Moderating uncivil comments takes an emotional toll and lowers trust in news

by | Aug 29, 2019 | Blog, What We're Reading

Uncivil comments taint people’s perception of a news site. They also make moderators more emotionally exhausted and less likely to trust said news outlet, researchers with UT Austin found.


Moderating Uncivil Comments Hurts Trust In News
University of Texas at Austin Center for Media Engagement
By Martin J. Riedl, Gina Masullo Chen and Kelsey Whipple
July 18, 2019 

A previous UT Austin study found uncivil comments make a news site seem less trustworthy. A newer study from the same researchers suggests the act of moderating uncivil comments also lowers the news site’s credibility with its own moderators.

Participants were assigned either civil, uncivil or both types of comments. Researchers found moderators who solely tackled uncivil comments were more emotionally exhausted, less satisfied with their moderating job and less likely to have a positive work experience — after 24 minutes of moderating. Moderators also perceived the news outlet they worked for as less trustworthy if they focused on only uncivil comments.

The researchers recommend news organizations should focus on keeping their comment sections civil so less moderation is needed. “News sites can do this by having journalists engage in comments sections and by encouraging higher-quality conversations,” the researchers wrote. They also suggested comment moderators be given other tasks to break up their workload, which affects them on a personal level. 

Key Numbers

  • Participants moderated 78 comments each, which took an average of 24 minutes.
  • Participants who moderated civil comments rated the outlet’s trustworthiness as 4.52 out of 7. Moderators for uncivil comments rated the trustworthiness as 3.81 out of 7.

Study Details

  • This study used data from 747 participants. They were randomly assigned to moderate either all uncivil comments, all civil comments or a mix of civil and uncivil comments.
  • “Uncivil comments” were defined as containing profanity, insults, name-calling and words in all capital letters.
  • All comments used were real comments from Yahoo, The New York Times, MSNBC and Breitbart.