Are Comments the New AOL Chatrooms?

2013

Remember those AOL chatrooms? You know, the virtual “rooms” where users with common interests would talk about, well, everything? AOL would let you narrow chatrooms down by location, age, and topic to find other users with similar backgrounds and interests.

I may be dating myself a little.

Anyway, I was thinking about AOL chatrooms the other day. As a kid, my friends and I would go on chatrooms to talk to people from across the world (and yes, oftentimes to mess with them or lie about being a supermodel from LA, but that’s beside the point). We didn’t have any other agendas other than to have a good laugh and to cure our suburban boredom.

But gone are the days of chatrooms. Since other e-mail platforms have emerged and taken over, AOL has moved on to bigger and better projects.

In its place, digital fiends come together on Facebook, Twitter, and the comments section of news articles and blogs. These are the places that like-minded (and many times opposing) individuals come together to share their opinions. Facebook users “like” and “comment” their way through conversations with friends and strangers. Twitter users “reply” and “retweet” to have their voices heard. And readers use (and abuse) the comments section of articles and blogs to discuss news topics that are usually controversial in some form.

So, are the comments the new AOL chatrooms? I seem to think so.

When there’s a particularly touchy subject in the news, I find it interesting to read the comments section at the bottom of whatever article I’m reading. If it’s a really heated topic, I’ve seen websites disable this section to eliminate comment-related problems. But the comments are usually left open (but not unattended) for anyone to share their thoughts. And this is where the chatrooms have migrated to.

Threads of comments–sometimes dozens of posts long–plague these articles. Sometimes they’re positive and sometimes they’re negative. It’s a toss up.

Enter the comment moderator. The comment moderator has the challenging task of distinguishing between healthy arguments and negative slander or crude conversations. As a volunteer moderator myself, I’ve seen the good and bad posts, and had to make several judgement calls about whether to keep controversial comments visible or not. As part of quality control, I’ve had to block users from posting hateful comments, too. But on the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed reading positive feedback from readers, and I also enjoy reading comments from those with different views than my own. These comments let me challenge my own thinking, and I also get to see things from a different viewpoint.

As for me? I don’t get too involved in commenting on articles or blog posts. I’m more of a reader than an debater.

What about you?

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