“Don’t Read The Comments” And Building Better Communities

June 2024



Online discourse can often get pretty nasty. In this blog post, we explain the benefits and challenges of running a comment platform on your site — and how to help it thrive.

In the 2018 Disney movie Ralph Breaks the Internet, Ralph learns what the other characters call the #1 rule of the Internet: “Do not read the comments.” In the movie, it’s easy to see why: Ralph reads dozens upon dozens of comments calling him fat, ugly, stupid, a loser. It’s a low point in the film, designed to teach kids the simple truth that words can hurt.

This rule is not limited to cartoons, though. It’s also the subject of news articles, a 22k-follower Twitter account, and the title of a romance novel about online gamers. As rules go, this is fairly well-established.

If that was the whole story, though, half the internet would vanish overnight. Reddit, the self-described “front page of the internet,” primarily exists as a comment board. Sites like Quora feature helpful commenters who answer each others’ questions. Some of the largest sites on the Web, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, thrive off of comments.

How can comments be all bad if many of the Internet’s most popular (and profitable) hangouts are built around them?

The truth is, when done properly, a thriving comment section can be an incredibly-positive place that helps your users build community, share important information, and lift each other up. In the process, you’ll also drive a lot of critical engagement on your page.

In this blog post, we’re talking about the comments: what they do for you, why they turn toxic, and how to stop that from happening.

Table of Contents

Case Study: Insticator transformed Brit+Co’s community with a 50% increase in online engagement. read more.

The Benefits of Comment Sections

The reason why so much of the internet has comment sections is because when they’re going well, comment sections are very, very good for the health of your site. Comment sections:

  • Keep users on your page longer, engaging with and discussing your site content, which means better core web vitals, longer time-on-site, and potentially better positioning in Google’s search results.
  • Provide a host of first-party data about what content is striking a chord with your users, how your users generally behave on your site, and more.
  • Build a bigger audience for your content by giving users a community hub to grow around, boosting your site metrics, and generating more impression traffic to your ads. 

But that’s when they’re going well. What about the ones that go bad.

Why Do Comment Sections Turn Toxic?

20 years ago, web cartoonist Mike Krahulik, the artist behind the long-running strip “Penny Arcade,” came up with his “Greater Theory” of how online interactions worked. It goes like this

Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total [censored]

This theory nicely leads to one of the biggest discussions in online commenting: “gated” vs. “non-gated” communities. In gated online communities, login information of some kind is needed, whether it’s a username and email address (like on Twitter/X), all the way up to the user’s real name (like on Facebook, or writing a letter to the editor at a newspaper).

In a non-gated online community, users can post completely anonymously, with no potential for repercussions. This scenario can lead to so-called “trolling,” where users deliberately post harmful, threatening, or annoying content for the express purpose of irritating or upsetting their fellow users.

A related form of trolling is “brigading,” where a group of outside agitators arrives on-site specifically to spoil the commenting experience for the intended audience. Things like conservatives infiltrating and trolling a progressive website, or Chicago Cubs fans hopping on to harass St. Louis Cardinals boosters.

Essentially, in a non-gated setting, users will be entirely free of repercussions — and they may act accordingly. Requiring users to set up an account before they can log in and start commenting may be enough friction to keep out the bulk of offenders, and any trolls who make the effort anyway will be easier to take disciplinary action against.

Moderators: A Bouncer And A Lifeguard

When it seems like users are drowning in negative content, that’s when you need a lifeguard. That’s when moderation comes in handy. With Insticator’s COOL Comments, for example, we utilize a combination of AI and human moderation: the AI is able to quickly flag words and phrases of your choosing, and submit them to the 24-hour team of human moderators to make more-complicated decisions.

This hybrid moderation also works for inappropriate images, so toxic users can’t evade moderation by hiding their toxicity inside a jpeg. The moderation standards can be based on your own parameters, so they can be stricter or laxer depending on your guidelines.

Moderators: A Bouncer And A Lifeguard

But moderators aren’t just lifeguards: they’re also bouncers, keeping out the riff-raff. Offending commenters can be blocked from participating for short periods of time, giving people who just got a little heated a chance to cool off. Alternatively, commenters who take things way too far can be perma-banned, even at the IP address level (so they can’t just create a new account and try again).

All of these things serve as the “stick” to keep rowdy commenters in-line. But what about the “carrot?”.

Gamification: Incentivizing Positivity

One way to keep your commenters on the straight-and-narrow is through positive reinforcement. And one of the best methods of positive reinforcement is to make a game of it.

Gamification, like COOL Comments’ new “kudos” feature, allows commenters to grant each other points for insightful and helpful comments with replies, emoji reactions, and more. These points accumulate in user profiles, earning them badges and ranks that are visible to everyone.


The most-engaged, positive commenters will soon earn bragging rights over their peers, while also providing you with a wealth of first-party data on your audience and their behavior.

These features — moderation and gamification — work in concert to help keep your community positive, pleasant, and thriving.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, though comment sections do have a risk of becoming toxic, utilizing the right tools can help keep that from becoming an eventuality. And as long as you keep your communities positive, they are a huge boon to all your site-health metrics.

If you’re looking to kick up your engagement, gather first-party data, and keep your community positive, then it’s time to check out Insticator’s latest commenting package, COOL Comments. Launched in 2024, it’s the next leap forward in online community-building. Reach out today to learn more.

Written by
Sean Kelly, Senior Content Writer

Sean Kelly is a Senior Content Specialist, St. Louis-based engagement expert with 20 years of experience in content writing, and 8 years in adtech.

komalchand gaidhane

Written by

komalchand gaidhane