Do negative online comments contribute anything positive? Or should they be stamped out?

With the explosion of the Internet, social media and real-time conversation, anyone can add their comments to just about anything these days. No moment in time has 'free speech' been so readily available to everyone. We can rant, rave and even attack the authors of any written articles, should we choose to do so. Just take a look at some of the comments on national newspaper websites - or even those posted below YouTube videos and you'll see the kind of negativity I'm talking about.

I've been reading some interesting articles lately on this subject and how negative comments are becoming more of an issue on the web. Obviously, I look after client reputations and ensure their profiles are protected at all times, so it's important to keep tabs on what people are saying out there. But recently, I too have noticed a growing trend of negativity on the Internet and wanted to ask the question - do you think they contribute anything positive? And do you think they should be stamped out?

Now when I talk about negative comments - I don't mean ones that add an interesting or different point of view to an ongoing debate. I'm talking about the mindless, pointless personal spats and attacks on authors and other people. The type of egotistical comments that only seem to have one purpose - to bully or hurt the intended target.

When it comes to these types of comments, what does a PR person do? Do you delete the comments and ban the person from commenting again? Do you 'report' the comment or ask for it to be removed if you don't control the site? Or do you allow them to carry on, given that the Internet is supposed to support free speech?

More importantly, how do we define what is pointless compared to valid comments that might be unpopular?

What about the forum moderators? How do they decide what gets published and what doesn't? Do websites need to have more robust commenting guidelines in place to avoid this problem in future? Just how much responsibility do websites have in keeping the Internet a happy and respectful place to be? And should the government step in and do something? Or is that opening up a new can of worms?

It's a difficult debate in itself and one that has no easy answer. But if we can not rely on individuals respecting others online, then surely something has to be done?

Personally, I believe negative comments on the web are just, well... negative. They contribute no value. They spread bad feeling. And they actually lead to paranoia and governments trying to step in and 'control' the situation. And that, my friends - is a road we don't want to go down.

What do you think? Do negative comments add anything of value? Do they form part of free speech? Is it something we've come to expect? Or do you think they impose on other people's lives and that we should find ways to stamp it out? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Katy Cowan

Manchester, England,