Trends in comment moderation and a set of rules for any online community
A new Median Research Centre – MRC report presents trends in comment moderation on 69 websites from Europe and the United States, and the way in which the “commenting rules” or “community rules” in the “Less Hate, More Speech” project were developed for GSP.ro and Tolo.ro (later also employed on Blogsport.ro and paginademedia.ro).
In the development of these rules, we started from basic principles that would discourage verbal aggressiveness and intolerance of any kind and encourage discussion, arguments and a diversity of opinions. We made use of good practices observed at other publications and our moderation experience as part of the project.
Here are the main trends observed in our (unrepresentative) sample of 69 websites (26 from Romania), in five countries (France, Hungary, the United Kingdom, the United States and Romania):
- Websites prefer user authentication: most of the online publications and platforms we analysed (77%) require commenters to either login through a social network, or create an account, a process that involves email verification. Yet in Romania, half of the websites allow posting comments without imposing such conditions.
- Community rules can be found on most websites: most publications that host comments also post rules about what is allowed and what is not. This practice is less frequent in Romania, where 38% of the websites we looked at had comment sections but no rules governing them. Approximately 40% of the websites we analysed stipulate that they moderate comments; in the case of Romania the share is 19%.
- Prohibitions in the rules, different in Romania vs. the other countries: most Romanian or foreign websites that have rules have prohibitions against discourse that incites to hatred or discrimination (85%) and vulgar language or images (79%). The rules of Romanian websites tend to be somewhat briefer and more preoccupied with problems like spam, trolling or vulgarity than issues like discrimination, insults or personal attacks.
Other notable trends:
- Most websites prefer pre-moderation: 41% do pre-moderation only (meaning they check some or all comments before publication); 35% only practice post-moderation (checking after publication); and 24% practice a combination of the two;
- Users with a good history on the website are privileged: 17% of publications go beyond punishing abusive content and highlight certain comments or designate certain super-users, whose contributions are either highlighted or are subject to a different moderation regime than those of the other users;
- The quality of comments matters: 52% of websites allow recommending comments and ordering them by popularity.
Our research shows that although there are technical and legal limitations that any publisher faces, there is sufficient room for every outlet to decide what the comment section must look like and where to draw the line in terms of unacceptable user behavior. The terms, conditions and practices developed in the “Less Hate, More Speech” project are neither among the most permissive nor among the most draconic. They strike the appropriate balance for the project and the publisher and resulted in some of the most detailed and clear guidelines for commenters that can be found online, in particular in the Romanian landscape.
Less Hate, More Speech – Youngsters Get Involved!
The project is run by Median Research Centre (MRC) in partnership with Educ Association and targets young people between 12 and 17 years old, in order to help them better identify and react to online and offline hate speech.
More, on the project’s website.