A couple months ago I wrote about how tens of thousands of high quality websites such as the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Politico and the Huffington Post are diluting their brand by using content marketing services to serve links to sponsored content.

Aside from the poor quality of much of the linked content, the implementation of these services utterly blurs the lines between editorial and advertising. This post provoked quite a lot of comments, almost all of it in agreement.

But on many sites, the reader comments are another area of even lower quality, and often offensive, content.

YouTube is the worst. A Cheerios commercial with a mixed-race family provoked so many racist comments on YouTube that General Mills disabled the opportunity for people to comment on it.

The TED Talks channel does enable comments, some of which are thoughtful but others go like this (read from the bottom up):

Other YouTube comments are just spam:

On Politico, the comments on almost any article immediately veer off into absurd right versus left diatribes such as these:

And one more: this was a wildly off-topic comment to an article about whether the Wall Street Journal plagiarized an opinion piece on the safety of football:

And even with comments being moderated, the Houston Chronicle website still has ones like these (in response to a story about a white supremacist group that sells drugs to finance its operations):

Yawn. Where do these people get the time for this garbage? Of course, some Web commenters are paid, engaging in astrotufing, but they can’t all be.

Publishers more responsible than these are taking a number of steps to curb the screaming and create a realm of thoughtful, polite conversation. Huffington Post articles gets tens of millions of comments a year, and it employs automated screening and 40 human monitors.

Nonetheless, it’s about to also require people to use their real names for comments.

Requiring the use of real names has its pros and cons. Social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook work because the people are, for the most part, real and are identified by their real names. As a result, the conversation on them tends to be pretty civil.

But requiring the use of real names can inhibit valuable contributions in some cases. For example, if a person in a country with a totalitarian regime, or a gay person who lives in an area with anti-gay laws, want to comment, they might be more comfortable (and wiser) doing it anonymously.

Human moderators, while the most expensive solution, are also probably the best. The New York Times is an exception to the poisonous comments culture. It accomplishes it by moderating all comments before they are posted. And they’re up front about what their policy is:


Publishers who permit the disrespectful, spammy comments are known by the company they keep and are discouraging people looking for respectful, intelligent conversations. They are undermining their brands and, unless they want to attract that kind of moronic site visitor and, according to at least one study, they undermine understanding of the article itself.

Publishers should implement policies to stop that type of comment from being posted. It’s all part of the Internet’s (hopeful) evolution to a more respectful place to interact.