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News: Graun commenters not so open-minded

The Guardian. Bastion of modernity and progressive thinking. Champion of (relatively) free speech – see the Comment is Free section. Unashamedly not The Sun, with its reading age of about eight. (Sorry if you’re a Sun reader and don’t know what ‘unashamedly’ means. Look it up.)

What you may not also know about the Guardian online is that it’s some sort of hive for internet trolls.

You have to look a little closer to find the hub of troll activity. It’s in the comments section. Yay. Now, most of us know that Rule Number One is ‘never read the comments’. That applies everywhere. It rarely ends well.

Here on Funny Women, we don’t have a comments section or a forum. We have all our conversations on Twitter, where we can retweet lovely people and block numpties at our discretion. Nothing’s quite as soothing and therapeutic as blocking a numpty.

The Guardian dutifully went and looked into its own ‘below the line’ section for insights on how online commenters behave. I think the diligent researchers are wishing they hadn’t. And I wish I hadn’t read the summary – it’s depressing.

Amongst the 10 Guardian writers who receive the most abuse and criticism in the comments, eight are women. The other two men are both black. The ‘bottom’ 10, subject to the least abuse, are all men.

What?

This is The Guardian we’re talking about here. The home of regular columns from Paris Lees and Jack Monroe. A publication with a really snarky Twitter account just for their style guide.

The summary is clear on the findings:

“[…] articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.”

Guardian readers bully women? Okay, so maybe they’re not reading the articles. Maybe it’s not proper Guardian readers who are the problem, just people who take advantage of open comments. Like people who take advantage of open bars. We’ve all met one. Their scroll buttons must be worn down to the quick.

“Articles written by women got more blocked (ie abusive or disruptive) comments across almost all sections. But the more male-dominated the section, the more blocked comments the women who wrote there got.”

Oh. No, it still might be scroll trolls here. Stopping briefly at the top to assess the relative femininity of the journalist’s name wouldn’t deter most of them.

“Articles about feminism attracted very high levels of blocked comments. And so did rape.” – This is where it gets even more ‘ugh’. We can’t even have conversations about feminism on The Guardian without people getting shirty.

Moderators have so far blocked 1.4 million comments which don’t meet their community standards guidelines. That’s only 2% of the total number of comments, but whoa. 1.4 MILLION shitty comments. Enough to give someone a full-time job just blocking people.

“Most of these are abusive to some degree (they may use insulting language, or be ad hominem attacks) or are so off-topic that they derail the conversation.” I’d happily delete someone’s comment if they’d used the apostrophe incorrectly, to be honest with you.

On the internet, nowhere is truly safe. If comments are disabled on one website, the trolls will congregate somewhere else. Even The Guardian can’t stem the flow of abuse and garbage that streams from the keyboards of total idiots.

So how do we solve a problem like a troll? Well, for starters, I shouldn’t call it ‘a problem’. That word doesn’t feel like it does the situation justice. Trolls are a swarm, a plague on comment boxes. The shame of the internet. They have overexcited digestive tracts, leading to near-constant spewing of crap everywhere.

An industrial strength digital fly swatter wouldn’t be enough. We need to fumigate the internet. Starting with The Guardian’s comments section. Someone fetch a striped tarpaulin and some goggles and we can get going.