Truong: We Need to Talk

Online readers of The Dartmouth should comment more.

by Valerie Truong | 4/24/18 2:05am

As I scrolled through The Dartmouth online, perusing a variety of articles — news, opinion, Mirror — I had a reaction and response to each of them. Yet I didn’t feel compelled to comment on these articles with what would have been a one or two sentence thought, nor was I informed or invested enough to write an entire article in response to any particular piece. Rather, part of me felt as if it wasn’t my place to leave a comment. Yes, I’m a Dartmouth student, but I was reluctant either because I felt as if commenting could pose a conflict of interest, or because no one else had commented. In any case, I doubted anyone would read my comment. 

Perhaps others have felt this way at one time or another as well. However, I encourage everyone to comment their thoughts and opinions if they are reading an article online. While The D only allows opinion columnists to comment on articles, we are advised against responding to comments directly to maintain professionalism. Columnists are welcome to write response articles, but cannot do so unless their readers have commented a compelling opposing viewpoint that incites a response. Comments and dialogue in general are important because they help facilitate progressive conversations. They bring up issues the author may have never previously considered and challenge the piece’s writer and other readers to recalibrate their thoughts. They allow fellow readers to pause and reflect on the article they have just read while considering their own viewpoints on the issue. 

The comments section is a platform open to anyone. It isn’t exclusive to Dartmouth students, alumni, employees or parents. It doesn’t require residence in the Upper Valley or having an advanced degree in a certain subject to participate. The comments section allows for the dissemination and exchange of ideas outside of the classroom and with other readers. By commenting more frequently, people can exercise the ideals of free speech and democracy.

So what’s keeping readers from commenting? Why aren’t there more debates and conversations attached to articles? Some could say The D’s audience is too small. Although it’s no New York Times, the paper’s current readership is certainly capable of producing a strong and targeted response, as evidenced by guest columnist Ryan Spector’s piece “You’re Not Tripping” this past winter term. Perhaps what happens is that a reader has something to say, but is afraid to type it to avoid unintentionally offending some other individual or group. Perhaps some people don’t like sharing their opinions on a site where anyone and everyone can view their stance, political or not, while being connected to their full name and Facebook account. Perhaps some people simply don’t have nor want to make a Facebook account. After all, having the same conversation with a group of close friends is likely to be more comfortable than what seems like declaring one’s disagreement to the world. 

But what if The D were to change the website’s commenting system to make commenters’ identities more anonymous by using a different commenting plug-in, such as Disqus, for example? It could require only a first name or allow users to create their own usernames. This way, commenters might not have to face backlash for their views and could avoid ad hominem attacks. However, while this change may coax out more comments from readers, it would also make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to hold commenters accountable for their words. This could result in cyberbullying and trolls, so careful moderation of the section would be necessary.

Encouraging people to comment and respond to content requires them to first care about the issue they are reading about. Most of the content in The D directly concerns the Dartmouth community and events occurring in the Upper Valley. Therefore, if an issue concerns readers, they will continue reading. If readers do not agree with what is being said, they are encouraged to form their own opinions and then comment or respond to comments to continue inter-community dialogue.

Finally, I’d like to sincerely thank readers who frequently comment their thoughts after reading pieces in The Dartmouth. I personally enjoy reading these comments, whether they are left on my own articles or on others’. This level of engagement has led me to reexamine and reflect on what I’ve written and read, and I hope people continue to leave insightful comments and feel more inclined to join the dialogue.