Brexit and the value of the comments


First published on our blog

Whatever else has come out of Brexit, the topic has become a demonstration of the value of website comments.

A comment from Nicholas Barrett on the Financial Times website (paywall) was freed from behind their paywall via a screenshot on Twitter that currently has received more than 30,000 retweets (as well as being copied and tweeted by many others without attribution), though the commenter’s username is missing, leading to the text sometimes being credited to an FT columnist., perhaps slightly hyperbolically, described his comment as “having the world’s attention.” Still, Barrett now is in fact a writer for the FT as they wisely commissioned him that day to write a fast piece on the subject.

Elsewhere, a comment on Boris Johnson and Article 50 in The Guardian by long-time commenter Teebs was not only screenshotted and posted on many a Facebook wall, but also written about/copy pasted in its entirety by Quartz, The Huffington Post, the Washington Post and on Reddit.

Meanwhile, left-leaning British media has been carefully watching the comments on websites of organizations that supported the Leave campaign, finding some statements of regret and confusion as a sign of post-Brexit shock. There’s plenty of that to be found, though the Daily Mail comment stream referred to in that piece is much more nuanced than the article suggests, and has become a place for some genuine-sounding emotion and debate amid the overwhelming tone of name calling and anger that often inhabits their comment space.

These of course are merely those comments that were noticed by the media themselves. Crucially, none of these comments seemed to have been picked up initially by the organizations that hosted them - they had to rely on readers and other media to read and then share them widely before they responded. Who knows what other potential gems that could “have the world’s attention” on Brexit and other topics currently lie overlooked in your comment streams?

At all times, but especially in moments of uncertainty and confusion, we look to each other for information, ideas, and new perspectives. If news organizations want to be part of these conversations, they need to do a better job of making people feel safe, respected, and listened to on their platforms.

We can only do this with better tools and practices, including ones that make it easier for ideas to be shared and discussed within the site itself, not just outsourced to social media, and for journalists quickly and effectively to be able to find and reward the smartest ideas that live beneath their articles.

The tools and the practices? We’re working on them. Hopefully the last few days have acted as a small demonstration of the value of our work. Onwards.


This has been fascinating. A bit of background from the FT side of the story: I noticed Nicholas’ comment in the morning, chose it as an editor’s pick, and we included it here ( free to read) while it was making its way around Twitter unbeknownst to us. We shared a number of comments that day - and have in the days since - on our social pages and our live blog. It’s just the nature of the Internet that we aren’t the ones who control which comment is going to go viral and how. Nicholas’ was spectacular, and hit a nerve. I like that it didn’t rely on our promotion to take on a life of its own.

In the past few days, we have seen some seriously thoughtful, emotional, insightful comments as people process what Brexit means. We’ve been collecting thoughts in the story linked to above, and also questions for our reporters to help answer in the coming days. With a story like this, how people are grappling with a change that directly affects them, and that many of them chose, is just as much a part of the story as the news above it.

It’s a big moment for comments! Nice to see them getting some well deserved respect.


It’s been interesting watching that comment go big - in addition to creating a broader audience for an initial story, a well maintained comment section is also a good place to mine new story ideas. Most audience dev has to rely in some part on social sciences research, and comments are a good place to do that.