iStock_000059420912_MediumOnline comment sections provide a space for the public to interact with news, to express their opinions, and to learn about others’ views. To date, little is known about the populations that inhabit online comment sections. Who comments online and why? Who reads online comments? And what does the public think about best practices for this space? In this report, we use a nationally representative sample of commenters and comment readers to describe the demographic makeup, attitudes, and behaviors of the people who comprise the online commenting world.

Some noteworthy findings include:

  • 55% of Americans have left an online comment and 77.9% have read the comments at some point.
  • Of those who have left a comment, 77.9% have done so via social media.
  • Just over half (50.7%) of Americans do not read news comments or leave comments on news sites.
  • Of those who leave news comments, 53.2% said they comment on news monthly or less frequently, and of those who read comments, 59.0% said that they do so a few times a month or less.
  • Americans who leave news comments, who read news comments, and who do neither are demographically distinct. News commenters are more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes compared to those who read news comments.
  • News commenters and comment readers most commonly name United States politics or domestic policy as the types of stories on which they comment or read comments.
  • 56% of those who comment on news say they do so to express an opinion, particularly when the topic is United States politics or domestic policy.

Researchers

  • Cynthia Peacock

    Cynthia Peacock
    Research Associate

    Cynthia Peacock (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) will be starting in fall 2016 as an Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies department at the University of Alabama. She is interested in political communication and news and social media use. Her most recent research investigates the contexts in which people express and avoid expressing their political opinions, and the ways in which diverse opinion expression and disagreement take place in politically homogeneous and heterogeneous groups.

  • Emily Van Duyn

    Emily Van Duyn
    Research Associate

    Emily Van Duyn (M.Ed., Southern Methodist University) is a doctoral student in communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Some of her research interests include the interaction of online news with deliberative democracy and the influence of media framing on constructions of gender and race. Prior to her doctoral work, she received a master’s in Education specializing in multicultural literacy.

  • Dr. Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud

    Dr. Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud
    Director

    Talia Stroud (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is the Director of the Engaging News Project at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book, Niche News (Oxford, 2011), examines likeminded political media use and inspired this project. The book received the 2012 Outstanding Book Award from the International Communication Association. Stroud previously worked at the Annenberg Public Policy Center; the name of this project is a H/T to Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s “E4″ work with local news in the 2002 midterms.