The Emerging News Project at the University of Texas surveyed folks who consume online media and found out something that I think most people already suspected: A whole lot of online commenters are more interested in stating their own opinions than they are in engaging with the opinions or information they're supposed to be commenting on.
The folks who did the survey found that a lot of time people responded to an article headline without doing more than skimming the article itself, and other times they simply dropped their general opinion of the person in the headline or the one doing the writing. This is a big reason why "Never read the comments" is a kind of mantra among people who do the frequently-read news sites. This blog is blessed with but a few regular commenters, and of them I don't even need a whole hand to count those who have been jerks.
Some sites have been ruined when the tenor of the comments seems to have spread into the content. If you've read this blog for awhile, you know that I used to have the Andrew Breitbart-started Big Hollywood site linked in the sidebar. It began as a website with entertainment news with a more conservative perspective. Over time, comments grew less intelligent and more offensive, as person after person LOL'd and LUL'd at "Hollyweird Libtards" and worse. Then, especially following Breitbart's death, that way of thinking pretty much took over the content itself. There's no denying that Breitbart himself could and often did produce way more heat than light in an argument, but he generally at least stayed in orbit around reality and some level of decency. His successors seem to desire this much, much less than he did and once it became clear that the majority of the actual content wasn't noticeably worth more than the comments had been, I dropped it from my regular reads.
Some other sites, of course, exist as meta (and metastasized) comments sections, such as The Daily Kos. There's no small number of Kos diaries that stake out a position on an issue and use recognizable forms of argument and debate to make their writers' case. But they're not the majority, and I can read people I disagree with elsewhere in a less venomous overall environment.
And I'm sure that most folks by now have made the obvious connection. Comment sections are usually shoot-from-the-lip, heavy on the trolls, light on thought, premised on bullying and bluster and winning an argument by shouting the loudest. Which means that Donald Trump's presidential campaign is nothing more than a comments section come to life and put on the ballot.
What could go wrong?