The Life of a Comment Moderator for a Right-Wing Website

Six years in the trenches on troll patrol.

Comments: 239

  1. Awesome essay. Actually, one of the smartest I've seen about real conservatism. Brilliant.

  2. @Troglotia DuBoeuf I agree. Until the the Soviet Republic collapsed, it was: Free Market Capitalism = Anti-Communism. Now that they don't have the "Anti-Communism" anymore, the go with: Conservatism = Anti-Liberalism.

  3. The part I take away from this is that it is about the impact of comment sections. For example, I try to remain civil, but I sincerely have strong opinions, which I express. I think it is good and healthy to read strong opinions from people who sincerely disagree with me. On the other hand, I think it is destructive to read troll comments from people who are just trying to goad people and make them mad. It's actually not too hard to discern (a lot of) those troll comments if you are paying attention. Unfortunately people often aren't paying enough attention, and the trolls are therefore effective at manipulating emotions and public opinion.

  4. Great essay. I can’t imagine having to personally filter comments from the unacceptable to barely acceptable with so much vitriol involved. When I think I have it tough at family gatherings, I’ll remember this author and this essay.

  5. People who use comments to provoke not thought but just offense speak volumes about themselves. If they had a perspective worth putting forth or defending, they would do so without being profane, hateful or derogatory. Thanks go to all the moderators who do the uncomfortable work of sorting through the noxious posts so that serious participants can comfortably have a robust discussion. And the rest of us should play our own part in keeping comments sections a safe online community, first by being respectful ourselves, and second by not 'feeding the trolls' and rewarding bad behavior with attention.

  6. @NM Oh, please .. we're living in a time, when someone of the same ethnic heritage as Ralph Nader uses "I'm a woman of color" for debate defense. Odd, never heard Ralph say that. We're living in a "culture of complaint," where complaining first is the first weapon. Heck, just try finding a non-Democrat on a college A&L faculty -- only 3% probability. Most students know what a farce alleged "diversity and respect" is -- just repeat Biden and Pelosi, and get your "A" grade.

  7. That was a wonderful essay. I am sorry your job made you cry and I certainly understand why it did. We are in a sad state of affairs and Donald Trump's divisiveness has been corrosive to our democracy.

  8. @Julie Severino Yes, Trump is divisive. But, if you re-read the article, you find that that divisiveness was already there. Trump just gave voice to it. He was not much different than an intolerant commenter, except he was running for office with a high profile name and a deep pocketbook. The pre-existing hatred of liberals, like so much dry tinder on a forest floor just waiting for a spark, strongly suggests that that hatred can only be fully explained by racism against Obama. Even if you disliked his politics, his errors were small potatoes compared to, say, invading a country that had not attacked us, and getting us embroiled in a no-exit war that was costly in lives and treasure. Combine that racism with the nomination of HRC, who even this lifelong D did not find all that appealing due to her spectacularly bad judgment, and no wonder the right wing went around the bend.

  9. @Mike -- I think that the divisiveness was present before Trump. But Trump has certainly 'ridden the wave', used the timeless "divide and conquer" approach to politics, and failed mightily if he was ever trying to "be a uniter, not a divider" like most other presidents have tried to present themselves. Trump has resonated with the divisive, and reinforced the hate-filled where he could have dampened their rhetoric. Listen to any of his campaign rally speeches - filled with 'enemies', 'haters', and a pervasive 'us against them' vibe that incites the audiences in to a frenzy that Trump seems to feed from. I don't understand German, but there is some of the same kind of rhetorical resonance in the online recordings of political rallies of 1930's Germany... that same kind of inflaming rhetoric suspending reason and reinforcing unthinking hate-filled emotion in people who consider themselves 'just normal people', I'm sure. Trump didn't start the whole divisive hate-filled comments crowd up, but he sure hasn't tried ever to slow them down any. It's just -beyond- ironic that Melania's chosen "First Lady goal" is to redress "online bullying"... while her husband is the online Bully-in-Chief.

  10. @Mike Good point, but you need to go even further back. Hatred of libs--as sport and lifestyle was publicly initiated by a certain Mr. Limbaugh. His counterpart in Congress was Gingrich, who rapidly attracted a group of Newt wannabes. The linchpin in the unholy trinity was a no-good foreigner--name of Murdoch, who institutionalized liberal-bashing and has served it up 24/7 for 25 years.

  11. This article needs to be shared with every Democrat who believes that their party needs to move to the center in order to win over conservative voters. These people don't care about policy or ideology, all they care about is antagonizing liberals and the marginalized groups that they advocate for. It won't be enough for a Democrat to win in 2020. These people must lose, and they must lose dramatically.

  12. @Adam The point is not winning over the conservative voters; they're beyond reach. The point is winning over the centrists, especially in the purple states such as FL, PA, OH, etc.

  13. @Adam: As it happens, I agree about not moving to the right. But the thing about looking at online comments is, you can see what people are capable of saying, but you can't tell how many of them there are. I know on Facebook, it often seems that liberal politicians only get comments from right-wing trolls. And yet, these politicians won their elections, so the commenters clearly don't represent the views of the population. In other words, reading on line comments can be interesting, and pretty depressing sometimes, but it doesn't give good demographic information. All that said, I agree with you: I think it was Truman who said "If you run a Republican against a Republican, the Republican is always going to win"

  14. @mkt42 No, I don't think it is even about winning over centrists, a relatively small group. The single largest bloc, at 40% or more, is of non-voters. They are the ones to be won over.

  15. In the early days of the internet, I naively thought that this new way to communicate and exchange information would make everyone better-informed and all-around more virtuous citizens. What could be better than an easy way to access all the information and opinions that are out there? It would be a new and more egalitarian world. It didn't take long to realize that the internet doesn't make bad people better or more informed, it just makes it easier for them to share their foul opinions with everyone else, and to find like-minded citizens. There are days when I look back at the pre-internet era and think we were better off.

  16. @Jay What it really did was give all the people who wrote on bathroom stall walls in less classy restaurants a national voice. What could go wrong with that?

  17. @Jay It's nice to have access to Youtube videos of music and what not and find answers quickly to music and film trivia, but yeah. We were. People had to engage and think about what they say.

  18. @Jay We used to regulate truth in Broadcasting. Imagine how that could work today.

  19. Great article, and one that provides insight to information that few of us ever see or understand. We need more like this.

  20. I personally post comments on this site anonymously (nowhere else) because I will lose my job if I express some views under my own name. However, the second I retire and become my own person, I will change "EB" to my real full name. One thing the internet has taught us is that little that is good comes from humans when they are allowed to express themselves anonymously. I am sure that life as a comment screener must be demoralizing indeed. However, I don't think we should give up on humanity just yet! The fact that we all have real ugliness in us, ugliness we feel free to express when hiding behind anonymity, doesn't define us completely. In my more hopeful moments, I like to think that many of the posters of vile online comments might be fairly decent in person--just stressed, perhaps (life is hard), and using the internet as a stress release. (In my less hopeful moments, I, like Mr. Sokol, feel like giving up on people entirely.)

  21. @EB I used to think posting with your full name was the thing to do. Now I don't. You are now on a global stage, your comments may linger online for decades, anyone with the most peripheral connection to you can dig up your most trivial throwaway online remark or anything you fired off in the heat of the moment, and data-hungry corporations (or governments) can add it to the files they already have on you. This is not like the old days where you wrote a letter to the newspaper and signed your name. Even if it was published it would take at least a little effort for anyone else to ever retrieve, as compared to a few mouse clicks or even just running a script today. Being online is like living under a searchlight. Anonymity brings its own problems, agreed. But full identification isn't the solution for everyone either. We are still working on this.

  22. @EB I think of the comments as a play where one may post as a particular character and comment accordingly. One could assume the mantel of a Shakespearean, or biblical character, and comment from such a POV. Gotta have some fun here.

  23. @EB re: "little that is good comes from humans when they are allowed to express themselves anonymously." While I agree with your sentiments, anonymous expression is the engine of the secret ballot. While we too often elect bad choices, on average it has been a good thing. How can we make the internet more like the secret ballot and less an avenue for the trolls?

  24. "I just resented everyone with opinions and an internet connection." Sadly, this is me all too often

  25. The modern version of the Agora delinks reputation and opinion. Without that link everything is permitted - apologies to Dostoevsky. Excellent commentary and also conveys a sense of hopelessness about our present condition.

  26. Yes. I learned in my days of CB and ham radio that anonymity causes some people to express awful things. If it were up to me I'd ban all comments that were not attributable to their authors.

  27. @SokolAdam: I'm sorry that you had to endure so much ugliness. I know there are plenty of Americans who are capable of generating awful comments, and domestic "news" and "discussion" sites that provide a space to fan the flames of hatred and generalized misanthropy. What I wonder is how much of this bile is generated or amplified by foreign entities that are happy to see the fragmentation of our nation. I hope whatever cyber-countermeasures we have at our disposal are being fully-utilized to defend our nation.

  28. @Tom Wanamaker -- it is well proven by now that foreign interference and a directed effort to increase divisiveness and polarization in American society is an ongoing effort by Russia at least, and very likely other countries as well. Sometimes the efforts are crude, and the 'tells' quite evident, but I am sure for every Leningrad 'bro' we spot there are others who are more subtle and effective. I suspect that our government has its own clandestine efforts to sow discontent against regimes the US has policy differences with... this is the new battlefield of 'cyber-war', a conflict to manipulate and weaponize public opinion. If I had to choose, I'd say Russia is winning, because Putin is still there, and, well, we ended up with Trump. Maybe, just maybe, the American public will come to realize that they are being interfered with and 'played' by foreign powers. But given how Trump gets manipulated and played by the same countries that are doing this 'cyber-war' trolling, I'm not very confident how many people are getting wise to the interference. Most people are very certain their opinions are their own, more so when they hear Fox "News", Rush, Hannity, and Trump reinforcing those opinions every day. Seeing other comments that reinforce them just makes them more sure 'the rest of us' are just like them.

  29. Mass hysteria? Yes. Set fire to the internet, and set fire to the world. Excellent and important article.

  30. "The comments section won." What great writing. And, yes, Trump was king of the trolls. I never thought he'd win because I didn't realize that half the country were trolls.

  31. @Jake Roberts Not only was half of our country trolls, but parts of other countries. I recently got into an internet argument over the Trump tax cuts with a person on the net, only to realize (after a rather lengthy exchange) that this person was not an American, did not live in America, did not pay American taxes, and was disguising his spelling to hide this fact over dozens of posts. He finally used ONE word that no American uses, and gave away his nationality. When I called him on it, he said his nationality didn't matter...when we had been discussing how much we were paying (or not) due to the Trump tax cuts! Suffice it to say there are conservative, non-American Trump supporters outside the US who see no irony (after the 2016 election) in posing as Americans and promoting Trump.

  32. @Jake Roberts I think 1/3 of the country were trolls. The rest was Comey and Russians that made Trump win the electoral college. It also means that the electoral college system made Trump win.

  33. I go the comment section from time to time and sometimes I post something, case in point. I tend to let my liberal opinion vent out at those comment sections. I cannot imagine having the job to weed out the "over the top" comments from radical view points. Especially when most of the stuff that does get through is disturbing enough. Well actually I can imagine now, good story.

  34. I never should have read the Times today, most of it has been taken up with reading the comments in editorials, which are mostly about Dishonest Donald. Went to see the Met broadcast of "The Daughter of the Regiment" this morning. What fun, great music, funny story, happy ending, them came back and began to read here about a creature with no humanity, humility, conscience, or any redeeming characteristics, not sure if he is of the same species as the rest of us. The writer relates his experience to reviewing opinions and comments from some of the most despicable characters one could know. We can call it the internet of weirdos. I will read no more today, just reading the few comments I see on the net is enough for anyone, Mr. Sokol dealt with a group os society that most of us avoid.

  35. @David Underwood And Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena sang beautifully. May that memory fill your evening and drive the nasties away.

  36. Nice essay and from a vantage point that unimpeachable (pardon the expression). This brings really valuable insight into this corrosive catastrophe. It happened so fast! I've only met one person who was absolutely convinced Trump would win, and he's a pretty swift lawyer. He saw the midlands and rural districts with the Trump signs, and that was enough for him. He noted an overwhelming compulsion to put up the signs, and a social force making everyone have to have them. A malevolent phenomena by itself. What a mess this Country is in.

  37. Hello,Nelly - The Electoral College cinched Trump's win. Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote with 3 million votes. Only when we ditch the electoral college and go with the popular vote will we be able to move forward.

  38. There is no popular vote for president. There are 51 independent state+DC votes for electors. The winner-take-al rubric of these state+DC elections heavily influences campaign strategy and voter turnout. The sum of the popular votes in these 51 independent elections is not equivalent to a nationwide popular vote for president.

  39. Standardization of EC rules across all jurisdictions combined with voter turnout that rises notably above 50% will negate the accidental presidency that occurred in 2016.

  40. Many years ago I read a short story, by J.G. Ballard, I think, about a lone astronaut. Injured, near death, he's rescued by an unknown alien civilization. They put him back together, using only the files in his on-board computer and their own intelligence. In the process they add a feature that is so central to their own existence that they can't imagine humans don't possess it, too. Absolute, involuntary telepathy AND empathy. At the end of the story they've sent him back to Earth but the horrible, black-hearted, hate-filled and unavoidable thoughts of everyone around him, even the most "normal" seeming people and the vicious ugliness of his own un-controlled thoughts and emotions make life in human society impossible. He's living in the desert, avoiding all human contact. I keep thinking about that story.

  41. @laurence Hey, I tried looking up the story and couldn't find it in Ballard's works. But what I did find was pretty fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

  42. @Bryan "...But what I did find was pretty fantastic. Thanks for sharing." And because you commented thusly, I, too, was inspired to Google Ballard. Looks like I'm also going to be very grateful for the tip. :)

  43. @laurence Ballard is a fascinating, and often challenging, writer. People unfamiliar with him may be shocked by some of what they find when they go searching for his best-known work (can you say "Crash"? And no, it has nothing to do with the Oscar-winning film of that name). That said, I'm not sure the story you describe is in the Ballard canon. But it sure sounds like something I would like to read, so I hope someone can identify the author in this space for the rest of us.

  44. First, let me give thanks where they are due, to the unnamed hero moderating this comment section. I enjoy reading comments but I can imagine how turning it into a full-time job can sour you on humanity: I like a glass of wine here and there but the job of a wine-taster would quickly turn me into a teetotaler. And second, let me defend internet trolls. They fulfill an important function: to show us the underside of society and to give us a glimpse into those dark ideological undercurrents that may shape the future. If you want to understand the center, go to the extremes. If you want to understand a culture, confront its monsters. I was not surprised when Trump won because I am familiar with the fringe right-wing discourse. I won’t be surprised - though I will be disappointed - if the next president is his equivalent on the left, a populist demagogue with a utopian agenda. And this is because I’m reading comments on left-wing sites that traffic in conspiracy theories and historical revisionism. But I am a natural optimist, so I’d rather hope that trolls remain where they belong, in the comments section, rather than, once again, storming the White House.

  45. @Mor And what exactly is wrong with a "populist demagogue with a utopian agenda"?

  46. @Mor The problem is that internet anonymity gives such equal weight to extreme/irrational commentators as to a well-informed pundit. Reading comment sections is a horrible way to judge the center, because it usually appears that the extremists are the majority – a reverse bell curve. Trump’s political base went from a small but loud bunch of “Birther”-conspiracy wackos to become the “center” of the GOP largely because such extreme views became normalized via their viral spread on social media (often organically, sometimes spurred on by political operatives). Comments sections and social media incubate the extreme views and give them inordinate credibility. Mainstream media, seeking higher ratings/clicks, also pays immoderate attention to those screaming loudest at the edges, and before long those in the middle are shifting their views left or right, toward their perception of a new “center.” If you ask me, people are more discriminating while reading buyer comments on Amazon—it’s just assumed that the most extreme opinions should be ignored as fake marketing efforts—than they are with comment sections on news sites, blogs and social media.

  47. "They never seemed to ask themselves why they thought they needed to say them in the first place." That is my biggest frustration with comments. I am constantly asking that of the 5th and 6th graders I teach.

  48. @KL Pawl Agreed. Unfortunately, it seems that the anonymity of social media gives permission to say what you would not often say to another person face to face. License to speak the most unspeakable things because accountability has been removed.

  49. @MNM I am pretty sure people was vile as this even before the internet. Social media platforms is just a tool. Before the internet they used fanzines, had secret meetings and lit crosses on fire on a more regular basis. The problem is, as Haile Selassie said; “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

  50. @KL Pawl - Most of my comments as simply to correct what I believe to be factual errors which somebody should correct. For example, today I have corrected 2 comments that savagely ripped Hillary's word "deplorables' out of context and use it to mean precisely the opposite of what she was saying.

  51. I'm going to rain on any humor that attempts to rise out of this column. Mr. Sokol hit on a very serious issue facing our republic. An issue that I have glossed over but now see it staring all of us in the face. Many commenters here have reported that rural conservatives they know have stated that they don't care if Trump's policies hurt them just so long as they hurt liberals. Their unyielding support for Trump is anchored in a desire to punish those that didn't get left behind. I dismissed that as just talk from outliers. Then the other on a clip on CNN, Carl Bernstein said this speaking of Trump supporters' motivations and I quote him exactly, "their desires to see the other side wiped out" He is one of the most preeminent journalists of our day and he doesn't resort to inflammatory rhetoric. Then it all hit home. All the pieces fit together. This Trump thing isn't about helping them. It's all about hurting others. That's why the lies about the "deep state" are so effective. That's anti-immigrant sentiment is so strong. Fixing immigration might help the liberals. They can't let that happen. This understanding drives home the sad reality that there can be no compromise with these people. They will only be satisfied when the liberals are worse off than they are. They actually want Trump to tear the place up. Not to make things better for them, but to ruin everything for everyone else. That's how bad things are. Time to get tough.

  52. @Bruce Rozenblit "Not to make things better for them, but to ruin everything for everyone else. That's how bad things are. Time to get tough," got me wondering if a different strategy than "get tough" is called for. What would you do, exactly, to demonstrate "tough"? Have us do collectively? .

  53. @Bruce Rozenblit "Time to get tough" I'm not sure what you mean. Violence? Round them all up and throw them in jail? A large part of the country feels they are being left behind by an educated elite that has seized the gains from globalization and the end of the cold war and is quite happy to leave the less educated, less urban parts of the country to wither and die. They don't feel represented by either of the traditional parties; the Republicans only cater to the rich, and the Democrats despise them for not being either urban, educated, or a visible minority. Why do we have no policies that benefit these people? They have employer health insurance (although it is expensive), they don't make the minimum wage, and they're not sending their kids to expensive universities, just the local college. Germany and Japan have policies that encourage manufacturing and help the working class. The Democratic party only helps those in poverty, those going to University, those who want an abortion, the LGBT community, and minorities. This country labels working people "deplorable", and now you're going to get tough with them. Well, I suspect they'll aim to get tough back at you. That is not a solution.

  54. @Mark Schlemmer I meant politically to get tough. There is no sense in trying to compromise or cater to people who wish to tear the place down. They cannot be convinced to change their attitudes. They must be overpowered politically, out voted. There is no more center. So long as such a huge percentage of the population want to hurt the rest, no center can exist. This nation cannot move forward with the kind of attitude that wants to rip up everything.

  55. Thank you for your service. I have to admit this piece made me laugh more than I had ever imagined it would have. It is both very much believable, and ridiculously absurd what and where our populace is headed. Just because we can doesn't mean we should. Ruff

  56. I had forgotten I knew this long ago before the events that took that innate ability away. As long as you can maintain your cool and not let the remarks get to you personally, you can always win them over. Sadly that works if you are good or bad. Luckily most bad people cannot help but be paranoid.

  57. Great insight from someone who put the time in and is now more informed than anyone who might be comfortable and happy in their own media bubble (I include myself in that group). I don't know how you could have done this for so long but the fact that you withstood this onslaught for four years of the Obama administration and two of Trump's give you a perspective I can only imagine achieving. Kudos to you for keeping your wits while falling down the rabbit hole. One thing you left out is the compensation for such Yeoman's work, because you couldn't pay me enough to put up with such constant negativity, even though I find myself crying in my underwear for free quite often in the last two years.

  58. This was almost funny. AI would be more effective at moderating sites than the current process. The politically correct and dull-witted moderation that does not understand satire, at some sites like the Washington Post, are so bad that I quit reading or commenting on the Post some time back.

  59. @Ronn It is hilarious that the politically correct liberals have NO uderstanding or tolerance of humor. During most of the 20th century, it was liberalism that championed humor and its attempts to remediate what was wrong with society.

  60. @Ronn this site isn't very good at detecting satire either. It's that or they don't tolerate it.

  61. Thank you for those insights, Mr. Sokol. I do find respite here reading the nytimes comments. It's the only site where I come away learning from the commentators, who share their very often amazing experiences to illuminate or extend the central article. I guess bravo to us, and bravo to the nytimes comment moderators :-)

  62. @john thoren Agreed. It keeps me going, reading the nytimes comments and articles. And listening to Stephen Colbert.

  63. @john thoren What I appreciate about the NYT Comments sections is that they are no-troll zones. While a wide arrange of views are expressed -- proportional I think to the Times' readership, which leans left -- rarely are there any that are offensive or vulgar on their face. Nor are they allowed to be personal towards another participant. I shudder to imagine the piles of rubbish through which they must wade, although suspect that the job of an objective moderator on a right-wing site must be a special kind of torture.

  64. Clearly the anonymity of the internet has given people of all stripes and opinions the green light to say whatever they think and feel no matter the consequences to the reader or their intended audience. I have often thought that all of us who comment have huge ego needs to be heard. It seems that our measly little opinions have way more importance to ourselves than anybody else. So the internet allows us to rant and rave about things that we normally would not dare say in the presence of someone else. This is why it is so scary right now. Will the line between what we think and feel get crossed into some perverted action (like going out and shooting people). It couldn't be more clear that for some that's exactly what's happening.

  65. @Ann It is hardly the internet that is to blame for the society failing to implement decency and good morals on its people, the internet is a tool and just like any other tool it can be used in bad ways. The problem is with people, and the solution is with people. Not the technology.

  66. @Daniel You have great faith in your and your fellow human beings' rationality. But, at some point, you have to question it. It may be that we are unable to resist the technology--that we are irrational, highly-social animals, and we have been placed into a new ecology that we are simply incapable of being productive in.

  67. @Greg Excellent thread developing! My personal take on the issues raised by Ann is that technology is racing ahead and outpacing easily the social development of humanity. Certainly, technology is not at fault, as it is just a tool, as pointed out by Daniel, but rather our education in handling such powerful tools is lacking. All that hate, ignorance and paranoia has always been there in the mix of society. The problem is that many are drowning in an ocean of information; many lack the education on how to disseminate and identify what is truthful and relevant, and what is something else. Eventually, society will educate itself on how to handle social media and the age of information correctly, and more importantly, sift through the bulk and retain what is intelligent reportage, educated comments, and relevant information. It will take time, although I am sure our generation is providing an example to our children and grandchildren on how not to go about it...I can just envision all the head-shaking and "What were they thinking?" reactions to the history of our informational era.

  68. Our society became a leader of the world with a writer's real name being attached to everything they said. The social media swirl is only damaging; even worse, it is isolating. Social media should carry an ''X'' rating - adults only.

  69. "... with a writer's real name being attached to everything they said." The Federalist papers were all published under the pseudonym "Publius". See the Wikipedia article titled "List of pseudonyms used in the American Constitutional debates" for a long list. And writers have long published anonymously or under pseudonyms, for example: * Mary Shelley's name was not on the first edition of "Frankenstein". * "George Eliot" is the pseudonym of novelist Mary Anne Evans. * Edgar Allen Poe used the pseudonym "Henri Le Rennet" for some of his works. Etc.

  70. @The Observer Hello Mr Observer.

  71. No Kidding comedian, you have really inspired me to reflect on the effects I must be having on the comment moderators here. As a liberal propelled by all the injustices we have seen in the past decade from conservatives, I now realize so much and will empathize better with the moderators. I will always keep in mind the moderators as my readers and later, the reading public we all address between each other. I try to be well written but at times the news is so frustrating. I have in the past had the purpose of writing to the reporters so I'm more focused but your writing will help to refine my writing. Thank you.

  72. Finally, someone from the "other side of the comments section screen" speaks out. Truth has a way of ultimately winning every time my friend, despite some of our very best efforts to defeat it. At our deepest truest place, we are all simply seeking for reconnection with one another, and with truth, despite some of the rather bizarre and seemingly contrary paths we sometimes seem to take to avoid it! Thanks for taking on the never ending and thankless task of being a "cat herder," for a while.

  73. @Scott Perry I would rather that comment sections did not exist. I can hardly remember a comment that made me feel uplifted, and I am certain that my comments have had the same lack of effect. After I wrote the above, I read Scott Perry's comment, and I can say that I felt uplifted for a moment and sighed a breath of relief. There is no going back on Comments Sections, however, I have often wondered if there was a mechanism wherein true dialog could be fostered. For example, a change in the views of one of the participants could indicate effective dialog.

  74. @Hakuna Matata There is a true dialog mechanism. It's known as the forum format. In the beginning, that's what the internet was, a.k.a. newsgroups. The closest equivalent now is Reddit.

  75. A liberal moderating conservative comments. I get it. I'm a liberal writing about conservative public comments and deeds. We write for the same reasons; frustration with injustice.

  76. @PATRICK There is a difference. Liberals tend to be way more fact based than conservatives. Global warming is a hoax. Evolution is not real. There is even a Creationist museum in Tennessee. Socialism is what we see in Venezuela not Denmark. And on and on.

  77. I go to the Drudge Report to see what the "other side" is thinking, even though Drudge itself is pretty tame compared to what's out there. After clicking on an article, I'll wander down to the comment section and am consistently appalled by the raw hatred being spewed. Fox, for example, apparently has no moderators, or if they do, they only choose the most inflammatory comments. Sadly, these sentiments were always around and are only now being made visible under cloak of anonymity; though at least finally everyone's aware of how stunted a society we actually are.

  78. The First Amendment is being put to the test like never before. What does a one eyed man in a land of anonymous trolls look like? We got our answer in 2016. Emotions get the better of me at times and I have posted words that I have regretted. It’s a learning process which if pursued with an eye towards tolerance may one day yield benefits in the future if comments can eventually be made in people’s real names to influence policies in our putative democracy. The ubiquitous and ephemeral nature of commenting is now nothing more than sound and fury, a distraction, an entertainment. Whether it morphs into something productive will be interesting to witness.

  79. @Thomas I disagree with having to use real names, or full names, in comment sections. We aren't op-ed writers; we're just ordinary people. People who express themselves reasonably and respectfully have opinions that may not be popular in their place of work, for example, or with clients, and don't want to be exposed, not because they are saying anything shameful, but because they cannot afford to jeopardize their work or family lives. The NYT knows who we all are for real, so there is accountability that way that I think prevents people on this site from promoting destructive or bizarre conspiracy theories or inciting violence. The rest is free speech. I appreciate the moderators on this site enormously. I try reading comments sections for other papers and sites and, even when I may agree with some of the policies or opinions expressed, find the language and nastiness disheartening.

  80. @Sarah D. Well-said. Disheartening. But even worse than angry comments are those that short circuit the logic of democratic expression and rational conversation with lies, misinformation, and willful ignorance. Comments that call right left, for example, are demoralizing and should be deleted.

  81. @Sarah D. I so agree with your observations! I actually spend as much time reading the comments to articles in the NYT as I do the articles themselves. The quality and relevance of these comments often augment the strength of the writer's thoughts and opinions, but that is only because moderators behind the scene maintain a high standard of presentation. I am sure many of us subscribers have attempted to do so with other news outlets, such as Huffington, and were quickly disgusted and shocked by the free-for-all antics and ignorance.

  82. Yup. I created an alternate me and signed on to the Tea Party site back in 2010. I read their comments & blogs for several years. After a while, nothing surprises. I occasionally HAD to say something. One site eventually ID'd me as a troll and blocked me; I signed on to another. That one never found me (I became more cautious about saying anything), but eventually I'd had enough. There is plenty of hate out there; plenty of delusion; plenty of crazy conspiracy theory belief. The web is an echo chamber, so a Tea Partier wanting to "prove" the veracity of that wild story or rumor would cite a number of other right-wing sites. It must be true, all these other sites say so. I'm not so much demoralized, but rather clear that the people who support Trump are not just beleaguered ordinary Americans who feel left out or left behind. Many of them are bigots, racists, and purveyors of conspiracy theory who said it before Trump did. So very much of what roils the media and the left when Trump says it is not new - it's been out there on the web for years. Now they just have an official and powerful mouthpiece for their repugnant ideas.

  83. @Anne-Marie Hislop Very well said. The electoral process needs a moderator more badly than newspapers do. Trump's candidacy should have been deleted way back at the start of the 2015 campaign. That he was allowed to keep going with his blatant bigotry speaks volumes to the moral and ethical malaise that grips America. And now he's become normalized.

  84. @Anne-Marie Hislop Fox has really created a monster. Very powerful feedback loop for bolstering each other's resentment and jointly "sticking it to the libruls".

  85. These are people who were desperate to be acknowledged. Trump tapped into that. Clinton referred to them as deplorables. Obama's campaign strategy of turning out supporters and not engaging with those who he knew were never going to be in his camp (a strategy adopted by others as well), of going high while they go low (i.e. ignoring them), was not effective at changing the conversation. He didn't change the conversation, he simply moderated it while in office, and sought out those whose approaches jibed with his own. He had no ambassador comparable to Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as the eyes and ears of FDR. Every politician in office now should have people reading comments on major websites to get a window into crowd sentiment.

  86. @DebbieR - Read Clinton's comment in context. She did NOT refer to the "people who were desperate to be acknowledged" as deplorables. She said (and I quote from the same remark you reference). "Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well." The people she said were in the " the basket of deplorables" were "The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it." Do you, Debbie, deny that many of THESE people supported Trump? It is quotes like this, savagely ripped out of context, that contributed to the present disaster of the Presidency.

  87. @DebbieR What you are suggesting is that presidents should not only know what awful lies are being said about them (and I am quite sure that Obama knew full well the racism that was directed at him) but should base their policies on that. Of course that is the path that Trump has taken: he chose what the most racist and ignorant Americans wanted to hear and amplified that. It may have worked in the sense that he won the presidency but it has certainly debased our country in a way that no previous president ever has. As for Eleanor Roosevelt, she was an endless target of mockery and contempt for her liberal views. The same people who hated her are the ancestors of today's haters.

  88. The thing about comment sections is that it's impossible to tell how representative the views are. I truly enjoy reading the comment section of the NY Times. The comments that rise to the top as well as those that are featured tend to be well written, thought provoking, and often written by someone who has experience in the subject at hand. On the other hand, at a Canadian newspaper I read daily, I often can't bear to wade into the comment section. Particularly if the article is about women, or marriage, or indigenous people. My impression is of a group of bitter, angry old men. I don't feel like I've learned anything reading those comments. I just come away depressed at the state of the world. I'm often left wondering why it's so different. I suppose moderation must have a lot to do with it. If so, thank goodness for the moderators.

  89. @Meg I think I know what newspaper you are talking about and I had to cancel my subscription because the comments were so horrible and yet so addictive. I would end up being so angry and upset all day. Any article about gender - even remotely about gender - evoked a litany of hateful comments about how all women supposedly are. Diddo for articles about young people, left-leaning people, people of color, etc. I hate that newspaper now and just read US and UK papers instead. So, I also send a big shout-out to the moderators. I don't know how they do it - it could seriously cause PTSD and a complete loss of faith in humanity. I hope the job is well-paid: horrid comments sections can seriously tarnish and ruin an online newspaper reading experience and one's overall opinion about that publication.

  90. @Meg, Yes, it's the moderators. To see this, look at the Washington Post, where there is little moderation.

  91. @Meg Hi Meg. I enjoyed your reply, and it made me think. I am ignorant of Canadian news habits but will still put my neck out: It may also be the nature of the readers in the USA. I believe that many "everyman" conservatives don't look at papers like the Times --increasingly so since Trump. Today, I bet very few Trumpists read the NYT. Trump told them to boycott it. My own brother, who supports Trump, said that if the NYT said if the Times said the sky was blue he wouldn't believe it. When I remarked innocently that I didn't know he read the NYT enough to form that opinion ,he looked like a deer in the headlights.

  92. Two things are interesting. The internet allows people to write opinions they would never do on a soapbox in full view of the public at high noon. In full disclosure, that is my own point of reference when writing or editing one of my own comments. As a follower of a dozen FB pages from left to right, it is amazing how many commenters write the most vile, disgusting and flat out untrue comments with impunity and have such a warped and erroneous view of the "other". Second, an example of how you cannot change the minds of others comes from the Obama administration. If one recalls, the dire warnings about gun regulation, gun control, gun seizure and a national registry dominated conservative airwaves leading up to his election in the first term. 8 years later, little regulation, no seizure and no registry. It mattered little to the conservative right that it never happened.

  93. @tom I think those conservatives believe that their vigilance prevented Obama from taking all the guns and locking everyone up. I'm sure it isn't true, but how do you argue it?

  94. @Sarah D. By showing through historical documents that President Obama never advocated or attempted to pressure legislators to enact anti-gun laws in Congress.

  95. @AlexiusStephens Thank you, you're right. But they still could claim that he didn't dare to, due to their pressure.

  96. This brilliant essay is at once the most accurate and concise, and also the most frightening, explanation of where we are and how we got here that I've read.

  97. For better or worse, a comments section polls the responses of patrons of websites and news. And like ads and editorials, our comments also affirm or challenge prejudices but seldom change them. But whenever a comments expresses an idea that is true, it will withstand criticism and attack. In time it can be the good idea that drives out the bad ideas, as did the early attempts of a few commenters demanding that mainstream websites prohibit racist slurs. It took a few years for mainstream media to respond, but now censorship of offensive slurs is everyhere but a few dark web sites of extremist views and small numbers of readers. A minority of one point of view is now adopted as the majority view. And for some commenters that is satisfaction enough for their contribution to dialogues in the public interest. As Dr. Samuel Johnson puts it, the free traffic in ideas enriches us all.

  98. Surely, the last line would be that after 6 years the algorithm won.

  99. @Anne Oudine; I thought it was a long way to go for a punch line; liked yours better.

  100. I find the NYT comment sections to be well moderated. Most of the comments appear to be well reasoned and written, an a lot of them are a pleasure to read. I read them to gain more information and knowledge about the story they apply to. And I love a well articulated argument, even if I disagree with it. Ad hominem attacks and throwaway insults add nothing to the discourse, but I guess they are informative in a way, and make the commentator feel better about themselves.

  101. Great article. I, too, worked as comment moderator on a variety of mainstream newspapers. In the few years I did it, I saw the comment sections win too. Some publications chose to close them down all together. I had noticed the strong patterns of pro-Trump comments, anti-Hillary comments and fake news. I'm convinced there was a sustained and orchestrated propaganda campaign underway, probably by paid posters, and comment sections were used the same way as Facebook - to spread misinformation and sow the seeds of Trumpism.

  102. Loved the column, but these are two sentences I loved most. "I worked in my underwear a lot of times. I went jogging at lunch." I wish I'd lived in the neighborhood.

  103. Thanks for the laugh first thing this morning, Mr. Sokol, though by the end of your piece I was in tears as well.

  104. The internet business model (more clicks, more eyeballs, more advertising revenue) rewards what’s offensive and hateful. Arousing emotions engages people. We might do better by paying for access and eliminating or minimizing the advertising. Oh, but didn’t cable tv once promise to be without advertising?

  105. @C Longinotti If it outrages it engages and gets pages.

  106. Prior to the 2016 election, I remember browsing the comments section of a range of conservative media sites, just to see what Trump's supporters were saying. To me the most shocking types of comments were those in what appeared to be an ongoing conversation about civil war here in the U.S. Commenters had already stockpiled the weapons they planned to use against their fellow citizens. They had thoughts about military strategies and safe houses and MREs and the like, to deal with the chaos of a war they were sure was coming, and that they appeared to welcome. It was the logical extreme of "stick it to the liberals, as in: "They wanted a president who would stick it to the liberals. They didn’t care that supporting him would mean changing their positions on any number of issues."

  107. @Julie: It sounds like changing their positions is the least of it if they are preparing to go to war against the USA.

  108. @mlbex Exactly. A lack of civil discourse seems so mild in comparison to what I hope are just a few fringe types willing to go to war.

  109. Have you read the comments sections here? Doesn't exactly give one hope. And they are edited for civility, which makes you wonder what the others were like. It's a polarized world becoming more polarized by media playing to their markets. Conservatives and progressives. People read nothing but arguments that support their arguments. Bolsters their beliefs. Makes it profoundly surprising that anyone can be opposed to their views. Their most be some moral deprivation in those who do. Not a christian, but maybe take a look in the mirror before casting that stone. There's not a lot of triangulation out there these days. People trying to understand the beliefs of those who oppose them. Just preaching to the choir. That's what you're doing here. Does it add value?

  110. My husband was a newspaper columnist. He never read the comments. He believed if people had something to say, they should publish their name and phone number with it, as he did

  111. The Trump phenomena is not surprising really. It’s the same reason why bullies have followers at school. Some people just revel in watching others tormented and those people came out in droves to watch Trump verbally taunt and pummel the Republican field first, then Hillary. Of course, at the end of the day, the bully does nothing for you. The sad part is seeing so many people I know... people who were clearly decent, kind hearted, logical and smart become full on Trump supporters. The main reason given was their disgust for Hillary Clinton. After decades of being attacked for virtually nothing, it finally did her in. When I asked what exactly did Hillary do wrong no one could articulate anything other than to say one word answers like “Benghazi” or those “emails!” How quaint these non-issues seem to be now in the face of full blown Trump scandals, crimes and traitorous actions.

  112. @Y She looked the other way (her husbands indiscretions.) That mattered to a lot of the women I know who thought it was because she needed his connections to become president. Not seeing her supporters on election night was the ultimate sign of her weakness. IMO

  113. @Y There's always about 34-40% of any large population that are of the authoritarian mindset. These people are often bullies. It's also about the same percentage of Americans who support trump. They gain power through manipulation (jerrymandering, twisting rules to their advantage, etc.), and the other percent of a population who don't care so don't vote, or vote haphazardly and based on slick advertising appeals.

  114. @Y Yes. My fundamentalist Christian seventy-something in-law told me Hillary Clinton is "worse than terrorists, worse than Osama bin Laden." When I asked why HRC was so terrible, I was told she had people murdered, including "our brave troops" in Benghazi. It's like in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four when they flash the "enemy" on the screen and the crowd reacts with a mindless rant ("lock her up!")

  115. This article is a terrific illustration for why anonymity should be banned, or at least severely restricted, in online environments. In his book "Cyberspace: First Steps" Michael Benedikt proposed seven principles for cyberspace, and one of them is the Principle of Personal Visibility. The basic idea is that public life online should rest on accountability, just as it does offline. The right to see others comes with the responsibility of being seen oneself. (Benedikt recognized that there should be exceptions to protect the vulnerable.) It's very unfortunate that this principle was ignored, because we're seeing the catastrophic effects of a complete lack of accountability. Perhaps there needs to be a complete overhaul of the Internet to create digital personas that are unique and secure -- this ought to be possible with technologies like encryption and blockchain. You get one username for life, with various options, controls, and protections. Side thought: Perhaps the *entire* Internet needs to be redesigned, with security built in at the bottom, and a structure that allows automatic micropayments to creators of content. You create something popular online, the money-per-click goes to you, not to corporations. Societies require a delicate balance between privacy and accountability. It's clear we've got the balance wrong. It's time for the trolls to be thrust into the light. Let's see how courageous they are when their personal reputations are on the line.

  116. @Michael Chorost Very interesting point; imagine if people couldn't be anonymous...they would remain silent. But, even in email, with whom you might know the sender, people lose their sense of civility and spew vitriol only to be embarrassed (hopefully) when called on the remark. I think you are onto something important.

  117. "They get angry at the fact that they’re not allowed to say certain things. They never seemed to ask themselves why they thought they needed to say them in the first place." Never underestimate the desire of people to prove how stupid, shallow, vile, gross, and crude they are... when they think they can do so anonymously. Even in this esteemed newspaper, it seems like a majority of the comments come from people not immediately identifiable as 'real names'. Why wouldn't someone want to comment using their own name - when everyone believes that their comment is going to show the world how insightful, brilliant, funny, caring, or patriotic they really are... Of course, when I read what some very well known people put forth as 'tweets', perhaps that is not the true motivation for some people when spouting forth their 'wisdom' for the world to know. Our very well-know "@realDonaldTrump" surely fails to consider just what he reveals in so many of his tweets. I don't "do" twitter; I don't "do" instagram; I don't "do" Facebook. Perhaps I'm just anti-social, but it seems to me that personal privacy starts with what you don't "do", and what you don't say, and where you say it when you do say something. I suspect you found enough material in six years auditing internet vitriol to sustain a lifelong career of comedy and writing. Thanks for this column.

  118. @Jim Brokaw My "real name" on the internet is the one I'm using right here. This is the name I use everywhere, and it's no less "real" than the one I use in meatspace.

  119. @Jim Brokow “Why wouldn’t someone want to comment using their own name?” I can assure you a woman would have never asked that question.

  120. @Jim Brokaw "Why wouldn't someone want to comment using their own name" I've been on the internet since before most. I used to use my real name until I got death threats. I was fastidiously polite and reasonable, and still the threats came. So now I am anonymous. And a heck of a lot less polite and reasonable, I'm ashamed to admit.

  121. Read the WSJ comments. They are really scary. And that's just the WSJ.

  122. Agreed. And many Washington Post comments are toxic as well.

  123. Sounds rough. What a shame that it needs to be done at almost every paper.

  124. A few years from now, the oldest trolls among that really angry and ugly troll group will be in a different place: married, partnered, a parent, a professional, a local elected official. Their lives will have settled down; they'll have found meaning and contentment. By then, there will be some sort of computer program that will enable others to search for internet activity like fake identities and trolling in a person's past. That may cost a person a job, a promotion, a relationship, or even a custody case. We will see a time when anyone in the public eye will be confronted with the truly ugly trolling they engaged in, and they'll have to have an answer.

  125. @Katrin I understand where you're going with that, but I think you're being too hopeful.

  126. @Katrin I for one welcome the day when we take away people's jobs and children because of comments they left on a website.

  127. Pogo once said "We have met the enemy and he is us!" We are all doomed.

  128. I visit Fox's website from time to time and the comments are a non-stop stream of hatred and fear, mixed with some posts from folks like me attempting to throw in some facts. I once went on Breitbart and never did again because it was so upsetting to see how vile it was. For example, any mention of HR Clinton immediately devolved into the verbal equivalent of rape and assault. I truly appreciate the NYT for the excellent job it does curating its comments. It's really the best place on the web for user comments that I've ever seen (and I once moderated a discussion board for a number of years - I've seen my fair share of nonsense). The internet really has provided an avenue for us to show off the worst of ourselves, so I dearly appreciate when I can learn from someone with whom I disagree sans insults and personal attacks.

  129. One of the many things I appreciate about the NYT is the consistently excellent moderation of comments. They are almost always intelligent, well written and insightful; rarely do I see name calling or trolling of any sort. I know this does not happen by accident and I wish some of your major competitors would study up on your approach. Kudos to your moderating team, and a thank you to Adam Sokol for highlighting the painful but important work of the online moderator.

  130. Freedoms being stolen..interference in personal choice..attacks on my rights to hold that there are indeed no, "..truths to be held self evident"..a reliance on a non philosophy, the ol' "It doesn't make any difference anyway" We are living not only a 'perfect storm' of failed conservatism..and adding to that sad bizarro world a sick plot twist, sort of like the pod people of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" on acid (picture that).

  131. I'm cynical I guess. I think the comments sections probably save lives by giving the more unbalanced among us an outlet to vent instead of arming themselves with the intent of doing bodily harm.

  132. @LHP Unfortunately, it works the other way: indulging in rage increases rage.

  133. @LHP -I guess I think it functions more like an echo chamber that just keeps increasing in volume until it drives someone over the edge until they arm themselves and actually cause someone harm. The perfect example of this is PizzaGate.

  134. I hope you're right. But I doubt it.

  135. Thanks for sharing your experiences. The only comments I ever look at are in moderated contexts, such as those in the Times, as all others are just too horrible to read. The internet, unfortunately, has uncovered the ugliness in so much of humanity.

  136. Well, someone’s got to keep things from going crazy and if moderators are willing to do it, well, better them than me. That said, if I found myself sifting through the worst that internet comment sections had to offer... especially on a far-right website... in Trump’s U.S.... I’d hold a grudge against my high school guidance counselor for life.

  137. I daily read both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to get a wider spectrum of viewpoints and reporting, both left and right of center. But the comments sections of both publications convince me that most of the readers of either of these publications seldom read the other. It's like both sets of readers have 'horse blinkers' on their eyes. They just don't 'see' any other viewpoint. Or am I missing something here?

  138. @Kenneth Johnson Ken, I think you hit the nail on the head. Americans are getting their news and their information from their preferred sources, and these increasingly are becoming echo chambers. It's as though we live in completely different worlds. It's hard to see things changing, any improvement, unless and until this changes.

  139. @Kenneth Johnson I too read both the NYT and WSJ. I comment occasionally on the former and prolifically on the latter. WSJ comment threads are odd. In response to perhaps two-thirds of articles or columns dealing with partisan issues, the comments are overwhelmingly conservative or Trump-loving. But for a sizable minority of articles, the majority of comments (and the "most liked" ones) show a liberal (or vehemently anti-Trump) tonality and I need to double-check whether I am reading the WSJ and not The Washington Post or New York Times. I rather like the fact that WSJ comment threads are somewhat unpredictable and will provide exposure to alternative points of view. By the way, if you "go to war" as a progressive commenter on a non- or minimally-moderated conservative website, even a supposedly high-brow one like WSJ, you better have thick skin. And also don't have delusions that you'll cause someone from the other side to "see the light" as a result of what you have to say, regardless of how fact-based or well-articulated it is.

  140. @Kenneth Johnson I think this lack of empathy is most of the problem.

  141. Just a guess here, but maybe part of the rage is that the media ignores the things these people are het up about. A number of topics are forbidden or barely mentioned. There is not a frank discussion of the state of our country. The deranged, deprived and disappointed fester and explode.

  142. @Liz I think that's true, but I also think that we underestimate the percentage of commenters who are really, truly, just looking to be obnoxious enough to get a rise out of somebody. I work with 20-somethings--lots of them--and they tell me that trolling is entertainment for a certain segment of the (let's face it, immature) population. I knew a guy who used to drive around throwing things at bicyclists, just because it entertained him to see them freak out. He wasn't anti-bicyclist; he was just juvenile, well into his twenties. If he'd actually hurt someone, I'm sure he would've been remorseful.

  143. I don't say this very often, but, "Thank you for your service."

  144. Even supposed "main stream" comment sections suffer from this malady. Take Yahoo News for instance, whose comment section is nothing more than a mosh pit. The pattern is clear. Certain articles are targeted for their controversial nature and the ability to sow fractiousness. The approval numbers for the worst comments far outpace approval ratings for genuine comments by the thousands to the point of transparent ridiculousness. Other articles are completely ignored by these trolls, who are likely based in the Internet Research Agency. Outright racism is the most common, with pro-Russian/pro-Trump comments left to percolate, engendering anger and conflict. Outrage at the failure of Facebook and Twitter to moderate their content is justified, while the same permissive behavior by other popular sites goes on unabated and ignored by the media. Contrary to the contention by those who wish to bring down our democracy, free speech has little to do with it. An organized program to create chaos across as many democratic societies as possible is thriving in plain sight, with little or no attempt by our government or most others to identify and punish it.

  145. Gab is a closer to free speech social media platform. They have a browser addon called Dissenter that lets have a comments section on any web page. I agree "free spech" brings in a lot of trolls but I also see a lot of censorship on many platforms for legitimate views and facts that don't fit the moderators personal world views. I think conservative and liberal commenters should only be moderated by people with similar views so people aren't just deleting stuff because it challenges their own views.

  146. It's not only conservatives that spew their venom when they comment on line. There was an article on a very liberal site about Sheldon Adelson's recent bout with cancer (non Hodgekins lymphoma) which has kept him out of his office since the holidays. One comment read, "Sheldon Adelson is cancer". Over 400 likes. "Has cancer? He is cancer" 100 likes Another person bemoaned the fact that it wasn't pancreatic cancer. 100 likes I am a liberal and I was offended by those comments even though I detest the man. I just wanted to point out that the left can be cruel too.

  147. @scott k. -You're right, even though I wish you weren't. In my opinion though the liberal hatemongers are much worse than the conservative ones.

  148. @scott k. I'm not sure what evidence exists that is was liberals who were were rooting for Adelson to die of a terminal disease. Many "liberal" sites are colonized by right-wing trolls. Likewise, anti-semitic vitriol seems to be a specialty of the right-wing, although I'm sure there are left-wingers out there who engage in despicable mud-slinging as well. I am wary of another false equivalency between conservatives and liberals--have you seen footage of any Trump rally? I don't know of any equivalent for that kind of hate in the center or on the left. While no group is perfect, the current hate climate does seem to list more to the right.

  149. He was a major trump donor and he is reaping the hatred he has sown. That sword cuts both ways. The top 1/10th percent made the decision to exercise their power through the corruption of minds, rather than building public libraries, swimming pools, parks... And the sad state of our social discourse is the result of it.

  150. Adam Sokol is probably still “working” for that conservative site. He just doesn’t get paid for it. His pattern of moderation was likely captured by a computer program and used to generate an algorithm to build an AI system like Mod Bot or JuLiA or Perspective or Moderator that can automatically read and flag comments. So a virtual Adam will be working (perhaps forever!) to separate the Internet comment wheat from the chaff. I’ve read in Wired magazine that sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are sometimes flooded with as much as 60% bot comments during peak news events. How far away are we from a day when bots write most of the comments that get flagged by other bots? Is there still a place for us, the humans? Or are we engineering ourselves out of the dialogue?

  151. The comment sections are always biased towards the site's bias which means there is nothing on them to broaden one's world view. I think the country would be much better if they were all taken down. Just because one can have internet comments sections doesn't mean that one should.

  152. @Linda Bell If you don't believe in comments sections, why are you here? I love the comments sections I visit. A lot of them share wonderful ideas, including this one. But I rarely visit "right-wing" ones and I don't enjoy the name-calling and trolling that happens on Facebook.

  153. "After doing the job for a while, I wasn’t liberal anymore. I certainly wasn’t conservative. I just resented everyone with opinions and an internet connection." Many people share that resentment. While we're too busy on election day, doing all those important things like being "normal" and not being a political nerd, the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum (which circle back behind and meet up somewhere), conspire to make life miserable for us--for at least the next two years. You know, if we gave those elections as much attention as we give buying that car or choosing that artisan coffee drink, we'd outnumber those kooks and OCD apparatchiks, and we'd elect some normal, rational people to those offices. Think of it this way. All those people NOT writing these comments, well the NYT moderators probably would like to go to dinner with right now. The rest of us are driving them to quaff new and innovative cocktail mixes of Nyquil and Maalox, and scanning the ads for car sales jobs.

  154. "They wanted a president who would stick it to the liberals...All they knew was that he drove the liberals crazy. He was just like all of the anonymous internet commenters...And they all rallied around him." Bullseye. There is no policy, there are no ideas. The GOP cupboard has been bare for decades. What's left?-- there's always old-time liberal bashing. Is this just reflexive paranoia? Consider "Rolling Coal"... "...Rolling coal is the practice of modifying a diesel engine to increase the amount of fuel entering the engine in order to emit large amounts of black or grey sooty exhaust fumes into the a form of conspicuous air pollution, for entertainment or protest...drivers intentionally trigger coal rolling in the presence of hybrid vehicles (when it is nicknamed "Prius repellent") to cause their drivers to lose sight of the road and inhale harmful air pollution. Coal rolling may also be directed at bicyclists, protesters, and pedestrians." Isn't that just precious?

  155. @bobg Wow. My goodness. Where's that text from?

  156. "All they knew was that he drove the liberals crazy." Yes! This is what I have found from every right wing person I come into contact with. It is not about ideas or anything else just "liberal tears" and "snowflakes." Such pure hatred. This next quote explains everything... "They wanted a president who would stick it to the liberals. They didn’t care that supporting him would mean changing their positions on any number of issues." This is why I am so disheartened. About 30% of Americans are just plain mean. Even when Trump is gone in just 2 years we will all bear the scars of knowing that a large fraction of voters were willing to sacrifice the very country that they live in just to see some "liberal tears." Even reluctant Republicans please understand that we will never forget your betrayal of this country. You are all guilty of this. And please don't mistake tears for weakness.

  157. I learned about the term "kayfabe" in an essay here in the NY Times shortly after Trump was elected. It's the best explanation of the "alternate reality" that Trump supporters inhabit, which is psychologically similar to the mindset that fans of pro wrestling inhabit. It's all about that cathartic feeling that some people get when spewing venom at a common enemy. A mindset where feelings are more important than facts. It's all about eliciting an emotional high. Read here:

  158. @RP Smith, thank you for the link. That essay sums up the times we live in.

  159. I currently work as a moderator. In fact, I'm trapped at home between two 90-minute shifts right now, and I have a 30 minute shift at 4am tomorrow. Imagine your workday is 7 hours, but those hours are spread out over 12 hours with five breaks in between each shift. You can't leave the house. I work for the largest and oldest social media moderation company in America. The workforce is over 200 moderators, and none of us have any benefits whatsoever. They even limit our shifts to under four hours each so they don't have to give us a 15 minute break required by labor laws. We're scheduled around the clock, literally, and hours capped at 29.5 a week to ensure nobody qualifies for healthcare. Working at home is a "perk" but it's also a HUGE money-saver for the company. They literally have NO office space, anywhere — just a PO Box near the wealthy CEO's condo in Manhattan. Mods pay for everything out-of-pocket from electricity and internet access to computers and software. It's especially infuriating when your computer is infected with something nefarious while working, and you lose wages while trying to repair your own system! Moderators desperately need a labor union. We're such an invisible workforce, none of the unions serve us.

  160. So the primary motivating impulse of the conservative commentators was "they wanted a president who would stick it to the liberals". Well, no good can come of rampant animus towards your fellow citizens, only an escalating hate that leads deeper into darkness.

  161. I admit the literacy of comments in the NYT is above those on the best known conservative site, but the conservative commenters are funnier and wittier, the things they say make me laugh and often hit the nail on the head in ways the more nuanced NYT comments seldom do. If I may say, the besetting sin of liberal commenters is their rock-ribbed confidence in their own intellectual superiority and moral rectitude--they just can't accept that we're all equally dumb and feeling our way in the dark. I worry that people who 'know' what's right and what needs to be done and don't fear to project their ideas not only into the future, but onto their fellow citizens, are highly dangerous--that's the greatest threat posed by the left. In all their self-confidence they'll cheerfully lead the nation right over the cliff and on the way down excuse themselves saying they were right all along but things were mismanaged and don't blame them, they're intellectuals, their job is to think-up the ideas, that they can't be responsible for correct implementation--CRASH!

  162. @Ronald B. Duke I really don't see many examples of "...we're all equally dumb and feeling our way in the dark". The comments on The New York Times are, by and large, far more thoughtful and nuanced than what I read on many other sites. The larger problem is what to do when so many people don't have enough skill to make thoughtful arguments, so they resort to name-calling instead. We wouldn't have such a big divide in ideology if everyone had a solid education in critical thinking. Instead, we'd be talking about specific policy options--what's affordable, what isn't, what's essential, what's not. With an educated populace, we'd be talking about how to do a step-by-step transition to renewable resources via a process where we don't go so fast that we crash our existing carbon-based economy, nor go so slow that we crash from eco-collapse. Instead, rather than debating specific steps to solve a real problem, we are stuck debating the reality of the problem. That is only possible because a lot of people haven't learned how to think.

  163. I’m an American of a certain age so I remember when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Afterward, the news median asked the question: is America a sick society? Maybe it always was sick, having been born with slavery. The years since the Civil War have seen countless lynchings and other atrocities. Only a truly sick society could fight a war like Vietnam and think it was right. The internet has just exposed the sickness and rubbed it in our faces. Crying is a healthy reaction.

  164. "After six years, the comment section won." This is a frightening measure of the pernicious subversion that the pompous pretender occupying and besmirching our White House is inflicting on our society. The word "normalization" is used by the media to describe this cultural disintegration. I would make the argument that this is, by several orders of magnitude, a dangerous understatement. If we accept the rampant dishonesty and slightly camouflaged racism, bigotry and xenophobia expressed by this "president", and lest we forget, supported by most of the GOP, or we use such egregious behaviour to justify the degeneration of our own standards in the public discourse, then we are confederates in the decline and fall of the American Democracy.

  165. I'm curious about the name of the website that Adam Sokol worked for. Not doubting him- I just want to know if it's a site where I've previously browsed the comments. The most right-wing sites- Breitbart, for example- are well-known for banning posters once it becomes plain that they aren't going to parrot the party line- clearly, there's more than one type of overbearing "political correctness." I've never bothered to add comments on sites that are well-known for that policy. But it takes me aback to learn that some right-wing websites are also heavily moderated to cull the worst posts from readers disposed to share their viewpoint. I had thought that the lunatic fringe was already heavily represented in the comments for, say, Fox News stories. If it turns out that I've only been reading a bowdlerized selection instead of the unabridged version...whoah. I've always thought that it would be educational if, instead of deleting offensive comments, they were instead "firepitted": the moderators could move the plainly inexcusable trash and trollbait from regular comment threads into a separate folder, where those posts would be kept for public review. This would serve several purposes: it would clear story comments for productive discussion- while also archiving troll comments on the record, in all of their trite, repetitive, fixated, unhinged egomaniac vileness. Plus, "free speech"- the trolls would be deprived on any pretext to cry "censorship!"- a tactic they cherish.

  166. Not sure how the author did this for six years. I don’t say that for political reasons. I just could never subject myself to all that hate and negativity for eight hours a day. It is utterly infuriating, depressing, demoralizing and corrosive, all at the same time. I guess what got the author through the day was that he needed the money. Also, on a relative basis, the number of vile lunatics whose comments he saw represented such a small portion of the population at large. But even a small trickle of water will, over time, carve a channel in a rock. Trump and has trickle have been doing their carving for the last couple of years and, predictably, the rock is eroding. The trickle needs to be stopped.

  167. Excellent writing and analysis - required reading for all democrats to understand why the party needs to stop infighting immediately, because the sick forces outside the party are fighting for the death of civil rights and decency as we know it.

  168. The comment sections of social media serves as the visible Id of society, normally hidden within the individual. Moderators serve as the outmatched Superego. Like dysfunctional patients, too many of us turn to drugs to treat ourselves. Likely not an original thought, but apropo none the less.

  169. “They wanted a president who would stick it to the liberals. They didn’t care that supporting him would mean changing their positions on any number of issues.“ Trump is an appalling troll but most of his supporters are not. They are our neighbors and family members who who voted for him or against HRC for a variety of reasons. Some just stayed with their party or supported his positions, but for many the constant condescension of liberals drove them over the edge. As liberals continue to insult Trump voters what was ambivalence becomes absolute support. Let’s not become trolls ourselves in response. It won’t work.

  170. @MHR But you have to admit that watching them is pretty funny. Now I'l like someone to explain how voting for him actually benefitted them, as opposed to voting for Clinton would have.

  171. While obviously depressing and most of the comments I read concur, I don't think we're at the point of no hope. An eight-part series I wrote last year on "Talking to the Trump Voter" ( found some exceptions. There have been efforts to restore civility, some guidelines developed, some organizations working on it. We have to try. Some tidbits that might help: (a) refusing to talk about it, not even trying to re-define what "Talking Politics" has come to mean, is conceding the end of whatever really is special (in a non-gloating, arguably legitimate sense) about America; (b) some of the things I see on my liberal end also don't show us at our best; (c) there actually may be something to the theme that "What we have in common is....;" (d) it is a false choice that we can't try to reach out to the other side, without condoning the worst ideas the author writes about, and still work later in the day for our preferred policies and candidates; (e) modeling civility is only a part of the answer, but it's a necessary part. I'm going to try two new strategies: all things being equal, favor political candidates who make the effort (Biden's praise for a Republican friend was a start), and read up on a research question: whether the increasing attention to empathy at the inter-personal and classroom level might be applicable to the general society.

  172. During the Trump campaign, I noticed many posters using American names and locations, but misusing English articles in the way that Slavic people tend to. For example: "I am not Russian troll" rather than "I am not a Russian troll." I now suspect that these were sucker bait, placed there intentionally by the Russians so that we would think we could recognize the Russian-sponsored content. I suspect that they had more advanced trolls who would then be all the harder to spot. The online commentary culture war is a brand new paradigm that we need to adapt to. Ideas that fail to adapt will perish.

  173. The raw sewage of the internet is if you can stand it a great and disgusting way to learn how people who assume they have no voice but have something earthshaking to say say it. It is little indication of how most people, who have actual lives to live, are thinking or behaving. This goes for both sides.

  174. I think there’s something to the idea that Trump’s primary motivation and everything he does is to “stick it to liberals”. Being from liberal New York he’s probably been like the unpopular kid in high school and now he’s in the position to pay back all his liberal peers who shunned him socially. Also, I find commenting in the NY Times a very positive and healthy activity. Sharing good ideas and truth can become viral hopefully because we live in a time of a war of words which can lead to actions down the road.

  175. @Roscoe - You bet! I often scan NYT articles, then go to Comments, where I learn more than from the articles themselves.

  176. His liberal peers didn't shun him, at least not after he became a celebrity. They accepted campaign contributions from him and socialized with him at all the big events. It wasn't until the Birth Certificate thing with Obama that he was shunned.

  177. I occasionally peruse Fox or the Boston Herald to see what MAGA is thinking. Not much. A lot of fact challenged opinions. Name calling. Gun and wall loving. Hate mongering, Zero mention of Trump's 8,000-plus lies, No demand for his tax returns. No pleas for decency. No mention of the deficit or the tax cuts for uber-rich, Of course, poorly educated whites are disproportionate users of "liberal" Social programs. Wonder what the comments will be come tax bill time, and when their own safety nets are ripped out from under them.

  178. @r mackinnon That's easy: they'll blame Obama.

  179. "All they knew was that he drove the liberals crazy." In recent months, I've seen the Democrats doing a better job of ignoring, or at least minimizing, their reactions to Trump's puerile provocations. Nancy Pelosi has been providing a master class in how it's done and my sense is that it's having an impact on Trump's bullying behaviour. I had not considered what effect it might have on his cheering (and jeering) section. Seeing his nastiness ignored may be the one thing that can weaken Trump's potency with this bunch.

  180. I agree that now that the 2020 election is ramping up, there is less noise from Trump... or at least I hear it less. As a liberal leaning American, I'm much more interested in hearing about the field of democratic candidates and understanding how they are different from each other.

  181. An enjoyable piece, Mr. Sokol. Now I can't wait for you to write a piece about the professional Comment writers lurking in liberal waters meant to convince us that Trump isn't so bad, the liberal press is unfair, and the Dems are just as bad and do the very same things.

  182. @Lawrence Zajac The piece isn't needed; you know it all.

  183. Immoderation in all things is the current policy. It is hard to moderate a society in which moderation itself is mocked. No one represents us out here in the pragmatic middle. By standing still moderate Republicans are now liberals and liberals are socialist and socialists are Che Guevara. But in truth, I don't really think the trolls won, so much as I think the folks who could use the trolls to peel off more than their share of power and riches used the trolls to skim the wealth of the nation for themselves. The result was the rise of trolls and the fall of the middle class. The trolls didn't win; the kleptocracy seems to have the upper hand.

  184. @Cathy I completely agree, and well-said.

  185. @Cathy Moderation is usually mocked because it isn't moderation at all. Suppose you are a moderate. Now suppose you are presented with Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. You don't actually have to support either one, but which one do you vote for? Too many people who call themselves moderate voted for the former for them not to be mocked. They are not moderates and should not be allowed to claim the name.

  186. I blame"Culture War." The more than half century old political strategy, used by a continuously growing army of media preachers, Limbaugh-like "entertainers," direct mail barkers and demagogic politicians to win votes, power and very lucrative audiences. They've found great success in exploiting and translating anxiety and distress arising from major economic change and dislocation into apocalyptic fear and resentment of other peoples' (supposed) "lifestyles." And created generations of people who have no idea of political debate and argument as a means to the better understanding -- of the issues and conflicts at hand, of others' perspectives and concerns -- necessary to effectively participate, and govern, in a representative democracy. Instead, they're taught political "debate" is bellowing anger and outrage, or smirking disrespect and belittlement, meant to destroy enemies. (People in endlessly demonized other places, or, irritatingly close -- co-workers, family members, ex-girlfriends, teachers or employees of the DMV, and others in one's own community leading wicked "lifestyles" that vary in only the most petty ways from your own.) It's a "debate" that trades genuine democratic power, arising from informed participation, for the "freedom" to express your hatreds. And indulge in self-flattering disdain of others. While handing your democratic power to "winners" with no interest in using it to serve any interest but their own.

  187. It is always a struggle for balance. In the pre-Internet, pre-"hate speech" era, we grew up with the idea that the ability to have free speech itself is more important almost than the content of what is being said. The maxim was, "I may not like what you say, but I'll defend your right to say it." Now respectful dialogue has been replaced with "flame wars" and shouting matches. Now when anything controversial is not considered at all on the merits, but is instead either totally championed or totally reviled by the anonymous masses of either side, are we any better off? Most blatant of all is the sheer hypocrisy of one side calling down the other, yet unacknowledging that they are doing the exact same thing. Where all this leads is anyone's guess, but I think the unmoderated comment sections as they are expose us for what we are without the veneer of civility and ultimately champions anarchy. Not exactly the result of favoring the free speech we so valued once upon a time in principle.

  188. This a fantastic story. Well done.

  189. I appreciate this opinion piece, the first insight I've encountered about how publications moderate their comments sections. It would be interesting for more in-depth descriptions of just how varied are the approaches taken by different media. I sense they are quite vast, but most don't elaborate very much on their approach, leaving participants a bit in the dark on just how edited the comment sections are, how open and free and representative of the whole the resulting string is.

  190. My sympathies to you for enduring this I hope the pay and bennies were good. 1st amendment aside can anyone imagine an election cycle with a moratorium on article comments? What a wonderful world it could be.

  191. What's missing from the article is the "why". Why do these people want to stick it to "liberals". I think the answer lies in right wing radio. I drive a lot for work so I tune in. It's an incessant rant against some mythical "liberal", as if every human falls neatly into one of two categories. A.M. radio can be every bit as disheartening as the type of comments thread outlined in the article. And the people who listen to it would never refer to it as "the media", which it is, their other boogeyman.

  192. @JVG 'Why do these people want to stick it to "liberals".' Why ? A lot of 'these people' have been marginalized. They didn't get much of an education. They didn't develop a skill set that plays in the 21st century economy. 'Liberals' represent what 'these people' would like to have, but never will.

  193. @sheikyerbouti Utterly patronizing and thoroughly illustrative of exactly why "these people" want to stick it to liberals. Trump needs to keep up his good work.

  194. @sheikyerbouti I don't buy that excuse.

  195. I used to contribute to a forum for building contractors, probably the leading on-line forum in the industry, with advertising from all the leading construction and DIY companies. Much of the activity on the site was racial hate speech; most of the moderators were OK with it, and allowed anything, unless someone complained. I dropped my membership a couple of years ago.

  196. I wish the author had reflected on the morality and broader implications of media companies have many full-time employees whose job it is to censor and delete people's opinions. "Don't read the comments" is elitist, mass censoring of comments is suppression, and the triumph of the comments section in electing Trump is, like it or not, a win for democracy.

  197. Great article. I am center-left, but I like to read several news sites with different points of view. I regularly read National Review and Reason, and pop into others from time to time. While I tend to disagree with the NR and R writers, I find some arguments compelling and learn how others can honestly come to different conclusions than I do. Then, I click on the comments- OH MY GOD. A smart article in Reason quickly devolves into horrible ugliness, slurs, threats and disdain. And while Reason, as a publication, is largely skeptical of Trump (as any true libertarian would be), their comments section is 100% MAGA.

  198. @Scott Scott, by being center-left you indict yourself. Are there some PC or Identity Politics beliefs you violate? Let us know where you work so that we can get you fired.

  199. I find the societal need to "hold people accountable" in a manner frequently disproportionate to any "offense" far more pernicious than unsavory internet comments. I live in an area where valid comments (whether on the internet or at a town council meeting) that question the sometimes-abusive tactics of the police and military are met with face-to-face vitriol from their relatives and retribution from the police themselves (e.g., refusal to investigate the property vandalism that takes place subsequent to making those remarks--"Hey, if you don't like the police, why are you calling us now?") On the other side of the spectrum, I don't see the need for the left to demand the removal of people from their livelihoods just because they may have a single instance--or even more--of uttering something the vengeful think is unacceptable. I think far fewer people would comment anonymously if the need for vengeance weren't so widely accepted--particularly when applied to the family and friends of the perpetrator, whose views they often don't even share. I understand the need for publications to have legal protections in place via moderation. At the same time, freedom of speech that is limited to only its constitutionally protected context isn't really all that free, and it seems far too many disagree with me and like it like that.

  200. @Jim Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes’ Fox News knew, and still know, that many Americans yearned for an alternative to the stifling political correctness of the mainstream media. How monolithically PC are these mainstream organizations? Just look at the insane dismissal of Megyn Kelly by NBC; she dared to say that Santa Claus was white and to actually inquire, rather than forcibly accept, whether some folks using blackface might not be motivated by racism. Shucks, when I saw Jolson in blackface, I got an inclusive vibe - not at all racist.

  201. I am still astonished by the meanness, the racism, the ignorance posted at the comment sections of major news websites, conservative and liberal alike (the NYT does a better job of culling them than most). Say what you will about Trump, but one thing is certain: he has given many citizens the permission they needed to express the vilest parts of themselves.

  202. @Jackson There is a catharsis of expressing hatred that is part of our evolutionary "flight or fight" instincts. Trump released this for his supporters, to the point that when he made the "fifth ave. shooting" statement, it was a statement of surprise, not pride as is depicted by his enemies. He had no idea of the symbiosis of his TV personality combined with the authority of POTUS. He is now learning the ropes, of the power -- not the awe of how he can devastate the world.

  203. @Jackson "he has given many citizens the permission they needed to express the vilest parts of themselves" The sad part of it all -- this will continue or increase, not decrease or stop. Donald Trump is merely the manifestation of these people in America, he is not the cause. Remember, he can shoot someone on 5th Ave and these people will continue to support him.

  204. Some people—mostly men—I've engaged with on social media over the years have put together strings of verbal filth so stunning I gasped. Most usually they'd shoot their lingual tasers when I was giving some factual evidence about gun control, Russian interference, or presidential incompetence. I recall once, learning that Jehovahs' Witness children trained to go door to door by sitting and enduring showers of insult which, the theory had it, made them better able to ignore such vitriol. Over time I have reacted less and less to trollspitting. I do hope, Mr. Sokol, that as a society we are becoming jaded with semantic streams of the basest language in existence. I know that when I get it now, I simply continue to be polite and reason. I say I do not do personal attacks. I do believe the loss of novelty, shock and impact over this brand of ineffably pathological, violent, rabid, furious, invective will diminish to the point where we can simply continue to be calm and respond with measured logic when trolls foam at the mouth.

  205. @Naples I am in 100% agreement and with another NYT editorial this Sunday on Contempt by Arthur Brooks. In the 80's Neil Postman railed against the TV as a device that replaced 'reason' needed for oral argument with 'shock' best delivered in dramatic but disconnected images. He anticipated where our civil lives have since migrated as each new tech tool increases individual's reach (no longer needing a reporters credentials or TV station to publish), as 'shock' has become the basis for 'truth'. Demagogue Donald has harnessed these changes as no other to date. Will we all step back from the abyss of chaos, driven by the purest of emotions and replace it with reasoned argument once again? I can only hope. And we, as a community, need to deflect vitriol and fact free passion on all sides and in all arenas where it is found.

  206. @Naples Or maybe many humans are not particularly good people, enjoy hatred and mocking and criticizing and grumbling about others? Liberty and equal protection are hard on humans because they require wisdom and restraint, lacking in the vast majority of humans.

  207. “I just resented everyone with an opinion and an internet connection.” Boy oh boy, do I understand this jadedness. Just the other day, I scrolled through the comments section of a cat video on youtube to find that the replies to the most banal cutesy comment had degenerated into an off the rails argument about whether or not eugenics was OK (in case you’re a “let’s hear both sides free marketplace of ideas” type, IT’S NOT) Lonely people use the internet as an outlet for their loneliness and extreme emotions, and it usually manifests as some deranged ego-driven conspiracy theory filled screed about why some racial or ethnic group is bad. It’s impossible to engage with such people. Makes me sick, angry, and sad. Maybe I need to unplug a little, or at least adjust where I spend time online...

  208. @David Clarkson. Don't forget, the internet is full of pimple faced teenagers with hormone rushes and resentment toward their peers, and they take it out here. I swear, until last week I thought about 50% of the comments I was reading were written by kids no older than 14. Then I saw "Liar, Liar Pants on Fire" at a Congressional hearing and realized it was probably some Republican wing nut or, worse yet, a Republican Congressman.

  209. I see some pretty nasty comments on the NYT about Republicans and conservatives. Not only nasty but highly confident in their moral superiority. Those folks should read the comments on WSJ editorials, if only to discover that they aren't alone in describing their opponents as moral degenerates who don't have a clue.

  210. It has been my experience that Trumpists who have a clue about much of anything, and who can argue a point intelligently, and who can get through a paragraph without a pack of insults and sixteen errors in basic English, are very, very few on the ground. Trump voters, different story. But rabid Trumpists...well, completely out to lunch.

  211. The internet is not anonymous and a cute name won't protect you. Yet the venom and hate spews forth like it will never comeback to bite you. And it usually does, just when you don't want it to.

  212. Anonymous website commenters: graffiti vandalism. Real name and location commenters: democracy wall.

  213. "They wanted to stick it to the liberals". Ah, there it is! You want to understand the mindset, the "rationale", the ideology behind those who doggedly support Trump - and will no matter what? There motivation is "Stick it to the liberals, even if I have to go back on everything I held sacred and dear". Now THAT'S a religion for you!

  214. @Kingfish52 Well yes. But there's the antecedent: for electing and supporting Obama. Vengeance of the lunatic fringe.

  215. I didn't delete comments; I deleted friends....... who I discovered I no longer knew. After 15 years of living abroad, I got in touch with old friends and schoolmates through the wonder of FaceBook. What I discovered was a bitter paranoid hate-fest. I had no idea what had happened to these people I used to know as happy and friendly. Then I started to look deeper into the videos, articles, and memes they had sent me from right wing pundits and news. Oh. Riddle answered.

  216. The comments that actually get published on Fox are bad enough as it is. It’s hardly surprising though because it’s impossible to be right wing in 2019 in America without being a bigot, or willing to tolerate bigotry. It’s as simple as that.

  217. A couple of brilliant points made in this piece. First of all, Mr. Sokol is absolutely right. The Trumplicans are so loyal to Trump because he sticks it to liberals. It is all they care about. They would sell their soul and turn their backs on any of their beliefs as long at Trump is sticking it to the libs. I have many conservative friends on Facebook who are constantly posting the fake, racist, sexist, homophobic memes. I was ruining my life trying to counter them with facts which occasionally, but rarely, got through to them. The worst or best thing Trump has done is he has unmasked these people. My son asked me the other day whether racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, nasty, bigots are the kind of people I would want to be friends. with. I am going to have a lot fewer friends going forward, I can tell you that.

  218. Thank you for this. I read the comments on Stacey Abrams' response to Trump's SOTU address and found a similar troll cesspool, mostly of the fat-shaming variety rather than the explicitly racist variant. The racism was certainly there, though, as was the sexism. In any case, it was a huge bummer to read those comments. I can only imagine what it's like to have to read through that trash all day, every day.

  219. Do those who comment on these NY Times articles realize that Mr. Sokol's job is now down by Artificial Intelligence, AI for the last few years, as they announced at the time. (My handle "Al" is not that, but Jolson's first name) I had been a regular on the most popular liberal blog-discussion site "DK" for 12 years, with 700 articles and ten times that many comments. Hatred against Trump was not only allowed, it was obligatory (if the full title was used you would not be loved anymore) While Sokol is riffing on the deluge of hatred by the right, it is matched on the left. There is the real harm that this individual is doing, along with his classic demagoguery and abject ignorance of statecraft. However irrational group hatred of him is pathological, in that escalation among "enemies" becomes part of the dynamic. I chose to suggest in an essay on that site, that the unanimity of the demand for Governor Northan's resignation by elected democrats did not reflect the feelings of the public, or even black democrats of Virginia (confirmed by polls). I hadn't realized that hatred of him had taken on a life of its on disconnected from any rational discussion. I paid the price, and was "thrown off the Island" which at first was devastating. Over time I realized that I was afflicted by that universal trait of humanity, call it Bias Confirmation, which is a more ubiquitous multifaceted force that we are never fully aware of. It's actually been liberating.

  220. In the first place, no way you got heaved for simple disagreement. In the second, the real Trump Derangement Syndrome is a thing from which Trumpists primarily suffer.

  221. This is all very sad.

  222. @Call Me Al Sorry, but this is false equivalency.

  223. Adam, thank you for sharing this. I recently read a similar article written by a content editor for Facebook. Both are truly horrifying, and make you wonder how this will turn out. Where do we go from here? It's hard to be optimistic. Your comments on Trump supporters was like a eureka moment for me. I have asked my self over and over again why Trump's supporters are willing to ignore seemingly anything, and still steadfastly support him. The answer is their hate for liberals, in large part stoked by Trump and the vast conservative commentary and social media network. I hope they (Trump's supporters) are satisfied, but I also hope they realize that in indulging themselves in this action, they are abdicating their responsibilities to our democracy, and endangering our country and the world.

  224. What used to be considered the publishing and news industry has been twisted and transformed into a Frankenstein we hardly recognize driven by a business model focused solely on page views by anonymous customers. We built this horrendous machine ourselves underscoring the law of unintended consequences. No company can claim ignorance anymore about the deleterious effects this is having on our society and yet we continue to permit companies to profit from such behavior. There is no law that requires comments to be enable on web sites. Comments are enabled to do one thing; drive traffic to your site and engage the user to spend more time on the site. Why drive more traffic to your site? Simple, money.

  225. It is part of the American culture. Opinions.Not causality. It is a chance that in most of Europe children have an education in civic rights and later in France I think only philosophy 4 or 5 hours per week before Baccaulaureat at the end of high school. So citizens have a learning at debating concepts. Not like in the USA where causality is almost absent at all grades of the social scale. Even in University. Students have very poor philosophical knowledge.

  226. I drive a lot. I'm on freeways constantly. I learned the same basic lesson as you did moderating comments, except that I read them on the bumper stickers. I knew within a few months during the 2016 campaign that we as a country were in trouble. All I saw were DJT stickers and stickers with vile HRC slogans being displayed. It got worse after Clinton made her deplorables comment and the thousands of I am not a deplorable stickers went up. What was really disconcerting was the total visual lack of HRC bumper stickers. This was in California, so you can imagine anywhere else in the country. So having said all of this, if you want to gauge the pulse of an election, go sit in a freeway during the early morning rush hour, and see who dominates with the bumper stickers.

  227. @Sparky Around Baltimore there was a distinct lack of bumper stickers for either candidate. I remember thinking it a little odd. I was also in traffic every day. When I did see one, I made an effort to get a look at who was sporting them.

  228. @Sparky I had an Bernie bumper sticker on my car,. The sticker and my fender were slashed by someone with a knife trying to remove it. I put a replacement Bernie sticker on my car, but I know friends who supported Democrats, but wouldn't identify as such, for fear of a confrontation, whether a "road rage" incident, a vandalized car (like mine) or even a confrontation by someone with a gun. That's the depth of anger that the Right Wing media stirred up.

  229. @Sparky WOW. As if I needed one more reason to be grateful for living in NYC. Stuck in the morning or evening traffic jams I rarely see bumper stickers. It's not that I don't notice them, they just aren't there. We do have plenty of graffiti though.

  230. I too was a moderator and then a manager of an online discussion site with 4,000 members. Ours dealt with stem cell research. About 10% of our members were scientists, doctors and grad students. The other 90% were investors. So the conversations followed 50 stem cell companies, FDA trials and the complex processes that move experimental drugs out into the marketplace. Fascinating topics so why so many problems? I asked myself that for 5 years and came to this conclusion: Human beings have real problems communicating when they are not face to face. We have evolved to read facial clues and to listen for vocal nuisances. A slight smile can tell us that the speaker is being ironic. A frown? that there may be something else to the words. Anger comes easily to our species and the internet is like a megaphone. On the internet there's no chance for a quick counter-question that can stop the speaker in their tracks. Instead the "speaker" (writer) extends all sorts of unnecessary energy in 300 or 3,000 words when they could have been stopped at 30 words with, "I know that but..." And what about the trolls? The internet has given people with little critical thinking skills the same right to put their thoughts out there, often venting unchecked, unedited, uncensored. And when people with real personality disorders take the stage? You can't un-see their words. At least Mr. Sokol was paid. I worked for free. We both came to the same conclusion though I admit; I never cried.

  231. Let’s see. I have virtual anonymity. I have; distance, distance, distance. And, yes; it’s so much easier to be nasty when I just leave a note. As far as I know, Shakespeare’s characters are the only ones that ever got to deliver monologues in person. The internet is too easy; too nicely constructed, in fact, ideally suited for nasty behavior. And since we’re not willing to throw it out, and well, people are unlikely to change no matter how much “liberalism” or “behavioral modification” you toss their way, I suppose we’re stuck with it. Oh yeah, people make a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk and get along, like, I don’t know, any political commentator from any part of the spectrum, politicians themselves and sometimes even comedians. Rage then, becomes a sort of political “lingo” or dialect with its own vocabulary, and embellishments. And so, people conclude, that’s just the way you talk when it comes to politics, be it race, creed, sex, orientation etc. In fact, isn’t it all the “rage” these days!? Anyway, this is just too hard to communicate online. If we were face to face, I think I could make my point...

  232. I’m still not convinced that comment sections are a needed component of online publication. If no benefit is had, then shut it down. We survived just fine when we read print media and either kept our responses to ourselves, or better yet, spoke with someone else about them. The notion that everyone is entitled to an published opinion seems wildly indulgent to me.

  233. @Glenn Or crafted cogent responses and sent them via actual mail, and later, email, to the editors. Personally, I think they do provide a kind of service to the reader. Call it a check on received wisdom, from strangers living entirely different lives but responding to the same piece of information. It can provide a kind of rough perspective. And as a comment author, it forces one to focus on the point at hand, with a limited amount of words, and an avenue to see how others respond. Plus, you never know who's reading it, and how inspiring the right person might make all the difference in the world. But you'll never be given credit, and that's OK. That's what keeps me writing.

  234. I’m curious if Mr Sokol has a take on outside or extra-national trollism? Vandals, provocateurs or propagandists that design desention on behalf of other political, national or ideological interests. I would guess that poor syntax or spelling and the like would be easy to identify but there are probably more sophisticated operations by now. It’s not just the haters and crazies anymore.

  235. Mr. Sokol’s article sheds light on the depths of the human unconscious and is a guide post for whoever is the 2020 Democratic Party Presidential nominee.

  236. You have to wonder what has turned so many people mean and hateful that they're driven primarily by the desire to "stick it" to someone else, even to their own detriment. This article is enlightening, a little frightening and a sad commentary on the state of discourse the world over but especially here. I've always realized people can and do have different opinions, but I've never hated anyone because of that, never until now have I been on the receiving end of such hatred for wanting this country to be a better place for everyone. As for comments, the New York Times is absolutely the Gold Standard, when it comes to civility and an informed readership. They keep me sane, for that I'm extremely grateful, and for the moderators who make that possible.

  237. "... a story about Africanized bees it would take before they started taking a racist turn." That's too easy. The bees are *hybrids*, but the term "blames" the African contribution and is therefore racist. Next time give a harder example.

  238. What surprises me is how gullible people are. They promote the most absurd notions and as with most absurd notions, they proliferate. I wonder how many people hate Hillary only because they believed the Republican and Russian propaganda about her. If she did all those illegal things, why didn't the Bush administration ever charge her with anything? The republicans in congress spent a lot of time trying to lower her poll numbers. That worked, too. As i say, people are gullible, and the Russians know it.