For 10 Years, I Read the Comments

A series of concentric speech bubbles overlaid with a text box that says "Enter your comment here"

Excerpt from this article:

When I first started posting these photo stories, I was aware of the possible downsides of allowing comments. But I was always hopeful that readers would have interesting responses. I wanted the ability to prevent ugly comments from ever appearing, and the only reliable way to do that was using a method called pre-moderation, where all incoming comments are held in a hidden queue to await approval. What that really meant was that somebody (me) would have to read and approve every single comment before it showed up on the page—and delete the bad ones, so that they were never seen by everyone else. This seemed like a good plan to me at the time. I thought maybe I would be checking incoming comments once a day.

I had no idea what hell I was getting myself into.

The relentless grind had a psychological and emotional toll. While moderation was generally a quiet place, letting comments sit in the queue too long would make readers furious. Constantly making judgment calls on other people’s utterances, sometimes by the dozens in stressful circumstances with uncertain boundaries, is draining. My stomach always twisted in a knot of anticipation when I knew a subject I’d just posted might be even slightly controversial. (And I’ve learned that almost anything can become controversial.)

It was never enjoyable to approve comments that I might disagree with, or that attacked me or a photographer directly. But if the comments weren’t abusive or racist, I would generally let them through. My estimate is that between 90 to 95 percent of the comments made it. That remaining 5 to 10 percent, though—I’m glad that I made the effort to never let them show up on any of my stories, even for a second.

Advertisements

What online comments can reveal about the person behind the keyboard

Excerpt from this article:

By finding patterns in the messages – such as readability, frequency of swearing and tendency to veer off topic – Cheng thinks there are clues to “who’s behind this bad behaviour.” And Cheng, whose fellowship is sponsored by Microsoft, isn’t the only one who believes our personalities, mental states, and even physical health are reflected in the language we use online.

It turns out, the comments we make online reveal a lot about us. Researchers are now analyzing online comments for a wide array of predictive patterns and signals, using Internet discussions and social media as sources of constant, easy-to-access information about what’s going on in people’s lives.

Their efforts may eventually allow health professionals to monitor patients’ well-being based on their Twitter streams and Facebook entries. Controversially, employers or insurance companies could one day screen job applicants and potential clients based on their social media status updates.

The 20 Unhappiest People You Meet In The Comments Sections Of Year-End Lists

A woman making a disgusted face.

Excerpt from this article, which is a few years old, but hey, a lot of it is still totally true (and funny):

1. The Poisoned. “The fact that you included Adele on this list of 100 things you like makes it a total joke.”

2. The Really Pretty Sure Person, Who Is Really Pretty Sure. “I’ve never seen Game Of Thrones, but I’m really pretty sure it’s not as good as Boardwalk Empire.”

3. The Person Who Is Exactly Right. “It really seems like this list of things you thought were good is just your opinion.”

4. The Surprisingly Lucid Narcoleptic. “ZZZZZZZZZ” is the classic. “SNORE” and “YAWN” are acceptable variants.

The dark side of Guardian comments

Excerpt from this article:

How should digital news organisations respond to this? Some say it is simple – “Don’t read the comments” or, better still, switch them off altogether. And many have done just that, disabling their comment threads for good because they became too taxing to bother with.

But in so many cases journalism is enriched by responses from its readers. So why disable all comments when only a small minority is a problem?

At the Guardian, we felt it was high time to examine the problem rather than turn away.

We decided to treat the 70m comments that have been left on the Guardian – and in particular the comments that have been blocked by our moderators – as a huge data set to be explored rather than a problem to be brushed under the carpet.

This is what we discovered.

Play nice! How the internet is trying to design out toxic behaviour

Love and unicorns … can software make us nicer people?

Excerpt from this article:

The idea of a “nicer” net sounds a bit twee, guaranteed to enrage libertarians who fear the creation of bland, beige safe spaces where free speech goes to die. But it’s an idea with some big guns behind it, and what they are advocating isn’t censorship, but smarter design. This month at the Sundance film festival, the web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee called on platforms to start building “systems that tend to produce constructive criticism and harmony, as opposed to negativity and bullying”.

…For idealists such as Berners-Lee, the fact that the net has become an exhausting place to spend time is an affront to its founding values. Technology was supposed to make the world a better place, not a bitchier one. And for the big corporate players – Twitter, Instagram, online publishers and other businesses reliant on us spending more and more time online – it’s a genuine commercial threat. Few users and fewer advertisers enjoy hanging out in a room full of furious people spoiling for a fight.

“If Facebook wasn’t a safe place and people didn’t feel they could have a conversation that’s civil and respectful, why would anyone want to advertise in that place?” says Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK, Middle East and Europe. “The two things go together. It’s an important part of the business model.”

This is where Civil Comments, the startup Bogdanoff founded with Christa Mrgan, comes in.

The idea is simple (although the software is so complex it took a year to build): before posting a comment in a forum or below an article, users must rate two randomly selected comments from others for quality of argument and civility (defined as an absence of personal attacks or abuse). Ratings are crunched to build up a picture of what users of any given site will tolerate, which is then useful for flagging potentially offensive material.

 

“Status Update” Episode on This American Life Podcast

This American Life

The latest episode of the always excellent This American Life podcast opens with a story about young girls interacting with Instagram. Here is part 1 and here is part 2, worth a good listen.

Three teenage girls explain why they are constantly telling their friends they are beautiful on Instagram… [before] describing the complex social map that is constantly changing in their phones.

 

OMG! The Hyperbole of Internet-Speak

OMG literally dying, illustration by Tiffany Ford

Excerpt from this article:

“It’s almost like ‘dying’ has become a filler for anytime anyone says anything remotely entertaining,” she said. “Like, if what you’re saying won’t legitimately put me to sleep, I respond with, ‘OMG dying.’”

R.I.P. to the understatement. Welcome to death by Internet hyperbole, the latest example of the overly dramatic, forcibly emotive, truncated, simplistic and frequently absurd ways chosen to express emotion in the Internet age (or sometimes feign it).

Other examples: THIS (for when a thing is so awesome you are at a loss for how to describe it); feeeeeels (for something that gives you multiple feelings); unreal!!!! (for when a thing is totally believable and only mildly amusing); yassssss (because “yes” will no longer do); -est (greatest, prettiest, cutest, funniest) EVER, which now applies to virtually all things; and “I can’t even,” for when something leaves you so emotive that you simply cannot even explain yourself.

There’s also a;lsdkjfa;lsdkgjs; meaning “I’m so excited/angry/speechless that all I can do is literally slam my hands/head/body against the keyboard” (thus producing a series of gibberish that usually involves the letters a, s, d and k).

“I use ‘I can’t even’ whenever I talk about babies or puppies, or sometimes couples, but not like couples our age, but older couples like my parents…”

“‘Literally dying’ has become, like, the new LOL,” she said, referring to the acronym for “laugh out loud,” which, of course, if you know literally anything about Internet speech, means precisely the opposite.