World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Online comment moderation: emerging best practices

Online comment moderation: emerging best practices


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(Note: This report is free of charge for WAN-IFRA members and non-members alike. Please click here to download the report.)

In many parts of the globe, online comments have become an essential ingredient of a thriving news publication: readers feel that they have a right to make their contribution in an online environment that is becoming increasingly more dialogue-based than one-way broadcasting. The ability to comment on news articles or in discussion forums offers readers the chance to indulge in debate on hot topics hosted by their favourite news organisations with other readers from all over the world.

For news organisations, online comments can be an extremely valuable resource. They provide additional detail and insight to articles from informed readers who are passionate about the subject, offer a wide range of supplementary opinions and give newsrooms a window into how their readers see both their journalism and the world around them. Their feedback and perspectives can also broaden the publication’s coverage from their vantage point, inspire new stories and provide possible sources or ways to address an issue.

But it’s not all a happy tale of considerate readers offering wisdom and useful information during a democratic debate on the top issues of the day. It is impossible to limit commenting to those who do have something constructive to say and discussions frequently descend into torrents of insults that are utterly irrelevant to the original article. Maybe it’s the fact that anonymity and distance often allow consequence-free behaviour and a chance to defy social norms, or maybe it’s a factor of the structure of online conversations, but comment threads on websites can frequently shock due to abusive, uninformed, not to mention badly-written contributions.

How to moderate these comment threads is a significant challenge for news organisations as they seek to strike a balance between providing a place for free expression and robust debate while ensuring a civil and constructive dialogue, and ideally finding value from reader input. As Mathew Ingram, senior writer with GigaOm, said in a recent article, “Comments from readers are probably one of the thorniest problems for online publishers of all kinds… and the methods for dealing with them are all over the map.”

The issue is further complicated by the fact that news organisations are seeing input from their readers not just on their own sites but on social network pages also. The social networks themselves are being forced time and time again to rethink their own policies for dealing with problematic user content and question whether they are publishers or platforms.

We spoke to online editors and community managers at 104 news organisations from 63 countries across the globe, plus a selection of experts from the corporate and academic worlds to identify key trends, opportunities and best practices.

The report is free of charge for WAN-IFRA members and non-members alike. Please click here to download the report.

WPT/WEF Trends Report
Emma Goodman, Federica Cherubini, Alexandra Waldhorn
Cooperating Institutes:
Media Program of the Open Society Foundations



Anton Jolkovski's picture

Anton Jolkovski


2013-10-04 14:24

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