LONDON — British newspaper and global media giant The Guardian recently embarked on a massive public research project to analyze the comments on its articles and improve the way they are policed.
Kath Viner, the editor-in-chief of Guardian News & Media, said topics like Islam, refugees and immigration were regularly greeted with a torrent of hate speech and racism in the comments.
“To the extent that our lives are conducted online, this is the water in which we all swim: it’s horribly polluted and it’s making a lot of us sick,” she wrote. “I decided that I had a responsibility to try to do something about it.
Guardian staff studied 70 million comments and found that women and minority journalists writing on their site had come in for the most abuse in records dating back to 1999. Rules for comments were recently tightened, and Viner wondered whether they should be made even more proscriptive.
An anonymous reader saw The Guardian’s attempt to publicly challenge the comment culture, and set about working out exactly what comments really are deleted from the site.
“I wanted to see if people were posting personal attacks aimed at the journalists or if was more of a case of—intentionally click-bait articles naturally leading to provocative comments,” the reader told The Daily Beast.
They set up a site, which went live early Tuesday, which aims to scrape the deleted comments from The Guardian and reposts them on another page. The creator of this site said some comments were missed if the moderators deleted it particularly quickly.
“I want to know how the mods are interpreting the community guidelines. Particularly number 8 (Keep it relevant) as lots of innocent comments could be accused of derailing the thread,” the source said.
If the posts on the site are accurate—a Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: “In order to ensure that our community standards are upheld and conversations are kept respectful and constructive, we ask all commenters on our site to abide by our community standards and participation guidelines. Comments that are considered to contravene these will be looked into by our moderators and, if necessary, removed from the site.”—it seems most of those deleted by the moderators are fairly innocuous.
For example, this joke about the effectiveness of the Green Party was apparently culled from an article about climate change:
“So Margaret Thatcher must be a bit of an icon for the greens as she shut down more coal mines than these guys ever will.”
The moderators allegedly cleaned up this comment from an article about gay characters in Star Wars.
“When a filmmaker is pretty much forced and threatened to add gay characters to their film, it is no longer art.”
Amongst the small sample of apparently deleted comments seen by The Daily Beast were several personal attacks on fellow commenters and a small number of racist or inflammatory remarks.
There were also quite a few complaints about the way the Comment Is Free section is moderated.
“The Guardian made sure that every anti-Corbyn articles published by The Guardian was closed for comments. Interesting now, the seems to be a new policy of a right to selected free speech being put in place.”
In another comment that was seemingly deleted, one commenter below-the-line (BTL) on an article warns another that they are supposed to be nicer to the reporters since Viner’s intervention.
“You must have missed the series a few weeks back that warned BTL to stop being so nasty to the poor journalists. CiF is on the naughty step and if we don’t start to toe the line they’re going to take their comments section away because we can’t be trusted.”
Updated on 5/3/16 at 3pm EDT to add comment from The Guardian.