Other people have the same scars. Tim Burrowes, content director at Mumbrella
, a site about Australia’s media and marketing sector, wrote an interesting blow-by-blow account earlier this year
about its response to being beset by drive-by users. It’s worth a read in its entirety but it amounts to this:
As we began to enforce our own guidelines more rigorously and visibly, our readers began to notice. The trolls moved away, and the quality of the comments began to improve.
I was very interested, then, when UK newspaper The Telegraph
that it was changing the way that commenting worked on its site.
Now, only paying subscribers are able to write comments (before it was users that registered with an email address too) while a new set of community guidelines
sets out the ’timely, constructive and respectful’ comments that the Telegraph community team expect from its readers. A new team of moderators will also play a more hands-on role in the shaping of daily conversations.
I reached out to Beth Ashton
, head of audience and subscriptions at The Telegraph
, and Hajra Rahim
, senior community editor, to ask them more about why they made the changes and how they think it will affect their work. Below is Hajra’s edited response to a few questions I sent over.
Q: What challenges did you face with the Telegraph community to make you want to change who could comment?
What you might usually see in comments sections - trolling, abuse of other users, general off-topic conversations - but also just a generally negative tone in a lot of comments sections across the site. There were also daily calls from regular commenters asking people to stay on topic and not to enter into arguments or abuse others.
This, in turn, made it the type of environment our journalists were less willing to enter. This is a big hindrance to creating a proper sense of community because we really want our writers to be a part of it.
Q: You mentioned a ‘friendly new moderation team — who are they and what will their role be?
We have a team of three moderators (I won’t name them!) and their role will first and foremost be to moderate comments flagged by our users. But importantly they will be taking an active role in the comments section. They will go into the comments section to thank readers for leaving good comments, get involved in the discussion themselves and generally try and steer debate so that it remains on-topic and respectful.
They will also help the Community team to identify topic areas that get our readers talking and suggest areas where we might be able to develop further conversation with that audience. That could be through an onsite Q&A, or getting an expert or journalist into the comments section.
Q: What tools are used to maintain a healthy debate on the site? (software as well as filtering or any other tips + tricks)
At the moment it is mostly us doing it manually as well as using our moderating software that shows us flagged comments, users etc. By manually, I mean we add calls to action to our stories where we ask readers a question based on the piece and tell them to tell us their answer or what they think in the comments section of that piece.
This, for the most part, does tend to steer the debate in the right direction.
Q: What is your biggest frustration about Telegraph commenters?
Some of them can often view commenting as a right, not a gift. They can often be a little troll-like on articles about fashion or beauty when some people are genuinely there to leave a nice comment and it’s frustrating because those same commenters leave great comments on other articles.
What I will say is that for the most part, these people are few and far between, our most loyal commenters are very quick to call these types of commenters out or flag them because they are genuinely there to have discussions about what they are reading.
Q: One thing I always struggled with at The Times was abuse directed at journalists. What’s the worst example you’ve come across and how did you resolve it?
Some commenters truly can’t handle a woman having her say on any issue that reflects badly on men or anything relating to mental health. They often leave comments calling these women “snowflakes” and that their opinions count for less or can’t be true because they are women.
To resolve these issues we have a few approaches. For outright abuse at our journalists, it is a ban on the spot. We will also send out warning emails to commenters who are perhaps being trolls but not necessarily abusive. This makes them aware that we are watching their behaviour and that if we see it again we will administer a ban on their account. Most of the time this is well received.
Lastly, and most recently we have been adding calls to action to stories that might normally attract negativity and keep comments sections open on them for a fixed amount of time while keeping a close eye. This allows our commenters to start and maintain a civil debate, but the first sign of nonsense and we will turn them off. Again, feeding into that idea that our comment sections are a gift not a right and if you want to comment on those topics you might usually disagree with, you have to do so in a way that is in line with our guidelines.
It has been a mixed bag so far but we hope that with more consistency this will be an approach that works well for us moving forward.
Thanks for Hajra for taking the time to answer questions. Who else would you like to hear from? Let me know.