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User comments: motives and inhibitors to write and read

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User comments allow ‘annotative reporting’ by embedding users’ viewpoints within an article's context, providing readers with additional information to form opinions, which can potentially enhance deliberative processes. But are these the only reasons why people comment on online news and read these comments? This study examines factors that motivate, or demotivate and constrict, such participation by surveying nearly 650 commenters, lurkers, and non-users in Germany. From a normative perspective, the results are ambivalent. The results show that commenters are driven by social-interactive motives to participate in journalism, and to discuss with other users. However, the data suggest that commenters do not obtain cognitive gratifications to the desired extent. Presumably, their exchange is socially and not deliberatively motivated. Reading comments is fuelled by both cognitive and entertainment motives, but regression analyses show that the entertainment dimension − a dimension that is not usually considered to be linked to deliberation processes − is the more stable one. A low standard of discussions not only increases the frequency at which comments are read, but also reduces lurkers’ satisfaction. Similarly, non-users are even more frustrated by the low quality of discussions. They consider such participation activities to be a waste of time, and are not willing to register.
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Keywords: online survey; public sphere theory; user comments; user-generated content; uses and gratifications approach

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Communication Studies and Media Research, LMU Munich, Oettingenstr. 67, 80538, Munich, Germany 2: Institute of Communication Research, University of Jena, Jena, Germany

Publication date: July 3, 2015

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