5 Ways to Decrease Trolling and Improve the Quality of Your Comments

With the prevalence of online trolls, some organizations have put up their hands and given up on the comment section. But doing so, even temporarily, has major drawbacks for organizations…

Last updated October 28th, 2019


  1. Reward users to encourage desired conversations
  2. Offer moderation tools to your users
  3. Use artificial intelligence in conjunction with your human efforts
  4. Quiz your users to weed out those who haven’t read the full story
  5. Stop anonymous comments

With the prevalence of online trolls, some organizations have put up their hands and given up on the comment section altogether. But doing so, even temporarily, has major drawbacks for organizations and their users.

As Carrie Lysenko Head of Digital for The Weather Network pointed out in an RTNDA Canada panel on engagement, turning off comments can result in a significant drop in pageviews and attention time. This echoes Viafoura’s own findings that brands with commenting can increase pageviews by 248% and attention time by 364%. This increased engagement leads to higher registrations and subscriptions since engaged users are more likely to pay for premium services.

And while managing online communities has traditionally been cumbersome and expensive, today there are many cost-effective ways to reduce or eliminate trolling. For media companies, these new tools allow you to not only keep your comment section open, but also to capitalize on your user-generated content.

Reward Users to Promote Civil Comments

Trusted-user badge

Encourage users to submit thoughtful comments by rewarding your best commenters with a trusted-user badge. With this status, an icon will appear beside the user’s name for others to see. These trusted users are also able to publish their comments in real time without being moderated.

Editor’s pick

Another way to reward users is by giving their comment the editor’s pick status. These comments can be featured in prominent positions on your website to model the types of comments you want to receive.

This is also beneficial for SEO, because comments that are placed higher on your webpage will get indexed by Google, and the keywords in those comments may be a closer match to users’ own search terms than those used by a journalist.

Create articles from users’ comments

Many organizations today including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) are creating stories entirely from their users’ comments. These stories not only reward commenters for their insightful posts, but are cost-effective, quick to publish and receive a surprisingly high amount of attention time and comments. Some even attract more comments than the original piece from which they were taken.

To see the impact of these articles, we tracked the number of comments for eight user-generated blog posts in CBC’s Revenge of the Comment Section, comparing those to the number of comments for their original articles.

The results are depicted in the chart below:

It’s significant to note that while almost all of the original stories received more comments, the user-generated articles often weren’t far behind. And in one instance, for Story 2, there were more comments for the user-generated article (601,000) than for its original article (343,000). Readers also spent approximately 2.3x more time on the former page.

That’s pretty fascinating since these articles can be created at a fraction of the time and cost it takes a journalist to create a new article from scratch.

Offer Content Moderation Tools to Your Users and Managers


Allow users to easily flag comments that they find offensive, using a noticeable red flag icon. When a comment receives a predetermined amount of flags, it will enter a queue for review with a moderator who will decide the appropriate action.

Timed user banning

Give short “timeouts” as little as a few hours, days or months and notify users as to why they are being banned to help them improve the quality of their comments. Alternatively, users can be permanently banned for repeated offenses.

Dislike button

The dislike button allows users to express their dislike for a comment, without having to flag it (which requires a moderator’s time and resources). We found that this button can reduce flagging by 50% in as little as two weeks upon implementation.


Both The New York Times and The Guardian have created games that allow readers to try moderating content. Users are tasked with approving or rejecting comments and providing reasoning for their decisions. This is not only enjoyable for users, but eases some of the burden on moderators.

Use AI Moderation to Eliminate Online Harassment

Whether your organization employs dedicated moderators or tasks other employees with removing the “trash,” you could be saving countless hours and dollars with automated moderation.

Automated moderation uses natural-language processing and artificial intelligence to automatically categorize and eliminate trolling, spam and online harassment.

Viafoura’s Automated Moderation is programmed with over six million variations of problematic words or phrases. This means that it’s able to determine both the subject matter and the sentiment behind users’ comments, detecting and eliminating spam, foul language, abuse, personal attacks and other uncivil comments before other users can even see them.

If the system encounters a new word or sentence that it’s unsure of, it flags the instance for a moderator to review. As a moderator approves or rejects new words, through the power of machine learning, the algorithm will learn the new rules and get smarter over time.

On average, our studies have found that automated moderation has a higher accuracy rate (92%) than human moderation (81%), and reduces 90% of the time and cost it takes to moderate a community manually.

Quiz Your Users

The Norwegian tech news website, NRKbeta, encourages thoughtful comments by asking their readers to prove they read the whole story by taking a quiz. Their organization believes that this quiz can weed out users who haven’t read the story, while also giving users time to reflect on how they will comment instead of just typing a response to a shocking headline.

Their reporter, Stale Grut, comments, “When a lot of journalists hit ‘publish’ I think that they see themselves finished with a story. But we see that you’re only halfway through with the article when you’ve published it.” Their goal is to improve articles through collaboration.

Many commenters agreed that this tactic would promote insightful comments. Here’s what they had to say:

“It WILL raise the discourse, and it will improve the journalism too. And why should some poor intern have to sit and delete all the trash? Let a computer do it.”

“I would not object to that if it reduced the uninformed and off-topic as well as useless comments”

End Anonymous Commenting

By allowing users to register for your website through one of their social media accounts, with the use of social login, they are less likely to post harassing comments because they can easily be identified.

The social login button also generally increases conversion rates by 20% to 40%, while giving you access to user information that can be used to create targeted messaging.

Increased Engagement = Higher Revenue

If you’re committed to improving the quality of interactions on your website, you may find that using moderators alone can be expensive and time-consuming. Luckily, today we can count on technology to encourage quality comments and eliminate the number of personal attacks. And by improving the quality of interactions on your site, you can look forward to increased engagement, improved brand loyalty and enhanced lifetime value from your users.

Need more help?

If you’re looking to drive engagement and leverage user-generated content, let’s connect.

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Engaging News Project: What Audiences Want from Comments

In a recent survey by the Engaging News Project, over 12,000 commenters from 20 different news sites opened up about their commenting behavior and preferences. To make the comment section work for you, we’re summarizing their key findings and showing how Viafoura stacks up.

In this report, the Engaging News Project found most commenters who read and weigh-in on news stories online want journalists and “experts” to get involved in the comments. Their preferences were fairly consistent across news sites.

On average, 81% of commenters said they’d want journalists to clarify factual questions.

In addition, an average of 73% of respondents said they’d want “experts” on topics covered in a news article to respond to comments.

Finally, 58% said they’d want journalists to actively contribute to comment sections and 42% said they’d want journalists to highlight quality comments.

Other noteworthy findings from the Engaging News Project:

  • Although an available option on most news sites, only 62% of commenters think it’s possible to report offensive comments.
  • How often an individual engages in the comments relates to how much civility they perceive in the comment section. In other words, if the comment section is seen to be civil, individuals are more inclined to engage in it.
  • Perceptions of civility in the new comment sections vary per site. Between 14%-78% of respondents per site rate the comments as “very or somewhat civil.”
  • Fewer than half of respondents on any news site feel connected to other commenters (This ranges from 13-42%). The more comments they posted, the more connected they felt.
  • Most commenters across all sites find comment sections easy to navigate. Yet, just under half said that it is easy to sort the comments.

Clearly, there’s a desire from commenters to engage with journalists and “experts” in the comment sections and for news sites to provide a sense of community.

While engaging in the comments can often be a daunting task for journalists and there isn’t always enough time in the day to contribute to the conversation, there are tools and tactics you can leverage to facilitate reader and journalist interactions, create a loyal online community, and encourage visitors to return more frequently and spend more time on your site:

Increase Opportunities for On-site Interactions

Viafoura provides all the tools and opportunities to create connections throughout the user journey with personalized user profiles, follow features, social sharing, real-time commenting, and notifications feeds.

Build Relationships with Commenters

Our commenting module makes it possible for users to engage in real-time with other users and journalists. Users can also sort comments by editor’s picks, by most recent or most active, or flag a comment with just one click.  And editors and journalists can set flagging thresholds by article and and promote chosen comments at the article level and site-wide with ease. You can also reward your quality contributors with trusted user badges to further incentivize quality comments.

Drive Engagement and Return Visits

Increase the value of on-site engagement with real-time commenting and notifications. With our browser-based push notifications and on-site notification feed readers are notified when they receive a real-time reply in the comment section. And with “Follow” features, users can follow other users and a journalist’s user profile to keep up with their latest articles and on-site activity.

Increase Civility in the Comment Sections

Eliminate harassment, abuse, hate speech, and spam in real-time with algorithms built on natural language processing and machine learning to uphold your community guidelines on your site and social channels. Manage multiple news sites with ease and uphold moderation efforts in real-time while maintaining thresholds of civility within each community.

We further support civility with enhanced community and user management features including email verification, display name and avatar moderation, user-to-user muting, and timed user banning, which results in significant increases in participation in the comments section and time-spent.

It’s OK to Disagree

The dislike button provides a way for disagreement without the alert of a flag and significantly reduces actions required from the newsroom when added to the comment module. We’re seeing great results with our customers reporting a 50% reduction in flagging in as little as two weeks since their implementation.

We also empower your community to create a personalized experience with the ability to mute other users, removing the muted user from their online experience site-wide. Nothing lasts forever, so if a user changes their mind they can easily unmute users within their notification tray.

Own and Access your First-Party Data

Can you quantify the impact of engagement on user registration, attention time, and other important KPIs? With access to your first-party data and rich audience insights, you can discover new opportunities to increase audience engagement and drive on-site interactions with your content and brand at the center of it all.

With the people, process, and technology in place, you’re well on your way to building a direct relationship with your audience and growing your on-site community.

Free Webinar on Demand

For more on creating a respectful exchange of ideas in the comments, watch our on demand webinar — More Than a Comment: How CBC Drives Real Conversations Below the Fold.

Watch Now
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