Are online comment sections a good idea? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

| September 4, 2015

Popular Science magazine recently ended its online comments section for new articles. The magazine noted that vicious, insulting, and ignorant comments can pollute otherwise intelligent online discussions, and in the process undermine public understanding and appreciation of science. Comments can be actively screened by moderators, but many online venues lack adequate resources to monitor content, and, even for those that do, it is not always clear what should and shouldn’t be permitted. Are online comment sections a good idea? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Should those who comment be allowed to maintain anonymity? Why or why not? Why are so many people so nasty and uncivil in these sections? What can be done to make them work better? Should we ditch them entirely like Popular Science did, or keep and try to improve them?

The purpose of this paper is to have you use your budding consciousness in the area of communication studies. Specifically, I want you to apply it to your everyday world. Rather than taking notes from books in the library (this is not a research paper), I want you to observe, analyze, and think critically about the world around you. You will be graded on how well you make an argument. Be sure to support your argument with specific and concrete facts, examples, and details from your own observations. You do not have to address all the different items mentioned in the prompt you have chosen as these are just suggestions for you to get at the basic topic. In fact, you might be spreading yourself too thin and your paper might lack coherence if you do attempt to cover them all.

To repeat, students are graded on how well they present an argument.

Is the introduction clear and appropriate?

Is the paper coherently organized around a critically considered, original, and well-documented thesis? Is the thesis clearly presented and then well defended? Does everything seem to mesh with the thesis? Are all the points clear? Are there careful transitions from one point to the next? Are all the points clearly presented, organized, and related to each other and to the thesis? Is the organization so clear that the reader knows at all times what the purpose is and how the writer intends to accomplish it?

Did the student OBSERVE and ANALYZE as he/she was supposed to for this assignment? Does the content seem to be accurate? Are all the points well supported with evidence? In other words, are the points factually grounded, with conclusions based on careful consideration of verifiable examples (quotes or observations and not hypothetical ruminations or unsubstantiated generalizations)? Does the author explain the significance of each example and integrate these into the overall argument? Are conclusions conclusively drawn?

Does the paper demonstrate sustained critical thinking upon a clear thesis? Has the author paid attention to details? Does the paper reflect careful thought about the implications, ramifications, and complications presented by the argument? Does the author qualify his or her argument? Does the author rely upon unstated assumptions? Does the student distinguish facts from hypotheses?

Is there originality in the paper? Is the argument unique in some way and is it interesting?

Is the paper well written? Is the writing clear and precise? Does the paper flow well? Are the sentences clear in meaning and so constructed as to contribute precisely and effectively to the writer’s purpose? Does each paragraph contain one main point and do the paragraphs follow logically after one another? Is the choice of words exact, appropriate, and sensitive? Is the paper free of grammatical, spelling, syntactical, and typographic errors (an "A" paper should contain VERY few)?

In reading the paper, does one feel a mind at work?

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