Perhaps a more accurate title for this blog post would be “Cats and the dialogue of online news forums,” however, I thought “The truth about cats and blogs” sounded better. I digress…
The evolution of communication technology has led us to an opportunity for stronger publics in forums such as newspaper, radio and television related to the adoption of Internet technologies, state Jackson, Neilsen and Hsu (2011) in the section “The Press, Radio, Television, and Interactivity” in Chapter 2: The Public Sphere of our textbook, Media Society: A Critical Sociology of Media.
Jackson et al suggest these strong publics “imply some level of decision making and tend to engage more in disputes over opinions and so are more dialogic” (2011, p. 41). If you spend much time perusing online news comment forums, this comment likely makes sense to you. Commenters on news websites often post provocative opinions – often anonymously – for others to read and engage in an online, sometimes heated, discussion.
Participation on these online forums is very low, suggest the authors (2011), however, I posit that with increased opportunity to engage through social media channels, participation is on the rise as there are more avenues by which to provide commentary. The Globe and Mail for example, engages through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, and has offered real time online discussions on certain topics, often with participation by a subject matter expert (Jackson et al, 2011).
I participated in one of these discussions a couple years ago about breast feeding (you want to talk about a topic to gets people worked up, talk about boobs and what’s best for babies – that does it every time). There were a number of participants in the discussion – some looking for an engaging and informative conversation, and others, in my opinion, looking to ‘stir the pot’ and cause drama in the discussion. No matter the perspective, the discussion was lively and participants were well engaged. This engagement continues through other channels as well.
Like 61,000 Facebook users and 181,000 Twitter users, I follow The Globe and Mail on social media. A story shared by the newspaper on Facebook on January 29, 2013 at about 5 p.m. (NT): U.S. cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds, 20.7 billion small mammals annually. Within four hours, the website story had 182 comments, and on Facebook, had received 60 “likes,” 52 comments and 55 shares. While I don’t have the readership statistics for the story to work out the percentage of readers who commented on the story, in my opinion, that’s a decent level of engagement on a story about cats killing rodents.
The authors suggest “… the websites tends to fall short of dialogical discourse” (Jackson et al, 2011). I agree with their suggestion. While, I believe the Internet, and specifically these online news and discussion forums offer an opportunity to engage in conversation and discourse, there is also often a lack of different positions being recognized and users appreciating and recognizing the positions, sometimes conflicting, of others to their own.
It’s also important to note that these “sites not totally free of marketplace forces or authoritarian control” (Jackson et al, 2011, p. 42). While moderators for the news sites often approve many controversial opinions and statements, nonetheless, it’s general practice for these news sites to moderate and approve comments posted on stories.
I often feel these online news forums do not offer valuable discourse because of the “trolls” and “flamers” looking for controversy and drama rather than conversation, and a related lack of dialogue offering valuable debate and/or any sort of conclusion.
Jackson, J. D., Nielsen, G., & Hsu, Y. (2011). In Mediated Society: a Critical Sociology of Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.