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[IMAGE] Close up of a polling card for the UK referendum on leaving the EU. In the foreground, it reads "Poll Card" in white letters on a black background.

How Brexit Made Comments Go Viral

This piece was originally posted on The Coral Project blog the week after Brexit.

Whatever else has come out of Brexit, the topic became 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. Time.com, 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.

Photo by Abi Begum, CC-BY 2.0

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