In recent years, we have witnessed an increase in the spaces for content written by audiences in the news media and the growing integration of such material in areas that had been reserved for news professionals until now. And, without a doubt, political issues have been one of the ones that have generated the most debate on the networks. And, without a doubt, political issues have been one of the issues that have created the most citizen participation. To contribute to this debate, the article summarizes findings of a broader project on the activity of audiences employing qualitative research of the users’ comments collected from the political blogs of Elpais.com, Guardian.co.uk, Lemonde.fr, and Repubblica.it. As results indicate, the patterns of the audience’s participation varied across countries. Still, it coincides in that there are lower levels of dialogue between participants as well as of involvement of the authors-bloggers than expected.
Initially offered as a digital public sphere forum, comments sections became the preferred democratic arena for gatekeepers to encourage their readers to engage in constructive dialogue about relevant issues. However, news sites require commenters to remain civil in their interactions, which led users to seek alternative ways of commenting on the news. This article explores in-depth the contents of a sample of 98,426 user-comments collected between February–March 2019 from three major Spanish digital native newspapers: ElDiario.es, ElEspañol.com, and ElConfidencial.com. The main goals were to analyze whether comments in news outlets are deliberative, to assess the quality of the debate that takes place in them, and to describe their specific features. Discourse ethics were explored to determine the discussions’ impact, the language used, the acceptance of arguments, and the recognition and civility of participants. Findings reveal that comments sections in news outlets do not have a dialogic nature and that the debates have a low-quality profile. Nonetheless, the degree of mutual respect in interaction is acceptable, with slightly observed levels of incivility. Finally, the data suggest that the focused comments are higher on social media and that memes and emojis represent a new form of digital discourse.