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Hate Sinks
February 6, 2014 1:16 PM   Subscribe

[W]e may not stop to think much about moderation as a form of labor that composes the Internet. But as the need to grant the audience “a voice” has become conventional wisdom, almost every media organization now needs this work done. [...] This complex tension—between voice and civility, eyeballs and deliberation—is one that future-of-news enthusiasts are good at waving away, but that comment moderators must bear. Within representative democracy, we can think of moderators’ bodies as being like that element of an electronic circuit that dissipates excess energy and allows it to function. They absorb the excess affects in a period of political dysfunction, and allow institutions to appear stable and unchallenged.
Jason Wilson argues that, in the comments section, "the facade of liberal democracy only stays clean by putting young women [moderators] in hate’s way."
posted by RogerB (18 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not sure I agree here. It's his "qualitative researches" that put women as the majority in comment moderation, and that is largely due (he continues) to high numbers graduating from journalism school and taking entry-level jobs at publications where comment moderation is part of one's duties.

Within representative democracy, we can think of moderators’ bodies as being like that element of an electronic circuit that dissipates excess energy and allows it to function. They absorb the excess affects in a period of political dysfunction, and allow institutions to appear stable and unchallenged. They maintain the semblance of civility after older infrastructures have fallen into disrepair. They suck up discursive heat so that political communications systems can keep flowing according to their archaic fantasies of civil, public discourse.

I have done my fair share of comment moderation at a couple major websites, and it seemed to me largely not an absorptive task. Shitty comments are easy to spot and usually easy to forget - it's delete, flag, or ban, and move on. These people are certainly reminded daily of the existence of hatred and invective, but they are not (in their capacity as moderators at least) the target of it. It's a bit depressing to have to skim through 200 comments telling immigrants to speak American or go home, but it's no more depressing than watching the news or reading about laws being passed in Arizona.

And I also think that characterizing posts on mainstream news sites (where a massive amount of the worst comments are) as "the facade of liberal democracy" is a reach, and that these places don't "stay clean" by eliminating bad comments. The comments of those opposed to the content above the fold don't dirty it by association.

It's clear that women are the target of much abuse on the Internet, and my friends have written how even the most ridiculous abuse via email and twitter eventually starts to get to you. It takes a lot of self-confidence and love to mentally survive ten thousand people calling you a fat, fag-loving cunt. But in this case I think that the author is extrapolating a numerical disparity he observed in the population of moderators into a culture of using women as hate-sucking shields for liberal ideals. They suck up a lot of hate and that's a problem that must be explored and addressed, but I don't think it's because of the reasons he describes.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:49 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Great. Now I have to read this to find out why Jason Wilson thinks all moderators are women.
posted by vicx at 2:18 PM on February 6


@BlackLeotardFront: I think the author is extrapolating a numerical disparity he observed in the population of moderators into a culture of using women ...

Agreed. I don't think the pattern is that specific. But moderation is exhausting to do for long, for anyone, and probably more so if the chief target of invective is your own situation or belief. While I was off work ill and didn't have much attention span, I did a bit of community moderation on Yahoo! Answers - I soon got enough trust rating for reports to drop any content - and soon found it depressing and frustrating work. It's hard to imagine the mindset of someone who has the will and energy to post hundreds of long diatribes about "libtards" or "contards", orquestions like "Is [fill in some politician's name] the stain on America's underpants?" hundreds of times. You eventually wish that pressing the report button would kill them. I've no doubt that's how professional moderators feel.
posted by raygirvan at 2:18 PM on February 6


I have done my fair share of comment moderation at a couple major websites, and it seemed to me largely not an absorptive task.

While different things affect people in different ways, I'm reminded of a post on Gawker from a couple of years ago that talked about Facebook's moderators. While some weren't bothered by the content, most of them seemed to feel pretty poorly about it. To quote the article:

""Think like that there is a sewer channel," one moderator explained during a recent Skype chat, "and all of the mess/dirt/ waste/shit of the world flow towards you and you have to clean it.""

I'm not sure about a few of the points in this article, mostly about the role of civil discourse, but I can totally see how having to moderate horrible stuff for 40 hours a week would start to grind many people down.
posted by jess at 2:38 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I think the obvious solution to this is to turn off comments.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:46 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Don't Read The Comments.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:58 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


online moderation can be thought of as affective labor and it is unsurprising that a feminist thory of immaterial labor includes it (as emotional labor) in the pink collar ghetto.

thanks for this post.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:11 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Not sure I grok this as a gender issue. In my experience, the gender split for moderators is pretty even (but this might just be a function of the industry I work in). It is most definitely a human/labour issue, though.

I'm currently acting as Hate Sink for a product that's getting a fair amount of negative attention, and the lack of resources, tools and support for my job is shocking. Social media platforms are woefully ill-designed to handle the mass volume of comments they generate, that's well documented. But the worst part is actually the lack of emotional and psychological support moderators get from the very structures they are shielding. I can't count the number of times someone in my company, in response to my venting about our "fans", told me "Don't read the comments, and don't feed the trolls!" That's not an option. That's the job. No matter how zen and detached you are as a person, it will get to you.
posted by Freyja at 3:28 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Jeez, what an annoying article. Why does the author keep wanting to blame liberalism? He doesn't bother to explain who he's talking about, but I assume it's major media sites like the NYT or CNN. That is, big corporations that want the appearance of feedback without wishing to put more than the minimum of resources into it. It's not like "liberalism" demands that these sites have horrible comments sections, and it sure isn't liberals who are responsible for majority of the hate and misogyny.

Plus there's some amazingly blindered mythologizing of the past going on-- "In an earlier period [...] broadcasters and the press set agendas, marshaled debate, and, with other liberal-democratic institutions, defined the limits of legitimate dissent". Reeeealllly? Has he read the letters to the editor section of the papers of 1935 or 1955? Does he really think hateful reactions never appeared at that time? Does he really think that the press decided what the issues of the day were?

(At the very least, he might care to consult The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964)-- or review what contemporaries said about Lincoln or FDR.)
posted by zompist at 4:43 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


zompist, I don't think the author means "liberal" as in "left-of-center-in-American-politics" but instead as part of the descriptor of "liberal democracy", that is, democracies that value free speech and expression, among other things. It seems to me the author's thesis is that moderation, in whatever form, in whatever media, is necessary for liberal democracy with its strong emphasis on free and unfettered speech, to remain palatable.
posted by thegears at 5:03 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the gender aspect, but I did a ton of moderation in my former life, and I have walked away with the firm opinion that the vast majority of people are not cut out to do it for more than about three years. There are those off of whom things genuinely roll, but I was not one of them, and I found it a miserable, corrosive, unhealthy broth in which to poach for too long. And that's despite the fact that I had many wonderful, fabulous, friendly, supportive commenters who are still my friends.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:07 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Plus there's some amazingly blindered mythologizing of the past going on

I think in what you're calling "mythologizing" he's actually just trying to describe the myth (i.e. the ideology) in order to talk about it, not subscribing to it. Like, this is the way newspaper editors or publishers or board members, or whoever, think about their cultural role, and therefore they see moderating the comments section as consonant with their vision of themselves as the protectors of a deliberative-democratic public sphere (which is pretty much what "liberalism" means in the sense he's using it).
posted by RogerB at 5:18 PM on February 6


I wonder if it could be more automated, if comments could be filtered in the way Gmail filters spam. Searching for obvious things like "libtard" "feminazi" and your standard racist/homophobic/sexist epithets, and learning new variations/misspellings as they popped up. You might lose some trivial number of "valid" comments, but you'd keep some underpaid person from having to wade through the muck so much.
posted by emjaybee at 6:35 PM on February 6


I wonder if it could be more automated

This isn't exactly automation, but why not "reading comprehension CAPTCHAs"? After finishing a blog post or news article, the writer also comes up with four or five multiple choice questions about the article. When someone wants to post a comment, they have to answer one of these questions selected at random. If they get it wrong, they can't comment.

Sure, a troll could skim the article for the answer, but that's more a feature than a bug, right? At least the creeps are spending more time with the meat of the article than they would be otherwise.
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:23 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


there really is an xkcd for everything
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:39 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I'm also a former volunteer moderator -- burned out on that and a fair bit (though obviously not all) Internet discourse... well, probably about at the three year mark. I do think it's pretty burnout-inducing, particularly if you're associated with things that people tend to get wretchedly negative obsessions about. Me being FAAB and fairly queer... yeah. It's not exactly the best thing for one's mental health to be continuously in contact with a rotating cast of characters who think four despicable things about you before breakfast and go on about it at length.
posted by sparktinker at 11:02 PM on February 6


How can I get a job being a hate sink? I can spend hours looking at peoples' disgusting opinions.
posted by gucci mane at 4:18 AM on February 7


I find the undertone of 'we must sacrifice these young virgins to appease the volcano god' somewhat bizarre, and his choice of pseudonyms for the moderators looks (im)purely manipulative: "Courtney", "Michelle", and "Sarah" seem designed to evoke Courtney Love, Michelle Obama, and Sarah Palin; and given his reference to Australia, "Louise" could allude to Louise Pratt.

It's as if he is seeking to stimulate-- but not quite to a conscious level-- the misogyny that has attached itself to one or more of these famous women in the minds of a fairly broad spectrum of the male population, and then satisfying that misogyny by inviting his readers to picture Courtney, Michelle, Sarah, and Louise as helpless receptacles for torrents of online abuse, even as those same readers are patting themselves on the back for sympathizing with the plight of the poor girls.
posted by jamjam at 1:52 PM on February 7


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