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Getting A Little Help With NPR Comments

Oct 12, 2010

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Reported by

Andy Carvin

For those of you who participate in the comment threads on NPR.org, you've probably noticed they've gotten a lot busier in recent months. We now have more than 350,000 people registered to participate in the community, with as many as 3,000 comments posted on any given day.

While the vast majority of these comments have been thoughtful and civil, we've also seen a sharp rise in human-powered spam, as well as a very small percentage of so-called trolls who've come to the site to wreak havoc in discussions. Spam has started to litter many discussion threads, especially overnight and on weekends, and unfortunately, the trolls' uncivil comments often succeed in provoking people to make uncivil comments of their own.

For much of the last year, we've made a concerted effort to keep up with the spammers and trolls, including assigning staff to review comments on weekends and increasing the number of interns assisting us. But as the community has grown, the spammers and trolls have grown with it, and we've reached a point that our staff is spending an enormous amount of time penalizing problem commenters rather than facilitating conversation and engaging the community.

Because of this, we've decided to ask for some help. We've now begun working with a group of professional moderators who are helping us monitor comment threads for spam and trolls. With their assistance, our news staff can now concentrate on doing what we've always intended - to use the comments for fostering intelligent dialog, finding potential sources, fleshing out story ideas and like.

For the vast majority of you, nothing will change on the site, though hopefully you'll experience fewer spam and trolls. The moderators we're working with, a Canadian-based company called ICUC Moderation Services, have been trained to understand NPR's commenting rules, so the same standards that applied before still apply now.

This moderation assistance will certainly help alleviate the problems we've been having, but it won't eliminate them entirely, as we're still allowing comments to be posted in real-time rather than pre-moderating them. Depending on how all of this plays out in the coming weeks, we hope to make a decision regarding pre-moderation. If we end up taking that course, we'll try to do it in such a way that regular commenters can quickly regain their full posting privileges - and thus not be pre-moderated - while newly registered users will be pre-moderated until it's clear that they're neither spammers nor trolls. Any such change, though, hasn't been 100% finalized yet, so we would appreciate your thoughts on the pros and cons of doing this.

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