Interesting academic papers about comment sections


Classification and Its Consequences for Online Harassment: Design Insights from HeartMob

LINDSAY BLACKWELL, University of Michigan School of Information
JILL DIMOND, Sassafras Tech Collective
SARITA SCHOENEBECK, University of Michigan School of Information
CLIFF LAMPE, University of Michigan School of Information

We examine systems of classification enacted by technical systems, platform policies, and users to demonstrate how 1) labeling serves to validate (or invalidate) harassment experiences; 2) labeling motivates bystanders to provide support; and 3) labeling content as harassment is critical for surfacing community norms around appropriate user behavior
 we argue that fully addressing online harassment requires the ongoing integration of vulnerable users’ needs into the design and moderation of online platforms.


Not Funny? The Effects of Factual Versus Sarcastic Journalistic Responses to Uncivil User Comments
Marc Ziegele, Pablo B. Jost

Incivility in user comments on news websites has been discussed as a significant problem of online participation. Previous research suggests that news outlets should tackle this problem by interactively moderating uncivil postings and asking their authors to discuss more civilized. We argue that this kind of interactive comment moderation as well as different response styles to uncivil comments (i.e., factual vs. sarcastic) differently affect observers’ evaluations of the discussion atmosphere, the credibility of the news outlet, the quality of its stories, and ultimately observers’ willingness to participate in the discussions. Results from an online experiment show that factual responses to uncivil comments indirectly increase participation rates by suggesting a deliberative discussion atmosphere. In contrast, sarcastic responses indirectly deteriorate participation rates due to a decrease in the credibility of the news outlet and the quality of its stories. Sarcastic responses however increase the entertainment value of the discussions.


From Audience to Reporter: Recruiting and training community members at a participatory news site serving a multiethnic city
Daniela Gerson, Nien-Tsu Nancy Chen, Andrea Wenzel, Sandra Ball-Rokeach & Michael Parks

This study explores a hyperlocal news website that has trained dozens of community members to report on their own multiethnic city. It examines two approaches to participatory media used by the site: a loose community contributor model based around monthly in-person meetings and a more structured youth training program. Using the observations of the founding editor (the lead author), a professional journalist who facilitated both programs, as well as feedback from content contributors collected through a focus group, interviews and written reflections, we look at the process and investigate the outcomes on contributors’ sense of agency to tell local stories. Reflecting on best practices and key challenges, including sustainability, we situate this case within the context of the rise of locally based community news websites, and changing ideas of what defines a journalist.


How Is Participation Practiced by “In-Betweeners” of Journalism?
Laura Ahva

This article suggests viewing journalism as a structure of public communication that is enacted through the practices of various actors at sites that go beyond the newsroom. In this practice-oriented understanding, journalists, audiences and all citizen actors in-between these traditional positions take part in the enactment of journalism. This article focuses on the “in-betweeners” of journalism: citizens who are not employed as full-time journalists yet are also not part of what is considered to be the typical audience. It explores the participatory practices of activists, freelancers, academics, local residents, artists and students who are participating in the journalistic process at three different European journalism outlets: Voima, an alternative monthly magazine (Finland); CafĂ©babel, a participatory online magazine (France and other European countries); and Södra Sidan, a public journalism-style local newspaper (Sweden). The article draws on interviews with 69 actors as well as observations regarding communication between citizens and journalists. It discusses and further develops the concept of participation as introduced by Nico Carpentier in 2011 in Media and Participation: A Site of Ideological-democratic Struggle by separating participation in journalism from participation through journalism. It concludes that there are additional orientations of participation when looked at from the perspective of citizens, namely those of participation with, participation around and participation for journalism.


The Appropriation/Amplification Model of Citizen Journalism: An account of structural limitations and the political economy of participatory content creation
Nikki Usher

A collaborative relationship between citizen journalists and professional journalists has long been an aspiration for many media scholars. While tensions surrounding professional control are significant, scholars also have to consider the structural dynamics of content online and across social media networks, particularly in an era of the corporatized and commercialized Web. The rise of social discovery tools and algorithms is also addressed. This article aims to bring to light these concerns and moves the conversation about citizen journalism forward by proposing a model that identifies the pathway through which news organizations gather, select, package, and disseminate citizen journalism content.


Practice Theory for Journalism Studies: Operationalizing the concept of practice for the study of participation
Laura Ahva

This article offers a theoretical-methodological contribution to the discussion on the relationship between practice theory and journalism. The article argues that the domain of practice theory—combining elements from cultural and social theories—offers the opportunity to both move away from industrial or professional frameworks of studying journalism and to examine how journalism is reproduced in practices of various agents involved in its enactment. Firstly, the article presents a model in which the concept of practice is deconstructed into three elements (activity, materiality and reflexivity), which can be used as the basis for empirical analysis. Secondly, it provides methodological insight and proposes a way in which citizen participation, as an emerging practice of journalism, can be scrutinized by operationalizing practice theory. This theoretical-methodological avenue enables us to see the multiple orientations and meanings that participation has in journalism. Moreover, studying journalism through the concepts provided by practice theory can eventually help us understand how journalism maintains itself and is capable of renewal through (and despite) increasing participation.



A taxonomy of incivility


An ethnographic study of Hearken


I think the a more accurate term would be ontology rather than taxonomy. The code book paradigm implements well in SKOS and OWL. Particularly if the comments were further analised.


Not strictly a comments sections paper, but these 10 principles for ethical big data work could apply to any org that collects user data


There’s a lot in this (disturbing) paper about how abusers behave in online communities to take action against victims of their abuse.

“A Stalker’s Paradise”: How Intimate Partner Abusers Exploit Technology
Diana Freed, Jackeline Palmer, Diana Minchala, Karen Levy, Thomas Ristenpart, Nicola Dell


I will look at the article thanks.

Let us not forget that social media is a tool used by organized stalkers of all sorts and explore this issue.

“what happens on the lower level is responsible for what happens on the higher level, it is nonetheless irrelevant to the higher level. The higher level can blithely ignore the processes on the lower level.” - Douglas R. Hofstadter

Or in other words the nose does not cause the horse.


Hi Andrew.
Thanks for the article. I didn’t quite get what the article was about from your comment. I hope my off-topic reply did not sound callous.

If you ever had to spend any amount of time dealing with domestic violence this will definitely resonate. Now I end up advising both genders on how to detect and remove these hidden spy/control apps from their devices. Which leads to the hours long speech on how to disengage from these situations because the device is part of a larger pattern of behavior.

Not that I am a saint. Although framed around harm reduction, dual diagnosis and non-violence. We did some pretty questionable things back in the day to get this sort of thing to end. Stalker stalking for example. Prior to and just after the anti-stalking laws were introduced.

Street interventionists existed long before that sappy TV show (sorry.) It’s closer to what John Travolta says in that comedy: “I’m not that kind of angel.” Equivalent to social workers on one level but much rougher people. Vigilantis parked outside of shelters uninvited. That sort of thing.

Yeah so I think disturbing probably qualifies as an understatement if you lived it. I get flashbacks of other peoples flashbacks.

I appreciate the information and in particular I appreciate seeing it here. Everyone should read it.


I am sure that was upsetting to many people. I am required and disadvantaged by having to speak to issues as they occur.

For the record, There was a lot of street talk about a system similar to the Quakers of old and their underground railroad for slaves. The idea was kids that system fauled could disappear into it.

if it exists or existed it was deeply hidden.I did not locate it but didn’t know the right people. I found no cases where it might have been involved. An apparent urban myth.

In the 90s, we could have used it. The BC government was dedicated to keeping families together. Sounds great eh? Politics. A few sacrifices to that cause were apparently worth it the little [stolen] unredacted FOIA snipits showed.

You might wonder what comments software has to do with children’s civil rights. I’m OK with that.

[ added the word stolen ]


The Impact of Sexist Rhetoric on Women’s Participation in News Comments Sections
Bailey Poland (Masters Thesis)

The introduction of the comments section to online news articles enabled new forms of interaction, allowing readers to participate directly in the conversation. Scholars have hailed the comments sections as digital public spheres of democratic discourse. However, scant research has been done on how sexist rhetoric affects women’s ability to participate in online discourse, despite research indicating that such rhetoric is a problem.

This thesis project draws connections between research on the comments sections, uninhibited behavior and flaming, cybersexism, and women’s participation in discourse to look at the impact of sexist rhetoric.

I conduct a close reading of comments from BuzzFeed, MSNBC, and Fox News, analyzing the material using feminist and sociological rhetorical criticism.

I argue that the presence of sexist rhetoric leads to a reduction in women’s participation in the comments and negative effects on women’s agency within the comments. Findings include consistent patterns of sexist rhetoric on all three sites, and consistent patterns of responses from women, the most predominant of which is silence.

If the comments are to meet the ideal of a democratic public sphere, then the role of sexist rhetoric must be understood and mitigated.


Silence in the crowd: The spiral of silence contributing to the positive bias of opinions in an online review system
New Media & Society
David A Askay

A positive bias of opinions has frequently been identified across online review websites, suggesting that the public is making decisions based on a limited range of opinions. While scholars often attribute this bias to social loafing or self-selection, this study investigates the positive bias from the perspective of opinion expression. Drawing from the spiral of silence theory, a qualitative analysis of discussion forums reveals that fear of isolation reduces the willingness of members to voice neutral and negative reviews. Additionally, communicative affordances of the interface were found to further suppress neutral and negative opinions. These results extend the spiral of silence theory into the context of non-anonymous multichannel communication platforms and indicate the need to consider the role of communicative affordances in online opinion expression.


Maybe nobody checks out this thread anymore, but just in case someone is still searching for literature about comment sections, here is my current list:

Hope it still is useful for someone. :wink:


This is great, thank you! And this thread is one of the most visited in our community, there are definitely people checking it out. Thanks for adding to our knowledge!


This is a great list, and I just printed it out.

Here is a link to my list, which is a little out of date. I think it also has an American bias (I am not accessing all the good research elsewhere in the world.)

Susann, your work looks very interesting. Look me up and perhaps we can share some resources.


Joe Graf


Social media governance: Can companies motivate voluntary rule following behavior among their users
Social Media Governance Workshop
Tom Tyler, Yale Law School
Matt Katsaros, Facebook
Tracey Meares, Yale Law School
Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University

The question of how to effectively enforce rules on social media mirrors the general question of how to enforce laws in society. One model for both governments and private companies is incapacitation—preventing people from taking particular actions. Using this approach, private companies can exercise control over their sites by removing content that violates their standards and placing restrictions on the account. This parallels the governmental process of removing people who break the law from society through incarceration. The problem in both settings is that people seek ways to get around such controls, trying to hide their actions. It is better if people willingly follow the rules, something referred to as self-regulation. Research with legal authority makes clear that such self-regulation is possible in the case of public legal authority and is linked to the legitimacy of that authority (Tyler, 2006). Our question is whether private companies can have similar legitimacy and can thereby motivate their users to voluntarily follow content rules.


Don’t read the comments: the effects of abusive comments on perceptions of women authors’ credibility
Kathleen Searles, Sophie Spencer, Adaobi Duru

Recent work suggests women authors experience more abuse in online comments than men, but we do not know whether these abusive comments affect people’s perceptions. Given renewed interest in the experience of women online, we ask: does exposure to abusive comments affect perceptions of women authors’ credibility? And does this penalty extend to the outlet? To answer these questions, we employed a survey experiment which manipulated exposure to an abusive comment, and author gender. We found a significant effect for the abusive comment on author credibility and intention to seek news from the author and outlet in the future, but gender of the author did not moderate these effects. To ensure the null effects for gender were not an artifact of comment or topic, we fielded two additional survey experiments. Across topics, whether the abuse was gendered or gender-specific, we found abusive comments exert significant negative effects on evaluations, regardless of author gender. Our results have implications for news organizations considering comments.


Echo chamber and trench warfare dynamics in online debates
Rune Karlsen, Kari Steen-Johnsen, Dag WollebĂŠk, and Bernard Enjolras

In this article, we take issue with the claim by Sunstein and others that online discussion takes place in echo chambers, and suggest that the dynamics of online debates could be more aptly described by the logic of ‘trench warfare’, in which opinions are reinforced through contradiction as well as confirmation. We use a unique online survey and an experimental approach to investigate and test echo chamber and trench warfare dynamics in online debates. The results show that people do indeed claim to discuss with those who hold opposite views from themselves. Furthermore, our survey experiments suggest that both confirming and contradicting arguments have similar effects on attitude reinforcement. Together, this indicates that both echo chamber and trench warfare dynamics – a situation where attitudes are reinforced through both confirmation and disconfirmation biases – characterize online debates. However, we also find that two-sided neutral arguments have weaker effects on reinforcement than one-sided confirming and contradicting arguments, suggesting that online debates could contribute to collective learning and qualification of arguments.