If you were wondering with us recently about how online comments sections can be made more civil, we encourage you to check out a savvy new tool that our organizational partners at Public Agenda are experimenting with. PA has embedded a “reader reaction button” – an evolutionary leap forward from Facebook’s “like” button – into their site that allows readers to react in multiple, nuanced ways to almost any part of an article or comment.
With reactions such as “respectfully disagree” and “not the whole story” available for users to express how they feel about specific content, this new tool could be a game changer for online dialogue. You can read about the new tool below or try it yourself by visiting PA’s original post here. And you really should try it because, we have to say, it’s really cool!
We believe that engaging with fair-minded perspectives that we may not agree with is good for democracy. This practice helps us break out of a simplistic “for or against” framework toward an issue and come to a rounder comprehension of the issue and approaches to resolving it.
Unfortunately, the civil exchange of opposing perspectives is hard to find on the Internet, where interaction feels like the Wild West. Inherent anonymity doesn’t help, and neither does the click-bait game. Conflict, after all, is newsworthy. (This is something we certainly struggle with here!) All of this animosity on the Internet could actually be doing some real damage.
We may view rude Internet behavior as inevitable, but civil Internet discourse that is also click-friendly IS possible. The Engaging News Project, out of the University of Texas, is demonstrating how.
The Project is experimenting with reader reaction buttons on comments for news stories – specifically, the ubiquitous “Like” button. “Like” can sometimes be a limited and limiting response. As the researchers write,
“‘Like’ doesn’t always seem appropriate. A fair, but counter-attitudinal, post in a comment section? It’s challenging to press ‘Like.’” What if news sites used a button that said “Respect” instead?
Word choice, it seems, does matter. When participants saw a “Respect” button instead of a “Like” button in the comments section on a news story, they interacted more frequently with other readers’ comments, including those from a political perspective different from their own. From the report on the research:
Instead of asking people to approach online comments thinking about whether they agree with a comment, or “like” a point of view, the “Respect” button puts people in a different state of mind. Instead of “am I with them or against them?” the “Respect” button directs people to think more about “Is this a decent argument?”
We’ve decided to adapt the “Respect” approach to how you can interact with our blog content.
If you highlight text anywhere in a blog post, or see the ReadrBoard symbol (left) on content (including pictures and video), a box opens up. In that box, you can choose your reaction (including “Respect”), see the reactions of others, or add your own reaction. We hope this new approach encourages you to engage more with our content – and with each other.