The Reuters news service recently joined other media outlets that have closed or restructured their online comments. Popular Science made headlines last year when it shut down comments. The Huffington Post ended anonymous commenting in late 2013, with its editor calling comments sections one of the “darkest places on the internet.” And the Chicago Sun-Times suspended comments in April until a new monitoring system could be developed.
A recent Pew Research Center study found that roughly one-in-five (22%) internet users that have been victims of online harassment reported that their last experience occurred in the comments section of a website. While social media sites (66%) were the most common place noted for harassment, comments sections were named more frequently than online gaming sites (16%) and discussion sites like reddit (10%).
When internet users who witnessed online harassment were asked to describe the last incident they observed, general online comments or comments sections were mentioned in 8% of responses. That equals the percentage of responses (8%) that specifically cited comments sections of news sites, blogs or articles. Websites for news organizations were often described as particularly contentious. One respondent said, “Comment sections of news articles often contain some very racist, homophobic, sexist language.” Another noted that, on news sites, “people are brutal and seem to feel way too comfortable in their anonymity.”
Although most witnesses did not describe a specific online environment, social media sites were the most named digital space with 15%. There were fewer responses about witnessing harassment on gaming sites (1%) and over email (1%).