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Updated: November 25, 2013 11:46 IST

Yes to criticism, no to vitriol

A.S. Panneerselvan
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A.S. Panneerselvan. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan
The Hindu A.S. Panneerselvan. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

I have been receiving mails often about the moderation policy for the comments posted on The Hindu portal.

Let me share excerpts from some of the mails we have received so far. Tamil writer Era Murugan wrote: “The Hindu’s comment moderation process is awful. You want to leverage technology for starting a meaningful discussion with the reader about your editorials or reports. However, when someone comments, it takes a minimum of 24 hours to moderate the comment received and publish it. By the time, the whole thing becomes stale. Appears they have made comment moderation as a part of some employee’s long list of job responsibilities — coming somewhere towards the bottom of the list.”

Another writer — I am paraphrasing the essence of his argument as I cannot reproduce his intemperate language here — felt that the very idea of moderation was akin to censorship and that it curbed readers’ freedom to share their honest opinion without being filtered through a process of selection that could not be free of preference or bias. In fact, it is an important idea for an engaging debate, but the particular reader lost out because of the vitriol and violence in his language.

One of the regular writers to the office of the Readers’ Editor, who had handled the news desk for decades before his retirement, wrote a few weeks ago: “Yesterday I posted a Comment (giving my full name and this email ID) but it did not show up at all. I had seen the acknowledgement that it was received and was waiting for moderation. From my school days I am used to many letters of mine not being published in the papers (just as many were published — the first one was in The Statesman of Calcutta when I had not completed my SSLC) but knowing the volume of mails received and the space available I have never questioned the Editors for not using my letters. Later, in Indian Express, I have been on the Edit desk handling Letters — when I had to make the selection myself. However I am unable to understand this non-appearance of perfectly well written and absolutely inoffensive comments in the online edition where we see all kinds of messages — good, bad and indifferent. Maybe there is what is called a technical glitch! You can never tell! I really don't know how things are operating. But I have decided not to waste any more time in writing online comments.”

Policy on comment moderation

Last April in a two-part column, The possibility of coexistence, I had touched upon some of the principles governing the digital platform and the moderation policy. First let me assure all readers of this newspaper — print or digital editions — that your views are important and there is no desire to shut them out. It is fair and legitimate on the part of readers to expect their comments that are free from malice and abuse to see them up in cyberspace at the earliest.

The Hindu’s webpage opens up nearly 2,500 items a day for readers to comment and respond. The Internet editor explained some of the challenges she and her team face: “Comments moderation is exhausting and continuous — we are not able to clear all comments as fast as we would like to. We get close to 2,000 comments on a normal day. On a day of interesting developments and controversies, the numbers go up significantly leading to a backlog. We have recently been able to highlight comments which are interesting, add new information, etc.” She and her team follow a credible policy: yes to criticism and no to vitriol and personal abuse.

“As the guidelines state, abusive comments, hate speech, personal attacks will not be published. Nor comments under anonymous/generic names such as ‘concerned Indian’ will find a place. We do not take sides and work to ensure that both sides of a debate are heard. All comments are read through completely for hate speech, bias and then published,” she observed.

Towards a robust, quick process

Legacy media all over the world face this question of how to promote a robust and civil online conversation. There is near unanimity that moderation is an essential tool, and not moderating may introduce toxic elements into public discourse. Some major publications have evolved a moderation process that is both responsible and quick.

For instance, The Guardian of the United Kingdom has much more detailed and stringent guidelines for its community of online respondents. Its moderation policy “is a collaborative document, created by representatives of GNM (Guardian News & Media) editorial including the Head of Communities, moderators and editors, together with the Readers’ Editor and incorporating feedback from users and content creators across the site.” As the ground rules are clear for both the comment writers and the moderators, the response time is minimal. This encourages a lively participation.

I propose to initiate a similar dialogue between the readers, editors and moderators of The Hindu to make the process of the exchange of ideas and debate lively, interesting, engaging and free from abuse. I request readers to write in with their suggestions and ideas to make this endeavour mutually beneficial.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

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I fully agree with comments of moderator. I appreciate their efforts and hard work. Long live reader and editor interface of THE HINDU, ultimately to enrich each other . That should ultimately result in improving the quality of lives of Billion and plus.

from:  AEAVEETI RAMAYOGAIAH
Posted on: Nov 26, 2013 at 18:46 IST

@Murali, Nitish Anand
Your suggestions on automatic filters are to the point and we do
have filters for obscenities etc and also keep adding to the list
which does act as a first line of defence. BUT you would be
surprised at how well-written hate speech can be! And venom is
directed at all published reports not just opinion or analytical
pieces.
The comments space is open to debate but we find that abuse seems to
come far easier than a reasoned, logical rebuttal. The anonymity of
cyberspace also seems to bring forth the worst in people rather like
TV discussions where a differing opinion is an open invitation for
abuse.
Despite the seduction of technological fixes, there is no
alternative to reading and then publishing each of the more than
2000 comments we receive on an average every day. It is a mentally
exhausting business, handled by seniors in rotation.
If everybody followed the rules, we wouldn't need traffic cops.

from:  Moderator
Posted on: Nov 26, 2013 at 15:47 IST

I am 63.MBBS, DCH are my educational qualifications. Recently only, I learnt some tech skills. All these years I missed a lot.I am sending comments since about one month.I am thoroughly satisfied with moderation protocols.I don't know whether a separate team exist exclusively to do this job at THE HINDU.With an exclusive
team definitely the quality improves further. I really don't know much about quality of debates in cyberspace.If there is a good quality there should be comments on comments.I hardly found such. In India, still the debates in print are more relevant.I never saw persons sharing debates on cyberspace when they meet as persons, but it is otherwise in matters related to print. I fully endorse with the Readers' Editor that moderation of comments is really exhausting.

from:  ARAVEETI RAMAYOGAIAH
Posted on: Nov 26, 2013 at 13:27 IST

Pre-moderation or post-moderation depends on the moderation policy of a
particular news organization. Pre-moderation process conducive to
civic and robust discussion free from hate speech, trolling and
offensive language.But, it causes a delay in the real-time conversation
among readers and editors. One way out of this problem may be adopting
a mixed approach. The most trusted commenters can be included into a
club whose comments can directly go for publication. Those who are
coming for the first time cab be pre-moderated. It may depend on the
issue also. Comments on the controversial topics may be routed to pre-
moderation.

Recently, a study has been done one the 'Online comment moderation:
Emerging best Practices' by World Association of Newspaper and News
Publishers(WAN-IFRA). This study is useful for readers, editors,
moderators and policy-makers of news organizations.

from:  Anoop Kumar
Posted on: Nov 26, 2013 at 11:18 IST

I am fully agree with the aricle as no one has the right to hurt someone or to use uncivilised language in public. Moderation is a essential part of responsible journalism and editing.

from:  nurool haque
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 20:15 IST

At NewYorkTimes website I had seen that comments are separated out in different Tabs in the start of comments section. The Tab labelled "NYT Picks" was the one which opened by default.

The other Tabs are "Readers Pick" and "All".

Seemed to be a nice policy to adopt to satisfy both the worlds, looking at the constraints on manpower allocation by Hindu to the 'free-online' viewers such as myself, and writers wishing to be heard and seen without the cost of their own blogs sites and related propaganda.

from:  sameer bahadur
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 19:20 IST

We can automate this comment process by filtering abusive words. A list
of abusive words can be made and a tool can be used to filter those
comments which contains these abusive words. Only then the comments
should be directed towards the moderator for further thought on it. This
will reduce the number of comments to be moderated.

And there should be an auto replied mail to the senders of filtered
comments.

from:  Nishith Anand
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 17:10 IST

The Hindu should have on its pay roll more number of experienced journalists to process and approve the letters / comments on each story for publishing in the internet edition . The more letters / comments on any day means more staff to be engaged .
Otherwise , the issue can never be sorted out .

from:  Vijay S.R
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 13:57 IST

I too belong to the "small" fraction of readers whose comments get
lost in the cloud of moderation.
I have been visiting certain news sites, and understand pretty well
that there are a lot of comments that deserve the dust bin.
However, moderating comments is not exactly rocket science. In fact, a
lot of comments can be culled at the point of submission.
An easy step to get things done:
a) cull comments with words that don't belong to Indian-english dictionary.You can mention the word as reason for disallowing.
b) have a list of words that will be blindly culled. eg: the eff word.
You can mention the word as reason for disallowing.
c) Use semantic analyzers. There is sufficient research already done
in Natural Language Processing.
d) redesign the pipeline of moderators. Comments indicating typographical errors, factual errors in one stack; comments to authors in another stack; and comments regarding the topic of discussion, like this comment, in another stack.

from:  Murali
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 13:40 IST

The one concern in an otherwise commendable approach is the stated
intolerance to bias("All comments are read through completely for hate
speech, bias and then published,”). For an individual, bias does lead
to neglect of alternate ideas which in the long run can be
detrimental. But, in a debate biased position often brings out the
heart of the problem. A neutral sentiment, on the other hand, can
brush important issues under the carpet in an attempt to not ruffle
feathers. While expletives must not be tolerated, bias shouldn't be a
criterion for censuring comments.

from:  Krishnan
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 13:33 IST

I totally agree with the arguments mentioned in support of moderation of comments in this article. We need to encourage a healthy conversation among people by focussing on the real and essential matters of concern for both society and an individual. Indulging in vitriol should be discouraged, so that we evolve as a society and learn to democratically handle matters that throw a perplexing situation before us. The Hindu has always maintained an honorable stand on soically important issues and has also responded in a very professional manners to all kinds of reports and incidents. Hence, its readers too must maintain the same, and not indulge in mere abusive way to vent out our frustrations. W can only solve matters by engaging public and forming consensus over concerned matters.

from:  Hither Kusum
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 09:45 IST

Your comments are well judged taking both the sides i.e. Readers and
Editors justified.

from:  Sahil Pandey
Posted on: Nov 25, 2013 at 02:59 IST
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