Quick Take:

Santa Cruz digital marketer Cade Wright is tired of all the angry and often toxic comments to articles posted on social media. He has a radical idea — get rid of them. Here, he explains his reasoning about why impulsive reactions can distort information and undermine journalistic integrity. He is sure there is a better way.

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News organizations, including Lookout, should turn off comments on their social media posts.

Yes, it’s a bold statement, but hear me out. In my seven-year professional journey through marketing, branding and business operations, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of social media and its ability to ignite passionate public reaction. The Liquid Deaths Super Bowl 2022 commercial, where children drink water from what appear to be beer cans, is a great example of this. The immediate aftermath was predictable — an onslaught of reposts and comments, many from alarmed parents believing the company, which sells water in what looks like beer cans, was promoting underage drinking.

Personally, I found the ad hilarious. However, was this ad the embodiment of responsible advertising? Probably not. But did it spark conversation, elevate Liquid Death’s brand awareness and embed itself in the public’s memory by leaning into sensationalism? Absolutely. Instances like this show how powerful and immediate reactions can be in the age of social media.

Despite its many virtues, social media is reshaping journalism in ways that aren’t always positive.

In 2021, almost half (roughly 160 million) U.S. adults turned to social media platforms for news. The comments section allows an interactivity and immediacy that defines the democratic process. No more gatekeepers. Everyone, regardless of background or expertise, can instantly share their perspective.

However, it’s also proved to be a potent tool for misinformation, toxicity, hate speech and extremism. The comments section can often overshadow the original post, which I find troubling. This section essentially stifles what used to be the natural process of reflection and contemplation that once accompanied our news consumption.

Sure, it’s fun to get immediate feedback. But I believe it does more harm to the news cycle than good.

Too often, I’ve seen the comments section become a battlefield of polarized opinions that add unverified speculation to a topic. Before readers can fully absorb and reflect upon a piece, they are bombarded with an array of reactions, each competing for agreement or opposition. Social media seems to promote a “react first, think later” culture. Some recent examples of this can be seen in comments on recent Lookout articles like “Community members and students stage rally, vigil in honor of Palestine” and “A far-right hate group is trying to recruit in Santa Cruz.”

I think comments divide us rather than open our perspectives to others. We look for comments that resonate with our biases and gloss over others. The result? A polarized environment where our beliefs and opinions deepen and the middle ground is hard to find.

I have spent over seven years in marketing for small to medium-sized businesses. I currently serve as the creative director for H&H Fresh Fish. I know it’s not just the readers who are caught up in this whirlwind. News organizations worrying about clicks offer “engagement bait” on social media, tempting readers to click. It sometimes feels like these organizations deliberately post articles to ignite polarized responses and increase readership.

An article from Lookout last month titled “Controversial parents’ rights group Moms for Liberty held an event in Watsonville this weekend. Who are they?” is a great example of this. Using the word “controversial” in a post is almost guaranteed to get people to go to the comments. This, combined with “… who are they?” makes this a clear engagement-bait piece.

I’m worried about where this will lead. Also, what significant stories am I not seeing or get downplayed because they are less immediately engaging? I think this diminishes the richness and diversity of the content and can also erode trust among readers.

Over time, a pattern can emerge, painting the organization as biased or partial to a specific viewpoint rather than as an impartial news provider.

Cade Wright wants media sites to remove the comments feature.
Cade Wright wants media sites to remove the comments feature. Credit: Via Liz Birnbaum

The heart of journalism isn’t to chase fleeting metrics. It’s about empowering voters with knowledge, enabling them to make well-informed decisions so they can participate and take action in their communities. Overemphasizing digital metrics risks overshadowing this noble purpose.

My plea to reconsider the role of comments isn’t an attempt to quell free speech — quite the opposite. In a digital world teeming with platforms, there are plenty of spaces to voice opinions, repost stories, and engage in discussion. Removing comments is a call to redirect the conversation to more appropriate venues where feedback can be given thoughtfully and constructively.

Feedback is crucial and reader perspectives offer invaluable insights and ensure news organizations remain accountable. But there’s merit in considering that there are better forums for these exchanges than the comments section on a news organization’s social media account. Traditional avenues like letters to the editor or modern alternatives like dedicated feedback portals might better serve this purpose. However, these channels are often overlooked in favor of rapid, off-the-cuff response. More private and dedicated forms offer a space where readers can articulate their thoughts without the impulsive reactivity that often characterizes social media exchanges.

Cade Wright is a digital marketing specialist and creative director. He specializes in developing impactful initiatives that fuse the technical and creative sides of marketing. Cade is committed to steering projects that resonate with audiences and drive meaningful engagement. Beyond the metrics, he is passionate about making a broader impact, navigating projects that positively contribute to societal values and community well-being.