World Association of News Publishers

Just Published: Online Content Moderation, Emerging Best Practices

Just Published: Online Content Moderation, Emerging Best Practices


Encouraging readers to post online comments allows news media to connect with audiences, but the comments are too often uncivil, hateful, obscene or downright insulting. Moderating online conversations is an enormous task for news media. A new guide can help.

“Online comment moderation: emerging best practices” - researched and produced by the World Editors Forum with support from the Open Society Foundations - is a guide to promoting robust and civil online conversation.

The report, released on Wednesday during the World Publishing Expo in Berlin, Germany, is based on a survey of 104 news organisations from 63 countries, plus a selection of experts from corporate and academic worlds. It examines key trends, opportunities and best practices.

“The news organisations we spoke to could be broadly divided into two camps: those who embrace comments from users, and those who essentially see them as a necessary evil,” said Cherilyn Ireton, Executive Director of the World Editors Forum, the global organisation for chief editors and other senior newsroom personnel within the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

“Very few organisations – only seven in our sample – didn’t allow comments at all, but nearly all had resource issues,” she said. “Online comment moderation is a costly and time-consuming task. Yet many organisations see the practice as an essential element in fostering a real community around their publication. Comments can increase reader engagement, both in terms of time spent on site, and in terms of loyalty.”

The report, available free of charge, can be downloaded from the WAN-IFRA website at

Key findings include:

- There was a relatively even split between those who moderate before or after publication.

- Organisations are deleting an average of one in 10 comments, primarily because the content is offensive, contains hate speech or bad language, or because it is spam. The topics that attract the most comments are, predictably, politics, societal issues, religions, sports and opinion.

- Editors generally do not believe that moderating comments limits free speech. Most respondents believe there are an infinite number of places online for the public to express their points of view, and it is up to each publication to determine the kind of conversation it wants to host.

- There is a notable lack of awareness about legal issues around the posting of reader comments; who is responsible for what is being said where, and what exactly is illegal, and the best way to deal with this.

- Real name registration versus allowing anonymity is a divisive issue, with no consensus. Though anonymity encourages participation, real names lead to better quality conversations.

- Conversations are better and more civil when journalists participate. But some don’t believe it is appropriate for journalists to be involved in an area which belongs to the readers.

- The majority of publications don’t moderate their Facebook pages and other social networks as heavily as their own sites, because the networks are not their territory and because the real identify policies are seen to make the discussion less controversial.

- Some news organisations highlight the ‘best’ comments or most active commentators in some way, although many have some way to go in this area in terms of how useful they actually make these functions to readers.

“Online comment moderation: emerging best practices,” is published by the World Editors Forum with support from the Open Society Media Program and Open Society Justice Initiative. For more on the activities of the World Editors Forum, please visit For more on the Open Society Foundations, please visit

About 8,500 participants attended the World Publishing Expo, the largest trade fair for the newspaper and news publishing industry. More from the Expo can be found on the Expo blog at or on Twitter (#wpe13).

WAN-IFRA, based in Paris, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, with subsidiaries in Singapore and India, is the global organisation of the world’s newspapers and news publishers. It represents more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. Its core mission is to defend and promote press freedom, quality journalism and editorial integrity and the development of prosperous businesses.

Inquiries to: Larry Kilman, Deputy CEO and Director of Communications and Public Affairs, WAN-IFRA, 96 bis, rue Beaubourg, 75003 Paris France. Tel: +33 1 47 42 85 07. Fax: +33 1 42 78 92 33. Mobile: +33 6 10 28 97 36. E-mail:

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