Bad comments are better than none at all

Content websites are increasingly shutting down their comments sections, CNN is reporting. Re/code recently did it, along with Popular Science, Reuters and CNN itself. Comments must be approved before appearing on Gawker websites.

The reasons are the same: trolls, spambots, inflammatory conversation, the pain of moderating, and interestingly, the idea that conversations are moving to social media like Twitter, Facebook and forums.

I don’t know if I’d make the same decision. We haven’t seen much trolling on the Cornerplay — a side benefit of being a smaller, more intimate blog — but according to WordPress, we’ve gotten about 25,000 spam comments so far. That’s crazy. If not for WordPress’ excellent spam filter, that would have been unmanageable.

Yet, checking the comments of an article is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes, a commenter can provide valuable, additional insight to the article. Sometimes, it’s just seeing a different point of view.

“We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion,” co-executive editor Kara Swisher wrote. “But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful.”

Social media is a poor substitute. While I’m sure Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher are following the right people and in the thick of Twitter-led conversations about Re/code articles, that’s unlikely to be true for the rest of us.

The people I follow on Twitter don’t typically make comments about Re/code articles. Likewise with Facebook. Unsurprisingly, Re/code is not a source of conversation among my friends.

Even if they do, the disconnect between story and conversation — reading an article on the website and then seeing conversation about it separately somewhere else — is not ideal.

Cutting comments feels like cutting the bone. I understand there are problems with the system, but letting in the bad with the good seems better than not letting in anything at all.

It’s a problem to be solved, not a problem to be avoided.

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