organizations think of comments, is the fact that they threw up a box and did nothing. And then that’s the ROI of comments, is whatever came from that box with no strategy. It’s not even that they have comments or not, it’s that they never even gave it fair shake.” -@patrickokeefe

“I understand why a news media organization may [remove comments]. I do think that it is too bad, because we see all of these instances in which other entities are encroaching upon what the news media used to do. … As news organizations start to allow more entities to siphon off part of their business model, it makes me concerned for the news media. In shutting down comments and allowing all of that to happen on a social media platform, a news organization is again kind of giving up that part that used to attract at least some portion of people to their site. And so I think that that’s unfortunate, that they’re not getting that data, getting that relationship with people. I think it’s potentially a dangerous thing to keep doing longterm.” -@TaliaStroud

“[Rather than removing their comments section,] I think that organizations would be better served, if they don’t like what’s happening in the comments space, to think of ways to improve upon it, if they’re able to or to think of another idea, and generate some out of the box idea for engaging people on the site.” -@TaliaStroud

“We worked with a prominent political reporter, who would go into the comment section and answer factual questions or ask people questions that were of interest to him or complement people on a strong comment. … When the reporter went in, we saw the amount of incivility decrease by about 15%, and we saw people provide more evidence for their comments. About 15% of people were providing more evidence for their comments.” -@TaliaStroud

“In our research, what we found is that people were more likely to click on partisan comments that didn’t agree with them when they had a ‘respect’ button there, compared to a ‘like’ button. A Democrat would be willing to respect a Republican comment, even if they didn’t like it.” -@TaliaStroud

About Talia Stroud

Dr. Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud is an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin, assistant director of research at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and director of the Engaging News Project, a research-based organization that examines commercially viable and democratically beneficial ways of improving online news. Stroud is interested in how the media affect our political behaviors and attitudes, and how our political behaviors and attitudes affect our media use.

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