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Comment is free, but moderators pay

Last year, an investigative report by The Verge had revealed the trauma faced by Facebook’s content moderators. These are the people who weed out the profanity and graphic images that are posted on the platform before it reaches your phones. The report said that having to deal with the bile that humanity has to offer when given a platform to vent left many of them depressed.

We have a similar group at The Hindu — our online comment moderators. The Hindu’s website gives its readers the option to submit comments on stories as long as they follow a small set of conditions. Along with appeals to stick to English and its basic rules, the list of conditions says that personal attacks, abuse, and incendiary comments will not be published. Our commenters seem to be taking an effort only on the English part. Over a thousand of their contributions land in front of our moderators, ranging from the good to the bad to the downright filthy.

Of course, we do have the meritorious ones whose takes on news and comment articles enrich the comment space. We would like to thank them for the many instances when their well-constructed thoughts and paragraphs pulled our moderators out of sinkholes of cynicism.

There are others who see commenting as a competitive sport. They leave their mark on every story they read in the form of a remark. Often, I have felt an urge to save the world from the inanities that some of them spew, by hitting delete. However, inanity is the least of our concerns.

Some of the drivel that turns up in front of our moderators is very far from the poised prose of the ‘Letters to the Editor’ that make it to print. While some express their disgust in thankfully short bursts, there are others who are painfully verbose.

The commenting platform that we use has a strong profanity filter. However, creativity on this front is often a step ahead of the technology. The loyalties of the writers or the newspaper as a whole are called into question in terms that make the skin crawl.

Then there are those who couch their attacks in language that often leaves you wondering whether you have just been complimented. People also often react quite adversely to their comments being rejected, with our moderators often receiving colourfully worded instructions on how to do their job.

The toughest task for the moderator is deciding whether a comment has crossed the thin line between genuine criticism and personal attack. While it is glaringly obvious in most cases, some are tougher to call out. The moderator has to decide whether a commenter is criticising a writer’s understanding of the subject or attacking her personally — the former is acceptable, while the latter is not.

Comment moderation definitely has a subjective element to it. A moderator might at times clear a comment that is similar to one that did not pass muster with him or her earlier. At one point, we thought of handing over the task to an Artificial Intelligence platform that is trained in our rules and methods. However, these algorithms are yet to earn the level of trust we have in our own moderators.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 5:06:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-is-free-but-moderators-pay/article33242971.ece

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