For years, online publications have invited readers to comment on the articles they publish: a process that allows the public to actively engage with journalists and contribute their own views. But it's also a process that has become open to abuse.
On The Guardian's website, theguardian.com, 2% of online comments have been blocked by a moderator for violating community standards. These are comments that are either abusive or off-topic to the point that they derail the conversation.
To better understand these internet "trolls", the news website analysed 70 million "below the line" comments, paying special attention to those that had been blocked.
The research found that “articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men”. And even though the majority of The Guardian’s regular opinion writers are white men, eight out of the 10 writers experiencing the highest levels of abuse were women (four white and four non-white). The other two were black men.
The 10 regular writers who got the least abuse were all men.
Cost of controversy
Another finding was that certain topics attracted more abuse than others. When it came to crosswords, cricket and jazz, comments were rarely blocked, whereas discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, feminism and rape received high levels of disruptive remarks. Across almost all sections, articles written by women received more blocked comments.
The Guardian says that the research is the "first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men". The newspaper notes, however, that writers from ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT people also experience a disproportionate amount of abuse.