Public Comments and the Online Audience

Last week we spoke about the rise of social media and its subsequent triumph over print media. True to the ever-changing nature of online social media, sub-cultures of online media audiences appear or disappear depending on what is trending online. There are three types of audiences: a writer’s audience, a broadcast audience, and a networked audience. Let’s break them down.

A writer’s audience – this audience is a fictionalized audience, or an audience that is invoked by the writer. The audience forms around the work, and the work caters towards a particular demographic on purpose.

A broadcast audience – this is an audience which can also be referred to as an ‘interpretive community’. The members of this audience are comprised from a fandom following, and can also be a participatory culture.

A networked audience – these are real and potential viewers. These viewers can connect to each other in a network. Platforms like Twitter allow a networked audience to directly contact a public figure and have their questions answered directly from the source.

As per the above video, it’s pretty evident that the internet is a free-for-all commenting playground, and as most people who read YouTube comments will know, it’s generally where faith in humanity goes to die. That might seem a little exaggerative, however if you’ve ever seen comments like this
youtube comment

you’ll know that that’s far from the worst thing you can read on YouTube. It seems hard to believe that there are actually rules and regulations surrounding how internet users should conduct themselves when commenting on public forums, but for the purposes highlighting how far from ideal the internet is, here is an ‘idea model’ of social interaction online:

  • All participants have an opportunity to speak
  • All participants are obliged to carefully consider what they hear
  • All participants speak plainly, and ask for clarification when they need it
  • All participants maintain respect for other participants

The main formats for inviting user participation are through polls, message boards, ‘have your say’ sections, Q&A’s, blogs, etc. Q&A’s are a great way for public figures and celebrities to hear from their fans and followers, although if you follow Robin Thicke on Twitter you’ll know that this form of communication can go very, very wrong.



Key concerns for editors who run online audience participatory platforms are based around maintaining their brand, legal concerns like defamation, and the desire to ‘own’ content and stories. Unfortunately for some, derogatory or ‘hate speech’ style comments become the property of the brand upon being posted to the site, and editors have to work quickly to monitor what is posted.

While a networking audience can be criticized for all its negative effects, it does have a profoundly positive effect when used to create awareness for charity. Something trending in online social media right now is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, where anyone from celebrities to friends are donating to the ALS foundation, dumping a bucket of ice-water on their head, and nominating their friends or other celebrities to do the same. Since these viral and entertaining videos took off, the ALS foundation has received over $70.2 million.


So what do you think? When popular sites open comments to the public are the effects ultimately detrimental, or do the positives of campaigns like the ALS ice-bucket challenge outweigh the negatives?


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