Fresh survey data indicates that the number of people who write online comments on news articles is down by one-third from last year. But the research also disclosed some worrying signs for those observers who feel that the culture has become too sensationalist and crude.
The survey, a repeat of one held for the first time in September 2013 conducted by TNS Emor for the Open Estonia Fund, indicated that the decrease from 155,000 to 105,000 was propelled largely by a drop in activity among the youngest group, those 35 and under.
The number of commenters among ethnic non-Estonians has also halved. The number of everyday anonymous commentators was put at only about 3,000 people.
The main reasoning cited by respondents for writing comments was that they "could say exactly what they wanted to." The number of people who comment because they feel they have something important to contribute to the topic, on the other hand, has dropped.
The issue is significant in Estonia because there has been widespread criticism that the culture of online comments has degraded and is out of control. Newspapers have taken halting steps to try to bring more accountability to the process. For the most part, it is still possible to comment on most stories without authentication.
The issue was also talked about by Internet figure Linnar Viik at the Festival of Opinion over the weekend. Viik said they media publications have done little over the past year to improve the commenting culture, saying it was an important ad revenue stream for outlets.
"I recommend media interests to cross their fingers that they won't lose the last shreds of their reputation by sticking to the current business model, and they don't find themselves in a situation where commenting is ultimately banned in the public interest," Viik said in Paide.
Those aged 25-34 are most likely to favor writing comments under their real name, while those 50 and up are most reluctant to do so.
As for readership of comments, there is an increasing trend: whereas 20 percent said they read online comments daily in 2013, the figure is now 33 percent.
A separate trend is an increase in the number of users who read comments for most of the articles that they are interested in, while there has been a decrease in the number of people who look for additional information that supplements the article.
There was a slight increase in those who say they mainly read comments because they are interested in others' opinions, while a negative trend, according to the Open Estonia Fund, is that the most important reason for reading comments cited by younger respondents is the shock value - "to see how vulgar people can be."
He added that he did not favor an outright closure of comment sections on Estonian news sites.
The study was conducted from July 30 to August 3.