Comments on the website can surpass 70,000 a day. Yes, there are trolls, but there is also humour, wisdom and their home communities worth fighting for, says a former moderator
A couple of years ago somebody sent me a link to a tweet. It told: Moderating remarks at the Guardian must be the worst task in the world. Anyone who has expended enough time below the line of articles on the Guardian website will understand the sentiment you will find rants, bile, insults and plenty of trolling.
You will also find genuine insight and brilliant jokes but, somehow, that is not what people take out. They notice the dark stuff, the words that draw blood. Someone telling you that you are wrong is always going to make a bigger impression than someone who agrees with you. Someone telling you that you are both incorrect and, to pick a random instance, an utter fuckwit will have even more impact.
For five years, it was my job. The worst task in the world, apparently. I read millions of comments and blocked tens of thousands. As a moderator, you develop a thorough understanding of how online conversation runs, how it can be wonderful and enriching and how, if managed severely, it can go very, very wrong.
Good moderation isnt about defining or controlling an agenda; it is about not letting anyonesagenda wrecking the conversation. Not letting an article about hats get ruined by someone who detests manner; stopping a heartfelt piece about feeding refugees in Calais being dominated by someone ranting about child abuse in Rotherham; and preventing one man with an axe to grind about the legalisation of cannabis wrecking a scientific conversation about cancer treatment.
Theres more to moderating than that, obviously there is weeding out legally dicey statements, spam and inappropriate speech, but that is straightforward by comparison. What is harder is understanding agendas and how they can wreck a conversation how a comment fell like a stone in a still pond can cause tiny ripplings that change a thread.
Trolling takes many forms. Some of it is actually brilliant, and if we are going to stop people winding one another up on forums, we may as well scrap this whole internet thing now: snark has its place, whether it is to raise a smirk, puncture the pompous, or tear down preconceptions. It is cathartic, it is useful, and often it is just funnies. Civility can only accomplish so much.
But there are limits. The anonymous free-for-all of the online world can be damaging. It is easy to misinterpret, to overplay your hand, or become desensitised to the real people behind the screen. You arrive to share ideas, but can end up dishonor someone elses. It is easy to hurt someone elses impressions and surprisingly hard to step away, as any journalist reading criticism of their article will tell you.
Ultimately, the biggest problems in comment threads come down to agenda trolls: the person or persons so convinced they are right that they ride into a conversation not to join it, but to rend it apart.
They are easy to spot: they are the users who will scream LIAR! when they mean, I think youre incorrect, the ones whose debates never quite seem to match the comment they are addressing, who resort to insults and TALK IN CAPITALS. You cant win against those people, since they are never truly believe they have lost.
They are comment-thread poison men rights activists who act as if articles about women issues are their genders single biggest problem, climate change deniers who will drag any conversation about energy policy into murky pseudo-science, and borderline racists for whom there is no issue that cannot be pinned on immigration( UK) or black people( US ). It is often known as whataboutery and is a tactic designed to hurl a conversation off course.
Agenda trolls rarely read an article to its conclusion, because the nuance is not important. To them, this is a battle for a worldview. Here is an example: in a discussion about the need for female voices in Hollywood, one reader commented that unarguable economic forces were behind the lack of women in the industry, stating that womens movies didnt truly make money, which is why Bridesmaids wasnt a commercial hit. Bridesmaids grossed $288m( 203 m) worldwide, and was nominated for two Oscars, two Baftas and two Golden Globes . A success by any measure. Our agenda troll( presumably male) apparently hadnt watched the film and hadnt paid attention to its success because he didnt am worried about it. He didnt know anyone else who had watched it either, so he assumed that nobody watched it. He took his perspective and used it to fill in the bits of the world he didnt know, like a sloppy kid with a colouring book and a limited tin of crayons. Preventing the kind of interventions from derailing a conversation is an important part of the moderators job.