The art of comment moderation

Leslie Knope of <i>Parks and Recreation</i> re-imagined as Rosie the Riveter.

Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation re-imagined as Rosie the Riveter.

Publishing or rejecting comments on articles is an unusual job. It’s not unlike having your naked body alternatively dipped in to a warm bath of lavender scented water and a cage full of agitated, underfed street cats. It is crawling inside the minds of strangers and witnessing the kinds of dark thoughts you imagine they would never be brave enough to say out loud.

Each day as I inevitably moderate the comments “first world problems” and “this is s#*!” off a story, I like to  invoke the inspirational words of Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope. “These people are members of the community that care about where they live. So what I hear when I'm being yelled at is people caring very loudly at me.”

I, like Leslie, have a possibly misguided and unwavering faith in the goodness of people. It’s a style of earnestness that is necessary to wear like full body armour as you begin making hundreds of quick decisions as to what is and isn’t fit to be published. Some days people are caring so loudly at us that frankly, it’s deafening.

Daily Life is a women’s perspective site and very large one, we can reach over 100,000 individuals in a single day and moderate anywhere upwards of 100 comments in an hour. We look at news and popular culture from a women’s point of view and the vast majority of our contributors are female. Sadly we’ve come to realise that this is a perfect storm of attributes that make a certain kind commenter – generally male - feel very frustrated.


And we’re not alone in thinking that women-focused commentary creates a unique kind of rage. At our younger sister site, The Vine (also owned by Fairfax) Editor, Alyx Gorman observes, “when we post a female-centric story on our Facebook wall we will, without a doubt, get men commenting that it’s boring and irrelevant to them. When we post a male-centric story the opposite does not apply. Women don’t feel a need to assert themselves publicly in that same way.” 

While our site is published by Fairfax, who have their own comprehensive comment policy, in July we decided to add our own modified version to the bottom of every article. We wanted to have firm guidelines so that people understood why some kinds of commentary weren’t welcome in our community.  A strategy that the Press Council is supportive of.

Others? Not so much. Since we launched the policy I’ve had commenters who weren’t published find my phone number and call me directly, call for my resignation and contact the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (NB: he has bigger things to worry about).

I can appreciate the frustration of not having your voice heard but the internet is a vast place where everyone has the ability to be published. And on some forums sexism, aggression and racism aren’t welcome - Daily Life is one of them. 

You will never get to see some of the truly disturbing things people write on our stories – personal attacks on the way the author looks, their race or religion. To moderate comments some days, on sensitive stories about rape, abortion, sexual harassment and discrimination, is to see the very worst of humanity.

Sites in the US like Jezebel and Gawker have people audition to be commenters and only the best are given the right resulting in a comments section that’s as rich, carefully edited and fascinating as the piece itself.

The flipside – and there is a flipside (that warm lavender scented bath) – is the comments that make your heart soar. The clever, the witty, the direct – these commenters don’t, by any means, agree with the author but they always contribute something new and interesting to the conversation.

We have some truly intelligent, passionate and thoughtful commenters on this site. Red Pony, Ripley Hunting Aliens, Mas, Miss Patonga, Heisenberg, Elle and Lucid Fugue to name a few.  Sometimes I confess I have emailed them to let them know how much I appreciate the way they’ve made our community a more fair and interesting place to be.

As the year has passed one of the most rewarding things about the site’s growth has been seeing the number of these kinds of quality commenters swell and watching them question, challenge and drown out the angry male voices.

There are a lot of places in this country where women’s rights aren’t protected. I’m talking about homes where men are violent to their partners, workplaces where discrimination is entrenched and in the language we use to discuss our female Prime Minister. But this site won’t be one of those places.

And when I read the abusive comments that will inevitably be posted on this article I will chant again to myself the wise words of one Leslie Knope, “I am a goddess, a glorious female warrior. Queen of all that I survey. Enemies of fairness and equality hear my womanly roar!”