April 13, 2016 Last Updated 10:00 am

The Guardian researches its own comment threads, finds female authors more likely to encounter comment abuse

Yesterday, the legal website ‘Above the Law’ announced it would be shutting down comment threads, a growing trend as publishers find the rate of abusive comments is rising

With the news yesterday that yet another website had decided to shut off its comment threads (see TNM story here on Above the Law‘s decision), it might be good to refer TNM readers to the excellent research piece published by The Guardian on their own comment threads.

The Guardian newspaper websiteLooking at all comments on the site since 2006, the newspaper said that they have blocked about 2 percent of all comments, from the over 70 million received. That’s seems like a fairly light touch, but it means that 1.4 million comments have been blocked – and taking the Guardian’s own online comment moderation tests shows why so many comments were blocked. Any hint of racism or sexism appears to be enough to get a comment blocked on the Guardian’s website, unlike a site like that of The Washington Post, which one wonders what it would take to be blocked for an abusive comment.

The Guardian keeps comments open for only three days after a story has appeared. For a site with a wealth of content, this is typical. Blogs and news sites with far less content flowing through the CMS generally leave comment threads open for seven to ten days.

“Comments are deleted for one of two reasons: they are either replies to blocked comments or they are spam,” Mahana Mansfield of The Guardian said. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the comments blocked came from spam. Here at TNM I would estimate that it is 95 percent.

On what it calls the “dark side” of the comments it has received, the paper found that of the 10 most abused writers eight are women, and the two men are black.

The Guardian then conducted interviews with those writers to ask what the effect on them is from abusive comments.

“Even if I tell myself that somebody calling me a nigger or a faggot doesn’t mean anything, it has a toll on me: it has an emotional effect, it takes a physical toll. And over time it builds up,” said Steven Thrasher, writer-at-large for Guardian US.

The Guardian’s piece is wonderfully organized and designed. But while the article invites readers to send it feedback through an online form, it is not allowing comments on the article itself.

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