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Publishers who permit disrespectful, spammy comments about their stories are discouraging people looking for intelligent conversations and undermining their brands.

They should implement policies, such as moderated comments, to create a more civil discourse.

A couple months ago I wrote about how tens of thousands of high quality websites such as the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Politico and the Huffington Post are diluting their brand by using content marketing services to serve links to sponsored content.

Aside from the poor quality of much of the linked content, the implementation of these services utterly blurs the lines between editorial and advertising. This post provoked quite a lot of comments, almost all of it in agreement.

But on many sites, the reader comments are another area of even lower quality, and often offensive, content.

YouTube is the worst. A Cheerios commercial with a mixed-race family provoked so many racist comments on YouTube that General Mills disabled the opportunity for people to comment on it.

The TED Talks channel does enable comments, some of which are thoughtful but others go like this (read from the bottom up):

Other YouTube comments are just spam:

On Politico, the comments on almost any article immediately veer off into absurd right versus left diatribes such as these:

And one more: this was a wildly off-topic comment to an article about whether the Wall Street Journal plagiarized an opinion piece on the safety of football:

And even with comments being moderated, the Houston Chronicle website still has ones like these (in response to a story about a white supremacist group that sells drugs to finance its operations):

Yawn. Where do these people get the time for this garbage? Of course, some Web commenters are paid, engaging in astrotufing, but they can’t all be.

Publishers more responsible than these are taking a number of steps to curb the screaming and create a realm of thoughtful, polite conversation. Huffington Post articles gets tens of millions of comments a year, and it employs automated screening and 40 human monitors.

Nonetheless, it’s about to also require people to use their real names for comments.

Requiring the use of real names has its pros and cons. Social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook work because the people are, for the most part, real and are identified by their real names. As a result, the conversation on them tends to be pretty civil.

But requiring the use of real names can inhibit valuable contributions in some cases. For example, if a person in a country with a totalitarian regime, or a gay person who lives in an area with anti-gay laws, want to comment, they might be more comfortable (and wiser) doing it anonymously.

Human moderators, while the most expensive solution, are also probably the best. The New York Times is an exception to the poisonous comments culture. It accomplishes it by moderating all comments before they are posted. And they’re up front about what their policy is:

 

Publishers who permit the disrespectful, spammy comments are known by the company they keep and are discouraging people looking for respectful, intelligent conversations. They are undermining their brands and, unless they want to attract that kind of moronic site visitor and, according to at least one study, they undermine understanding of the article itself.

Publishers should implement policies to stop that type of comment from being posted. It’s all part of the Internet’s (hopeful) evolution to a more respectful place to interact.

Louis Gudema

Published 27 August, 2013 by Louis Gudema

Louis Gudema is the president of revenue + associates and a contributor to Econsultancy. Louis blogs here and can be reached via TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn.

12 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Nick Stamoulis

I know that new bloggers especially are excited to start seeing comments roll in but it's better to have no comments than junk/spam/meaningless comments on your site. It can start to reflect negatively on your own content. Why would you put all that time into creating a great blog post and then it be ruined by trolls?

over 3 years ago

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Kenny Crofton

This is one of the great conflicts with the web. Do we moderate comments and take away the authenticity of the worlds dialogue or leave them to be seen and offend the public?

over 3 years ago

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Jason Hachkowski

Even the mighty google is a victim of unmodded comment spam and trolling. They're getting better at cleaning them up but some of their community pages are a mess.

over 3 years ago

Louis Gudema

Louis Gudema, Senior Account Exec and Digital Marketer at Louis Gudema Consulting

Jason, since YouTube is owned by Google, and it has a terrible commenting culture, they definitely have a long way to go.

over 3 years ago

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MFLassen

Even though Google owns YouTube, Google's commenting culture and YouTube's commenting culture are two completely separate things. On YouTube, the uploader has the option to either allow all comments, allow only approved comments or not allow comments at all. So the uploader is responsible for dealing with the comments associated with his/her channel/video. So you can't really hold Google responsible for the commenting culture on YouTube - eassentially, each channel has its own culture.

I know a lot of (both private and corporate) users whose channels and videos have no spam and no hate comments. On their channel/videos, the tone is sober and the comments are relevant, because they take the time to manage (and engage with) their comments section. And that's probably the point. I don't think that there is a "one solution fits all" when it comes to this topic. I agree with you that the New York Times' solution with human moderation is a good one for them, because it accomplishes what they want from their comments section; articulate, well-informed remarks (and probably also because the section thereby reflects the kind of image with which the NY Times wants to be associated). But to other companies, the consequences of removing comments might be more damaging than the comments that they removed. It all comes down to what you want from your comments section, how much time you have to manage these things and how it flies on a broader scale (corporate image and policies).

To me, the best solution has always seemed to be the one where you as a moderator have the option to hide inappropriate comments (and the replies to that comment) so that the readers can chose for themselves if they want to see the hidden comment (and the replies to that comment). It is definitely more efficient than having to approve all comments before they are posted and it has the same effect. It shows that the moderator (the company) didn't approve of the comment (and it is therefore hidden from the general audience), but it hasn't been removed (so people can see for themselves why the comment was hidden). This may of course lead to some "why did this get hidden" comments along the way, but if you want to moderate your comments section, you should be able to answer why (for instance through a policy statement like the one that NY Times has posted).

over 3 years ago

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Becs Rivett

I run two blogs and have very recently had some nasty comments left one of them - as much as I wanted to delete them off I left them on because I thought that would mean that they had won and I think it's good to always have a balanced opinion. With wordpress, spam comments are controlled by Akismet (for the mostpart) but with larger sites it does seem like there's less people sheepwrangling the comments when you'd expect there to be more. Which is probably why Ask.fm is in such a lot of trouble.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Louis

> Yawn. Where do these people get the time for this garbage?

Erm - the world is full of all sorts of people - not all are like you or me. Not all are 'people looking for intelligent conversations' !

Probably only a small minority of us are like that!
(certainly there's a huge industry producing content for 'celebrity gossip' purposes /red top tabloids and whatever where there is little beyond the superficial)

And some people may make intelligent conversation on some issues, but on others are tribal, not listening, and just wanting to hear views that agree with their own.

Of course there are obvious issues where people get very tribal:
* politics
* religion
* sports teams

It's a big cost to any large site, to humanly moderate their comments -40 staff at Huffington you say?

TED is a thoughtful site, but sadly I guess they are too small and have no budget to moderate properly. It's a shame.

Another solution: would be to treat comments more like twitter - as ephemeral, that fade away over time, unless you work hard to dig back and find them?

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Becs

> nasty comment... as much as I wanted to delete them off I left them on because I thought that would mean that they had won and I think it's good to always have a balanced opinion.

Isn't that a misunderstanding of the word 'balance'?

Your blog is your blog, you set the rules.

over 3 years ago

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Mandy F

Yea, when it comes to youtube, it seems almost impossible to moderate all the comments. There are just too many of them. I run a locksmith business and on our site we get like a million of spam every month. If you are running a wordpress site, there are some really good plugins like aksimet that will filter a lot!

Now on the other hand, every site runs their own rules. So if one might allow spammy links, other can filter it the same way.

For now let's just be patient about it ! :)

over 3 years ago

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Ava Naves

"Publishers who permit the disrespectful, spammy comments are known by the company they keep and are discouraging people looking for respectful, intelligent conversations." So true. All one needs to do is have a look at the Vancouver Sun, and then at the New York Times. The quality of the comments speak for the quality of the content in those sites.

over 3 years ago

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Ava Naves

I'll add one more point to my previous post: the number of low-quality comments on the Vancouver Sun site has significantly decreased since they've adopted Facebook commenting. Commenters seem to have become more mindful of what they're writing, now that their opinions are attached to their names.

over 3 years ago

Michael Greenwood

Michael Greenwood, Managing Director at Internet Marketing Platinum Ltd

It obvious that the generic blog post comments are pretty spammy. It's also a sign of a poorly moderated blog when lots of outbound links are present which are caused by such comments. I suppose there's always going to be those webmasters who can't tell a poorly constructed and quite obvious one-size-fits-all solution blog comments but I think these types of blog administrators are becoming more and more rare.

The first solution is Askimet as Mandy pointed out and I wouldn't recommend that a blog, unless moderated frequently, should auto approve the blog post comments.

about 3 years ago

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