Media Oxpecker: The War on Web Comments

Every week we round up media news you may have missed.

  • Popular Science has shut down the comment section of its website, citing research which showed that “even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.”

    If you carry out those results to their logical end—commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded–you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the “off” switch.

    The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson says that every publication is within its rights to determine what type of conversations it will allow on its website:

    It’s perfectly legal to wonder aloud on your Facebook page whether dinosaur bones are real or placed there by a spiritual entity to test our faith. But it’s not quite the discussion a site like PopSci wants to cultivate under a column by a world-renowned paleontologist.

    (Even in the case of The Atlantic, Thompson points out that comments are turned off in James Fallows’ articles while Ta-Nehisi Coates actively maintains “the most engaged and erudite commenter community on the Internet.”)

    Slate’s Will Oremus is less charitable towards Popular Science, saying “the magazine seems a bit too ready to enshrine scientific findings as gospel rather than thinking critically about their implications.”

    The edifice of science, I suspect, is neither as rock-solid nor quite as brittle as Popular Science seems to believe. Yes, creationists and climate-change skeptics have a habit of clogging up the comment sections of stories about scientific developments. Leave those sections untended, and the trolls and spam bots will indeed take root. But a little maintenance of the grounds—a flagging system for abusive comments, a little human moderation, maybe an upvote system—is typically enough to tilt the field toward the civil and the scientifically literate.

  • A former Facebook product manager says Twitter’s acquisition of MoPub is a “very big deal”:

    MoPub is the world’s largest mobile ad exchange. That means people trade eyeballs on mobile devices for money through the technology MoPub provides. And they do it billions of times a day. Why is that important to Twitter? The MoPub acquisition allows Twitter to fundamentally change how mobile ads are purchased and places them at the forefront of how mobile, Web, and social ads interact. This makes Twitter the most interesting company in advertising right now.

  • Is Twitter a bigger threat to your privacy than Facebook?

    Much of the data Twitter collects about you doesn’t actually come from Twitter. Consider the little “tweet” buttons embedded on websites all over the net. Those can also function as tracking devices. Any website with a “tweet” button—from Mother Jones to Playboy—automatically informs Twitter that you’ve arrived. Last year, Twitter announced that it would start using its knowledge of your internet browsing habits to better recommend people to follow on Twitter. That’s a step beyond the approach of Facebook, which claims its “like” buttons are never used for tracking. And it’s not a big leap from there to using the same information to serve you targeted ads on all sorts of mobile platforms.

  • Jeff Jarvis on how Google has transformed advertising from an attention-based economy (his example: “if they see my ad I can convince them to buy my product”) to one that values relationships:

    The last thing newspapers should do is continue to try to shovel their old relationships, forms, and models into a new reality. No, don’t just sell space for messages to advertisers (for they’ll soon wake up and realize the pointlessness of the exercise). Don’t try to recreate old forms in new devices like tablets. Don’t measure the value of relationship as page views or time spent. Don’t think your primary value is manufacturing content that you then try to sell.

    Newspapers and other former media outlets should become — as Google is — services that still inform — that is their core value — but now can use their own signals to learn about and return relevance to people as individuals and communities rather than masses, thus deriving greater value in the transaction.

  • Do people really prefer the mobile web over apps? If you include the amount of news content that is consumed within apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flipboard, the numbers tell a very different story.

  • How many people really pay for digital news? Not as many as publishers may be counting on, says Alan Mutter.

  • 15 percent of American adults do not use the internet or email, according to the Pew Research Center.

  • GateHouse Media has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

  • What does the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel know that your newsroom doesn’t?

  • Meet the people who still write letters to the editor.

  • Why it’s important to talk about failure.

  • And finally, “I want to believe that a million monkeys can make something amazing.” Dan Sinker on the human yearning to seek meaning and beauty out of randomness, and why so many people felt so hurt and betrayed by a fictional horse on the internet.