Quora: Does it make sense for media companies to disallow comments on articles?

 In Online Safety

It’s not hard to understand why more and more media companies are inclined to turn off comments. If you’ve spent any time reading the comments section on many websites, you’re bound to run into hate speech, vitriol, and abuse. It can be overwhelming and highly unpleasant. But the thing is, even though it feels like they’re everywhere, hate speech, vitriol, and abuse are only present in a tiny percentage of comments. Do the math, and you find that thoughtful, reasonable comments are the norm. Unfortunately, toxic voices almost always drown out healthy voices.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The path of least resistance is tempting. It’s easy to turn off comments — it’s a quick fix, and it always works. But there is a hidden cost. When companies remove comments, they send a powerful message to their best users: Your voice doesn’t matter. After all, users who post comments are engaged, they’re interested, and they’re active. If they feel compelled to leave a comment, they will probably also feel compelled to return, read more articles, and leave more comments. Shouldn’t media companies cater to those users, instead of the minority?

Traditionally, most companies approach comment moderation in one of two ways, both of which are ineffective and inefficient:

  • Pre-moderation. Costly and time-consuming, pre-moderating everything requires a large team of moderators. As companies scale up, it can become impossible to review every comment before it’s posted.
  • Crowdsourcing. A band-aid solution that doesn’t address the bigger problem. When companies depend on users to report the worst content, they force their best users to become de facto moderators. Engaged and enthusiastic users shouldn’t have to see hate speech and harassment. They should be protected from it.

I’ve written before about techniques to help build a community of users who give high-quality comments. The most important technique? Proactive moderation.

My company Two Hat Security has been training and tuning AI since 2012 using multiple unique data sets, including comments sections, online games, and social networks. In our experience, proactive moderation uses a blend of AI-powered automation, human review, real-time user feedback, and crowdsourcing.

It’s a balancing act that combines what computers do best (finding harmful content and taking action on users in real-time) and what humans do best (reviewing and reporting complex content). Skim the dangerous content — things like hate speech, harassment, and rape threats — off the top using a finely-tuned filter that identifies and removes it in real-time. That way no one has to see the worst comments. You can even customize the system to warn users when they’re about to post dangerous content. Then, your (much smaller and more efficient) team of moderators can review reported comments, and even monitor comments as they’re posted for anything objectionable that slips through the cracks.

Comments section don’t have to be the darkest places on the internet. Media companies have a choice — they can continue to let the angriest, loudest, and most hateful voices drown out the majority, or they can give their best users a platform for discussion and debate.

Originally published on Quora

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