Behind the Comments Section: The Ethics of Digital Native News Discussions

MaCHomepageInitially 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.

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