The reason we’re keeping our comment threads

Josh Larsen

Readers’ comments are a big part of what we do here at Think Christian, so we were curious about Popular Science’s recent decision to no longer accept comments on articles.

Explaining the move, online content director Suzanne LaBarre wrote, “It wasn't a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter.”

We understand their decision. Fostering fruitful online conversation is a challenge here at Think Christian as well, especially on our Facebook page. It doesn’t take much for the original topic raised for discussion to be hijacked by a rogue comment, sending the conversation spiraling into unintended, tangential directions. Or, as LaBarre put it, “even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story.”

Still, we’re not about to ditch comments here. It’s an easier decision for us, admittedly, because we’re small enough that monitoring our conversations is manageable - even though we closely moderate in order to cultivate polite, on-topic discussion. Talk to me if TC explodes and we’re suddenly swamped with hundreds of comments a day, and maybe I’ll have changed my tune.

Ideally, TC pieces are conversation starters, not final pronouncements.

We’re also committed to your comments, though, because discussion is a major part of our project. Ideally, TC pieces are conversation starters, not final pronouncements. We’re all about figuring out what it means to live as a Christian within contemporary culture, and we need to do that figuring together. When this happens – as it did with Tamara Hill Murphy’s recent piece on Chipotle’s Scarecrow campaign – TC is truly fulfilling its purpose.

Our small size also works to our advantage in this regard. It’s hard to have a conversation via a comment thread that’s 100 entries long. We’ve embraced our limited volume by thinking of TC comment threads in a way that will sound familiar to churchgoers: less as bulletin boards, where everyone’s personal message competes for space, and more like small groups, where familiar voices occasionally get together for a respectful exchange of ideas.

And so, if you peruse TC’s comment threads, you’ll see many names pop up again and again: James G. Gilmore, TimF, Marta L., myself and our contributors, who are very good about joining the discussions that their original posts ignited. These are people who share the same faith but often have differing ideas about how that plays out in everyday life. We meet most days here at Think Christian. We’d love for you to join us.

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, Science & Technology, News & Politics, Media