The ten types of comments on news articles

One major criticism of reality TV shows, especially in the pre-MasterChef era, was they profited from encouraging and rewarding all the worst aspects of human behaviour. I think it’s time we recognised comments on online news and opinion websites have exactly the same problem.

It doesn’t take long before you start seeing the same people making the same kinds of comments over and over. The value to the publisher is obvious, in that it encourages readers to come back, click more articles, view more ads, buy more stuff. But what value, really, does it add for the reader?

Certain topics are guaranteed to bring out particular brands of loonies – think climate change or religion. But even reader comments on relatively innocuous topics are an incredibly effective stupidity concentrator.

Essentially, all reader comments on any article ever can be boiled down to one of the following:

  1. I had an opinion before I read this article. Since this article agrees with that opinion, it is an unbiased, worthy and well written article.
  2. I had an opinion before I read this article. Since this article disagrees with that opinion, it is illogical, biased nonsense.
  3. The parts of this article I disagree with are illogical nonsense. The parts I agree with are worthy points, well argued.
  4. Some completely irrelevant thing I am obsessed with surely proves this article correct/incorrect.
  5. This article surely proves some completely irrelevant thing I am obsessed with.
  6. Personally abusing and/or expressing sexual admiration for author, subject(s) of article and/or other commenters.
  7. The affiliations of the author who wrote this article allow us to discount anything it says.
  8. The bias of the publication in which the article appears allows us to discount anything it says.
  9. Immensely long and off-topic rant containing wild conspiracy theories and LARGE SECTIONS OF ALL CAPS.
  10. Repeating the same point five dozen other commenters already made and clearly demonstrating this commenter didn’t read any of the previous comments before mouthing off.


  1. I had an opinion before I read this article. Because the article is logically argued and presents the evidence clearly and without bias, I am willing to concede I was wrong about this subject previously. [Note: this never happens]

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Tim Dean says:

    I have previously proposed there is a law concerning comments: as the number of comments approaches x, the likelihood that one contains a logical or argumentative fallacy approaches 1.

    And one can judge the merit of the site on which the comment appears (and its visitors’ level rationality) by the calculated value of x.

    Eg, ABC x = 5; YouTube x = 3; News Ltd sites x = 1.5.

    Although what we really want is x = infinity.

  2. Bill Bennett says:

    My usual reason for commenting on a on-line article is to try and get additional information from the author or to add something interesting not covered in the story.

    I’m not sure which category this comment falls under.

  3. Glen says:


    12. Respond to another comment (with a subset of responding comment types that repeat as above, re opinion, abuse, etc.)

  4. JEQP says:

    Which one of these covers the “this article demonstrates why all [fill in the blank] are idiots”. These seem to be the most common, and it’s normally lucky if they´re even tangentially applicable.

    So, I’m going to go for 5.

  5. Joe Conspirator says:

    Obviously, Mr Mehlman, if that even is your real name, you are just a shill for the right-wing, neo-Fascist Liberal-voting elite that WOULDN’T KNOW A LOGICAL ARGUMENT IF IT CAME OUT AND BIT THEM IN THE PROVERBIAL FARKING ARSE. How much are they paying you to spout these opinions, which are so ridiculous as to be laughable and had me LMFAO cuz U R just such a total tool. Your affiliations with the possum-loving mainstream media make it inarguably clear that you are nothing more than a thorn in the backside of common decency and free thinkers everywhere.

    That said, I loved the part where you clearly and effectively communicated your annoyance with the many trite and combative forms of forum posting. It reflects something I have often told friends during many a Saturday evening repartee over a nice glass of sherry. Which reminds me, I tried this most amazingly smooth sherry the other day. My beloved Mary bought me a bottle when she was helping out at the home for orphaned possums, poor things. We once ran our own home for displaced marsupials, darlings, but had to close it down after I discovered they were sniffing around the bottles in the cellar. Because if there’s anything worse than sitting around sobbing over a puddle of glass-laced 1967 Rioja, it’s knowing that it got that way because a horde of intoxicated marsupials squeezed under the door in a pique of whimsy.

    THOUGHT YOU HAD ME DISTRACTED THERE FOR A SEC DIDN’T YOU, YOU COMMIE LOVING SOCIALIST PINKO WHO REEKS OF ELDERBERRIES. As everybody above pointed out, your analytical, philosophical style reeks of the bottom-feeding swamp that passes for political discourse these days. Talking mandarins push rhesus monkeys up hills in wheelbarrows before summarily throwing them off the cliff and camping underneath the wheelbarrows. Which proves my first point: that this post, and this whole site, are clearly the machinations of the conservative Liberal right. I spit on your pet wallaby. QED.

    I did agree with that last part, though. Well put. Pity about the rest.

    I think that covers all 11. Have a nice day.

  6. Matthew JC. Powell says:

    13. The pedantic commenter who, while broadly agreeing with much of the article, finds one tiny error of fact, grammar or punctuation, and picks on that to undermine the entire work. The worst form of this is the one that doesn’t even spell out where the actual error is. The author/editor then goes mad trying to find the thing so it can be corrected.

  7. Miss Liz says:

    People still read news articles? I read research recently that seemed to suggest that most folks go to news websites to scan headlines and look at pictures.

  8. SiobhantheDon says:

    14. The commenter that clearly clicks on an opinion / satirical article and then posts a comment lambasting publication because the story ‘is not news’.

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