Huffington Post deletes 75 percent of incoming comments

The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post will soon no longer allow anonymous comments. In a post published Monday afternoon, HuffPost Media Group Managing Editor Jimmy Soni said the news organization “recognizes that many people are not in a professional or personal situation where attaching their name to a comment is feasible.” They’ll have to verify their identity when they create an account, “which will reduce the number of drive-by or automated trolls.”

Good news, Conan: “Existing accounts will be grandfathered into the new system.”

 

Soni says HuffPost now doinks three-quarters of all comments “either because they are flat-out spam or because they contain unpublishable levels of vitriol.”

And rather than participating in threads and promoting the best comments, our moderators are stuck policing the trolls with diminishing success.

The debate over whether anonymous comments are uncivil has been thus far unburdened by empirical evidence, Arthur D. Santana writes in a paper published earlier this year. So the University of Houston professor (and former reporter for The Washington Post, The Seattle Times and the San Antonio Express-News) coded comments in groups of newspapers that allowed anonymity and others that didn’t.

Among other criteria, “uncivil” comments contained person attacks, ethnic slurs or foul language; “civil” comments were “rational, well reasoned and free of insults”; and a third group “could be spirited and forceful” or express derision “without resorting to hateful language.” The researchers also grouped comments they couldn’t categorize under any of those criteria.

Santana found that at papers that allowed anonymous comments, 53 percent were uncivil, compared with nearly 29 percent at newspapers that insisted on real names or Facebook comments. Non-anonymity “is presumed though, of course, not guaranteed,” the study said.

Reached by phone, Santana said he spent a year and a half reading online newspaper comments.

“There were times when I felt like I was wading around in the muck, but I wanted to understand what people were saying,” he said. Again and again, he found, civil comments led to civil conversations — and not necessarily those where people agreed. “When people start getting mean or rude, people start closing their minds,” he said. “So simply by extension of that a civil conversation is one where people remain open to ideas.”

Santana said he doesn’t leave online comments as a matter of policy, but that “there were times that I would bristle at some of these comments.” I asked him whether he thought comments add value to online stories.

“I think perhaps if you do away with anonymity the quality begins to rise, and it can be useful,” he said. Comments provide “a small snapshot, perhaps not an ideal one, into the consciousness of a community. I think there could be value if they’re done right.”

Related: How the Huffington Post handles 70+ million comments a year | Anonymous comments can be ‘a frothing, bubbling cauldron of insanity’ | Anonymous comments not the problem, ignoring the conversation is

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  • Edward Ericson Jr

    On the Baltimore Sun’s site, until recently at least, the racist jackasses ran in pseudonymous packs. They dominated, poisoned and destroyed any chance of civil discussion. The Sun made them register and log in and the improvement was immediate and dramatic: now, mere ignorance and stupidity reign.

  • ajay

    huffington want to keep them clean and they delete all unwanted and unrelated posts which I think is good wayWebsite Development Company in Delhi

  • scribble73

    This is good research, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

    Other research shows that the first, second and third comments under a typical article can shape the entire discussion that subsequently takes place. Huffpo consistently lets robot troll comments post first in an article thread, where these comments are often contrary and personal. HuffPo might do this to elicit interest in the article — but those troll comments will also shape the subsequent article comment discussions as well, and not in a good way. Level of discussion will be lowered and trolls will usually outnumber worthwhile on-topic comments.

    HuffPo has two other reasons to ratchet down on their commenters. First; it is hard to believe that the NSA isn’t interested in patrolling their website, and posting real names is a great way for a disinterested Managing Editor to keep the NSA off his back. Second; marketing. a validated HuffPo mailing list complete with good email addresses is somewhere between “gold” and “priceless.” I would like to see Poynter.org write a significant story, here: It’s just good journalism.

    It is obvious to any repeat comment poster, that HuffPo moderators don’t know how to manage comment sections assigned to them. Research going back ten years shows that the less moderation, the better: Discussion group moderators who arbitrarily ban posters or delete posts will discourage thoughtful commenters from returning to post again, and the best commentors on a discussion board tend to leave first. The biggest killer of community discussion groups, is not trolls or spam — it’s over moderation.

    If HuffPo really does have a troll problem (and I don’t think they do), then they should chase down the people and groups who use those robot comment programs and write a short series of articles on the political interest groups that are dispatching them. Everyone will benefit from knowing who is systematically posting troll comments to HuffPo.

  • SomePseudonymIJustMadeUp

    I’d like to leave an anonymous comment on this item.