Most Americans Are Internet Commenters, Says Survey Released At SXSW, But Why Are So Many Of Us Trolls?
If it seems like Internet comments sections are the territory of the fringes of society, well, I have some surprising news: It turns out more that the majority of Americans are Internet commenters — at least if we define the term loosely. But even if you look at regular commenters, it seems that commenting is more popular than you'd assume. Who'd have figured?
In a new survey released at SXSW, researchers found that 55 percent of Americans have left an online comment, though the most popular method seems to be through social media. Still, that's a lot when you consider the fact that the general wisdom is to never even read the comments. And it seems we're even worse at following that rule: 78 percent of people have read the comments at some point, and only about half of people say they don't read comments on news sites, notorious for being some of the worst places to look for anything resembling thoughtful or civil dialogue (especially since YouTube started at least trying to clean up their comments).
So who are all these people leaving comments? Well, when it comes to news articles, men are more likely to leave comments than women — not surprising, really, given the vitriolic backlash women tend to get for voicing opinions online — and people with less education and lower income are also more likely to leave comments. And to the surprise of absolutely no one, the study finds, "News commenters and comment readers most commonly name United States politics or domestic policy as the types of stories on which they comment or read comments."
Really? You mean people enjoy shouting angrily about politics online? I was unaware of this entirely.
There are other ways the results of the study aren't all that surprising, too. For one thing, it's already been established that a disturbing number of Americans are potentially trolls, meaning it makes sense that the number of commenters in general would be higher still. But given the prevailing wisdom that comment sections are awful, it's still a little unexpected to know that so many people voluntarily venture into them and even leave comments of their own.
Still, given that studies have suggested that reading the comments can undermine your understanding and opinion of the original post, it's also a little worrying that a significant percentage of Americans might be letting their perceptions be swayed by an anonymous and often ill-informed mass of faceless commenters.
And, as always, I remain grateful to write for a site where none of this applies.