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Readers posted more than 1m comments on FT.com in 2016. Indeed it was a complicated year; when asked for a one-word summary, one commenter suggested, “bonkers, just bonkers”. Others went with “angst”, “pivots”, “populism” and “harambe”. It was a year in which many needed to work through a changing world.

Our comment threads were buzzing with business owners, industry experts, retirees and the C-suite, but also students facing substantial debt, postgrads looking to buy their first homes and farmers reckoning with subsidy cuts. Here are some of the most memorable and popular comments from the past 12 months.

The comment heard round the world

In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum vote, a comment left early in the morning by Nicholas caught the eye of our readers. One posted a screenshot on Twitter that quickly went viral, spreading across social and TV news networks. The comment touched a nerve, encapsulating perfectly the pain felt on the morning of June 24 by many young Brits, and others who voted to Remain.

“A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.” (Full comment)

Within hours, Nicholas Barrett, 25, acknowledged he had written the post, and we quickly commissioned him to write an op-ed to expand on his thoughts.

The comment heard round the world (a bit less loudly)

Brexit was the most popular topic for FT commenters in 2016. In early August, another comment went viral: Ishtar Ostaria imagined a dialogue between Remainers and Leavers based on the tone of the political discourse after the vote. The comment was shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter. Here is an excerpt:

“So, this is how the debate reads so far. I kid you not, it’s practically verbatim:

Remainers ‘WTF?’
Leavers ‘We voted Brexit, now You Remainers need to implement it.’
Remainers ‘But it’s not possible!’
Leavers ‘The People Have Spoken. Therefore it is possible. You just have to think positively.’
Remainers ‘And do what exactly?’
Leavers ‘Come up with a Plan that will leave us all better off outside the EU than in it.’
Remainers ‘Shouldn’t you do it?’
Leavers ‘It’s not up to us to work out the detail, it’s up to you experts.’
Remainers ‘I thought you’d had enough of experts.’
Leavers ‘Remain experts.’
Remainers ‘There are no Leave experts’
Leavers ‘Then you’ll have to do it then.’” (Full comment)

After Brexit came Trump

Commenters were prolific in their views on the US presidential campaign and in the weeks following Donald Trump’s victory. MarkGB is a recognised name below the line; his lengthy comments are often quite critical of FT columnists, but almost always top our most recommended lists. Here is an excerpt of his most popular post this year (recommended by 220 readers), on what people find appealing about Trump:

“I would no more vote for Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, or indeed any Mr. Nut-Job from the right or Mr. Fruit-Cake from the left. But I do understand why people do, and it’s not because of their wonderful attributes . . . neither is it due to the moral or intellectual failings of the folks who vote for them. It’s a symptom of disgust with the basic political model on offer, in this case in the US. The deal goes like this: ‘Hi, my name is Mr. Snake-Oil, and I’m running for office. I represent the Demopublican Party. I need your votes and Wall Street money in order to get elected. So I will appear to listen intently, I will make you all sorts of promises, and then when I get to Washington, I will ignore you and serve the money that put me there — can I count on your vote?’ The disgust is real Mr. Wolf, and no amount of neo-liberal, neo-conservative or even neo-Keynesian ‘bull’ will deal with it. You want to deal with it? Challenge the remoteness, the smugness, the ignorance, and most of all, the corruption of mainstream politicians.” (Full comment)

Thoughts from young readers

Younger commenters, mostly students and recent graduates, had particularly strong feelings about housing, pensions and student loans. In February, a story headlined “Why millennials go on holiday instead of paying for their pension” sparked an active debate among young readers, many of whom found those options quite unfair. Embarrassed Pedant, 25, summarised the millennial experience as follows:

“It strikes me that we’re faced with the illusion of choice. Why spend a large proportion of my small salary on experiences when I could pay into a pension? Why not save to get on the housing ladder rather than spend 50% of my earnings on rent? They aren’t real choices in my eyes.” (Full comment.)

Many also came out in response to Martin Lewis’s November column condemning the government for misleading British students about their student loan repayment plans. Will described his own experience:

“I’m 22. I was promised when I took my student loan out that the payments would be low, and would rise in line with inflation. Now I find that they’re close to 5 per cent per annum. If my company treated its clients as the government has treated me, the FCA would impose a hefty fine on the company. Sadly, the only thing we graduates have to fight this huge injustice is public opinion.” (Full comment)

A sampling of that first-class FT wit

Comments are not short on dry humour. On a story about opaque dress codes in London’s financial centre, one contributor showed no mercy:

GCBD painted a less than appealing picture for fellow commenters on the day Boris Johnson pulled out of the running to become prime minister and Michael Gove stepped in:

FT farmers steer the debate

Yes, farmers in the UK read the FT and proved to be engaged commenters. In the wake of the Leave vote, a number showed up below a story in the Companies section about the likely end to EU farming subsidies post-Brexit. Below is an excerpt from Pembrokeshire Farmer that was particularly liked and widely shared:

“I never comment on FT, as on most topics I am merely an interested novice. However I can say on the subject of farmers (certainly in Pembrokeshire which voted heavily in favour of leave) that there is an overwhelming sense of optimism along the lines of ‘everything will be fine’. Almost every farmer you meet says the same thing, although none has been able to explain why removing EU financial support will make us better off. My reading of UK farming’s fortunes during the last Century is that it thrives only when it is supported by the State, because it (famously, per JFK) tends to ‘buy retail and sell wholesale’. I have seen no evidence that supports any other view.” (Full comment)

Readers discuss misogynistic comments with Sarah Gordon

Although comments are often considered and insightful, there can be a dark side. Journalist Sarah Gordon often writes about the gender pay gap. In her piece “Why I will no longer ignore readers’ comments”, she broke the fourth wall to address the sexism that she finds is not uncommon to FT comment threads. A thoughtful, 300-comment discussion ensued in which readers made it clear they were pleased to see reporters engaging with them more. Many also wanted more diversity — in gender and in viewpoint — among commenters and columnists. Here’s an excerpt of Kika’s perception of commenters on gender:

“The level of comment in the FT is certainly higher than in my local paper, where mean-spirited, racist, misogynist comments run riot. I suppose, the FT is too expensive for that particular lifestyle. [Here] it’s more the condescending ‘prove that you’re equal to me’ diatribes. What harms have these individuals suffered, exactly, because women and people of color are now freer to enter their clubs? There’s an American saying that requires a certain knowledge of baseball: he was born on third base and believes he hit a triple. Lots of those guys around.” (Full comment)

Personal insight on a touchy subject

Stories about Islam and Muslims can be among our most contentious. But in one of the year’s most popular comments, York Hose, a Muslim woman, responded to FT journalist Mehreen Khan’s defence of the headscarf as a mark of self-confidence. Here is an excerpt:

“I am in a unique position to understand the threat of hijab. I am a naturalized citizen of the US. I grew up in an emerging market where women are still viewed as second-class citizens, despite the headway we have made in that country. We have some of the smartest women engineers and doctors. [But] women don’t have complete freedom . . . You have to experience a sexually oppressed society. Otherwise, you know nothing. My every movement was monitored, and any digression from societal norms was seen as challenging your culture, your virtue, and your parents’ honor . . . If a Muslim woman told me she was wearing hijab as a symbol of protest against Western policies towards the Middle East, I would throw my support behind her. But the fact that they wear it because some male god said so, because they are the virtuous women as opposed to immoral western women is a dangerous characteristic we need to cut in the bud.” (Full comment)

All about wealth

Money, of course, was an active topic of discussion in 2016. A story headlined “How to stop your children catching rich kid-itis” garnered almost 150 comments (the best of which are aggregated here). Messenger told a story from the dining table:

Active commenter RiskAdjustedReturn’s lesson was also quite popular:

All in the family

Occasionally, special guests surprise readers with uniquely personal insights. Anthony Harris, the FT economics commentator, passed away in June and, beneath his obituary, his daughter posted her own ode to his life:

“Eccentric genius — it’s not everyday you get to hear your own father described thus, but it makes me extremely proud, and I like to think he would have allowed himself to find it ‘rather pleasing’ too. It was brilliant non-conformity that drove my father Anthony, and that generated the genius he is remembered for. Perhaps it was the emotional twists and turns of his early years that generated the eccentricity: as his daughter, I experienced both sides of that coin.” (Full comment)

And on reporter Patti Waldmeir’s personal notebook about adopting her daughters from China, another familiar voice appeared:

To all who add insight, humour, and criticism to our journalism each day, thank you. Your contributions add colour and context to each story, and our journalists, when they are not writing, are often reading. To those who don’t yet frequent the comments, welcome to one of the more addictive sides of FT.com. We hope to see more of you in 2017.

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