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MediaApril 3, 2024

The Spinoff turns on comments


From today, Spinoff Members will be able to comment on Spinoff stories*. Why? Editor Madeleine Chapman explains.

Some of my favourite writing on the internet has come from random people making offhand comments. As soon as I have watched a movie, I want to read every stranger’s one-line review – I may completely disagree with most of them but it all helps to crystalise my own thoughts and place them in a broader context. Often I enjoy the responses to a personal essay or opinion piece more than the piece itself, though it requires some internal filtering to ignore the offensive comments.

In terms of my own writing, I used to read every comment about my work. Literally every comment, even when there were thousands across half a dozen platforms – I would seek them out and devour them, no matter how abusive, offensive or cruel they were. I didn’t read them for self-flagellating reasons or to make myself feel bad (99% of the time they glided straight through my head and out the other side whether they were positive or negative), but because every once in a while someone would comment something genuinely funny or insightful or constructive.

Just some of the 3,700 comments about my very calmly received chip ranking

There can be a real joy and sense of community in a comments section. My partner very rarely posts on Instagram and never posts on TikTok but is a reply guy on both platforms. She’s always in there liking posts, responding to people’s stories who she’s never met, and commenting on viral TikTok videos. Often, the comments she posts will get as much engagement as some people get on their actual videos. Sometimes she’ll see a comment on a post that’s misunderstood the original article or video and will respond to politely explain it. She’s essentially an expert commenter.

I didn’t understand this for a long time because I have the privilege of being able to comment on things to a built-in audience. My “comments”, and the comments of my lovely colleagues, appear as articles, all nicely packaged and expertly illustrated. Not many people have that privilege, even those whose thoughts are just as valid.

So today we’re launching comments on some select stories and allowing our logged-in Spinoff members to share their thoughts. We love the idea of allowing our readers to discuss the topics we discuss, with each other (in a respectful manner of course). And if I’m honest, we would much rather allow genuine readers to comment on site than spend a disproportionate amount of time moderating comments on social media platforms where bots and fake-name accounts can quickly turn a wholesome article about reading habits into a vitriolic comments section filled with racist and homophobic language. This will be an ongoing project and we’ll be adjusting measures as required.

With our comments, there’ll be some basic rules around respectful language and we’ll be monitoring them closely to ensure we don’t allow harmful rhetoric on our platform. At the same time, we welcome and encourage debate and discussion. And if I ever do publish another big food ranking, you have my permission to give me your worst. Because sometimes articles are meant to be discussed, and we’d love to have that discussion alongside the article itself rather than scattered around the internet.

There’ll be no prizes for “smartest” or “most cutting” comment, but we will be reading them and Spinoff staff writers and editors will engage and respond where appropriate. As a guide, here’s one of my favourite interactions from a comment section of an old article (can’t remember which one now because I’ve written many articles about nothing).

Each comment valid, neither working as well on its own. The joy and community of the comments section. See you out there.

Keep going!