Encouraging intelligent conversation in the comments

A comment about comments, from the Washington Post:

I think the problem with commenters isn’t so much a technology issue as a social one. Somehow we’ve rewarded, or at least learned to tolerate, a world where the drive-by insult is the norm. As we crank up the ease and pace of our “social” interaction while cranking down our standards for what actual discussion should look like, we seem to be increasingly comfortable with people simply behaving badly.

Among TV talking heads yelling over one another, our demand for out-of-context, bite-size pieces of information and pop culture’s terrible Coke or Pepsi mindset that demands we pick one side or the other, bad commenters don’t seem on the fringe. They seem mainstream. And that bad discourse isn’t just an accident; we’re desensitizing ourselves to rotten behavior. We’re letting it slide.

So perhaps the solution isn’t just about making the best, newest tool possible. It’s not about a better algorithm, filter or team of moderators.

Maybe the way to encourage intelligent, engaging and important conversation is as simple as creating a world where we actually value the things that make intelligent, engaging and important conversation. You know, such as education, manners and an appreciation for empathy. Things we used to value that seem to be in increasingly short supply.

Oh, boy, I can’t wait to see the comments on this one.

Me, too.  Read the rest.


  1. Fiergenholt says:


  2. Everything that this guy says is, of course, true. But I wonder if his sample set is different than that of the readers of this blog. I think it’s safe to say that comment threads on the major newspapers and news outlets (from the Post to the Times) are rather dismal. I read a lot of inane and insulting (hit-and-run) comments on, say, an editorial posted by CNN.

    But on blogs, I’d say it’s a different story. Blogs reach niche audiences. You can’t be an a*#hole on a comment thread like, say, a blog like this. At least if you want to come back! A hit-and-run comment on a blog like this would just be weird.

    More than that, though: the comment threads for an article in the Times or on CNN go to the thousands. I wonder if size breeds incivility. Beware of the blog that gets too big, perhaps.

    I guess I see blogs, if they don’t get too big, as an amazing source of knowledge. Intelligent bloggers appeal to intelligent readers. So yes: comment threads can appeal to the sound bite culture. And that’s what you get at the Post. But hey, that’s a soundbite publication, read by hundreds of thousands. Blogs, on the other hand, encourage deep and engaging conversation. The author writes, “Maybe the way to encourage intelligent, engaging and important conversation is as simple as creating a world where we actually value the things that make intelligent, engaging and important conversation.” Well sure. Or just create a blog. I’d say that a well-run blog, when it isn’t too big, delivers what the author wishes for.

    Perhaps I’m merely projecting my own personal experience, but all I can say is that I’ve learned a whole heck of a lot, on a variety of issues, from blogs.

  3. Deacon Norb says:


    I do not comment on every post and I rarely post more than one comment in any given blog-stream. Been a deacon a LONG time; have an earned doctorate; retired from my secular profession as a college prof/dean more than a few years back; but I still love to teach and this BLOG of Deacon Greg’s provides me with an unusual and very modern opportunity.

    A great deal of the information I find myself providing is readily found in the Code of Canon Law and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church — so I am astounded about how many folks who claim to be active and responsible Roman Catholics have not read either one and thus have no idea whether what they state in their own com-boxes is true or not.

    That’s another advantage I have; I grew up during the pre-Vatican era. I experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of that time. I can still cite answers from the Baltimore Catechism if necessary (besides, I have three copies in my office library at church that I can fall back on) so I am not intimidated by “neo-conservatives” who are far too young to have ever lived through that era and thus depend upon some caricature of what they think we believed rather than what really was.

    Thanks for your positive affirmation!

  4. Midwestlady says:

    Love the picture.

    I agree with Nate that some comboxes aren’t worth the time, and among those are newspaper or news media boxes. The comments can be very hit and run, and I don’t bother with those.

    I’ve enjoyed this blog lately because of the diversity in the commenters, and because I’ve seen some thoughtful answers interspersed around in the various threads.

  5. Father Wilson says:

    The article is quite to the point. But why did you attach it to a photo of a Diocesan Cluster Meeting?
    -Fr Wilson

  6. Catherine says:

    I agree with Nate’s point that a blog like this attracts a niche audience, and by extension, somewhat more informed commenters. We seem to have a generally more mature (at least in terms of age :-)) and thoughtful group here than most blogs can boast. I think the young “neo-conservatives” Deacon Norb is concerned about are elsewhere. I have found the different perceptions those of us who did experience both the pre-and post-Conciliar Church to be quite interesting, even if some of the discussion has gotten a bit too personal.

  7. Catherine says:

    Fr Wilson, than you for giving me a big laugh to start the day!

  8. Very valid points, but I wonder if society has already slipped too far down this slope.

  9. I read a limited number of blogs and a limited number of comments on newspaper websites. It seemed to help some when the newspapers went to facebook. But then some people got creative facebook names or just made comments like they were anonymous anyway. People can have different opinions but still be respectful of others. Many comments, even on a blog like this, seem to reflect the partisan politics of today. Some people seem to “hog the blog.” Instead of making a few comments and letting it be, they make half of the comments. It is almost like they have nothing else to do. (Perhaps that is the problem!)

  10. justamouse says:

    Hey, did you get a release form to post my kid’s pictures?


  11. Art ND'76 says:

    I read and comment on blogs like this one – and not on political or newspaper blogs – for this very reason. My time is valuable, and I want to learn something with it.

  12. I like the way they put education before manners. Those who have been taught at Ivy schools of course should come before…manners. Maybe they need to get it in order and just scratch the education for now. By education, I am thinking they mean “if you don’t agree with same-sex marriage you are backwards like Mississippi”. I would appreciate just manners.

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