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Conversations

Comments Have Changed: How to Embrace Debate and Increase Engagement

By Kristen Dunleavy

Disagreements and debates in the comments are no longer something publishers need to fear.

In the comments sections of the past, when moderation was light and ineffective, disagreements got a bad name. Inevitably, they’d devolve into fighting, name-calling, and even hate.

But there’s a difference between a healthy debate and a flame war. OpenWeb’s AI/ML-powered moderation technology facilitates quality conversations where debates are more productive and less toxic. They’re informative, interesting, and entertaining—for all the right reasons

Healthy debates give users a reason to stay active, join in on the conversation, or simply read along. And at OpenWeb, we know that users who stay active by reading, replying, and/or liking comments spend 3.6x more time on-site and view 4.5x more pages than users who aren’t engaged. 

When done right, debates help build a stronger community and even provide valuable editorial insights for the publisher. Let’s take a look at five types of healthy debates from communities using OpenWeb’s moderation—and why these debates are beneficial to publishers.

Type 1: Debates where everyone disagrees—respectfully

Disagreements can—and should—happen in every community. And if people can’t find common ground? That’s OK. OpenWeb’s moderation helps reduce toxicity, making rational arguments possible. 

In the discussion below, commenters are debating the merits of binge-watching a TV series versus watching episodes weekly. Instead of hurling insults or simply saying the other’s point of view is stupid, they both give thoughtful reasons behind their argument. Of course, this is just a snapshot of a much longer conversation. But thanks to a moderated environment, the healthy nature of this conversation makes it more likely that others will join in.

Type 2: Debates where people find common ground

In healthy communities, people can debate serious issues without fear of the conversation taking a turn for the worse. In fact, many of these debates end with users finding common ground, forging stronger ties in the community.

In the conversation below, commenters are debating what they think a fair minimum wage should be, and how it differs from country to country. People from a number of different cultural backgrounds voiced their opinions, and some—like the commenters below—made an effort to support each other’s point of view. This is how debates can lead to people making real connections—the basis of a strong community.

Type 3: Debates that help people learn

Healthy debates can be educational for all parties involved—especially when the most thoughtful comments are easy to find. At OpenWeb, our moderation helps surface quality comments by bringing them to the top of the conversation, leading to healthier discussions and increased engagement. 

The comment below is a response to an article that covers the discovery of an ancient Egyptian city. Because moderation surfaces the best comments, more people can benefit from this user’s knowledge.

Type 4: Debates that anyone can join

Not every debate is so serious—thankfully. Lighthearted debates are a fun and engaging way for people to join the conversation. The debate below is about what makes a great breakfast sandwich. Most people have an opinion on this, so jumping in and commenting or liking others’ comments is easy. 

Type 5: Debates that facilitate feedback and conversations with journalists

In addition to debating each other, commenters may have valid questions, additional information, or feedback for the journalist about their work. This is a great opportunity for journalists to join the discussion and provide more insight about their content—and this is far easier to do when toxicity is kept at bay.

The comment below is a response to a question posed by the author in a piece about the scientific reasons why people love fictional stories. Conversations like these can help journalists improve their work and strengthen their relationships with readers.

All communities need healthy debates 

Healthy environments lead to high quality debates. There, more people can engage in the conversation by commenting, liking, or simply reading, gaining a new perspective or just having fun along the way. In communities with the kind of multi-layered moderation OpenWeb provides, there’s no need to fear disagreements among commenters. In fact, these disagreements, corrections, and differences are frequently productive, leading to stronger, more loyal communities.


OpenWeb helps thousands of publishers build and grow healthy communities using our multi-layered, AI and machine learning-powered moderation technology. Learn more here.

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