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Comment sections only represent a small slice of humanity. Thank goodness.

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Flickr user Sascha Pohflepp

Online comment sections are not always the most welcoming place, but apart from incendiary remarks, they still provide an important outlet for people to share their thoughts.

Cliff Lampe, associate professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan has studied community engagement for a number of large online companies and shares his insights as to how to improve online discourse.

While it’s easy to lose hope in humanity after reading comments that are sexist, racist and just offensive, Lampe says comments are only representative of a small slice of humanity.

"Having a negative comment thread really does change how people interpret the story."

The few people who do comment often breed extreme views that can drive out more nuanced opinions. And such harsh views can have an effect on how readers understand the author's remarks.

"Having a negative comment thread really does change how people interpret the story," he says. "People become more polarized."

Shutting down comments may seem like the easiest fix, but Lampe argues that losing the potential for civil discourse isn’t the solution. Instead, focusing on harsher moderation of comments could help to foster better conversation.

- Katrina Shafer, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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