white noise


News and views from inside the media bubble


Ideally the comments section of an online story or post is a place for free speech and to engage in intelligent, on-topic discourse. But oftentimes the discussion quickly veers into offensive and unsavory territory. Now, according to a recent report on NPR, many sites — especially newspapers — are taking a more active role in policing what is said and by whom in response to their content.

The blogging syndicate Gawker Media stepped to the forefront of this effort in 2009 when they introduced their “star” system. In short, on the 10 blogs under the Gawker Media umbrella — ranging in content from news, to gossip, to sports, to video games, to cars, to porn — regular commenters recognized and approved by the editors as being insightful or witty are pushed to the top of the heap. Starred commenters are the only ones whose words appear below a story upon first visit. Un-starred comments are still viewable, but only after clicking through a “show all discussions” link. Un-starred commenters can achieve stardom only through the endorsement of an editor, though starred commenters can promote individual comments by an un-starred user in order to make them stand out from the rest of the drivel.

Figures released recently by Gawker and published by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab show that this hierarchical commenting system initially steered comments down as certain users were banned and others were scared off by the increased scrutiny, but a year later commenting has risen drastically across all Gawker blogs. One reason may be that users now have an incentive to be witty and clever in each post and, now that comments are more scrutinized by editors and readers alike, they don’t feel as inclined to waste words on half-assed comments.